Now I remember what it felt like to be in the grip of a story.
To find my way back to writing fiction, I needed to give up the project I had on the front burner before my marriage fell apart - the third draft of Scratch the Dead Places, the final draft, which is really fucking good, if I say so myself. Unfortunately, parts of Scratch are a little too close to reality.
My second-burner, part two of the Ming trilogy, is in the safe terrain of almost pure imagination. It also hasn’t compelled me in the slightest. Even if they use different processes and have different views, most authors agree that when the story stops, it’s because you’ve taken a wrong turn. I know exactly what parts two and three entail. I have whole scenes just ready to type like dictation, but the main character – Levi – just isn’t speaking loudly enough.
Instead of either of these big projects, or beginning yet another short story (in keeping with the writing queue as kitchen metaphor), I dug way back in the freezer.
How long has The Block been there? I know sixty-four pages of a WordPerfect second draft were written in October 2006, that the original was written on a floppy disc then transferred to a hard disc, before CD-ROM, before jump drives.
Re-reading the eighty-seven pages of the third-draft in MS-Word (although since none of these versions were completed, calling them “drafts” pushes kindness into the realm of fabrication; let’s call the hundreds of pages devoted to The Block on floppy, hard disc, and CD-ROM false starts), I was surprised by how good it is. I never finished it because it felt too easy. It’s basically one story of hundreds I used to tell myself as a child to pass the lonely hours. When you live with a story for that long, you stop thinking it could have value for anyone except yourself.
The Block has been the perfect medicine because it is easy. I know exactly where it’s going and who the characters are (if not necessarily how they get there), and it’s all made up.
It’s also unpublishable. Even though books can get away with a lot of things movies and TV shows can’t because of the audience’s smaller scale, I can’t imagine a publisher tackling the legal hassles associated with having Barbie as the main character.
Supposedly one writes with an ideal first reader in mind. With this story, I’ve rediscovered myself as my first reader and it feels just fine. Whether anyone else ever reads it…
But the feeling I refer to in my opening sentence is not the joy of using imagination instead of reality to push the cursor, but the frustration involved in having a job. Short stories are one thing, but tackling a novel in the space between sleep and work is tough. If writing was sex, it’s interrupting foreplay to pay bills. If writing was food, it’s knowing how delicious the main course will be but trying to fill your stomach by nibbling appetizers because you’ll never be served. If writing was art, it’s penciling an outline, mixing the paints, dabbling a few colors, then cleaning your brushes because you know everything will dry before you find time to finish.
I wish there was a grant for authors who’ve written a Young Adult fantasy Bildungsroman with an adopted Chinese girl as the protagonist, which is the first of three, who need a few months off to hammer out the rest of the trilogy.
Maybe I should look for a sugar momma.