Thursday, March 10, 2011
The novelist doing The Red Queen
The stock image of the Ken Kesey or Jack Kerouac type of novelist: A guy getting up in the morning, hardly bothering to get dressed, sitting at the typewriter in his shorts, getting a mental block, and then cranking himself up on speed or meth to get over the block to produce the eight hundred words needed to finish his chapter.
Well, its a little like that.
Actually a lot like that for a young fool who has no time to fool around. He has to demonstrate instantly at how good he is. Largely as good as his last piece. He must be at least that good. And he knows it.
Vicious circle. The novelist as The Red Queen, running like hell just to stay in the same place. Established novelist. Brilliant in his twenties, later a top columnist in his thirties.
The Beatles song: What would you do if I sang out of tune...
Sing out of tune, like many do with a second novel-- goof and you're finished. You're only as good as your last novel or, lately, magazine column. The second novel is almost always a failure. The guy ratscrabbling in his shorts is aware ot this, knows it.
There are telltale signs that you might not be "in" any more.
The lady at the company dance, meeting you for the first time, seems to gush, "Oh Mr. P. I have read your columns. Marvellous."
Behind you, dancing with your wife, the publisher throws in, "We don't think so."
So the daily ratscrabble to constatly prove oneself worthy.
Does that sound familiar, publisher Gerry!
But writing, as any keyboard jockey knows, is a tension-producing business. You always seem wound up.
You're short with you family, use your wife as an emotional cushion, spend too little time with your kids... And all this while you're trying to stay constantly brilliant. The Red Queen syndrome....But you know one day--and soon!-- you're going to miss a jump, and the earth will have moved, and you might fall into a rosebush...(Echoes of seminarians at university and their jokes, sacriligeous but funny: "Crown of thorns, or no crown of thorns--get out of my rosebush!").
So you get up in the morning, get cranked up, go to work, but all the while feeling like Voltaire's optimist falling off a tower.
"Feels good, so far. Hope it lasts."
With all the drugs, you would probably make one hell of a rosebud psychedelic splash on the sidewalk, as in any number of MAD cartoons by Don Martin.