|Totally fake cover. It'll do for now.|
And then last NaNoWriMo came along. I had just started artist modeling seriously at that point, and even though I really wanted to love it (getting paid - well! - to stand around naked getting turned into art? Hell, yeah) I was bored out of my mind. I was literally counting seconds. You think you watched the clock in your high school biology class? Oh, no. You have no idea just how far time can slow down until you're holding perfectly still. It was the second or third three-hour session of an eight-session pose. I thought I might go, y'know, just mildly insane. And then I realized it was November 1st, day one of the challenge. My sister was doing it. My dad was doing it. Why not me?
By the end of that pose, I had a plotline. I went home and started writing. And a book fell out of me.
Maybe this is normal? Maybe this happens to people who want to be writers all the time. I am still baffled. I hadn't been going around with a book in my head. It had never even occurred to me to write a superior novel, ever; the closet I'd come was wistfully imagining writing an awesome bodiceripper and/or epic fantasy series that wouldn't suck. And all of a sudden I was holding this...this book. By accident. I just got up every day for a couple months (I got to thirty thousand words by the end of November, not fifty, but I kept on writing, without even really thinking about it; it became a habit, like brushing my teeth) and wrote a thousand words, and a book fell out. I am still bewildered by this. Not to say that I didn't think about it and wrassle with it and agonize over it; I did. But not at first. The entire book just happened to me. And I realized I liked it. So I put it aside for a couple of months, and I rewrote it. And then I did that again, and this morning I finished it. The first draft was 60,000 words and change; the second draft was almost 80,000; the third draft, the one you might actually like reading, comes in at a manageable 73,000. (I can probably cut more. Beta readers, I don't really need two scenes in a slightly mystical planetarium, do I?)
I have no idea if it holds together. If you read my blog, you know I have a tendency to get excitable; for all I know, the whole damn thing's a mess. I don't think it is, but it might be. But it's a semblance of a book, at least. A book I absolutely didn't mean to write, and am now trembling over, because I want - desperately - for it to be good. I don't mean successful. Although I'd be a liar if I said I'd never entertained dreams of being the next, I don't know, Eat Pray Love or Life of Pi, except, of course, better, what I want, probably much too badly, is for my book to mean something. In some way, all the art I've ever made is about trying to convey a feeling I've got - a sense of wonder and mystery and longing, the throat-ache of beauty. That's what the Museum is about, in part, and when I wanted to be a filmmaker in my teens that's what all my movie ideas were about, and now this book is like that too. In a way, my model is not a novel but a short story by Bernard Malamud - any short story, I don't care, but probably "Angel Levine" if I had to pick one.
See, I don't know if my novel makes sense like a novel's supposed to. It'd be somewhere between 250 and 300 pages as a paperback, and I can't for the life of me figure out how it got that long. I meant for it to be spare, sparse, airy, full of space and quiet, so that the feeling would come out from between the lines. Maybe it should have been a short story. But it wanted to be a novel. It's not full of darlings; I am surprised and pleased by my own words, but I could cut almost any of it promptly and cheerfully, if I thought it would mean the book would come alive in your hands, would resonate, would give you that shivery feeling that says: something just happened to me. That's not what's important to all writers. It's just what's important to me.
Except you can't do that feeling on purpose, I don't think, or maybe you can if you're a master, but I'm not a master. I've got a pretty good opinion of myself, to be sure, but not that good; that would just be foolish. I was reading The Chosen by Chaim Potok not long ago, and at the climax of the novel I broke down weeping. Just, wham, tears all over the place. Nobody died, nothing all that sentimental even happened; he had just created a book so tightly drawn, feelings so perfectly taut, and then he plucked a string - just one - not even that hard - and oh, the resonance! I don't think I've done that with my book. I don't see how I could have; I'm just not that masterful. All I really want, now, is to know if I can make my book closer to that kind of resonance. Whatever I have to cut, pare, rewrite, add, subtract, heighten, amplify - it doesn't matter. It's a book about the longing for wonder, and what we call call God, and where exactly our experience of mystery and mysticism start, and I want it to sing, god damn it. It's like, with Klezmer music? Something happens to me. I get this tense, glorious, joyful, achy feeling when I hear it; it's so beautiful and it gives me the strangest sense of longing, and it's one part lament and one part festival, and really, how the heck do they do that? So I've sent my book out into the wilds of People Who Are Not Me, in case maybe they can help me make it feel a little bit more like this: