I have been working on my novel, UNTIL THE MONSTERS COME, on and off for 13 — thirteen! — years. Sometimes I mourn the fact that after all this time, I am still quite a ways from finishing it. I mourn that I can’t even commit to writing a little every day, that I often use up my creative energy in the planning, in the taking of “notes” about the book more than actually writing it.
But then I realize that had I finished this book two, three, or even five years after I started, it would not be the book it will eventually become. Although I have struggled with the writing of it, I have not been idle, and what started as a weird thought experiment juxtaposing childish fantasy with real life violence is becoming a sprawling epic that incorporates Gnostic and Jungian themes, takes on issues of race and gender, and presents a number of complex philosophical arguments. The book that I would’ve completed back in 2008 or 2011 would not have been this book, and frankly, it would not have been as interesting (at least not to me), and probably not as good.
Then I got to thinking that whatever version of UTMC I end up completing — hopefully in the next few years — might be in some ways less than the book it could become if it stewed for another seventeen years. Writing this book has involved a constant process of incorporating new ideas as my life experience grows, as my priorities shift, as I start to see even more obscure connections between real life and the fantasy world I am creating. UTMC has become my “everything book”, but I often have to check the impulse to try and stuff into it every “cool idea” I think up. I have to resist the urge to make this book the one that touches on all the philosophical or theological questions that interest me, the social issues I consider important, the aesthetics with which I fall in love on any given day.
This impulse, I think, comes from the feeling of stagnation that has plagued me throughout my writing process, the fear that this book — whenever I finish it — will be the only book I am able to complete. So I’d better put it all on the table, all the things I care about, all of me into this one book. But of course, no book can ever be everything.
So I find myself thinking about all the “Never Books”, the books I will never write, not because of stagnation, but because for any given project I have to draw the line somewhere and finish it. There are infinite variations of any book I might write, given enough time to ruminate and to appropriate any and everything that captures my attention, stirs my devotion, or inspires my revolt. Truly, what would UTMC become if I gave it another twenty years? Assuming, of course, that it needn’t actually take me that long!
The difference between UNTIL THE MONSTERS COME today and “POGURI: THE LOST GRANIMAL” (the original title) from 2006 is one of such dramatic scale and scope that I can’t even think of a proper metaphor. They are just completely different books, and I have no interest at all in writing the old one. It would’ve been awful. But perhaps twenty years from now, as I look back upon the successes and failures of UTMC, I will have had so many ideas, learned and experienced so much more, that I will mourn the book it could’ve been.
Hopefully I won’t have the time or space to mourn, because all those ideas and experiences will find their way into the second and third books of a trilogy, inform my work as a teacher, inspire me to some form of activism, or make their way into some other creation that I cannot even foresee today.
To all the Never Books, I choose to imagine that somewhere in the multiverse you will come into being. But here and now, you continue to inspire me toward infinite possibility.