A NOVEL PROJECT

Note: This page is my “journal:” thoughts I have, and decisions I make, as I write the novel. If you’d like to learn about my writing processes, read on. If you want to read chapters of the actual book, click on one of the links above.


***


3 February 2022

Today, I started to write a novel. Fiction writing isn’t entirely new to me. I published a novel some years back, and have written a number of short stories and dramas. Lately, however, my make-believe stuff has been mostly allegorical or satirical. To take on another novel is challenging – and also surprising. I didn’t say to myself, “I’m going to write a novel;” I just started writing it.

   Remembering the timeless (and very useful) advice to new authors to “write what you know,” you might guess that my incipient novel about human interactions will somehow be about my own life, my own family, and my own career. There are certainly elements of those, but mostly just for background and “framing” purposes. What I’ve written so far includes lots of birds and wildlife refuges and environmental issues: the fabric of my own life. The story begins in 1965 – a time critical in my own life - so the political and societal issues are real.  Certain individual stories arose from incidents in my life, or those of friends or co-workers, but they are just shadows of the real thing. In many cases, I have purposely changed times, places and circumstances until “fact” has become “fiction.” Just as likely, we octogenarians and older (some still living, mostly dead) told these same stories so many times, with so many variations to make them more exciting and interesting – or just because we forgot what really happened – that they were already fantasy before I added them to the current mix.

   The characters in my story are composites, bits and pieces of everybody I’ve ever known or known about, but none would be recognizable as any real person, living or dead. My two main characters are absolutely unique, their personalities and their experiences built completely from my imagination. I don’t know where that imagination came from – but I like them, a lot!

    The writing is going surprisingly well, I think; complete chapters seem to come pouring out of my head directly into my “pen” (i.e., computer), already formatted and nearly final. I only remember that happening once before: years ago - on a solo, three-hour drive home in the middle of the night - I “wrote” an entire short story in my head – complete with characters, circumstances, and dialogue. Later, it was all still so clear to me, that I put it on paper, almost word for word as I first imagined it. (Later still, I re-wrote it as a short play, that a group of us performed once. It was pretty good, I think.)

 

4 February 2022

   There is one thing with my current endeavor that has never happened before, and I find it a little eerie and upsetting. When I’m deep into some emotional dialogue, or creating a particular situation, I’ll find myself thinking, “What is Vic going to say to that?” “How will Greg handle this?” You may say, that’s completely logical: Because I’m writing the story – making things happen – I will obviously be thinking ahead to the next line, to the character’s response. The story can’t continue unless I do that. Sure, I know that, but this is different. Sometimes, I’ll write something, and think: Vic needs to hear this – see this – right now. How will she take it? What will she say? For a moment, I seem to believe myself in a real world, with  a Real Vic, who will consider what I wrote, and tell me her thoughts. But, of course, there is no Real Vic, or Real Greg. Greg is me; Vic is me. Neither will ever hear this. I suddenly remember that, and the reality leaves me momentarily disappointed and sad. I like them too much for them not to really be here with me.

 

5 February 2022

   I think writing this novel is good for me, for my mental wellbeing. For several years, I’ve just been coasting along, feeling generally disappointed with the world, and not seeing anything worth looking forward to. I thought of it as ennui, a general boredom with life that could be “cured” by the right stimulus. But ennui is a self-indulgent thing, like being in a particular rut one can climb out of, if one really wants to. I think my condition has been more like that described by the German word weltschmerz: yearning for the world to be different than it is, but being absolutely helpless to do anything about it. In my writing world, the characters are not real; their joys and sorrows are not real; their troubles and triumphs are not real. Still, they represent what a lot of us thought the world could be like – and should be like! I’m welcoming the chance to consider that, again.

  

6 February 2022

 I don’t know if I’ll finish this novel before I die. I don’t know who might read it, if I do. My fantasy is that, sometime in the future, the world will be better, again. Then, some real life “Greg” and “Vic” will serendipitously find a copy, and read it together. They will smile – and occasionally laugh outright – at the absurd, silly, questioning, understanding, and (finally) loving dialogue. They may find their eyes getting a little moist at the more challenging moments. Eventually, they’ll close the book, look at each other, smile, and say: 

   “Yes, that’s us. He got it right!”

