Since 1985 I’ve had 21 novels published. That seems a lot. But it would be two years work for someone like Georges Simenon. According to Wikipedia (you see I had to check back online) “Simenon was one of the most prolific writers of the twentieth century, capable of writing 60 to 80 pages per day. His oeuvre includes nearly 200 novels, over 150 novellas, several autobiographical works, numerous articles, and scores of pulp novels written under more than two dozen pseudonyms.”
Georges Simenon died of natural causes in September 1989.
Twenty years ago at the time of his death I was working on several books in my two bedroom slum apartment in Bangkok. One of the books later became A Killing Smile. That same year I also wrote the first Calvino novel titled Spirit House. I also wrote a non-fiction book titled Heart Talk. These books were written in a one-year period.
They were written before the Internet came into my life and put its fangs into the vein where time runs and has started to suck me dry. Bangkok in 1989 was cut off from the rest of the world. No cell phones, cable TV, Internet. It was closer to the 19th century than 2010. I suspect if the Internet had been developed in 1950 that Georges Simenon would have written around 22 books rather than 200.
Like many writers these days he would have found his waking conscious hours held hostage in the twilight life: not quite dead; not quite alive screen life, where we search and search, find things, forget them, search again, until someone calls us for dinner or bed.
Simenon’s death is the dividing line between all the authors who came before him and all the ones who follow. Indeed we may be the last authors who wrote in a world that Simenon occupied. Orwell’s and Greene’s world. One that has all but vanished in the last twenty years. Now everyone is an author. They equally inhabit the authors’ global zombie state, a gateway which all are welcome, and once inside, it is very difficult to disengage. Because all that cool information of how to get published, how to write a best seller, how to find the right agent, what is the right advance, what ebooks will do to publishing, what piracy will do to publishing—all of this and much much more is waiting just a click away.
Let me confess. I am weak. I could just turn off the Mozilla and FireFox. I’ve tried that. I am certain you’ve tried that. And we both know it doesn’t work. Because there may be something that I feel that I am missing. An email. Some piece of information which like a string I can add to the huge ball of collected but unsorted strings that form the mountain size ball of string lodged in my brain.
I have found what may be a solution to my dilemma. I am escaping for two weeks to India.
I am staying in a remote place in Rasjastan where I was warned there is only basic Internet (dial up). No Internet in the hotel where I am staying for two weeks. It has electricity though, so I can use my laptop for writing rather than surfing. I am not going to tell you were in India. You would blog about it. Then someone else would find out about it, blog and put up photographs, and before you know it, the place would be, well overrun and that would be the end of things.
We need secret places. Places which are only accessible to us. Sharing is a good thing; but too much sharing is a bad thing.
This is an experiment. If it works, then I will likely keep it a trade secret. That to find the peace and solitude that permits the undistracted attention to focus on characters and narrative over the landscape of a 100,000 words is the goal. If this works out, I will go back every year to write the new book.
Until the hotel I’ve discovered decides to install access to the Internet to attract more tourists. Apparently tourists demand this facility or they won’t go. They can’t tolerate a moment of disconnection with the information vampire called the Internet. I won’t go back then. I’ll have to find (using the Internet in Bangkok) an even more remote place, and hope that the idea of remoteness continues for a couple of more decades.
What the future holds no one can say with certainty. But that doesn’t stop me from making a prediction. Authors are the first to flee to hidden location to find the mental space to work. How long will it be that readers of book-length fiction will follow? Readers, like writer, also will join the quest for a quiet, remote place where they can read what demands their attention. In the future it will become increasingly difficult to disconnect from the hive brain. We can do it with travel and with books. But the space for both is disappearing like rainforest. What Simenon and others have offered is on the endangered list. The way we’ve written, the way we’ve found audiences and the way they’ve found us may soon become extinct.
September 1989 was the date when these things gathered steam. As with all beginnings, we wait for the middle and the end. And we hope that when the end comes that something of the way we imagined life will remain in some small part of the hive to come. An archive of the way our minds embraced complicated stories and characters and the way those thoughts, emotions and ideas entered into our lives and hearts.