Novelist Bruce Machart describes himself as a “really slow writer,” but spending the past month in Woody Creek, he says, has sped things up.
Machart, author of the acclaimed 2010 novel “The Wake of Forgiveness,” is the May writer-in-residence for the Aspen Writers’ Foundation. The program brings selected writers to Woody Creek for a month-long stay at the Catto family ranch. Today, Machart will give a free reading at the Woody Creek Community Center, sharing some of what he’s been working on during his stay.
The solitude of the remote residency, he said, has been unsettling for the Houston native, and taken some getting used to — but it also has inspired an unprecedented level of productivity.
“By the time I leave here I will have done in a month what I would get done, under normal domestic circumstances, in a year,” he said over coffee at Victoria’s last week.
Machart arrived with a 150-page manuscript of a new novel in tow. He aimed to get another 100 pages done in Woody Creek and then finish the book by summer’s end.
At home in Massachussetts, where he teaches creative writing at Bridgewater State University, Machart normally wakes up at 4:45 a.m. and writes for a few hours before moving on to teaching classes and spending time with his family.
He’s kept his early morning hours here to work on the novel, but he’s also logged time working on a screenplay draft and — a surprise to him — wrote a short story, his first since his 2011 collection “Men in the Making” was published. Between writing sessions — on walks where he’s spotted elk, deer and coyotes — he’s mulled the new book’s structure and conceptual nuances.
“There is no sort of work-a-day daily life that jars you out of what John Gardner called ‘the fictive dream,’” he explained. “And so even when I’m not writing, I’m walking around in the world of the novel.”
Machart’s debut, “The Wake of Forgiveness,” spans 30 years in the lives of the Skala family on the harsh Texas frontier — it’s a saga where four tough, motherless brothers and their father struggle against the land and one another. The plot turns largely on primitive high-stakes horse races, but the book is no Wild West dime novel.
Written in a lyrical, economical prose that recalls Cormac McCarthy, and with a command of describing the natural world that’s on par with Jim Harrison, “The Wake of Forgiveness” announced Machart as a remarkable new literary voice. The book won regional awards and landed on 2010 top 10 lists across the country.
Free copies are currently available through the Writers’ Foundation’s Catch and Release program.
His new book, tentatively titled “Until Daylight Delivers Me,” returns to the fictional Dalton, Texas, where “The Wake of Forgiveness” is set, and to descendants of the Skala family.
“It’s not really a sequel, but there are characters in common — characters that haven’t even been born yet (in ‘The Wake of Forgiveness’),” he explained.
He’s ended up “drastically reimagining” the book over the past month, he said, and switched its point of view from the first-person to the third, while also stacking up new pages.
He doesn’t work from a detailed plot outline, instead finding the story as he goes, Machart explained. “I discover the story the same way the reader does, and that’s why it’s so rewarding for me. If it’s working for me, it will work for some reader out there.”
Machart’s Writers’ Foundation residency also continues his long editorial relationship with the nonprofit’s creative director, Adrienne Brodeur.
He published one of his first short stories in Zoetrope: All Story, the literary magazine where Broduer was editor from 1996 to 2002. Years later, he sent a collection of stories and the first 50 pages of “The Wake of Forgiveness” to a Houghton Mifflin editor. When that editor was out of town, Brodeur, then herself an editor at the publishing company, came upon Machart’s submission, and championed his work within the company, which soon bought both the story collection and the unfinished novel — giving Machart his big break.
“She was my editor at Zoetrope, then at Houghton Mifflin, and now she’s creative director (at the Writers’ Foundation), so I guess I just go wherever she goes,” Machart laughed.