It’s official – I’ve put my second novel, I Don’t Know Why, which I completed a first draft of about a year ago, on the shelf. I’ve just been unable to generate any enthusiasm about fixing the many things that I know are wrong with it. I’m hoping that by putting some distance between it and me that someday I can revisit it and it’ll feel fresh and alive again.
Recently, I started forming the idea for a new novel, and I’m excited about it. I sketched out a basic outline of the plot and the biographies of several key characters, and I’ve started writing. I’m about forty pages into it, and I’m having fun watching the characters reveal themselves. I’m learning new things about them all the time, and my original assumptions about the plot are being challenged. I found this to be true on both of my previous novels – once I started bringing the characters to life, they demanded changes to the story, and both books turned out to be drastically different than what I’d originally envisioned.
So it is that lately I’ve been getting phone calls waking me up in the middle of the night. I always move to another room so as not to wake up my wife, hence avoiding an “It’s Jake from State Farm” moment. That would be easier to explain than the truth, that the calls are coming from characters in my book.
For example, I was awakened one early night by Craig Tyler, a nineteen year old kid who is the central character and narrator of the new book. The phone rang at 2:30 in the morning.
“Hello?” I mumbled into the phone.
“Hi, Dave. It’s Craig Tyler.”
“Craig Tyler. You know , from your book?”
“Oh, Craig Tyler. But you’re fictional.”
“Never mind that,” he said. “I’m a little bit concerned about what you wrote tonight.”
“Yeah, what about it?”
“Well, don’t you think it’s important that you mention I’m a really strong swimmer?”
“I thought it was obvious.”
“I still think you should mention it. It just might be distracting to the reader as is.”
“Okay,” I said, “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Thanks, Dave,” he said.
I wrote in my journal, “Craig is rather neurotic, and worries about things that aren’t really important.”
The next night the phone rang at 3:03. The voice on the other end wasn’t happy.
“Hello?” I said.
“This is Paul, Paul Tyler? Craig’s brother? Hello?”
“Yeah, yeah, okay, Paul. What can I do for you?”
“Really? Really, Dave? A heroin addict? That’s the best you could come up with?”
“Yeah, I thought it was a good idea. You’re supposed to be a tragic figure.”
“Well, let me ask you, what do you know about heroin?”
“Um, not a lot.”
“You know nothing about it, admit it!”
“Okay, so I don’t know anything. What’s the big deal? “
“I’m gonna be this big tragic figure, suffering from heroin addiction, and I’ve got to count on your skill to bring me to life and I turns out you don’t know jack shit about heroin.”
“So? I’ll do a little research.”
“You couldn’t have made me addicted to something you know about. Like, I don’t know, maybe a Cheerios addict?”
“A Cheerios addict,” I said. “Yeah, that would make you real tragic.”
I could hear Paul sigh. Then he said, “So let me be blunt – you ain’t Eugne O’Neil, and this ain’t no Long Day’s Journey into Night.”
“Long day’s journey – I get it, because the mother in Long Day’s Journey into Night was an addict.”
“But she was a morphine addict, not heroin,” I said.
“Oh, well excuse me, that makes all the difference in the world. I’m being sarcastic in case you’re too stupid to tell.”
“Now, Paul, there’s no reason to get nasty …”
“And another thing. That scene you wrote last night? With me visiting Craig?”
“Well, I’m already dead, aren’t I?”
“You come to Craig in a dream.”
“I come to Craig In a dream. Big fucking deal. I’m still dead, so that makes me a ghost.”
“So, it’s been done before. Hello. Ever hear of a guy named Hamlet? Hello?”
“You know, when I created you, I don’t remember making you so bitter.”
“Bitter. Fuck you. You’d be bitter, too, if you were a fucking dead heroin addict who had to visit people in their dreams.”
“That’s true,” I said. I wrote in my journal, “Paul is bitter.” I thanked him for calling and went back to bed.
Now if I could only get a decent night’s sleep, I might be able to do something with that.