The weird and blissful Time Crime sales spike and string of audiobook library borrows (according to my Findaway Voices data) is over, and I hate to say “as expected” but how else to couch it? I sold five eBooks and a cloth hardcover in two days earlier this week – five sales in one day as a matter of fact – and my first sale ever in India! Thanks to all my potential new tribe members, I so hope you like the book. Nevertheless, it was like the tide coming in and inevitably going out again. Hence, if anyone out there can explain it or otherwise has any inside information to present – goddammit, I’d love to know what happened! – please do, send me an email.
Otherwise, what to make of it, other than considering it a mystery of commerce? Or a mystery, period? I was going to say that book sales are perennially unreliable but that wouldn’t be accurate because they are reliable. Reliably sparse, indeed, but nevertheless reliable in that way. I’ve kept my at-least-one-sale-per-month streak alive for the entire two years of TC1’s publication. I know I had one month where I indeed sold only one copy – a painful, seemingly ceaseless atmosphere of doomed obscurity and foolish enterprise that for whatever desperate reason I managed to endure.
For whatever desperate reason? The reason is, I must admit, that I have nothing else I believe in except the books, so be it. I know I was working at the home improvement store during a couple long runs of nothingness for the book. And for the false start cover project, too. I’d dutifully check my data at lunch, whether it was during my two Goodreads giveaways or just the everyday results and every once in a while, there would be a sale and my heart would leap and my faith would be restored and I’d finish out the shift not quite walking on air (for I’ve ever been aware of my perilously meager and modest progress) but nevertheless buoyed by the sense of the world-of-action saying, Yes! Because we require so very little.
Meanwhile, also, I’m slamming through the early chapters of TC2 and, I’ll simply say it, liking them. Sans qualifier? Well, my sense is that the book has become a book, the ensuing professional editing and any minor tweaks I might make notwithstanding. The thing becomes what it is, for better or worse, and major modifications are essentially impossible. My experience writing these novels is that they begin in a kind of heedless, first-draft semi-mania, progress into a shaggy dog condition of tenuously coherent narrative and finally, after picking and poking and slashing and bolstering (and, yes, killing your darlings and all that), the story matures into itself. For better or worse, that is, the story is the story and it becomes a matter of me ceaselessly attempting to step back from that and to rather focus upon the characters themselves, of allowing them to be themselves and do their thing within the plot.
That, and always trying to resist the urge to explain, to remain aware of careless transitions and unwarranted assumptions, and to spy and root out any lack of rigor. I try to resist my impatience to be finished with it all, to rush through and think it’s good enough and rather do my best to, again, step back and see it for what it is. Immerse, invest and be inventive. And when in doubt, I try to evaluate things with the crazy meter. Is the scene nuts? Or is it merely expected and typical? How would Vixy or Mr. Z. or Neutic or the Captain or the Professor really respond to this? Mostly, I’d say that whenever I do a good job of imagining how a real person would respond it’s crazier than anything I can imagine within the context of the fictional characters.
That is to say, there’s something weirdly dull and boring and predictable about one’s fictional characters as they go along, unless you pay attention. They tend weirdly towards the middle ground; they tend to become proper and virtuous and reliable and their quirks and hang ups and anxieties and neurosis tend to bleed away and they risk becoming ideals and icons and, in a word, fictional. Which is frankly boring. Dull. Predictable. Rote. And resembling characters in anybody else’s books that fall prey to the same strange psychological leavening effect.
Yes, it is indeed a temptation, for me at least, to leaven everything and everybody in a story. I find myself making the mistake of paring away the unsightly and the unpleasant and the unresolvable. So that even when I’m trying to communicate something I’m keen to present as unsetting, it reads merely as a pat, white bread, mostly false and ultimately inauthentic device, of sorts. As if I’m going through the motions of being writerly or something, or perhaps more accurately, writing what’s expected, or logical or what we assume might happen. It’s as if the characters are at risk of responding too rationally, too professionally and with too much wisdom and maturity to things. Or at least to be seen as progressing too obviously towards a better version of themselves. As if that’s any kind of interesting story at all. It isn’t, as much as we’d like to perhaps think it ought to be. No. What we seek is the experience of being properly alive at home or at work. And that right there – the passion and emotion and irrationality in that; the craziness – is what transforms our lives into something worth writing about.
