I feel guilty of bait and switch. This post isn’t about the Beatles, or Sgt. Pepper, or the Summer of Love. It actually was forty years ago today that I first sat down to see if I could write a novel.
Would-be writers should take note. This was a controlled experiment. I wasn’t writing from the depth of my soul, nor writing the books that had been burning a hole in my brain for years. That came later. This was simply to answer a single question – could I sit down every day and write, or would my well run dry after the first week.
September 2, 1975 was the day after Labor Day that year, and I was at loose ends (see yesterday’s post). My wife and I were had just rented a tiny house in the poorest part of town; she had a new job as a picture framer. She proved to be very good at it, and ended up managing the gallery for most of the next decade. If my writing experiment hadn’t worked, I would have reapplied to graduate school.
Writing a science fiction novel or a fantasy novel would have called for a lot of time spent in world building. That wouldn’t tell me what I wanted to know. A historical novel would have called for even more research, and a detective novel would have called for crafting a complex puzzle. I wasn’t worried about any of those skills. I just wanted to know – could I write word after word after word, day after day, week after week.
I needed a no-research story, so I decided to send my protagonist on a deer hunt, where he would get lost. I would set it in autumn, in a part of the Sierras I could drive to in a day if I needed to be on the scene. I would roll in a storm, with low hanging clouds so he couldn’t find north and couldn’t send up smoke. I intended to let him get out on his own. Over the weeks I piled misery after misery on the poor guy’s head.
GPS? Cell phone? Don’t be silly; this was 1975, when lost meant lost.
That was the setup. Here is the payoff – I wrote the novel. There is nothing exciting to say about sitting down every day and pounding the keys of a typewriter. (1975, remember; no computers.)
There were no exciting stories to tell my wife at the end of the day, but inside my head I was having a ball. Getting lost in the woods and finding my own way out was infinitely exciting, and every night I could go to my comfortable bed while my protagonist tried to sleep on the frozen ground. I was hooked. I never went back for my Ph.D..
I did go back a few years later for a second BA and MA in History, while I was writing, but that’s only because I love learning almost as much as I love novels. It had nothing to do with career plans.
The novel, Spirit Deer, was only 141 pages, far too short to publish. It turned out better than I had expected, and its core story was not age specific. A few years ago I got rid of Tim’s wife, his best friend, the forest ranger, the old hunter, and even Tim’s last name, and turned Spirit Deer into a young adult novel. It’s looking for a home. When it finds one, I’ll let you know here.