Beginning Again

I am just now, on the heels of the election, beginning to write a new novel. As often happens, several obsessions I’ve been nursing for a while, have suddenly come together as a narrative, as if they were charged magnets, needing to connect.

It’s an exciting moment, this coalescing. It’s an adventure which is likely to last at least two years before I have a finished manuscript, and it’s accompanied by grandiose (and certainly foolish) visions of the completed work, alongside the daunting knowledge of what it will take to arrive there. But discovering new characters and charting a path through the brambles of plot is my favorite way of spending time.

So far, I have only sketched some notes, but soon I will be committing sentences to paper — with my favorite black, ultra-fine-tipped pen on a pad of white lined paper — followed by typing what I’ve written and assigning it a working chapter title so I can locate it later. Every chapter becomes a different file so I can move things around easily as I go through the inevitable, multiple drafts. Eight drafts? Ten? It remains to be seen. I will also have to devise a working title for the novel, also for the purposes of organization until the “true” title occurs to me.

A certain amount of research will have to be done. I never begin a novel with research, preferring to think first about the characters, their troubles, their needs, their desires which lie for me at the heart of a novel. Research done too early can easily derail me. But research always looms as something that will eventually have to be done. This is not a historical novel, but I will need to learn some things about New England at the turn of the century (19th to 20th). I will need to learn about the science behind speech and its various pathologies. I may need to learn something about war correspondents. And I will have to immerse myself in memories of what it was like to be a thirteen-year-old girl. Enough said: That is already much more than I usually reveal, even to my partner, at the nascent stage of a novel!

As the days darken and become colder and the nation reflects upon its multiple wounds, it’s energizing and comforting to have a new project in which to immerse myself. The beginnings and endings of our lives are rarely neatly coordinated, but sometimes there can be a curious synchronicity. This, for me, is one of those times: It doesn’t seem coincidental that my new ideas are coinciding with the advent of a new administration in the White House.

What immense gratitude I feel for my life as a writer, for the people in my youth who showed me this was a viable option. I believe my job as a novelist is to reflect on what it means to be human. What better way could there be to live in the world?



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Cai Emmons

Cai Emmons is the author of 5 books of fiction, most recently the novel, SINKING ISLANDS. Two more of her novels will be published in 2022.