Find the theme and you find the spine; that was my friend’s advice. To me this meant that finding a theme might allow me to finish my book. But no, maybe not. It turns out my friend and I miscommunicated. Years ago I said the book was basically done. Since then I’ve decided it isn’t. I never told my friend because I’m sick of the thing and don’t like to talk about it. Accordingly, my friend thought I needed help on shaping a mass, and my problem is different. I have to write more scenes and finish the story.
Would a theme help me do that? Maybe. If you’re stuck, go against the usual, and themes are not my usual. Sure, the deep problem is that I’m scared of the material. But locating a theme might help with that. Look at things from a new angle and you can react in ways different than before. Less subtly, ideas aren’t as scary to contemplate as impending death and misfired lives, or not for me. On the other hand, the only themes that get my attention are the ones tied to impending death and misfired lives. Really, an idea has to get very close to being a situation before I’ll take an interest in it. And I feel that most human situations are painful, so there you are.
All right, I continue my theme search. The last stage visited was to look at myself and find the theme that way. This resulted in one of the more plaintive bulletins from that life-long news service, the Truth About Me: “I betrayed myself just by being what I am, and I won’t be rich after all,” I’ll add a twist to liven things up: my plight regarding the book is the same as that of my characters inside the book. They won’t be big shots and that’s because of their failings. Or such is the case with my fellow white guys. The black fellow and the older lady are both headed for career success, and that’s because I like them. But the white guys are most of the book, and they suffer without let up. They’re blind, the fools. They lie to themselves.
People lie to themselves too much. Is that a theme or an opinion? Presumably an opinion doesn’t need a book attached to it; a sentence would do. So either that’s a theme or I have to keep looking.
Good God, man. Michael Wolff, stand up, please. From Autumn of the Moguls: My Misadventures With the Titans, Poseurs, and Money Guys Who Mastered and Messed Up Big Media: “He did not seem, unlike so many of his mogul colleagues, ineffectual, pathetic, empty. He seemed scary and full of portent. He was a threat. But not just a threat, and not just a bully.” In your book, each of the sentences quoted here is printed as its own paragraph, and they’re all about Barry Diller. Good God, man.
—Follow C.T. May on Twitter: @CTMay3