Dear Mr Eugenides,

When I visit home, my mother often picks out a library book to have on hand for me to read. In 2011, in my mid-twenties, I was living in Sweden but flew home for Christmas. Not long after unpacking my stuff, Mom handed me a book. “I know you liked Middlesex,” she said. “You might like this, too.”

After dinner, exhausted but not sleepy, I lay down to read in a quiet house. The first few pages put me off. There was a dense, marionnette-like feel to the opening paragraphs. Who cares what’s on her bookshelf? After ten pages I tossed the book aside and fell asleep. A couple days later, for no reason I can retroactively discern other than boredom, I opened the book to try again.

At the time I was finishing up a Master’s degree in a conventional field, with conventional defined as leading to a job that would’ve had me on a M to F, 9 to 5 schedule. I enjoyed the subject I was studying, and I fully expected and was looking forward to a meaningful career.

It took me about a week to finish the library book. I imagine your fan letters are awash in hyperbole, and in writing to a writer of your esteem I’d normally hope to avoid such, but in this instance it’s wholly accurate to say that reading The Marriage Plot in no small way altered the course of my life.

I flew back to Sweden in the New Year, knowing in my gut that something was different: I would write a novel. It wasn’t even really a decision, but more of an understanding that had somehow manifested over the week it took me to read The MP. Even before the conversation between Mitchell and Madeleine closes the book, I was plotting how and about what I would write my own.

Of course, never having written one, and without the necessary habits or collegiate background, it was slow going. Over the years I’d enjoyed writing, had gone so far as to pen a novella after college, but at the time was not actively pursuing it in any way other than fantasy. I’d taken one writing class in college, the requisite English 101. Other than a steady enough reading habit, I didn’t expose myself much to literature.

My first attempt at a novel was basically an unconscious attempt to copy yours. I got down a hundred pages of rough prose and couldn’t get any further. My next real attempt came a couple years later when I was travelling through Asia, an idea, travelling, if not inspired by, then perhaps subtly influenced by Mitchell’s trek in the book. This second attempt was better, but ultimately just an empty swing, too.

All the while, I was making life choices based around the idea of giving myself the time and space to write. I finished my degree but didn’t pursue employment in the field. After moving back to the States, I got a part-time job lugging carts around a grocery store parking lot, a task that wouldn’t drain my mind and would leave plenty of hours to stare at the screen. I lived in a tiny apartment, sleeping on the floor and writing on a rickety card table. I can’t see myself making any of these life decisions if I hadn’t felt the need to write a novel, and the need to write a novel I got definitively from reading The Marriage Plot.

I did it. I finished the first draft about three years ago, and have rewritten it several times since. There were so many obstacles I had to overcome to get there, some obvious, others more hidden, many technical, just as many experiential, experiential in a broader sense that only has so much to do with writing. The most challenging hurdle was recognizing that, in order to explore my characters with the depth they required, I had to first explore myself in the same way. That required years of therapy, reading, meditating, etc, all of which is still ongoing, and none of which, despite being prerequisites for, had anything directly to do with my novel.

Additionally, I had to find a way to extricate my mind from your pages, to stop trying to replicate what you’d already done. I had to deal with ego, which at numerous points along the way brainfucked me into thinking I was way better than I was. But most importantly, I had to learn to let go, which is the ultimate hurdle, when you realize that no amount of rigid mental effort and physical discipline is going to get you anywhere decent, other than to a point of frustration where you finally understand that a book just kind of happens on its own.

If I could, I’d write to Mitchell, Madeleine, and Leonard to tell them how much I relate to their journeys, and how much their journeys inspired me to make my own. And to you, Mr. Eugenides, I write to tell you how how grateful I am for presenting M, M, and L in such a profoundly resonanting way.

 

Very sincerely,

Ian Johnson

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