Discover more from Hiram Falls -- A Serial Novel
Waiting for the feedback, then the energy
A confession: I am frozen (for the moment) and don't entirely know what to do. So I am resting. But I worry.
I feel as if a part of me has gone into hibernation, my mind rerouted to some cave that I can’t get to anymore.
I feel like I’m in a dream party in a wide-open atrium, late afternoon sun filtering in, a gentle band playing in the corner, several people standing, watching, swaying. I see people I know and know well. But I don’t want to talk to them. To anyone. I just want to go into a corner, behind some plants to hide, be silent, be quiet, just watch.
That’s what I feel like after finishing a fifth draft, another write-through on a 113,000-word novel that I began in earnest three years ago, and taking in some feedback and critique, after jumping into an analytical, editing mindset and after realizing I had lost my energy.
Some days this sensation feels OK. But mostly it doesn’t. Mostly I feel myself worrying about it, worrying that the characters will fade, the ideas will fade, the book will fade.
Writing is difficult; writing a novel is twice as difficult. And this is one thing I wasn’t, am not, prepared for.
TANGENT (a common thing among writers struggling with their work-in-progress):
It is December, and I re-watched a great PBS documentary on Toni Morrison, “The Pieces I Am”. I am in the last throes of finishing the latest draft because I have a deadline (a deadline I made I want you to know!). The movie is clips of her speaking. Old photos. People talking about her, people you’ve probably heard of, have read, but have never heard speak. And I so have to go back and read The Bluest Eye. And find, yes I have to find, The Black Book.
Have you ever seen it?
And, no, I have no stake in that link up there. I’d rather you buy from Random House than Amazon, that’s all.
It is December … before hibernation.
I am feverishly finishing my latest draft to elevate it for my editor, someone who comes highly recommended (“she’s tough, but good”), and I am apprehensive. This editor I do not know is also a NYTimes bestselling author. I am worried she won’t like it, or, worse yet, won’t have much to say.
I do so want her to like it. So much. And it’s not to affirm me or lift me out of the Swamp of Insecurity in which I occasionally find myself trapped, that is, when I become goddamned convinced that I won’t, can’t, will never attain the level of quality I want for this book, Hiram Falls.
No. It’s not that which makes me apprehensive. No. I want her to like it so she’ll really dive into it and she’ll see things I hadn’t or she’ll trigger in my mind some realizations of my own and that she’ll offer me a few solutions, that is, ideas that being like, “you might wanna try…” You writers know what I’m talking about.
Because I so want to get to the top of the hill on this one.
For three years, I have been immersed in a small, made-up town in northern Vermont with a bunch of people who are always keeping secrets and when they bump into one, someone else’s, they know if they do anything about it, say anything about it, reveal it, they will just hurt the ones they love most.
The town has someone another character calls, “The Stranger,” a man who doesn’t age, who has no idea who he is or why he is or what he is or even what questions he should be asking to get the answers he needs. No one sees him. Well, actually a few see him. Like the mechanic savant who suffered a brain injury. And several others whose lives have been saved by him. And only the mechanic hears him. Check that, one time two boys who try to play a prank on the mechanic hear him, are terrified by the voice inside their ears almost as much as by the crows he’s sent after them as they scurried home recalcitrant and committed to never pulling a prank again. Ever.
They’re a good bunch. I love them. Even the slimeballs. And I’ve had so much fun meeting and getting to know them and finding out what they do and think and feel. And so have others. I have been fortunate that five character sketches have been adapted and presented on stage. People loved them.
And they ask me when the book will be finished. I don’t know. And I keep moving up the date.
Long about 2:30, long after I get the manuscript to UPS with strict instructions not to fucking lose it, I come home to an empty house. And weirdly warm weather.
So I mow the lawn. Well, sort of. Actually what I did was get on the tractor thing (yes, I know, how suburban, but dang, until they make an electric one you can sit on, this is THE way to go) and I go down to the “lower 40” which is just a little joke, a Dad joke kind of thing, and I blow all the frigging leaves into two giant rows about 3 feet deep and 75 feet long so I can scoop them up and put them on the garden. Which I also do.
A MOMENTARY PANG: For a moment, while raking, I was overwhelmed with a nostalgic heart desire: I want my kids here, little, jumping into the pile, making a mess, laughing.
I overcome my emotions. And think instead how weird it is to be doing what I’m doing in December. In Vermont.
I come inside and have this thought: We create to live.
And this one: For three weeks I have been intensely focusing on 113,000 words, cutting sections, moving things, taking entire scenes out, chapters out, adding a whole new dimension, tweaking every single sentence and paragraph. That has been my world. And in that world, I felt alive and connected and felt all these other characters around me that I hadn’t even met and the ones that have been there all along and I’m starting to see things, see their edges and curves and hidden stories.
