Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Working On The Novel & A Nephew Art Pizza Box

I've had this sitting in the studio for a few months now. In a moment of weakness, I ordered a takeout pizza. In the Bay Area that's a really stupid thing to do -- pizza ranges from the disappointing to the appalling and it's hell of expensive. You're better off, financially and gastronomically, if you just sit down and start eating dollar bills.

This pizza was merely disappointing -- but the box is a perfect example of what the sainted cartoonist Kliban called Nephew Art. To put it briefly, someone says, "Hey, I need some art," and someone else says, "I got a nephew that can do that real cheap." The more I looked at this box, the more I was impressed by its ineptitude.

Click on the images for a larger view of the snark.

So the Monday Night writer's group gave me my first response to the current start of the novel. Whew! While there is some fiddling to be done -- they had some great suggestions and corrections -- they gave me the impression that I did what I tried to do. The lead character is now more understandable, more deeply flawed, and much more dramatic. I didn't add a lot of backstory -- just a pinch, a soupcon -- but it was enough to help bring ol' Matt to life. By eliminating everything that didn't directly pertain to the actual story things flowed better and made more sense. And there's still enough humor to make it fun to read about the sufferings of a victim of psychotic agitated depression.

Of course that's what the Monday night mob said. When I hear from the Pros from Dover who gather on Thursday I might hear something different...

Right now I'm going through a bound copy of the manuscript with little multicolored stickers and hi-liters. I'm marking the places where I need to dial up the protagonist's insanity, the places where I need to foreshadow later developments, anything that I can safely cut, wound continuity (What's worse -- the fact that I'm tracking wound continuity or the fact that much of that is straight autobiography?), and calender dates.

Since the Monday night group is taking a summer break and the Thursday night group can't take more than ten or fifteen pages a week, I won't be running the whole of this draft through a group before I start trying to get an agent. Here's how I'm gonna work things.

Once the current preparatory desecration of the manuscript is finished, I'll revise two or three chapters a day until this volume is done. I'll also do ongoing revisions of the chapters I submit to the Thursday group, one chapter a week.

When I've gotten fifty pages through the group, I'll send a letter of inquiry to Christopher Moore's agent. Moor writes humor novels with horror themes, most of them set in either San Francisco or what I suspect is his version of Big Sur. His work is gentler and sillier than mine (those terms are descriptive, not pejorative), very different in tone and intent, but there's enough overlap so that it makes sense to try and work with people who work with him.

Then when I'm done with the main revision of The Ghost Rockers, I'll start in on an outline for The Boneland Rovers. When I started working on this, outlining was useless. When I tried it I wound up paralyzed. But now that I know what the story is, outlining is vital. Interesting how that works -- and I wonder if my next novel will follow that pattern or if I'll be able to start off with outlines from the start.

While the new version of the first chapters is a vast improvement, I had to cut a lot of stuff that I really liked. On Friday or Saturday I'll be posting the for-now finished versions of chapters one and two so you'll be able to get a real taste of the work. But for now, here's something that I wish I hadn't had to cut -- mainly because it really happened to me and the memory bothers and amuses me this day. Yes, I really am this lame.

I went back to where Karen and Melanie worked. Melanie always made me think about the farmer who goes to the circus for the first time and finds himself outside the giraffe pen. He stares and stares and stares, then shrugs his shoulders and walks off saying, “There ain’t no such animal.” Her features and coloring were Asian, the delicate perfection you’d see in a brocade print, but her body was Scandinavian. Broad, deep shoulders and hips, narrow waist, strong limbs with delicate wrists and ankles. She wore her hair in a bob and favored punk outfits with rips artfully revealing flashes of smooth caramel skin. A few inches of thigh, the trembling underside of her breast…

Karen smiled sweetly at me, then gazed at the work in her hands. She was so quiet, so self possessed. It killed me that I’d never know what she thought about.

Melanie stretched her arms over her head and took a good five years off my life. “Hey, Matt, you doing okay?”

“Doing all right and yourself?”

“I had a little too much fun last night, you know?”

I made a motion towards the can under her table. She didn’t move. I was going to have to get close to her to empty the trash. As I reached under the end of her table I was able to avoid touching her but I could feel the warmth of her body with my cheek and arm. I wanted to push her out of my way. Was six inches of room too much to ask? It seemed cruel. Intentional.

“So there’s such thing as too much fun?’ I said, then stood up and poured a murmuring cascade of foam peanuts out of the can.

She looked up and grinned at me, wrinkling her nose. “Maybe not.”


robp said...

The Pros from Dover? A M*A*S*H reference? Cool, especially as it has to do with a con perpetrated by the best surgeons around.

And hey, the cut scene you're showing here, sorry it didn't fit, I always liked that one. Too many good scenes for your own good, Craven.

Sean Craven said...

Yep, it was a MASH reference. The movie, of course.