An ennui overcomes a writer between the writing of books: bad dreams, purposelessness, a sense of time running out, a lack of accomplishment, anger towards the muse who has deserted him, a chafing at the bit to get back into it. There is also another dilemma that one has to face today: what is the most digestible form for the reader? I am in this state today.
I recently wrote on the shrinking attention spans; when extending this to the novel, the frightening question popped up: who has the time to read an entire novel these days? And even if the reader is able to scrounge up scraps of time from here and there, the first inclination is to use this scarce resource to read the current bestseller or cocktail circuit book so that one stays current in this speeded-up world. Reading a novel by a relative unknown? That would be a waste of time, unless one is personally known to the writer and could run into him at the supermarket, where his first question wouldn’t be about the weather but, “Have you read my book, yet?”
Therefore, there are times when I think I am mad to be releasing yet another novel, Milltown, next year, one I wrote a few years ago and shelved because it may have gotten me run out of my small town at the time. Why? Because it was set in a small town, and the characters had eerie similarities to living people. Few believe that small towns grow “types” just like big cities do. And I was expanding on “types,” not on real people. But now I figure, since all the real people my characters could have possibly resembled in the novel are dead, and since no one is reading anymore, perhaps I can slip Milltown in and it will pass under the radar and everything would be fine. At least. that’s the plan.
As for writing another new novel, the one that will follow Milltown, that’s daunting, unless I plan to leave it along with the half a dozen unpublished others I have written over the years for my estate to dispose of. Perhaps my surviving family could create some mystique around me, a Stieg Larsson kind of story. Oh, I get it, how’s this for a plot: the small town mafia are after me for having exposed them in Milltown, and my life from there on is reduced to a Salinger-like, hermit status, or better yet, I end up a Howard Hughes-type character who had to test everything—food, water, air—before consuming, lest they contained lethal substances intended for my demise. What a rollicking good yarn! Perhaps, that is the plot for this next novel. My missing muse is giving me subtle hints, I take it. I’m not sure what the audience reaction would be, but I’ll be dead by the time it’s published, so I don’t care. But I’ll have a lot of fun writing it.
The above prospects notwithstanding, a new novel may get written, if but to ward off the present state of ennui. In the meantime, I content myself with writing these short articles and book reviews that readers seem to have the attention span to absorb. I also continue to post even shorter pieces on Facebook, and shorter-shorter pieces on Twitter. This looks like a writer’s race to the bottom, a sinking into the lower depths from whence there is no return, or a distilling of my literary capaciousness down to its essence. The short pieces allow me to roam across a broad canvas, taking pot shots at thorny issues, posing tough questions, but never providing answers. Even God doesn’t provide answers these days.
One thing I do know is that I will get down to writing that new novel only when the reservoir is filled enough. Books can never be forced out. Some writers’ reservoirs replenish quickly, others take longer. Others have no need for a refill, for all that needs to be said has already been said; why regurgitate universal truths with one’s name against them, unless a foolish ego demands it?