Monday, March 06, 2006

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 10

Still Researching!

Research for my fiction project continues unabated, and it has been a great deal of fun and informative as all get-out so far. I feel as though I have learned quite a bit about the Depression and the solutions/steps taken by the government and by regular people to combat its effects. Right now I am working my way through a lengthy collection called "Hard Times", not the Dickens novel (Dickensfest V is later this summer or fall), but an oral history of the Depression compiled by the legendary Chicago radio man Studs Terkel. Oral histories may seem touch and go, depending on who is doing the storytelling I guess, but it is a great way to get multiple voices on whatever the topic is. And in the case of Terkel's book, which was published in 1970 (the year I was born), "multiple voices" is putting it mildly. He interviewed literally hundreds of people for the book and they are from ALL walks of life, different races, social classes, occupations, and even different generations. He frequently talks to children of people who made their way through the Depression (like I am) and gathered their impressions together as well. Reading the stories of people from such a diverse cross-section of the United States is fascinating and helps me to glean a kind of general picture of the "state of the nation" during this era. It is interesting to note that in a lot of cases, people didn't suffer financially from the Depression. Some people, fortunate ones, had the opposite experience. The movie industry flourished, for example (they could probably use some of that excess now given the box office figures in this day and age). Some businessmen made a lot of money from selling stocks 'short'. Those who knew how to take advantage of the situation did the best, but most Americans just wanted to be put to work and make a living for themselves and those close to them. A common theme in the stories is the desire to be working and the dignity and self-confidence that having gainful employment brought to people.

Next up for me in the research is the Indiana-specific volume "Indiana Through Tradition and Change: 1920-1945" which should really help me narrow down on the specific region I want to set my tale in. I am looking forward to that a great deal. I probably know next to nothing about Indiana history, but my father sure will recognize a lot of things in the book, I am sure. Since it focuses on the state itself, and doesn't address the national situation as much, I am sure it will give me plenty of details to make my story, set in Indiana, credible. At least, that is the hope, and it sounds good on paper (or online)......

Question: How Am I Going to Do This?

I saw a friend over the weekend who knows I am involved in research for a "novel". He hasn't read much of what I write and I am sure he is wondering how I could possibly expect to pull this off, to really write a credible novel. He said to me something down the lines of, "It is going to be interesting to see how you plan do this." He's right, it is going to be interesting. I don't think he doesn't think I am capable of doing it. But he's right to wonder how.....the next logical question, which he didn't ask, is "How ARE you going to go about it?" That's a darn good question. If he had asked me I would have said, "I'm looking forward to finding that out."

By way of response to this question, I will attempt to make a few observations. I think the way to get to where I want to go is not to have a map. Or at least, not a formal one. Over the years I have thought very, very often - probably more so than is healthy, really - about how to write a novel. That's just the sort of thing I think about, what can I say. Another friend who I went to grad school with me once observed that he lives "constantly" in his "writer's world". I think I am like that too. It doesn't mean I am a "real" "writer", but it means I think of things more often than not in terms of story or writing or future writing or what it would be like to write about whatever that thing is. Odd stories I hear, true or not, will suggest writing topics to me. Gatherings or family events almost always suggest journal writing or some kind of way to preserve experiences in some written way. Reading books suggest new topics for exploration in fiction in nonfiction. Ditto films. What I am trying to say is to confirm that adage that "everything is grist", which I don't remember who to attribute to. (Duke probably would know.)

With this kind of brain, for what it is worth (to this point, not much), I also spend a lot of time reading the work of and learning about other writers: those gone before me or masters of the present that I admire. And one of the things I always hear from the writers that I admire the most has to do with how one gets a novel or work of fiction going. Many writers may work with a complete outline or a chapter-by-chapter "plan". But the ones I admire the most either for their artistry or their values (and in the best cases, both) don't seem to. They seem to begin with an idea, an impression, a small 'scene', a moment. They attempt to write that down, and then follow it where it leads. Sounds easy, right? Of course it is not, as anyone who has ever tried to write fiction can attest to, but nonetheless I think that this is the way to work. There has to be an allowance for the creative process of writing to do what it does - both on the page itself, when you are writing, and off the page, when you are NOT writing. The subconscious mind will work on your story even while you are not actually writing the story. I have learned this to be true through my experience with writing stories. You think about it, you work it over day by day, and it kind of works you over at the same time.

So, I am not saying that I have absolutely no idea what I want my Indiana story to be about; this blog has stated otherwise. I have some general ideas as far as the period of time I want it to cover, and who at least two of the main characters in the book are - Walter Brogan, the main character, and his son, Father Luke Brogan, S.J. [Names subject to change] And I also have some vague ideas around how I want the book to be structured, where the part of the "novel" that centers on Walter Brogan's life will begin (circa 1922 or so) and where I want his story to end (circa 1960 or so). But I don't want to do a WHOLE lot more 'planning' about the plot of the book or the specific events that will take place in it. I just want to begin writing about this character and let it flow. My hope is that with enough research I will get some sense of the world I want to create for these people, and with that some ideas of how they might have gone about their lives. Then I want to find a place that might be a good place to begin - a particular setting and scene, make an attempt to write that scene, and go with that.

Will it work? Hell, I don't know. But I think it is as good a method as any. I think there is a whole subconscious part of this story waiting to be unearthed from my imagination. I think these characters can be brought up from my mental substrata and breathed through with life. The question is whether I will have the stamina and the will and the vision to actually do that digging. The persistence to ride through those days, and I know them, when NOTHING you write works and the entire story seems like it's empty, meaningless and trite. Or when you just do not know WHERE to take it. I think persistance is the main quality that is needed with a project like this - perseverance, determination, drive, whatever you want to call it. I don't have this in a lot of areas in my life but I feel like I do have it when it comes to this.

Does that mean I am going to get this done? Not necessarily, time will tell if I have what it takes. Someone I know once commented to me recently that what I am talking about doing is a "major undertaking". And so it is.

That's how I want it.

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