Novel Writing Conceptions, Past and Present

When I holed up in a Silver Lake apartment in Los Angeles in 1994 and wrote The Onion Scribe in six weeks, then put it in a drawer for a year, I never gave much thought to process.  To me, I wanted to spew it out and get it done.  I would later work at Book Soup on Sunset and meet Bret Easton Ellis who edited the book and got me an agent at ICM in New York, Heather Schroder.  All quite a shock to me but quite fun going to dinners with Bret around LA–and hanging out at his American Felt Building apartment in the Village.  I ended up living at producer Mark Pick’s guest house in Beverly Hills and editing my novel.  Because the book was about the trauma of family and how writing itself helps avoid it, I really didn’t want it published.  I’ve pulled it out over the years, and it holds up as a fine first novel, but I would never write like that now, what my actor friend Jeff Parise calls “the catapult theory.”  My current novel, Too Late to the City, is a 9/11 book.  I was there three days before the attacks happened and could see the missing towers on my runs at Tod’s Point in Old Greenwich, Connecticut.  Some friends were lost immediately and some suffered over time, never recovering.  I had bought a place in downtown Greenwich in 2000 and was able to write a lot, take trumpet lessons, play in a few bands, teach creative writing at SUNY-Purchase and even go out to Alaska to study at Bread Loaf.  I had a lot of time to reflect.  Now it is nearly 15 years later and I’m finally ready to write the book I want.  I sometimes wonder how much writing I’m actually doing at this point since this is an ensemble piece about four characters, before and after, yet told in the first person of one of the main people involved.  I am writing scenes here and there, but once I reached page 100 I felt that it was all about organization, moving later scenes to earlier places and focusing less on the main character’s insights and more on the three others.  I think I finally arrived at a point where I have a clear picture of the whole book.  And, really, this process is as much about letting go of Onion-Scribe catapult writing as it is about finding the right architecture.  I’m in no rush at this point in my life.  I’ve had big Manhattan agents, lived in the major cities around the world.  Now, in Asheville, I appreciate the mundane purchase of my New York Times at the Shell station in Biltmore Village, hoofing back up the windy hills of Biltmore Avenue and enjoying jazz’s work on my unconscious as I do the crossword and ask, “Will I ever finish this novel?”  I think I will.

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