A few weeks ago I started reading a book, The Queens Gambit by Walter Tevis, who also wrote The Hustler and The Man Who Fell to Earth. I watched the series on Netflix several times and am deeply impressed by the narrative and characters. It follows the book nearly to a point, and the dialogue is almost all Tevis. I was very happy about that since I truly enjoyed the series.
One reason it worked so well is that they didn’t try and fit the book into a two-hour film, which might have forced them to make composite characters, drop scenes, and so on. The nearly seven hours of film is just about right for the book. It made me want to read the others. I will.
Last night after finishing the edits on the Siberia files my publisher sent and then organizing the gallery of my son’s pictures which will be in the middle of the book, I started writing the next one—the next book.
Okay, first of all, there is no such thing as “the next one” before publication. As far as I know, most writers have several projects going at once—even formula writers like Patterson. And right now on the shelves behind my desk are several hundred African pages, several hundred college-experience pages, two rough drafts of plays, a thumb drive with a dozen or so unfinished essays, and a stack of hand-written letters I promised myself I would finish before my birthday in three weeks, to send to friends and communicate the old fashioned way.
But in the midst of all this and inspired by having The Iron Scar moved from my computer to my lovely publisher Kim’s computer in Texas and enthralled by the deeply accessible writing of Tevis—so simple yet captivating without being predictable—I started a new project which has been simmering in my mind for months. Longer. Details come when I’m walking on the property or along the river. They are especially strong when I’m standing in line at 711, or when I’m sitting on the patio watching osprey above. I’ve been more focused lately as a result. An occupied mind has that effect.
It’s about…well, no, I’m not going to do that. Instead, I’m going to say there is one thing in particular I relate to in The Queen’s Gambit. She feels awkward in many situations, gets depressed, has high anxiety which kicks in at the most inopportune times, and has trouble making a go of it. Except when she plays chess or reads about chess; then she eases back, the knots in her stomach untie, and she can focus, her mood improves, her sense of hope returns. That’s how I get when I’m either out for a hike or working on a good project, one I am happy with anyway.
So today I wrote about six pages, which is a lot, and went for a walk to the river. It was the first walk in a while that I felt present, felt okay. I still have some serious issues to deal with, and I’m getting ready to teach an online course at the college, and I have so much yard work to do it is in itself depressing, but today, for a while when I walked at the river and a bay breeze came up over the marsh and filled my senses, I felt possible again. We spend too much time trying to fit how others define us, figure out what we “should” be doing, when the truth is we can find our greatest internal motivation when we follow the path that we know deep inside defines us. It is healthy to spend some time there, milling about.
I wonder how many people know what it is they turn to when the vice tightens, whether it be creditors or bad relationships or unemployment or terrible bosses, or simply some disturbance in the psyche. I wonder how many people can recognize what it is that might, quite literally, save them. When I worked in Massachusetts, my boss, Richard, would plead with people not to let the bad things in their lives push them toward something worse. He’d tell people that just because the relationship is unhealthy and depression has set in deep and made it hard to get out of bed, don’t throw fuel on that fire by eating junk food just to feel good as fast as possible and to falsely satisfy yourself! Don’t sit around because you are mentally exhausted, he would say. Instead, find the one thing that is healthy for you—a walk, a conversation with a friend, a book, whatever—and focus on that, focus on what makes you stronger and what you think defines you, not what others use to define you.
I was good at doing that thirty-seven years ago. Not so much now. But today worked. Six pages, bucko! And what’s better is I know where the narrative is going next, so picking it up tomorrow (or tonight about three am when I wake like I always do), I’ll be able to dive right in.
The walls closing in didn’t stop, and sometimes, periodically throughout the day, I feel claustrophobic from the impending issues, but knowing what gives me my strength, finding that superpower and spending time there, makes the rest of it at least a little easier to handle.
Six pages! And counting!
Oh, and get this—it’s fiction.
I’m not lying.