A Novel Way to Blog
For some time I’ve been thinking of changing up the blog. It’s still fun (to the degree writing about depressing topics can be called fun) but after more than five years I’m ready for a fresh challenge.
Last winter I was going through old electronic files looking for megabytes to free up. I came across a draft of a novel from the early 1990s. After publishing the non-fiction Hamlet Syndrome, I wrote four novels in quick succession because my dream ambition was to make a modest living ($25,000 a year, which would probably be around $75,000 now) as a fiction writer. One of the novels won a prize and was published, but it sold poorly — the death knell in an industry that, presaging the larger economy, was purging its mid-list writers in favor of a model that created a few super-rich celebrity writers and a humongous underclass of starving writers. I wound up in the latter group, which led me to find a job in the risk management office at UC Berkeley and embark on a second career.
Although it dredged up the bad feelings associated with those times, I re-read the draft. The plot was okay. But the characterizations were clunky, which is probably why, in addition to despair, I never tried to sell the manuscript.
And then a crazy idea hit me: now that I’m retired I have time to completely rewrite the thing and see how it turns out.
With non-fiction, you write what you know. With fiction, you start with what you know, then let your imagination run loose. I hadn’t used my run-loose muscles in twenty-five years, so in the beginning they ached. I really wasn’t sure they’d ever round into shape. But gradually they did, and over the next six or seven months I worked up a version of the story I wasn’t ashamed to show my first reader, The Fabulous Wife. “Tell me if I need to burn it,” I said, not altogether facetiously. She probably wouldn’t have told me to burn it even if that was her opinion, but if it sucked I knew she would say so in a more diplomatic way. (Or not.)
She really liked it.
So then the question became what to do with it.
Going back to the commercial publishing industry was an easy no. I’ve commercially published four books, and three of the four experiences were demeaning and depressing. I remember only the third commercial publication with any fondness, because I had a personal editor who not only understood my writing and made it better but ran interference with the publisher so all I had to do was write.
What about self-publishing? Nope. I’d have to distribute and publicize the book myself, and if there’s anything I’d hate more than working with publishing house editors, it would be doing their jobs. My responsibility is to write the best I can. After that, not my concern. If you want an illustration of how little I care about distribution and marketing, consider that I’ve never lifted a finger to increase the audience for this blog. After five years of posting once a week, I have a grand sum of 58 followers — and I’m fine with that.
Whoa, speaking of the blog!
The proverbial light bulb switched on. I’d been looking to change things up, right? Why not post the novel to the blog — in serial form, the way Dickens did?
So that’s what I’m going to do, starting in the next week or two. The novel is 70,000 words long (roughly a two hundred page print book), divided into forty chapters. I’ll post one or two chapters at a time over the next few months until it’s complete. I may slip in some of my customary doomsday pieces during that stretch, but will try to restrain myself.
To those of you willing to join in this experiment with me, my heartfelt thanks! I hope you enjoy reading the novel as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. I’ll post a brief introduction before rolling out the chapters.