Sunday, May 2, 2010

If you yearn to write, quit stalling and dare it

Who are we really?

In the late 70's and early 80's I concluded that I might have it in me to write and get published.

What followed were hours and hours composing stories - remembering biographies I'd read of my first literary heroes, the early writers of science fiction.

And reading somewhere, "the best way to learn to write is to write, write, write."

Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, Harry Harrison, John Campbell and Frederich Pohl, whose article on writing fiction I found way back then and copied from a library book.

Pohl's writing suggested to my inner thinking "you can do this, Arthur."

In the mid-80's I set out to write what in my mind would be my version of a "Louie L'Amor" western complete with gunfights, secrets revealed and violence exploited. 

However, the novel that finally emerged in the late fall of 1986 that - although its setting was the Western United States of the mid 19th century - looked nothing like a L'Amor novel and looked nothing like something publishable.

The novel continued on into over 600 pages of historical fiction set within the context of the handcart immigration program launched by the Mormons in the mid-1850's. I was writing – as suggested -  about things with which I was familiar.

The particular immigration event was  that of the Martin Company, memorialized by tragedy in both Church and secular histories of the American West.

Almost from the get-go, as I became immersed in my writing processes, the gunfighter story began to evolve and, as I had been given to understand from reading Pohl and other publications on creative writing,  my characters began to take over not only my attempts to portray them, but also the plot and direction of the story.

From my perspective, what finally appeared was a novel prompted and inspired by personalities who seemed to have come out of solitary inner places whose doors I had finally unlocked by activating my writer's imagination. The world might say my muse woke up.

The watershed moment came when I inadvertently discovered that my own family heritage included direct involvement in the Martin Handcart Company.

To my shock and dismay, I discovered that my mother's side of the family had come to Utah as English immigrants in that company that walked across the American plains and mountains, suffered privation and the loss of a loved one along the way.

This discovery changed things internally in an extremely powerful way. Suddenly it was personal ... my story about the Martin Handcart Company was no longer idle fictional speculation.

Never having known this history, I contacted other family members and quickly obtained the existent journals and writings of my own ancestors who made that trek.

Somehow, with the story now so deeply personalized, the writing and events that had already been written - birthed, I assumed, in my creative imagination - began somehow to feel much more real, more vivid and definitely more intense ... as if I were recalling experiences I myself had known back then.

It was then that the characters stepped out of two dimensional plotting and took over every word, every thought and every action I assigned them.

My experience suggests something more than an awakened muse.

Start with five awakened muses.
Five individuals with five perspectives,
five temperaments
five voices all insisting that their stories be a part of the unfolding revelation of a novel I had titled "And Should We Die."

The novel was finished after what seemed like countless editing and polishing actions of the entire draft involving some 2000+ pages using an IBM Selectric typewriter and white-out.

I then sent in a draft of 650 pages to Scott Meredith, a New York Literary Agent and paid him (with help of supportive family members to whom I remain indebted) a fee to assess it.

The agency staff considered the novel too long for a first novel and sufficiently complex to make it an impossible publishing.

As Meredith wrote to me, "you made most of the mistakes all first-novel writers make ... I don't suggest you try to fix this one."

However, he added, "your writing skill is considerable" and made the suggestion that I start a new project and send it to him as soon as it was ready.

All this was probably routine and generic responses that his agency sent out all the time. But for me it constituted validation of at least a few hopes, permitting me then the positive illusion that I was on the right track ... that writing as a craft was an area of personal development worthy of my time and effort.

I have yet to write a second work but continually dabble in starts, restarts and scrapped novel-length projects. In the meantime, I've contented myself with non-fiction articles on politics and religion and blogging on the same topics.