If there is anything weirder than writing a novel, I am not certain what it is.
Here I am, several chapters into my fourth novel, and it continues to be a mystery. At the risk of sounding like Donald Rumsfeld, there are the known knowns and the unknown knowns. There is a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. But what about all those in-between things? Some of them are set in stone and some of them are complete unknowns.
This stuff drives the journalist in me nuts. Of course, one never knows the exact turn of phrase that is coming out in a nonfiction piece, but going into it the writer knows the facts about the story that is ready to be told, and the importance of writing about them in a way that is readily consumable.
In fiction, the “facts” can be fluid, and a great deal of the story reveals itself as the writing progresses. There are surprises along the way. There may even be an unexpected character. I think back to my first novel, An Unholy Alliance, where Emma went out to interview a vineyard owner. I knew the place where the fictional vineyard was located and what was grown there, but I had no idea who she would be talking to. And then, all of a sudden, there he was, Nestor Pullman, an old farmer who’d turned to growing wine grapes after the Willamette Valley turkey industry went south. And Nestor and his wife had a daughter. And boy, did he have a story to tell about the murder victim!
Now, with a little more experience with fiction, I’ve come to expect these things–or at least the possibility that they can and do happen. And this is part of the addiction for the fiction writer. It’s an adventure. It’s a journey. How do we get there, there being the ending? And what happens along the way? In the writing, the author experiences the story just as the reader does later.
Once I get a story in my craw, I have to go with it, and it reveals itself to me along the way. I believe the entire story must be there somewhere. Coaxing it out from wherever it’s hiding is the fun part, but it can be frustrating as well.
It’s early days yet. My brain is full of the story as I walk in the neighborhoods looking for evidence of spring. Sometimes I drift off and write in my head, whether or not I am walking with someone else. And then this morning, there it was, the message I was looking for in Writer’s Digest that I now can share with you. “Stories take time and have their own schedules and we don’t control them, really; a story can come to us in a couple of days, it can come to us in a couple of months, it can come to us in a couple of years. It can come to us and then never really succeed in the end. We have to accept all of these possibilities.” –NYT best-selling author and Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri
The story I am writing now did not succeed several years ago. But it’s still there, nagging. Hopefully this time it will be told, because I, for one, want to find out what happened!