A LOOK INSIDE THE AUTHOR'S HEAD
Life Unworthy is the name of my latest novel, and its at an editor right now being torn apart. I should have the edited and annotated copy in my virtual hands next week some time, and I'm nervous. Before, when I wrote, I was confident and comfortable with the books. They were easy stories set deep in my comfort zone of fantasy set in my RPG world I've been running games in for decades.
Snowberry's Veil was almost effortless to write, and rolled off my fingertips on to the screen as if I was being dictated to. Old Habits was a bit tougher, but still was a joy, very smooth.
Life Unworthy took six years to write, although most of that was time off, and it was hard work the whole way through. There were short bits I just cruised through but most of it required intensive research and effort to try to get the tone right.
The theme of the book is evil and horror, its a suspense novel featuring horrible things done by evil men and a monster. I tried to walk the line between the lurid and the compelling, avoiding outright clear and obvious ugliness and cheap shock. The point was to indicate the darkness inside men's souls, not to depict awful things to thrill and create disgust.
And that's not an easy place for me to write. I much prefer good guys doing good things, even if reluctantly, in a world where good wins and evil is triumphed over. Life is hard enough and the world is dark enough without reading or writing books about misery and depression; I don't like a lot of "good" literature for that reason.
Yet I wrote a book about Nazis in Poland and tried to portray it as bleak and awful as it really was. There's humor and there are bright parts, there are good people in the book too, but the bulk of the story is pretty dark stuff. That's not easy to write, for me.
And keeping a story suspenseful and even frightening is something I don't think I'll ever be comfortable with. The hard part is writing something suspenseful when I know the exact outcome. I can't feel that sense of uncertainty and concern because I can see it all played out at once in my mind. You have to be ignorant of what happens next to get a good feel of suspense.
And making a scene frightening is even harder, I think. One scene in the book has the werewolf stalking a man through the curfew-emptied streets of Krakow late at night, and I tried hard to make it spooky and frightening. Did it work?
Did any of it work? Did I pull off the themes and the purpose of the book I meant to? I don't really know. I'm scared to ask the editor and I am worried about getting the notes back from him. This was a project I put off for years because I didn't think I was a good enough writer. I still don't but I figured I was experienced enough to try. Now I'm not sure.
I think this is a great idea, with a tremendous amount of potential, but did I pull it off? I have deliberately not looked at the book at all since I sent it off to the editor, so it will be fresher when I get it back. But I have another motive: because I'm worried that I failed, that it isn't what I hoped at all. That its a jumbled mess without a satisfying conclusion or coherent story. That my effort to examine the nature of evil through a supernatural story in an exciting setting is plodding or worse seems preachy.
I'm worried that the attempts to make the story authentic historically are too pedantic or even that they seem false. I'm worried that I didn't do justice to the people and times, and that it may even be insulting to the Polish and German people.
This is not something I'm used to at all. Normally when I finish writing, I'm satisfied with what I have done, if not completely happy. I smile and type The End knowing there's a lot of editing to do but it worked out pretty much the way I hoped.
Maybe this is good for me as a writer, though. Perhaps writing a book that forces me to grow and change is healthy. Perhaps being uncertain and worried at least a little helps me stay focused on the job and hungry to be better.
But its an uncomfortable place to be. Working in the arts is a very strange sort of job, you rarely get any sort of feedback or certainty. If you rivet a car door and it stays together, you know you did it right. If you make a cheeseburger and its in the right order and tastes good, you succeeded. If you paint something, its so abstract and subjective in terms of judgment that you can never really be certain.
In the end, all you can do is try hard and hope that it worked out. Because if it didn't, that's years of effort down the drain, and all that's left is a doorstop that someone may print after you're dead - if you get any kind of success - as a "lost book" hoping to get some sales.
So that's a peek inside the writer's head. I can't really know until its all written and out there. Of the three works of fiction I've written, this one has the potential to have the broadest appeal and greatest commercial success, just because of its themes and setting. Straight fantasy has a pretty narrow appeal to specific sorts of people. Historical suspense, with a supernatural twist, is more popular right now.
If it worked.