I just finished the third book in my Andy Hayes private eye series. I started it in late April but not until this past Sunday, when I emailed a copy to my wife, had anyone besides myself set eyes on the text (unless you count Paige the cat, who’s more a romance aficionado in any case). Pam is always my first reader, but even she has to wait until I have a draft I’m happy with. It can be a long wait, given my grousing and grumbling about the work in progress, its inadequacies, my inadequacies and the likelihood that I am one or two steps removed from the worst writer in the history of the universe, up to and including Edward George Bulwer-Lytton.
Despite all this sturm und drang, I wouldn’t write any other way. Speaking only for myself, I’ve never understood the attraction of inviting commentary on novels before finishing a thorough first draft. Workshopping selections of a novel strikes me as the literary equivalent of showing up to my birthday party in my underpants. Who would want to see me that way? And what good would it do, other than to hear people shout what I already know: you’re underdressed! I prefer the advice of Stephen King, who suggested in his memoir-slash-advice-manual, “On Writing,” to compose the first draft of ones novel with the door closed, meaning by yourself, and henceforth with the door open, meaning that after a manuscript is completed, it can and should be subjected to the scrutiny of readers.
Still, going almost a year without showing anyone anything has its risks, starting with the obvious fear that all that work will garner a simple, “That’s it?” That’s why Pam’s reaction was, as always, a relief. I’m not talking about the quality of the book. Rather, based on her comments, it appears that I managed to string sentences and paragraphs together into something semi-intelligent. And so, back to King, I once again celebrate what I’ve come to think of as my, “I’m not Jack Torrance” moment. Torrance, you’ll recall, is the writer in King’s “The Shining” who takes a caretaker’s job at the Overlook Hotel in the mountains of Colorado in hopes of finishing his book during the snowed-in months when the hotel is completely shut off. In the movie version, his wife, played by Shelley Duvall, comes upon the manuscript and discovers to her horror that her increasingly erratic husband has spent the past few months typing “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” over and over again, page after page after page. Not long after that, Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson, is shouting “Here’s Johnny” as he plunges an axe into the door of the bathroom where Duvall is hiding. I’m happy to report–whew–that the merits of my book aside, that’s not me. I didn’t spend eleven months on gibberish. I have no desire to own an axe. I can take solace in the fact that my approach to novel writing is apparently not a complete disaster.
Though come to think of it, I have heard Colorado is gorgeous in the winter.