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The 13 Moons of Writer's Block

Updated: Jan 15, 2023

“It’s just that my protagonist doesn’t want her brother to die,” I told a traveling companion at a café in Kathmandu. “I think it might be the only plausible conclusion, but I'm not sure, and anyway, she can’t handle it.”

My real-life brother John died in 2004, at 28, by his own hand. In my second novel, I desperately wanted to invent an alternate reality in which the brother gets professional help and lives happily ever after. Then I could finally show John, as Lucinda Williams would say, what he lost when he left this world, this sweet old world.

Putting Serena’s brother on Prozac didn't seem to make sense at that stage of my book's development, though. Thus, I'd been stuck – unable to move forward with the narrative for some months.

“Maybe it’s like Thirteen Moons,” Jeremy said, referring to the novel by Charles Frazier. “You know, like, different versions of what happens.”

Flowering trees, not lightbulbs, hung over our heads, yet I swear the café brightened.

“Her brain can’t accept what’s happened," I said, sitting up. "She imagines other outcomes.”

Jeremy sipped his Americano. “I think that book got criticized, but you could try it.”

New York Times reviewer Adam Goodheart suggested Frazier’s various versions of a climactic duel scene were a cop-out. “It’s as though he’s saying that he doesn’t know or care what his characters would really have done – or perhaps, couldn’t decide which of his rough drafts he preferred,” Goodheart wrote.

One could argue that Frazier was playing with the notion of shifting realities under a 13-moon calendar. Goodheart felt Frazier left his readers lost.

Still, maybe the technique would work for describing emotional action, so long as the outcome is eventually resolved. After all, our first response to, “He’s dead,” is often, “No, he’s not. He can’t be.”

Maybe it couldn’t work.

Maybe the troubled brother actually should be saved, in the book.

At the time of this conversation, I still didn't know / hadn't decided, but the conversation allowed me to keep moving forward and experimenting. Sometimes, the best cure for writer’s block is often to talk it out with a friend.

Walking it out is another cure. How did my partner Mickey help me write about snakes and jesters? Stay tuned for a future blog post.

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