Tuesday, July 12, 2011

recovery from near-death experience

I thought I'd add some notes to this describing what happens to a writer when a big project goes down the tubes, or at least my version of it. I suppose that first of all there's a certain amount of rage to get past, rage at oneself, surely, and also at the people who are preventing the project (in this case the failed amnesia novel described in the previous posts) from going forward. One thinks, there must be some mistake here, maybe they just didn't get it. And in fact, there are authors out there who are so prestigious and whose names are so golden on a book cover, that the things cannot be stopped by any human agency and go to press. Thus we have the familiar phenomenon of authors we've known and loved producing stinker after stinker.

I recall the rage; and I also recall after that immediately deciding that the people who rejected the book as written were right. I think there's a good deal of pretty fair writing in it, but it's not a novel. It's a couple or three almost-novels. The main thing that's wrong with it, I think now, is that I was trying to combine things that simply didn't go together, and the result was that the characters lacked all agency. Stuff happened to them and they never actually made things happen, and in the kind of novel I get paid for that won't wash. Obviously, there is a type of really wonderful novel in which the characters are simply acted upon by forces (in Kafka, for example) but it turns out I'm not Kafka.

What happened after the disaster was that I immediately got back on the horse and started writing a novel to fulfill my contract with Holt. This is a thriller somewhat similar to The Good Son, but set in Mexico rather than Pakistan, and involves a couple of Americans driven by guilt and revenge, weird drug gangs, reverberations from the Vietnam War, kidnappings, explosions, and shamanic goings-on. I'm about 100 pp. into it now and it should be done by the end of the year. It will be, I expect, rather more in my usual line than the pathetic Failed Novel.

As to that, I recently came up with a plan to resurrect the good parts of the Failed Novel, and excise all the bad parts, and focus on the one strand that seems to have worked. It'll still be about an amnesiac, but he'll have agency. The whole book will be first person, and the character himself will travel through the world putting together the clues that will reveal his identity and how he came to develop global retrograde amnesia. The Bourne Identity meets Candide, so to speak. I think it's worth another shot.


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