I am writing this from a castle.
More specifically, I’m writing this from a huge apartment inside a late Baroque palace on a hill outside of the almost aggressively unremarkable city of Stuttgart, Germany. There are fields and there are horses. There are other castles, some of which have been converted into places where people eat sausages and get drunk in the steely, sober manner of Germans in synthetic athletic uniforms. There are wild boars. They have been known to attack and cripple people. The arts people at this castle have not only given me a place to work and live, but they have given me money to do so. They are paying me to sit here in a castle and drink whisky. This, of course, is good because I currently have negative 3,000 Euro in my bank account. I have not had positive Euro in my bank account in well over five years.
My second novel, The Household Spirit, has just been published to some acclaim in the UK and indifference in the United States, my home country, where I haven’t lived for almost twenty years. And that spatial and temporal distance has frozen things there to the extent that I imagine I can still contact eight-year-old Tod Wodicka, show him this. Let the weird little kid know that someday he’ll be working on his third novel in a castle, a real castle. He’ll be thrilled. Even if I told him that he’d have no money, none, and that his soul is frayed and fragile, and that a few days ago the love of his life left him in the castle, and returned home to Berlin, ending a five year relationship.
Now, I might also tell dreamy little Tod that his third novel will be about our father’s gay sex club in upstate NY. But that my confuse things. (‘Our father is gay? What is gay? And like a clubhouse? Wow!’) I might try and explain the gravitational suck of heartache, of what it suddenly feels like to haunt your own life, but that probably wouldn’t make much of a dent either because little Tod doesn’t even have pubic hair yet and he’d only see this: me writing a book. Us writing a book. In a castle.
“No two ways about it, the little guy would flip the fuck out.”
What happens when your dream comes true and feels more like a nightmare?
Well, that’s probably the wrong way of looking at it, so let’s hold onto the success my younger self would see in my current situation. Let’s use him for sustenance, which is apt because part of being a novelist surely means not growing up. Or, scratch that, being a novelist means you actually tell yourself bullshit like: I am a novelist so I don’t need to grow up. And no matter how many people—long-beleaguered ex-girlfriends, let’s say—tell you that maybe you need to grow up, financially and emotionally, you can shut that off because holy shit did you see what the Guardian said about my first book? They compared it to Nabokov’s Pnin!
Since I was that child, there has never been anything else I wanted to do. And now, at 39 years old, it’s too late to do anything else. It’s a chicken and egg situation. Who came first, the novelist or the moody, emotionally needy, deeply strange and over-perceptive self-fabulist? Am I unbalanced and alone because I devote my life to the idea of writing novels, or vice-versa?
The sad, macho cliché: maybe we thrive on disarray, on coddling our problems and anxieties by mythologizing them, making them sing, sometimes causing them to burn brighter in our lives – and burn to a crisp the people in our lives – just because it makes a newer, better story, an easier or less boring narrative. Something the writing then helps put that in glorious order. And then: time for more disarray. We’re part fireman, part pyromaniac.
Does that make sense?
I hope not.
Hard facts, then:
There are no average days for a novelist. And how we might benefit from an office, a time card, a boss; paid vacation and health care and the occasional promotion. (‘Mr. Wodicka, we’re pleased to say that after some consideration, you’ve been promoted with a raise from mid-list afterthought to a hyped autumn release! As a bonus, Human Resources are currently doing the paper work for an award nobody has ever heard of…’)
“I think that we all dream of stability but might be genetically predisposed to psychodrama, and to chaos.”
How we write, and our routines, are as varied as our novels. Even within the life of a novelist, there’s little stability from month to month. Some months you might not write at all, just sit around making the life of your loved ones miserable, or drinking, or both, or finding reasons to read this or that book, make notes towards this or that unrealizable TV series you are convinced will break you out of poverty and keep the woman you love from fleeing towards the idea of a more emotionally and financially stable partner. But then some months you sizzle, you can’t stop creating – and when that happens, and it does happen, everything else feels worth it.
That said, what has today looked life in the life of Tod Wodicka, professional novelist?
If you think you can handle the truth, here goes:
I awoke around 6AM, feeling vaguely… well, I didn’t know how I was feeling so it was important that I spend the hours between 6AM and 7:30AM trying to figure out how I was feeling, with occasional forays into internet porn, news about Star Wars Episode Seven, self-googling and, then, because momentum is important: a move from the bed to the sofa. The sofa told me that it was a commitment and, as such, that it was probably time to make tea. Tea was made. Sofa seemed nonplussed. Then I read a little from an extraordinary novel, The Story of a New Name, by Elena Ferrante, about women in Naples, Italy, a city I visited with my ex-girlfriend, her again, so then I stopped reading that, feeling in a flash as if every word or slab of matter had, and will always now have, a tinge of loss attached to it. Then I looked at more pornography. Then I listened to Steely Dan, who convinced me that it was time to get out of the castle and go for a walk, smooth horns blazing. I walked. I returned to the castle, sweating, wondering if I had any new emails: I did not. But that couldn’t be right. So I waited for more emails to poke their heads up while listening to Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted, feeling crisp and young for a few songs. The walk had helped. Then it was time for lunch but since I didn’t have breakfast I decided lunch couldn’t be all that important either. I ate a bland, watery plain yogurt. This yogurt was left over, along with all sorts of tofu and molding vegetables, from when my ex-girlfriend was here and helped fill the refrigerator. I am letting her food go bad. It is cathartic watching the carrots turn from orange to brown and then black and shriveled. Sometime in the afternoon I lost track of time and decided that maybe I would put some notes down for my third novel, Bathhouse. So I wrote that on a page, ‘Bathhouse’, felt pleased, felt like anything was now possible. This excitement took me back to the bed, where I jumped uselessly around the internet, waiting for emails that will never come, until I watched an episode of Deadwood, a series I’ve already watched once through, but that was a long time ago. I am a new person now. I suddenly, for the first time in well over a year, have a new book to write. A new life to begin destroying.
Keep in mind: all of this is being subsidized by German tax payers.
Am I cut out for this, you aspiring novelists or eight-year-old Tods might be asking yourselves. Frankly, if you have to ask, you’re probably not cut out for it. Because, sadly, for me, this totally insane, fraught path still feels like the only sane choice. Which is fucking scary.
Tod Wodicka’s second novel, The Household Spirit was recently published by Jonathan Cape and Pantheon. His work has appeared in Granta, the Guardian, Tank Magazine, Art Papers, the New Statesman, AnOther Magazine and the National. He lives in Berlin, where he is at work on Bathhouse, his third novel.