The Complete Angler
Thank you for taking the time to look at my web site. Below you'll see that I've created four entry points into this textual labyrinth. Each entry point reflects one of my interests. If you'd like to read more about one of these subjects, just click on the corresponding image below. I also write a blog called Rough Drafts which you are welcome to read and comment on.
About Donavan: Donavan Hall is writer, soccer coach, physicist, and craftbrewer who lives on Long Island. He was the author of the Long Island Beer Guide before starting a small commercial craft brewery with his friends Mike and Yuri in the summer of 2012 called Rocky Point Artisan Brewers. You can read about Donavan's adventures on his blog, Rough Drafts. If you like what you read here, a few of Donavan's books are available in the store for you to order.
Wednesday, 29 October 2014. The writing life. With November approaching, I’m thinking about starting a new novel.
As much fun as it is starting a new novel, I have so many unfinished projects, and that weighs on my mind. Finishing projects has been my main focus for the last four years. Finishing a book doesn’t lead to an immediate sense of elation. Rereading the book and making the corrections is laborious, tedious. And all the time that I spend revising and reshaping and rewriting allows the doubts to creep in. Is this book worth all this effort? Nobody’s ever going to read this book anyway. Who cares if there are typos and logical gaps or inconsistencies? Wouldn't you rather be writing a new book?
The psychological aspects of writing are just as important as the physical ones. Handwriting or typing each day is the physical part. Managing your life so that you have the “free time” to be able to sit at the writing desk is part of the physical regimen. Getting enough sleep, exercise, diet. All essential aspects of the writing life. Psychological self-discipline is what keeps the body and the mind on course.
I was talking with Alice at breakfast earlier in the week about the books that I’ve finished and the ones that are just about there. She said, They don’t have to be perfect do they? Isn’t that what a publisher is supposed to do? Aren’t they supposed to edit the work? Don't they help with catching the problems?
That would be nice. Wouldn’t it? To have some editor at a publishing house combing through my text and telling me that this or that needed fixing or rewriting? I fear that I’d find it tedious.
Over the weekend, I was making corrections to one of my “beer adventures.” Back when I thought I would make my mark as a beer writer, I was banging out light, fluffy (frothy?) books which I called “beer adventures.” Craft beer-themed fiction. I published one of these beer adventures and wrote three more. The best, I think, is Wasted. That one is about my trip with Peter to the Salton Sea in the Imperial Valley.
What sort of writer am I? I feel guilty about writing four “beer adventures.” Yes, the intention was to create light entertainment, but is it worth my time? Yesterday, I read a little of Ian Marchant’s The Longest Crawl. That’s a decent “beer adventure.” Whenever I read about blokes shambling the backroads of England drinking in old pubs, I get jealous. I want to be that bloke. I want to shamble around England’s backroads and drinking in ancient pubs constructed from limestone. You could say that I’m a romantic drinker.
Since writing those first four “beer adventures” I’ve read W.G. Sebald’s books. Sebald’s writing represents something to aim for. What I mean is that instead of light entertainment, shouldn’t these books that I write be worth reading? And not just as something amusing. Sebald is worth reading. His subject is big. My “beer adventures” don’t have the sort of scope or weight of Sebald’s books.
Rasan recommended that I read Rebecca Solnit’s books. So I read A Field Guide to Getting Lost. I wrote about that in my book, Rough Drafts, which I’ve been correcting. I’ve started reading The Faraway Nearby. The reason I mention her books is that they also seem to represent a way to approach a subject. Not just writing about craft beer, but life in general. Why should I narrow my scope to “beer adventures” when there’s a whole world out there to be observed?
Tuesday, 11 November 2014. Lost Souls. For eleven days, I’ve been working on a new novel, working title: Lost Souls. I say it’s new, but I’m working from fragments that I wrote last November, fragments that didn’t fit with what I was working on then. The novel begins when Melanie sends Adam a message via a social networking service. Adam hasn’t heard from Melanie in twenty years. To say that Melanie is the last person in the world he expected to ever hear from again would be putting it mildly. He’d been rude to her after the breakup — saying things, words whose only purpose was to wound. He’d been wounded. Or his pride had and he’d wanted to wound her back. Then, twenty years of silence.
