What is the worst possible thing that can happen upon finishing a book (i.e. a book you’re reading)? Disappointment.
The Mezzanine, by Nicholson Baker has been recommended to me several times over the years, so finally I read it. It’s about a lunch hour. It’s about the mundane thoughts and happenings of one corporate lunch hour. Reading it, you begin to understand why Stephen King (no great hero of mine) brushed another of Baker’s novels aside as a “meaningless little fingernail paring.”
I was worried from the beginning because of the footnotes (extensive, small type). I soldiered on. It took me weeks of putting it down after reading a page on the toilet or before falling asleep. (I was reading plenty of other, better stuff at the same time.)
And what’s the payoff? Nada. The final image is of a maintenance man polishing the rubber handrail of the escalator leading up to the mezzanine of the title.
I will say this: Baker’s ability to write, publish, and receive acclaim for these descriptions of the perfectly mundane is in itself astounding.
Without a writing project, I have more time to read. More and more, I do that reading online, reading blogs on publishing, reading book reviews, anything that will be helpful when the time comes to query lit agents.
But I’m also reading short stories. I dabbled in short fiction writing for months before deciding to write a novel. I realized just how difficult the short form is (in part thanks to an introductory essay to Best American Short Stories 1997 by Annie Proulx) and tried the long form instead.
I find now that I want to try short fiction again. I have a better sense of character creation/development now, which is the most important and most difficult thing to do in a few thousand words.
It seems simple: create a character and stick him/her into a compelling situation and see how he/she deals with it. And yet…
What does one do after he writes a novel.
After two years of thinking about writing a novel and a year and a half actually writing it, I find myself with 70,000 words saved on various types of computer memory. So, after waiting a couple days, feeling good–feeling really good–I reformatted the text (double-spaced, easier on the eyes of gracious readers) and printed it out on my laser printer. Here was my first surprise: the file was too large to fit all at once into the printer’s memory! Truly, this was a prodigious stack of writing.
After getting it printed (it’s called Lithium, by the way, hence the title of the blog), I then had the task of making copies. Not wanting to spend the money at Kinkos, I made them at the office, on a Sunday afternoon when no one else was around to see what I was doing. (Don’t worry, I bought my own paper.)
It took three hours to make four copies of the 220 page manuscript because the office copier is anything but a workhorse. How could I have explained the fried hunk of machine on Monday morning if I’d overestimated its tolerance for abuse?
And now my wife has a reading copy, and a friend has a reading copy. I haven’t decided who to give the other copies to yet. At some point I’ll have to read it through again myself, but I’m letting it breathe for a while first, make some new acquaintances.