Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fidelity in Writing

I met a new novel yesterday.

Not a new idea for a novel -- I had that a few weeks ago when a conversation with a black historian gave me an idea for another vampire novel in my Testaments. Basic premise, rough outline of the story arc, new characters...I made a few pages of notes in my Moleskine on the subway and kept going.

No. This was a new novel, delivered almost as if on a golden platter, the beginning of the story, where it went, the theme and subtext, a range of interesting people I didn’t know, a few characters from the book I’m working on now in a new place in their lives, and the chance to skewer Atlantic Yards and the whole current crop of mega-developers reshaping Brooklyn around me. Sweet.

It was born as a follow up to the novel I’m working on now, one that’s finally up to speed, but still in an early stage of hard work, well before the midpoint, and still very much an uphill climb. I started it after I completed my first novel, to keep me busy while I looked for an agent and publisher. It kept me busy writing, gave me somewhere to go other than into obsessing about whether or not anyone would ever publish the first book. It worked, and after I found an agent, sold the first book and finished a follow-up that turned into book two of a trilogy, I went back to my busy book.

It’s on a personal theme and has given me more than one day of feeling it too much, getting momentarily lost in the replay of old emotions I thought I‘d come to terms with long ago. It’s a book I love, but not an easy one to write, even though it’s one I feel I must. My publisher gets a contractual first look at it, but there is no guarantee it will ever see print. I wanted to “sweeten the deal” by coming up with a second book that grew out of the first, to show them it could be a series, as my first is becoming.

Suddenly, here was its younger, prettier, offspring, birthed fully formed after only a week of gestation, spread out before me, fresh, nubile and tempting. None of the difficulties of sorting through over a hundred pages of notes, written by the writer I was before I’d finished two novels and learned what I’ve learned doing it, not the one I’ve become.

There was something tempting about the book that made me laugh when I thought about it. I found myself going back to it again and again in my mind over the course of the day of our formal introduction, considering where it could go, what I could do with it. So open, so inviting, filled with promise, seductive whispers of clever twists, new characters to explore, subtle jokes it would take multiple readings to find...I scribbled down all I could, created a folder, started the file that would carry me to the point of starting the novel.

Then I stopped.

I already had a book to write, dammit. A damned good one I’d spent years with, a story that had grown slowly, with difficulty, but become familiar, strong, worth following through. Sure, it was a little tough now. But I couldn’t do the second book without the first, and dumping the first to run to a new story that seemed easier and more fun was just stupid. I'd felt like I was falling in love when I started it, and just because we were well past the honeymoon and a little comfortable with each other was no reason to quit. I know there are still surprises in store, new love in the old.

It was what kept me from finishing anything I’d written when I was younger. I’d start a story, get to the hard part and race off after a hot new idea I’d had that seemed more fun. Sometimes they were, sometimes not. It was when I learned fidelity to an idea that I completed short stories, and finally my first novel. Being faithful in a relationship doesn’t only apply to people.

So I keep notes on the new novel and add to them when they pop into my head. Before I spend any real quality time with it I’ll end my relationship with the current novel, and wait until we are done with each other for real, not just taking a weekend off. I won’t call up the new file until I know I’m free to pursue it, and able to lose myself as fully in that relationship as I have in this one. It’ll be worth the wait, and better than that...

It’ll be like falling in love all over again.


KeVin K. said...

I mentioned in an earlier post that I often have several irons in the fire at the same time. This system works fine for articles and short stories. Never for novels. I have a half-dozen almost-novels, each abandoned when something new came along. Now I mostly keep them around for parts. I admire your discipline.

Liane Spicer said...

Beautiful analogy, Terence. I'd want to run off with the new story while the passion was hot and fierce, but you're right. That's a sure way to not finish anything. Damn. Don't know if I'd be able to do it. I hope by the time you get back to the new story the ardor hasn't cooled.

KeVin, LOL at "I mostly keep them around for parts."

Liane Spicer said...

Um, are those Moleskines all they're cracked up to be? Not that I need to go ordering anything else right now...

Terence Taylor said...

Me, I love them, but it does mean transcription. Part of my would prefer a netbook...But I never heard of anyone being knocked on the head on the subway so someone could steal the Moleskine notebook they were working on... ;)

I was always a notebook in the pocket or bag guy -- long before I found Moleskines...I ordered a bunch by the dozen to save on the cost -- stores want way too much for them.

Terence Taylor said...

And as to keeping it fresh, I keep irons in the fire, but only one on the main flame -- as ideas come up, I add them to the file...when one is done, whichever seems to have the most going for it steps up;

I may have overstated my fidelity, though it is always the goal...I suppose I could be thought of more as having a harem with a favorite senior wife who takes up most of my time and affection... ;)

Liane Spicer said...

Thanks, Terence. I'll order one and see how we get along.