by Lee Upton
First, must read War and Peace. No, first, must put tea kettle on stove so can drink tea while working on novel like best-selling novelist I am!
Determine after much research: War and Peace written in Russian! Why is that? What’s the point? Will not read War and Peace, given commitment to authenticity and English language.
Why not simply write new book and call it War and Peace? Titles cannot be copyrighted!
Decide to call novel Peace and War for sake of originality and to give Peace a chance. Ha ha. Very clever.
Focus on page length. Chapter book? Why not? Contemporary attention span: show compassion toward.
Research: check on Amazon. Forty books with title Peace and War. How to make mine stand out?
Desirous of glass of beer with slice of lime, like in commercial. Desirous—is that even a word? If so, use in Peace and War. Or perhaps call manuscript Peace War. Because of attention span. Better yet: PeaceWar.
Look out window for inspiring ocean view and see Stephen paddleboarding. Feel virtuous, disciplined. I am a writer in my study, writing PeaceWar. (Possible new title: Peace. Remember: attention span.)
Sunlight sparkles on ocean and on Stephen, standing on his paddleboard and paddling. Ponder: Purpose of paddleboarding? Why exists? Is sport? No, not on Olympics roster (?). Is means of travel? No, slower than bus. Is physical exercise? No. Although leg tension heightened, thus enhanced muscle control?
Paddleboarding: means to exercise sense of superiority!
Does Stephen think he is slow motion surfer?
Does Stephen think he is canoer without canoe?
Does Stephen think he is brave survivor of shipwreck, left alone with only paddle and driftwood slab?
Is Stephen upright because he’s giving self standing ovation?
Must return to Peace. Possible title could be P.?
Consider new plot: apocalyptic future. Ocean overruns land. Smart survivors construct sturdy sea-faring vessels. Those about-to-die construct flimsy devices upon which they stand.
Must concentrate harder. P. will not write itself.
Conflict. Does novel require dramatic conflict? Perhaps reconsider and return to earlier, longer title: Peace. Therefore give readers what’s expected: no conflict.
Oh—there’s Erica! Erica on paddleboard, padding toward Stephen. Paddling and paddling. Believes she is South Seas maiden about to cause mutiny? Bikini so small it is not even string! More like sloppy cobweb. But I must laugh! In contrast to near-naked Erica, Stephen I now realize is in super funny orange swim trunks wide as toddler short pants worn by future king of England (toddler son of Kate Middleton and Prince Whoever). Not impressed.
Back to work. Characters are created by means of gestures, dialogue, interior thoughts, actions, and, especially, wardrobe. Perhaps simplify: No clothing in future world of Peace. No sex either in Peace because of genetic mutations. Punishment on humankind for hubris. Nice one! Creates conflict for sex addicts. And some others.
Stephen and Erica off boards and without paddles. Staggering on beach. Pointing to house, to window, to me. Waving. Waving and pointing and running and screaming. What is wrong?
Giant plume of smoke billowing behind me!!!!!! Forgot tea kettle and hand towel on burner!
Firefighters! Bless them! Smoke damage confined to kitchen. “Aren’t you author of that novel called E?” firefighter asks, throbbing with respect and hose wrapping around his leg.
“Yes,” I say. “Yes I am.” Big guffaw from firefighter. Erica and Stephen, impressed, ask if I will go paddleboarding with them tomorrow. Say they don’t mean to tempt me. Say they know I’m busy writer. Then I tell them about P. It’s about paddleboarding, I lie. To make them feel less stupid about their stupid lives and the way they spend lives paddleboarding for months upon months.
“Let’s drink to that!” says Stephen. “A toast to your new novel!”
“A toast to paddleboards!” I say. Then feel queasy. What happened to original inspiration—an ambitious sequel to War and Peace? How could I be corrupted so easily? How could I loosen my hold on reality and abandon all principles? How could I cheapen myself? By that I mean: How did I suddenly have the makings of a memoir!
Lee Upton’s sixth collection of poetry, BOTTLE THE BOTTLES THE BOTTLES THE BOTTLES, recipient of the Open Book Award, appeared in May 2015 from the Cleveland State University Poetry Center. Her poetry has appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, the New Republic, Poetry, and in numerous other journals and anthologies. Her collection of short stories, The Tao of Humiliation, was selected as one of the ”best books of 2014” by Kirkus Reviews, received the BOA Short Fiction Award, and was a finalist for the Paterson Prize.