Behind the Writing of Snapshots By William Norris
Before I started Snapshots I had never tried to write a novel. The
form seemed daunting, and I couldnt wrap my mind around its demands or the
level of commitment required to see a novel length work through to completion.
Instead, I wrote short fiction, much of it, in retrospect, not very good short
fiction, and sent my pieces off to journals and magazines without success.
During that time, I wrote four or five stories with the same cast of
characters; a family called the Mahoneys. There were four children, and I had
written pieces narrated by three of them. I begin to envision a collection of
linked stories narrated by each member of the family, but found myself blocked
when I attempted to write a story told by Nora, the youngest member of the clan.
I sat down each writing day, determined to get Noras voice right on the page,
but when I read the work over the next morning, it was clear that I wasnt
even close. Everything I tried felt flat and forced.
Then, one morning in the summer of 1997, I typed, "Nora wakes first and
toddles to the television hulking silently in the living room." It was the
first time I had come at these characters in the third person, and the first
time I had written about any of them as very young children. Suddenly, I was
off, using the third person to veer in and out of each characters point of
view and finding myself fascinated by the dynamics that arose between each
family member on the page.
The work went well that day; it was one of those rare times when I found
myself confident that I, in fact, knew what I was doing. When I walked away from
my desk hours later, I had completed what, almost without change, became the final
chapter of SNAPSHOTS.
It took another six months of trying to jam this new idea into my original
conception of the work before a good teacher insisted what I was doing was, in
reality, a novel and that the work was most alive when I was working in the
point of view I had discovered on that summer morning. I was heartbrokenI had
over 100 pages done in the original formbut after resisting her advice for a
while, I was able to see that she was right.
Those original stories werent a waste of time; many of the events
recounted in them ultimately turned up in SNAPSHOTS, but more importantly, I had
a firm grip on who these characters were before I plunged into the book that I
was eventually able to write.
Like many people my age, I am deeply intrigued by the ways in which families
are formed and why they are sometimes able to endure and survive and sometimes
they splinter apart. Much has been written about the dynamics of families in the
aftermath of the great cultural shifts of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but I
have seen little that reflects my own sense of what family is really about. It
has been my experience that familybe it a family of biology or one carved out
of friends and loversis often exasperating, sometimes claustrophobic,
occasionally devastating, but also the only place where people can find comfort
and real, human joy without the need to explain their foibles or justify their
mistakes. Above all else, I hope that SNAPSHOTS reflects that view.