Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Journal of a “Novel”-Entry 33


I was astonished to find out that it has been over four months since I last posted a ‘Journal’ entry here on this blog. I wish I could say it is because I have been hammering away at the ‘novel’ I was working on, but it isn’t. As we have noted here a few times before, both Duke and myself, life has a way of intervening, and it certainly has in my case. The process of searching for a first house, buying one and moving my entire life (and my family’s) from one state to another was a massive one that is only now pretty well settled in my rear view mirror. I was openly hopeful on this blog that it wouldn’t deal a deathblow to my fiction writing, and over the last few months some of those fears have been borne out in the form of a stalemate in the third chapter of the novel I am working on. Getting back in the swing of writing has been a difficult job and in all honesty I am still trying to get my hunger for it back and find the resources within to provide me with the required effort and persistence.

I did write one short story since I made my move, called ‘In the Throes’, whose brief life was briefly catalogued here in previous posts. But I only showed it to one reader and was oddly unhappy with the ultimate result: I thought it had some of the strongest writing I have ever done in it, but on the whole I am not sure of the story’s success, and definitely unsure of its potential to find itself into print. The craft of short-story writing continues to baffle me and I am not sure I am cut out for it. The harder I work at it the less I seem to really progress towards writing a good one myself. Having said that, however, I seriously doubt that I have made my last attempt.

All of this has caused me to think a lot about my writing life lately. I have been trying to learn how to be a writer for the last 17 years, since around 1990. I was 19-20 years old then and in college and now I am 36 with a wife and two daughters, but I still don’t have much writing to show for it that’s worth showing. Part of me is tired of trying. Part of me thinks I am only just getting started. Part of me wonders if after all of the false-starts, lame stories, semi-autobiographical essays, years and years of journal writing, lyrics, and attempted novels, do I even know what sort of writing I want to do? Am I a fiction writer or not? I got a Master’s degree to tell the yawning world that I am educated in fiction writing, but haven’t published any fiction. Where the hell is all this going???


Over the years I have always tried to tell myself to persist in my writing efforts because of the fact that 1) I enjoyed doing it, 2) I wasn’t hurting anyone by doing it, and 3) it meant not giving up on my dreams. At 36 with debt and responsibilities, I don’t know to what degree I can really afford to hold on to my dreams. But I hold on to them nonetheless, somehow. If I am not hurting anyone by trying to write, I am not helping anyone either, least of all myself, and yet I still do it. I don’t even know why, except for a feeling I have that I need to and that’s part of who I am and what I do.

And it’s that feeling, I suppose, more than anything else, which makes me determined to continue writing the novel I started, which has been languishing in its third chapter for more than six months. I have lost the momentum on it that I had, I don’t have a great feeling for the story right now, and I don’t feel that great about it in general, but I’m not going to give up on it yet. Over the last two weeks I have suddenly pulled out the manuscript again and taken a few shots at picking up in Chapter 3 in an effort to finish it and revise it so I can move on to Chapter 4. And it has come on only in spurts. But I think I will be able to get Chapter 3 done. It is a long chapter – long by my standards, even – but I think it will be fairly cohesive and at least goes along with what has come before. The hard part is going to be going on from here.

At the end of Chapter 3, Walter Brogan, my protagonist, attends a meeting of the Knights of Columbus, which his friend Cal Wittenburg, a farmer and Fourth Degree Knight of the same organization, has invited him to. While he is there he reveals what happened at his wedding reception, which is detailed in Chapter 1 of the novel. This is the first time that the information that the Ku Klux Klan has operated within the town of Bentonville has ‘gone public’, and that, coupled with the knowledge that the Klan’s hand-selected candidate, Edward Jackson, has just been elected the next governor of Indiana, creates a heightened tension over the breadth and duration of the Klan’s ‘reign’ in the state.

However, at the outset of Chapter 4, the timeline of the novel will have advanced a few years, to roughly 1927, and by this time the Klan’s influence and power will be severely diminished in Indiana. I have to find a way to ease the reader into the next phase of the story without letting them down from the heightened expectations that might have been set at the end of Chapter 3. My idea was never to write a novel of ‘little guy versus the Klan’. It has always been to show what Walter Brogan has to go up against in a lifetime’s worth of struggle against negative forces, and the Klan is only one of those forces. So for me the challenge lies in moving the story along without creating any letdowns from what has gone before. The fact is that Brogan will have nothing to do with the demise of the Klan; he won’t have to. The Klan will bury themselves, which is exactly what they did in real life in Indiana. But, the fact that Walter Brogan told the members of the Knights of Columbus what happened at his wedding without ever telling his wife or his extended family is going to create tension in Brogan’s own household and, more importantly, his marriage, and that is the crucial element that has to come across. Following that, I will have the further challenge of moving the story forward into the next series of challenges that may lie in store for Walter Brogan.

Stay tuned, then, for what I hope will be increased reportage on the evolution of this novel in progress.

1 comment:

Duke Altum said...

Reading the first half of this post, I felt like going to hang myself or something (slight exaggeration!)... ah, but then, as Mutt gets into his ideas for the novel he's trying to get off the ground again, my optimism returned. It's been a while since I visited this material, but now that I read about it again, I still insist, THERE IS INTERESTING STUFF HERE. Of course it's easy to shout that from the sidelines, but I need to use this forum to encourage Mutt to keep at it, because even in the short sections he describes here, there are lots of complicated and interesting issues to tinker with.

Maybe if you relax your grip ever so slightly on getting every little historical detail right (you can always go back and revise those later) and concentrate on putting as much wisdom and human insight you can into your characters and each page, you will be surprised at what you come out with.

Of course, it goes without saying that I have no real idea of what I'm talking about, that I'm totally guessing here and drawing upon ZERO experience in this arena... but some of the parts I've read where you reflect on relationships between characters, or Brogan's inner thoughts about his responsibilities or whatever, have been the strongest parts of the book so far. Remember, Alix was very impressed by that one passage that described Greta's relationship with her father? Stuff like that... I guess this has been a running theme with my "criticism": try to dig down deep into what's driving and motivating your characters, and plumb those issues... when you write in this post about Brogan trying to deal with the mounting pressures his life is throwing at him, that got me interested in the potential of this story again...

Does any of this make any sense?