3 November 2009

Stepping Onto the Pier

Filed under: Fiction, Reflections — ktismatics @ 9:21 am

No, I’ve still not embarked on my month-long novel-writing project. But I am getting closer to the water.

I suppose I’ve got writer’s block, brought on and exacerbated by a variety of factors that those of you who’ve followed my blog for awhile can probably identify. NaNoWriMo is a gimmick to be sure. For procrastinators the deadline helps, and the virtual community of fellow Nanoistes provides further impetus. I was hoping that it might simulate an external call for the writing, a call that would stimulate my desire actually to set sail again into the fictional waters. Mostly though, NaNoWriMo is provoking me to come to grips with what sort of fiction I write, could write, would like to write.

The sheer speed demanded by the proposed voyage — 50 thousand words in a month = 1667 per day — initially suggested a free-write, stream-of-consciousness approach. Just let it rip, I tried to persuade myself: don’t think about it; just do it. But 1667 words really isn’t that much — I’ve written fiction that quickly before in stretches, when I was on my game. So then I thought about doing each daily installment in an hour, forcing myself to write as if I were free-associating on the analyst’s couch. I do think that would be fun, and I still might do it.

But yesterday and this morning I’ve felt myself drawn back again to the kind of writing, and the kind of book, that I’ve done before. I’ve long considered undertaking a sequel of sorts to the first novel I wrote, which I sometimes think of as Philip Marlowe trying to unravel a Borgesian mystery only to find himself entangled in the case. But the more I thought and wrote about the sequel the longer and more complicated it became, so I abandoned it. Now though, forced to confine myself to a 50 thousand word limit, I’ve watched one piece of that vast sequel slowly rising to the surface. So I think I might hop aboard that plank and assemble a boat out there on the November seas.

On my morning walk I was trying to decide where the new story should be set and who the Philip Marlowe character should be this time. My thoughts took me back to my second book, which ends by introducing a character who might fill that role. But why should I link the third novel to the second when I’m intending to follow on from the first one? And then I realized something else: omens typically have to fall right on my head before I recognize them.

Yesterday afternoon I was walking along one of my usual routes, preoccupied with this NaNoWriMo thing, when something out of place caught my attention. I looked closer: there, perched in the crook of a tree, sat an espresso machine, its cord dangling halfway to the ground. I inspected it more carefully: a Krups, like the one I used to have. I wondered how it got there of course, and whether it still worked. I thought about taking it home with me, but rejected the idea. What if the gasket is broken on the pressurizer? Then, when I take it for a test run, it’ll blow hot gritty coffee grounds all over the kitchen, all over me. Fuck that: I’m leaving it in the tree.

It wasn’t until this morning’s walk, as I was thinking about connecting the third novel to the first via the second, that the omen part struck me. There’s an episode in my second novel in which the main character’s espresso machine breaks, spewing coffee grounds all over the place. And now here I am, walking along thinking about writing fiction, and I happen to walk past a tree with a fucking Krups machine perched in a branch right at eye level?

So now as I’m headed for home this morning I’m wondering if the espresso maker is still there. I walk past a parking lot where a photographer is taking a group photo of what I presume is some sort of choral ensemble dressed in their concert finery. Then, the tree. The Krups is still there, next to the tree now, resting on its base: probably someone set it down on the ground. The apparatus containing the pressure gasket is missing, so probably the prior owner already experienced the catastrophic failure. But the little glass container for steaming the milk was still there, unbroken. I picked it up, carried it home with me, and put it in the sink to wash.

I intend to set this little icon in front of me as I write my NaNoWriMo novel, starting this afternoon or maybe tomorrow morning. I’m a little bit behind, but hell, I’ve only got 50 thousand words to go.



  1. I finished this post just in time to drive to a couple of rendezvouses in Denver, but when I got behind the wheel the car wouldn’t start. Another omen? Actually it’s the sort of frustrating mundane glitch, not unlike the exploding espresso machine, that found a place of prominence in the second novel. It’s also the sort of thing that distracts me from writing.


    Comment by john doyle — 3 November 2009 @ 10:36 am

  2. I’m making progress. The “real” novel is going rather slowly, but it’s starting to take shape. It’s starting to get good when things like this happen… I wrote a bit of dialog for a character, a movie director I named Lionel Marr, that goes like this:

    “Most of you are here to make a movie. Some of you may believe that we are making a film.” He shook his head contemptuously [might need to work on the adverb later] as he took a bite of pineapple. “We are here to make life.”

    So I read this dialog aloud to my wife and daughter, both of whom were also working on their novels at the time. Reading it aloud, somehow I found myself talking in a Russian accent. I’d not thought of him this way, but somehow the accent seemed to fit the words. So now I know something more about this character than I did before. I changed his last name from Marr to Markov. Hmm… Markov… Tarkovsky…? At the time the radio was playing a song by Lotte Lenya. I wikipedia’d her: wife of Kurt Weill — yes; featured in a line from Louis Armstrong’s and Bobby Darin’s versions of Weill’s Mack the Knife — yes; played the SPECTRE agent Rosa Glebb in the James Bond movie From Russia With Love — really? So here’s the Russian connection again. And I’ll have to include a song from Lotte Lenya at some point in the novel. So now I write the next lines of the book:

    I managed to stifle a smirk; one of the actors didn’t. Lionel glared at him, then he laughed bellicosely. “For you perhaps not, young fellow. So we must do our very best to make you live, eh?” He swallowed and wiped his hands down the front of his shirt. “If we fail, then perhaps we must make you die.”

    So that’s where that story stands. But now also, driven to finish the 50K word target for NaNoWriMo, I’m also writing a stream-of-consciousness thing. For each of the last two days I’ve written nonstop for 45 minutes whatever comes to mind. It’s like I’m going to a written version of a psychoanalytic session. Eventually I want to see if I can do these sessions “in character,” as if I’m one or more of the characters in the “real” novel I’m writing. If I can’t I don’t care — I’m not going to force it. I’ll see where it goes, call it part of the novel, count the words toward the NaNo target, then delete it. It might have an impact on the real novel. I think it already is having an impact on me.


    Comment by john doyle — 7 November 2009 @ 6:51 pm

  3. I didn’t get it done. Not even close. Even the iconic milk steamer seemed to exert no force. I expect I won’t finish the novel I started, though I may cannibalize it and incorporate parts of it into something else later.


    Comment by john doyle — 1 December 2009 @ 9:31 am

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