The start of this novel has been changed more than my socks. I’ve started with sex, fights, nostalgic reflections on lilac bushes. Over the years it took to write this novel–and it took many (I’ll get to that some other day), I kept tinkering to find a hook I liked and figure out just what I was going for.
This past year I taught To Kill a Mockingbird, A Separate Peace and Chronicle of a Death Foretold, all fine books for a ninth-grade honors English class. And I realized that all of them started with a narrator looking back at an important place in their lives and searching for a little clarity. There’s no older wiser narrator in my tale, but I think the novel still maintains an ironic, humorous and often confessional feel to it.
So why did it take so long to finish this novel? Well, to me the reason is simple. I’ve been working on this novel for a long time, but I didn’t really start it until about three years ago. Huh? Rather than writing three or four novels to figure out how to do it, I just kept rewriting the same one until it became what I wanted it to be: a vague but perfect copy of the original work I’d imaged. And a chronicle of my more recent life–metaphorically of course–as a teacher and a husband.
For example, for a long time I didn’t have a clear antagonist in the novel. But teaching allows you to see people and their best and worst. You get to see stellar examples of humility and dedication. And, unfortunately, you also get to see stellar examples of vanity as well. My profession attracts all kinds: lovers and haters, introverts and show offs, team players and minor megalomaniacs. So why not put them all to use and have a little fun? After all, I bet all of us know a Goldie Remlap and a Don DeWillum. (I’ve worked with many during my career.)
Thus, the start of this novel helps me laugh at my first, strange years as a teacher, for it was a time when I was shocked by colleagues, inspired by students and often my own worst enemy.