Killing a Book
Writing a book is a labor, sometimes of love, other times of persistence, occasionally of obligation, rarely (one hopes) out of sheer sadism or masochism, depending on who exactly the writer wishes to punish. Regardless of motivation, it is work. And like most jobs, time off can be a necessity during the whole process. Sometimes it’s a holiday, and in some cases in can be an entire leave of absence for months or years until the desire to resume overcomes the reluctance to dive back into the thing that made you walk away altogether.
And sometimes, you just need to tell the book to shove it.
This whole preamble is just meandering around the point (which is, after all, my specialty). What I’m actually saying is that Waiting on the Dead, a book I’ve worked on for a few years off-and-on (or, more accurately, on and off and on briefly and off and on for a nanosecond and off again), has been dragged behind the literary barn and shot. In the head, as well, just to be sure.
Not that anyone should care about whether a book they’ve never read will never be written. I guess this is more for me, to explain to myself and the part of me that wanted this book to exist why I just can’t do it, even though I liked the tone, and some of what it had to say and the way it said it. This is the book’s epitaph and my eulogy, delivered to myself, just so I can tell myself why.
First, it’s hard for me to recapture the voice of the narrator. His was a devil-may-care, shrug-and-smoke, cynical and irreverent view of the world, one it was easy for me to wear once upon a time. Things happen and circumstances change, and I don’t really have that voice anymore. I can sometimes wear it for a blog post from time to time, but as the scarcity of the posts here demonstrate, it’s not really the right one for me anymore. I don’t consider this a bad thing, or a good thing, but it certainly is a thing so I guess I should acknowledge it. I guess the voice could change over time, but that would necessitate an overhaul that I just don’t have the heart to do. I think, with enough work, I could wear the hat again. If that were the only reason I had to stop, I probably wouldn’t.
But it’s not the only one.
Secondly, something that’s been on my mind for a few years now are female characters. I read something a while ago about how often their role is that of Wife or Mother or Love Interest and that’s it – they have no arc and they just serve to push the protagonist along his path of redemption or growth or whatever. Since then, I’ve resolved to make better choices with how I write a character, and make better characters who are female by the chance of what sex they are and not because of the role they must fill. Waiting on the Dead didn’t have any female characters who did anything but further the white male character’s story. Of course, it’s a first-person perspective memoir/diary kind of thing, so EVERY other character regardless of gender or race or creed or sexual orientation existed solely to further the narrator’s story, so it’s a bit harder. The character’s growth and arc is made by the other people in the story and it’s impossible to see it through their eyes, really. So my desire for better female characters could, in this case be shunted aside in the name of the perspective I chose to tell the story. And if that were it, I might persist and finish it.
But, again, there’s more.
I decided, this weekend, that the world didn’t need another story of a white American male dealing with a zombie apocalypse. There are plenty of stories of that very thing… pretty much all of them, in fact. I’d much rather see what that would be like for a woman, or an immigrant, or a Muslim, or a black American, or literally anyone else whose normal American experience is outside the privileged one I happen, by circumstance of birth, to currently enjoy. Is the zombie apocalypse interesting to me because it makes me a minority in a hostile world and allow me to wonder what that would be like? I don’t know, and I don’t feel like psychoanalyzing myself at the present time, but the zombie story I want to read would be one from the point of view of, say, someone who went through Hurricane Katrina as a poor person who didn’t get evacuated because they couldn’t afford to or didn’t have the support system to get out. What would the apocalypse be like for them? That to me would be a fascinating exploration and story, with cool zombie action and all the other things I enjoy about the genre.
Problem is, I can’t write it.
Well, I could, but to do it right I’d need to do a lot of research, and reach a better understanding of life in someone else’s skin. But even then, I’d be pretending. I wouldn’t have access to the automatic knowledge that a woman or immigrant or black American has of what life is like for them. If I thought I could I would, and maybe I will, just because I really want to read that story. If I got flak for trying, to culturally appropriate someone else’s voice, it’d be deserved, and I’d have my own justification for doing it – I want to read the story, and it’s illegal for me to force someone else to write it – but I just don’t think it’d be right.
In any case, it wouldn’t be the book I’ve been working on, so it’s gone.
R.I.P, Waiting on the Dead. You made me laugh. You made me melancholy. You danced on the grave of the world and made fun of it while you did and made me enjoy it. I’ll miss you, but I won’t miss the nagging feeling of you sitting there unfinished and preventing me from starting something else. I have other things I want to work on, and you were just in the way.
Of course, this post will look really stupid if I change my mind.