In November of 2001, I set out to fail.
I had decided, once and for all, to write a novel.
Unfortunately, I had also recently decided that the novel is impossible (to borrow a fashionable phrase of the time.) A novel is impossible, I thought, because it is impossible to capture or represent a life in a single narrative text.
I had, in other words, created a lose-lose situation for myself.
On the one hand, if I didn’t produce a complete text that might suitably be called a novel, I failed. On the other hand, if I did produce a complete text that might suitably be called a novel, I also failed — because I would have created a text that couldn’t possibly be what it purported to be.
What can I say? I had some pretty negative Jedi mindtricks in 2001.
At the time, I was living out of a closet and sleeping on an air mattress in the living room of a one bedroom apartment in Toronto, near Young and Carleton. I had spent the summer successfully touring The Root of All Squares and I was departing for Auckland, New Zealand in February of 2002 to start my Ph.D.. After a brief and economically unrewarding stint as a Metropass courier, I now had plenty of time on my hands.
I had two ideas for my first novel: i) the vague notion of a semi-autobiographical story; ii) a post apocalyptic science fiction story grounded in political philosophy. It was my host and friend, Jason Fleming, who convinced me to pursue the vague notion. It was only years later that I finally realized the story was actually about boys and girls and the problems between them.
So, did I succeed in failing?
As is so often the case with quasi-metaphysical claims like, “the novel is impossible,” so much depends on how one defines his or her terms.
I like the text that I called A Derivation of Love but I don’t think it captures or represents a life — even a fictional life. We learn a lot about the protagonist, Desmond, but there is much in the end that we don’t know — and that is by design. The rather thin narrative of the text is built around a rather narrow vein of human experience and I’m not at all convinced we can reasonably infer a life — even a fictional life — from what is there. Our lives are not reducible to the story of our interactions with those people we desire.
So, by the terms I set for myself in 2001, I fail.
I fail, however, only because in 2001 I was still suffering from a lingering nihilism. The nihilist trick is simple. Define an idea, practice, or belief, like the novel, in terms that are necessarily unachievable and then claim the idea, practice, or belief is impossible. Then, lament the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Ten years later, after writing a text that may or may not be called a novel, depending on how one defines the terms, I’ve learned to set my victory conditions differently. Sufficient time in the sun and by the ocean can cure most people of their nihilism. Writing a semi-autobiographical novel can also help.
Today, I am pretty adept at adopting a perspective that creates win-win rather than lose-lose situations. That switch in perspective was aided by writing Derivation; so, in that sense, I succeeded. Perhaps, by sharing it as an ebook, it may be useful for someone else as well — and that’s another chance for success. If I also make a couple of bucks, all the better.
If you’d like to buy the ebook, buy it here for US$ 0.99. That’s a special introductory price for friends, family, and early adopters. It will go up in the future.
If you’d like to read it for free, it’s available here in a much less convenient but far more free package.
If you read Derivation and want to respond to it, please add your comments to the Facebook page. In the mean time, why not give the page a “Like”.
If you prefer to respond on Twitter, use the hashtag #DofL. Don’t forget, on Twitter, I’m @SterlingLynch.
There’s even a Google+ page, for you wacky early adopters!
You can also email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many thanks to Von Allan who planted the idea-seed of an ebook in my head (he’s released a new graphic novel), to Jay Lutes for the fine cover art an design (he also does great murals), and to Evan Thornton for designing the eBook itself (he’s also the Editor of Spacing Ottawa).
For the record, it only occurred to me when I started writing this post that we accidentally released the ebook — almost to the day — around the time of the tenth anniversary of my once and for all commitment to finish it. If that seems like a ridiculous amount of time to write a fairly short book, you should also know the second chapter is based on a text I wrote for my OAC writing class in 1992. Arguably, Derivation of Love was almost twenty years in the making.
I will have something to say about the length of time it took to finish the text in future posts but suffice it to say I was busy becoming the person who could finish the text and writing the text was only one important part of that process.
BTW: if you see any copyedits we overlooked, please let me know. We can easily update the text.
And: if you want to take a crack at writing a short summary blurb or review, it will not only be greatly appreciated, I will work to find some eyeballs for it.