Monday, June 2, 2008

It begins

A long time ago, but perhaps not so long ago, two young men stood on the edge of a green cliff far above the sea. A cold wind carried the cries of white birds, and the water below was dull grey.
"Then it begins!" one said, thrusting his walking staff against the low clouds.
"We walk from here!" intoned the other.
They were carrying heavy packs and they walked down the gravel road into the treeless green highlands of Scotland.

Ten miles later they crawled into their yellow tent, boots and pants permanently stained with peat mud, shoulders red from pack straps. Ten days later they had already decided not to walk to the southern tip of England. Ten weeks later they were in France. Ten months later they were home again.

But what a beginning! And we knew it too, carefully pronouncing lines from movies picked months before. But I wander, I wander, since I'm trying to talk about beginning the next book.

I mean, querying agents is fun and all -- better than a water slide, better than a kick in the pants, better than mosquito bite -- but what I much prefer is writing. There is an important story to tell, and this is how it begins.

Three notes of a song; strings and bass: a fragment of melody that gives me a vision. In the vision is a character. He is doing something. He is feeling something. He is thinking about something. And a story accretes around him, reaching out twirling vines to connect with other ideas, other stories, and the vines shrink and grow, double back, braid into each other and harden into arches of stone, arcades and balustrades and clerestory branches, twining and turning and twisting into the great structure.

It's not there yet. It never is, even after the first draft. Revision is still building, after all, though sometimes it's more clearing the brush from the structure you know is buried in there.

So I sit in my little room, the ceiling fan whirring above me (it is June, after all), and forget to sip my coffee because I'm in the story, I'm feeling it, I can't type fast enough, I dart down subplot detours, find dead ends, back up and try somewhere else, it's all coming together, it all makes sense, it's working. It's working!

And then 6:30 comes and I have to get in the shower and go to work and I think, well, that was crap. How boring. How superficial. Trite. Shallow. Stale. Derivative. Uninteresting.

Ha ha. To be a writer means rapid-cycling moods and a fragile ego. That's where the "Believe" on my notecard easel comes in. I need to believe in that character, and in that haunting musical turn. Now I just have to turn it into something worthy of the vision.

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