Thursday, March 31, 2016
I’ve just cut to pieces, reassembled, re-read and edited my next novel which still doesn’t have a title and if things go as they have been, perhaps not even a life.
What happened to this story that I had created at my computer and in bed at my usual wake-up hour of 3:00 a.m. is that I couldn’t decide at first from which viewpoint I’d tell the story: the fifteen-year-old girl who was in the middle of escaping an abusive relationship at a homeless camp under a local viaduct or that of the seventy-year-old childless woman at whose door the girl appears one night saying, “Hello, Grandma.”
An early morning inspiration decreed that I’d tell this story from both viewpoints, alternate the chapters, and one would be told in present tense, the other in past tense. A kind of challenge to me, the writer. All went pretty well. I had to keep track of what was happening two chapters before the one I was writing and somehow keep the timeline the same for each viewpoint version. When the girl opens the door and sees her abuser sitting on the porch (her POV), the old lady will hear the conversation and call the police (her POV), one chapter later.
I somehow did this for two hundred pages. Then I read what I had written. The opening chapter had no hook, the story had an arc but it arced weakly in two places and the tension I had hoped for dissipated into ho- hum. The story might have been interesting, but the telling wasn’t.
So I did what I’ve done before with at least one other first draft. I cut it into pieces and laid them out on our bed. I pushed the pieces around, moving the third chapter (one that caught even my attention) to the opening chapter of the book, and combined the two arcs into one big arc involving both my characters. Then I gathered up the results of the efforts on the bed, stapled the piles all together, and realized when I looked them over that I’d lost what I wanted to establish when I started, POV and tenses. Plus, the story read as if I’d put it together in a Sunbeam Mix Master
I have bandaged this sad wounded story with edits and re-writes for more than two weeks now. It’s not healed yet. I’m almost sure its condition is terminal.
Sometime this early morning I remembered a book written by William Styron, I believe, describing his bout with depression during the writing of a novel that just wasn’t going anywhere, no matter what he tried. He, or a writer like him, sat one evening, silent, at a table as guests talked and laughed around him. Suddenly, the writer got up from the table, went into his study, picked up his manuscript, grabbed a shovel in the back hall, went outside, dug a hole, and buried the sucker in the vegetable garden.
I guess my novel is lucky I live in a condo with four small pots of geraniums on the terrace and no shovel.