A little over a year ago I wrote a blog on what my next book would be about and how I wanted to begin it. You can check it out here: http://theamazingmorse.blogspot.com/2015/10/how-new-novel-is-begun.html
I only had the barest of ideas, but seeing as how I had already written 4 books before, I felt confident enough to share what little I had with the faith that it would grow to become a full-length novel. It was an act of bravado, a writer’s equivalent to pointing to right field and telling you I’m going to hit one out of the park. It has taken a little time, but I have delivered on my promise. Weighing in at over 100,000 words, it is my largest novel to date. The name of it is Shell Shock, and you can check it out by clicking on the image of the cover somewhere to the right of the screen.
I share this with you for two reasons 1) To plug my new book, both because I am very proud of it and also because writers have to promote themselves if they expect to sell any books and 2) I thought it might be instructive on how a novel is started from modest beginnings and grows to become something one can be proud of and (hopefully) sell many copies of. You see, before I had written my first novel, I viewed the process as both mysterious and miraculous. So hard and rare had it been for me to actually complete a short story, I never really believed myself capable of writing a novel, could never visualize how it was done.
I know the answer now, or at least an answer that works for me. And the answer is to trust in the process and work on what is in front of you without worrying unduly about the questions you don’t presently have answers for. Work and trust. It’s pretty basic, and I’m willing to bet it works on a whole lot of things besides writing.
In my earlier attempts at writing I would write when the muse was upon me, only to become thoroughly frustrated when the flow suddenly ceased. I had no idea she could be prompted, enticed to continue onward when she appeared reluctant. I did not realize that a first draft could have holes in it, that a character could change names halfway through or become different people or change their motivations in order to fit with the narrative when the narrative had changed. I had always quit a story the moment that a problem arose I could not immediately solve.
But you see, some problems are more difficult to solve than others. Some problems you have to think about for a while and you can’t afford to stop the whole process just because of some small snag. Move along to the next thing, leave a question mark (?) in the text to remind you on your next look-through that you have a continuity problem, and eventually an answer to those insoluble problems will come to you. It may come when you are in the shower, mulling over your book while listening to the radio. It may come while you are walking the dog, or when you are half asleep in bed. The point is, it will come. It will pop into your consciousness, and instantly you’ll realize there was some tremendous answer to the question you had been asking.
It’s weird, but that’s how it works, for me at any rate. I know some people who outline their whole novel before they start to write it, but I’m pretty sure they’re aliens or liars. Perhaps they are lying aliens, the point is I cannot even conceive of doing such a thing. My attempts at doing so have only made the work more difficult. It might work for you, but since my way works for me, I’m just going to assume it is the best way possible since it is my way and it works.
So having briefly discussed how I have gone from a want-to-be writer of books to an actual writer of books, let me once again offer an opening scene for my next novel, which will be the third and quite probably last in the Seven Stones series, of which Seven Stones was the first and Shell Shock the second. The first 2 books dealt with World War 1, so my third (Sudden Storms is a working title, one I hope to God won’t be the actual title) book will deal with post-war Germany, which as we all know, is also pre-war Germany since the events of that era led to World War 2.
I envision a passing train with car after car filled with paper money, all but worthless. The post-war inflation in Germany was greater than was ever seen before or since. I’m not sure exactly why this scene grabbed me, it just popped into my head and immediately I said “this is it”. It speaks to the mass-insanity that societies are susceptible to. It demonstrates how we build our civilizations not on solid and real objects or ideas but so often we build our entire world around something as valueless as money printed on paper. Such a concept requires buy-in from society at large or else it all just goes to hell. It ties into the first chapter of my book The Association, which you can check out for free on Amazon (just click on the book cover, again to your right).
There is something about the idea of having to bring a wheelbarrow full of paper money to the store to buy a loaf of bread that terrifies me more than fire-breathing dragons and I don’t know why. Perhaps because it signifies the breakdown of the rational world as we know it, that however much we believe we can construct a sane world that works according to scientifically observable laws, there are forces beyond that we do not understand nor control.
Of course, it will not be too long afterwards that those same railcars will be used to transport human beings to labor camps and extermination camps. There is that somewhere in the background of everything. But I’m determined not to focus on the Holocaust: there’s been too much written and said about that by now. In fact, I intend to sidestep the war itself, except in passing. Instead, I want to explore the ideas and the spiritual yearnings that somehow led to the events of World War 2. Because no matter how incredibly horrible things ended up, I believe that evil is merely the twisting of normal and healthy desires. That for me is horror, something that was intended to be good becoming something very bad.
So I will avoid the darkest aspects, the events from 1941-45, those events that most people are already aware of. But that doesn’t mean the book will not stare into some incredibly dark places, nor will it seek to deny the reality of the evil of which humanity is capable. But I seek to find answers to such evil, hope even in the darkest of places. Because if I can’t, what is the point of dredging up such awfulness?
I’m worried I’ve set myself one hell of a task on this one, but it’s one I look forward to tackling. I seek answers, or else I seek hope, in which case I’ll have to create my own answers. I’ll see you in a year and we can discuss what I’ve come up with.