But I miss them. They’re in Boston.
And , oh my gosh, it has been exhausting.
I mean I am so intent on finishing it, on doing it right and constantly reminding myself who is speaking and what they sound like and what their emotions are and what they did 27 years ago. And it’s so much to juggle. And, sometimes, my brain farts. And I’ll be writing something and all of a sudden I can’t remember someone’s name, a little character, and then I remember where it was where I first introduced that character, zip back, see, Oh, gee OK it’s not Rose, it’s Sarah, and then continue on.
And for the better part of these last three years I’ve been getting up before the sun, making a cappuccino (some things are a necessity that don’t seem like a necessity) and reading what I’d written/edited the day before and continuing on.
Now I have to wait. And I miss my friends, the characters.
When you’re that intensely focused for so long and you are pushing yourself to finish that hard and you really do finish, and then you stop, whoa, damn…your brain kind of explodes and all these things come flying in, things that have nothing to with anything but they are just things that you thought about recently or bumped into recently or bumped into again, or they come up in conversation and, oh hell, here’s what I mean and watch it’s short, and glorious:
(A note: the fellow who did this, Brian Harnetty, was researching his hometown of Shawnee, Ohio. Someone gave him a box. Of cassette tapes, including the one here, where you hear the boy speaking, interviewing his grandmother about the coal mines. The boy is doing it for a school project but apparently doesn’t know he is NOT recording his grandmother. Missing her side of it, the tension that introduces as you listen, is effective; it makes you listen more to the boy and the music (of which my oldest daughter is a part) and the images.)
So that’s what I will continue to be doing, while my characters have moved to Boston to my editor’s house for a couple of weeks to get a look-see.
HOLY SHIT IT’S MARCH
So let me flash forward. To now. The present. To my predicament.
My editor raved. That bowled me over. She urged me, pleaded with me to NOT self-publish but to send the next draft off to an indie publisher. “They’d die for a book like this.” She gave me some suggestions. She wished me luck.
I was stunned. I was giddy. I was heartened. And then I looked at my beta-readers’ reactions again: Go Deeper, Young Man, Go Deeper. “It’s not there yet.”
So I went analytical. I plotted out the characters and their story arcs and outlined what was missing for each, what I had to do to deepen, to make more cohesive, to get to the level where a publisher really would buy this thing.
I started re-writing the beginning. Then I did more analysis.
Then I met with two beta-readers who I hadn’t heard from. One liked it. Loved it. Great.
The other person, a woman I recently met as part of my research, hated two of the characters. One she said was “insipid.” But she’s the only character who you see only through her diaries. “Well, her diaries are kind of boring…and whiny.”
Then she said she really objected to the second character because it was not real, “almost like a stereotype.”
That froze me.
Because that beta reader is an Abenaki eleder. And that second character she was referring to is Abenaki.
I was upset for days. It made me again question whether a white man should be writing about an Abenaki woman. Over time though, I reassured myself; why should a man write about a woman character for that matter? Why should a writer write about anything outside his or her own experience?
I also realized that much of what she objected to were things we had talked extensively about before she read that draft which was written way before we met. Of course she didn’t like the character; it isn’t even close to being finished.
Truth is, though, I do not yet know what I need to do with that character. I have some ideas, but the character isn’t finished.
I don’t know. And I worry about what this reader, and what the Abenakis overall, will think.
The more I thought about that, I realized that it all had put me where I need to be — I want to make this character believable and accurate and written with respect (as I do with all the characters). But it also has jarred my confidence, made me even more literal and analytical. My writing-thinking was changing. It frightened me.
So I stopped.
I stopped fucking around with the beginning. I stopped analyzing each of the characters and story arcs. I stopped thinking about how to intersect the story arcs better. I stopped thinking about deepening the characters.
Because … I realized I don’t have the excitement I need to return. And that scares me even more.
So that’s where I am right now — a window into the mind of a writer. Because I don’t for a moment think my experience is any different than anyone else who’s written a novel.
This is not easy.
And I am deeply appreciative of a few friends on Mastodon, a few friends who have been so loyal and helpful through this entire process, all of whom have offered me suggestions. Support.
Because they’ve been there, too.
I will make it back. I will have to push myself, but I will make it back to the excitement, the exploration, the discovery, the magic. I just don’t know when.
Thanks for making it this far. If you would like to read/hear a couple of excerpts of the novel, (and DO subscribe to stay in touch) or for earlier versions that were put on stage, go here: https://geoffreygevalt.com/hiramfalls
Tell me what you think…please. You should be able to comment.