I’m just a chump who wants to write a book.
Why a novel?
Well, for one, I’ve always been a reader. I grew up in a household that put tremendous value on literacy. Books were everywhere, both fiction and nonfiction. This turned me into a bibliophile and, to my spouse’s dismay, a bit of a tsundoku.
Six years ago, I deployed to Iraq with the US Army. I worked the night shift a hospital situated on a well-protected base. Along with my family, fiction was a major source of support during this time. It provided escape from the monotony that filled great swaths of empty time between patient care (this was during the draw down, there weren’t a ton of patients like there were earlier in the war) and the occasional insurgent rocket attack. This is when and where the desire to write a novel really began to coalesce somewhere inside of me. I saw the power of fiction first hand and the events of this deployment spawned myriad story ideas.
In my day job as a scientist, I write a lot of technical nonfiction. In fact, I’ve considered myself to be a professional writer for some time now; more than 50% of my time is spent actually writing. Lately, I’ve found myself gravitating more and more toward the story aspect of these works. I relish exposition on why a particular project matters: What problem will it solve? What human need will it meet? In contrast, I now find myself loathing the dull technical specifications necessary for this type of writing.
I have no choice.
I started a novel, actually two different novels, during that deployment. I had no idea what I was doing and, like many aspiring novelists, I quickly became disillusioned. The drivel I typed didn’t even come close to living up to the scenes and characters in my head. So, I closed the file(s) and went back to my routine.
Throughout the years, the desire to finish these stories has bubbled up from time to time. But each subsequent attempt was just an echo of the first. I’d get as far as 20,000 words in, then get totally lost and throw my hands up in confused frustration. Or, I’d move on to the next shiny idea without finishing what I was working on.
I’m sick of this merry go round. (And so is my family). So, I’m drawing a line in the sand: I will finish this novel or I will abandon the delusion of writing one.
[I suppose it’s also worth mentioning that I finally have the opportunity. My current job (only) demands about 45 hours each week, which is down from ~60 hours each week when I was an assistant professor. ]
I guess I haven’t yet described what this novel is about. Well, it’s the story of a Native American warrior, named Epenow. He was captured by the English in 1611 and was taken to London where he was put on display as a curiosity. (Many think Epenow was the inspiration for Shakespeare’s ‘strange Indian’ in Henry VIII). Epenow convinced his captors that there was a secret gold mine on his home island of Martha’s Vineyard. Naturally, only he could lead them to the mine. Blinded by greed, his English captor launched an expedition to find the nonexistent mine with Epenow serving as guide. As soon as the ship was near enough to land, Epenow leapt overboard and swam home. He later became a major symbol of resistance to English colonization.
So, why Epenow?
The reasons are many:
- Why not? That’s a bad ass story.
- The story belongs to a genre that I enjoy. I read a fair amount of history and historical fiction. I recently learned of Epenow from Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower. I think historical fiction has an important role in conversations about our past.
- Epenow’s story is perfect for my target audience. There’s a lot of room to explore themes relevant for YA readers.
- It’s structurally straightforward: a coming-of-age journey. A lot of the story ideas from my deployment are complex with lots of interacting co-protagonists. This complexity, I think, was one of the reasons I kept getting lost in act two.
- It’s unique. Epenow makes some appearances in historical works and historical fiction focused on the Pilgrims and colonial life in New England, but I don’t think anyone has told his amazing story in a stand alone novel.
- I’m okay with it
suckingbeing okay. I’m a big fan of The Creative Penn podcast by Joanna Penn. On the show, Joanna often says that first novels always suck (and that authors just need to get over that and write them anyway). But I don’t want my treasured book ideas, the ones that I’ve come to love over the last six years, to come to life in a sucky novel. That possibility frightens me into inactivity and procrastination. Epenow is different. It’s not that I don’t care about this story. I most certainly do and that will keep me engaged in the story until the end. But since this is a story idea that has come more recently, I’m not as attached. I won’t be heartbroken ifwhen it’s not the greatest thing ever written. (But I still don’t want it to suck).
- It’s seriesable. The Creative Penn often explores the many benefits of the novel series and it’s easy for me to see how the grand story of Epenow can be chunked into three or four books to make a series.
- All-in-all, this story has enough going for it that I can comfortably draw the line: if I can’t finish Epenow, I should close the book on this delusion.
(Note: I just have to finish Epenow. I don’t have to get an agent, land an editor, get it published by one of the big five, and retire off of the royalties. I just have to have a completed, coherent novel.)
Why blog about it?
This blog has several purposes: First and foremost, it is a place for me to track my own progress and maturation as a fiction writer. It’s a notebook where I can flip back in time and see the progress I’m making. I think this is important psychologically…to be able to see the trajectory of progress and use it to push beyond moments of self-doubt. The psychology of public accountability is also important. If I believe the hype, I’m increasing my chances of success just by making this declaration public. Finally, I’m also hoping for some level of community engagement, both in terms of advice that will help me develop as a writer and in terms of solidarity with other aspiring writers similarly struggling to finish a damn book.