by Branden Hart
The other night, after I finished typing the last word of AOS, I was smoking a cig with the fiancée, and she asked, “Are you sad that you’re finished?” The question took me by surprise. I think all of us are familiar with the feeling of being sad when we finish reading a book where we’ve fallen in love with the characters and can’t imagine them not being a part of our lives. But I had never thought of that as an aspect of finishing a novel.
No, “sad” is not part of the spectrum of feelings I experience when I finish writing a novel. AOS marks the seventh novel I’ve finished, and the experience is usually a happy one. If the ending turns out good, as I believe it did with AOS, it’s mostly complete ecstasy. So I told her no, I’m not sad. I’m relieved, and I’m proud, because, when it comes down to it, I’ve done my job.
This is my job: I’m a storyteller. Always have been, always will be. Hell, the first organized competition I took part in was a storytelling contest in the second grade. The way I see it, it is my job—my responsibility—to share what’s inside my head with the rest of the world (whether the rest of the world likes it or not). It’s my job to create something out of nothing. To start with a simple sentence, a simple idea, and create a universe out of it. To make that universe organic, so that those who enter it feel like it’s real, it’s alive, and the characters are living, breathing entities.
I’ve always wanted to write novels. But I’ve never wanted to be a James Joyce. I don’t want the fucking New Yorker to write about my work, praising it for “superlative urban underpinnings” or “sublime literary brain candy.” I want the New Yorker to HATE the shit I write. Because I want to be a writer for the everyman. I want what I write to be the kind of stuff you pick up at the airport, open while you’re waiting for your flight, and then read the entire time you’re in the air, cursing the pilot for making good time and interrupting your commune with my creation when you land fifteen minutes early. I want my work to be what makes you wake up with a book on your face because you couldn’t stop reading before going to bed. I want people to cancel plans so they can finish one of my novels. Do people do that when they’re in the middle of Ulysees? Fuck no they don’t! Hell, most people trying to get through that will take ANY opportunity to do something else. Was James Joyce a better writer than me? Hell yes he was! But I’m not a writer. I’m a storyteller. We aren’t even in the same category.
Storytelling is an art as old as communication. We’ve seen stories painted on caverns, and Anansi stories are still being handed down generation by generation, both orally and as printed books. It is pure entertainment. If your audience isn’t entertained, you haven’t done your job.
So I am not sad that I’ve finished writing AOS. I’m overjoyed, because in my estimation, I created a solid story (though there are some holes here and there that need to be filled in) with characters that are organic and come to life on the page (or screen, as it were). I also think I found a very substantial, meaningful way to complete the story. I hope you guys will let me know whether that’s the case when you read it on Wednesday. Because to be perfectly honest with you, nobody has ever read one of my novels. Friends who have expressed interest get copies, but then I never hear back from them. Even my fiancée hasn’t followed along with AOS (though she read the first couple of chapters back when I was throwing ideas around). My parents know that this is on the site, and my dad said he liked the first chapter, but other than that, nothing. So am I sad? There’s no way I could be. Because for the first time in my life, I feel like a true storyteller. And it is only thanks to those who have kept up with the novel and the editors who let me do this that I can feel that way. Thanks to all of you.