“But I am assailed with my own ignorance and inability.”
John Steinbeck, “Working Days,” Entry #18, June 18, 1938
“Must get no fatal feelings about it.”
John Steinbeck, “Working Days,” Entry #20, June 20, 1938
I was about eight and a half chapters in when it all fell apart.
Okay, not all. The first thirty words or so of the first chapter were decent. And there were ten or fifteen good words in chapter five. Beyond that….
Honestly, it’s not that bad, but I did have some long hard sessions the last few days where I began to realize the new novel wasn’t working. Not in a mechanical, “Fix this here strut and that back brake and maybe the headlight and ever’thang’ll be good” kind of way, but in a “I’m not sure this thang’s got a engine” kind of way.
Chapter eight felt forced, is the best I can describe it. It felt hollow and forced and entirely superficial. What I came to realize, after much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair (metaphoric hair, for those of you who know me) was that one character was shouting at me to cut his stage time.
Once I realized that, that chapter came clear. So I set about writing it, happily tapping away until I realized that to do the chapter the new way meant restaging the players quite a bit upstream. That realization forced me to rethink the time line in its entirety.
I had been fixated on this book happening about two months after the first book in the series. Fixated on that because I had a great scene in mind that would happen during a Halloween party in some forgotten tunnels near the jail. Lots of funky lighting – lurid and angled and shadowed and all the things I loved to do when I was doing theatrical lighting – and people in costumes and a hardcore chase of a murder suspect right through the middle.
I got that in my head and couldn’t get it out, which meant I was writing to that scene rather than to the overall story arc. Once I found the balls to toss that scene, then I understood what was wrong with the entire book.
So I restaged it, restructured it, and that was a good thing. Once I get things rewritten upstream, I’ll be able to keep moving downstream and should finish the final two-thirds in a couple months.
And chances are I’ll find a way to use that chase scene anyway, if not in this book, then the next.
It is a lesson Ed Bryant taught me long ago and that I had simply forgotten: don’t be scared to toss it all out. Don’t be scared to toss an idea or a chapter or some bit of brilliant writing. If it’s not working, then it’s not working, regardless of how well it’s written.
So I tossed and now we’re cooking with Crisco, as my third grade music teacher used to say. We’ll see if there’s enough Crisco to get through the entire book.
Actually, given my heart history, perhaps I should shy away from Crisco and use extra virgin olive oil or some shit.