how to write a novel in one easy step

The small boy with the cold feet, the sopping mittens and the empty belly walked with me, or resisted walking, through the abandoned woodlot. He was an adorable litany.

I DON’T WANNA WALK ANYMORE
ARE WE THERE YET
and then making-like-siren WAAAAAGGGGHH

With an hour of walking still ahead of us, I resorted to the only thing that might work. A juicy threat. Hey Eric, I whispered. Not so loud.

He looked up at me, puzzled. We don’t want them to hear us, because, you know, we’d be totally crushed.

Our feet crunched companionably over leaf rot, sank into ruts of half-frozen mud, stumbled over fallen branches. After a moment of consideration during which I could hear the click and whirr of his brain, his breath escaped in a cloud that hung in the air around his face. Who?

Around us were trees, gnarly; trees, stunted; trees, knocked down; and trees, tangled. And a silence that needed occupation. And so I said the pirates.

The story gobbled up the hour in telling, the sum of all things giant and roaring and rude and wily. There were disguises and fiery tempers and lady-barbarians and duct tape (naturally, for every good yarn needs a jury-rigger). And none paused for scruples, and there was a mission, and an insatiable hunger, and a pit that stank and sloshed, and an explosion one Saturday morning, unexpected as explosions tend to be, as an old man knelt in mud just like this to pull weeds from his tomato patch.

Eric walked without complaint as he listened, interjecting every now and then to question me on some finer point of pursuit or repulsion. Finally the woods turned to fields and we were back at his family’s farm, smoke chugging in welcome from out the top of the stovepipe.

With a nine-month-old Evan snoring in the backpack, the bunch of us walked past the peacock hut, through the yard filled with beady-eyed goats who never fail to tell you just what they think of you. Past the weathered barn, through the door with the wooden latch and into the wall of heat that radiated from an antique kitchen wood oven, their hearth of iron. We bake in it, Eric’s dad told me. Takes some experimenting at first, but why not?

After warming up we piled into the car for the drive back to the coast. And I couldn’t stop thinking quick, write that down, because that was kind of fun and so I did, bare scratchings of shape and setting.

For a year or so characters clamoured out of turn, demanding inclusion. A voice would say I’m bored, let’s have a chase or What do they eat? I wanna know what they eat or It has to start with the spy and I would reply But there aren’t any spies in this story and the something would chuckle and say Oh yes there are.

Scenes were remote camps isolated from one another by hundreds of miles of impenetrable wilderness. Piece by piece a great railway was built to link them, and then there were elections, and slurpees, and all-nite pharmacies, and lo! A country was made, as a story was written by filling up the spaces in between. Then I got pregnant with identical twins, and they were born too early, and one of them died, and for a while, the only pirates in my life wore scrubs.

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Maybe it’s best to not have high-falootin’ goals. Maybe it’s best to engage in dogged tinkering without too much conscious thought. Maybe it’s best to just take the goalie out of the net and have sex as opposed to sitting at the kitchen table on a Tuesday and saying Let’s Never See Another Movie Ever Again, and While We’re At It, Autonomous Social Engagements and Adult Conversations are Highly Over-Rated, and so is Sleep, and Disposable Income, and so Let’s Conceive Children, and Hey Guess What, My Mommy Bits Are Ripe, and Please to Insert.

Because if I had sat at the kitchen table on a Tuesday and said Hey, I Could Write a Book, You Know, A Novel Or Somesuch, and Hey, Maybe I Could Get It Into, You Know, Stores and Stuff, and By The Way, Does Anyone Know How To Write A Novel?  —I wouldn’t have even attempted foreplay.