Wednesday, 13 August 2014

On Having A Travel Plan

I did an interview about my novel on Deborah Kalb's book blog last week. One of the questions she asked was "Did you know how the novel would end before you started writing it, or did you make changes along the way?" This is my answer.

Imagine you are a young man taking a trip to Paris. You tell your best friend that you are going to spend time in Paris and he says: “Are you going to go up the Eiffel Tower?” and you say yes, you definitely will go up the Eiffel Tower. Being an organized guy, you even have a definite plan. The schedule you have made up for yourself says that you will go up the tower on your third day in Paris, just before you go to the Musée d’Orsay to see Manet’s famous painting of a nude women having a picnic with two formally dressed men, 'Le Déjeuner sur l'herbe'. But on your second evening in Paris, you find yourself in a little jazz bar that happens to be near your hotel, where you meet a wonderful woman with dark shiny eyes wearing too much bright red lipstick, who announces, after a couple of drinks and an intense and wonderful conversation, that you and she should take a train to Berlin together tomorrow to see an exhibition on the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brâncuși that just opened there. Because she is beautiful and you want an adventure and you are young and you love Brancusi too--and because that excess of bright red lipstick somehow just works on her, even though you had always thought you hated that look--you do go. So you end up spending time in Berlin rather than Paris, drinking German cocktails in dark German jazz cellars, and making love to a beautiful French woman in the reddish glow of a bedside lamp with a light silk scarf thrown over it, in a cheap hotel room that the two of you have decorated together by propping up postcards of works by Brancusi on every available horizontal surface. It is the best vacation of your life. 

When you get home and your friend asks you how the Eiffel Tower was, at first you can hardly even understand what he is asking about. Your trip had nothing to do with the Eiffel Tower. It was about red lipstick and a beautiful bright-eyed French woman and Brancusi sculpture and Berlin jazz cellars.

Writing a novel is just like taking that trip to Paris.

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