Last month, I set a goal to finish my novel by the 1-year anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake (3/11/2012). Heavylight isn’t about the tsunami per se, but it’s about Japan, and the disaster has become part of the cultural fabric here. What’s more, it has a very personal significance to me, because I had recently lived in one of the affected coastal towns when the tsunami happened.
A lesson I took away from the tragedy was that none of us knows how much time we have left. Inspired to live life to the fullest, I decided to write a novel, something I’d always wanted to do but had never managed. I used to be too caught up in being “good at writing” or being “literary” to actually write. So, using my new-found perspective, I let go of all that baggage, and I started Heavylight.
(And I did it during NaNoWriMo, because there’s no better time for people who’ve always wanted to write a novel to actually Sit Down And Write A Damn Novel.)
I got a good start, but then I got lost. Really lost. The plot just totally abandoned me there for a while. Then it turned up and said, “Hey! That last 20k or so? That was garbage! Cut it!”
So after winning NaNo, I cut out a lot of words, then slowly built my story back up, and now here I am, right in the middle of things, swimming with doubt. I’m battling down all these demons telling me my plot sucks, my setting isn’t unique, my characters are one-dimensional and unlikeable, and that my current narrator is an enigma (and that’s not a good thing).
I know… I probably sound like every other writer who has ever been halfway through a book.
To sum up, if I want to finish this story and I think this story is going to be about 90k, then I have 35k to write over 20 days, which is about the pace I went during NaNo but for a shorter burst. And I have no idea if I’m going to make it or not.
Mmm, uncertainty sandwich.
I looked at the stairs—then decided to take the elevator. I piled in with a couple of very gross-looking guys. Some people, you just look at and think, “You have sex with pillows.” There was nothing overtly wrong with them but I have freak-radar.
The elevator reached 5F. I hurried out, trying to put some distance between me and pillow-sex guys.
And smacked into somebody. Because on top of possible-harassment-or-possible-death-threat, what I really needed in my day was a good old fashioned case of embarrassment.
The room spun before the pain in my head actually registered, and then I was on the floor and then I hurt some more. I just looked at the ceiling for a weirdly long amount of time, like I forgot that I had arms and legs and assumed the floor was just going to pick me up and put me upright again. I vaguely noticed pillow-sex guys stepping over my body.
Somebody did grab me and pulled me up, though, and for a moment, I was the luckiest guy in the world.
Let me start with the face. Long. Big, dark eyes. Hair bleached just to tea-brown. Nice size to his hands, nice width to his shoulders, not too large, just right. All this was pleasant, but when he spoke, it was in this sweet, sexy Japanese accent, layered over pitch-perfect American English:
“Hey, are you all right?”
When I realized that this was the guy I’d crashed into, I felt dizzy all over again.
From my 2011 NaNovel, Heavy Light. You can visit me at the NaNoWriMo website.
I think the popular perception that we’re a lot like the Victorians is in large part correct. One way is that we’re all constantly in a state of ongoing technoshock, without really being aware of it—it’s just become where we live. The Victorians were the first people to experience that, and I think it made them crazy in new ways. We’re still riding that wave of craziness. We’ve gotten so used to emergent technologies that we get anxious if we haven’t had one in a while.
But if you read the accounts of people who rode steam trains for the first time, for instance, they went a little crazy. They’d traveled fifteen miles an hour, and when they were writing the accounts afterward they struggled to describe that unthinkable speed and what this linear velocity does to a perspective as you’re looking forward. There was even a Victorian medical complaint called “railway spine.”
Emergent technologies were irreversibly altering their landscape. Bleak House is a quintessential Victorian text, but it is also probably the best steam-punk landscape that will ever be. Dickens really nailed it, especially in those proto-Ballardian passages in which everything in nature has been damaged by heavy industry. But there were relatively few voices like Dickens then. Most people thought the progress of industry was all very exciting. Only a few were saying, Hang on, we think the birds are dying.