Doing some editing on the book this morning. Today I will send in a draft that will be printed as galleys, paperbacks essentially that will be sent to the press for review and to key book buyers. The book still has rough spots, but I will clean most of them up today, then spend the next week or two really polishing it into the form we can actually publish. So I’ll be sharing some excerpts with you here and there as I come across something I find interesting. By the way, this is most likely the book cover we will use. It may change a bit, but it won’t change much. I’ll create another post next week explaining why it looks the way it looks. It’s pretty fascinating, actually. For now, here is the beginning of a chapter:
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Thing About a Crossing
It’s like this when you live a story. The first part happens fast. You throw yourself into the narrative and you’re caught in the water, the shore is pushing back behind you and the trees are getting smaller. The other shore is inches away and you can feel the resolution coming, the feeling of getting out of you’re boat and walking the distant shore, looking back to see where you came from. The first part of a story happens fast, and you think the thing is going to be over soon. But it isn’t going to be over soon. The reward you get from a story is always less than you thought it would be, and the work is harder than you imagined. It’s as though the thing is teaching you the story is not about the ending but about the story itself, about your character getting molded in the hard work of the middle. The shore behind you stops getting smaller, and you paddle and wonder why the same strokes used to move you but they don’t anymore. -You got the wife but you don’t know if you like her anymore and you’ve only been married five years. You want to wake up and walk into the living room in your underwear and watch football and let your daughters play with the dog because the paddling doesn’t move the boat anymore and the far shore doesn’t get closer no matter how hard you work. The shore you left is just as far and there is no going back, there is only the decision to paddle in place or stop, slide out of the hatch and sink into the sea. Maybe there is another story at the bottom of the sea? Maybe you don’t have to be in this story anymore? Maybe you can quit and not have to paddle in place anymore?
It’s been like this with all my crossings. I have a couple boats and take them to Orcas Island and make the crossing from Orcas to Sucia, and it’s always the same about leaving the shore so fast and getting to the middle and paddling in place for hours.
I knew it would be like that when we crossed the country on bikes, too. I sent in my paperwork and did my miles in the mountains here in Oregon and showed up in Los Angels, knowing we would start fast, that the Pacific would fade behind us and we’d be in Phoenix by sunset and then we’d spend all the life of Moses crossing Texas and the Delta and it happened just like I thought it would. We grew into the roads and the roads are where we lived. We slept in rock quaries and on the doorsteps of churches. I slept on the floor of a convenience store just off the caprock in Texas. I put my head by the beer to get some cold air and it didn’t matter to me that I had a condo back home or a bed, because you become the character in the story you are living and whatever you were is gone. None of us thought it would end. We never felt close to the shore. Even in Virginia, we felt as far as Louisiana.
When we left Bob’s dock at midnight I didn’t want to paddle through the night or across the wide inlet. We had to go for hours into the pitch black and the inlet was so large and the dark was so dark for hours we couldn’t make out either shore. We had to guide ourselves by stars, each boat gliding close to another, just the sound of our oars coming in and out of the water to keep us close.
I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought and they can’t see the distant shore anymore and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their wife, on their husband, they go looking for an easier story.
Robert McKee put his coffee cup down and leaned onto the podium. He put his hand on his forehead and wiped his grey hair back. He said you have to go there, you know. You have to take your character to the place where they just can’t take it anymore. He looked at us with a tenderness we hadn’t seen in him before. You’ve been there, haven’t you? You’ve been out on the ledge. The marriage is over now, the dream is over now, nothing good can come from this. He got louder. Writing a story isn’t about making your peaceful fantasies come true. The whole point of the story is the character arc. You didn’t think joy could change a person, did you? Joy is what you feel when the conflict is over. But it’s conflict that changes a person. He was shouting now. You put your characters through hell. You put them through hell. That’s the only way we change.