In The Notebook
With my new novel, American Marchlands, finished (well, as finished as these things ever are; which only means, really, that I’ve surrendered it to the Powers That Be and am now, anxiously, awaiting Word from On High—hopefully I’ll have some official news I can release soon but, for the time being, I will say my love affair with France continues. And deepens!), I’ve begun work on something new.
Right up front, this entails a lot of inactivity. This means wool-gathering, staring out the window, reading and then reading some more and it means breaking in a new notebook. This step is important because everything goes into it. The notebook. THE Notebook. Noodlings and doodlings and interesting factoids that probably won’t ever get used but have to be put on paper so they seep into my brain. Bits of pertinent slang and chunks of scenes and dialogue and full blown characters and plot lines that won’t make the final cut. Scraps of paper get shoved in there with notes or single words whose relevance to the work at hand, when I return to them later, will be deep mysteries. Internet effluvia gets printed out and scotch-taped into the Notebook along with bits of things copied out of library books that actually turn out to be useful. The perfect dream-form of the novel, which is never, ever attainable, goes into the Notebook and fills it and fills it until it becomes something more, until it earns its capital “N.” And, finally, the Notebook is important because, if I follow my own history, I’ll be carrying it around for three years or so as I work on whatever this new book finally becomes.
My American Marchlands notebook was a 200 page Norcom Composition with stiff, marbled covers. Odds are you’ve seen its like poking out of student backpacks or tossed onto tables at Starbucks. And it was fine, it held together well and did its job no matter how much I abused it. My system was: fiction up front, history in the back. Like a mullet in reverse. So, my ideas for various scenes and character backgrounds and plot ideas started at the beginning, then, for all the historical detail I didn’t want to forget and needed to keep straight, I’d flip the Notebook over and record back-to-front. So, contrary to my nature, I had an organized system to keep things straight.
But a new book demands a new Notebook and, this time around, I’ve upgraded a bit. My The Age of Iron (as I’m calling my new novel-in-progress) Notebook is a hardcover Moleskine 5×8 ¼“ with an elastic cord to hold it shut (something that became an issue in the last Notebook). A hipster notebook, yes, but it’s black so you know I’m serious. So far, there’s no organizational scheme whatsoever and, so far, I’ve made a LOT of notes for this new book. So far, I’m okay with that.
The Age of Iron, as I see the dream-form of it, is a look at the logging camps and towns of my beloved Washington State in the early 1900s. It’s a look at timber violence and cold machinery and the First World War in France and northern Russia. It will mix logging with local politics, war weariness, cowardice, serial killers, life-long friendships, tenderness, mercy, and hate. So, it will encompass the world.
Of course, I’ll fail. Abjectly, spectacularly. Of course, there’ll be a period where I’ll think I’m writing the Great American Novel and a much longer, more profound, period where I know I’m writing the worst piece of crap it’s possible to write. But, after trying for so many years to be able to think of myself as a writer, the chance to make the attempt is worth it in more ways than I can tell. By the end—in three years or however long it takes me—the novel probably won’t resemble anything close to the dream of it I have now and that’s okay because I know the ending and whatever it takes to get there, to earn that ending, is what I signed-up for. Which is writing.
And that ending, that last sentence? It’s already written. In the Notebook.