 

7 February 2022

   I think I’m falling in love with Vic. I mentioned before that she sometimes becomes very real to me, to the point that I’d really like to share some bit of writing with her at that very moment. I don’t what is the attraction. I don’t think she would have been my dream girl had I met her in the 1960s. If, by any chance, she was, I’m pretty sure I would not have come anywhere near being her dream boy!  But maybe, twenty-five years later – when we’d both matured and become the type of people we were supposed to be – a connection might have developed. I can sort of see it.

8 February 2022

   The writing is been going remarkably fast, I think. I’ve already drafted fifteen chapters, obviously not all in final, polished format, but all of them pretty far along. I do see a problem looming, though.

   I’ve created a big issue – it’s really mixed up with almost everything that happens in these early chapters. I want it to be; I want to sort of dole it out little by little, until the whole story finally comes out. My problem right now is that I don’t see how to resolve it in a way that will make the rest of the story go somewhat in a way I want for them.

 

9 February 2022

   How will this story end? As well as it’s been going, I’m having some trouble seeing what’s next.

 It is said that God knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46.10). I am not God, and I had no idea when I started where this story would go. I still don’t.

 

10 February 2022

   The idea for a new chapter came to me, and I quickly drafted it. I thought I had the perfect place to insert it into what I had already written. Today, I checked my “events calendar” and found that the day I wanted the new chapter to happen was Mother’s Day. I already had Mother’s Day covered in another way.

  I think the chapter is a good one, worth rethinking where it belongs. My problem is that the events covered have to happen fairly early in Spring, and I’m running out of openings for new material in Spring.

 

11 February 2022

   Found a little item I needed to correct. When I first started writing, I selected (for no particular reason) Lawson as the family name for Vic. But Lawson is of English or Scottish origin, and Vic’s family roots are in North Dakota, where the population is strongly either German or Norwegian. I decided on Anderson as the family name, and changed all the Lawson references accordingly.

 

12 February 2022

   I solved the Mother’s Day conflict quicker than I thought I would, and I think the fit is actually better in a new place. Getting the episode placed correctly for the season turned out to be easy.

 

13 February 2022

   Up to this point in my writing, it has only been possible for Vic and Greg to see each other once (occasionally, twice) a week. Suddenly, they could see each other almost every day, if they wanted to. But, in line with proposed future events, I don’t want them that chummy. How do I keep them apart?


14 February 2022

    A criticism of my first novel was that it had too much dialogue. I didn’t take it as criticism because my writing is often about communication. To communicate, people have to talk to one another. This novel is starting out pretty chatty, too.

   One problem I do have is describing the environments in which things happen. If I want the leaves to blow in the trees, and maybe make little rustling sounds, that’s pretty much all I got! I know that some readers would like a little more content than that, and I agree with them. I’m trying. (On the other hand, I sometimes feel angry or betrayed when an author spends two pages describing what a room looks like. Then, we find out later that the decor of the room doesn’t have anything to do with the story. It’s sort of a “sound and fury, signifying nothing” situation.)

 

15 February 2022

   I need to be careful with my history! Right now, I’m writing a section on ranchers who just organically “hate the Government.” I lived through it in the 1960s and beyond, but in those days, there was a lot of bad mouthing (I’m sure I learned a few new swear words in that period), a little fence-cutting, and such – definitely not comfortable, but you learned both to live with it and do your part to make it better, if possible. I remember all that, but when I start writing it down, I get pictures in my mind of assault rifle-armed, camouflage-wearing terrorists taking over a national wildlife refuge, destroying property, pillaging American Indian religious sites, and depriving refuge employees of their homes for weeks. Yes, that’s what’s happening in the 21st century. Thankfully, my characters won’t have to live through those times for many years.


16 February 2022

   A couple of needed course corrections. I thought I had a good idea for the chapter I was working on. I thought I could have Greg in town Friday, just in time to pick up the Anderson girls and save them the long bus ride home. But then I saw that there was no way those girls were not going to talk all the way home about the upcoming prom. I don’t want Greg to hear about that until the next chapter, and then just with Vic.

   Also, it’s looking like the business of a new recruit for the refuge should come up in this chapter, rather than a couple weeks later, as I had originally planned. I’m pretty sure I wrote something about it in a draft for a later chapter. I’ll have to find that, and delete or modify it.

 

17 February 2022

   I made a major error in placing the big bird migration at the end of April. I checked my old notes from my two years in Idaho, and discovered that I had been remembering it wrong. Spring migration is not in full swing until the latter part of May.

