Monday, September 19, 2011

Countdown: Five

Today's starting word count: 36,198

I know, the count seem puny, but what I've done the past couple of days? It's been about taking words out of the remainder of the manuscript.

Or to put it this way -- the pile of finished work is 135 pages thick, and there's only 83 unfinished pages left. There are a few scenes-from-scratch, but I'm well past the halfway mark. Regardless of whether or not I get done in time, the experiment is an official success.

And I'm polishing two short pieces, so there are three short works soon to be released into the wild. One goes into Swill, but I want to submit the sensitive story of the single mother and her raccoonabe child to The New Yorker, the puberty story to McSweeney's, and the autobiographical horror porn to Salon. I like the SF world, I will have my photo taken next to the SF world, and the SF world can come to my birthday party. But I don't want to limit my options. I'm sure you understand.

Here is one aspect of the novel that's the kind of thing they don't cover in classes or workshops. When I realized that I was writing a novel with strong horror elements and that the protagonist was strongly autobiographical, I entered into a minefield.

Many difficulties in people's lives come about as a result of falling into unconscious patterns of behavior. There is a certain point where these patterns overlap with ritual. The execution of a large-scale work of art, one requiring months or years of effort, is a ritual. It was important that I was conscious of my intended goal when I set out on the ritual of writing this novel.

At that point, writing strongly confrontational, abrasive horror was one of my primary creative goals. I was putting my rage and self-disgust down on the page as directly as possible.

Hey, I still do a bit of that from time to time, but writing that kind of material is the result of self-excoriation. If I were to do it as a career? I'd be using self-excoriation as a tool to generate material. Horror can be an emotional bitch to work with.

So I needed to make the work one that ended well for the protagonist, and as it developed, I realized that despite all the weird trappings, I had a straightforward hero's journey story here.

While that story form may have its roots in tales of ancient kings, its real strength is that it serves as a metaphor for maturity, for the process of developing yourself, taking your power, and finding your place in the world.

My thought was that I'd write the book, and by getting it finished and eventually published, I'd complete the hero's journey on my own.

But the book grew too large, was split into thirds, and so I was working toward a different end, one I hadn't clearly thought through. Where was Matt, my stand-in (or 'fiction suit,' in the terminology of Ellis and Morrison), supposed to be at the end of the first volume?

Well, he would end the first volume having had his first real taste of using his power intentionally. He'd be someone just starting to come into his own, with a freshly-minted and hard-earned sense of himself. He'd have established a small, but real place for himself in the world.

Up until the past few days I hadn't realized that I needed to reach that state in order to successfully complete the book. I thought the completion of the book would achieve that end, but it doesn't work that way. If I wrote about that feeling without having experienced it, the book would have been a lie. I would have been making a promise to the reader and myself that was not founded in truth.

I'm a lot of things, but I ain't that.

Once I processed the idea that I actually do suffer from serious psychiatric conditions, I started to realize something. I'd spent my entire life in a struggle against my own nature, trying to make myself fit in to the norm, because the norm was right, and healthy, and successful.

But an inability to plan and execute plans, poor focus, constant conflict with social norms, and so on and so forth, have all rendered me an utter failure as a child-engendering car-driving job-having regular guy.

I spoke to the missus about this, about how letting go of the idea of ever being normal has been such a relief, that the only thing I was any good at was being me. That while I am completely inadequate at the Fred-and-Barney level, I am more than adequate on other levels, and that I wanted to live on those levels and just be who I was. And she responded with such genuine warmth and support that I still feel the glow.

Regardless of whether this book succeeds or fails, or even if it's possible for me to make a living writing novels, I know that I am a real artist, and that I have acquired a substantial and respectable body of skill. I know that because of that, regardless of where I go or who I am with, I am anyone's equal.

My greatest fear has always been my own inadequacy. I'm now at the point where I am not dependent on success in the greater world to feel a sense of value in myself or my work.

A couple of years ago, I put this up on the blog.

When you're in your element you're different than when you're not, and it struck me that real confidence is the ability to create your proper place inside yourself so you can carry it around with you, so that when it's appropriate you can withdraw without feeling diminished. Ponder ponder.

I've finally done that. My faith in my ability to achieve highly in the arts has been confirmed by people who would know in terms I would pick out of a catalog if given the opportunity.

I needed that in order to write the ending of the novel truthfully. And that is the real reason the damned thing has taken so long, and so much work. It's not just a novel I'm writing. It's myself.

Of course, this has me terrified of the fact that Matt doesn't get laid until the third volume. What makes me do these things?


Valentina Hepburn said...

Hi Sean,
Your novel sounds amazing and I recognize the comments in your post. You're right about rituals and habits. They can either encourage us to develop and expand our lives (publishing a novel would do it) or have the opposite effect, imprisoning and entrapment. I certainly include a lot of myself in my characters. When reading a novel, the story is often guided by the character traits of the writer as much as anything else.

Sean Craven said...

Hey, Valentina!

I agree completely. There really is a certain point where the work reveals essential qualities in the creator whether or not they intended to expose themselves.

A lot of writers that get accused of not dealing with character are actually wrestling with their own character right there on the page. Lovecraft comes to mind.

I'm just glad I noticed myself wandering into that zone before I got too deep.