February 15, 2014
One of the more frequent questions that come up during writing workshops concerns writer's block. What can you do about it?
The term means different things to different people, but if we're talking about a breakdown of some sort while one is in the middle of a project, that it becomes increasingly hard to sit down and get to work, the message it sends me is that I'm on the wrong project. That I'm writing something I don't really care about. It's a signal to find something else. Or go get my tires rotated.
January tends to be the time of year in which I launch that year's major project. We just rolled past Valentine's Day, and I haven't yet written a word. But I'm happy to report that Gateway will get started as soon as I've finished this journal entry and had breakfast.
I've been back and forth since early December on what I wanted to do for 2014. I made some noise about taking a year off. But that's hard to do. I enjoy writing and it was obvious that hanging around the couch reading and sleeping was going to wear thin pretty quickly. So maybe I could do a novel that wouldn't require too much effort. Time Travelers Never Die was the easiest one to write. I loved having my characters wait outside the Globe on opening night for Hamlet to do what we'd probably all want to do, grab Shakespeare after the show to tell him how good it is. Or to show up at Harry Truman's haberdashery and buy a Stetson. Stop by Princeton and say hello to Al Einstein. Titles began lining up: Time Travelers Always Make the Curtain . Or Time Travelers Never Miss the Train.
But there's a problem with this type of narrative. If you have a device that allows you travel back and forth in time, it's almost impossible to create a problem that's not ridiculously easy to solve. Somebody commits a murder? Just go back and head it off.
I thought about another Alex & Chase novel. All I need for them is a decent mystery. If I can find one, and come up with a reasonable solution, the book virtually writes itself. Like maybe about a celebrated religious figure in the last century, beloved by everyone. He goes on vacation and--. Well, you can guess.
The holdup in the process was that there've been a substantial number of requests for a sequel to Ancient Shores, originally published in 1996. I'd been reluctant because it was hard to see a possibility for taking it anywhere that the TV series Stargate hadn't already visited.
Eventually I realized I needed to get outside the box. I could do the sequel, but take it in a completely different direction. And lightning struck. At least I think it did. I expect to spend most of the day today writing the prologue for Gateway. And I should express my appreciation to all who've encouraged the project over the years.
It's been a bad week for celebrities. We lost Shirley Temple Black and then Sid Caesar, two of my favorites while growing up. TV has extended our emotional reach to include people like these, whom we've never actually even met. We acquire an affection for movie stars and athletes and comedians and even politicians. (Think JFK.) When they die it can be like losing a family member.
We also lost Jim Fregosi. Anyone with a Philadelphia sports background remembers him as a popular Phillies manager back in the nineties, the guy who took them from nowhere to the World Series in '93.
Maybe the real advantage of the developing media technology will eventually be recognized as its capability for bringing larger numbers of us closer together.