Thoughts on Writing While in Bologna

Is it in Dicey’s Song that a teacher accuses a character (Dicey) of plagiarizing an essay, when really, Dicey was only influenced by something she’d been reading at the time? Or is it Julie in Up a Road Slowly, or some other book I read when I was young?

Anyway. Regardless. What I’m reading at any given time definitely has an influence on my writing. Long books especially, because I immerse myself in them for weeks of writing time. I read Sigrid Undset’s enormous and gorgeous Kristin Lavransdatter while I was writing Fire, and caught myself calling Fire “Kristin” at one point in my writing — which would have been super embarrassing had anyone found it, because, um, my name is Kristin. No doubt the reader would have assumed that I was identifying too closely with my characters, whereas, actually, I was so immersed in Kristin Lavransdatter’s life that I was pulling her into my writing. This is probably the main reason I’ll put down a badly-written book, or a book written in a style I don’t care for, rather than finishing it, especially if it’s a long book. Otherwise, it can start to infect my own prose in ways that make me uncomfortable.

For this big, long trip I’m on, I decided to allow myself a single book… and since I’m gone for almost a month, I knew it needed to be an enormous book… so I’m rereading, and quite enjoying, The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley. And I find that I have to watch myself, because while the writing style suits this book, it wouldn’t suit mine and I want to be careful not to carry it into my own work. For example: “At a whisper from the Merlin he bent the knee before the Lady of the Lake.” Bent “the” knee? In my work, if someone’s kneeling, I want them to be bending “a” knee. Or a bit of dialog: “Has anyone yet sent word to Uther?” My characters would say, “Has anyone told Uther yet?” or “Has Uther been told?” Different constructions for different books.

And the funny thing is, when I’m in a country for a long time where English isn’t the native language, I also need to watch that I’m not influenced by my own (horrid) attempts to speak the native language (in this case, Italian), not to mention the English spoken by the non-native English speakers all around me. For example, if I’m walking down the street and a man rounds the corner on his Vespa and knocks my gelato out of my cono, I might yell in Italian, “Mio dio! Pazzo uomo! Sono triste! Sei brutto in quello che fai!” (My God! Crazy man! I am sad! You are ugly in what you do!”, more or less) [note: if I actually managed to get all that out correctly, it would be a miracle] [also: I don’t usually yell at strangers] And a passerby, recognizing my dreadful American accent, might sympathetically yell in English, “Yes, you idiota, you are the ass of the horse! Look this sad signora who cries!” And everyone would understand everyone; but the problem is that if you’re saying and hearing these things all day (not to mention plain-old beautiful Italian, spoken by native Italian speakers), then, when you sit down to write, you might find yourself hearing your own words in a beautiful Italian lilt that doesn’t work with English prose, and possibly also constructing your sentences oddly.

It’s all pretty fun and interesting to think about.

The sword-fighting today was a blast; I should have pictures at some point. I’ve added some events in Madrid and Barcelona to my Appearance Schedule — check it out. There will be no public events in Amsterdam or Antwerp. I’ll add more info as I receive it.

Happy weekend, everyone!