Warning: Personal, non-Dodger content ahead.
So, I’ve been moving forward and making steady progress on the outline of the novel I described I was tackling at the end of last year. It’s really unlike anything I’ve ever worked on in my life.
The closest is when I was writing feature screenplays on spec 20-odd years ago. Those were deep dives into long narratives and characters created out of whole cloth, and one in particular, The Arctic Loon (my wife hated the title, but anyway), was an obsession for years. But I’m a different writer now than I was then, and this book is obsessing me in a different way.
I’ve crossed the threshold from where it was once pulling teeth to force myself to keep up a regimen of opening the files related to the novel at least once a day, to where it now feels weird if I’m not doing that. Podcasts on the work commute have given way to me thinking out loud and dictating voice memos to myself about the book. I saw almost no movies leading up to the recent Oscar season, my TV watching is down, and despite a number of things to write about, my Dodger Thoughting has been almost non-existent. Regrettably, my exercising is also practically on hiatus — I actually had gotten myself in pretty good running shape last summer, but then my wife broke her leg in October and by the time she recovered, I was getting pretty wrapped up in all this.
It’s fascinating to me, somewhat perversely, the sheer quantity of time I’m putting into this and the relatively slow progress I’ve made toward the actual writing. I can’t tell if I’m doing this right for the first time in my life or doing it completely wrong. The first draft of my outline is much more detailed than when I posted about this two months ago, clocking in at nearly 10,000 words now. It still feels like a massive sculpture that I’m constantly adding to and subtracting from, one so big that it takes considerable effort to see the whole thing at once.
I’m telling a contemporary and fairly intimate story. There are no explosions, nothing that would require a visual effects team. There are stakes, including some life-and-death issues, but they are entirely personal. I do think the key themes are fairly universal, or at should resonate for a wide swath of people. If you know the FX series Better Things … this only occurred to me a week or so ago, but that show’s attention to the smaller details of modern-day life is probably what I’d compare my novel to.
To that end, my focus has been on making the characters seem completely real and multi-dimensional, to make their every action seem compelling and understandable on some level (that is, to make their irrationalities grounded in who they are and how they would think and behave), to make you invested enough in the characters that, to turn Casablanca on its head, the problems of three little people do amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. To make another comparison, if you’ve seen or heard the song “So Big/So Small” from Dear Evan Hansen, I’m aiming for moments like that, where the drama has built to the point that even though it’s just two people quietly in a room, it’s devastating.
Now, obviously, I’m not writing a musical and don’t have the benefit of a powerful melody to aid my cause. I’m doing some acrobatics without a net here. I wouldn’t say that writing my two books about the Dodgers was easy by any stretch, but I didn’t have to create characters or invent any big events — I had more than 100 years of them to choose from. What I’m doing now is so much harder for me. I don’t know if the book will ever get to where I want it to be. But right now, painful as it’s been at times and slow as it might be moving, the work has been getting to be a lot of fun.