Back at it! Well, sitting here at my computer before first light anyway, thinking about writing goals for the coming year. I have a few: Get first mystery novel published; Revise sequel to mystery – shop it around; Begin writing next novel.
I like the idea of starting with the last item on the list: begin writing next novel. Over the past three months, I’ve taken a hiatus from novel-writing and that has been difficult. While writing the blog continues to be fun, and good practice in writing short essays, it’s not enough to sustain me somehow. I miss being in the middle of a big, unwieldy piece of creative work. Thing is, I don’t really know how to start another novel. Yes, I’ve done this before. How did I do it?
Well, I got the idea for my first mystery novel from a newspaper article I read on Halloween about haunted houses and psychic mediums. For the second novel, a non-mystery I’m never really sure how to describe: women’s fiction? contemporary fiction? literary-ish? For that one, I started with the idea of a character who interested me and went from there. Then there’s the latest mystery – a sequel to the first. I got that idea from my former literary agent who suggested I write something about opera — there was a hint of opera in the first mystery. The protagonist likes opera anyway. And since my husband sings in the Seattle Opera Chorus, I thought I knew something about it. So, I went with that. But when I started writing that first draft, when I still thought the first mystery would be published by some awesome New York publisher, I found that beginning the writing for the sequel was almost impossible. I thought I needed to learn everything there was to know about the opera world. Not true, of course. So I spent way too much time reading about opera, a form of procrastination masquerading as research. Same as what I’m doing now. Sort of.
Back to starting a new novel. What should it be about? Sheesh, I don’t know. I’m kind of interested in trying an historical fiction kind of thing – a story about Russian Germans who came to the U.S. to escape Russia just before the revolution. It’s my family’s story, my grandparents actually, but no one knows the real story, the players having been dead for so many years. And they weren’t talking in their lifetimes. New country, new language, new story – past was dead and buried. No sense talking about it – that was my Grandpa’s way. But I could make something up – it’s what we fiction writers do. I am curious about it. But am I curious enough to write a novel around that? Don’t know. Maybe. Maybe not.
What else? I’m now reading Ann Patchett’s collection of essays, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, and she says that she was so influenced by reading The Magic Mountain in high school, that she can’t seem to write anything that isn’t some variation of throw several individuals into a room together and see where that goes. I like that. Maybe I should try it. But what room and which people? Why are they there? See, not so easy. I don’t want to write another sequel to the mysteries. This much I know. I don’t think I can sustain my own interest in my protagonist, no matter what intriguing situations I get her into. How does Sue Grafton do it?
I do know that I want to continue to stretch myself with my writing. Taking more inspiration from Ann Patchett, who says: “One more thing to think about when putting a novel together: make it hard. Set your sights on something that you aren’t quite capable of doing, whether artistically, emotionally or intellectually. You can also go for broke and take on all three. I raise the bar with every book I write, making sure I’m doing something that is uncomfortably beyond what I can manage. It’s the only way I know to improve over time.”