I have noticed recently an unintended side effect from my commitment to write every day. It’s a little tough to explain, but I guess I could say that the boring stuff that I don’t want to write is turning out to not be so boring after all.
Allow me to elucidate. Right now in Cannibal Hearts our hero, James, is starting a project to renovate a riverboat casino. A lot–well, actually, most–of the characters in this project are non-human in some way or another. James’ maintenance staff is composed of Necroidim, a form of undead based loosely on the Cenobites of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser series.
Today I was in the middle of Chapter Ten, in which James and Exquisite, his Necroid foreman, are looking over the riverboat and assessing the damage. It’s the logical thing to happen next in the story, but not exactly edge of your seat exciting, you know?
So, I’m thinking, what do you do when you start a massive remodeling project? Having been involved with a few at work, I have some ideas, and one of the first things you do is set up an account with a commercial hardware supplier. So, okay, I’m putting down words and that’s a good thing, but, honestly, two guys meeting with a hardware rep?
But I’m writing the scene and it occurs to me that the rep is going to want to make small talk, because that’s what you do with a big account, and how is Ex going to field that? And it comes to me exactly how–
While we worked Ex and Dave chatted about the guys at work. Tim’s house had sprung a leak and he’d had to get the roof torn off and replaced, not to mention replace the couch that got ruined by water damage, and had argued with his wife for a week about what couch to get. Bill finally sold his boat, after admitting that he hadn’t taken it out on the water for years. Kevin, the new kid, had a girlfriend who texted him all the time at work and the other guys ribbed him about being henpecked. Steve—I had no idea who Steve could even be—coached his daughter’s little league team to a division championship.
Lies. All lies. Listening to Ex tell these stories of fictional houses and imaginary spouses I was torn between admiration and dismay. If I didn’t know the truth, if I didn’t know what kind of things I had working for me, I would have believed every word, just as it was obvious that Dave did, smiling and laughing at the appropriate moments, seeing the word picture that Ex painted so skillfully. Seeing with willing eyes this normal life that didn’t exist.
And it hits me, as I’m writing this, what Cannibal Hearts is really about. I mean, a novel is always about a lot of different things, and I don’t want to give the impression that I am writing a story with a moral–I hate polemic in fiction. As Sam Goldwyn is rumored to have said, “If you want to send a message, call Western Union.”
But in realizing that Ex has become so skillful at hiding his true nature from others that he lies without having to think about it I realized something about both my work and myself. There is a deep and abiding tragedy in having to lie about our closest relationships to the world, and a heartbreaking pathos in becoming good at telling that lie.
I don’t believe that I would have written that bit if I had waited until I’d figured out something “important” to write, and I think my novel would have been weaker for it.