Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Turning Pages

Just the other day, I posed a question to my wife: are there times when you feel compelled to go out in the shop to create not because of some looming deadline but because of a driving, inner need to create? She said yes. I, too, say yes, but it’s mainly in the past tense.

There was a moment when I was in the middle of writing the Truman story that I realized that Treason at Hanford was the ONLY book I wanted to read…and I was the one writing it. To date, with my second novel (RiHT), that has not occurred. Part of it stems from my brain freeze on how the story is to be shaped and my insane desire to write this book just like the Truman book. That is, with a set outline, set in stone, largely unmoving. RiHT has been anything but set. I have vacillated back and forth, back and forth, never seeming to hone in on the subject of the book. Now, ironically as I decided to throw out the pre-existing outline style of writing and just go (always drawing images and scenes and dialogue from the huge cloud of ideas about this book), I think I’m on to it. At least my wife and my critique group think so.

So why am I not compelled to just dive in and see where this thing goes? I can’t answer that yet. But part of it is my compulsion to read. I’m kind of in a reading mode now. Back when I was writing the Truman book, I wasn’t. In fact, when I realized that whatever I was reading began to influence my writing, I slowed down my reading. Almost all of it was audiobooks. Yes, I listened to all of the Narnia books by C. S. Lewis and a few non-fiction works but my reading pace slowed incredibly.

Nowadays, as my desire to read more and more pulp fiction increases, I am captured by the numbers. Most of what I’m reading is Hard Case Crime novels. They are all about 200 pages and, with my slow reading rate, I get intoxicated when I blow through one or more of these books in a week. I start wanting more and more to read more and more. It’s a bad spiral.

There are signs that the end of this cycle is nigh. Stephen King just published a new book, Duma Key, and it’s a 22-hour book. His son wrote Heart-shaped Box and it’s on my list and it’s over 10 hours. Even with my 40-minute, one-way commute every day, it’s going to take time to read these books. But that’s okay. Not every book should be dispatched quickly. And there is a new work of non-fiction, This Republic of Suffering, that I really want to read. (Part of the reason, I'll admit, is story ideas...but that's another blog.) In addition to these books on my reading list, I am writing book reviews that I intend to submit to contests. While I used to write book reviews back in grad school, I do actually have to pay attention to what I’m reading and not gloss over details. That is slowing me down, too.

And then there is my current book-in-progress, RiHT. I can't help but wonder if this is the sophomore slump. I finished my first novel in June 2006. I have yet to complete my second. Is this on par with other writers? I wonder. On one level, I can see the next three chapters, including the current, half-written one. And I have a heroine that I enjoy and who I have placed in a rather large hole, so to speak. And I keep piling on, from various places and things that happen to me. I am actually quite curious to see how she deals with them.

But then I hit the inevitable roadblock of all writers in the first draft: it ain’t art that which I type. Take my chapter 7. I know what I wanted to say and wrote it thus. I printed it out and re-read it…and it was garbage. So, my natural inclination to want to know what happens next is trumped by the bumps in the road and the text. And then there is the natural reaction to the printed page as opposed to one’s own imagination. Wow, a writer says, it seems much more vivid in my head.

And isn’t that the true crux of a writer’s responsibility? To convey the world in one’s head in as best light possible to a reader, so much so that the reader is compelled to turn the page? Yes, that is the writer’s responsibility. And, for a writer, he is the book’s first reader. If he doesn’t care about turning the page, how can he expect others to? It’s interesting but not really a conundrum. If I can’t make myself want to turn the page, why bother writing the book?

Because I do want to know what happens. That’s it in a nutshell. I basically know my entire book in my head. I am now the transcriber. I believe that I have a good story to tell. Only time will tell if I do a good job and the transcription.