Saturday, January 30, 2010

A NOVEL ENDING


For more than three years as many as ten people lived here in my office. They were of my invention yet had lives of their own.

Three years ago I broke my left leg. The importance of this and distinguishing which one lies only in the fact that four years ago I had my right leg surgically repaired. It had been broken nine years earlier and never fully healed. My life has in some ways then, been measured by these episodes of leg damage, like markers along a highway.

The cast was from hip to toes. I was confined to home most of the time. After two months, I ran out of books of any interest, games to play, and crossword puzzles to do. For reasons not at all clear to me now, I wondered what it would be like to write dialogue. I have written all my life, but never done it. I was vaguely aware that there were rules about how it is done. I have also never writtten fiction. All of the writing I have done in my life—one should not count the political speeches—has been non-fiction. This lack of knowledge of the rules and format was not a barrier to my trying. It is hard to find something I will not try just because there are rules of which I am unaware.

I wondered what it would be like to write a story of two people explaining themselves to each other only through the spoken word as written on the page. That is how it began. As I did it, I began to see a beginning and an and end to a story and I rushed from one to the other with little regard for rules just to get it set down so I would not forget it. That done, I realized there was real work involved now. I needed not only to understand the rules, but also find a voice for each character, a time and a place for the story, and all manner of other details. Thus, three years have passed, the leg has long ago healed, and life as I know it has resumed, and I have had these two people and their friends, who do talk a great deal, yet need narrative to help them along their way now and then, living with me all this time.

Writers often tell of reading things the next day and wondering who had written it. This doesn’t happen to the non-fiction writer since they are writing about events and there are a set of facts or a piece of history to set down in what one hopes is eloquent prose. In a novel, there so many variables such as tone of voice, anger, fear, petulance, greed, and emotions in the voices and the moods of the characters. I was astonished to find it true. These people took over, they wrote about themselves it seems, and I as humble servant, provided the word processing and only followed along.

After my last adventure on the Oregon coast, it seemed time to finish this thing, this novel of mine. I was close to finding the right voices, creating the right words in the right order so that these people would be understandable to me and perhaps to others.

These people were of course dysfunctional or they would not be in a novel. As much as I enjoyed creating them and living with them and their myriad problems and successes everyday here in my cell-like space, I was growing tired of them, and they of me I should think. After all, none of us was getting any younger or more interesting. I read the book by my estimate, between 29 and 35 times from front to back and back to front and middle to each end. I changed them, I coddled them and cajoled them, I lowered their voice, I raised it, I made them more appealing or less so. I gave them new friends, I took away old ones, as some characters left as the story developed along quite different lines than I had originally imagined. Whole chapters came and went, added because they were needed, deleted because they represented some repetition or other nonsense even I could not fully appreciate or understand.

On Thursday night, I pushed the final keys that sent the proofs to the publisher. I will live in terror now until I have a book in hand and am sure that there are not just as many mistakes in grammar, syntax, and spelling as there were before they were read. After that I am sure I will be equally afraid that no one will understand this fiction that came from somewhere inside my head to the printed 500 plus pages that now embody something called “Sunset House.”

It was written down with care since it was there on my "Bucket List." It was somewhere in the top ten of things left to do, close to bungee jumping and above going scuba diving again. “Write a novel” has now been lined through.

It is done, and I will soon hold it in my hand and rejoice in its creation even if I am the only one that understands it and is glad that it was created at all. Such is the work of a wordsmith. We write to satisfy our own egotistical needs. If we are very lucky, we find an audience for our words. They do not matter so much, that audience. The memory of creating these---to me real—people was what brought me my pleasure. Should the reading of it by others bring them a smile, a moment of peace, a laugh, or a thoughtful moment, it will surely please me greatly to know I have contributed a moment to their lives.

The files have been backed-up into storage. All traces of these characters have been removed from my computer. They are now a memory. I will wonder about them from time to a time. Even now, I suffer the literary equivalent of separation anxiety.

I will post something when the book is published. It will be available through both Amazon and The Barnes and Noble web sites, but alas, unless I find a new talent for marketing in a life marked by the inability to sell guns in a riot, it will not be in any bookstore you know. It is published by iuniverse, a division of Barnes and Noble, in case someone should be foolish enough to want to read it.

The royalties that come to me from this printing will be passed on to the relief and rebuiding efforts in Haiti, likely to Doctors Without Borders, a group that has spent many years there and will spend many more. Should anyone be foolish enough to buy it, at least the profits will be for a good cause.

The writing, to paraphrase the recently late and iconic J.D. Salinger, is for the writer’s pleasure, and not for the profit it might bring. Of course, the cynic in me notes that he said that after the second printing of the wildly successful Catcher in the Rye.

Now I have turned my attention to planning my annual pilgrimage to the Valley of the Sun to immerse myself in my passion for the game called baseball and the men who play it so well. Then it will be April and time to be back on the road for three months. The Smoky Mountains seem to call again this year. I was there seven years ago and likely missed more than I saw. It will be warm there then and warm will be good come April and May. The proud road warrior, and my faithful companion, La Coachasita, will be ready after a few minor repairs. She fights stubbornly onward at 108,550 miles, and shows no sign of her age. From her acceleration, it is clear that she has a renewed zest for a trip.

In a few months then, this travelogue called Reamus will continue. I apologize for his absence in the humility of knowing he was likely not missed by many or all that much.

I have been reading your blogs with pleasure these past few months while the “clerical work” of galley proofing and cover design has been done. Thank you for continuing to educate and amuse me with your writings and photography. I hope you will find something in the scribbling here come spring that will do the same.