Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

The Muses Hate Me

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It’s quarter after six on a Tuesday morning, and as the day and time will attest, I’ve just had a REALLY bad day at work. 

I don’t know what it is about this book, but writing it has been one of the greatest struggles of my life.

Some of that can be put down to the fact that I have changed the format more than slightly for this one, and it’s been decades since I did something like that with a Gregor.

So what feels to me to be so alien and wrong may just be my head going “but this isn’t a Gregor!” when it is.

Whatever the reason, this is now the fifth day in a row that I’ve thrown out everything I’ve done, and I’m feeling a little testy. On top of that, I’ve got class, and the IRS, and I don’t know what else, and that’s making me testy, too.

It is just, on the whole, shaping up to not being a great day.

What is making it all worse is that, bad day or not, I’m sitting here really wanting to write.  Writing feels to me like the thing I ought to be doing. 

I really wish I was one of those people who could write books out of sequence, stitch all the scenes together at the end, and end up with a coherent narrative.

Unfortunately, I’m not even a little bit like that.

Oddly enough, I can remember being young and trying to work like that.

I was ten or twelve years old and I had no idea how to write a novel, but I had a typewriter my grandmother had given me for Christmas and a big room at the top of the house with a wall of built in bookshelves and the first walk in megacloset I’d ever seen or heard of.

When I could escape from the obligation to be sociable, I would go up there and work on whatever I was thinking about.

This tended to be a frustrating exercise, because I really had no idea what I was doing, not even with the number of books I’d read.

This was, remember, a time before the Internet or DVDs or even VHS, and we did not live close to a town or a library. If I wanted to go somewhere, I had to get my mother to take me, and mostly she wasn’t interested in hauling me in to town unless she had a reason to go there herself.

This was actually a bigger problem in relation to movies than it was to books.  My father’s attitude to books was that any child of his could have all she wanted, and any of them she wanted, and my mother wasn’t to get in my way or try to take them away from me for any reason.

My father owned a barn that sat on the back of a small office building he also owned, and he rented to barn to the biggest local distributor of paperback books to places like grocery stores and pharmacies.

In those days–and maybe even now–you did not return whole paperbacks that didn’t sell.  Instead, you ripped off the covers and sent just those back.

The man who rented by father’s barn would do just that and then give the coverless paperbacks to my father, who would then pass them on to me.

One of the books that was passed on was a thing called Understanding Human Sexual Response–not the actual Masters and Johnson book, but a book about that book, and when my mother saw me reading it, she had three kinds of fits.

When my father came home, she marched him into their bedroom and presented him with the book.

He then marched back out of the bedroom and gave it back to me. 

“Never tell her there’s anything she isn’t allowed to read.”

My father was a real old-fashioned liberal.  He was such an old-fashioned liberal, he ended his life calling himself a conservative.

Which was odd, because he had less than no use for religious conservatives, and he lived in Florida.

Anyway, I didn’t have much trouble getting books, because my mother would take me to bookstores if I had the money, because she didn’t want an argument with my father.

Movies, however, were another story.  The best I usually got, except when my mother herself had something she wanted to see, was matinees at a couple of second-run houses, and that meant that I often didn’t get to see the movies I wanted to see.

If it was running at the second run houses, I saw it.  If not, not.

(My mother did take me to movies she herself wanted to see.  She once let me take a day off from school so that we could both go to Cleopatra.  It was decades before I realized what that meant, that she had no girlfriends in the area she could go with, that marrying my father meant moving away from everything she knew and living in isolation with only us for company.  It was very lordly isolation, but it was isolation,)

One of the movies I did get to see was the Mutiny on the Bounty remake with Marlon Brando. 

This intrigued me beyond all reason, and for months afterwards I worked and worked and worked on a book I called Alicia Wellington. 

As ideas for books go, this was–let’s call it less than fully formed.

