The Organic Process of Novel Writing (a personal experience)

I have been making slow but steady progress on finding an entry point into the new novel. I had a false start last week but this start feels more solid to me and I think it has promise. Anyway, what I am saying is I think I can go on from here.

This is a tough novel. It it were another Haxan story it would be less difficult to write. I am trying to do something different. I might not be successful but I like the fact I am challenging myself. I think that, more than anything, is what drives me. Fortunately I have no deadline for finishing this book. I can pour all my creative energy and time into it. Well, what time is left over from other writing duties, of course.

I am planning a road trip along the US-Mexico border next spring. A majority of the book takes place there. I spent all morning yesterday plotting out the journey that the characters would take. I don’t plan to follow that exactly, but I want to drive to some points along the way. I always feel if you can do eyeball research it is helpful. It helps me but to be honest another good resource is YouTube.

One thing I can say for this book, it is hard to force myself not to hold back. We are conditioned by culture. I have to watch that because if I do that in this book then I am not being true to how the people were and how they acted in 1869. I would just be skirting the issue. I am not out to perpetuate Hollywood stereotype and cliches with this story. I guess you can view this novel as the anti-John Wayne, the anti-John Ford.

I think there will be elements of romanticism at least insofar as delineation of character, but not romanticism drawn from outdated ideas and popcorn stereotypes. I am making a conscious effort when a Hollywood cliche rears its head I go the other way. To borrow a phrase, I want to take western icons that have burrowed into the American culture behind a barn and kill them with a dull axe. And I want them to suffer.

Meh. Maybe I won’t be successful. But I feel the novel has to be written. I always go with my instinct on these things. It’s all a dangerous phase right now where I am bombarded by the creative energy and maelstrom of ideas and fragmented voices. The difficulty is pulling it all together and integrating it. I am hoping once I get that firm foundation beneath me I can move with more authority and confidence on the novel.

We will see.

But I do not mind admitting it is a stressful time right now. There are so many unknowns at play. Then again, I know from experience all new stories are like that for me. I hope my confidence will last!

I am not even kicking myself over the false start. Writing is organic it is not immutable. I’ve always believed that. The false start was a necessary step in the creative process. I can’t change that.


Pride and Prejudice: If People Were Ants We Wouldn’t Need Stories

About three years ago I read the first 100 pages of Pride and Prejudice and then I bailed.

I was taking some very heavy damage from several hardened missile silos down below me. I had lost all aileron control and the self-sealing fuel tanks, well, were no longer self-sealing. I had to eject fast or I would auger in from 10,000 feet. I fought my way out of the pilot seat against the compiling G-forces and scrambled with a sob in my throat through the open hatchway.

Tumbling in free fall. Feeling of helplessness. Cold air rushing past my ears. I pulled the rip cord and felt the hard snap I once tried to read Pride and Prejudice. I almost didn't make it out my parachute opened and the last I ever saw of Pride and Prejudice was the book dwindling against the bright stars overhead, lost to me forever.

I’m telling you I barely made it out of that book alive.

Lots of readers have experiences like this one. We have comfort zones of genres we like and understand and want to wallow in. This is normal, and I would argue healthy. But as for writers, what do we say when we come across readers who say, “Oh, I don’t read that crap” when you tell them what genre you work in?

As a western writer I totally understand and have experienced this genre myopia myself. Sometimes I might explain how some of the Haxan stories actually have dark fantasy elements or romance or mystery or what have you. It never works. The missile silos are too hardened. All they hear is “western” and their immediate reaction is “Oh, I don’t read that crap.”

So what do I do? I have the stories inside me and I have to write them. That’s out of my control. I can’t stop writing even if I tried, and trust me I have tried. Scientists have yet to develop a super-methadone that will allow me to get that monkey off my back.

Do I abandon everything I’ve learned during my years as a professional and start writing for what’s popular on the markets right now? I can’t do that, either. My personal philosophy about writing won’t allow me to jump on bandwagons with their colorful balloons and bright ribbons. Or maybe I can try and fool myself into believing the western genre, even blended western genres, aren’t that bad right now, that they are more popular than I think. But the evidence shows the genre is, at best, on life support and someone is standing next to the sick bed with a loaded gun against the patient’s temple.

Westerns are not in a healthy and popular place right now. They might be again someday, but that day has not yet arrived.

Here’s the rub. You arPeople and writers are not ants. We have different genres for a reason.e never going to be able to write something that satisfies everyone. Everyone is different. We all bring different experiences and backgrounds and expectations and loves to the table when we open a new book. I may not like one genre but that doesn’t mean it has no worth for a majority of other people. I know this from experience because a majority of people sure as hell don’t read westerns.

But I keep writing them anyway because there are some who do and I have what I hope are good stories to tell them.

Read what makes you happy. Forget what anyone else says. But most of all, write what makes you happy. Your readers, and your inner peace, will thank you for it.

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