What I Know After Six Weeks

We’ve gotten everything broken—now, how do they fix it?
(Photo by Ruan Richard on Unsplash)

Well, we’re six weeks and about 36,000 words in—halfway through, more or less—and settling into the long game. I didn’t work on the novel as much this past week as I’d have liked. We had friends from out of town stay with us, the first time in two years we’ve had people stay overnight! It was wonderful. And I did some work to teach myself a new graphics program, and got another of my novels into the production process. There’s just something wonderful about a physical book in your hands, after months or years of looking at the thing on your monitor as a Word file. And it makes a nicer gift when you give one to a friend. I highly recommend it. Stay tuned for more developments on that front…

But back in the story, everybody’s coming to terms with the new world after the old one’s now been irrevocably broken. We’re going to have changes in where people live, and with whom. We’re going to have changes in how people make their living, or don’t. And Cale’s got fundamental changes in how his body works, changes that he doesn’t yet understand, and hasn’t yet fully seen.

Two doctors came in, the one I’d met plus another. They talked almost exclusively to one another, I was just the object, like a dog at the vet. I remember one of them asked Sammi, “How are you around the sight of blood? I don’t need a secondary casualty in here.” Then they put a mask over my eyes. “It’ll be bright in here, we don’t want to aggravate your brain injury.” She was lying, of course, they didn’t want me to see my hand, but they were nice to me, and it was all okay. I wanted to say thank you, but it turned out that I couldn’t say anything, so I didn’t try very hard.

The two women had similar voices, so I couldn’t tell who said what. I felt cutting and pulling, but none of it hurt much, and I couldn’t talk to them anyway. I felt Sammi’s hand crush down on my good hand, felt her jerk back. 

“Military surgeon, probably” somebody said. “Keep him from bleeding to death, and send him back for someone else to clean up.”

“And they did a full open for the tendon repair, not arthroscopic. I haven’t seen an incision like that in fifteen years.” 

I wondered if cars could hear it when mechanics talked about them. ‘I don’t know who worked on that transmission, but that’s just fucked. Yep, it’s a goner.’

I’m not an especially experimental novelist. Or, perhaps more accurately, the experiments I set for myself aren’t formal; they’re ethical. I want to know how someone might overcome or adapt to a new world that they weren’t able to fully create themselves. Our lives change around us all the time, and I’m fascinated by the ways that we change in response.

Because of that, I write in an identifiably realist mode. I write in a relatively linear chronology, with some sense of a before, a during, and an after. “And THEN what happened?” is at the core of my organizing structures.

It’s surprising how unusual that’s become in literary circles. It’s still the norm in every commercial genre you can imagine, but it’s no longer interesting to the people whose job it is to invent new forms, just as humane habitation isn’t very interesting to the architects whose job it is to invent new forms. I recently proposed a Myers-Briggs equivalent that I called the Reader-Writer Type Indicator, that attempts to help us understand the types of novels that will be most appealing to us. Like the Myers-Briggs, it has four variables with two types each:

  • E/A—Is the action responsive to the Environment or to the characters’ Agency? Can people overcome their circumstances, or are the circumstances too substantial to be resisted?
  • C/U—Is the story intended to be Comforting or Unsettling? Do we want things to become better, or ever worse in creative new ways?
  • N/F—is the story set in some Nearby place that we’re helped to see more richly, or is it set in a Faraway and unfamiliar place that keeps us off balance with its forms and rules?
  • R/J—is the story fundamentally about the Relationships of its characters, or more about the Journey or the adventure on which they’ve embarked?

I’m more or less an ACNR reader, looking for well-executed but pretty traditionally structured stories about the successful building of a relationship with self, friends and partner, set in a seemingly familiar place that surprises us with its inner workings. My wife is an EUFR, constructing ethnographic studies of people bound by culture and family and place, most of those places being distant in time and space, but like me, focused more on the daily inner lives of her characters than on some large adventure they embark upon. 

Your literary personality type will be different than either of those. But you should know it, because if you write outside those bounds, the work won’t draw on your greatest strengths. All of us are instruments suited for a particular repertoire, with a voice that has in fact been generated by that repertoire. No matter how conscious we are of our craft, we still largely play by ear, falling into the written culture that has shaped us. This is not a failing; it is a celebration of the reading life we’ve chosen. 

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