This is the first post from the archives of author Elizabeth Gauffreau who has some wonderful posts, including an interesting look at her genealogy journey, seeking out her family history. This post will strike a chord with many who have, like me got a drawer where previous creative ideas lie waiting for rejuvenation…
Failed Novel, Anyone? 2017 by Elizabeth Gauffreau
When I went to college to learn the craft of fiction, the prevailing attitude was that the short story was a stepping stone to the novel. The short story was where the young writer could serve out her clumsy apprenticeship in the sandbox making mud pies until sufficiently skilled to create the multi-tiered cake of the novel which people would actually buy. Chekov, Joyce, and other masters of the short story aside, you could never arrive as a writer of fiction unless you published a novel.
Then I heard Raymond Carver read at Old Dominion University’s annual literary festival. Not only was “Feathers” unlike any story I had ever read, Raymond Carver was not a novelist. He was a living, breathing master of the short story. His short stories were so powerful he didn’t need to write novels.
But still, I wanted to write a novel. The first one I attempted was actually an abortive novel, rather than a failed novel. Damage Control told the story of the breakup of a marriage from alternating points of view: the young, shell-shocked wife and her equally troubled young husband. The narrative pretty much collapsed under its own weight, and I gave up on the whole thing. I subsequently tried to get control of it by paring it down into a novella, but it never gained any traction, and I gave up on that version, too.
Years later, I think the problem with Damage Control was that I didn’t have the skill as a writer to sustain a book-length narrative, and I didn’t have the life experience to pull off the husband’s point of view. Who knows? Maybe now I do.
My next attempt at a novel was driven in part by the desire to focus on writing a book, which would take longer to finish, send out, and get rejected than a short story. (Hey, I’m just being honest here.) This novel went through a series of pretentiously lame titles that I won’t repeat here. (I don’t want to be that honest.) I did complete the novel, and I didn’t give up on it for a very long time.
When the light finally dawned, I realized that the whole was less than the sum of its parts because of an episodic structure that includes a series of vignettes triggered by old photographs. The main character is an elderly woman who has disposed of all her furniture and household goods to move to an assisted living facility. She then refuses to leave her house until she has sorted through all of the personal effects of family members who had passed on before her.
The basic conflict seemed like a compelling idea, but, again, I didn’t have the skill to sustain a book-length narrative, particularly a book-length narrative of someone who is by herself for the majority of the novel’s ongoing time. Then there were all those random dead relatives who kept popping up for no apparent reason, other than once having had their pictures taken.
In the final analysis, the parts weren’t all bad, as six of the chapters from this failed novel have been published as stand-alone stories
About Telling Sonny
Forty-six-year-old FABY GAUTHIER keeps an abandoned family photograph album in her bottom bureau drawer. Also abandoned is a composition book of vaudeville show reviews, which she wrote when she was nineteen and Slim White, America’s self-proclaimed Favorite Hoofer (given name, LOUIS KITTELL), decided to take her along when he played the Small Time before thinking better of it four months later and sending her back home to Vermont on the train. Two weeks before the son she had with Louis is to be married, Faby learns that Louis has been killed in a single-car accident, an apparent suicide. Her first thought is that here is one more broken promise: Louis accepted SONNY’s invitation to the wedding readily, even enthusiastically, giving every assurance that he would be there, and now he wouldn’t be coming. An even greater indignity than the broken promise is that Louis’s family did not bother to notify Faby of his death until a week after the funeral took place. She doesn’t know how she can bring herself to tell Sonny he mattered so little in his father’s life he wasn’t even asked to his funeral…
One of the recent reviews for the book
Every family has secrets, old feuds and disagreements, but not many have a past like Faby’s. Telling Sonny, by Elizabeth Gauffreau, is a novel of inter-generational memories and a past that embodies every little boy’s dream—running away to join the circus. Only in this case it was a carnival and a 19-year-old girl. The reader is quickly and easily drawn into the wonders of the old carnival world as Faby travels with Louis, who has taken her under his wing and into his bed, only to discard her several months later. The past comes to light after Faby, now the mother of a son about to marry, receives a phone call from her former sister-in-law, telling her that Louis has died in a single-car accident. Louis had promised to come to Sonny’s wedding, even though he’d spent a lifetime of ignoring his firstborn son.
Faby considers his apparent suicide just another of Louis’ broken promises. How can she tell Sonny that his father’s family thought so little of him, they didn’t even bother to let him no his father had died, or that the funeral had already been held? This novel shines a light on a time that most of us would never even dream of…traveling with a carnival in the twenties and seeing first hand the underbelly of that world. Plus, the wonder in the eyes of beholding exotic exhibits for the first time. What will now-conventional Faby, who works for the telephone company and has dinner every Saturday with her sister, tell her son about her old life? Will she ever forgive Louis? And will Sonny finally see Louis beyond the charming exterior he’s occasionally beheld?
Read the reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/Telling-Sonny-novel-Elizabeth-Gauffreau-ebook/dp/B07NRV2GJ7
Read the reviews and follow Elizabeth on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/18740495.Elizabeth_Gauffreau
About Elizabeth Gauffreau
Elizabeth Gauffreau holds a BA in English/Writing from Old Dominion University and an MA in English/Fiction Writing from the University of New Hampshire. Her fiction publications include short stories in Adelaide Literary Magazine, The Long Story, Soundings East, Ad Hoc Monadnock, Rio Grande Review, Blueline, Slow Trains, Hospital Drive, and Serving House Journal, among others. Her poetry has appeared in The Writing On The Wall, The Larcom Review, and Natural Bridge.
Liz grew up a child of the 1960s in northern New England before spending twenty years in the South as a Navy wife. After working for Granite State College in Concord, New Hampshire for eighteen years, she recently accepted a faculty position as Assistant Dean of Curriculum and Assessment at Champlain College Online in Burlington, Vermont. In addition to academic advising, teaching, and higher education administration, her professional background includes assessment of prior experiential learning for college credit.
Much of Liz’s fiction is inspired by her family history, and lately she has developed an interest in writing about her family’s genealogy. Learn about her attempts to stick to the facts of her family history at http://genealogylizgauffreau.com. Liz lives in Nottingham, New Hampshire with her husband; their daughter has flown the nest to live in sunny California.
Connect to Elizabeth
My thanks to Liz for permitting me to share posts from her archives and I encourage you to check both sites yourselves.. Your comments are always welcome… thanks Sally