I'm a bit of a floozy when it comes to falling in love with places...the one I remember first was when I was a child and thought Kansas City was the most sophisticated place in the world. I remember writing stories about gondolas in Venice and Paddington Bear in London and bagpipers in Scotland in grade school, and dreaming of Manhattan's lights as a teenager. That inherent passion for the change of place isn't easily squelched.
Currently I'm dreaming about six weeks from now, when I go back to Lugano to visit friends and students and feed my soul again. I've been missing Italy so much it hurts. I find myself daydreaming about wandering the back streets of Como and stopping at the tiny wine shop for prosecco and tastes of their recent finds. If I try I can smell the damp scent of Venice melting with the smells from the fish market and a local restaurant. I can feel the cold vibe inside the cathedral in Assisi. I haven't been in Italy since July 2007. That's the longest I've gone without bella italia since 1998.
I was thinking of Italy yesterday while browsing my local WH Smiths (there are no independent bookshops* in Inverness; someone, please, open one) and swimming in that wonderful redolence of new books. I bought two, partly because they were half-price (two for under a tenner!) and partly because they excited me, as travel excites me. Like a new book, an upcoming holiday is bought with anticipation and excitement, without knowing what one might learn while on the journey. Perhaps the correlation doesn't end there; what is more important? Is it the planning, the anticipation, holding the book in your hand? The time between purchase and consumption, when you know a bit about what will happen, but not the full story? The journey itself, whether through the air to distant lands or in Times New Roman? Everything that happens from the first day, the first page, to the last? Or the aftermath, the memory, the satisfaction of finishing the last word and turning the book over to look at the cover again, for the last time as a reader, before placing it on the shelf, savoring every photo before filing them away in iPhoto until the next wistful moment?
I've shelved the second novel. For many reasons, most importantly that it lacks that 'wow' factor that is needed to invest in first-time novelists right now - a fair statement by my agent, though gutting at the time. (Again, I forgot to become famous before attempting fiction. Oh well.) This isn't an emergency for a writer - we've got ideas coming all the time, and I have notebooks filled with story ideas and characters and situations and other nonsense to squidge together. And I know the 'wow' book, and I've been avoiding writing it for years, and it's time to put it into the universe. I'll have a first draft by the end of the month.
The push came even before I heard from my agent. One of the most challenging and provocative books I've read in years is The Fahrenheit Twins by Michel Faber, a book we read in my book club. Another book that has really stuck in my head is We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, an intense journey into the life of a mother. I want to create a book with that sort of impact, a concept that stays with the reader through years of conversations and reminders. That's the goal. Nobody ever rocked the world with anything mediocre or safe. (Visualize me punching the air and yelling, frat-boy style.)
*Leaky's doesn't count; it's glorious, especially when the peat fire is on, but it only sells used books.