Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Birth of a Novel

One day in August 2006, I was lying in my backyard pool, half dozing, when an idea for what I thought might be a short story rose up from my soul and quite literally hung in the air above me, demanding to be written. I got out of the pool, came into the house and wrote about 30 pages of the story before I went to bed. What I had written was already a too long for a short story, and it wasn't even close to any kind of resolution. I decided to keep going, mainly because I wanted to find out what would happen next.

In the following months I worked on the story every spare minute, usually in the early mornings and late at night. The entire experience was a breakthrough for me. Sometimes I write stories with an outline of some sort, or at least an ending in mind. More often I start with clearly defined characters, put them into a situation and let them figure out what to do with it. I hardly ever write with any kind of overarching "theme" in mind, probably because I hate so-called literary novels that try so hard to be significant. I just like good stories, well told. I don't care whether or not they have any deep meaning. (Having studied literature in the Seventies, under the Dictatorship of the Structuralists, I believe that meaning comes from the reader, not the writer, anyway.)

This story was different in almost every way from anything I had written before. For one thing, it was personal. I wrote it solely for my benefit, without giving so much as a thought to sharing it with anyone else. It never once occurred to me to try to tailor it to be commercial in any way. I had a serious issue I wanted to chew on and I chose the format of a novel as my method for examining it. It was perhaps the only story I ever wrote with only myself as the intended reader.

I didn't start with a plot or characters. I started with a problem. My problem was that I was depressed and frightened about my country. I was haunted by the images of New Orleans the prior summer, when what passed for leadership on the Gulf Coast failed so completely, and disaster ensued. How could that happen in America? I was horrified by the images of the prisoner abuse in the Abu Ghrab prison in Iraq. How could Americans commit such acts?

I was equally horrified by the stories in the news about the circumstances in which American soldiers found themselves: ill-trained, ill-equipped, surrounded by an enemy they could not distinguish from the civilian population, and with no clear "mission". I didn't have to ask how that kind of situation could happen in America because I'd seen that happen before. What I couldn't understand was how in the hell guys like John Kerry and John McCain and other Vietnam veterans in Congress could support the war in Iraq in any way whatsoever. I give McCain credit for at least opposing the use of torture, although it is beyond my ability to comprehend how anyone could be so indecent as to even suggest the possibility of using torture on prisoners in the presence of a man like McCain!

In any case, I was tired of reading about the breakdown in American leadership and the terrible things that were happening in our country. I wanted to write a story about what is good and decent and true about America. I wanted to spend some time meditating on what I believed (and still believe) is the true greatness of America: her people. Quite honestly, I wrote the story simply for the purpose of making myself feel better.

I ended up with a story about good, decent people loving one another, doing their duty and remaining faithful to their promises, on several levels. I called it Always Faithful.

When I finished writing the story, I felt a whole lot better. Even now, I revisit the story from time to time when I feel low or afraid, and it still makes me feel good.

That kind of thing is too good not to share with others. I plan to publish it on CreateSpace very soon.

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