Having completed two novels, an accomplishment so amazing to me that I still don’t quite understand how it happened, I must have gotten cocky. For decades, my cousins and I have repeated our mantra, “Someone should really write a novel about this family!” That eventually became an exhortation aimed directly at me, “You really should write a novel about this family!” And that was back in the days long, long before I had written fiction of any length, actually before I had written anything much except the essays I assigned my students and frequently completed with them. I suppose it was based on the fact that I taught literature, the theory being that if I could teach novels, I could write them. Any English teacher knows that is not a reliable formula.
Nonetheless, with the completion of those two novels, and some encouraging responses from a few readers, I decided that perhaps my cousins were right. Perhaps I should write a novel about the family. It is, after all, a subject with which I am familiar and the received wisdom says that the best writing comes from writing about what you know.
I made a beginning. I have written approximately two thousand words, a little over four pages. I have been writing and rewriting and pondering and correcting and researching those pages for over a week. I have made an outline of all the family members I intend to include in the book and I have collected hundreds of given names from the Internet. I have found scores of surnames. I have assigned fictional names to over half of my characters. I have, alas, changed my mind several times about the names I have chosen, which has made it necessary to go back into my four pages to change them all.
I have color-coded the lists–the actual family members in teal, the fictional names in a color called “cantaloupe.” At first I had the names of my mother’s generation in regular font, those of my generation in bold, but I decided that this pseudo-genealogy looks more impressive with everything in bold. I have experimented with the location of that list. Am I able to refer to it more easily if it is at the top of the manuscript, that is, the four pages, or if I copy and paste it into a separate document? And if I move it, should it have its own document or can I include it in the document that contains the Internet lists of names? If I include it there, should it be at the top or at the end of the document? I have tried it several times in all positions. I have changed the color scheme at least twice.
I spent a good portion of this morning moving that list around.
Now I am settled comfortably in my living room with two friends who are visiting from Canada, one of whom is at this very moment reading the first of my two novels. I bask in the glow of her close attention to the book and her periodic bursts of laughter.
Now I am writing a blog post about writing a novel about my family, wondering just in passing if possibly the color-coding is a bit too much. I decide to save the blog draft and take a look.
Meanwhile, my erstwhile writing partner, Alison Daniels, is churning out mystery novels at a speed that impresses, horrifies, and intimidates me. They are good mysteries; they are page-turners. They have interesting characters. The two detectives are doing what well-drawn characters do. They are developing, changing, growing. They have a relationship that is growing. These are mysteries for literate and demanding readers.
It is Thursday. My friends and I have talked and laughed and remembered and enjoyed each other thoroughly, and now we are doing almost exactly what we were doing the last time we were together, seventeen years ago. Diane is reading. Al is taking a nap. The difference is that, instead of reading, I am sitting with my laptop, writing.
Today I have found, after an elaborate Internet search, several quotations by William Faulkner that I think might work as epigraphs for my four and a half pages of text.
At the end of the day, I began a search for quotes by writers about procrastination and writers’ block.
But before I get back to my four and a half pages, I have a few Halloween cards to write and it’s about time to get ready to go out with my friends for a late lunch.
On the off-chance that I may never complete another one, look for those two novels on amazon.
Jessie: The Adventures and Insights of a Nineteenth-Century Woman
by Patricia Allison
Jessie: The Further Adventures
by Dean Robertson writing as Patricia Allison