Couldn’t be more appropriate, I thought, for I’ve spent my week going over galley proofs of my latest novel – pages and pages of type, of writing, of words: Copyright page, title page, dedication; table of contents, running heads, pagination; acknowledgements, notes on sources; chapter heads, introductory quotes…
…two hundred fifty-eight pages…
…seventy thousand, nine hundred fifty-seven words.
I used to think that writing a novel is an act of faith.
I mean, you start at what you think is the beginning, and you go until you reach the end.
You start with a town, say, a particular stretch of roadway, the river that runs near it. You start with a house that you own and love; you start with a deed that helps you go back to the people who first lived there nearly two hundred years ago – the people who built your house.
You learn their first names, their middle initials.
You find the years of their births and marriages, the names of their children, the years of their deaths; you go to probate court and read their wills, their legal papers; you hold documents they have held, you see their handwriting.
You read the public remnants of their lives.
You walk in their barns with the memories of their horses and cows, their sheep, their oxen and swine; you find the old foundations of their sheds and cribs, their chicken coops.
You smell their lilacs in spring, you watch their apple blossoms fall.
You stand on their front porch in moonlight.
At night you cook dinner in their kitchen and read the newspaper in their front room; you climb their stairs to their bedrooms and dream of broad fields and woodlots, orchards and old stone walls.
After a while, you realize you have a sense of them, and that they are still here. You are living in their house; you begin to understand that you owe them something for this gift they have given you.
And that’s when you realize that you were wrong – that writing a novel is not an act of faith; it is, rather, an act of integrity.
You start over, and you write a novel for them – it’s the best you can do.