The first time I thought of this novel I was crossing railroad tracks in my ’84 Plymouth Turismo, bumpy railroad tracks in the middle of Packard Street in Ann Arbor. That was 1986.
I urgently needed to make sense of the friendships, those lost and those beginning, that had been part of my life when I was an 18-21-year-old with my brain waking up, lighting on fire, feeding on the oxygen of others’ thoughts, searching out words and ideas to keep the fire burning. People, amazing people, had been teaching me to talk and to think, simply by talking and thinking themselves. We were playing in a way, these student friends and I, playing like puppies with a new idea, pulling it apart, taking turns chewing on it, vying for ownership of it. Those conversations made me dream up Martie, Charisse, Neil and Simon.
In Part 3 of Holding True, I try to describe conversations like these: “Although they rarely waited for each other to finish each other’s comments, neither ever felt interrupted. It was more a feeling of being understood, but it was so much more that understood; it was analyzed processed, expanded on, responded to, illuminated, honored. It was as if by talking together, they got twice as far in understanding. They came to the end of their conversation having reached a temporary conclusion, to be taken up later, at any time, a complete non sequitur, with both of them knowing immediately where they had left off and where was next to go.”
Because the friendships seemed so full of life, so intimate, and because I believed I had been so altered and improved by those friendships, I was stunned when they did not all go the distance, but faded when we weren’t all down the hall or up the road from each other. Confused and stunned.
I understand better why that happened now, 25 years later. It just happens. That’s how it goes. I probably would have written a different novel if I had started it right when I got home after bumping over those railroad tracks. But I didn’t consider myself a writer then — no, not a bit. When I had that idea, I didn’t like having it, and it made me very uncomfortable to hear some kind of narrative going on in my head. I had to recognize that I needed to write first, and that, in itself, took fifteen years. Then it took me another bunch of years to realize I needed to write a novel. The characters bear little resemblance to me and my college friends; still, this started there.