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Genesis of a Historical Novel

Friday, March 25, 2005

Good Friday

Yesterday I finished chapter 13, a final 3-page run of action writing, having worked out the choreography. The feeling of victory that accompanies the completion of a chapter, a definite subunit of the story.

I opened an Excel workbook I keep of the progress of my project. On completion of each chapter I enter the number of pages and the number of words (for chapter 13: 23 and 5,441 respectively). I have set up the spreadsheet to calculate the total number of words drafted to date (99,425), the average length of chapters in pages and words (currently 30 and 6,614), and the total projected length of the project in pages and words (currently 1,532 and 338,000).

These numbers point to the greatest nagging fear, well, several nagging fears, I have about my book. It is massive. This can only be an obstacle to publishability. It is also an obstacle to completion. At 99,000 words already, this book is now book-length, but is only 30% drafted (the percentage is also automatically calculated by the spreadsheet). My novel will be 3 times the length of a regular full-length book.

This is not by intention. Rather, it results from the fact that I decided not to let commercial or practical concerns affect my creative decisions in any way. In the past I have tried to write "commercially," and it just doesn't work. Not for me. I can't just slip into the persona of someone who writes for the market. I'm too strange. This strangeness leaks through in all kinds of ways that I can't control and that I don't, at bottom, want to.

Also, at age 46 and climbing, I don't want to write about things that don't matter to me. Nay more: I want to write about what matters most to me. I'm slow enough that I'll be lucky to get even a small portion out before my ashes are being dumped into the icy creamy-green waters of Lynn Canyon. I don't want to waste more time doing things for money.

Of course, large projects are hard to complete, especially on an income of $0 a year. But it's worth it to me. What else is my life for? The choice of this project, The Mission and the novels I intend to follow it with, was not quick or ill-considered, but rather the result of years and actually decades of searching. I liken it to building a monument (and I draw my inspiration from the Great Pyramid of Giza): before you even start to clear the brush, you have to choose your site. In writing, this is equivalent to discovering what to write about. In the case of the Great Pyramid the site selection was more careful and exact than almost anyone realized for thousands of years. In that same spirit, I have chosen to set my story at this particular place and time--48 BC in Palestine, Alexandria, and Rome--not because they are remote from our own era but because they have a close and intimate bearing on it. My task is to show how and why.

It's Good Friday. Probably no writing today, with Kimmie home and the solitary routine disrupted by errands and fun. Fun includes heading down to Save-On Foods to visit with stepdaughter Robin a bit, and then breakfast out somewhere I think.



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