Writer Basia Winograd’s work was featured in issue #11 of Newtown Literary. Below, she discusses the evolution of the larger work from which her story is excerpted. You can follow Basia on Twitter @BasiaWinograd and on Instagram @wildstrawberrynyc.
My original intention when I began These People Who Believe in Love was to write a picaresque novel about the exploits of a young Polish immigrant in New York City in the 1970s. All Tomasz Haas really cares about is buying the perfect shirt and filling his Italian leather wallet with American dollars. I was determined to write in first person, as Tomasz’s distinct voice was a big part of what made him so appealing to me. I got into trouble, though, when I had to explain how Tomasz became the man he was. Tomasz was born in to Poland under communism; his personality and desires are a direct response to growing up in those times of both high idealism and extraordinary hypocrisy. I needed the reader to understand this, yet I had only Tomasz’s first person narration in which to say it. As I pushed deeper into his story, my protagonist, under pressure to say what I needed him to, began to change. Other voices began to emerge from his mouth. Soon, he was no longer Tomasz. And I was stuck.
I had a breakthrough one day in craft class. It was the spring of 2015, and I was taking classes for my MFA at Hunter College. The writer Phil Klay (who is both Queens-based and a National Book Award winner!) was visiting our classroom. Our professor, Clare Messud, asked Phil why he chose in one of his short stories to make the narrator the protagonist’s friend, rather than the protagonist himself. Phil said that he did not want in this particular story for the protagonist to understand his own motivations. “The non-reflective narrator only gets us so far,” was Clare’s response, and the sentence that is underlined twice in my notes from that day.
I started over, in third-person this time. I do miss Tomasz’s first-person charm, but writing in third gives me the kind of freedom that I need at this point in the story.