Monday, November 22, 2010


The first draft of THE BURNING SOUL, the next Parker book, is almost complete. There's always a sense of relief that comes at this point. The book is far from done, and it would be virtually unreadable to anyone who was unfortunate enough to be handed it, but there is at least a plot that holds together, and a number of characters who, with a little more development, might almost resemble fully realized beings. I'm happy, too, with the mood of the book. It's a brooding novel, set in an isolated community on the Maine coast where a young girl named Anna Maxwell has gone missing, and a man named Randall Haight, who was involved in the death of a girl of similar age when he was himself little more than a child himself, finds that someone in the town has discovered his secret. At its heart it's a ghost story, I suppose, with various characters being haunted by the specters of children, and with the fate of Anna Maxwell hanging over everything and everyone.
When I first began writing EVERY DEAD THING, I thought that each chapter of the book had to be perfect before I could move on to the next. For that reason, I spent months honing the early chapters, believing that I couldn't proceed to Chapter Two until Chapter One was flawless and unblemished. It took me a long time to realize that, no matter how hard I tried, Chapter One would still be flawed and blemished, because it would always be open to some improvement, however minute. Part of the experience of writing is learning to live with the imperfect nature of the endeavor. In that sense, it's probably good practice to move on to the next chapter while acknowledging that the previous one may still require some work. In the end, even when you're offering it to a publisher or agent, it will STILL require some work. In fact, when it's bound between two covers and presented to the public, the writer's first response to his or her book, upon picking up the finished copy when it arrives in the mail, will probably be, "You know, that chapter could have done with some cuts" or, "Hey, I've repeated the word 'umbilical' twice in two lines."
No two writers write in quite the same way, but all will make their own accommodation with the flawed nature of the enterprise in which they are engaged. I've learned to love the flaws, because in every flaw lies the possibility of improvement. At the moment, THE BURNING SOUL has character names that aren't quite right, or have changed two or three times in the course of the manuscript as I test them out on the page. There is dialogue that bears no relation to the way people might actually speak, but is there solely to enable me to move on to the next scene. There are incidents missing from the plot because they haven't been written yet, as I couldn't figure out quite what they should be, or how they should transpire. I could have beaten myself up for days or weeks trying to wrestle them into some shape, frustrating myself and slowing progress to a crawl, but instead I left them until later. There is nobody looking over my shoulder, and I have long since silenced the grave critic on my shoulder who hindered my writing at the start of my career by picking holes in a manuscript that was already barely held together by threads. Let him have his say later when the book is done. For now, he has nothing of value to offer.
So this week will see the conclusion written, and then the pleasant task of rewriting and editing can begin. I love this part. The preliminary sketch is done, and I can tell the dimensions of the work, and see the shapes upon the page. Now it's a matter of shading, of detailing. Over the months to follow, the book will come to life.
Flawed life, but life nonetheless.


The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien
The Thing Is . . . by Dave Fanning


How They Are by Peter Broderick
A Certain Hostility by Vitesse