Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hild: risk and reward

From: Anonymous
Actually, this has nothing to do with chive flowers or diet. I am curious how you had the guts/courage/ intestinal fortitude or whatever to basically spend years working on a book like Hild on spec, rather than having a pre-existing contract. That is against the modern grain. I imagine you could say you felt that confident about it and your skill, but could theoretically have had the much confidence back when you started it as well. It seems gutsy, which says a lot about you probably.
It didn't feel gutsy, just necessary.

Hild is the kind of novel that comes along once in a lifetime. It would have killed me to fuck it up.

To give myself a better chance of succeeding, I wanted to encyst the experience to the greatest possible degree, keep it private. I didn't want to have to justify some of my story choices (which, in places, are extreme) before I wrote them; it's much better to be able to show why they're the right choices than to explain laboriously. More importantly, I didn't want to make those choices--which one must in order to sketch out a plot, which in turn one needs to write an outline--until I was there with Hild, living and breathing and understanding every implication of the moment. And I couldn't do that until I'd written everything that goes before that moment--and all the other moments.

My best writing always comes from the process of discovery, the adventure through the unknown, the pure experience. It's my vice as a writer: I'm in love with Finding Out. I do need to know the final scene before I sit down, but then begin and simply head towards then ending and see what happens--and why and how.

Usually, I write the first fifteen or twenty thousand words, stop, read, and reach an understanding of how the novel will develop. Then I write the outline, bank the cheque, and settle in to write.

Hild is different. I knew I would have to invent so many things: the history, the relationships, the narrative techniques. I knew the actual work would be ten times better than any description of it could possibly be. No advance I'd be likely to get would match the final product. So I talked to Kelley, we counted our money, set up Sterling Editing, and said: Fuck it.

Financially, then, yes, it was a risk. Artistically, not so much.

That is, artistically the whole thing was such an enormous gamble that I couldn't even think about it in those terms; I just had to trust my expertise--and trust my hunger, my raw need to recreate this world and populate it with these people.

I can tell half a hundred stories about what, exactly, I was hoping for. They'd all be true. They'd also be less than true. For example, I've said often that before I began I wondered if this book was even possible. On the deepest level, that's rubbish. Deep down, I had no doubt before I even typed the open sentence that that I could create something extraordinary (part of my writing stance is psychotic self-belief). What I wondered was how I was going to do it. I had no clue.

This is not a think-your-way-through-it kind of problem. It requires faith--or madness, or bravado, or all of the above. So on the day I began, I laughed, thought, again, Fuck it! (and Watch this!) and leapt into the void. And the words I needed purled forth: flowing, vinous sentences that spanned with ease that gap between knowing and doing and pulled me to Hild and Hild to me: Hild and her time, her place, her people.

But with every novel I've written, between the first paragraph of the first draft and the final scene of the final rewrite, I have at least two crises of confidence. With Hild I've had several. Each time I simply fell back on my psychotic self-belief, my will: You're a writer. Just do it. And so I did.

As I've said before--as so many people have said, including Toni Morrison--If there's a book you want to read that doesn't exist, write it.

On some level it's that simple.