I went through a Richard Brautigan phase in my late teens and early twenties, right around the same time as my Kurt Vonnegut phase. Looking back it does make sense that I would burn through both of those collections at that age, getting inspired by their odd universes, direct language, and short attention span chapters. In Watermelon Sugar was the second Brautigan I finished, and I loved the author’s note at the end: he told us exactly where and when the writing of the novel started and ended. Never one to pass up a chance to borrow a good idea, I did the same thing for the series of “novels” I wrote over in my early twenties, my own attempts to copy Vonnegut, then Updike, then Roth. . .
The first one took almost three weeks! I remember that I was quite impressed by my endurance.
And, of course, I was oh so young and oh so wrong, to think I could finish, really finish, a novel in three weeks. It turns out—and I hope this sentence does not sound pretentious or condescending—it’s a weird and tricky thing, to finish a book. First and foremost because it’s not really finished, stick-a-fork-in-it-and-send-your-Mom-a-copy finished, until you sign off on the last proofs from the publisher (should you be lucky enough to find one). Until then, the document sits there on your laptop, taunting you, begging you to double-click and go in one last time. If you look hard enough, you are sure to find at least one clunky sentence or vague pronoun. Go ahead, pull on that little thread and see how many more hours you can wind up obsessing over verb choice. So when I tell myself I have “finished” this new project, I do so with the full understanding that it will not be completely done for quite a while. All I’m really saying is I need a few days away from it, and then I need to start trying to figure out what to do next: is it time to try and find this thing a home, or perhaps switch to learning the bagpipes?
Sidebar: I realize this also may sound like some sort of Lockdown Brag, like, “I was done alphabetizing my spices and knitting socks for my neighbors so I decided to dash off a novel.” Actually, I was just lucky enough to be at the editing stage of this new book when Lockdown Life began; I would have found it much harder to create something out of nothing, in these times of easy distractions. This blog entry, for example? It’s taken me four days to finish it.
Thinking about the way I used to document starting and ending dates had me wondering if I could figure out when work on this new book had begun. The oldest file I could find was dated December 23, 2017. The Weight of Sound came out end of August of 2017, and I do remember that I had vowed to start work on something new before 2018 began; it looks like I beat my self-imposed deadline with more than a week to spare.
Here’s what it gets tricky, though. I “completed” a full draft of a novel that shares some DNA with this one back in 2012, and work on that started in 2007. I’m calling this new book new, because I did not go back and read a word of that failed attempt: I just started writing all over again. Gave everyone new names, put them all in new lives, and set them all on new paths. Maybe I should stick with 2007 as the starting date, though–then people could say: “Man, this guy spent thirteen years on this book!”
Of course, they could also say, “Man, this guy spent thirteen years on this book?” Now that I’m just about almost maybe finished, I only need to wait another two or three years before it maybe possibly gets published.