The bad penny
Hello… someone spilled blood on the grave dust. You were warned!
Salutations from the other side and all that sort of thing. I would like to say being numbered among the undead was dull, but in point of fact it was a great deal too exciting, and on a couple of occasions came relatively close to frightening me to death, and possibly squashing me as flat as the wicked witch (this IS Oz, after all, and modern gender neutral terms there is no reason I can’t be the witch. Except for the beard. I suspect there would be irrational objections to a witch with a beard. Equal opportunity for chin hirsuit-ness (or hisuit-ness) I say!)
In all seriousness, with the 20:20 vision of hindsight, I might well have either abandoned the project altogether, or tried yet another option. I decided to try and move the house to our site up the hill ourselves, based on the local who had moved houses before saying well he’d quoted $42 000 for the last one, and lost money at it (ergo, this would be more expensive, substantially).
This is, I know, a typical novelist, or would be novelist’s decision. You know: take on something you know nothing about in the fond delusion that it can’t be that bad, or that far beyond you skills. In other words the basic requirement to be a novelist is the habit of underestimating the size of the project and overestimating your ability.
Now, I am not saying that novels need to balance on tottering ‘Jenga’ stacks of prop-blocks, while you try to reverse a shuddery, juddery old truck under them – having no experience with said 10 ton truck or the fine art of jacking a house 5 feet in the air, without it falling over. But they always require taking yourself where you have little or no experience (unless you’re re-writing classic sf with a suitable politically correct slant) unless you’re doing the same book, and the same characters over and over. It does get easier and better with repetition. Like most of my jobs I end up taking things apart and putting them together A LOT of times. Patience, learning from your mistakes, and sheer obstinacy are required… just like my attempts to write novels. It wasn’t only my experience with fantasy as fisheries biologist writing fisheries recommendations that suited me for this job.
In a way, what I tried to do was a trilogy. And like most trilogies it fell down in the middle. (I moved the first third – with all the drama of being a total amateur, a friend got a contractor with a lowbed, and I borrowed an extra excavator, and the contractor (an excavator driver, and another excavator driver) tried to move the middle – which… they broke the bearers to. I then took apart the rest salvaging the frames and trusses. The break came down, frankly, to them not taking the level of over-care and extra support someone less professional (like me) would have put in.
Which left me with the final part of the trilogy to do better. A long story but the attempt to jack it up on my own meant the house slipped sideways. It didn’t actually break (because I had reinforced it to the wazoo, and take precautions to make sure it couldn’t fall far) but it was indeed a good day to be wearing brown trousers. So I had to look at the intractable problem… and leave my pre-planned plot behind and try something else. Which, let me tell you, is what you have to do when books don’t work.
I thought –like the lady Great Dane and the amorous Pekinese – ‘if the Pekinese can’t manage stilts, I will dig a hole.’
I probably should have buried the Pekinese, but instead my attempt to dig a hole under the last third of the house met a rock.
Now there appeared to be nothing but sand under where the other 2/3 of the house had been, so some people might have looked at it and said ‘what bad luck.’ I said “I will dig the hole there and roll the house over it.” Which was another of those silly ideas like ‘write a novel’.
Only it worked.
In a manner of speaking.
Because 1) It rained (and the water table rose). 2) The hole was too deep. 3) even when the monkey had frantically dug the sand holding the house deeper to bring the two into contact… The springs on the truck still a further 6 inches to compress.
There’s more… of course. But it’s a long story, and in the end against the odds and against all probability… we got it up the hill where I am now busy repairing the middle third.
So: in summary, the biggest problem was not having a clue what I was getting into. It was also the biggest driver in the success of the whole project. Now I won’t say all novels are just like this, but my frank advice is start, get committed and then get a lot of clues. Yes, it may mean you waste a lot of time going wrong… but endless prep – and finding out the sheer enormity of the task kill far more novels than fools rushing in. Ask me. I am an expert at that.