Voices in the Walls 1

I began the post Serial on August 31, 2015 because I had a backlog of short material I wanted to share. That well has run dry, but I still have a stock of novels and fragments.

Today the next phase begins, with a long fragment worth reading on it’s own merit, which is also tied closely to the next six weeks of posts in A Writing Life and offers a look over my shoulder at a work-in-progress.

NOTE – I said fragment. You might find this to be an Edwin Drood kind of experience. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I know that Serial is supposed to be fiction, but you are going to have to put up with some reminiscence to set the stage for the weeks that follow.

How often do you get to see an author’s work in progress? Steinbeck gave a fascinating and unique vision in his Journal of a Novel which detailed his thoughts on the novel East of Eden, but I can’t think of another instance.

I know that I would not be able to keep up an ongoing self-commentary while I am working on a novel. While in progress, novels are all consuming. Afterward, the work itself remains but the act of writing fades. Right now, I have a hard time remembering what year I wrote which part of some of my novels.

Some writers begin by knowing where their story will end, then write a gripping hook, and proceed from A to Z in a logical manner. If you are a would-be writer out to build a career, I suggest that you emulate this logical pattern.

I don’t. I am slow planner, a fast writer, and an unending tweaker, tinkerer and re-writer.  If I could manage to fully outline a novel at the outset, I wouldn’t be able to write it. There would be no fun left in the project, just the literary equivalent of paint-by-numbers.

Which brings us to Voices in the Walls, a fragment I plan to use for several purposes over the next several weeks. I need to explain why I have such a fragment.

As I explained in post 55 (also called Voices in the Walls), a tour guide at the Washington Irving mansion in New York said that the house had been a station on the underground railroad, and that the family could sometimes hear noises through the walls while escaping slaves were hiding in the basement. I heard the story in 1986. Some time in the next year, as best I can remember, I roughly laid out the sequence of events that would make up the story and began writing. After a month or two, on page 45, I stalled. It should have been a temporary cessation, but events intervened.

This was a busy time in my life. After years of writing-induced poverty, I had begun teaching, had settled into that life, and was finally able to take long vacations during the summer. My wife and I spent the summer of 1986 touring the east coast by car where we heard the Washington Irving story, then we spent the summers of 1987 and 1988 in Europe. We were able to do that on a teacher’s salary because we had no kids and because we were cheap. We slept in a tent, ate bread and apples, and lived like teenagers (or homeless people) even though we were both forty.

This was the period during which I wrote my teaching novel Symphony in a Minor Key (post 35, and as a Christmas excerpt here in Serial). As soon as I had finished Symphony, I turned our experiences living close to the ground in Europe into Raven’s Run (post 24), a contemporary thriller. Since I was teaching full time and catching up on living, those two and a fragment novels took about a decade to complete.

By that time I was hungry to get back to science fiction and fantasy, so Voices continued to lie fallow.     more tomorrow

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