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Janet (Gay) Burroway Biography - Janet Burroway Comments:

writing themes novel garbage

(1996) I wrote my first novel, Descend Again, with the determination that it would be fiction, and not decorated autobiography. Therefore I set it in a town I knew only slightly, and in 1942, when I had been six years old. It was several years before I realized that it dealt with a heroine who, like myself, was driven by a desire to get out of Arizona and into a world of books.

I continued to choose subjects that seemed to me socially and politically "serious," eschewing concerns merely female, while certain themes chose me in spite of myself: the older-man-younger-woman relationship, near-suicide and the decision to live after all; the abandonment of children—even, recurrently, the image of proliferating garbage. I remember writing a scene in The Buzzards, when my children were toddlers, in which Eleanor walks out on her brood, myself thinking as I wrote: I could never do this. Why do I keep writing about this? Meanwhile my own boys pestered me to play and I kept sending them out of the room—"Can't you see mummy's working?"

After that novel I faced the fact that I had not considered women's lives sufficiently weighty for the content of fiction, and in the next book, Raw Silk, I faced my unchosen themes head on, beginning with the sentence, "This morning I abandoned my only child." The acknowledgement of gender as central to my identity has seemed to me a freeing and integrating change—freeing, even, to adopt a new breadth of attitude toward the global themes. I understand now why I kept fretting about all that garbage.

The greatest change in my work in the past five years has been in the process itself. I have paid deliberate attention to thwarting my linear, critical, perfectionist, left-brain proclivities, in favor of intuitive flow. It works; it makes for faster story, richer prose, more of the unexpected. The motto over my desk as altered, slightly but crucially, from "Don't Dread; Do" to "Writing is Easy. Not Writing is Hard." What's missing is mainly the imperative.

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