I wanted to write a novel a long time before I ever actually succeeded in writing one (I’m coming down the home stretch on my 4th one now). Can’t exactly explain why; it was just one of those itches that demanded to be scratched.
The problem wasn’t too little time or too many distractions. The sad truth was, everything that went down on paper was awful. I couldn’t even stand to read it.
The problem was, I hadn’t found my voice yet. I was trying to write literature. Not sure why. When I go into a bookstore, I don’t charge to the literature section first to see what’s new. But somehow, it seems . . . well, significant.
My breakthrough came when I first read the Prologue to Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume. Robbins is one of my heroes; if you look at the blog heading, you’ll see Jitterbug Perfume near the left end, along with some novels by Vonnegut and Christopher Moore (some more of my heroes). When I finished it, I closed the book and just savored it for a moment. Thinking as I did, “If I ever wrote something that good, I’d be content.”
Then a little voice in my head said, “Duh. Why don’t you try writing like Robbins instead of like Tolstoy or whoever it is you’re trying to emulate?”
Ever since then, writing has been easy (well, relatively speaking). Don’t know that I’ve ever written anything that good yet. But I’m working on it. I’ve given the complete text below for your enjoyment.
from Jitterbug Perfume, by Tom Robbins
THE BEET IS THE MOST INTENSE of vegetables.
The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious.
Slavic peoples get their physical characteristics from potatoes, their smoldering inquietude from radishes, their seriousness from beets.
The beet is the melancholy vegetable, the one most willing to suffer. You can’t squeeze blood out of a turnip . . .
The beet is the murderer returned to the scene of the crime. The beet is what happens when the cherry finishes with the carrot. The beet is the ancient ancestor of the autumn moon, bearded, buried, all but fossilized; the dark green sails of the grounded moon-boat stitched with veins of primordial plasma; the kite string that once connected the moon to the Earth now a muddy whisker drilling desperately for rubies.
The beet was Rasputin’s favorite vegetable. You could see it in his eyes.
In Europe there is grown widely a large beet they call the mangel-wurzel. Perhaps it is mangel-wurzel that we see in Rasputin. Certainly there is mangel-wurzel in the music of Wagner, although it is another composer whose name begins, B-e-e-t——.
Of course, there are white beets, beets that ooze sugar water instead of blood, but it is the red beet with which we are concerned; the variety that blushes and swells like a hemorrhoid, a hemorrhoid for which there is no cure. (Actually, there is one remedy: commission a potter to make you a ceramic asshole—and when you aren’t sitting on it, you can use it as a bowl for borscht.)
An old Ukrainian proverb warns, “A tale that begins with a beet will end with the devil.”
That is a risk we have to take.