Out of the Closet

Fall, a new decade of life, and a novel, not new but on my mind and sitting in a closet, jammed into a big brown paper bag as a 550 page manuscript to reconsider.

What to do, what to do? Over 130,000 words, a big sad book; a serious subject -- death on the job -- hours and hours, days, weeks, months of research. What to do? Individual readers - not many; I've never been in the habit of widely circulating unpublished work - responded with enthusiasm, but publisher after publisher turned it down, until I decided to put it away.

And yet, it is one of the stories I want to have finished before I finish myself. Completion includes presenting it to readers, i.e. publishing, when it is ready.

All the changes in a writer's life. The move from handwriting to typewriting to using a computer. From fusty stacks in the library to easier on-line research with instant results.
Remembering my determination to become a good writer, making myself sit at my desk for at least three hours or 1000 words. The beginning of a discipline that came to be a daily necessity. Trying, trying again, amassing 100 typed pages I then pared down to a ten page story. Studying the words of writer/mentors like John Gardner. Reading Alice Munro, John Sayle's early short stories, all the writers... Sean O'Casey, Sean O'Faolain, Dostoyevsky - the humanity, the passion; so many great writers, too many to list, but those names jump up because I analyzed their work to learn from them: how did he make an unsympathetic character sympathetic? how did she achieve that structure and how did it serve the story, more than serve it, really create it? Thinking of language, aware of a tendency to repeat words (Avoid careless repetition, said John Gardner) Never thinking of potential readers, certainly not of book promotion unless someone else initiated it. Never selling enough books to become a hot property. Beginning to realize, and only rather recently (Yikes!), that that could/would be a problem for potential publishers.

Behind the curtain, at the place where I feel most at home, wondering if I should pull it back and peek out. Consider readers who like a little lift. Make it funny? Change my main p.o.v. character from a librarian to a stand-up comic or a marine biologist? A marine biologist could be funny. One publisher responded to the original manuscript by saying he was looking for something snappier. Would he like a sardonic marine biologist better than my slightly overweight Scots bibliophile? Perhaps now, after several years, I will find the manuscript itself overweight.

It used to seem that a novel, or story, once begun, was self-determining. That is, it became actual, an entity, with its own requirements to which the writer responded. Could be I have to listen more carefully to what this novel wants to tell me.

First step, open the closet.