Friday, June 19, 2020

What to Write and How to Do It?

First of all, this is a first world problem. I neither seek nor expect sympathy. I don’t mean to complain or whine and I appreciate more than I can tell you that I’m not breathing through a ventilator.

We’re all affected one way or another by the virus and a president who shows a willingness to run the country by executive fiat if given half a chance. As I type this the whole country and much of the world is (finally) riled up about how police treat minorities. All these things invade our consciousness and affect each of us differently. That’s as it should be. I worry about anyone who claims to remain unaffected. The trick is to compartmentalize enough so one can continue to move forward, learning along the way.

This is a blog about writing and I’d be lying if I said current events had no effect on my work. It’s not that I can’t write, or that I’m blocked. (Regular readers know how I feel about the idea of writer’s block.) Last week I finished a draft of a story I like, using a process different from anything I’d tried before. The problem is deciding what to do next.

The Western has bitten the dust, shot from the saddle by my realization I’m not at home in either the time or the place. I tried to pull together the scenes I’ve written over the past couple of years and, while there’s writing in there I’m proud of, it feels like cultural appropriation. The story seemed less organic than like bits and pieces of other Westerns I’ve read or seen. Maybe I’ll have an idea I like better someday.

I finished Penns River Volume Six last month, so PR-7 is the next logical step. The timing is awkward. Here’s the elevator pitch: A black cop shoots and kills a white guy. The police find no weapon on the victim. Oh, and the guy was a white supremacist and various factions decide to converge on Penns River to send their boy off in style.

You see my problem?

My PR cops are good people who work hard to do the right thing. There are a few jerks, but I know enough cops to know most of what’s in the barrel are good apples. I want cops to be good guys. They protect the people I care about.

Right now it’s impossible to write such a book and not have it be about more than that.

My timing isn’t altogether bad. A new chief took over in Book 6 and in Book 7 he’s going to start to bring in cops from other jurisdictions to replace an exodus of Penns River retirees. They bring big city techniques and attitudes, not all of them palatable to the holdovers. Or the town.

I don’t write door stops, so I’m in danger of doing what John McNally calls putting too much in the container. This is more often a problem with short stories, but it’s a concern with novels, as well. I also don’t want to give anything short shrift. There are things I dare not ignore, but I want to be fair.

I also can’t afford to write as if someone is looking over my shoulder. My books have always been well received (if not frequently purchased) when all I’ve tried to do is write a book I’d like to read.

Which I suppose brings us to the real problem: I don’t know what kind of book I want to read right now. The Beloved Spouse™ and I abandoned a long-anticipated re-viewing of The Shield last weekend after two episodes. We love the show but neither of us was in the mood to watch it. More than ever, I need to hit a proper balance, and that’s going to require more of a plan than I usually take into a book. I always outline the chapters to remind myself what needs to happen to move things along. How it happens I leave for the actual writing. This time I need a better defined vision of not only what happens, but how and why. Not to do so is an invitation to either drift into blandness, write a screed, or create something that goes in every direction without arriving anywhere.

It’s going to be interesting.

At least I’m not on a ventilator.

Stay well.


Mark Bergin said...

Write it anyway, and recognize that our new reality will creep in. Or crash in. There’s a thousand novels to be written about the changes in society, government and policing that are banging at the door. Creative as we may be, we won’t guess right on all of them. But as a mystery hack I write to entertain by telling a little life slice. And we both may get it very wrong with our next books ( though my book in progress is set in 2001 so I’m clear for now.) Tell the story you want to tell. My last book, written five years ago but just out, was originally to have focused n police race relations. It changed, and m probably glad now because I think I would have got it wrong.

PS. If I WERE a robot, couldn’t I have been programmed to lie and check the little denial box? MB

Dana King said...

I've wondered about that "I am not a robot" box myself.

Thanks for the comment, Mark. My toughts were already evolving between the time I wrote this and it went live. I'll have to do a follow up. I'll definitely be in touch once I'm through futzing around.