27 January, 2011
Today I completed the current rewrite of a novel called The Spider’s Tale. This took about six months. The original version of the novel was written in the mid-eighties and took about six years. By the time I reached the last page I was completely done with it and did not have the energy or inspiration to undertake the formidable task of wrestling it down into something accessible and manageable. I let it go.
Twenty years later I started thinking about it again, and on a whim, I picked up the old typewritten copy and started entering it into a Word document, shortening the sentences when necessary, throwing out whole sections that didn’t work, and creating new ones that did. The experience was stunning. It was like meeting myself as a stranger for the first time, and feeling a strong, curious attraction. I couldn’t put it down. I worked on it every day during my lunch breaks at work, and I thought about it compulsively as I walked to work every morning from the bus stop.
This has been a remarkable experience but also an entirely private one. For awhile I was posting the unfolding chapters on the blog, but I couldn’t keep up on myself, and I would often go back and make changes to the chapters I had already posted. So I stopped posting, and now I have removed all the archives from the blog.
Do we write entirely for ourselves, or are we supposed to share our work with others? Frankly, when I see how hard it is to get anyone to read your blog, let alone to attract the attention of the “publishing industry” I begin to think that the desire to be read is merely the selfish desire for attention, and nothing else. But is that really true? The work wells up in me like a spring of cold pure water. It is quickly contaminated by the ego who wants to use it to call attention, to garner me some gratifying positive feedback. But I am convinced that the initial impulse is pure. The question is, for what?
Here’s my intention. I am going to make one more pass through the work I have created, to shorten, tighten, and “pith it up” as best as I can. I anticipate this will take about one to two months. Then I’m going to take it down to Kinkos and get 2-3 copies nicely bound to make it look and feel like a book. These I will offer on loan to anyone who wants to read them, on the agreement that if you lose or destroy your copy you will promise to reimburse me the money to print a new one (probably $10-20).
I guess I should tell you a little what the book is about.
The setting is the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta of California’s Central Valley. There are many large, cultivated islands, but in between, the natural untamed watercourse of the river has created numerous small “wild” islands, constantly changing by the whim of the tides and the instability of the man-made levees. During the 1970’s refugees from the collapse of the flower-child movement escaped to this wild islands to live lives outside the confines of society, surviving primitively for awhile without the amenities of electricity or running water. I knew some of these people. It really did happen, although the phenomenon is considerably exaggerated in the book.
My protagonist, Hunter Brown, is an amnesiac who can only remember the present, not the past. He works a routine job at the paper mill and practices Zen meditation in the evenings. At first it might appear his amnesia is intentional, brought on by his spiritual practice, but as the story unfolds we see that it is much more complicated. The plot line follows Hunter’s immersion into the wilderness of the Delta and how it restores his relationship with the flow of time. The title of the book is from an African folk tale of Anansi the Spider, and how he wrestles the stories down from the Sky Kingdom:
Before that there were no stories on the earth. Nyame, the Sky God, hoarded them beneath his throne, and the earth creatures walked around in a kind of memory haze, no two events ever connecting, one with the other.
Posting a blog on the internet is such a weird thing. It could be likened to opening up your handwritten journal to a certain page and then leaving it on a bench at the Greyhound Bus Station, hoping that someone might pick it up and read it.
I release all expectations from this action. I will just post this and see what happens. When the book is ready for printing I will announce it via Facebook (If Facebook is still the relevant vehicle by then).
In the meantime, whoever reads this, I hope your life is deep and fruitful. These times are strange indeed.