First off, I've been sending out a short weekly newsletter. It's a fun exercise that focuses on music, books and training. Click here to subscribe.
Onward. We're in our fourth week of cross country practice, which means our annual Mammoth Camp is right around the corner, which will be followed one week later by the first day of school. This will put an end to summer and its morning-only practices which allow me, among other things, to enjoy a complete afternoon without racing down to the school to oversee training. I've become quite a fan of this complete afternoon concept with its capacity for the long bike ride, the impromptu nap, and even the chance to enjoy happy hour with Callie. It will be dearly missed as the days grow shorter and autumn brings forth the racing season.
With that end to summer frivolity comes the start of a new book. I've actually already begun, though it's at such an early stage that the construction of just one sentence constitutes a full day's work. I go into new projects carefully, well aware that they will soon take over my thought process. I will think of nothing but the book, bore people with the latest research findings, and generally become so lost that the characters become real people. In that way, they will inform the fabric of life for years to come. I can't think of Australia without remembering the many journeys of Captain Cook, just as I can't think of the Congo River and not imagine what possessed Henry Morton Stanley to challenge the African continent — and this, from a man who was anything but brave. The list goes on, and only gets absurd when I allow it. Characters tend to become best friends, even the ones like Christopher Columbus who is currently in the historical doghouse. There is also a possessive nature to knowing a figure so well through research, because after a time you come to realize that few people — and perhaps no one at all — knows more about this individual than yourself. This sometimes has comical effects. During the research for Killing Jesus, where each and every day was consumed with divining the essence of Jesus' behavior and personality, I would actually get a little put off at church on Sunday. All those people talking about Jesus and singing about Jesus and praying to Jesus — how dare they presume to know My New Best Friend as well as I do.
Sometimes, as I have often said, I come to know a character so well that if they appeared at my office door I would be unfazed, knowing exactly what they wore, how they spoke, and even their strengths and weaknesses. In the case of Jesus, there's a school of thought that this appearance could actually happen.
Now, wouldn't that just freak me right out.
There is, in the act of writing history, a certain personal procrastination. One thing I admire about great fiction writers is their ability to know the human condition thanks to their many hours writing about it. History is different. By studying others it is possible to lose touch with yourself.
I just finished writing a new script. It started off as a lightweight piece about a high school cross country coach who looked and sounded just like me, then morphed into a deep take on fathers and sons, love and regret, and moving on from tragedy. Yikes. But in the process I felt like I was tapping into something I needed to experience in order to grow as a writer and a man. This is a far cry from getting to know an historical figure, and while perhaps necessary, more than a little uncomfortable.
The funny thing about writing scripts is that I don't really care if they get produced. I like the exercise, and the places the writing takes me, even if the final product remains forever on a hard drive. A singular voice comes forth, reminding me of Hemingway's admonition that a writer must always put the truest sentence possible on paper. All writing is a search for truth. Yet I believe Hemingway wasn't talking about mere words, but the state of mind necessary to maintain this prism of truth. It flows over into every day conversation, thoughts and behavior.
Look how far we've traveled. All this began as a paean to summer, of happy hours and afternoon naps. That's the sort of stuff that happens when the voice starts dictating what goes on the page. But the voice, like summer, has a habit of coming to an abrupt end.
I miss it when it goes away.