Monday, August 24, 2009

Notes On Beginning A Novel

I just read online today that an old friend of mine from high school just completed his first novel. I'm happy for him and feel justifiably motivated to start working on mine. I wonder how one finishes a novel, or really, for that matter, maintains the presence of mind and the necessary tunnel vision to even start one. Yet another problem arises:

I start working on the novel, but then my brain jumps back to the common assertion that actually, no I need to write and finish some short stories in order to savor the notion of finality. To be able to submit them. To, god forbid get them published.

But rarely does a short story give me the same frisson as a good novel, or even a big, baggy, sloppy novel. There are exceptions, fairly major ones: Jesus's Son, Flannery O'Connor, Paul Bowles, Amy Hempel and my now long-lost copy, which keeps getting rarer by the day of The Piano Stories by the forgotten progenitor of Latin American magical realism, Felisberto Hernandez.

I used to think that one of the stories in that collection, "No One Had Lit A Lamp" was one of the greatest things I'd ever read, as well as being a prime example of how every instance can contain unquantifiable weirdness.

I gave it to a girl a long time ago. Or lent it, I can't remember which.

And yes there is Tobias Woolf too: there are segments in the second half of the justly-famous, and perennially studied "Bullet In The Brain" that make me tremble.

So I'll work on them, knowing each one, in some way, is only a prelude or a hint of the novel I want to write, or one of the novels I want to write. And then I think that wanting to write a novel is the offspring of a febrile, stunted mind. But then again, not wanting to write the novel would leave me vastly wanting. In life you figure out how to fill wants and needs in a more less practical balance? And yes, it is a question.

This "first" novel is going to be about a LOT of things I have no personal knowledge of, like murder and crime families for one thing. And Islam too. Islam? I suspect it will have less to do with Islam per se and more to do with fanciful heresies and related sects, like the much over hyped Yezidis who live in Northern Iraq. The Yezidis?
The Peacock Angel of the Yezidis. . .

Now, I'm curious to see my own thought process splattered on the page. A novel-planning binge began in my brain today. It was this morning, a grey, quiet day at the bookstore, typical for Mondays. Not many people passed through but some real maniacs felt compelled to loiter in the doorway. I shelved, I cleaned, I researched a rare book or two. I've started buying too, that is to say: buying books for the store from people who want to sell them to us, which is always enjoyable because people bring in all sorts of unlikely things. Like a bag entirely full of gardening, civil war history and erotica, and then you speculate what the soon-to-be prior owner of the books does or used to do, either for a livelihood or a vocation or simply for pleasure.

But it's impossible, when I'm working and when I'm working alone which is most of the time, not to think about writing. Here are the artifacts of it, enclosing me. The smell of the used bookstore which I've grown to savor. I'm reminded six or seven hours of the day about what I want to do with my life, with my brain, with the images in my head. It's oddly claustrophobic, somewhat stifling but also lucky. Like being inside my brain. And then escaping back into it.

I need some other completely unrelated part-time job. Or volunteer gig that is as far away from books as possible. This is one of the challenges for myself right now.

The books exist on the shelves to remind me to start thinking like a writer. And doing that means making improbable connections across the pulsing landscapes of the brain. The Internet aids and abets this process, often hampers and exacerbates. I'm forever thinking I can never do enough research or I haven't been to enough places or read enough books. And then the Internet corroborates this. I'm sent into the wilderness of other people's exploits and failures and victories, trying to cull from that history something that is profoundly mine yet everyone else's too.

I will refrain from saying anything else right now. Mostly because I'm full of tempura eggplant and being mollified by warmth and tango.

No comments:

Post a Comment