Four months to go until my deadline.
As you know if you’ve been at a reading or a book club and heard me answer The Process Question, when I start working on a novel I generally have a clear idea of what the first several chapters will contain, and I know how the story’s going to end. In between is this much hazier area, with the odd scene or set piece sticking up out of the fog. The fog lifts in stages; by the time I’m done with the first few chapters, I’ll have figured out what’s in the next few, and so on, until finally there comes this magic moment when the front end meets the back end, and I know pretty much everything else that’s going to happen, even though a lot of it may not be written down yet. In the case of The Mirage, I hit the magic moment a few months ago.
The book is divided into four main sections, tentatively titled “The Mirage,” “The Republic of Nebuchadnezzar,” “The Glory and the Kingdom,” and “The Stone.” I’m in the middle of “The Glory and the Kingdom” right now. My protagonists—Mustafa, Samir, and Amal—have just left the relative safety of Washington, D.C. for the Red Zone of Virginia, where some people in funny hats are lying in wait for them. Presently there will be ultraviolence, followed by a conversation with a dead man, and some other stuff I don’t want to spoil, and then it’s back to Baghdad to learn the answer to the question, “If Al Qaeda fought the Republican Guard, who’d win?”
I still have a couple plot problems to work out, and if things go as usual I’m due at least one major crisis of confidence between here and the finish line, but for the moment I’m really happy with the way it’s going.
2 thoughts on “The Mirage: where I’m at”
Your writing process does sound like magic. Is it hard to stay true to your original beginning or ending?
Not hard, just slow. I spend a really long time thinking before I start writing, so the kinds of difficulties that might force a more spontaneous writer to radically revise a book tend to get ironed out while it’s all still in my head.
My beginnings are always as I’d envisioned them, since when I start I’m really just transcribing. There’s more play in the endings, but the last scene and the last line usually remain exactly as I’ve imagined them from the start as well. (I think the only exception among my published novels is Sewer, Gas & Electric, in which I’d originally planned to have Troubadour Penzias, rather than Harry Gant, be the guy sitting on the shore with a ‘gator in his lap. Ultimately, the symmetry of ending with Harry, his head still metaphorically in the clouds despite all that had happened, was too strong to resist.)
I think if I did realize in the middle of a book that there was no way to get to my original ending (or something very much like it), that would be a sign that the story had failed so badly that it couldn’t be finished at all. But these days I’ve got a good enough sense of what I am and am not capable of that I tend to abandon unworkable ideas before I start writing them.
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