Thursday, August 26, 2021

Happy Trails to the Western

The Western I have been working on sporadically for five years finally bit the dust. It is no more. It’s pushing up daisies. It has gone to join the choir celestial. Bereft of life, it rests in peace. It has ridden off into the sunset, kicked the bucket, bought the farm, and taken a dirt bath.

 It is an ex-Western.

 I noticed during the final days of working on it that I wasn’t enjoying myself. Usually second drafts, where I rewrite the entire book, are fun. This was drudgery. The decision to cut bait after 34,000 words came when I realized the problem: it violated Edith Wharton’s fifth rule of writing:

 Have a point.

 The book was a mash-up of scenes from Westerns I’ve enjoyed, some good character interactions, and dialog I was happy with; the whole was less than the sum of its parts. Even I would have got to the end and thought, “So what?” I have projects on the back burner that do have points. I’ll work on those. (I have two or three possible Forte stories still in the embryonic stages, and a Penns River book is coming together rapidly since I abandoned the Western.)

 Another problem was the voice. I finally found what seemed to be a voice that sounded appropriate for a Western, but writing it was as left-handed an exercise as I can remember. I considered going back and re-writing it again in the voice I’ve developed over twelve crime novels just to see how it worked, but realized I’m sick of looking at this story. If I’m going to essentially start over, I should have something worth writing about.

 I may well try another Western. I picked up a couple of non-fiction books on the recent vacation that could generate ideas. I also plan to revisit Charlie Siringo’s memoir, which has a story I remember as having potential.

 The ultimate problem with the book I just set aside was its origin: I wanted to write a Western. It wasn’t that I had a story I wanted to tell or a character I wanted to explore. There was nothing organic about it. If nothing else, this has taught me to keep the horse before the cart when starting out on a new book.

 I should have known better. I’ve always wanted to write a heist or caper novel, but never had the idea for one that struck me as something I could write well enough to make it worth spending a year on. Same thing with a straight-up comedy. Whatever governor I have that made me realize those desires didn’t have legs took a vacation when it came to the Western.

 I suspected this was the case a while ago, but I’m a stubborn bastard. Everything I found wrong could be fixed, and I kept fixing things until what I had was a Frankenstein’s monster of a book. So I’m setting it off on an ice floe to bother me no more. I can always cannibalize bits if they fit into another book.

 No time spent writing is ever wasted. I learned a lot from this. I wouldn’t have minded learning it a little quicker, but that’s how life is sometimes. Knowledge is not always achieved in a timely manner. Just ask those people whose last words before being intubated are, “Can I have the vaccine now?”





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