I didn’t mean for this to happen, but isn’t that how serendipity works?
The this to which I’m referring is the process of working on two utterly different novels simultaneously. I’ve always admired authors who claim to be working on two, three, even four novels at any given time. I feel fortunate if I can keep track of a single chapter in one WIP, let alone a half-dozen.
But there it is.
My particular take on the Multiple WIP Experience is to a) dive into WIP # 2 when I’d gotten so deep into WIP # 1, and b) to write both novels in, if not in diametric opposition, certainly in vastly different modes.
WIP # 1 is a noir exploration of urban renewal, the private prison industry, and 1960s social rebellion, particularly in the shape of a group that’s not-exactly-but-really-similar-to the Weather Underground. It takes place in a fictionalized version of Worcester, Mass. that I’ve decided to call Metacomet, in honor of the namesake of King Phillip’s War, which was fought in these parts.
This book is right in my wheelhouse, the exact type of novel I love to read and write.
WIP # 2 is a different animal. It’s historical fiction, which I’ve never written before, and it’s based loosely on the real-life exploits of one of my personal heroes, Jonathan Daniels, an Episcopal minister from New Hampshire, gunned down in “Bloody Lowndes County” Alabama in 1965 trying to protect a fellow Civil Rights activist. Daniels is a fascinating, complicated guy for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is that Stokely Carmichael himself attended Daniels’ funeral.
I’m writing this one slowly. I have a self-imposed cap of 500 words a day. My goal is to see if I have any ability to write a traditional work of “literary fiction.” (No eye-rolling, please. This is my Everest dammit…) Daniels himself was devoted to English literature and philosophy, a man of intense engagement with the deep questions of, and apologies to Douglas Adams here, life, the universe, and everything.
Toggling between the two mindsets it takes to work in two distinctly different modes of thought and writing is proving much more difficult than I’d anticipated, but also more energizing and, dare I say it, fun than I’d expected.
It’s proof to me that I can love different modes of writing the same way I love all kinds of reading. I don’t know why this hadn’t occurred to me before. My TBR pile is filled with noir, working class fiction, and some heavy-hitting literary fiction. The world is too big to limit yourself to one mode, even your favorite.
Time for me to go now. I’ve got 500 words to get to.
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