Unlike the others

I’ve written five novels. None is published, but that’s probably mostly due to my own inertia than to their possible worthiness (or maybe not).

My first two were young adult novels, the first and third parts of a planned trilogy involving interwoven plots and characters. I haven’t looked at these in more than a decade, so I can’t say whether they are embarrassing but necessary apprentice works or if they might be salvageable. (I was told at the time that the kernel of the story in each was worthy.) I’ve consigned those to my distant past.

I’ve now written three Finnegan novels. The first, the one that had me so on fire for so long, is probably not worth trying to get published. I was finding my way with my two protagonists and how I would devise the murderless mysteries they would solve. (I still think there is an untapped market for mysteries that don’t involve the brutality and mayhem of murder to keep readers interested!)

I like my second Finnegan’s novel. I think the mystery in it is clever, and the resolution flows naturally from the characters and situations. It’s been a couple of years since I finished that novel, and I did shop it around a bit at the time — getting a few nibbles but no bites. There are a few minor enhancements I want to make to the story, and then I intend to begin submitting it again (after I get the first draft of The Sleep of Reason finished).

My third Finnegans novel, Finnegans Afoot, is still in the raw, first draft state. It has the benefit of fully understood characters, but I’m letting it lie fallow for now, in part to finish Reason and in part to get some creative distance from it. When I look past the mists of self delusion, I think I see a novel there that is worthy.

The point of this post however — and thank you if you’ve read this far — is that the novel I am currently working on, The Sleep of Reason, feels altogether different from what I have written thus far. The feeling is hard to describe, but I’d say it feels more whole. It seems like a more complete story, one that could only be told in the way it is unfolding. The Finnegan novels (and most commercial mysteries that I read) seem like pleasant contrivances, like stories that are assembled from component parts and sufficient for what they try to be. The Sleep of Reason, on the other hand, feels like something that is beyond my creation. It feels like a story that has existed in the ether, waiting for some hapless writer acolyte to tap into it and release it to the world.

That sounds silly, I realize, but as I said, the way it feels different is hard to describe. It seems more like a collaboration than a creation. I created the Finnegan novels, but this novel almost seems like I am just one participant in its creation.

Now, I don’t attribute creativity to any supernatural source or influence. Probably the copious amounts of iced tea I drink have more outside influence on my creativity than any muse ever could. Even so, there are times with this story when I feel I have to race to keep up with it as it is revealed to me.

I’ve found that there are many parallels in the story, parallels that I never foresaw when I first understood the plot yet parallels that fit perfectly into the story. Events presage other events. Actions (and actions within actions) are repeated in important ways. Foreshadowing seems to occur on every page. There is so much of it, in fact, that I worry that my ending will be telegraphed to the reader by the third chapter. I also know so well where the story must go that it allows me to select each word with the purpose of serving the rest of the story (rather than merely selecting the words to tell the story with color and punch). This is, I think, what Poe was talking about in his essay “The Poetic Principle” where, he insists, every single word must be at work in the story.

I’m not sure I’m attaining such a lofty standard, but I feel that I’m writing something that is far better than what I have done so far.

How do I account for this? Maybe I really do have in my grasp a “whole” story. Certainly I’ve never understood my Finnegan novels so thoroughly; no “revelations” came to me as I wrote them. I suspect, however, that what I’m really seeing is more confidence and skill as a writer. The five novels (and many short stories) I’ve written have gotten me to this point. I am benefiting from all of that practice, reflection, and sweat.

Whatever the reason, I’m glad I’m here, and The Sleep of Reason benefits from it. I still see months of work before I have a first draft though.

Update: For what I think is another take on this, have a look at Brian Keaney’s post from last year about Eureka Moments.

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One Comment on “Unlike the others”

  1. Brian Keaney Says:

    I know that sensation, Paul. It feels more like unearthing a story that already exists than writing something new. It comes when a novel really works. So press on and the very best of luck!


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