If time is linear, it took me eleven years to write this novel. If time is relative, it took me oh, I’d say about three years. If, however, time is metaphorical, I’m working on the same story right now, always and forever, for all eternity…
I’m not positive, but I think I started telling stories as soon as I started speaking. The early ones were crazy long winded tales with exotic creatures, heroes and villains. I never wrote those early stories down because they were all off the cuff continuous streams of fantasy that only sought to entertain my immediate audience (the other kids in my grade school class). In college, however, I learned that it was theoretically possible to make a living if I could turn stories into a commercial product called a novel. So I studied the processes and procedures of novel writing and tried to learn how to do it. Then, shortly after I finished my formal education, I wrote one. It wasn’t very good. It had too many metaphors, ideas and words crammed into a single book. It ended up in the bottom drawer of an old desk that was accidentally burned in a bonfire.
I started my traveling life shortly after that first novel ended up as ashes.
If you have read my blog before, you probably know a little about my unusual existence. Unable to earn a living writing novels, I discovered seasonal employment. I also learned how to survive on practically no income. For the last sixteen years, I have been sporadically wandering the world with a backpack and tent. I still tell lots of stories. Indeed, I even write some of the stories down. That is, essentially, what this blog is supposed to be all about. My crazy traveling stories in a format for the general public.
The plot concept and basic premise for this new novel came to me on or about January 1, 2003. I was in Rio de Janiero at the beginning of my annual winter wander. I went on a favela tour with some scoundrel and at the end of it, he told me some bullshit story about cocaine smugglers using the local graveyard as a place to stash their drugs. What if a backpacker found their stash? Throw in some exaggeration, send the backpacker on a journey across the continent and you have yourself a novel. I figured the story would unfold naturally; I could write it in a blast of inspiration and have it on the market selling like hotcakes in less than a year. Yeah right…
I only wrote the first four or five chapters during that first winter. I also soon learned that it is impossible to write novels while doing stonework. That’s my seasonal job. I build things with stone; walls, patios, waterfalls, staircases, sculptures, etc.. Despite my best intentions to do so, I found it impossible to do stonework and write the novel simultaneously. Every Spring I would promise myself to leave time for the novel. But I never did. So my life settled into a routine. I spent seven months a year doing stonework and five months a year traveling around the world writing this novel. If nothing else, it is probably the only novel in history that was written on five different continents. Picture me in a hammock with a joint and a notebook in: Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Guatemala, Thailand, Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania, Mali, Spain, etc.etc. Technically, it took me five years to write the first very very long draft. But since I only worked on it for four or five months each winter, it really only took about two years.
In June of 2008, the first draft was complete. Being the overly enthusiastic and proud finisher of a five year project, I thought it was done on the first try. Yeah sure, maybe I will have to edit or tweak it a little, but I’ll be damned if I have to change it much. It is done. My masterpiece! In a mild fit of mania, I printed out a bunch of copies and started passing it out to anyone who I thought might be willing to read it. Visualize the absurdity; I was the madman with the bundle of tiny print computer pages trying to convince passers by to read my scribbling. Well, okay, maybe I exaggerate a little, but that first version of my book was absurdly long and a little convoluted. Thankfully, several of my friends were kind enough to read through it and give me suggestions. More importantly, after giving it to others, I started to think about it differently. My whole brain re-assessed everything. That’s when the internal battle began. Something was fundamentally wrong with the book. I didn’t want to admit it to myself. I wanted to just publish the thing and be done with it. Move on to the next project. I even had it converted to a PDF file with a plan to self publish. I was going to release it while I was traveling in Africa that winter.
But that particular trip to Africa turned out to be a doozy. Things went awry, I almost lost my foot to an infection on a cargo boat and I had a minor psychological breakdown in Timbuktu. The end result of that breakdown was, I decided to trash the novel. Indeed, if I had been in possession of all the copies at that time, I probably would have burned them and deleted the computer files. But thankfully, several copies were in the possession of friends so a total trashing was not realistic. Instead, I simply abandoned the novel as a concept. I turned my attention to other things.
For the next couple of years I didn’t even look at the manuscript. I concentrated my writing energies on my blog of travel stories. I also learned how the whole computerized self-publishing game works and put together two short little books of travel stories (The Way to… Timbuktu, and To Be in Borneo). Those books are pretty good. I like the Timbuktu one better but the Borneo one has its charms as well. So if you want a small sample of my words you might want to start with one of them. If, however, you are ready to immerse yourself in the complete Pat Ryan fictional universe, my epic novel is now available.
What happened? Well, about three years ago, I started looking at the manuscript again. Fresh eyes can sometimes really help. The novel itself was not very good but I sure did like the underlying idea. So I picked away at it. Cutting here, cutting there, adding little bits, fixing this, fixing that. Something was still fundamentally wrong though and I didn’t know what that something was until all of a sudden, a year ago in October, I figured it out. One of my original manuscript readers was my friend Neville and he is a professor of literature at the local University. He had circled a couple paragraphs in one of the early chapters and said that he really liked the style of those paragraphs. Now, as I looked at those circled paragraphs, everything became clear. For a brief couple of paragraphs, I accidentally slipped from my novelist persona into my story telling persona. Believe it or not, there is a very big difference.
Part of the difference has to do with verb tense. I always tell my stories in the present tense and the first draft of the novel was written in the past. But time is relative in my world so even if the events in the story theoretically happened in 2003, I still want my audience to be living the now. The other difference has to do with the narrator’s attitude. My novelist persona takes himself way too seriously while my story telling persona has a lot more fun.
So anyway, I’ve spent the last year or so attempting to transform my long winded, somewhat convoluted, overly serious novel into a story. I think I succeeded in my efforts but I won’t really know that until people start buying it and reading it. It is still quite long because it is an epic after all. And it probably won’t win any literary prizes. But I will bet you the cost of an ebook (only $2.95), that if you buy it and read a little, you will continue reading until you get to the end. It’s a darn good story and I did my best to tell it well. You can buy it right here and right now at: LuluLulu. You can also buy it at Smashwords Smashwords . And of course because of their Internet purchasing monopoly you can also buy it at Amazon if you go to their ebook section and do a search for the title , “Against the Current” with my name (Pat Ryan). I would, of course, prefer if you bought it from one of the smaller sites but that is up to you.
Oh yeah, one more thing. I’m traveling again and in a few more days I will start posting brand new stories from this year’s journey in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.
See you somewhere!