An example in my own work? How about the ending, as it stands, of TC2, where Neutic getting left behind in 1296 Angkor (spoiler alert!) is a snappy twist but then I insist upon immediately resolving that “disaster.” Scare quotes intended because it indeed counts as a disaster, Neutic getting left behind. And this just occurred to me, which I find pathetically remarkable; namely, that I’m throwing in another disaster right at the end and didn’t consider it as such. Because I need to be careful of overloading the book with disasters. You can have too many disasters like you can have too few. Disasters, at least one, are essential in a novel. No disaster, no novel, it comes down to that. But a book chock full of one significant disaster after another threatens our suspension of disbelief as reliably as a story lacking such a device. It’s a tricky balance. And then again, it isn’t tricky. In life, versus fiction, after all, any unexpected thing of significance, anything out of the ordinary that isn’t a lucky break is probably more or less a disaster. Which means it’s something we are tasked with overcoming. It supplants the day-to-day, it wrecks our plans or at least derails them and mostly things are never the same again, following a disaster. We change, grow, transform – whatever it takes – to overcome the disaster (or not) and that’s called life. Too many disasters, however, and you no longer have a life but rather a mess. And that’s what a novel can become, too.
I assume I’m not the only art-crafter that suffers from this nagging predilection of leavening things. Learn, grow, transform and mature into your happy ending and therefore boring, individuated self? They lived happily ever after, that kind of thing? Note how there is never a sequel to happily-ever-after. No. We need a healthy dose of disaster to make things interesting and worth writing about.
I found this definition of “leaven” and I know that definitions are typically a boring no-no in writing but so be it: a pervasive influence that modifies something or transforms it for the better. Why for the better somehow reads as for the worse in a novel is a psychologically knotty phenomenon. Why is it that we require Sherlock Holmes, for example, or Doctor Who, or Captain Kirk, to name merely a handful of famous leads, to ceaselessly endure and resolve and endure again and again, disasters?
Disasters add drama. Disasters can be said to be commensurate with drama. Disasters => Drama. And this is another unidirectional congruity, as I call them, similar to my Myth => Metaphor example discussed at length, over many years, in this journal. Unidirectional in the sense that the identity goes reliably in only one direction. Metaphors are not necessarily myths and drama isn’t necessarily born of disaster. I’ll leave that for you to ponder, dear readers.
How to avoid too much or too little drama and disaster in a story? I can tell you that to me it has to do with not writing. Not writing? Yes. That is, writing without intending to write being your first objective. It seems crazy to me that writers suffer from so-called writer’s block. What the fuck is writer’s block? Okay, when you are assigned a writing task by a teacher or, in the case of journalists, a piece of writing is required to fulfill a job requirement, then I get that you might sit before the blank screen and suffer. Such is the silliness of the profession of journalism, namely, writing to a prescribed word count and schedule. Ugh. I intuitively avoided pursuing a career in journalism, even when one of my writing instructors in college suggested that field. I never liked newspaper articles. To this day I don’t consider them writing as much as talking on paper, as it were.
Writing, for me, then, must be about something entirely different; namely, evocation and transportation and the so-called mysterium tremendum and, well, mythology. We must enter a world that is not this one. Alternatively, we must be presented a world that is so intuitively perceptive of this one that it bestows the experience of something other, something else, something not exactly this. Insight, discernment and perspicacity, yes, but also, in the end, inventiveness.
When I sit down and write, I am never asking myself, What do I write about? Even when I’m sitting down to write on purpose, say, as opposed to being seized by an impossibly compelling vision that forces me to drop what I’m doing (the violent arrival of the muse is a very, very rare experience), I’m rather asking myself, What happens next? The characters and their predicaments, the disasters and all that, it all arrives by way of surrendering to this perspective of the mystery of life and death. What happens next? It’s how novels get written and our own lives, too. Heaven is unleavened. Gotta go, my friends, thanks for reading!