Yesterday I finished the second draft of my “airport” novel and e-mailed it to my sister. What I want to know from her is whether an average reader would be interested in finishing the book or prefer to leave it on a bench.
My novel is no great work of art, neither is it purely plot-driven; character does come in at places, and is probably too long-winded when it appears. The book is an experiment as to whether presumed elements of popularity will overcome marginal writing. The book is baldly designed to be popular, as I made a list of things to be in the novel, with the overall idea of Michael Crichton meets Dan Brown (except for their research). Here are some of the elements I put in the book:
Four murders, three questionable because the victims were clones.
A ten-year project of the Jesuits ruined.
A manic-depressive doctor/coroner/investigator, overlarge, who doesn’t know his own strength, and adjusts his own psychiatric medications frequently throughout the book to improve his performance.
His playful but deadly Irish Wolfhound, Grendel.
His sidekick and chauffeur of vintage automobiles, (retired) detective Ray.
His mother, computer hacker extraordinaire, who still nags her fifty-year-old son.
A love triangle between the doctor, detective and the doctor’s beautiful deaf secretary.
Beautiful horses (a dog wasn’t enough for animal lovers, I thought).
Crash-bang ending where Grendel is seriously wounded, Ray is injured, and the doctor exposes the evil leadership of the sect.
All is reported back to the Vatican.
There’s an old joke about bestsellers. If people love to read about Lincoln, doctors and dogs, why not “Lincoln’s Doctor’s Dog.” That’s what I’m trying to do here. Really.
Fiction is hard for me because of the donkeywork. So much connecting of the dots, the tearing out of details and connections readers don’t need, the question of how much description is necessary or merely boring? How much do people want character? Will anyone identify with the characters?
All this chatter, blecch. How about a brief excerpt from my novel? This is taken near the end of the book, when the doctor’s mood is heightened before his he invades the sect's chapel.
In the brief interlude before their advance, Gunderson could hear Isaiah’s preaching in the stillness. The man’s voice seemed painfully loud. He could hear the congregation shifting in their seats, the slide of cotton on polished oak, the squeak of small shoes on the floorboards.
His mood was already heightened by the hunt and his encounter on the ridge, pushed into the kind of manic rebound that Zyprexa often yielded short-term. Time had slowed. His mind wasn’t racing; that would be “out of phase” hypomania. Instead he was enjoying his illness, a state of hyperawareness combined with the confidence of a god and the caution of a deer. He felt as if he had eyes in the back of his head, eyes all around like the fabled seraphim of Ezekiel. He could hear the proverbial pin drop.
“OK, Ray,” he said.
As they made it to the cabin next to the chapel, Gunderson automatically categorized the three intensities of light, from faint moonlight to the harsher, Edisonian light in the lamps in the eaves. He could see every crack in every knot of pine while the grain bespoke years, each laid down for the next—moment wedded to moment, limb to limb. The third intensity of light was a limited glow near the entrance. Looking back at Grendel, Gunderson could see every wire in his coat: rust, gray, brown, every curled point, noting that each whisker fanned out from his cheeks at its own peculiar angle.
Unlike Plath’s bell jar, he felt in this moment of stalking as if the world was a bell jar and he was looking in, intent on helping those trapped inside. Glancing up at the eaves again he saw each wing beat of a pale moth and the brown dots near the bottom of each wing beneath the slightly irregular slats of the eaves themselves, already warping from a brutal summer and a thirsty winter. As Ray hugged the chapel wall to his left, Gunderson meditated upon the pattern of tarnish in the six brass hinges of the chapel doors while noting the doors did not quite hang true. Better than a level. The world was glass and he moved through it like a diamond.
I paused the action here to describe the doctor’s mental state, but such excursions may impair the book’s “pageturnability,” as the agent who recently rejected the first ten pages wrote me. What do I care? I finished the thing, however grotesque the result. Now it’s time to get feedback as to whether the book deserves a third draft or would be better donated to an abortion clinic.
Now I’ll return to working on my Eliot book, which last scrambled my brain as I re-wrote my take on “The Waste Land” for the fourth or fifth time. That is a very different form of mental exercise.
I teared up over Rachel briefly this morning, though no crying jag. I’m working, that’s the important thing.
I do not think I’m depressed but euthymic and still grieving.
I am anxious today for good reason, because Kathleen starts work full-time and I don’t know if her back condition will permit it. She is my hero to try! I will miss her every hour she’s gone; she grounds me. Sharing her with the world costs me in comfort but I wouldn’t stand in her way. Her job entails coaching the disabled to obtain and retain menial jobs and to make sure they are not disrespected in the workplace, to be their “job coach.” She loves the work and her lip-reading skills have made her deafness a non-issue; in fact, politically, it is a feather in the cap of the organization that hired her: “The disabled helping the disabled.”
At Rachel’s memorial I was reconciled to a friend I had not seen in eleven years. He’s called me once since. I think I may screw up my courage and call him back today. We were tight for 27 years before an unfortunate incident, fueled by the manic side of my illness, separated us.
If anyone is interested in publishing my novel, please write. I have no agent and expect, if others deem it worthy, I'll have to eventually self-publish, like 85% of the books in America.
Kiloneutral but still grieving,