Occasionally I get in a ruminating mood and wonder if I’m doing everything in life that I really want to be doing. I read three of John Scalzi’s novels recently – he is a fresh, invigorating writer that writes very old school sci-fi, and I had one of these ruminating moods as an indirect result; I started to wonder why I haven’t written any substantial fiction in several years.
Then I looked around at the old – well, let’s call it mature – townhouse that H and I have moved into, and realized that I wanted to write another book, and write it here.
Since Elise Journey, I have started and abandoned two books in the last 4-5 years. Each still exists in the form of several chapters and perhaps 50,000-60,000 words in notes. One is the sequel to EJ, which I think would be remarkably easy to finish if I wasn’t constantly bogged down and discouraged with the knowledge that the first book remains extremely obscure and rather amateurish.
That’s not the real problem, though. The problem is the second project, something that remains so elusive that I have written at least 12 separate first chapters without much satisfaction from any of them. And yet the concept is so promising that I refuse to abandon it. The characters are all there, well developed and drawn, but I’m at a loss how to get the ball rolling. Part of my drought in production is surely due to my foolish twenties, and later on, my concentration on grad school and then the PhD, but most of it lies in my inability to successfully start this book, which I will henceforth dub Book X.
I think about Book X and EJ’s sequel nearly every day. I especially think about them during long drives, where there is little to do but tell stories to myself. In this sense, writing is an antidote to a benevolent disease; I write to quiet this constant storytelling. Once the stories are written down, they shut up, having become memories instead of shifting, recurring snatches that refuse to pin themselves down. I have mercifully forgotten a lot of the plot in EJ because it’s all right to do so. It’s all in print; I don’t have to actively keep it alive by retelling it to myself constantly.
A sense of place is important to writing. I wrote EJ in several places in Tucson. For example, almost everything in the book that happens in winter was written on the steps of Old Main at the University of Arizona in the middle of the summer of ’98. For whatever reason, I also remember writing the first chapter of EJ earlier that year while sitting in a hallway in Modern Languages, waiting to talk to some professor about some short story I’d written. I wrote the bulk of the rest in a small rented room off of Campbell, on a cranky Pentium I, after classes and work, usually in the middle of the night.
My old apartment in Memphis, where I stayed for the last four years, never really had the right vibe. It wasn’t quiet, for one. The train on the Southern line went by every hour or so not a hundred yards away, and my neighbors were noisy. It was the biggest place I’ve ever rented, which isn’t saying much, but it wasn’t ideal.
This new (old) place is in a much quieter neighborhood, and we have made the larger of the two bedrooms upstairs into a reasonable office. I also have my shared office in Patterson.
I think I can write here, and that’s good, because I’m tired of having two books living in my head and wanting out. The interior of my skull is doubtlessly bruised. It’s time to give it a break. Can I write one or more of them while writing the dissertation? I think so. I don’t even think it would slow me down significantly. I sense a period of great productivity coming on.