Friday, December 12, 2008

My Penpal, Mary Doria Russell

Whoo hoo! I just got an email from Mary Russell, my newest penpal! (Here's my short review of her novel, The Sparrow, an excellent book that you should read.) My letter to her:

Dear Ms. Russell,

I just discovered and read your novel The Sparrow and was very impressed by it. I felt that your balance of engaging plot and theology discussions between the characters was very well-done. My question to you is this: how (or perhaps why) did you decide to place a lot of the "fight" sequences in the "courtroom" scenes--while Emilio describes the rebellion that Sophia leads and his own rape, there is a degree of disconnect. I don't think this is a bad thing--I don't personally enjoy reading violence and I don't think that actually showing the scenes was necessary to the plot, but I do feel it might have wreaked havoc with the pacing at the end of the book, especially since those scenes were pivotal moments in the degeneration of Emilio's faith. I would be very interested in hearing your views of this.

(Also, I apologize for the fact that you published this book over a decade ago and people are still writing to you about it. I suppose you should take it as a compliment to the longevity of your novel.) I'm looking forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Lindsay Phillips

Her response:

Thanks for your kind words. Nobody is more surprised than I at the reaction to The Sparrow -- the best I hoped for was a boutique SF publisher and a print run of 4000 copies that would go OOP in six weeks, leaving me with a cult following of two neighbors and a cousin. Here we are 15 years after I wrote it, and it's still my biggest hit.

Anyway, in answer to your question about pacing and off-stage violence: I could claim that I was following the ancient Greek dramaturgists by placing the action off stage, but in reality, I just didn't know any better. The Sparrow was the first fiction I ever attempted (I'm a paleoanthropologist who taught gross anatomy in a dental school -- my last lit course was during the Nixon Administration). I just wrote what seemed to work as I went along.

That said, it took 60 drafts to hammer it into the published version you just read. What I decided as I worked was that the important thing was not to show the violence but the effect of violence on perpetrators and on victims. A thirty-second fire fight or a four-minute rape will change a soul permanently.

That seems to be a theme in my work, even today. I have written about war directly in A Thread of Grace and somewhat in Children of God, but there's always a strong sense of what happens after the violence and how it echoes for generations in families and nations.

MDR


The fact that she got back to me so quickly is very cool. I love writers!

9 comments:

Chatty Cathy said...

That is really great that Mary Doria Russell is your new pen pal.

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

I was super excited when I saw she had gotten back to me. I've decided that I'm going to go pick up the sequel today at lunch so I can start it this weekend.

Anonymous said...

Is she going to end up filing a restraining order against you?

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

I wouldn't bother if I were her--I'm waaaaay too lazy to actually track her down and camp outside her house.

But I did get the sequel today. I'll let y'all know how it was...

Anonymous said...

Well, she lives in South Euclid, Ohio, if it makes it any easier...

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

Now who's stalking her?

Run, Mary Doria Russell! Run for your liiiiiiiife!

Homero said...

I think Anonymous is your alternate personality...

Anonymous said...

Dissociate much?

Lindsay-with-an-A said...

What do you mean, alternate personality? I have no idea what you're talking about.

... my precious...

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