How to write a novel that flies

I had positivism and the notion of eternal recurrence sussed when I was five or six years old.

Back in this boondocky town where I lived at the time, the streets were littered with horse turds from the one big white horse that pulled the garbageman’s wagon. Waste ground, of which there was plenty, tended to be covered with rubbish I guess the garbageman didn’t categorize as garbage. For example I remember patches of rhomboid glass fragments like dull gems from shattered automobile windscreens, ubiquitous wooden popsicle sticks you could weave into ‘flying saucers’, weathered boards and ravels of electrical wire and so on.

Then one afternoon it all came together in a plan. I gathered a couple of trusty collaborators and explained to them how, if only we started with one big, broad plank (the wings) nailed to another, longer and narrower plank (the fuselage), and then heaped bits of wood and metal and whatever came to hand, heaping it this way and that way, over and over again, in the course of time (I felt this in my gut) we would stumble across a configuration of components that would constitute a functional airplane, our very own flying machine, and I volunteered to test pilot that sucker.

Uninhibited by concepts of large numbers or infinity, we worked on that project for maybe 10 minutes before putting it on the back burner.

Then it was an airplane; now it’s a book. All these many years later something has occurred to me. Quite a few years ago I wrote what I reckon was the best novel I’ve ever written or, I fear, am ever likely to write. And so it is I’m currently worrying at a short novel that’s pretty well written, but which lacks the élan of that earlier one. But I can’t stop frigging about with it. Maybe I’m applying the same hypothesis I used with building an airplane when I was six.

I want to think I’m a writer. But my earliest ambition, as reported by my parents, now long deceased and no longer able to bear witness, was to be a garbageman. Why? Because that was the only guy in town who got to drive a big white horse everywhere. In retrospect, I still see the appeal of that life.


Drawings used with permission



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