Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 30


"For at least the first three months of 2006, I decided I am going to embark on a 'reading experiment' unlike anything I have tried before. I am going to spend the first quarter of the year doing what I guess I am going to call 'research reading' in preparation for a writing project I plan to attempt." - Mutt Ploughman, December 6, 2005

'Tis the season for year-end reviews, so I am going to devote this edition of the Journal to a retrospective of the first year of progress on the writing of what, let's hope, will become my first novel, tentatively titled "Only The Dying".

On the publication front, aside from working on the novel, I have made a number of attempts to get published again this year, but most of them fell short. My lone success this year was the publication of my book review "Freedom's Warriors" in America magazine, on May 10. I sent out at least four short stories, two more reviews, and a number of queries, and I also entered one short story writing contest, but none of them worked out. So be it, that's the writer's life. I STILL have not made it into the ranks of published fiction writers, after at least ten years of trying. But I will, eventually. I guarantee that. I do have one story still out for review so I guess there is the remote possibility that it could be accepted for publication, but it won't happen in 2006.

Back to my main focus for the year, my novel in progress, set in Indiana between 1924 and roughly 1960. As you can see from my post of almost exactly one year ago, I started the year conducting research with the intention of hopefully starting a novel. I wanted to limit the period of time I allowed myself to research: so I decided I would read exclusively about the time and places I was interested for a period of 3-4 months. I read numerous books about the Depression, the oil industry, and the State of Indiana between December '05 and March of this year. This was the first time I had ever read a series of books with the specific intent to research a writing project, and it was a really interesting and informative learning experience. I feel like I gained a great deal of background information, but it was no where near comprehensive. I didn't want to overload myself on the research. I only wanted to do enough to get myself to a starting point, following the model once famously put forth by the novelist E.R. Doctorow.

Since I actually begin to write the Prologue to the novel in March, I think the research worked well for me in this regard. Sooner or later, you have to just dive in. I had only done 3 months' worth of 'hard' reading for the novel, but I knew that I had been mulling over themes and potential storylines for years. Then an idea for a way to begin (and eventually end) the novel came to me in the form of the character of Father Luke Brogan, S.J., the son of Walter Brogan, the protagonist of the novel I was intending to write. So I just picked up the ol' automatic pencil and started knocking out a Prologue, set in the present day. So curiously enough, after all the period-oriented reading I had been doing for over three months, when I actually started writing the novel I placed my character in the present day. But this character had been raised and his character formed during the period I had just spent three months researching, and my hope was that whatever knowledge I the writer had gained about that time would somehow be translated into the appropriate voice for the elderly priest I was creating. That was the idea. I don't know how successful it was.

In the eight months that have passed between March and early December, I have written and revised a Prologue and the first two Chapters of Part I of the novel. I don't write at a fast pace, obviously, but I think I've gained more ground than I might have hoped in the first year of effort. I try to set long-term goals for my writing life, and this novel is no exception. But I also try to keep them attainable and realistic. I always knew that if I ever started writing a novel - especially one that was set in a time that I did not live in - I was going to need a lot of time to stumble my way through it. First novelists, in one sense, having no name and no contract, no pressures from anyone other than themselves, have all the time in the world. The only deadlines are self-imposed. I try to keep mine reasonable. At one point in my life I had the goal of obtaining a Master's degree before I turned 30. I just got that in under the wire, finishing my graduate thesis in May 2000 (my 30th birthday was in November). [Note: that "thesis" was supposed to be my first "novel", a story about soliders called "The Faith and Fire Within". But it never quite got itself together; I think it was too soon for me to make a serious attempt. Although at the time I was very serious about it. I wrote about 300 longhand pages, which I still have, but they're painful.]

Now, my next longterm goal is simple: finish this novel before I turn 40. I am currently 36. As you can see, I am giving myself a lot of time. But I know myself and my work ethic; I also know the time constraints I have working against me and how my lack of experience will cause me to take more time. But in light of this timeframe, I think that the fact that I have 3 chapter-sized portions of the book written in draft means I am making pretty decent progress. I have a Prologue and two chapters, and I just started working on a third. Since I envision the book to have maybe somewhere between 12-15 chapters, I think I am off to a pretty decent start. So I have to note here for the record that I am pleased with the progress I have made so far. This is without a doubt the most serious attempt I've made at a dream I've had for at least 16 years: to write a novel. If you have a dream and you stick at it for 16 years or more, you're either dedicated, stubborn as hell, or just plain crazy. Most writers would probably tell you that it takes all three of those to get a novel done. I am certainly learning that myself. But I'm proud of what I've written so far, and I am proud that I am sticking to my vision for the book.

Am I writing a good novel? Can I do this for another 3 or 4 YEARS? Will anyone publish it? Will anyone want to read it if someone does? Does anyone give a damn besides me one way or another? Who knows. Those aren't questions I am interested in right now. All I want to do is write the story that's been brewing in me for a long time.

Thus, I make my pledge for 2007: 3-4 more chapters. As I see it, if I succeed with this goal, by this time next year the novel will be halfway done, more or less. I advise all readers to get in on the ground floor now. Start throwing your support my way and then brag to all your friends later that you were behind the book from the beginning. (Just kidding.) But seriously, there it is: my goal for 2007. Write more of the novel, non-stop.


Aura McKnightly said...

I'm in on the ground floor, I'm just not sure which way to turn.

Mutt Ploughman said...

Aura, good point. I'll let you know when I find out. You ARE on the ground floor though, in fact, you were there when they were digging the hole for the foundation around, say, 1990!