Fiction Convictions

by jkatejohnston

5 December 2017

Dear Max,

This Diary of Record would be incomplete if I failed to mention the pimple on the very tippity-tip of my nose. It’s wonderfully bright—I can practically read by it—and Teresa keeps making Rudolph allusions, humming the carol, inquiring about all the other reindeer and so on. Of course I have a hearing today on a must-win case. Maybe my pimple will distract opposing counsel.

I’m in San Diego for the hearing, and I travel here often enough that the layout of the Best Western hotel room feels comfortingly familiar, and I know where to get good coffee two blocks from the hotel at six o’clock. So that part is good. But I have a shitty cold and this pimple and at least one witness who won’t return my phone calls and probably won’t show up for the hearing. So, on the whole, F-word.


Last week I finished the second draft of that book I can’t let go of. That is, I came to the end again, so I guess that’s finished. But the last fifty pages or so need another go-over. I know it, and I’m putting off what I know I need to do—subject myself and my poor pages to the excruciating test of reading them aloud, all together. I need to hear what’s going on. Maybe none of my witnesses will show up, and I’ll be stuck in San Diego with nothing to do. I brought the pages with me, just in case.

Since I spent pretty much the last year writing fiction, I’ll make some remarks about it.

  1. When I write fiction, I’m afraid of being boring, so I make a lot of  jokes that just end up interrupting the story. Then I take them out, murder them. But they’re such nice jokes
  2. I have to make the whole world? Are you fucking kidding me?
  3. I’m not willing to read fiction anymore unless it’s by some miracle-worker, and I know I’m no miracle-worker. The only fiction writers I’ve actually read in in the last decade are Trollope, Jane Austen, Patrick O’Brian and Elena Ferrante. I would like to put Lawrence on the list to make myself look good, but I haven’t even read The Rainbow in about twenty years. (Maybe it’s time to read The Rainbow.) So you see that my standards are absurdly high. I only read fiction that’s effortless to read, freakishly smart, totally entertaining, and full of people so real that—I can’t think of what to put on the other end of that that. And at least a few of the people have to be lovable. Reading fiction, I feel like either it’s a miracle or a picture of nothing (or of not much). The one thing I can say in favor of writing fiction that I would never read is that it’s by me. I’m making it as good as I can, and you can’t say fairer than that.