I was asked some time ago to explain the challenges and the rewards of writing Wandering West. Well, writing fiction is both challenging and rewarding–period. I think virtually all writers of fiction will attest to that. It is a grueling process. Writing fiction challenges the soul, if you will. For me, it is taxing emotionally. It requires such attention to detail, such a focus and a commitment, that I tend to become obsessed with my work. (Don’t take my word for it; ask my wife!) I tend to live within the bubble of the story with my characters until the last word is hammered out, and then, for a little longer still. Not until the story is complete do I feel any real sense of satisfaction, any real sense of achievement. Actually, it’s an overwhelming sense of relief that I experience at that point. Here I’ve created this monster and finally–finally–I can put it to bed! Did I mention that writing is a grueling process? That goes double for writing fiction.
So why do it? Why get up in the middle of the night–maybe repeatedly, night after night, month after month–to jot down a thought, to correct an incongruity, to change this, to improve that, etc.? Life is too short, and life offers up enough misery without creating that of my own making. Maybe so, but, for me, the rewards more than make up for these challenges. I think virtually all writers of fiction will agree with me when I say that the creative process itself is what I find so rewarding. It’s what makes writing fiction so worthwhile. The creative process is what drives me. It can send a lightning bolt flashing through my veins like few things on this Planet Earth–except for, well, maybe a lightning bolt. I really do get a charge out of fleshing out a character, working out a scene, and ultimately, building a storyline. It’s my thing, as they say.
But the question was: what did I find challenging and rewarding about writing Wandering West specifically? Well, specific to Wandering West, there is a hospital scene in the first third of the story that, I think, illustrates this idea of writing fiction being both a challenge and a reward. This scene was difficult for me to write emotionally. It is rather autobiographical in many respects, and so was a little painful to get into. But once I did, the words flowed as fast as my fat, arthritic fingers (Yes, that’s rather autobiographical, too, where Jack Stiler is concerned.) could hammer them out on the keyboard. Writing truly is the spontaneous overflow of human emotion, as Wordsworth put it. For me, writing this scene was evidence of that. I meant this scene to be poignant, and after reading it for the upteenth time, I think I succeeded. I hope so anyway. It still moves me.
For those who have read Wandering West, I hope that scene moved you, too. If you haven’t yet picked up the book to read it, well, as I often write on this blog, while you’re here, you might as well click onto the book section and make a purchase. And let me know what you think.
Among the multitude of Europeans to wander west to America in the Nineteenth Century was a teacher and poet from Lisburn, Ireland by the name of Henry McDonald Flecher. It is his poem, The Homeless, taken from his book, Odin’s Last Hour, that serves as my epigraph to Wandering West. I discovered it while searching for just the right quote to put at the beginning of my book. When I read it, I knew it was the one. Flecher was not just any poet. He was a renowned poet of his day, honored, alongside Tennyson, by Queen Victoria. An interesting tidbit about him is his claim, privately at least, that Tennyson stole a few of his verses. Whether that is true or not, well, who can say? Maybe Tennyson would argue that Flecher plagiarized a few of his lines. Maybe it was a case of sour grapes, for Tennyson, as we all know, became world renowned and of historic literary significance. None of it really matters now, other than to provide an interesting footnote to an interesting life. After teaching at a small college in Connecticut for a time, Flecher made his way to Blossom, Texas, where he taught Physics and Metaphysics at Lamar College. He continued to write, having published several volumes of prose and poetry, until his death in 1902.
Why am I blogging about some Irish poet who virtually no one has heard of and who died so long ago? What’s the point? So what if I used one of his poems as a lead-in to Wandering West? Big deal. I might well have found one of Tennyson’s to use. Who cares? Who reads poetry anyway? Well, in my own small way, I wanted to honor this man, that’s why, pure and simple. You see, I wouldn’t be here without Henry McDonald Flecher. He is my great-grandfather.
For those who have yet to read Wandering West, here is its epigraph:
. . . All too busy, all too eager
Hunting pleasure, grasping gain,
To regard that form so meager
Drooping in her drought of pain . . .
Hearts to love her, homes to shelter,
Let the lonely wanderer find,
Screen her from the storms that pelt her,
From misfortune’s rain and wind.
—“The Homeless,” from
Odin’s Last Hour
by Henry McDonald Flecher
For those who have read Wandering West, I think you’ll agree: The Homeless is a fitting, thematic introduction to my novel. If you haven’t read the story, please do. And while you’re at it–after you’ve purchased Wandering West here on my website–you may want to mosey on over to Amazon or Barnes & Noble to pick up a copy of Odin’s Last Hour. Here’s a link: http://www.amazon.com/Odins-Last-Hour-Other-Poems/dp/1174557494
It’s food for thought.
My first conversation with the publisher’s marketing director for Wandering West was a little awkward to say the least. She asked me to give her my elevator speech. Believe me, I know all about elevator speeches. I give them all the time, where my financial advising business is concerned. If you want to know about a stock I like, my view on the markets, the economy, etc., I can spit something out by the time we move from the parking garage to the seventh floor. After nearly thirty years in The Bizz, I’ve been around the block a time or two. That doesn’t mean I necessarily have the answers. It just means I understand some of the questions, and to some of those, I may think I have at least a part of the solution.
But this is about my elevator speech for Wandering West. When the young woman from Lulu Publishing, in her sweet voice, asked me to explain what Wandering West is about–and to do it in thirty seconds–well, I stuttered and stammered my half minute into–finally–an admission that I wasn’t quite sure how to do that. I mean, heck, it took me 100,000 words–300+ pages–to tell the story, riveting yet poignant as it surely is. As I’ve explained in previous posts, I don’t enjoy being put on the spot about my writing, nor about much of anything else, for that matter. Who does? Moreover, my writing starts from a mood, a feeling if you will. I have to get my sea legs under me, my narrative voice at just the right pitch. From there, the characters are developed, and the storyline takes off like a Virgin Galactic flight into outer space. Hopefully, the flights will take off like my story does, for the passengers’ sakes.
So, what is my elevator speech, now that I’ve spat it out for the upteenth time? As they say, practice makes perfect, or in my case, almost functional. Close your eyes and pretend–no, don’t close your eyes. You can’t read the rest of this text if you do that. Pretend we’re in an elevator, soothing elevator music (naturally) playing softly from the speakers overhead. You have just asked–with great interest, mind you–what Wandering West is about.
And I clear my raspy throat to say: Wandering West is a contemporary, literary novel set in South Texas, in the rugged, desolate, rather inhospitable terrain, not far from the Mexican border. It’s about an older fellow, by the name of Jack Stiler, who has lost his beloved wife to cancer and his Wall Street career to a humiliating scandal. Jack returns home in a desperate attempt to save the family ranch from financial ruin–from the invasion of smugglers of people, guns, and drugs–in the midst of a drought of historic porportions–and, while battling to hold on to those he loves, he struggles also to save himself from the demons that torment him.
My elevator speech doesn’t really do justice to Wandering West, I don’t think. You’ll just have to click onto the book section of my website and order the book itself. I think you’ll be enthralled if you give it a good read. I tend to write better than I give speeches, in an elevator or otherwise.