Have you got a second?
A few days ago, I was texting my brother. My daughter was watching me and commented, only partially joking, that she was “horrified” at how slowly I texted.
Yesterday, I finished writing my novella, Ironjaws. Please don’t tell my daughter this, but I started it 34 years ago.
It was not a case of writer’s block, procrastination, lack of ideas or problems with execution that prevented me from completing Ironjaws. The same applied to the text I was sending to my brother from my living room. In the case of the text, I replied, without looking up from my index finger only texting, that “He won’t be able to tell how long it took me when he reads it.”
I remembered that throw away comment just this morning. I didn’t really think about it when I said it, only recall being mildly irritated. Out of the mouths of one fingered texters come great truths. Which begets the question, why this obsession with speed, quickness, instant gratification & convenience? I’d like to answer that for you, but don’t have the time right now.
But I do have time to tell you that I started Ironjaws on Maynard Drive in Columbus, Ohio in the summer of 1988 or thereabouts. I was living in a double, with a tiny third back bedroom upstairs. It was only called a bedroom by the landlord so he could charge more to rent the place. It could have held a bed and possibly a tiny nightstand but not much more. I bought a secondhand desk and chair and turned it into my workspace. During that summer, I opened the window which looked out on the alley and the parking spaces for the double. There, without AC, I hacked out Ironjaws on a typewriter. Onto paper. One finger at a time.
Have you got 34 years?
The one finger at a time bit isn’t true, but the rest of it is. Written into paper or onto a laptop, the intent with Ironjaws was to write it, not finish it. I know I say 34 years to write it. It is more accurate to say that I was in my twenties when I started it, and in my fifties when I finished it. The intent. That is what really matters. Good luck measuring that. A quick text and novella are two very different things of course. Made more different if one is measuring each by using the amount of time needed to complete them. But, for me, they were way more similar than different in one way: I fulfilled my intent on both.
When I started writing Ironjaws, I was just a little more than a decade removed from the ages of the five main characters in the novella. The five are a basketball team who are just about ready to enter the 8th grade. They are on a fishing trip together on the last weekend of summer. A couple hours into the evening on the lake a stranger tells them about a legendary catfish named Ironjaws, who lives in the farther away, deep end of the lake. The five decide to head out into the night and try to catch the giant fish.
But there is so much more to Ironjaws than that. I figure it took me about 48 hours to physically write it and rewrite it with lots of life happening in between versions. I couldn’t finish it mostly though, because it wasn’t done. The story was waiting on me, in other words.
Buried in Ironjaws is the fate and futures of those five young men. Are they fated to be like their working-class fathers? Not a bad thing at all. But in the novella, Ironjaws is a metaphor for their hopes and dreams. Any and all dreams are still there in middle school. Or are they? Is it just a fisherman’s tale?
How long does intent last?
Ironjaws always contained a sense of romantic loss and wistfulness, of what might have been. The boy’s futures were never going to be playing shortstop for the Reds, driving at the Indy 500, or becoming the Hugh Hefner of the secondary auto parts industry. Back in my twenties in Columbus, Ohio I only suspected that, but now I know that, thanks partially to Facebook. I do know what did happened to those five 8th graders. I know now what I thought I knew when I started Ironjaws. And I put that into Ironjaws, more fully this last revision. Thus, making it the story it had waited 34 years to become. The intention was finally fulfilled, thanks mostly to the time it took.
Oh yea, you may be wondering what the text to my brother was? – “Almost done with Ironjaws, already thinking of starting the sequel.”
Tags: fish stories, novellas, the writing mind, Writing novels