After You Finish Writing Your Novel

I haven’t written on this blog for over two weeks because I was finishing up a novel. Finishing up sounds like I was cleaning the kitchen after a big meal. Better to say, I haven’t written here for two weeks because I’ve been wrestling a python.

This one was tough. It took three years to write. It’s a historical novel, set in 1930s Appalachian Tennessee, which meant I had to do a shitload of research on sharecropping, hay baling, burley tobacco, hornworms, the 1918 flu epidemic, laxatives (back then, every page of a newspaper had an ad for laxatives. Which makes sense, considering the fat-fried diet of the times) and a thousand other minute details, like rolling a cigarette one-handed.

The book is set in the racial times of the 1930s, which meant I had to do gobs of research on lynching, Jim Crow, Reconstruction, the Southern White Redemption, slave narratives, the Civil War, and a hundred other weaves of historical information that connects the 1860s with the 1930s (though most of the action happens in the ‘30s, the roots of the story go back into the mid 1800s). Also, whiteness, specifically, white poverty. Read Mary Isenberg’s White Trash: The Untold History of Class in America.

I read about one hundred twenty books. Though I have roots in Appalachia Tennessee, it’s been a long time since I’ve lived there, so I took a lot of trips back home to walk through the woods my father used to take me hunting in, and to hang out with kith and kin.

I averaged six hours of writing a day. That’s what I usually try to shoot for. But, in the last month, I did seven, eight hours, and in the last two weeks, I got up, wrote, ate, exercised, wrote, wrote, wrote pretty much till bedtime.

Now, it’s done—that is, it’s ready to be critiqued. I’ve made copies. Ten people across the country—my workshop—now have it, and they’re doing their slash-and-burn to make it ready for my agent—because the fundamental goal?—make your agent happy. Excited. She needs to fall in love with your novel in order to take it to market.

For now, it’s out of my hands. I’m too tired to worry about what my workshop people think about it. That will come later. For now, man, I’m just worthless. It’s winter holiday at the college, which is good timing. I plan to spend the next month reading. It’s as though there are no more words in my head. If I scratched a pen across the page, nothing would come out.

So, for fun, I’m reading Richard Lattimore’s 1952 translation of The Iliad. It’s delicious. If you’re going to refill your head with words after writing a novel manuscript, make sure they’re the best.

I’ll come back to this novel-finishing theme in the following days, a little at a time. For now, I just want to drink coffee and look at my cat, who, at this moment, is staring at our Barak bobble-head and wishing for better presidential days.

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