I’ve been hacking along on the book for quite a few days now, in spite of my vow to once again abandon the project.
The problem is, “The Voice” has faded to a whisper. At the risk of sounding like one of the tin-foil-hat crowd, a writer needs a “voice”, especially for a long-term project like a for-real book. Really good authors can project themselves into the third person persona, or like Robert B. Parker and James Lee Burke, they can use the first person to give character insights that will reach the reader.
When I started my labor pains on birthing the book in 1986, the voice was loud, clear and precise, like an orator in reader’s theater. “The voice” tells the story to the author. You know something, and you know how you want to tell it to others. Perhaps a novel is the ultimate form of “Gee, I wish I’d have said that!”
Now, with the emergence of ubiquitous home computers and universes of virtual reality, it’s darn tough to play God in the theater of the mind. It seems like only yesterday that one could pick up a book of written words on paper, and form their own perceptions of what the characters in any given scenario look like, what they must be feeling. One could smell the sea salt, the sweat, the blood, the fear. The protagonists didn’t look like refugees from Sim City; they might have looked like people you know, and remember in your mind’s eye, but they were real people in the universe of the novel you were reading.
When I wrote the original draft of The Forge
, I even clipped photos from some commercial magazines, as reminders of the general appearances of my characters. I didn’t depend much on plot outlining; I depended on that inner voice to tell me where to go. It worked at the time; the voice was a strong guide. I knew what I wanted to say, and how to say it. I had a cork bulletin board pinned to the max with notes, mostly for the sake of continuity.
Unfortunately, that was 21 years ago. To borrow the hackneyed phrase, that’s much water under the bridge. Some of my constant readers have urged me to tell the story that floats full-blown in what’s left of my mind. Thanks to you—and you know who you are—but it’s like another bad memory these days. The voice spoke to me, and then it departed for friendlier climes.
I, too, am a victim of the proxy ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder] that I suspect afflicts many computer users. When I was a kid—learning to type on an old Royal portable with a cloth ribbon; I still have the wrecked carcass—I speculated on how great it would be to have a miracle machine that would respond to the human voice and transcribe that voice into words. I don’t read much any more; I can find facts instantly on my home PC, and the older I get, the more my entertainment is provided by squirrels and woodpeckers doing their respective things mere yards away from my deck. Technology has overrun me on the “miracle machine”; someone was shilling voice-activated software on TV the other night. I suppose my computer can churn out a basic manuscript with no more prompting than my babbling words into a headset; I can always go back and clean it up to a semblance of what I want. Another example of the Chinese proverb about taking care for what you want, because you might just get it.
The day’s news—choose any given day—has overrun me in my search for “The Voice”. What was once a strong baritone expounding from the stage of my shattered mind—think John Barrymore—is now a whisper in the wind, a fading echo of the musical notes of Woodstock. No one reads any longer. The History Channel officially made hippies a relic when they ran Sunday night’s 2-hour special simply entitled “Hippies”.
How nice that my teenaged angst, lust, and dissolution earned me a footnote in history as a member of yet another “Lost Generation”! At least my daughters were born without any obvious birth defects from all the DNA-chain-shattering LSD I gobbled when it was all about making babies instead of raising them.
I never really had a chance to be a hippie. I was born too late for the Summer of Love, in spite of running away from home at age 14. [They caught me and the girl and dragged us back to conformity.]
Other facets of real life intervened, so as I approach 60, I haven’t had a haircut in a decade that I can remember. The ex-wife trimmed the split ends in ’02, recalling her glory days in cosmetology school as a corpse dresser. [My whole family is strange; married-into or inherited.]
My Pa was the only one who could give me a decent trim, and when he was killed in 1985, I gave up on haircuts. That’s no longer a political statement; it’s a “lifestyle choice”. I tried my share of marijuana and LSD. I was young and stupid; I didn’t realize that merely living in the real world long enough would provide trips aplenty if only one survived.
Through the grace of God, I have managed to stumble through my clumsiness, thoughtlessness, and stupidity. One thing I cannot seem to trip on is the clear presence of “The Voice”, tuning in loud ‘n clear to re-tell the story that echoed through my grieved brain decades ago. Instead of a powerful oratory voice, I get a weak psychedelic whisper of the past. Whatever inner muse fueled the telling of the original story, it doesn’t seem to return to help clean it up for the new millennium.
I won’t quit fooling with the thing, or several other plot concepts, but the older I get, the more difficult this creativity trip becomes. I recall that Joseph Heller took about two decades to write one of the revered novels of my generation, Catch-22.
That is a work of art. The best I can aspire to is an “airport book”; buy it in Newark, read it on the flight west, and give it away to a panhandler when you land in Oakland on the Left Coast.
When Doc Holliday died in the Greenwood, Colorado asylum, his last words are documented as “This is funny”, because he wasn’t dying with his boots on, like the fashion of the times. Instead, he passed peacefully in a hospital bed, barefoot, gowned, and gasping for breath.
The more things change, the more they remain the same. This is funny. I’d like to leave a legacy that outlasts an in-flight movie.