So, here’s the thing: I started writing a novel a few weeks back with an opening that goes like this:
Before going to bed one night, Jimmy Mullen laid out everything he needed for the last morning of his life. His suit was cleaned and pressed; likewise, his shoes were shined. After dinner, Mullen took three neckties from his closet. He painstakingly knotted them together and fashioned the makeshift cord into a noose. For several weeks, Mullen busied himself with the task of finding the perfect venue for his exit. He did not want to be so far removed from civilization that it might take weeks before someone found him. Hanging, by his estimation, was a gallant way to leave this world.
The idea for this present novel came in a dream. I know: you’re thinking ‘yeah, right’. Actually, it was one phrase I heard in my sleep.
This novel is something of a departure for me, owing to my taste for the fantastical in fiction (not to mention some good old-fashioned horror). My hurdle with this one is to portray a story in which a miracle of sorts occurs that affects everyone in the town where my main character Jimmy Mullen lives; that is, to portray a story but leave out any magic realism, fantasy, etc and keep the story grounded in the real world.
Miracles, depending on what your belief system might be, may occur every day without our knowing. Or if you happen to be of the agnostic or atheistic bent you may ascribe certain unexplainable occurrences to chance, chaos theory, etc. Whatever the case, my intention then is to write a novel in which said miracle may or may not have a positive effect on Mullen my main character who intends, at the start of the novel, to take his life.
Right now, if I have even one reader of this god-forsaken blog, someone is reading this and thinking: oh no, O’Brien wants to kill himself. Why else would he write about a guy who is suicidal? Of course, people said the same thing about Michael Chabon when he published his Mysteries of Pittsburgh novel. Any man who can write about two men having sex must be gay. I submit that you look up Chabon and his beautiful wife Ayelet Waldman and tell me what you think. More to the point, however; though a more historical reference; is Stephen Crane who wrote with such realism about The Civil War despite being born after the war.
Anyway, back to my dilemma: Mullen is a guy who believes he’s been a dealt a bad hand throughout most of his adult life. What I mean to show in this novel is how Mullen’s beliefs, distorted and undoubtedly crippling to him, do not jive with what’s real, and certainly not with what’s true. Yes, his inferiority complex has kept him from striving to reach certain goals; but early in his life his mother steered him on a course that was detrimental to the path he should have taken. Yes, he married and divorced a woman who was, shall we say, more independent than he (or at least possessing the chutzpah to live a life without regret; despite what society deems appropriate). In the end, or more specifically as the novel opens, Mullen asks for a sign, any sign, a minor miracle if you will, to show him that his life is worth living despite a succession of disappointments, failures and enduring pain that has defined who he is. His answer comes in a form that not only affects him, for better or worse, but his community as well.
So where was I? I am 30,000 words into this new baby of mine (or ¼ finished, give or take tens of thousands of words). And while I continue to plot an outline and write diligently every day, often creating character stories that have nothing to do with the novel itself (I think this little time-consuming exercise helps to make for characters that are more whole), I am not sure how things will turn out for Mullen.
As with the majority of my stories I have written over the years, and a few novels that never saw the light of day, I often write the end before the book is even finished. Or if I can’t write the final chapter I at least can write a summary detailing how the story will wind up. The same goes for this new novel. Still, I’m torn.
The question that plagues me now is two-fold: are miracles enough to change the course of a man’s life, and if they are, does a man even recognize them, even the little ones, when those miracles occur?