Do I keep revising the pages I have so far… or do I begin from scratch (again!) hoping to pin down the elusive “voice” of the main character?
The crossroads is the place where young blues musicians would meet Old Scratch and hammer out a deal for fame and fortune, or just the ability to play like it’s nobody’s business. The modern idea of “devil music” comes out of this myth, but it makes me wonder what the equivalent is for writers. Is there someplace one goes to trade, say, a blazingly brilliant first novel and the ability to crank out masterpieces in exchange for something, perhaps something a little more benign than a short life and a long memory?
Oh, not that I’m willing to take the shortcut, mind you. I’m just thinking aloud.
It’s odd, music has this whole thing I once learned as “the death and resurrection show.” It’s where a vibrant, talented, promising musician has one of these mystical hero journeys and comes out the other side an icon. Jimi and Elvis and Lennon and Kurdt are all cats who were one thing one day, went through the netherworld, came out the other side transformed. Look at Dylan. One self-made version of himself one day, totally different following the motorcycle accident. Sure, the Beatles were all dropping acid and whatnot, but come Sgt. Pepper Paul is still writing about a meter maid and wondering what he’ll be like in 2008 when he’s 60-something while John, he’s got Lucy in his skies and he’s doing benefit’s for a Mr. Kite and he’s not far from declaring himself a Walrus. Something happened to John, man, and he came out the other side of it different.
Artists are the same way, painting studies of nudes and doing formal portraits in blue and rose and then BAM! they’re cubists. Andy Warhol is doodling cats and working in advertising and WHOMP! it’s Marilyn and Mao in neon. It’s like there’s a dam in there, somewhere, and something comes along and busts the thing wide open and all of a sudden it’s a raging torrent coming out. Is it a battle between the id and the ego, between learning and unlearning? What’s the trigger, where’s the key?
And how does that happen with writers. Is there a moment where they’re writing sturdy, workman-like prose one day and then the come to something that turns them inside out and start writing like a demon possessed? Is it the nature of publishing that we don’t see the process because we only see the ‘after’ and never the ‘before’ picture of their work?
Or is it all myth, the legend of the transaction at the crossroads a way of telling a story that hides the hours of toil and sweat, that makes it seem so effortless in hindsight. No one wants to hear that its all hard work, they’d rather think some magician offered up an elixir in exchange for a little worldly soul.
I’m toiling, folks, I’m sweating this thing. It needs a voice and I haven’t found it. I keep thinking it’s right around the corner, just up the road a patch. If anyone has a map I’d be most obliged