Premeditatio malorum (or, borrowing trouble)

A Musing:

A lot of things really bad and really good have happened around Chez Moriah the last couple of years. One of the good things is that XX tax deduction has learned how to drive and is getting out and about on her own. She works only a few minutes away, so we got used to her driving to work and back. But she has an internship 20 minutes away from home, all freeway, heavily trafficked, and sometimes very windy. Today was her first day driving it by herself, and I am nervous and scared.

Generally speaking, I tend to “borrow trouble”, as Ma Ingalls would say. I spin up scenarios in my head of all the bad things that could go wrong, and then I ruminate on them. I have tried very hard not to do that, because I found out during the Great Mojo Prepper Panic of 2008 that living that way is soul-crushing. Self-help/inspirational/affirmation memes all warn of doing this. But I do it anyway, just on a smaller scale.

I have a great deal of respect for the stoic philosophers, though, and as I learn more about them, I try to incorporate their thinking into my own. Well, today I learned of “premeditatio malorum” or, to be more specific, borrowing trouble.

On purpose.

Seneca had this to say:

What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster. This is a reason for ensuring that nothing ever takes us by surprise. We should project our thoughts ahead of us at every turn and have in mind every possible eventuality instead of only the usual course of events… Rehearse them in your mind: exile, torture, war, shipwreck. All the terms of our human lot should be before our eyes.

Let me emphasize this:

What is quite unlooked for is more crushing in its effect, and unexpectedness adds to the weight of a disaster.

I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, being mentally prepared for disaster has its advantages. You know what you should do and in the heat of the moment, you’re not making stupid decisions. On the other hand, that’s kind of a stressful way to live. If I go into a Tuesday (because Tuesdays are always bad) expecting bad things to happen, bad things are going to happen and/or I’m going to look at every wrinkle as A Bad Thing That Happened and if enough of those wrinkles are there, it is going to have been A Bad Day.

Except…yesterday was Tuesday and I took note of all the ways in which my day was easy: all my lights were green, all my lines were short, most of my errands were effortless, I got (good) things I was expecting. The worst thing that happened was that I forgot to tell Arby’s not to put tomatoes on my gyro. I was braced for a bad day because it was Tuesday, but when the day was over with I noticed that everything went my way and I was grateful for that.

I’m contemplating the role of this Stoic concept in my life. It’s something I already do but have been trying to break myself of, but now it’s been approved by philosophers I look up to. Where and how does this fit with my concomitant contemplation of boredom, contentment, happiness, and gratitude?

* * *

For a fictional treatment of Stoicism and one of my favorite novels ever, and one that informs just about everything I write, try Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full.

May all your lights be green and all your lines be short.

What happened to the epic novel?

Last month, a friend of mine who is reading The Proviso said to me (paraphrase), “You know, a publishing house editor would have made you cut some of this.” Beat. “But I don’t know what it could have been.” At 283,000 words, it’s actually right on track for a novel that chronicles the romances of 3 couples. It’s 94,333 words per romance. (No, I don’t know which couple gets more air time, nor does it matter.)

A couple of days ago I blithely typed, “I want to be the Tom Wolfe of genre romance” and suddenly, the light came on for a few people, one of whom said so in that thread. I had never thought of my writing goals in that light until I actually said it, and that is true. (That’s just blindingly arrogant of me, isn’t it?)

Anyway, I had the feeling there were only 3 readers (including me) around Romancelandia longing for the long, involved, complex romance. But a Dear Author thread about the shrinking word counts of some of Harlequin’s lines (this isn’t unusual) disabused me of the notion. More readers came out of the woodwork to express their dissatisfaction with the snacks that are the single-title romances (and we won’t go into category aka Harlequin romance). We want feasts!

But alas. There are none.

Th. made the argument in a provocative post that series writing is a different skill from single-novel writing, and perhaps that’s where the epic novel went: to series. That must be read in the proper order to get the whole story.

I hate that. It’s inconvenient and, from a consumer’s point of view, extravagantly expensive. (And you thought MY book cost a lot of money!) By and large, I don’t stick with series, especially if they’re as intertwined as mine is, but give me an enormous novel that engages me all the way through and you got me and my money in one shot.

But, you know, it took me a long time to decide whether to split the romances out into 3 books and create a series, or create a long novel. It couldn’t be helped. The structure of the story arc just wouldn’t hold up under the weight of the extra bindings.

The one epic is more than the sum of its parts.

Now, would someone else PLEASE write something long and involved? And if you know of any, please let me know what they are.

Niches are nice, but…

I started a new book a couple of days ago. It’s easy when you start ripping off plots on purpose instead of trying to reinvent the wheel and then finding out someone else did it before you. First Hamlet, now the New Testament. Next thing you know, I’ll be rewriting Moby Dick.

Now, I can write for a Mormon audience. Or I can write for the romance audience. Or I can write for the general fiction audience (whatever that is). Well. I wrote for all three, because that’s what I like.

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