After many years of presenting myself strictly as a non-fiction writer, I had a breakthrough four years ago, completing and publishing two short stories. Two other stories followed, so far unpublished. I had been (without knowing it) in the creative closet, with a long-held secret desire to write fiction. I was now "out."
And so I tentatively began a novel, which over two summers and two winters of revision, finally emerged this year, all 53,000 words of it. Rather than wait years for some publisher to accept it, I decided to follow my wife Lynn's lead and publish it on Kindle.
Thus this week, on my birthday, after much revising and editing, I finally published Friends and Brothers, an elegiac novel of friendship and loss. It deals with two men who meet in high school, get acquainted in college, then stay close as their careers diverge in New York City. There are issues of betrayal, grief, and faith involved in this essentially simple story that some would label as "bromance."
A novel-long structure seemed right because the story takes place over 40 years, from the Sixties to the end of the 20th century, allowing me to indulge a bit of fantasy and have the main characters meet various NYC celebrities, including George Plimpton and members of the Kennedy family, real people who make an appearance in this fictional narrative.
I found myself half-unconsciously imitating Waugh's Brideshead Revisited in structure, with a first-person narrator looking back at his greatest friendship. I was also greatly influenced by other stories of male friendship and from having taught a course on masculinity and literature. One of the topics in that course was the challenge of male friendship since most straight men tend to find their closest emotional connections with women; yet all men yearn for, yet often don't find, real friendship, caring and support with another man.
I learned many things about my own life in writing this novel. In terms of craft, I found, first of all, that if I worked for at least an hour a day for six months, I could compete a first draft of something much longer than a novella or short story, following my rough outline and keeping the plot simple.
The second lesson is that it is good, maybe essential, to put the draft away for a few months, as I did this spring, then return to it with fresh eyes. And I kept learning the hard lesson of "suggestion, not statement": showing, not telling. As a teacher and non-fiction writer, I chiefly explain; in fiction, I must hint, using dialogue to suggest a mood and letting the reader complete the meaning.
This became the focus of my revision just as eliminating wordiness and repetition became the focus on my editing. Even if no one reads Friends and Brothers (available on Amazon's Kindle), I have satisfied my long-held wish to do what seemed to me impossible: write, complete, and publish a novel.