Tuesday, March 1, 2011

With Forks And Hope

So rather than wait until I felt in full fettle to begin working on the novel, I threw myself back into it about a week ago. Progress has been slow, frustrating, rewarding, enlightening, and terrifying. On the other hand, that's what it's like doing anything these days.

As I mentioned in previous posts, one issue I'm dealing with is the realization that what began as a story addressed to a third party has transmogrified into a stream-of-consciousness piece. As a result, the book has gone from first-person past-tense to first-person present-tense.

I'm finding that this it an intensely bullshit-sensitive approach, and that as a result I'm seeing that a lot of what I'd written was bullshit -- "Okay, here's a half-page of intense description because the book is just starting and I don't have anything good for you yet." "Here's an obligatory bit of backstory that the protagonist would never spend time recollecting in a million years."

This is great -- but it has also led me to question the need for a particular sub-plot and pair of characters.

The thing is? These two were where the damned story started, and were only gradually pushed out of center-stage by degrees. In fact, in the whole big novel, the trilogy, they are central! Pivotal! They provide the continuity between this volume and the main part of the work!

Plus, everyone loves them. Quotes get read aloud at writer's group meetings, which is always fun. And they serve a function if the story is regarded from a mythological standpoint...

But I think they might not need to be there. I need to take a close look at the outline and see what happens if I just take them out. I think the story becomes stronger and more direct. And shorter, damnit, but what can you do?

The big change, however, has been organizational. The affectation of numbered chapters with titles, as fun as it's been, doesn't work in a stream-of-consciousness piece. But since cuts are needed, there have to be points of division in the story. As a result, I'm writing a series of short subsections, much shorter than the length of the chapters that have been the organizational unit of the work until now. The rhythm is totally different, since each subsection needs to have its own rise, fall, and conclusion, rather than the deliberate build to a cliff-hanger that was standard with chapters.

It makes for a snappier pace, but it's acting to further compress a fairly dense work. This is why the bullshit is showing.

I'm also reminding myself that this is the start of the process. The real issue is not the plot. The real issue is hitting the stage of full engagement with the work. Right now I am luring that out as if it's the fucking Snark --

They sought it with thimbles, they sought it with care
They pursued it with forks and hope

They threatened its life with a railway-share

They charmed it with smiles and soap.

Man, though. The next time around, I'll start working with the idea that I'm writing a novel right from the start. Now that I think about it, it's not so much that I set out to write this novel as I was mugged or hijacked. Oh, well. Inspiration is almost as useful for shaping a life as addiction.

The next book I write will be easy, and simple, and pleasant. I swear.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Forty-Seven And Counting

Thanks to Deborah for the photograph.

So today I turned forty-seven. It is time to take a deep breath and remember that despite my current drama, this last year has seen accomplishments including my first professional fiction publication and my first reading. I've made new friends and allies, discovered new talents, and received praise and encouragement from people whose work I've admired since long before I began to take my art seriously. There have been deep and lasting changes in the way I regard and treat myself.

So here's what I need to do in the coming year.

First off, I need to put more effort into developing methods for coping with stress and anxiety. I was speaking with the missus about my goals for the coming year, and she said I should put this on the top of the list. She's right.

Professionally? At the very minimum: I want the novel to be in the hands of editors and agents before my next birthday, I want to put a portfolio for a show based on my art for Swill in the hands of gallery owners and agents, and I want to put a portfolio of my paleontological art into the hands of children's book publishers and agents.

Personally? Right now, I am at sea. Everything from the way I eat to the way I dress and the music I listen to has been going through major changes. The things I did for fun are starting to drop away from me, and I'm not sure what to replace them with.

In other words, my sense of identity is in a state of flux. Who am I and what am I for? Right now I do not fucking know, and my circumstances are changing so rapidly and unexpectedly that there is no way for me to predict how things are going to end up.

So all I can do is work hard, and make sure that work gets in front of people who can get me money. My old editor from the Mondo days told me a while back, "You aren't a wannabe, you're a professional who hasn't been paid yet." She's right. This year, it's time to start changing that.

I may feel lost, I may not know who I am right now -- but I have work, and I have purpose, and if I pursue those honestly and earnestly, then things will probably work out for me. Just have to keep on going, one page at a time.