Last night Mighty Reader and I met for drinks and dinner before going off to see "How to Steal A Million," which is a 1966 William Wilder comedy starring Audrey Hepburn and Peter O'Toole. It was the final night of an Audrey Hepburn film festival and the movie's quite fine and I don't know why it's not better known. But that's all just setting, isn't it?
Last night Mighty Reader and I were talking about writing, which is hardly a surprise because I have very few topics of conversation aside from What I'm Writing Now and Mighty Reader is very patient with me. A few days ago I finished the rough draft of my philosophical detective story and while I let it sit ignored for a while before I work on revisions, I am already toying with another book. As we discussed this new writing project, I became increasingly defensive. Being the overly twitchy sort that I am, I blamed my defensiveness on Mighty Reader, accusing her of actively disapproving my idea. Later I realized that what had actually happened was that this new novel makes me extremely uncomfortable and, really, embarrassed. Which is, I think, precisely why I need to write it.
That question (why I'm writing this particular novel at this particular time) is actually what put me on the defensive last night. The new novel has a singularly unappealing lead male character and the lead female character isn't particularly charming either and the book is not anything like a tale of redemption or growth, at least as far as I can tell. My description of it, Mighty Reader tells me, did not make her want to read the book so why do I want to write it?
One thing I have learned over the years is that the more uncomfortable a writing project makes me, the more I must be on to something. Also, there are some big technical and artistic challenges presented by this new project, and the other thing I've learned over the years is that each book I write must have a higher degree of difficulty than the last or I'm just not challenged enough by the project to approach it with enthusiasm. I have a growing list of projects I've abandoned because they no longer look like they'll be hard to write. Something about that seems backwards, but that's the way I roll, as the kids say.
So I have set myself what seems to be an impossible challenge (for me at least): writing about uncomfortable and embarrassing subjects that I shy away from through the stories of people I don't necessarily like and producing a beautiful narrative that people will love to read. Well, it will give me something to do, won't it?
In the mean time, tonight it's "Porgy and Bess" from the Seattle Opera. We've never been to an opera before. I'm wearing fancy cuff links and expensive shiny black shoes.