Killing a Book
Writing a book is a labor, sometimes of love, other times of persistence, occasionally of obligation, rarely (one hopes) out of sheer sadism or masochism, depending on who exactly the writer wishes to punish. Regardless of motivation, it is work. And like most jobs, time off can be a necessity during the whole process. Sometimes it’s a holiday, and in some cases in can be an entire leave of absence for months or years until the desire to resume overcomes the reluctance to dive back into the thing that made you walk away altogether.
And sometimes, you just need to tell the book to shove it.
This whole preamble is just meandering around the point (which is, after all, my specialty). What I’m actually saying is that Waiting on the Dead, a book I’ve worked on for a few years off-and-on (or, more accurately, on and off and on briefly and off and on for a nanosecond and off again), has been dragged behind the literary barn and shot. In the head, as well, just to be sure.
Not that anyone should care about whether a book they’ve never read will never be written. I guess this is more for me, to explain to myself and the part of me that wanted this book to exist why I just can’t do it, even though I liked the tone, and some of what it had to say and the way it said it. This is the book’s epitaph and my eulogy, delivered to myself, just so I can tell myself why.
First, it’s hard for me to recapture the voice of the narrator. His was a devil-may-care, shrug-and-smoke, cynical and irreverent view of the world, one it was easy for me to wear once upon a time. Things happen and circumstances change, and I don’t really have that voice anymore. I can sometimes wear it for a blog post from time to time, but as the scarcity of the posts here demonstrate, it’s not really the right one for me anymore. I don’t consider this a bad thing, or a good thing, but it certainly is a thing so I guess I should acknowledge it. I guess the voice could change over time, but that would necessitate an overhaul that I just don’t have the heart to do. I think, with enough work, I could wear the hat again. If that were the only reason I had to stop, I probably wouldn’t.
But it’s not the only one.
Secondly, something that’s been on my mind for a few years now are female characters. I read something a while ago about how often their role is that of Wife or Mother or Love Interest and that’s it – they have no arc and they just serve to push the protagonist along his path of redemption or growth or whatever. Since then, I’ve resolved to make better choices with how I write a character, and make better characters who are female by the chance of what sex they are and not because of the role they must fill. Waiting on the Dead didn’t have any female characters who did anything but further the white male character’s story. Of course, it’s a first-person perspective memoir/diary kind of thing, so EVERY other character regardless of gender or race or creed or sexual orientation existed solely to further the narrator’s story, so it’s a bit harder. The character’s growth and arc is made by the other people in the story and it’s impossible to see it through their eyes, really. So my desire for better female characters could, in this case be shunted aside in the name of the perspective I chose to tell the story. And if that were it, I might persist and finish it.
But, again, there’s more.
I decided, this weekend, that the world didn’t need another story of a white American male dealing with a zombie apocalypse. There are plenty of stories of that very thing… pretty much all of them, in fact. I’d much rather see what that would be like for a woman, or an immigrant, or a Muslim, or a black American, or literally anyone else whose normal American experience is outside the privileged one I happen, by circumstance of birth, to currently enjoy. Is the zombie apocalypse interesting to me because it makes me a minority in a hostile world and allow me to wonder what that would be like? I don’t know, and I don’t feel like psychoanalyzing myself at the present time, but the zombie story I want to read would be one from the point of view of, say, someone who went through Hurricane Katrina as a poor person who didn’t get evacuated because they couldn’t afford to or didn’t have the support system to get out. What would the apocalypse be like for them? That to me would be a fascinating exploration and story, with cool zombie action and all the other things I enjoy about the genre.
Problem is, I can’t write it.
Well, I could, but to do it right I’d need to do a lot of research, and reach a better understanding of life in someone else’s skin. But even then, I’d be pretending. I wouldn’t have access to the automatic knowledge that a woman or immigrant or black American has of what life is like for them. If I thought I could I would, and maybe I will, just because I really want to read that story. If I got flak for trying, to culturally appropriate someone else’s voice, it’d be deserved, and I’d have my own justification for doing it – I want to read the story, and it’s illegal for me to force someone else to write it – but I just don’t think it’d be right.
In any case, it wouldn’t be the book I’ve been working on, so it’s gone.
R.I.P, Waiting on the Dead. You made me laugh. You made me melancholy. You danced on the grave of the world and made fun of it while you did and made me enjoy it. I’ll miss you, but I won’t miss the nagging feeling of you sitting there unfinished and preventing me from starting something else. I have other things I want to work on, and you were just in the way.
Of course, this post will look really stupid if I change my mind.
Posted on November 23, 2015, in Book Stuff and tagged Bad Predictions, Navel-Gazing, Writing, Zombies. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.
Oh, the dreadful burden of the non-oppressed white male. Let us all shed a single tear on its behalf.
Thank you for this article. I keep thinking about some of the stuff Stephen King’s written on writing and how inspiration can come in pieces and parts. Recognizing that what you have is not a full story, it’s not the story you want to tell, and it’s not what you want to pursue is a really powerful way of being honest with yourself. I can only imagine what working at it has done for your craft in the meantime, though.
I imagine the only logical next step is steampunk novel about a middle class white guy.
Hah! Actually, I want to do a ghost-hunters-type story set in a fantasy world.The nice thing about a fantasy world is I don’t need to deal with the real-world issues and “problematic” issues. Although, I’ve seen things that accuse Tolkien of being racist for how he portrayed orcs, so people will manage to be outraged no matter what I want, if they try hard enough.
As someone who read the first chapter or two of this book, I’m completely bummed. What I read was amazing. However, as a fellow author, I totally understand. In fact, it’s funny that you mention it because I’ve been thinking about this lately — I have an embarrassing pile of book ideas that I started at one point and then abandoned. Each of these ideas came to me during specific points of my life and were subconsciously things that I wanted to express. Well, it’s not like I was expressing deep and meaningful truths about the universe or anything, but at times when I was dealing with certain things at work, with my family, etc. — these things manifested in different wacky stories. At the time, the ideas resonated with me. They were the things I needed to get out as my own form of expression or therapy. A few years later, after my situation changed, I couldn’t write the ideas the same way. There were way too many flaws for me to invest all that time and effort in something I wasn’t emotionally sold on. I have plans to reinvent some of my ideas when I can make them poignant for my life now, but I’m not banking on it.
The point is, I’m bummed about the book, but I totally understand. I hope you get back to a place where writing is fun and not a chore, and you find something new that resonates with where you’re at right now. You’re super talented and it would be a total shame for you to stop writing.
That’s really incredibly kind of you to say. To be fair, I’m kind of bummed too – I was thinking of a scene I wanted to include and laughed when I thought about it, then felt kind of bad that it won’t exist. I made the joke to my wife the day I wrote this that the surest sign I’ll finish the book is the fact that I publicly killed it. After all, one of the most-used tags I use here is Bad Predictions.
I think you said what’s going on in my head better than I can articulate it, so thanks for that and for the fact that I can now point to your comment when people ask me “why” heh.
Thanks again for your kind words. I’m trying to work through a story idea I’ve been sitting on for years – a group of “ghost hunters” in a fantasy setting, because writing fantasy horror has made me MILLIONS AND MILLIONS OF DOLLARS – and I may actually be able to write the thing. I may have to do my own NaNoWriMo during a month I can actually focus on it – maybe February, because February is without question the worst month ever and nothing ever happens in it so I might as well announce that I will write the book entirely in 28 days and use the pressure of that public declaration to force me to actually do it.
OK, that started off as a joke and now I might do it.