Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Trailer Park Tuesday: The Novelist

Welcome to Trailer Park Tuesday, a showcase of new book trailers and, in a few cases, previews of book-related movies.

This week's trailer is not for a book, nor even a movie, but something completely different: a video game called The Novelist.  I'll get to the game in a minute, but first....a personal confession.

I did a lousy job balancing my life as a family man and a writer.  This is not a wallow in self-pity or regret (okay, maybe a little), but a clear statement of fact.  In my 30 years of marriage and 29 of parenting, the role of writer sometimes rode in the sidecar and sometimes took the handlebars of the motorcycle.  I love my wife and three children to the deepest core of my being, but I also love stringing words together and it's nearly impossible to do the latter while spending time with the former.  Ask my three children and, if they're honest, they'll tell you that some of their fondest memories of me when they were growing up involved a closed basement door; the soft, sporadic clack of keyboard keys; and the occasional shout from my netherworld office to "keep it down up there!"  Regrets, I've had a few...  The writing life is one of see-saws and tightropes: if you're doing well on the page as a writer, you're slacking as a father; if you're excelling as a husband, the page goes blank and empty.  You have to find that balance between giving just a little of yourself to each in a careful division of time and attention.  I will always remember where I was (1985, standing in an aisle of the Smith Family Bookstore in Eugene, Oregon) when I opened a copy of Raymond Carver's Fires and read these words:
But I remember thinking at that moment, amid the feelings of helpless frustration that had me close to tears, that nothing—and, brother, I mean nothing—that ever happened to me on this earth could come anywhere close, could possibly be as important to me, could make as much difference, as the fact that I had two children.  And that I would always have them and always find myself in this position of unrelieved responsibility and permanent distraction.
I gasped and tears sprang to my eyes.  Raymond Carver got me, he totally understood what I was going through at the time.  Years later, I'd learn that when Carver wrote those words, staring at a pile of damp clothes in a laundromat and feeling the squeeze of parenthood, he was a lousy drunk and an irresponsible family man.  But at that moment, if he'd been there with me in Smith Family Bookstore, I would have hugged him tight as a soul brother.  I had a wife and an infant son waiting for me at home and while both were welcome distractions I knew they would also forever be a responsibility I could not ignore.  The central question became: How could I achieve my dream of being a successful, published writer without pushing away the people I loved?

Which brings us to The Novelist.  The video game (which is still in the final stages of development, but available for purchase here) wrestles with that same issue.  Surely family and career aren't oil and water, there must be a way to shake and blend them into one smooth pour.  Here's the trailer:

The game focuses on Dan Kaplan, a novelist struggling to write the most important book of his career while trying to be the best husband and father he can be.  The Kaplans have come to a remote coastal home for the summer (where the porn-mustachioed dude may or may not be maniacally typing "All work and no play makes Dan a dull boy").  You, as the player, move throughout the starkly-furnished house like a ghost, trying to stay out of sight as you eavesdrop on conversations, read their thoughts and enter their memories.  As the game's website notes: "It’s up to you to decide how Dan’s career and family life will evolve, but choose carefully; there are no easy answers, and every choice has a cost." (For more about the development of the game and to watch a few minutes of actual play, go to this link.)  This could be the most boring video game ever made, or it could be the most depressing with its shades of Carveresque gloom, coupled with a hint of isolation and insanity a la The Shining.  Or it could make players continually put the game on pause as they sit there silently and ruminate about their own lives, wondering how they can be better fathers, mothers, parents, partners, or friends to the ones they're potentially ignoring while hunched over a computer, typewriter or beckoning blank page (not to mention while they're playing this game).  This could also be one of the worst things to happen to contemporary literature since Pamela Anderson wrote a novel.  I mean, think about it: how many great novelists will play this game and then, stricken by conscience, decide to abandon the book as they go off for an afternoon picnic with their family?  How many Bleak Houses will remain unwritten--all for the sake of a few hugs, kisses, and kite-flying with the kids?  I guess it's up to us, as players of our own lives, to decide.


  1. How could you work on your own WIP when this is happening in your game: "Dan is on the brink of finishing his manuscript, but his youngest son is somewhere out on the water in his 12-foot sabot as a hurricane blows in." In life it's really a no-brainer, right?

  2. They had better include some data recovery issues. "What, Word ate my last three chapters. You have got to be kidding me!"

  3. Heh. Use Scrivener instead of Word, @James B.

    Are money issues addressed in this game? This is something that drives me nuts, because it doesn't seem to be part of the story, ever. Oh, I had a free summer (somehow) and someone loaned me their house... ?

    How is it that this family can go away for a month, or a summer, in the first place, if he is a novelist? Do tell.

  4. Actually I do use Scrivener, I just felt like picking on Microsoft. The guy in the game actually uses a typewriter, so he would have to spill coffee on the manuscript, or have it eaten by a dog.