Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Next Step?

I have a work-in-progress. Fiction. Working title: Found Things. Closing in on 100,000 words, so by volume, I guess it’s a novel. Or would be if I could stop rewriting draft after draft and finish it. I began work on it a month or so after finishing my first novel—in 2001. Nine years and counting. My last run at it was going pretty well, but I wanted to get back to poetry. I would start to write and find myself scribbling out notes for poems. The notes began to turn into poems Sometime in November I put the novel aside. Have written almost 100 new poems since—and happy for it. How could I not be? Never been so productive in my life. But I can’t say I’ve stopped looking back, stopped thinking about the unfinished novel.

It’s more than leaving something undone. I’ve abandoned cartloads of stories and poems without a moment’s regret. This is different. it tugs at me, nags; I go to sleep thinking about it and wake up ready to to dive back into it. Then I write another poem, and realize that, as much as I’d like to resolve this, I don’t want to put the poetry aside.

A few days ago I realized that if and when I did get back to it, I would have to do a major revision, right from the beginning. The main character is way too passive. I’ve been holding something back, I thought. As though I was courting sympathy on his behalf, as though I wanted readers to like him! This was a deeply satisfying idea—to make him driven (he already is, but so far, with no clear object or motive). Driven, manipulative, self deceived.

Now I’m thinking that’s still not enough. Yes, I want to finish it. No, I don’t want to write a ‘novel.’

I really don’t.

Not anymore. Not the sort of novel this keeps turning into. And playing with the characters isn’t going to change that.

Why not write it over. As poetry? Something no less radical.

It's how it began

There are chapters now that read like conventional short fiction. I meant them to stand in contrast to their surrounding context. They do, but the difference is not stark enough. The contrasts are superficial, stylistic, fail to penetrate to the level of language itself, fail to push at the boundaries of poetry and prose. most disturbing of all, fail to challenge the hegemonic authority of narrative, its power to harness every other element--space and time itself--to the task of fulfilling the mimetic desires of the reader.

What is the pleasure—or the point—of limiting our efforts to what we know we can do?


  1. After I finished my first novel, and found a publisher for it, I dreamed that I was on my way to becoming a "novelist," which is to say, someone who would write them on a regular basis and make enough money, if not to live on, than to at least provide a significant supplement. What followed was a bitter disappointment on an epic scale. It has been five years and I have sold perhaps 50 copies, maybe. Most of my "friends" have not bought it--many have, but most have not. Every year, around winter holidays and my birthday, I tell everyone who will listen that all I want is for people to buy my book. Nobody does. I have begged for help promoting my book, with very little luck. (Note: one Jacob Russel is a notable exception in having helped me promote it, and I am grateful for it.) I was bitter about it for a long time, but I'm not bitter any more. Not much anyway.

    A few months ago I finished my second novel. I think it's better than my first, and I was a big fan of my first one. (I thought it was great!) Thus far I've had zero luck getting anyone to even look at it. This includes the publisher of my first book. She doesn't want to read it. The premise is simply not up her alley. I understand and accept this, though I sigh wearily as I do so. But then again, even if it does get published, chances are that almost nothing will change. I'll have two published novels with two-figure circulations instead of one.

    I'm working on a third novel. I'm not sure why. I think it's because I enjoy writing novels. I'm amazed at how easily I lose sight of this, how easily I forget how much I enjoy the actual process. I often procrastinate. Sometimes I'll fall out of my rhythm and not work on it for a long period of time, but I find I'm happiest when I'm working on it every day. It doesn't matter if I ever get it published. Or if I do and it doesn't sell. I enjoy doing it. Like I enjoy riding my bike or playing my banjo or anything else. I never ever had any delusions that I'd ever be the next Lance Armstrong or Bela Fleck. I do those things for the pleasure of doing them. And I work on my novels now in the same spirit.

    Or I try to, anyway.

    Sometimes, I'm still a little bitter.

    (I'm a much better writer than Dan Brown, goddamn it!)

    Pardon that outburst.

    I fear this may be a considerable divergence from your point, but I'm just writing what your post inspired me to write, even if it is a bit tangential. I write what I enjoy writing. Because we only have so much time on this Earth. May as well spend it doing what we enjoy.

    Good luck with your novels and poems.

  2. Hey, Frances, meet Andy! I think you'd love "Mother's Milk" and Andy, meet Frances... go buy a copy of Cooperative Village.

    There is never ever any real reason to to do anything, but for the love it. I mean... there's stuff you gotta do... like, ya have to shit. I accept that. But I can never get out the crapper soon enough. Same for working for for money.