What it really was was the first sexual fantasies I ever had, even though it had no sex in it.  It was a different time and a different world, and I had no idea what sex was, although I thought it did. 

I thought it had something to do with kissing.

The idea for Alicia Wellington was that Wellington’s father was wrongly accused, tried and convicted of treason by the British government during the  Napoleonic wars, and in revenge she took off to sea to become a spy for the French.  At some point she was captured by a British vessel and thrown in the brig, therefore starting her big romance with our hero, the captain of the British ship.

If you’re sitting there holding your head in your hands and going “no! no! this history! the Duke of Wellington!”–

Yes, I do know I had the history all wrong, but I didn’t know it then, and I didn’t have access to the Internet or even a reliable ride to the library to find out.

And, of course, being the age I was, and not knowing how to write a novel, and really not knowing what it took to write an historical novel, I didn’t really care.

At any rate, after trying for what felt like ever to make a novel of this thing, I finally gave up and just started writing random scenes.

I had a lot of random scenes fixed very firmly in my head, some of the most vivid scenes I’ve ever been able to imagine. 

They were not connected to anything that could properly be called a plot.  I had that beginning, and I had the vague sense that something would happen between Wellington and the  hero that would result, at the very end, in her being reconciled to England.

This reconciliation would not result in her execution, of course, and her father would be vindicated and…

Yeah, okay.  It was a mess.

I still have a box somewhere with all those old manuscripts in it.  I don’t know if you can call what there is of Alicia Wellington a manuscript, but it’s floating around there somewhere with the script of a play I wrote in which a character staggers onto the stage at intervals and announces “I”m SICK of life!”

I don’t know why.  I don’t think I knew at the time.  I was reading plays by people like Jean Paul Sartre.

But the bottom line here, actually, is this–the scenes I wrote for Alicia Wellington never coalesced into a novel, and no scenes I’ve ever written out of sequence for anything have ever coalesced into a novel.

It’s just not a way I’m able to work.

When I was first starting out professionally and I had to come up “partials and a synopsis”–fifty pages and then a summary of what I was going to do–I had to write a first draft to find out what should be in the summary.

I still have to write a first draft to figure out what the plot is.

I have enough of this book I’m working on today so that I know what the plot is, so I really shouldn’t be having this much trouble.

But here I am.

It’s time to pack up for school.

Written by janeh

September 3rd, 2013 at 7:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'The Muses Hate Me'

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  1. If you feel a strong urge to write, but are not happy with your Gregor, there seems to me to be two obvious solutions; (1) write something else for a few days, or (2) have someone else look at the Gregor writing. The problem may be in your critical sense rather than in your writing skills.

    Only novel I know to have been written in sections was ER Eddison’s MEZENTIAN GATE. Eddison died before it was finished, so what we have is a very detailed plot summary which suddenly switches to real prose for a chapter or so, then reverts. I know other people who wrote from outlines, but no one else who filed in the outline bit by bit–which is not to say no one else has.

    As for ALICIA WELLINGTON–you know, it really doesn’t contravene history any more than the climax of BLACKADDER’s Regency season, and no crowd of historians burned down the BBC headquarters over that one. (Obviously they should have, but that’s different.) Given the current state of “historical” romance, I’d say make up your own ducal title, throw in about six sex scenes–the first three very explicit–and you can probably sell it today. Does anyone write sex scenes on a work for hire?


    3 Sep 13 at 10:27 am

  2. Honestly, Jane, when I started reading “Somebody Else’s Music” I thought, holy crap, this is the best stuff she’s ever written. Gregor doesn’t appear in that one until (seems to me) very late in the story, and I was actually somewhat disappointed when he did. You were doing so well with a whole cast of really engaging characters without Gregor.

    Maybe you should write this new one without him, if he doesn’t want to show up. Of course various publishers, editors and fans might be irate, but there’s no reason not to go for a stand-alone. Dana Stabenow writes them all the time, and does really well with them.


    3 Sep 13 at 11:52 am

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