Tuesday, September 3, 2013

In which I attempt (again) to begin a novel


Dear son,

I don’t know how people go about writing novels.  The first book I wrote, a memoir of sorts, sprang directly from my own experience (pain, mostly), and when I got it in my head to make a book of all my journals, I dove in full steam.  It consumed my thoughts and I had to do it.  It wasn’t really a matter of choice.

And now, here I am, trying to start a second one and, like the first, it is starting to consume me.  I already feel as though I have put this off too long.  I feel overwhelmed, but I also feel something else.  An itching in my mind like there’s a story in there pecking to get out and if I don’t start writing, I’ll go crazy.

The first book was about me.  The second one is about history and my community.  For some odd reason, I’ve become obsessed with local history, and I’ve spent the past couple years researching, reading and writing down true stories.  I have all these stories in my head now, jumbling around, scattered in fragments on my blog, and I’ve got to make them fit together somehow.  Hence, book number two.

I’m thinking of calling it An American History.  It’s not the history of a country, but rather of a single town, my hometown of Fullerton, California.  For a long time, I thought it would be just a straightforward history book, but my heart isn’t in that.  My heart is in writing a novel, a novel based on real events, real people, spanning a hundred years or so.  So, yeah, I’m overwhelmed.

When attempting something like this, you can get paralyzed inside, feeling insecure like you haven’t done enough research, you’re not ready, you’re not going to do justice to the facts.  But, at some point (and I think I’ve reached that point), you have to say to yourself, “Enough preparation.  Now it’s time to begin.”  Otherwise, you get stuck in purgatory, and I’ve been there before.

For the last book, it helped me to have a muse of sorts.  I named her Beatrice, like Dante.  I wrote letters to her that helped me work through all those thorny problems writers run into along the way.  Mostly, fear and insecurity.  For this book, I’ve chosen you as my muse.  You don’t exist yet, maybe you never will, but for me you represent the future.  You represent hope.  And, even though my book is about the past, it is also about the future.

A lot of bad stuff is going to happen in these pages, because a lot of bad stuff did in fact happen in the past.  And I want you to know about it.  Because people who only listen to happy stories are ill-equipped to deal with this big weird world with all its problems.  My great hope for you, son, is that in these pages you will learn, as I have learned, that you can’t move forward until you look backward and see what went wrong.  Then, and only then, can you find the courage and insight and depth of feeling to move forward, and maybe even to change things.

Sincerely,

Jesse


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