   I had to re-write much of Chapter 3 (and I really liked it, the way it was!). I also had to go through four or five other chapters and modify what I had said about bird species. I still haven’t figured out exactly where I’ll plug the migration story back in.


 18 February 2022

When I started writing an historical novel (and, to most people, 60 years ago is historical), I hadn’t given much thought to how people talked back then. I mean, I was there! Surely, I know how I sounded. Or do I? I mean, I know we didn’t answer every question or statement with ‘Absolutely!’ – whether or not there was anything absolute  (i.e., without question) about it. But we also didn’t talk the computer – information transfer language that rolls off our tongues so easily now. There were few personal computers before 1990. (I didn’t get my first one until 1994.) We couldn’t decide to watch a movie at home on our VCR, because the first Blockbuster video rental store didn’t open until about 1980. Almost nothing I’ve said or done in the last 40 years is moveable back to 1965!

   I don’t think I’ve made any major gaffes, but I’ll need to re-read everything carefully.


19 February 2022

   No particular insights or revelations today; just working on the details of a new chapter. Oh, relating to my 17 February comments, I did find a good place to plug in the migration story.

 

20 February 2022

   One of the perils of writing chapters out of sequence, which I often do to capture a good idea: I gave Greg’s former girlfriend the same name as the heroine in a novel, who I would later compare to Vic. The “find and replace” function on my computer got a little workout to change the girlfriend’s name.


21-24 February 2022

I’ve just been going back over the chapters, and my timeline, to make sure everything still fits. I’ve found a few little glitches, but nothing major.


25 February 2022

   I wrote a chapter about the first time Greg and Vic enjoy adult sex together (the first time with anyone, for both of them). It’s fairly explicit, but I think it goes well with what I've written so far. There are many chapters to go before it enters the story, but I wanted to write it while they are having so much fun getting to know all aspects of one another, and of their relationship. When they get to it, I want them to be feeling that same sense of new knowledge, exploration, and discovery that they are experiencing right now. 

   I think when some people read the chapter, they will laugh and say, “Yes! That’s just how it was with us.” Others will say wistfully, “I wish it had been like that.” Still others will say, with eager anticipation, “God, I hope it will be like that for me!”


26 February 2022

    I’m finding it hard to write a story set in the past, when I know the future. In my ‘eighties, I’m disappointed in the state of our nation, and the world. They may have similar feelings in 50 or 60 years, but in 1965 there aren’t even shadows of what’s to come to worry them. They’re going to make their decisions based on their present day, and how they hope things will be 10 or 20 years down the line. That’s what I want them to do. If they live to be 70 or 80, they may be disappointed but, probably like me and many of my contemporaries, they won’t be sorry about the life they chose and the paths they took. I just have to remember that as I write.

   I do have a problem imagining what they will do with their lives. I started Greg out as I started out – as an assistant manager on a small national wildlife refuge. It’s a beginning that I know about, and I even had my journals to help me create a real environment for him. The bird migrations, the nesting cycle, the weather, and even the types of work that keep him occupied are based on real events in the 1960s in Idaho.

   But I don’t want Greg to follow in my footsteps. He’s a much different person than I was at that age, and his pairing with Vic is almost certain to take them in different directions than Sally and I traveled. I think they’re going to have a good time.


27-28 February 2022

   I pretty much decided today that I’m going to change one ongoing story line, and make it end with a whimper rather than the bang that seemed inevitable. I won’t have to change anything I’ve written so far; I’ll just have to rethink what eventually happens. It may take some of the drama out of the story, but, the way I was heading, it looked like it was leading to a trauma from which they probably would never recover. I’m willing to saddle then with the usual losses, sadness, and disappointments – the kind we all suffer from in life – but I love them too much to give that particular burden to them.


3 March 2022

   It pays to re-read what you’ve written previously. I found that, when I had to put the great migration in a different chapter, I had left several identical paragraphs in the old location – where they made absolutely no sense. I did a little rewriting.


4 March 2022

   After finding the migration story repeat yesterday, I read the entire manuscript through, looking for any other errors I might have made. Even though I’m pretty meticulous with my editing after all these years, I found more than half a dozen little problems – incorrect punctuation, and misspelled or incorrect words that the spell-check on the computer didn’t catch.


