Friday, May 02, 2003

Your Ass from a Hole in the Ground

One of the secret fun thrills of writing is not knowing what will happen next. I know, youíve all been taught to think of us writers as tortured poets who must extract every word like a tooth. Writing is hard, hard work and the serious author is a dedicated auteur battling his daemons in the realm of the written word, his only weapons a rusty typewriter and a bottle of scotch. For unpublished authors like me itís even harder work, as we have to fend off the rabid dog of doubt. For us, the lowliest squire to the knight of the published author, not knowing is a curse.

But actually, writing is a lot of fun. If it werenít, I wouldnít have spent three years writing the Tragic Circus. And not knowing what will happen next for an author can be a thrill, something along the lines of sitting in a darkened theater watching the incomparable Vincent Price in the Masque of the Red Death. What will happen to Hop Toad and the little ballerina? Will they escape the evil Satan worshipping Prince Prospero? I! Just! Donít! Know! Of course you have a pretty good idea but the fun part is seeing how it will happen.

Not knowing in writing is a similar thrill to watching a horror movie; the challenge to surprise even yourself by following a character around the corner and suddenly realizing that they are going to do something you hadnít planned on, something unexpected that works on so many subtle levels and ties a lot of previously loose story threads together in a completely unexpected way.

When I was still in the early stages of writing the Tragic Circus, I came up with the character of Father Jose Cabrera. He was born out of necessity; I simply needed a priest for Lilly to confess to about her deep dark urges. Father Jose gets all hot and bothered and I suddenly realized that the Father had a crush on his teenage parishioner. I then realized that Lilly relies on Father Jose as a surrogate mother and so she would have not only invited him to her Uncle Sorenís funeral but introduced him to Soren earlier. Suddenly, Jose is making an appearance earlier in the story, drinking wine and swapping stories about his missionary days with her Uncle. It only seemed natural then to have Father Jose be the priest who presides over Sorenís funeral. It occured to me then that it wasnít just a crush Father Jose had on Lilly, he was in love with her. He managed to keep this mostly under control but then later, when Lilly is discovered to be pregnant, of course the reader then gets the impression that maybe he is the babyís father. Thereís no awkward love seen between a teenaged Goth girl and a middle-aged priest I just hint that there could have been. You see, Lilly refuses to tell anyone who the father of her baby is. To my surprise, the eccentric widower, Lady Saturnine who rents the familyís third floor apartment defends Lillyís privacy in that matter. And Dr. Drakulosovitch, her OGBYN, keeps messing up the ultrasound. So we just donít know. This creates dramatic tension in a story that is otherwise concerned with more intellectual material, like Simon and Inezís search for the meaning of life. And when Father Jose shows up on Easter Sunday, drunk and declares his love for Lilly, well that seems to satisfy everyoneís curiosity over the name of the father of the special child. But not really. See I never actually tell you who the father is. You can assume itís the priest but maybe it wasnít, since I do show what happens on the night she becomes pregnant. And itís weird and strange and spooky. And you just donít know. And neither did I until it happened. I mean, yeah I had a basic plot outline and so I knew where I was going, I just didnít know how to get there.

And of course thatís the point. Uncertainty has become the driving force in our lives; we feel we have to push on and see what happens in the hope that it will answer some of those nagging questions about the meaning of life. The ride there, as scenic as possible is what writing and life is all about.


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