I Started Writing a New Novel

012712 Barn 219

I’m just going to blurt it out: I’m working on a new novel. I have 58 pages. It’s so, so new. A lot of mystique surrounds this process. And a lot of superstition. Some authors (published ones, with books!) won’t tell anyone what their work-in-progress is about. They don’t let anyone see any of it until it’s done. They fear breaking the spell, or jinxing, it seems, rather than having to face the task of explaining what one’s novel is about. Having to explain what one’s novel is about is almost embarrassing enough to make one stop writing the novel.  

Here. I will show you by trying to describe my novel right now. It’s about musicians. See, this girl’s dad is a producer who owns a studio in Vermont. It’s in a renovated barn on many, many acres of beautiful land, and a river runs through it. Like Trey from Phish. Only he is NOT LIKE TREY FROM PHISH AT ALL. I don’t know why I even brought up Trey. I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. I was never into Phish. That was my husband. I mean, I never even went to one single Phish show, and I was in college in their heyday, so that was a very deliberate choice. Nothing against Trey. It just wasn’t my thing. I just happened to be googling for photos of barn studios in Vermont so I could accurately describe one, and there was Trey’s. It’s really gorgeous. Anyway, he sold it. Trey no longer has a barn studio, so let’s stop talking about it.  

Uh, so this musician comes to the barn studio to record his first solo album. He was in a hard rock band for a long time. Like Guns N’ Roses, sort of, which I was not into either, though who doesn’t have a soft spot for “November Rain?” Anyway, the band breaks up violently and he’s fresh out of rehab from his massive drug problem. And newly reconciled with his wife and son, who just happens to be the protagonist’s age. The protagonist is named Johanna, with an H that you pronounce, like from the Bob Dylan song. And yes, I am really into Dylan. I have seen him live, definitely not during his heyday, though I’ll be damned if he doesn’t keep cranking out good albums (ignore that Christmas one). Johanna is great at singing, wants to write songs, and is wildly attracted to the aging rock star, who is staying on the premises all summer long. Things go in a certain direction (sex, drugs, if I must spell it out). Then something TERRIBLE happens, and it changes EVERYTHING. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, but it’s really bad. It might be melodramatic. That is just one of the things I’m worrying about right now.  

I have not yet mentioned that I’m trying pretty hard to write this thing in classic three-act structure. Like Shakespeare or Pixar. That terrible occurrence gets us to the end of Act I, maybe a third of the way into the book. Time passes in white space. It’s a very fancy technique. Act II begins several years later. Five years, or maybe seven. And then some more things will happen. They absolutely will. These things will be called plot points. I have lots of ideas for them, but if I use them all it will be too cruel, or too ridiculous, or both. But I assure you, there is a list of things that I can make happen. Some of the plot points will involve Johanna making her way as a singer-songwriter. Indeed, she will write songs. I hope they will be good. I hope that, on the page, the lyrics will seem more profound than silly, unless she’s being silly on purpose, but I don’t think that’s really her thing. Secrets will be revealed. At the end of Act II, it will seem as though all is lost for Johanna. Maybe it will be. I don’t know. But then somehow I will resolve things. I hope. Endings are hard.  

That’s all plot. It might sound like the plot of a screwball comedy, but that’s not what I’m going for. I have a great deal of anxiety about plot, and I’ve been burned before by not having enough plot, so this time I may be overcompensating. I can already tell that the first act will be a lot louder than the rest of the book, which is more about living with the fallout from the terrible thing. I think that’s part of what I’m trying to say. Either that or the second two-thirds of the book will be quite boring. Phrases like “fizzled out” or “died quietly in the night” will be used to describe it. 

What excites me right now is character. There are a couple of words I’m keeping in mind as I write. One is “helpmate.” It’s an old-fashioned word. I rarely hear it used. Johanna’s mom is a minor talent who’s sung backup on half the tracks her dad has cut. Johanna loves her mother but she’s determined not to be a helpmate. She wants to be an artist in her own right. She wants to be able to do everything herself.  The other word is “responsibility.” At fifteen, Johanna shoulders an enormous responsibility without really telling anyone. I want to play this out over the next twenty years of her life. What should become of a character like Johanna? What will? Somehow I’ll write my way to an ending that answers those questions. Right now I don’t want to know.  

So, yeah. I guess I’m talking about my new novel. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to shroud it in secrecy or be coy, for once in my life. It’s just that I’m the kind of person who needs to talk everything to death, and why would this, the thing that’s taking up so much of my brain space and time and soul, be an exception?  I am going to work on that dreadful synopsis eventually, so that it is less glib and rambling. But first I’m going to write the thing. And while I’m doing that, I’m going to write about writing the thing. I will do that here. This is part one.