9 March 2022

   Factual fiction. That’s what I’m trying to write. The characters and the story line are completely made up, but I’m trying to introduce enough real-life “facts” to make it plausible. For example, there is no national wildlife refuge in Idaho that looks like what I describe. However, I’ve used my journals from the Minidoka Refuge in 1963-1964 to “show” what my fictional Idaho refuge would be experiencing in the way of bird migration, weather, refuge operations, etc., on those same dates in 1965. The setting of a fire on the refuge in July 1965 (Chapter 17) is very similar to an actual event that occurred at Minidoka in 1963; the lightning storms and firefighting events I describe were gleaned from Idaho newspapers for those actual days in 1965. The “equal opportunity” employment described in Chapter 9 actually occurred in 1965, but at the Sacramento Refuge in California. When Vic and Greg went to the movies in Pocatello, I went to the 1965 newspapers online to find out what was actually showing on those dates. Their attendance at a Broadway play in Salt Lake City “occurred” on an actual date in 1965 when the musical “Carousel” opened there. My refuge manager’s “reminiscence” of where he heard the news of the Kennedy assassination  is a true telling of where I was at the time.

   It’s fun trying to weave fact and fiction together to present a more or less true picture of what 1965 was like in southern Idaho.


19 March 2022

     I’ve been taking a break from active writing about Vic and Greg, while I work on another research/writing project that needs finishing. I haven’t completely abandoned them – the story keeps developing in my head, no matter what else I’m doing – and I did take the time to read the entire manuscript, searching for more needed changes. Although I “edit” constantly, I still found about a dozen entries that needed work. They weren’t all errors; some involved replacing awkward text with different wording that sounded better to me this time around. There weren’t many obvious “typos;" my computer spell checker does very well finding those. What it won’t find are real words that are the wrong words. For example, if I type “on the house” when I mean “in the house,” the words are real words and it’s still grammatically correct, so the computer ignores it. Those errors take the eagle eye of a human editor to catch.

   Unfortunately, the “eagle eye” of the self-editor isn’t always 20:20. If I know what I meant to write, a quick skimming of the page often “sees” what should be there, not what is there. Sometimes, it takes reading individual sentences several times, and thinking about what you’re reading, before you catch the problem. I find this difficult to do on the computer screen, so I print out the chapter – in a font several sizes larger than I would normally type – and then carefully read the “large print” version. This technique catches most of the needed corrections, but it’s still a good idea to enlist someone else to read the manuscript – someone reading with fresh eyes.

 

20 March 2022

     The “real” Sally and I are only a few years older than the fictional Vic and Greg. Stretching the definition slightly, we could all be called “war babies”  - born in or just after World War II, and strongly influenced by the post-war society.  But when writing the novel, I need to remember that we aren’t really of the same generation. Sally and I reached our ‘20s still strongly influenced by the traditions of our parents. Although there were many exceptions, the family model we grew up with was predominantly one of the male bread winner and the female principal parent and overall helpmate.

   By the mid-60s – as a result of Vietnam, civil rights, “women’s lib,” new environmental awareness, and other societal considerations – the model changed quickly. “Family” was still important, and many were still based on man at work – woman at home, but there were lots of new expressions. In my own field of natural resources preservation and management, the changes were profound. At my college in the early ‘60s, there were only three women majoring in forestry or wildlife management. By the mid-‘70s, nearly a quarter of the natural resources student body across the United States were women. And they weren’t (as we might chauvinistically have said before 1965) looking for husbands; they were looking for careers!

   As I’ve said before, I gave Greg an early career similar to my own, but I’ve always been sure that he wouldn’t follow in my footsteps. Similarly, his relationship with Vic, and their eventual family arrangements, would almost certainly be much different than Sally’s and mine.

 

22 March 2022

   I’ve arranged a surprise birthday celebration for Vic and her sister Mandy, involving an overnight trip to a mysterious Somewhere. I wrote the start of that section with plans to have two weeks between the arrival of the invitation and the actual event. As I considered it further, it seemed to me that was too long; a shorter time would be intriguing and exciting, but a longer one might just be frustrating – and actually take some of the fun out of the surprise. I had to rewrite quite a bit of two chapters, but I think this is a better scenario.


