I’ve always been interested in the creative process, how a work comes into being. My favorite aspect is the serendipities, where you see Big Mind at work, creating structures that you notice only after the fact. But there is always the conscious struggle with issues that you’re aware of and trying to resolve. My current struggle is with “How much does the narrator now?” When writing a memoir, you’re two people: the narrator and the main character. How much knowledge of what will happen to the main character should the narrator display? In The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill I wanted the narrator to know nothing more than the character did. I had specific reasons for that, which I won’t go into. With this new book I’m having a constant debate over what the narrator should know. In the day-to-day writing, I keep gravitating toward innocence, but I think that became a habit during the writing of the previous book. With innocence you can create suspense, but it takes you longer to go deep. If the narrator reveals his knowledge of what will happen to the character, you lose the compelling force of suspense, but you can say more, and say it more easily.
Another thing I’m having to deal with is that the book begins with events that happened 42 years ago. Although my goal is to tell a story that is timeless, it’s also about an era—late 60s, early 70s—that I’d like to make understandable to young people, particularly young guys. The reality of that time has been mischaracterized and satirized so much that few people, even those who lived through it, remember it accurately. How much historical and cultural exposition—something I don’t particularly like to read, let alone write—do I need to use? I keep thinking that if the poetry is there, it’s not a problem.