This week I’ve got something new and exciting to share with you.
When John Steinbeck wrote East of Eden, he did so by hand, in a notebook. On the left page, he began each day by writing a letter to Pascal Covici, his editor; on the right, he drafted the novel. Those letters became a sort of journal of his process, a record he kept while creating a masterful novel. (You can read this journal, too; this book collects all of Steinbeck’s thoughts as he worked on Eden.) I don’t anticipate I’ll ever write a novel like Steinbeck’s.
“The Dark Age” was the story of an astronaut who, on the day his daughter is born, leaves Earth on an extraordinary, lifelong mission. Not long after his ship launches, his crew will enter a hibernation period expected to last a century, and possibly much longer. When the astronaut awakens at the other end of this journey, he’ll have missed his daughter’s entire life.
It’s a sad ride of a story, let me tell you. Do you know I’ve never read this one aloud to an audience, though I had a few opportunities to? I can still hardly read it without it getting under my skin. I know I’d struggle to read it aloud to an audience. That’s either the mark of a terrible public speaker, or…a not-half-bad writer? If nothing else, it confirms that this story comes from a very deep, personal place.
“The Dark Age” has been a short story for seven years, but I’m presently turning it into a novel. One that gives ‘Astronaut’ a name, finally, but one that also examines the other stories tied to his: His wife, who was supposed to pilot the ship he just flew away on, and who was scrubbed from the mission when she discovered she was pregnant; and his daughter, who will grow up never knowing her father, wrestling with the guilt she feels for grounding her mother. There’s a lot more here.
I’d like to invite you on a little journey, to follow along as I write this book.
I’m introducing pay-what-you-want subscriptions to this newsletter, so that you can choose for yourself what this side trip is worth to you.
Do you have to pay? Of course you don’t. If you do nothing at all, you’ll remain subscribed to this newsletter, and you’ll continue to receive each free edition I write.
But if you choose to become a paid subscriber, you’ll get both the free updates as well as The Dark Age letters. As I mentioned before, you can pay whatever you think is fair, and you’ll have access to everything I write here.
Just like the characters in this novel, I’ll be recording the process as I go. You’ll be reading over my shoulder—sometimes peeking at the work-in-progress, often reading the journal I’m keeping about the work. Strange or interesting things I discover about the book, or myself, along the way. Washed-out roads I encounter, unexpected left turns. Ways that my writing process and habits change, as they always do with a new project. Disappointments and victories, setbacks and leaps forward. No grand thinkpieces or step-by-step guides here; you’ll get to share all the pain and pleasure of this process with me. You’ll be stowaways on this ship I’m building as I go.
Here’s an example of the sort of over-the-shoulder view you can expect. I wrote this journal entry last March, as the pandemic was really ramping up:
Thursday, March 26, 2020
Here we are, mid-pandemic. This morning, here in isolation, I received an email from my editor at Roaring Brook. I felt a pang when I saw her name in my inbox. I just knew she’d had her fill of waiting for my contracted second novel, and was:
- pulling the plug
- voicing her disappointment
- making sure I was still alive
- setting an unbreakable deadline
Instead, Connie was writing to share the latest draft of the Spanish-language cover for Awake in the World. And, as it happened, to compliment our efforts to make school as easy as possible for Squish, the travails of which I’ve been documenting on Instagram.
I offered Connie my thoughts about the cover, which is lovely, and, perhaps feeling guilty for needing so much time to complete the long-overdue second novel, shared a little update: I’d just written ‘THE END’, but before it would be ready for her, I needed to work through a stack of notes I’d piled up in the margins, hoping to fix all the things that get broken as I write.
And today was a productive day, in fact. I made some thirty pages’ worth of edits on that book. Given the state of the world—on fire—that felt like monumental progress, a grand achievement. (I’m often proud of myself just for putting on pants or getting out of bed these days.)
While that YA book has been a constant challenge, however, I have been distracting myself with thoughts of The Dark Age. It’s the next project, I’m almost certain, and if I can only put this current project to bed, I can begin working on it. It seems weirdly relevant right now: An example of extreme social distancing, a companion to the sense of dislocation everyone’s feeling at the moment.
This novel scares the hell out of me. The short story came out in a rush, almost effortlessly, over a few hours one spring afternoon. I started writing it in a library, where I’d been working on some freelance book cover projects, but finished it writing in the passenger seat of my Jeep. I thought libraries were supposed to be sacred, silent places. That one, on that day, was not.
The novel can’t simply expand the astronaut’s story. The astronaut is emotionally devastated by having to leave his baby girl, his wife; to stay in his head for the entire story would maybe kill me. No, I think I have to examine the other major characters in this story. While the short story remained in the astronaut’s present, I think the novel will be moving through past, present, and future for the lead characters, so all three are in constant communication with one another. (By which I definitely do not mean time travel. No time travel in this one.)
As I write this, I’ve spent the day trying to ignore the news. For a week or more now, my family has been in isolation at Hill House. (It’s already hard to keep track of time.) News from outside is all alarming, all the time. Today, at least, I’ve tried to hide from it, so that I could get some work done, and write this letter.
If that’s interesting to you, then I hope you’ll come along with me. I’ll be testing out an alternating schedule: A free-for-all letter one week, a Dark Age/pay-what-you-want letter the next, and so on.
If you’re currently a subscriber and want to receive the “Dark Age” letters, here’s what you’ll need to do:
If you currently subscribe, but the pay-what-you-want subscription doesn’t interest you:
If the progress (and process) of this novel project doesn’t sound like your speed, that’s okay! You don’t have to do anything at all. You’ll continue receiving my regular letters, just like always. I’m glad you’re here.
This should be fun, and filled with some interesting discoveries. I’m really looking forward to sharing them with you. You can expect the first “Dark Age” letter next week!
✏️ Until next week,