I’ve been slowed down in my writing this past week. Too much gardening, for one thing. But now I am at one of my oddball retreats, camped out in a college dorm for a four day Quaker gathering. No gardens, no dog, no mom, no client shifts, no housework, no cooking. No roommate in this little room. This frees up a lot of time. I think I can write a chapter or two.
I will go out to the cafeteria for meals and attend some working and worship meetings, with sweet socializing along the way, but also I am filling the walls here with my novel writing work, sorting and untangling story lines and character quirks, trying to fit everything inside a 90,000 word bucket. Hopefully less, maybe more. Another parallel to the popular “books as children” metaphor – until it’s “born,” I don’t know what it will weigh.
This is the third time I have written this book. The first time, in 1996, there was a first person androgynous narrator, Lu. He/she was fun to write but turned out not to be of much interest to most of my readers. Lu was more puzzling than amusing, and a distraction from the main character, with whom Lu had no real relationship.
About ten years later, I did a rewrite, replacing Lu with another first person narrator, this time one of the main character’s sisters. Well, Nessa Allen has nine sisters, so that was a good job for her sister Viv. Losing Lu didn’t change much in the plot or other characters, and that revision went quickly. While it helped the writing in several ways, the new voice of the narrating sister Viv was a weak fuzzy echo of Lu. The ride gets bumpy in places where Lu and Viv had diverging “realities.”
Now, about seventeen years after the first version, Viv has become a major character, with all the complexity that comes with that. Love and hate, all that stuff. Parts of this character have not changed in seventeen years – she’s kind of tough, a motorcycle vagabond girl of the Seventies, like me. An AA type of alcoholic, and a workaholic. At an early age, Viv took on the role of protector to her younger sister Nessa, and in this novel, after fifty years of that impossible task, she needs to learn how to surrender that charge and start taking care of herself. Or at least, that would be a therapist’s analysis. The challenge is to make that happen.
There will be twenty-six chapters in this book; I’m working on chapter twenty-two. There are snapshots of scenery, bits of dialog to create in these final chapters, but the story is complete in my notes, on my wall. No need to invent anything plot-wise or character-wise. Just write it.
So, now, writing this, I missed the first breakfast of this community gathering. Nine meals to go, three more nights in this unfettered space. Taking care of myself. Four chapters until “birth.”