My Journey With Hard Times
Elizabeth has given me a wonderful opportunity to appear on her blog, and she told me I could talk about anything I wanted to except I wasn’t to even mention a certain basketball player who I won’t name, but whose initials are Stephen Curry… So, I won’t.
I thought this might be a good opportunity to talk about the writing process. At least the writing process that I employ.
Whenever I begin a novel, I always begin with an idea that has been rattling around in my brainpan for at least ten years, oftentimes more.
The novel I’ve begun to write these days has had a much longer gestation period. Its genesis stems from a short story I wrote when I was eleven years old and was published in several places. It was originally titled “A Mother’s Love,” which is fairly representative of the callowness I labored under at the time. When it came out in The Analecta, I had shed some of the sentimentality I labored under as a beginning writer and it emerged with the new title, “Hard Times.” It was later included in my first story collection, Monday’s Meal, with that title.
For many years, I was haunted by the woman in the story. From time to time, I’d begin writing a novel based on her original story, but nothing ever came of it. The thing was, the story hadn’t yet jelled in my mind enough to allow me to pen 75,000 words or more about her. I came close, several times, but the truth is I hadn’t yet gotten to the place where I could write her bigger story.
A month or so ago, I was tossing new novel ideas around with my agent, Svetlana Pironko, and she surprised me by saying that of all the stories she’d read of mine, “Hard Times” was the one that most deeply resonated within her and whose protagonist, Amelia Laxault, haunted her. The little light bulb in the refrigerator of my mind went off, and I knew then that this was the novel I was not only ready to write, but had to. Svetlana told me that she thought if I carried this book off it would achieve the same kind of voice and distinction as had No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy. Yowza! As this is perhaps my favorite book of all time, and as Svetlana is one of the best judges of literature I know, this was akin to being knighted by the Queen of England. With her pronouncement, I knew this was the book I had to write.
As I said, most of my novels need to germinate at least ten years within me before they’re mature enough for me to write. This one had been growing inside me for far more than that. I wrote it when I was eleven and I’m 73 now, so if you do the math you can see that I’d ruminated about Amelia for a long, long time.
I’m deep into the writing at this point and I know it’s going to be delivered eventually and not be stillborn as were the previous attempts. The reason I know this is almost every night now I find myself dreaming about Amelia. And waking up with the white-hot fervor of getting down what I had just dreamed onto the pad of paper I keep by my bedside. When a novel reaches the dreaming stage for me, I know it’s going to happen.
I’m not eleven years old any longer, and not even thirty or forty. I’m an old guy now in my seventh decade and this book is taking every bit of energy and skill I possess. The last book that took this much energy from me was The Rapist, and when I finished that one I didn’t think I’d be capable of summoning that much strength ever again. Seems I was wrong. I feel twenty years old right now and my drug is Amelia’s story. I am so tremendously excited on a daily basis that I could just pee on an electric fence.
I’d say that I hope when I’m done with it and type “30” that it’s considered a good book, but I feel so confident in it that I don’t hope it turns out well—I know it will.
Now, I just have to do my best to not get struck by lightning or hit by a bus. If I can manage that, all will be well.
Thanks, Elizabeth, for allowing me to share the beginning of my journey with Hard Times. I hope that when I’m finished with it, you’ll give me the honor of reviewing it. I think you’re going to like it.