Last week, I completed draft five of my newest novel, The Answer to Everything.
The novel is most likely the final book of my Tom Hickey crime series, and in many ways it’s a departure from the other nine books. One of those ways is, I have attempted to pay more attention to inspiration and less to current expectations of what a crime novel should limit itself to.
A couple passages from my Writing and the Spirit reflect a quandary with which I needed to wrestle and with which other novelists may find themselves presented:
“Flannery O’Connor, in her collection of essays Mystery and Manners, explains, ‘If the writer’s attention is on producing a work of art, he is going to take great pains to control every excess, everything that does not contribute to this central meaning and design.’
“On the other side of the quandary lies Fredrick Buechner’s contention that The Brothers Karamazov, which he considered the greatest novel ever written, ‘… just because Dostoyevsky leaves room in it for whatever comes up to enter, is entered here and there by maybe nothing less than the Holy Spirit.’”
I call my quandary “Craft vs. Inspiration”, and here is my proposed solution, again from Writing and the Spirit:
“Before we attempt anything a tenth as ambitious as The Brothers Karamazov, we need to recall that Dostoyevski had already mastered the art of dramatic writing.
“Gene Riehl retired from the FBI in order to write novels. He found a writers’ group, read dozens of books on structure and other elements of fiction, mystery, and suspense. After ten years of hard work, his first novel came out. His second book followed. But then, for a year, he didn’t write anything, and he saw no point in writing what he called ‘just another story.’
“One evening, I mentioned to Gene my admiration of Dostoyevski’s skill at setting up dramatic situations in which he could have his characters debate the issues he found most important. Gene sat up taller. ‘Do you think I could get away with doing that?’
“’Try it,’ I said, only hoping his mastery of dramatic writing was sufficient.
“My point is, unless you’re a master storyteller, don’t venture far from the spine of your story.”
Though I would never compare myself with Dostoyevski, I have written eighteen novels and probably am as close to mastering the storyteller’s art as I ever will get.
So while writing and revising The Answer to Everything I cut loose and attempted to fit whatever I felt might come from the muse or spirit, rather than from my limited intellect, into a fairly sprawling and, I hope, fascinating, and perhaps even enlightening story.
I’ll let you know as soon as it’s available, and suggest you decide to what degree I have succeeded or failed.
Thanks for reading, Ken