The San Francisco Chronicle says Brenda Webster’s newest novel, Vienna Triangle, “offers a fascinating glimpse into the origins of the psychoanalytic movement … explores some of the most brilliant members of Sigmund Freud’s inner circle of disciples” combining Webster’s “impressive knowledge of Freudian theory with a novelist’s intuitive understanding of character and point of view.” In her post this week, she shares her story about her path to publication, which is nearly as fascinating as her new novel. – Meg
As a child I thought my mother was a miracle worker. She made things come to life on canvas. Branches weighed down with fuzzy peaches, blue-green bulls, enormous lilies, goldfish in an underwater world. Naturally, I assumed I would be able to do that too—but I was hopelessly bad at it. By the time I was ten, I’d resigned myself to painting with words.
I started writing seriously when I was in High School. I was fourteen. My father had just died and my mother was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I wrote to save my sanity, alternating between Laurentian hymns to my boyfriend’s body and images of despair: black pools, screaming gulls wheeling over a lonely place. The poems were extravagant but they gave me a feeling of control. I was hooked.
My path to publication was more convoluted. I wrote two autobiographical novels in my 20s. I had a good agent and got encouraging letters from big presses but they mostly wanted me to change things I thought were essential and I wouldn’t. Christopher Lehmanhaupt, then at Dial, said that my second novel, Adam, had great humanity but was too quiet to sell.
Discouraged I veered into criticism and wrote Psychoanalytic Studies of Blake and Yeats. It wasn’t until twenty years later after a divorce and re-marriage that –with the encouragement of my new husband–I dared go back to fiction. My autobiographical novel Sins of The Mothers was rejected many times before it was sold. I think the subject, a masochistic marriage, was too painful and I didn’t have the tools then to carry it off. In the re-writing I compromised too much. By the time I got to my memoir, The Last Good Freudian, I was able to put things in perspective and situate my life—much of it spent in analysis—in a historical and social context. But it is only with my new novel, Vienna Triangle, about the early days of the psychoanalytic movement, that I’m starting to do what I was meant to do: meld my understanding of psychoanalysis with what a lifetime had taught me about my subjects and my craft. Of course there is always more to learn and as one of my characters says in Vienna Triangle: “It is hard to get things right.” But trying and getting closer, is what makes writing so compelling. – Brenda Webster