From a porch in North Brunswick, New Jersey to an apartment in the Admiral District of West Seattle, the writing of the novel Kate has taken well over four years. I wish I could say that I spent that much time writing, but I would be lying if I did. Much of the writing has been done in bursts of time, and I think I have been stalling putting out the last chapter for a little too long. Perhaps a look back at the beginning will stimulate the process along.
Genesis of Kate
When I first thought to write the novel, I only had one character in mind: Jean-Michel Pinot. I wanted this to be my way of honoring Gustav Flaubert’s brilliant work, The Sentimental Education. I wanted to write a novel that would capture the essence of being someone near my age but in this time period we live in now. Even though I didn’t live in New York at the time I wanted to set it in New York because I loved New York a lot more than I did New Brunswick, New Jersey. The initial thought to do the novel came when I was standing on the porch of an ex-girlfriend and I kept on hearing the same sentence over and over in my head. “As Jean-Michel Pinot’s eyes glanced towards the heavens, his mind wandered away from the busy intersection where he was standing, awaiting the bright white walk signal.” I could just see Jean-Michel standing at the curb looking upwards, his imagination drifting off somewhere else entirely. I could see the contrast between Jean-Michel and the other people waiting at the curb to cross the street, eagerly ready to go to wherever they were going to go for probably no good reason whatsoever.
Not too long after this idea came to me, my mother and I went to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. My family has a time share in Puerto Vallarta which they got in a great deal several years ago. I thought this vacation would be a good opportunity to write some of this novel I had the idea for. The idea for using vacation as a time to write came to me when I went to London in 1999. That short vacation, mentioned at greater length in the article A Veritable Vacation, remains to this day as one of my favorites.
While my mother sat and read books by the pool, I sat nearby and worked on the novel. It really amused me when I turned down an offer to take a cruise somewhere, and the gentleman offering the tour asked me, “Don’t you want to have something to remember this vacation by?” As we all know, heavy drinking and looking at “exotic” sea animals that will be quickly forgotten due to said heavy drinking is just the thing to remember a vacation by. I thought that it would be a lot better to not go on the heavy drinking cruise and to do a significant amount of writing instead. My best friend Matt was there for part of the stay and he helped me a bit, particularly with a bit about The Cure.
Serial Novel Experiment
When I was in Israel at the Ohr Somayach yeshiva I realized that I wasn’t getting anywhere with either the play or the novel. Fortunately I had an outline for the play. I decided that I wanted to at least finish the play, so I started writing a little bit every day until that was done. Curiously enough, about one quarter of the play was written in a one week time period. Once that was finished in the middle of February, I was more or less free to start on the novel. However, nothing really inspired me at all to start writing again until sometime in July when I thought that perhaps things would go better if I had some sort of deadline hanging over my head. I thought that I would write one chapter per month until it was done. At the time, I thought that the novel would have thirty-six chapters : twice eighteen, which in hebrew is the numerical value of the word life. (For more on the numerical values of words in hebrew see this article in the English Wikipedia.)
This went fairly well enough for awhile. Right around this time I realized that there was great potential to make the novel not just its own entity, but a work linked to my play, Getting Over It. I had to do a little rewriting and rethinking of where the plot was going to go but that was okay. This process went along slowly, with me not exactly updating every month. In the spring of 2003 I made a decision: I had to chart out what was going to have to happen for the rest of the novel, or it would never get written. I also had to decide on a name for the novel. The latter was not so much of a priority as the former. Fortunately, the name came to me one afternoon while I was on the bus going to visit my brother – I was going to Boston for the holiday of Shavuos. I had a small MP3 player (which, at 64MB of memory, pales a little bit before my present ipod mp3+photo setup) and I was listening to music while looking over the tentative outline that I had written for the novel. It was when the song Kate by Ben Folds Five came on that I realized I knew what the name of the novel had to be – Kate.
Finishing the Novel
The pace of writing didn’t quite improve as much as I would have wanted to, and it has now been a whopping half of a year since I put the latest chapter on Go Inside Magazine. During the course of 2003 and 2004 I managed to slowly get chapters written, with bursts of inspiration making for good writing sessions. These bursts of inspiration were often followed by weeks, sometimes months, of having absolutely no clue what I wanted to do next. I would frequently question my worth as a writer, thinking that perhaps the people who had ever said anything nice about it were only doing so to avoid hurting my feelings. I think there’s some psychological problem one can link to this issue, wherein I easily accept negative criticism but push aside compliments as not possibly being true.
The idea struck me recently to map out exactly what happens at what time in the novel. I therefore went along the novel with a couple of scraps of paper and documented, chapter by chapter, at what point things occurred. I was quite surprised by the results, as you may be as well if you get the finished product at some point. (While there is the novel freely available at Go Inside Magazine, I have made numerous changes since the first writing of each chapter and there will be a great overhaul once the last chapter is complete.) I have a feeling that this mapping out of the chapters could be what I need to get this novel done.
I am aiming for the end of August or September to have the novel complete. Meanwhile, I am collaborating with a friend and former coworker on a freely available online comic which is nowhere near being online, to be set probably in Seattle. It’s funny how this lovely city has become so much more familiar to me in the months since I have moved here. Hopefully the novel can be finished and ready to be published (through my own small publication or through a bigger publisher) by the end of the year, G-d willing. To think, five years ago this month, my biggest problem was a Pecunia Conundrum.