Three and a Half Novels

The "laddie" fancies himself a writer of fiction, to paraphrase Pink Floyd in The Wall. Way back in the seventies I went to graduate school because I really wanted to teach in college. After completing the master's degree, I was at a crossroads. Do I go on for the doctorate? There were no teaching jobs, especially in the liberal arts (English). So, I got married and got a job and some would say adapted (others would say "settled") and was a technical writer for 30 years. Back in 2007, I finally made it to the college classroom as an adjunct. That's another story.

But in the interim, the boredom of Dilbertland amid a sea of cubicles, crept on me quickly and I decided I needed some kind of creative outlet at nights and on the weekend. So, a then close friend and I decided we would collaborate and come up a big, rousing adventure tale. With work and family responsibilities, it took us four years to complete the first draft (1977-1981). We had some near misses with publishers and agents but in that business a miss is as good as a mile. I moved several states away in '87 and by fits and starts, worked on revising the book alone.

Why do this? If one does not receive fame and fortune, then ultimately writers do it for themselves. The cliche that writing, especially fiction, is a journey of discovery really is true. Along the way you even discover things you didn't know about yourself. In the first novel, A Reign of Peace, the protagonist is a young man who believes himself to be an orphan. He is also a raging nihilist. A series of events unfolds (war, threats of conquest, the possibility of love and faith). But ultimately he is reunited with his father. Part of the happy ending.

What happens next? I decide, well, I've done that in collaboration. Now I need to prove I can do a novel on my own. Downtime covers a dysfunctional society, with dark comic commentary, in the near future, one on the brink of nuclear annihilation. The main character, Mel, is estranged from his father, with whom he had a poor relationship, the father negative and constantly berating. Suddenly, the son gets a call that his father has had a stroke and has been rushed to the hospital. There is a confusing death-bed scene where the father's last words are cryptic and can be taken two ways. Mel defaults to the interpretation of rejection.

In the third, Principalities of Darkness, the protagonist, Dave, in an unlikely set of circumstances, loses two fathers who, other than narrative references, are never "on stage." His biological, loving and caring, father is lost in a car accident when Dave is a small child. Because his mother has a breakdown, Dave goes to live with his godparents. His stepfather dies of a heart attack while Dave is still in high school. Even he says, "Really, what are the odds?"

Now the "half-novel", entitled 168 Hours, (well, actually more like one-quarter or less, about 60 mss. pages, outlined and roughly sketched to the end). Another thing I noticed along the way is that, in my hopefully objective opinion, the writing got better each time around, so I think I can say the best writing was in this unfinished fourth novel. This is what is supposed to happen. The protagonist's father, or family for that matter, are never mentioned, in any context.

So what does this progression mean? Subconsciously, it appears it took this much time for the systematic erasure of the father figure, from idealized figure to reality to loss to irrelevance, which says more about the writer than his characters.

Why did I not complete this fourth novel? I simply hit the wall. The law of diminishing returns. Not much to show for these efforts which spanned decades. Family, job problems became the priority and I set it aside for good in 2005. I was pretty much done with fiction. Since then I wrote the odd short story here and there when the mood struck me. Regrets? No. I am reminded of what an old, wise friend once said: "Writing's not a bad thing to fail at." But I would amend that by saying that if I gained insights about myself along the way, there is some measure of success.