one way my anxiety presents, in as far as writing is concerned, is finding ways to write which don’t really move the novel along. If I find myself working on acknolwedgements, I’m in trouble. Author’s notes, ditto. This particular novel, though, has presented a entirely new and exciting method for writing while not-writing, and that is this: I find myself creating documentation for my fictional world of Ogilvie, Georgia. The initial thought was that I’d have a small narrative at the beginning of each chapter, anecdotes minor characters relate about their memories of one of the central characters, a Flannery O’Connor-Eudora Welty-Zora Neale Hurston kinda old woman literary lion. I was working on that when the wonders of writer’s anxiety kicked in and I thought, hey. What would the AAA guide say about Ogilvie? And as there is a private Ogilvie College (fictional) in the fictional Ogilvie Georgia, what would the college guides say about it? Which meant that I had to go read AAA guides and college guides, of course. In the spirit of getting it right. But of course I couldn’t cite those kinds of publications, so I had to make up new ones. Of course.
Remember when I said that writing a contemporary novel would free me of the long research hours that go into all the Wilderness novels? Ha.
I have been researching the history of the Catholic church in the south, southern food and habits, the way a documentary film is put together, the difference between shooting on film or digital video, what goes on in the editing suite, the flora and fauna of the Georgia coast south of Savannah, the history of railroads especially in that area, and Jim Crow laws. Because, really, I need to know these things. Really.
There is an upside to all this. While I’m obsessing about details, my subconscious is still working. Today while I was looking at old AAA guides my subconscious served up a question. Why is it Angie cares so little about clothes? Where does this come from? Why is it important? Does she have to be careless or unconcerned about her clothes? In a scene I wrote yesterday she was wearing a bra with two safety pins holding up the straps and lime green boxers decorated with poodles, a gift from one of her co-workers. I said to her, why draw attention to yourself this way? What about plain old white underwear? To which she said, nope. It’s the poodles, or nothing. As I didn’t want her naked in this scene, I left the poodles. This is a fairly unusual characteristic for a female primary character in a novel that has a love story at its center: the woman doesn’t care about clothes. She doesn’t care about them so much that she wears the same t-shirts and shirts for years as long as they are clean and mended. Her idea of getting dressed up is a simple black dress she has had since she went to grad school. She can’t be bothered to go shopping. What money other women spend on clothes she puts aside for new camera equipment or sometimes to buy a piece of original art, all of which is rich in color and abstract, or black and white photography.
John, on the other hand, is meticulous and has excellent and classic taste; he’s never taken in by a fad, and there’s nothing pretentious about the way he dresses. He’s not particularly bothered by the fact that Angie doesn’t pay a lot of attention to clothes. He likes the smell of her skin and the fact that she doesn’t own a bottle of perfume.
These are things I know for sure, but the why, that hasn’t presented itself yet. I have this sense Angie’s mother will tell me more. I’ll have to get the two of them on the phone and listen in.
I know this problem well. There is room in my apartment where I keep most of my writing stuff, and on the wall in that room is a leather hardware bag packed to overflowing with maps of every single place I have ever set a story or considered setting a story. The walls are lined with books about obscure antinomian sects from the 16th century and encyclopedias of popes, guns, angels, mythical places, economics, and a thousand other subjects I’d rather not know everything about but often need to know something about. And while it gives me something to do while my subconscious percolates, it does sometimes seem like an awful lot of time and money spent on stuff I don’t really need.
Well, yes. But think of it this way: you’re enabling those authors of esoteric subjects to continue doing their work. As a former author of esoteric subjects, I can only applaud this habit of yours, neatly excusing my own similar habit at the same time.