A little bit more about that novel that I just finished writing (oh yeah, it’s called _Boom_)
Posted by R. H. Kanakia on June 11, 2012
The most hits that my blog has ever gotten was on May 3rd, which was the day that a very dejected Rahul announced that he was giving up on the novel that he had triumphantly begun a mere four days earlier. That day was definitely not a good day for me. I had gestated the novel idea for years. I had planned the novel for months. I had pages and pages of notes and observations. I had written a full novel synopsis. I had cleared a full two weeks from my schedule by freeing myself of both social and work obligations. And during four days of work I had made startling progress. The novel was over a third completed by the time I finally realized that I just didn’t want to write it anymore.
But I woke up the next day with a tremendous sense of relief. Thank God! I did not have to leap out of bed and mash the keyboard for eight hours so that I could add another ten thousand words to that monster!
Instead I lay in bed and browsed the internet. I did a little reading. And then I took a walk around the lake. While I walked, I tried to plot out my writing projects for the rest of the summer. Originally, I had planned to devote the post-novel period to a little short-story writing. And I guessed it was possible to just skip ahead and do that.
Except…when would I write my next novel? I mean, my current one is complete. Whether it’s good or bad, it’s not going to get any more revision (unless, I suppose, an agent or editor makes a really good case). And whether or not the current novel ever sold, I’d still need to have another one eventually.
But when could I write it? Later in the summer, I was going to be moving cross-country. In the fall I’d be starting graduate school, and I was sure that life would be too hectic for any sustained effort. And over the winter break I’d probably have familial obligations. And that meant it’d be spring semester at the earliest before I could start work on another novel! Somehow, that just did not seem right. It felt like I was creating a gap where there shouldn’t be one.
There was a reason that I was writing a novel now, in May, rather than later. It was literally the last available time for it.
So, on my return trip around the Lake, I started thinking about this other* novel idea I’d been kicking around.
Last summer, I read William Whyte’s 1950s polemic The Organization Man, which is about how Whyte thought that young men had become risk-averse and unimaginative. As I was reading the novel, I realized that what Whyte was actually writing about–though he didn’t know it–were the natural results of an economic boom that was almost unimaginable in its magnitude and scope. The 1950s–horrible as they were too many people–were a time of untold expansion in this nation’s material wealth, and the effects of that expansion ushered in social patterns of a sort that have since disappeared. After reading his book, I wrote a short story entitled “Boom” that was about an economically stagnant near-future Earth which suddenly discovers an infinite supply of empty alternate Earths. When I was revising the short story a few months ago, I realized that it wasn’t really that good. There was too much talking and not enough action. And the talking wasn’t of particularly high quality, either. But I realized that this was a premise and a setting that could easily support a novel.
While I was still a mile or two from my apartment, I decided to write that novel. And by the time I reached my front door, I’d decided that I wouldn’t repeat the premise of the short story. Instead, my novel would be about a young woman from a close-knit urban neighborhood who marries a young middle manager for one of the newly-flush multiplanetary companies and then sees her society blown apart by the firehose of money that is blasted through it.
But the novel is still called Boom (unless it’s called Between The Recessions). It’s kind of my love-letter to French and American Naturalism/Realism. It’s a blended mix of Cather, Steinbeck, Zola, Sinclair Lewis, and Upton Sinclair. And I guess there might be a dash of J.G. Ballard in there too (if I was feeling more honest, I might say Robert Heinlein).
Anyway, I came home and started writing the first chapter. I decided early on that I was going to proceed slowly and stop and rewrite if I needed to. At least three times (in Chapters 2, 7, and 11), this stopped me from making some pretty bad mistakes. But since I finished in 35 days, I don’t really think I can say that I went that slow.
It was not easy. I walked that lake many times, desperately trying to figure out what should happen next. Several times, I almost gave up. I think that if I hadn’t been so afraid of having two failures in a row, I might’ve tabled the novel. I often was a little angry at myself that I’d committed myself to this second novel without any planning or any foresight.
Nonetheless, it’s over now, and I’m fairly happy with it. It’s a novel in three parts. The first and second parts are not too bad, but the third part has a certain lack of harmony. I’ll probably need to extensively rewrite the third part. But I know (from having completely rewritten the first third of my last novel) that rewriting is not too bad.
I am also afraid that the writing itself isn’t good. I think that my own sensitivity to bad writing has just gotten higher as a result of slushing, so that I now perceive faults that I never perceived before.
But I never got the hopeless, unendurable whiff of badness that I got from the abandoned novel. On the contrary, I am extremely happy about this novel. There’s a reason that this novel is the first novel whose premise I can share on my blog without feeling weird. It’s a good and fresh premise. There’s not much else out there that’s like it. When I wrote my last novel, I knew that I needed to write something that looked, sounded, and felt like a novel. And I succeeded. But when I started thinking about my next novel, I knew that I needed to be more ambitious. And while it’s too early to say whether I succeeded (I am not kidding when I say that it needs alot of work), I am happy that I made the attempt and I will be happy (in a few months) to start revising it.
This is also my first novel to have no gunshots in it. My first novel had approximately eleven thousand gunshots, my second novel had a single gunshot, and this one has zero. I remember an interview in which some author (who I want to say was Alastair Reynolds) talked about how he really wanted to write a novel without a gunshot in it. I sympathized wholly with him on that. For years, I’ve been steadily eliminating the gunshots from my work, and I think it’s a lot better for it.
*Actually, there was another novel idea that I was considering: a heist / chicklit novel about ripping off the Federal Reserve. I decided that it would require a bit too much plotting and research for me to approach during just two months, though.