Friday, August 1, 2014

Am I Writing My Last Novel?

I am writing a new novel. By "new," I am not implying that anyone cares that there are old ones - that an adoring public awaits it with baited breath -- only that this one is new for me. Not only is this a new one, for me, but I sort of regard it at "the one" -- the novel that will determine whether or not I can really write; whether "the world" really thinks I have anything to say.

My first one was a good fantasy novel. I'm proud of what I did in my twenties for a first attempt, but it is a little flat. My second one is more "literary" but when I wrote it, I was in my thirties. It is more mature, but my toolbox still lacked a few things. Now, at forty-six, I think I have the experience and the writerly "stuff" to write a really good one. If I don't; if this one doesn't get out there and make at least a little headway in the literary world (such as it is) I think I will be done. Not done writing, just done trying to be a novelist.

Steinbeck, my literary hero. 
If it fails, it will be for one of two reasons; either it will be for the same reason that my last two were never published (that reason being that I am the worst business-oriented guy in the history of the world and that I tend to forget that to get them published, I need to actively do something) or I just plain am not a novelist. There can be no other possibility, unless I choose to run with the old "the world just doesn't understand my other-worldly level of genius" bit. But I won't choose that.

I do have the feeling that all of my writing and all of my life's experience has been leading up to this one, though. We'll see. I'm leaning more toward optimism...

But I have learned one new thing, as a writer: "having-been" something is not as helpful to a writer as "having-observed" something. Maybe I am a dope who should have consciously noted this, sooner. I'm sure there is some pedant out there who can tell me: "Oh, Chris, you rube, that's 'the theory of shmaggaga fallaciousness' that Plato mentions in Literaria Obviosity."

Anyway, the opening chapter of the book is centered upon an eleven-year-old boy. I used to be one of those, you know. I was, however, never, in the past, comfortable writing about kids until I had some of my own. That's a huge realization.

People do tend to place a lot of importance of "having-been." Maybe too much, whether we are talking real life or writers' craft. I have written about women's issues, for example. Am I unqualified to have done so because I am not a woman? -- because I have never walked in the proverbial pumps? (I know: "stereotype." Only a man would refer to superficials blah, blah, blah... I could have just been going for jaunty alliteration, you know.) Or, might I have something meaningful to say as a result of my observations over the last forty-six years or as a result of having know many women as friends or of having known my wife as long as I have?

I'm reading Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood, right now. A wonderful book. One thing is for sure: the world would never let a male writer get away with some of the things she is doing. Fair? Meh. I guess it is what it is.

Of course, "having-been" is worth quite a bit. But, as I write (as I did in my first chapter) about a young boy who was wrongly accused of spying on a neighborhood woman's bath time, it has been far more helpful to have watched my sons and to have seen how they act when they are righteously angry than it has to have been a righteously angry eleven-year-old.

Anyway, I do hope this book winds up representing me in the wider world. (I also hope, if I may hitch the cart ahead of the horse, that it will be the fist of several.) I do believe in my ideas, deeply, and I think it just might, as well as being a good read, get people thinking about some important and all-too-overlooked things.

Here's hoping. I'd hate to lay down my ascot after this one.

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