Monday, December 15, 2008

Hello, and Catching Up

Okay, now that I'm fashionably late, I can chime in.

With respect to the conversation about "What are we working on?" -- last night when the question was raised, I was doing "research" for a new book project. I call it "research" with quotes because all I was really doing was reading a book that's of a quasi-related subject matter, and is a book I would have read anyway, just for fun. So calling it research is kind of like writing off my cable TV subscription as a business expense. Technically it might have some vague ring of truth in it, but I don't feel quite above board doing it.

This new novel is kind of an odd duck -- an admixture of two things, but neither fish nor foul. To get the idea factory primed I've been reading Will and Ariel Durant's The Age of Louis XIV, though the book is not about 17th century France. And I've been reading Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA by Tim Weiner, though the book is not about the CIA.

Now to Chris's "serendipity" question. I agree that it really is one of those "you make your own luck" kind of things. As a writer it's incumbent upon you to expose yourself to just about anything and everything. Like you with the Mayans, I've got pages of typed notes and half of a shelf of books about ancient Mesopotamia for an abortive novel. But that stuff all gets filed away someplace, and eventually I'll be writing something set in the 19th century, and I'll have a character who's an archaeologist, and boom! Guess what? He's an expert on ancient Mesopotamia, and then things start getting interesting.

I think the point is that writing is kind of like doing a jigsaw puzzle where you cut your own pieces individually and try to fit them together based on some vague notion of what the picture is. The more pieces you have in your box, and the more different kinds of pieces, the more likely you are to come up with a compelling and original finished item.

So that leads me to another question. SPEAKING OF abortive novels, how many do you have jamming up your notebooks and/or hard drives, and at what point do you decide, "No, this isn't happening?" How do you know? And how do you know whether it's not the right time to write it, or whether it's just plain no good?


  1. As of now I have seven starts to seven different novels on my main writing computer (and one just as a few scribbled notes in one of my notebooks). These are not seven abandoned stories. They are still living works in progress. But I tend to lose interest in them without some editor breathing down my neck wanting to know when the pages will be coming in. For the Peter and Max novel I had just such and editor acting in just such a way, which may be why I finished that one in a (semi) timely manner.

    But interest always comes back for a given story over time and I find time to tinker with it a bit here and there.

    Then again, most of my writing comes with very tight deadlines. Why shouldn't I write the things that I am (at the moment) writing for my own pleasure entirely on my own timetable? Why not work just a bit on this story over here when I feel like it, and write just a tad on this story over here when I feel like it? Sooner or later one of them will A) find a home at a publishing house, the editor of which will start breathing down my neck to finish it, or B) reach a critical mass where I'll want to hurry along and finish it on my own.

  2. It occurs to me that I read novels the same way. I'll have four or five books going at once, so that my bedtime reading is whichever one of them I feel like reading from that night. But eventually one of them will reach some sort of critical mass where I have finally become so drawn into the story that I (temporarily) set the others aside and finish that one in a fevered marathon reading session.

    The books that never reach that critical mass seem to be the ones that weren't all that well done to begin with.

  3. I'm working my way up from aborted short stories to aborted novels. Not finishing short stories is faster when counting project by project.