Monday, January 15, 2007

The Unquiet

Last week, I sent off the revised page proofs for The Unquiet, the Parker novel due to be published in May. It's always interesting to receive the proofs, as it's the first time that I get to see the book as it will look to the public, i.e. typeset, and no longer simply my manuscript. At that point, a transformation occurs in the way I view it. It is not just something that I rustled up on my computer. It's a book, and I judge it in a different way. I notice elements that perhaps I did not recognise before. I become more conscious of themes running through it, and I become aware, for want of a better word, of the 'feel' of the book.

What struck me most about The Unquiet upon reading it in this form was how angry it was about a range of perceived injustices. It touches on the treatment of prisoners in Maine, for example, particularly in the Supermax facility that houses the state's highest security prisoners, but also contains some of its most disturbed inmates. In part, this was a consequence of reading some of the Portland Phoenix's excellent, prize-winning reportage on the way in which prisoners are treated there, and this in turn connected into the larger themes of the book. More than any other novel that I've written, The Unquiet seems to be influenced by current events. It's not hermetically sealed in its own universe, as perhaps The Black Angel was.

In turn, the evil in it is very real, and very human. In a way, I think it's a reaction to The Black Angel, an attempt to do something very different after that massive, sprawling book. I live in fear of repeating myself, of falling into a pattern. Inevitably, all writers do to some degree. We have our index of interests, our themes and our causes. The challenge lies in finding new ways to approach them, so that with every book they are displayed in a different light. This gets harder and harder to do as time goes on, and the number of books with our name upon it starts to build.

As I sit writing this column, I can see a file in the corner of my screen marked The Reapers. There are six chapters of the book, which focuses on the characters of Angel and Louis, done, at least in draft form. Its mood is different again: lighter, I think, in part due to the fact that it is written in the third person, and the narrative voice is a little arch and ironic.

If completed, it will be my tenth book. I am moving into double figures, which I find bewildering, for it does not seem so very long ago that I was trying to finish the first novel. Yet there is a list of books with my name on them beside the onscreen window in which I'm writing. Somebody must have written them, and it's a fair guess that it was me. Some are better than others, but each was an attempt to do something slightly different from what went before it. If there is any pattern to be perceived, then that is it.

Anyway, the time is approaching when The Unquiet will be placed before readers, and another book will be open for judgement. Advance reading copies go out this month, and the novel proper will follow in the first week of May. In the meantime, the prologue will be placed on the website, probably by the end of this week, and I will go back to working on The Reapers.

Ten books. How odd. How very, very odd.

This week John read

The Sound of Laughter by Peter Kay

and listened to

Pet Grief by The Radio Dept.
Politics by Sebastian Tellier


Thigi said...

... Sometimes I dream to be a computer HACKER so I could jump in the file marked The Reapers. :p

Well, Still 4 months to go and I'll be jumping around with a copy of the UNQUIET in my arms!!!

Josh said...

Do you set specific goals for yourself with each new book, focusing on new ways to develop the writing, or do you let it evolve as you go and see what you learn by the end? Or perhaps a mix of both...

Looking forward to The Unquiet very much.

Mark said...

It's quite an achievement John. I'm from Maine. My ancestors settled there in 1761. While my writing career is off to a slow start in nonfiction, with a couple of travel science memoirs and the current first novel making the rounds, my lead story is my family story about Benedict Arnold's march to Quebec in 1775 and Reuben Colburn, a shipbuilder from Pittston on the Kennebec River. It's a helluva Maine story but the rejection I've gotten with it after three years of shopping it around puzzles me. It's normal for this business though. One has to push on.

Colburn House

John said...

Funny, Mark, but The Unquiet touches on Arnold's march, although only in a paragraph or two, as the book is set in an area through which, or close to which, he marched. Good luck with it. I think it's a fascinating story, and not just a Maine one, but an American one.
And Josh (hope all is well, by the way), no, I don't set specific goals. I think most of these aims are very hard to express in concrete form, but I am aware as I go into a book of what I've done before, and so I try not to cover old territory again, although I've noticed that there are some things I really enjoy doing, in a minor way: monstrous lawyers' secretaries, for one. There's another in The Unquiet.

hrhg said...

What, no rabid airplane counter ticket women? Thought sure one of them was going to get it in an upcoming novel.

One would think you've had a spot of bother with lawyers' secretaries, you know that?

Mark said...

Well, you are good. I have no choice but to read it now. I was amazed when the National Park Service and multiple publishers claimed it wasn't an American story, just a local event.

Nevertheless, I persisted and got it a separate National Register of Historic Places listing in the face of much opposition. The book is another matter. I appreciate your recognition and use of Maine in your stories.

adrienne said...

It's odd, a few years ago when someone mentioned Maine I never really paid attention, and now I am really keen to visit it. I have a friend who was born and raised there, and now with all I've read here about it . . .

Must visit Maine.

(Besides it's relatively close to Canada)

Nickname unavailable said...

Just finished The Unquiet. Excellent. Immediately ordered The Reapers. Thanks for the diversion.

Deb D.