Watseka Weighs on Me

I’m actually getting very excited to go to Watseka. I hope to go by the Roff house–though I couldn’t work out a tour, I think it’s okay since my characters never actually go in, the Vennum house, the town museum, and the cemetery. I don’t have goals for the trip. I kind of just want to see what comes up as I’m there, but I am hoping to get a better sense of how big Watseka was at the time (obviously small) and how many schools were in the county. My theory of the Wonder depends on the youngest Roff boy going to school with the oldest Vennum boy, but even though they’re the same age in a small town in a sparsely populated county, that’s no guarantee.

Not that it matters at the end of the day. Fictional Watseka doesn’t have to be plausibly real Watseka. But I like to have my fiction tied tight to reality in spots, so that when I ask my readers to leap with me into a world where people turn into birds or struggle not to turn into dogs, they get the thrill of imagining that it’s not impossible that it’s this world I mean.

I have been having major, major book anxiety. Dreams where the contents of the novel cause me to have to go into hiding and I have to stay with bloggers I’ve never met in real life. Or that the book sucks so terribly people snicker about it and teach it in MFA programs as an example of all the things not to do.

I’m just going to admit that this is the thing that is hardest for me about making the switch from how I was raised to being an adult. If you tell me what you want from me, what you want me to do, if it’s within my skill set, I can do it and, after a short time, do it very well. And, after a slightly longer time, I will have ideas about how to innovate and expand what we’re doing. But I really thrive in situations where there are, at least at first, clear expectations of me and a lot of structure.

I write well. I might not be the best writer on the planet, but I write well. I write engaging things people enjoy reading. So, writing a book is completely within my skill set. It’s something I can do and I have no doubt that, even if this novel is not the greatest thing ever, as I get used to the form, I can write some really interesting, entertaining things.

What is difficult for me, so difficult that I’m having nightmares about it, is that I have this overwhelming need to know if I’m doing it “right” and to want to make adjustments now, before it matters, if I’m not. That there’s no objective standard that says “A book MUST start this way and go through these ten steps and then end with one of these three endings” is very, very difficult for me. A City of Ghosts was weird to a lot of people in its structure, I know. But I knew that it is like Invisible Cities, a book I adore. So, if I worried about how short the stories were or whether they made a whole piece, I knew I was ripping off… er… paying homage to Calvino. Even if no one else got it, I knew it.

But this novel is much different. There’s not exactly some existing structure I’m borrowing. I’m just trying to tell this entertaining tale as best I can. And the question that keeps me up at night–“Is this right? Am I doing it right?”–isn’t even a question that matters. I should be worried about whether I’ve tried my hardest to tell the story I want to tell as best I can. But I know I’ve done that.

It’s the “I want to do exactly what you want me to do exactly how or better than you want me to do it” impulse I just can’t shake. And it’s eating at me.

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