Okay, maybe I should have used a different image. Picture a bear scooping salmon out of a stream. Or rather, picture a bear trying to scoop salmon out of a stream. That was me yesterday and today, trying to grab hold of pieces of a story that has been swimming through my mind for a couple of years. You see, I started a project about three years ago. My lunch time project, I called it. No matter what other book I was working on (ORLEANS, as it turned out, for much of that time), I also worked on another story. But I only wrote it long hand, and I only wrote at lunch time. You could find me sitting outside a fast food Mexican plate eating way too many chicken nachos, and scribbling on a yellow legal pad. I wrote without an outline (unheard of for me, like parachuting without a parachute!), and just asked myself "what would I do next if I was her? If I was him?" And I wrote a book. I typed it up, patted myself on the back, and gave it to a friend who pointed out it wasn't a book so much as a novella, and what did I mean by this, that or the other?
Clearly, she hadn't been eating the nachos. So, my brillance was just a diamond in the rough. And I worked on it some more and at the end of a while I had my version of a noir novel. It excited me and I thought, why not write a cycle? Why not write an American Gothic novel to go with it, since it had some of those undertones? Only this time I'd go whole hog and have it all-- the big spooky house, the characters drifting into madness, the heat, the confusion, the violence. I even have a title.
But I don't work that close to the nacho place anymore, and I can't seem to find my legal pads and, if you read this blog you know I'm supposed to be working on Something Else.
But, yesterday, I found myself on the freeway driving past my location and I thought about the story. A lot. And decided I'd outline it this weekend. If only I could get a grip on more than just the idea of it. A gist is not a story. It's a gist.
Sometimes you see images of a story. At least I do. Pictures flash in my head. If I'm very still and have a pen and pad (or a receipt or gum wrapper) I can capture those images and coalsce them into a story. And then, sometimes, you get the flashes, you have the pad, and all that comes out is a shopping list of what you want the story to be.
So, instead of an outline, here it is Sunday night and I am left with an image of an egg sliding out of a teflon-coated frying pan. This is my brain. It's empty. Maybe that's a sign. Time to replenish the creative well. I will try to look at art this weekend, and hear music, and maybe read ABSALOM! ABSALOM! again (that Faulkner, what a nut).
And maybe one day my brilliant cycle of Southern Californian Gothic Noir will be a real live salmon/egg/story on a plate in front of you.
In the meantime, back to that Something Else. I swear, it's coming along. (It is!)