25 March 2022

   I ran into another need for revision in my attempt to be authentic. One of my basic premises in “planning” Vic’s and Mandy’s trip to Salt Lake City was that they would walk from their hotel to the theater where a musical was being performed. While doing some newspaper research today, I discovered that the Valley Music Hall was not in downtown Salt Lake City, but was in North Salt Lake – an area which at that time didn’t appear to have any hotels or motels! Since they would have to drive from wherever they stayed, I “selected” a hotel that seemed to be a little nicer than average, to enhance their experience.

   (Not relevant to the story, but an interesting note: the Valley Music Hall, that officially opened with the July 1965 performance of “Carousel” - and was touted as one of the finest theaters-in-the-round in the world, and a major boon to Utah – closed after only a few years. It was later bought by the Mormon Church, and is now a community center for the City of Bountiful.)


26 March 2022

       I’ve been thinking of Vic’s sister, Amanda, as just a background character. Now, I’m finding that she is an important and integral part of the story.  She’s smart and feisty, and a perfect complement to Vic. No wonder they are best friends, as well as sisters.


6 April 2022

  In an upcoming discussion, I wanted Greg to use the term “situation ethics,” to describe how he approaches certain issues and decisions. However, the discussion occurs in August 1965, and Joseph Fletcher (Professor of Social Ethics, Episcopal Theological School) – who is generally considered to have “invented” the term – didn’t publish his book, Situation Ethics, until 1966. Nevertheless, I found that he had given three major presentations on the subject between 1959 and 1964, and probably a number of smaller ones. Also, I found that at least one other author had used the term in early 1965, in a similar way to Fletcher’s usage.

   I conclude that Greg could have been exposed to the term in his junior or senior year at college, and it will be okay for him to talk about it, as long as he doesn’t get too deep into concepts and principles from the 1966 book. (That’s not a problem; it’s not that kind of discussion.)

 

10 April 2022

   Similarly to my timing problem with “situation ethics,” I wanted to mention the “big bang” theory of Creation. The term wasn't used a lot until the 1970s, but I found it mentioned as early as 1949, and notably in 1964, which fit it nicely into my story.

 

17 April 2022

   I’ve been working on my story, but for the last couple of weeks, it’s been mostly in my head. Now that Greg and Vic are seriously considering life together long-term, they get into a discussion of religion and church attendance. I’ve been confusing the story (and myself!) by thinking too much about how I felt in 1965 versus how I feel today, not about Vic and Greg and their feelings in 1965. It’s been hard! Obviously, writers “write what they know,” so some of me gets put into every character. Still, they are not me, and I don’t want them to be.

   I think I solved the problem today by making it less of an academic presentation, and more of a chat between Vic and Greg, in which the discussion proceeds more normally.


26 April 2022

   Things have become complicated in the month before Vic goes off to college. Just the idea of being away from her family - and from Greg! - is getting harder to handle than she thought it would be. Then, there are a number of other issues that are crowding in on her. On the drive to college, she has a pretty emotional breakdown. Greg is trying to help, but will he know what to do?

   The resolution is still several chapters away. i don’t see how it’s going to work out, yet.


7 May 2022

   I’ve been writing merrily away these past couple weeks, and am pretty happy the way the story is unfolding. One thing I noticed, however, is that I’m telling a lot of it from Greg’s standpoint. Vic asks a lot of questions, and we find out a lot about Greg from her inquiries, but sometimes I’m neglecting Vic. For example, we got a pretty good lecture from Greg on his feelings about religion and God, but I almost forgot that Vic has feelings, too. I corrected that. We know a lot about what Greg likes to read, and we know that Vic is enjoying the books that Greg gives her. But, so far, we don’t know what Vic was reading before Greg started giving her old British romance adventures. I’m trying to fix that, now.


16 May 2022

   I’ve completed another couple of chapters recently, but I’ve been spending much of my time researching information for current and future tales. I read a book on “situation ethics,” which figure in a chapter I was just working on. I also read a history of abortion law in the United States, a subject that also comes up in a current chapter. I was surprised to learn that there were no abortion laws in the United States prior to about 1850. We followed English common law, allowing abortions to take place without restriction until “quickening” (obvious movement) of the fetus, which occurs at about four months. I also learned that it was the American Medical Association that was the main driving force on the abortion bans put in place in the second half of the 20th century. Their reasons were not “medical,” and they are pretty disgusting.

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

  

 

 

 

 

 


   


To The Writing It Down Homepage


Leave a Comment: symbios@condortales.com

© Sanford Wilbur 2022