I have always been a "believer," if by practice you mean belief, in the petri dish "method," if by method you mean "this is what works," of writing novels.
By "petri dish," I mean you grow the bits in a dish made of your general idea, working on the parts you see most clearly at the time. You watch overall how the separate colonies of the culture are developing, and when they all get big enough and strong enough you stitch them together in a way that makes sense according to the way they grew. Structural logic enters at, and only at, the logical points for it along the way. When you're writing on a deadline of course you can't write this naturally, but who's lucky enough to be writing a novel on a deadline these days?
But to each his own. If it makes you happy, if it makes you feel useful, go ahead and write outlines or whatever it is they showed you in that creative writing class that was taught by somebody who's never been published outside of academia and her blog. Or read sappy guides to "the writing life" by people who've never published anything but writing guides and try to arrange a corner of your studio to look like a Quonset hut. Knock yourself out. No, seriously, take a copy of last year's Pushcart Prize and hit yourself really hard in the head with it.
I thought I was an extreme believer in the petri dish method. But a few months ago I realized with a start that Robert Ignatius Dillon hadn't just been scribbling insanely for 20 years. He was actually writing a book.
Here’s the setup: I met Robert in about 2000 or 2001; he's related to one of my old coworkers from the Chicago Reader, from back during the dying of the light. Bob's book started out as an incoherent series of spiral bound notebooks that he dragged around all through the 90s and early aughts. He insisted that everyone read them. He thought I lost one once and was pissed at me for about a year. They seemed nonsensical, although funny in spots. We pretty much ignored him and gave him a beer.
But somehow in the past couple of years he’s managed to pull those piles of notebooks together. How he weeded through twenty years’ worth of disjointed bits of shtick and rambling about movies to pull out comedy gold I don’t even want to know, but he did it.
So. For all the jackasses out there who say "only write if you have to!" (which I usually interpret as "I was in the right place at the right time, and now I don't want too many competitors"; an understandable feeling, especially if you've thus managed to avoid this hellish day job routine), I offer you a form of vindication.
My only worry is that the movie-obsessed prologue—the least speedy part of the book—is too long to keep Twitter from wandering off, but it can't be winnowed down, as it sets up a lot of the later jokes. Fingers crossed. Have some fucking patience for once. Robert Ignatius did.
This tight, fast, relentlessly absurd but lucid tale is the end result of a very long case of "Bob only wrote because he had to in order to keep from cracking up. His meds weren't working and he got painfully irritated if no one could understand what he was saying as he tagged along while the rest of us engaged in activities which the doctor forbade him." If anyone deserves to be read, both suffering and uniqueness-wise, not to mention entertainment value... not that we deserve anything, I suppose.
And now, a cautious word of publicity from the author himself:
Sometime between 1982 and 2009, I started to wonder. "What if?" I wondered. "What if politics really is a song-and-dance, masquerading as social progress? What if politicians are phony? Then George W. Bush became president of the USA.
Amid the Bush/Cheney war against logic, good taste, and decency, I busied myself. During Bush's inexplicable second term, I wrote satirical pokes at the 21st-century cow-poke. It was either hide my head in the sand, or write satire. America survived Bush/Cheney. Sort of.
When the USA elected a new president in 2008, people sat up, and took notice. President-elect Barack Hussein Obama brought a lot to the table. He brought education. He brought a message of social change.
He also brought Buzz.
Thanks to the connivance of Dick Cheney, an egghead named Eddie, and Hollywood mopes Fat Guy and Jack Bronstein, Brain Trust Enterprises produced a Clone named Obama Prestonpans Buzz. Walking, talking, and smiling like Barack Obama, Obama Buzz posed some tough questions.
Is politics just entertainment? Can you trust a mad scientist? And can a Clone run America?
There's the plot. At the head of a 10,000-man-strong Fat Clone Army, Obama Buzz started 2009 with one goal: one nation under a Clone. Should Jack Bronstein and Fat Guy have stayed out of politics? Did the real Obama get traded in for a genetically-enhanced Clone? Read "Beyond the Bush," mate. See for yourself!