Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Climb Every Mountain (Or: My Novel and Other Shit)

I have a stack of pages on my desk that, collectively, represent a nearly finished novel. It's 377 pages, but it's rough. That's the way these things work.

Right now, it's not a novel but 377 pages.

A pile.



No, no. Just kidding.

It's a pile alright. Don't get me wrong. A stack of pages that, loosely, represent the workings of a fictional narrative. There is a thread. There are stable characters. There is a plausible setting and even a rising action leading to ....


That's where I'm at. The WHAT? part.

Picture a novel as a hiker does a mountain. Starting at the base, it rises almost constantly, with short-lived respites where things plateau a bit before moving upward again.

At some point, within sight of the top, you feel exhilaration. A sense of impending accomplishment. That's where I'm at in my novel. Page 377 represents that mossy area 100 yards from the peak of the mountain. The place where it flattens just slightly and no longer is your vision blocked by the trail before you, with its brambles and rocks and tree roots. When you look up now, you see sky.

Page 377 is where I have stopped, and as much as I would like to claim that I'm resting for the final push, I would be lying. It's more like I've twisted my ankle and now sit there rubbing the injury and swearing.

Something really nasty, too, like "Fucking douche bag motherfucker!!!!!!!"

Which is what I reserve for slow drivers, anyone who scores on the Patriots or the Red Sox, and for when I am stuck on my novel.

Hey, I never said I was classy.

Anyway, slow drivers and professional sporting events are easily handled.

A stalled novel, however, is a different beast altogether.

But not impossible.

My problem is that, along the journey, I have come to realize some new things about the characters, which will swing their actions in a different way. Characters are people with motives, things that drive them. And as I have progressed, their motives have become clearer. And by that I mean they no longer need me to direct them, but rather for me to bear witness to their actions.

In other words, I have to go back and change what they do earlier in the novel, which in turn affects what other characters do, which in turn...

Well, you probably get the picture.

It's not really as daunting as it sounds. And, quite frankly, it's refreshing.

Remember the mountain analogy?

So here I am with my sprained ankle, sitting on my ass these last three weeks and losing weight, dehydrated, hallucinating about naked talk show hosts and I remember a few yards ago there was a shelter with a first aid kit. If I swallow my pride and limp back there, I can get an ACE Bandage, wrap the ankle, and press upward again.

It makes writing exciting, actually. It means that my story has taken on a life of its own and all I need to do is sit back and let it unfold (as opposed to dictating the action, which is like pissing in the dark. Sometimes you hit the mark, but mostly you're just making a mess).

My desk is a testament to the hike. Around my literary pile are scattered the tools of a writer's climb. For example, I have a can of warm Mt. Dew; a bowl with a dried up apple core and a withered piece of chewed kielbasa; a cold cup of coffee three days old and growing hair; a fresh Dunkin Donuts coffee bought this morning; several pens; several 4x5 index cards; a three-pronged adapter; John Irving's Hotel New Hampshire; and Roget's Thesaurus.

These seem, to the untrained eye, merely the accumulation of debris of a lazy man.

Which is accurate.

I'm just telling you so that I can set the scene.

Which is: I have my pile of a novel I'm now editing.

And other shit around it.

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