“I’ve mentioned earlier in this blog my experience as a judge for last year’s National Book Awards, Young Adult panel. It involved reading 278 novels in a short summer. I knew I’d learn a lot about writing in the process, but was unprepared for the “hangover” effect upon my writing.
In a nutshell, the whole experience has shaken my confidence. There are so many good writers out there, and a truly good novel is such a delicate confluence of subject matter, style, tone, voice, assemblage, et al, that my novel-in-progress is pushing back in a big way.
It’s saying, “Am I really the book you should be writing at this particular point in your life?” It’s saying, “How do you expect me to compete with all the great (mostly younger) writers out there?” It’s saying, “There are real novels and fake novels–which one am I?” It’s saying, “Hunting season is soon here, and you like fall fishing, plus the river is full of wild rice waiting to be harvested–why are you sitting here at your computer?” It’s saying, “In the end, the world prefers not to be written about. Time and days just want to keep moving forward, so why bother trying to stop the world from turning?”
Back to my NBA experience, one of the things that seemed clear to me was the power of language to cut through the general noise of the general novel. I mean language such as James Joyce uses in Finnegan’s Wake, or Russell Hoban in Riddley Walker, or Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange. While those are classic examples, and difficult to live up to, any type of creative manipulation of language was a relief to find in the pile of 278 novels. So I tried that in my new novel. I had great fun, and pressed a sample on my best editor (my wife). Her response? Very tactfully she said that she found it “hard to read”, and if it was difficult for her, what about for today’s young adults? Here’s a sample:
“The Sunstone was now large enuf to veal its markings wich were hyroglyifics of sum kynde and what had befor lookt like litel feet around the weel were now sharp likky litel tongs of fire. Neerly to there partment bilting the Sunstone barely turnt now. It gront and creekt lyke a wheel low on greese….”
Of course she was right (the audience awareness thing), and so I revised the above passage to ‘regular’ prose:
“The Sunstone was large enough to show that its little feet were tongues of fire, tiny solar flares licking outward, pulling it along. Nearly to their apartment building the Sunstone groaned and creaked like a wheel low on grease.”
Though a tiny part of me still believes that when a writer is having fun, his reader will too. The trouble is, we need more than one reader. Lots more.