On Writing My Second Novel
I’ve been working on my second novel for just about three years now. (Yes, I was working on it even before my first novel, Mr. Suicide, was released.)
Of course, I never thought it would take this long to write. If I recall correctly, Mr. Suicide was written in a little less than a year. But this is how it’s worked out, and I’m okay with it. I mean, it’s not like I’ve been totally silent. My novella The Sadist’s Bible was published in 2016. I’ve also been busy responding to various anthology invitations, teaching writing workshops, and contracting out subsidiary rights for audio adaptations and a translation.
Oh yeah, and watching my country go batshit insane for the past two years has been a bit distracting, too.
So it’s not like I’ve been sitting on my ass playing online Scrabble instead of writing. I have valid reasons for the delay. The anthology invitations, while flattering, created the biggest issue. I would be zooming along with the novel and then have to set it aside to focus on this or that short story deadline.
But I see myself primarily as a novelist, and part of me thinks that being a novelist with only one novel to peddle is a bit like being a baker who only sells day-old bread. Of course, J.D. Salinger managed to pull off the trick with his dignity intact, so my simile is probably an exaggeration. And the readers who are just discovering Mr. Suicide seem to find it every bit as transgressive and confrontational and moving as the readers did two and a half years ago. Many adjectives have been used to describe that book, but “stale” ain’t one of them.
Nonetheless, in these days when rapid fire serial storytelling is all the rage (especially in genre fiction), it would be easy to feel insecure. We live in an era when publishing is more profit-obsessed than it has ever been. It could be argued that today’s authors are more profit-obsessed than the suits were fifty years ago. In such an environment, every author wants to become (or, at least, is supposed to want to become) a “brand name”. And being a brand name means keeping up with the Joneses (or the Kings, or the Pattersons, or whoever else is spitting out titles with machine-gun-like efficiency).
I try to keep level-headed about things. I’m not freaking out. I’m not rushing anything. My experience is that when I rush things, I fuck up. So I write. And I edit. And I re-write. And I edit again. And I re-re-re-write, and so on.
It’s more important for me to write well than to write quickly.
So far I have written over 110,000 words for this thing. Unfortunately, a good chunk of those words have–upon later inspection–proven themselves undeserving and have been banished to a computer file I think of as “the parking lot” (or, when I’m feeling less charitable with myself, “the junk yard”).
Let me clarify what I mean when I refer to “a good chunk” of those words: I mean around 44,000 of them. They aren’t a total loss. I’m pretty sure some of them will find their way into my next project. But for now, they’re exiled.
Do the math and you’ll see the current draft of the new book (minus the words I voted off the island) sits at about 66,000 words.
Which is encouraging, right?
Well, yes. But you have to remember that some portion of those words will get voted off the island, too. I’m trying to write a different type of novel this time around. After having read a fair bit of Milan Kundera‘s work for the first time, I felt compelled to attempt a Kundera-esque polyphonic novel . And growing in this direction takes time. Also, while I can’t quite classify this as a work of historical fiction, it’s fair to say that it’s historically informed. Thus, I’ve had to engage in a fair amount of research.
Is it a horror novel?
It’s plenty dark, and plenty transgressive. I don’t think it fits neatly into the template of a mainstream horror novel but then again my work has never fit that mold. I think that if you’ve dug my work so far, you’ll dig this one, too. (Though hopefully you’ll appreciate how I’ve grown since The Sadist’s Bible.)
In any event, I feel confident the end result will be worth all the toil, and that feels good. This is probably the biggest change for me in the last few years: feeling quietly confident that I’m on the right track for the development of my writing career.
Maybe sometime soon I’ll blog about confidence. (And how it differs from arrogance.) Or maybe I’ll blog some about applying historical research to a novel. That’s on my mind, too. But now I must get ready to do my daily run. (I’m training for a half-marathon race in April.)