The novel opens with Adam working at the Laboratory for Extreme Conditions in Technical Area 42 at Los Alamos. He lives with his wife, Elaine, who is a school teacher. Adam’s approaching forty and Elaine, being eleven years older, is beginning to show the signs of aging. But he doesn’t focus on such things. He’s more preoccupied with his work. But this message from Melanie has posed a question, or perhaps opened a door.
When I came up with the title Lost Souls (a year ago?), I was just trying to come up another title with the word “lost” in it. Adam’s story begins with Lost Time and continues with Lost in the Ruins. I borrowed Paradise Lost from Milton to describe the end of Adam and Melanie’s time together. Was it paradise?
Lost Time is a reference to Proust (obviously). In the title Lost Souls, there’s a little reference to the line from the Christian scripture, “What does it profit a man if he gains the world but loses his soul?” Adam has (in a small way) gained the world. He’s been successful. Not overly successful, but just enough. He’s a professional, a scientist. He has a beautiful home outside Santa Fe. Elaine is loving and agreeable. She’s an ideal wife. Adam lacks nothing. But on the eve of turning forty he senses that he’s a hollow man. The soul has gone from his life. But what does that even mean? Does that mean that he doesn’t feel satisfied? Is this all there is to life?
While there is a measure of religion in the idea of a soul being lost, what Adam has to confront is life without a sense of vital energy. He is aware that he is a biological organism immersed in an environment responding to stimulus and satisfying its physical needs. He eats, he sleeps, he excretes. One day he will die and the atoms and molecules that make up his body will become part of something else, something that is not Adam. What then would Adam be once the body is taken away? Adam’s professional training instructs him that since the soul cannot be measured, it is not a real thing. But this thing that is not real, that cannot be measured seems real to Adam. In fact it is precisely this thing which is a non-thing that feels exactly identical to what he intends when he says the word “Adam” in reference to that sense of being in time and space as a body who is aware of not only his environment, but the act of being himself and being aware of himself simultaneously. Who can he talk to about this? His friends (also physicists) think he is just making a joke. Adam’s becoming a mystic, they say.
Then Melanie asks him why he stopped attending church. Do you not believe in God? she asks. How did that happen? Your faith used to be so important to you. How could you just give it up?
That’s about as far as I’ve gotten in eleven days.
Tuesday, 15 December 2014. The Italians. My November writing sprint was successful. I managed to finish the draft of Lost Souls by the ninth of December. While I suppose that I should have continued working on it until it was completely done (a state that might represent publishability), I couldn’t resist the temptation to go back and attempt the fifth draft of a novel that’s been defying my ability to “pull it off.” The title of this elusive book is The Italians after a painting by Cy Twombly which features in one of the scenes. After a few days of work, I realized that the novel I was writing was not what I had in mind. The characters (Wayne and Valerie) had their own plans for how events would unfold and so the trip to MoMA to view “The Italians” by Cy Twombly became a minor incident. What I realized was that I should write down what I wanted to say about Twombly’s painting in an essay. So while I’ve been continuing with the writing of the fifth draft of a novel formerly known as The Italians, I’ve been writing a “fictional essay” called The Italians. And I’ve decided to retitle the novel 4001. Could I pull off the subtitle “a time odyssey”? We’ll see about that.
The subject of my fictional essay touches on a number of topics of vital interest to me, and is related to some of the writing I’ve been doing about physics. The Sokal hoax and the Bogdanov affair also feature in the unfolding narrative. And so I’ve been reading a selection from the “postmodern French intellectual” section of my home library. Hopefully, I’ll be able to weave all this together into a compelling and entertaining narrative.