Master of Fine Arts, 1991
The first words of the project that became The Ghosts Who Travel with Me were written in fall 2008. As the nights lengthened and darkness ate into my mornings and afternoons, I wrote free-form responses to chapters from Richard Brautigan’s Trout Fishing in America, a book I had read and loved thirty years before. I wrote everyday, but I had no idea if anything readable would come of it. I was enjoying myself. Memories led to memories; sentences in the old paperback inspired new sentences.
I wrote without destination and I wrote what pleased me, but it’s never been possible to completely let go of the expectation that what I’m working on will someday develop into something worth sharing. And that means there is always an underlying anxiety that once again I am writing something that few will read. There is pleasure in the writing, for sure. But ultimately the goal is to reach readers. When a piece doesn’t get good enough, it’s disappointing.
The work of revision began in the winter. My computer folder has multiple versions of what I was then calling Trout Frying in America. It has an extremely short version that I thought might make an essay. It has outlines, plans, alternative openings, sections for my writing group, and a file called “extra usable stuff.” During one revision, I wrote each chapter title on a post-it note and put it on the wall of my work space. When I finally took the notes down, they left dirty rectangular outlines on the wall.
And still I wasn’t sure the manuscript could be good enough. My writing group said it could. I wanted to believe them.
So it is a surprise to suddenly have my team at Ooligan Press telling me it is good. My project manager, Ariana Marquis, posts to a blog about the process of publishing the book and says the most flattering things. I am, of course, happy. But it’s also strange to see my words and ideas move from the privacy of my computer folders to that big World Wide Web. I panicked before I submitted a final revision to Ooligan and made sure a few people mentioned in the manuscript got a chance to read it. I honestly hadn’t thought to run it by them before. I hadn’t thought the manuscript would ever get good enough that anyone besides my writing group would read it.
And now the paragraphs and chapters have begun to take on a feeling of inevitability, as if they were destined to be written the way they were. I can’t remember how my first draft began; how could it have begun anywhere else but as we were getting our coffee before heading for Idaho? I can’t remember the chapters that were jettisoned or which ones were written late in the process and massaged in. By the time the words are printed on paper, the previous versions will be ghosts. These, too, are the ghosts who travel with me: the sentences, the essays, the projects that never fulfilled their promise. And the versions of me who produced them. But without them, all of them, this book would never have been written.