Write and Wrong
I’m in the middle of writing a novel. It’s about…well, it’s about, uh…it’s about two pages right now, but once I get going, look out!
I started it about twelve years ago. It features a fabulous opening line and immediately launches into compelling character development, but then kind of loses steam. The problem, I think, lies in the fact that the compelling characters are all animals – four hamsters and a shark, to be exact – while the humans, ostensibly the focus of the work, lack depth. I understand this perspective obtains among many pet lovers.
I used to assure myself that one of these days I’d get back to that novel, but it has remained but a writing sample for prospective clients or employers ever since. I do not, as a rule, disclose to them that I worked to produce this partial masterpiece (or master partial-piece) on company time, lo those many years ago. It might prejudice the outcome of the interview, as you might imagine, and as the novel in its current state demonstrates, outcomes must remain open to all possibilities (“…when suddenly, an asteroid crashed into Earth and wiped out all sentient life. The End. Or maybe not. Can you hold on for a few billion years to see what the cosmos comes up with? “).
I did once get hold of a guide for aspiring writers, a how-to manual for anyone who wants to write a reasonably long novel in the space of a month. It made for good reading, but there was no way I was going to subject my life to the contortions its instructions required. I read it mostly in the bathroom, then mostly forgot about it until now. That was three years ago. So you can see how well the aging novel is doing.
Truth is, in the several times I’ve looked at it over the last decade, it occurred to me I should probably lop of the second half of what I’ve already written. The part about the hamsters (and the missing chicken, but it was dead and frozen, not remotely in the “pet” category, so it doesn’t count as a character) and the shark (a small one; don’t get too scared) really made for a good start, but once the first-person narrative had to go somewhere (to work, as it happens), the comedy quotient fell. I guess animals with quirky personalities provide better fodder than cubicles. Imagine that.
I could try to spice it up with intrigue – international espionage; demonic possession; celebrity shoplifting – but really, how much do I know about any of that stuff? Let’s take the random sample of ideas in the previous sentence:
- International espionage. While I have worked for the government of one country while residing in another, there wasn’t a lot of potential for espionage. I mean, the whole point of the job was to help the military of country A buy spare parts from the military of country B. What could I reveal – that country A wanted to buy a copying machine? That the air force uses generators? These would be the Deep Secrets I could pass on to interested third parties. I’m pretty sure I never handled a single classified document in the two years I worked there.
- Demonic possession. I will grant that writing about it does not require firsthand experience with it; William Peter Blatty did quite a fine job without, as far as anyone can tell, going through possession himself. However, that whole supernatural thing doesn’t do it for me. The empirical physical universe poses enough challenges of its own; I have enough trouble describing the feeling of a piece of oregano stuck between my front teeth, for example (it’s like…it’s like having a piece of basil stuck between your teeth, only slightly less so)(see what I mean?).
- Celebrity shoplifting. I did once steal a pack of banana Bubblicious from the supermarket when I was about seven. Bad move. I mean, strawberry, mint or some normal flavor I could understand, but banana? Boy, I regret that one. Spat out the first piece and chucked the rest. No more shoplifting for me. At least not personally, though at about age eleven I was once an accomplice whose job consisted of purchasing something to help distract the cashier from goings-on elsewhere in the store. So the shoplifting part I got covered, but I must concede I fall pretty short in the celebrity department. I’ve accidentally encountered one or two, including a former prime minister, but the limelight and I are not well acquainted. Collecting baseball cards was about the closest I ever got to consistent association with the famous. Other than that time Mr. Goodbody came to speak at our elementary school.
So the novel continues to languish. I should just start a blog.