I’m not blocked. At least I didn’t think so until I read, “On Writing,” Stephen King’s memoir and instruction book on the writing life. He was talking about a complex novel in progress (I have a complex novel in progress), when the words just stopped coming. (Ditto.) How was he going to finish/rewrite it? (Yep, that too.) He used this blockage to ask himself the question, What am I writing about? And all of a sudden he’s talking about “theme” in novel writing. It’s a pretty good question.
My conundrum is the novel El Peon, my first long story and the first one to be challenged for the use of so much Spanish. Unchastened, I left most of it in. Art is different than genre, I thought. If Cormac can do it…blah, blah, blah. There are a number of other writerly flaws in Peon, which I periodically try to chase down and change. But it’s not that; it’s the story. How can it interesting without any violence or war or torture? My wife thinks it is. She thinks it is my best work thus far. And some other early readers do as well. Thanks to all. So why am I still naggling over it?
Peon was the subject of an earlier blog in which I concluded that one of the major settings needed to be a character in the story. The place had an effect on the other characters that was too important and too under developed in the original version. I still think so. As a result, I sat down and wrote a chapter (El Prólogo) of which I am inordinately proud. It has gotten me to the point of simulating Gaby Garcia, something I’ve had in mind for years. But what is Peon about?
Here is what I think: Peon has three protagonists, each a child in a manner of speaking, of Eduardo. Two of them imagine themselves as Eduardo’s victims. Each grows up in a Central America of explosive change. Metaphorically but also I think, realistically, I use the Free Trade Agreements (FTA) to symbolize those changes. Coming from Eduardo’s house, these three grow up in a traditional campesino culture. As young adults, they are presented with the changes in worldview, values and opportunities. The oldest, Guito, chooses a non-religious but spiritual path rooted in his love of nature. The second, Rigo, chooses a modified-but-still-traditional campesino path, (which still exists). The third, Aurelez, embraces the new world and becomes a psychiatrist and feminist author.
They live their lives in tension with each other and the world around them. In the end, Eduardo dies forgiven and all works out for the best. Not bad but not done. What is Peon about?
On the surface it is about the challenges facing peoples who are literally driven from one cultural milieu to another. We arrived in Costa Rica a couple of years prior to the FTA referendum. (As far as I know, CR is still the only country to have held a popular vote on the matter.) We chose to live in a very rural (no-Gringo at the time) part of the country. The choice provides us with a view of people living with traditional values in a land that has become a cell-tower farm, replete with Walmart and an osmotic seepage of the rest of the world’s values through the Internet. Almost all of my early stories dealt with the resulting tension.
There is no remorse in this blog. What happens happens. But the central tension has been how does one accommodate traditional values in the face of all of the change? Or, put otherwise, are traditional values of any worth other than a nostalgic piece of the national identity? Aurelez, takes on this challenge in her career and in her writing.
So, I suppose that is what El Peon is about. People live their lives. They have their failures and successes but they do so in a cultural context that can be quite disorienting.
Get on with it Dude.
Thanks to Lynette Hunt for the look-of-writerly-quandry photo.