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Criticism, Publishing, Ruminations, The Writer's Life, Writings

The Fat Man is Singing

This may not be every writer’s worst nightmare, but it has quickly become mine. While my agent is getting things together to submit my historical fiction to publishers (we’re still working on the title and I’ll probably blog on that soon), I’ve been writing away on a second novel.

This one is quite different from the first—it’s a satire and written in an existential style. I’ve been working on it in various forms for several years, and have finally found the correct voice for the narrator, so I have recently been enthusiastic about moving ahead at last.

I don’t want to say too much more about it, but about a year ago I had an idea that as the main character, who is something of a loser, continues to gain power, he might also gain weight—a metaphor for his growth and the indulgences that come with it. Rather creative, I thought.

Well I guess I wasn’t the only one. Got my Wall Street Journal today, which included a section on books to watch for in 2010. Right at the top of the page is a blurb on Ian McEwan’s latest, titled Solar, a comedy about climate change. Here’s what they wrote: “Solar centers on a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who leads an initiative to pioneer a new source of clean energy. He also gets fatter as the novel unfolds.” So much for my creativity.

I suppose I should be flattered that a writer of the “weight” of Ian McEwan came up with the same idea. And maybe his treatment of the weight gain is not quite the same. But it sure is frustrating. His book is due out March 30. Guess who’ll be first in line to grab a copy and see how the fat man sings.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


13 thoughts on “The Fat Man is Singing

  1. Okay, if he can’t gain weight, give him a tumor. Tumors grow and could easily represent the same thing as general weight gain. It wouldn’t even have to be malignant. Just a thought.

    Posted by jonzech | January 9, 2010, 5:10 AM
  2. Well, it could be worse…your second book might have been in production or about to be released when McEwan’s book appeared.

    Posted by kansasjohn | January 9, 2010, 2:43 PM
    • Wouldn’t that be something? Of course it would also mean I was being published on a regular basis.

      Posted by jpon | January 10, 2010, 3:26 AM
  3. There’s always losing weight or losing hair; growing hair or growing beards. I’m sure it will still be a great novel, even if the fat man can’t sing.

    Posted by cpurcel1 | January 9, 2010, 7:15 PM
  4. I think it is a huge fear for a lot of writers. I think most readers don’t consider how long it takes to get through the novel writing process, and when there are similarities the assumption follows that things have been copied or co-opted when that’s so rarely the case. From the sounds of it, I think the weight gain concept more aptly applies to your character than McEwan’s. I’d be very curious to hear what editors and publishers have to say about such things. I agree, it could be worse. And this may just force you to be even more creative.

    Posted by moondaria | January 9, 2010, 7:58 PM
    • Thanks Gwen and Christine. It will be interesting to see how McEwan develops this idea when his book comes out. Maybe my treatment is just different enough to stand as it is.

      Posted by jpon | January 10, 2010, 3:28 AM
  5. Gwen’s right. There are only so many devices in literature. If one author uses dancing as a metaphore for sex, can none of us ever use it again?
    Good grief, where would Shakespeare or opera be without “mistaken identity?”
    Joe, your creativity is not challenged by this coincidence.

    I will be interested in the process of finding a title for your current book. Titles mean a lot. When you told me my story, The Only Game in Town, needed a fresh title I was skeptical, but it had been turned down enough already so it became The Tuesday War, and Poof, Glimmer Train. I probably owe you a Mocha Grande for that one.

    Posted by jonzech | January 9, 2010, 9:42 PM
  6. Uh-oh. How much of the book have you written? I’m interested to know how you’ll handle that aspect if you need to expunge it, or how you’ll make it new if you choose to keep it.

    Posted by Kelly Davio | January 11, 2010, 10:42 PM
  7. I guess the bright side (if there is one) is that I’m only a third through the new ms, and the weight gain has basically just begun. So it’s not like I would have to go back and change everything. I’m trying to think of other ways in which success might be manifested physically in case I have to make a change.

    Posted by jpon | January 12, 2010, 12:23 AM
  8. Joe, do NOT let this coincidental nonsense slow you down! Write YOU’RE story. Let your editor ask for changes. Sure, you might want to have some alternatives ready, but don’t self-edit too soon.

    Posted by jonzech | January 12, 2010, 2:52 AM
  9. That is a nightmare. I think by the time your book is ready to come out, and considering the enormous audience, it might be fine though. I’m sure your agent/editor would have a nice perspective on the issue as well.

    Posted by John Gilmore | January 12, 2010, 2:48 PM
  10. Thanks Jon and John for the votes of confidence. I’m certainly going to wait to see what McEwan’s treatment of the idea is before I make changes. And a couple of years in between might allow me to go with my original plan.

    Posted by jpon | January 13, 2010, 1:28 AM

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