Saturday, August 27, 2011

About the progress of my novel

I've been working on my present project, a long novel called "Knock Yourself Out," for a solid two and a half years, since the last week of December 2008, when I got a series of ideas that led directly to starting writing the following April. But other parts of the novel are based on ideas I had as early as March 1996, when I wrote a five page scenario about a man who is trapped by a snowstorm at O'Hare and has to make his way back through the Midwest, through successive blizzards, and when he arrives back in California his life is off-kilter. I paired an idea I had in late 2008, which was a sort of psychological sex thriller set in a rainy Berkeley hills mansion, with that idea, and started writing in April, 2009.

It took until the end of 2009 to write most of the first section, and then in February 2010 I took a car trip to the midwest to research the whole notion of driving in blizzards. (See the series of blog entries tagged with "2010 road trip.") Then it took me until the end of the summer to actually finish the first part of the book -- but I still hadn't written the first chronological section, in which the guy gets snowbound. All I had written was the part set in the San Francisco Bay Area, after he returns from the trip.

Then in September and October 2010 I went to the Mojave Desert to research the second part of the book, because after the guy's life goes off-kilter he moves to the desert and gets involved with the wrong crowd. (See the series of blog entries tagged with "2010 desert trip.") And since returning from that sojourn in October 2010 I've been working on the desert part. I'm about, oh, two-thirds of the way through it, on the downhill slope where everything has been put in place and all I have to do is work through the plot -- as least as far as a first draft is concerned.

Meanwhile, I learned something interesting about narrative. Cris and I have been watching the series "Breaking Bad" on DVD, and we just finished the third season -- or thought we did. The season is broken up onto 4 DVDs, containing episodes 1-4, 5-7, 8-10, and 11-13 respectively. And somehow our Netflix queue got messed up and instead of disc 3 we got disc 4 and watched all of it without realizing we had missed anything.

Yes, we didn't realize we had missed anything. We missed seeing the third quarter of the season, three entire episodes totaling the length of a feature film, and didn't miss anything in the story. (The following sentence is for anyone familiar with the show.) Hank is still in the hospital after getting shot in episode 7; Walt has fired his first meth lab assistant and is now working with his original partner Jessie; Walt's wife Skyler is still floundering in her affair with her boss. Apparently nothing happens in those episodes we missed.

Right now I'm in the same part of my book -- the third quarter -- laboriously working through the plot. I'm a plodding fiction writer, I have to write through all the actions to understand character motivation and figure out why people make the choices at the end of the book I usually already know, by the middle of the book, that they will make. But the lesson of the unnoticed "Breaking Bad" episodes for me is: nobody cares. Cut all that shit out and nobody will notice.

So I'm looking forward to doing that in my second draft. After I finish this one, sometime by the end of the year.

A little later: I wrote the above entry before finding this entirely accurate and sadly hilarious article in The Onion depicting a novelist's self-loathing as he realizes all the effort he has put into his novel is in vain: Novelist Has Whole Shitty World Plotted Out. I found the entry thanks to an acquaintance who tweeted about it: "This Onion article is like looking at the most unflattering photo of myself ever taken."

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