Monday, January 27, 2014

The First Draft

There are various ways of attacking this thing called a first draft.

One way is to go at it willy-nilly.  Take no prisoners!   A forced march, to the very end!  And then, when either Shackleton has set out in his little boat to find help, or Mao Tse Tung is paddling downriver on his back, you will find that you have a first draft.

And so, you stop.  You look back.  You go to the hardware store.  You buy a machete. You go at the thing front to back, whack!, whack!, whack!  You take no prisoners.  You  keep going, a forced march, right to the end.

At that point, you invest in some serious authorial software with names like [fill in the blank] and [fill in the blank, Bob].  This allows you to sort out the shards in alphabetical order and append them to card-like electronic tiles. Then you can re-arrange them all you want.  You can play mahjong or solitaire.

From what I have this morning read, there are outlining novelists and organic novelists.

Because I do not have an outline, I assume that I am an organic novelist.  The subliminal outline will be revealed to all--including me--in the fullness of time and through the process of keyboarding, which, you may remember used to be typing.

I tried to write a long made-up story (a.k.a., novel) once before, without benefit of an outline.  No GPS.  No compass. Not the remotest familiarity with the native language.  Just fast fingers, keyboarding like the wind, straight into the very heart of darkness.  From which no second draft ever emerged.

The truth is, on that project, I didn't really have a story.  All I had was one or two characters that I found personally compelling for some reason that I could not articulate, and a vaguely ghost-y sense of  imminent peril.

But that was not enough.

This time, it will be different.

I have a character who I can actually talk to.  Every detail of her story sparks my imagination and smacks of destiny to me.

Also, as of today, I have a support team--a pit crew, as it were.  When I run out of gas, blow out a tire, or crash into a wall--they will be there to sort me out with all haste and send me on my way.

But still, there are hazards.

1.  Imagine that your novel is a huge success.  It makes you rich and famous.  So rich and famous, in fact, that you can afford to build a heated and covered arena in your back yard.  You can buy the other five acres adjacent to your four.  You can keep apartments in Paris in New York.

Now, try to focus your attention back on your manuscript.  You can't do it, can you?

2. Forget about the interesting parts of your story.  Spend inordinate amounts of time fiddling with the insignificant parts.  Wordsmith it like a deranged poet with OCD.  If that sentence resists your contortions, don't give up!  Spend an hour on it at least, if you have to!

Then try to remember what motivated you to write this story in the first place.  You can't remember, can you?

3. Hire an ex-felon on Craigslist to tile a kitchen floor that you know for a fact is possessed by the one hundred-year-old poltergeist of a Scandinavian dairy farmer.  Oh, and keep your kid home from school for two days because his skin will curdle in the cold from twenty seconds' exposure.

Now try to give language to that brilliant insight you had the other night.  You can't do it, can you?  F.Scott Fitzgerald could.  Remember that footage of him at the party, everybody's gaily running around jumping into fountains, and there's Scott, sitting on a stump or something, hunched over his manuscript, oblivious to the world, scratching away at it with his outrageously poor spelling.


I'm sure there are other hazards, but these are the first three that I ran into today.

The floor guys are gone, but the kid is still here.  I tried.  Tomorrow, I try again.

As that potent character, Scarlet O'hara, once said, "Tomorrow is another day!"

Friday, January 24, 2014

Mia Appologia

I hesitate to say it, because I know it sounds pretentious and it's going to jinx me, but I'm going to go ahead and say it anyway...

I'm writing a book.

Yeah, I know.

How is that different from my New Year's resolution to swim laps three times a week?

And BTW, before we get to the matter of the book, how's the swimming going?, you might ask.

It's very cold outside.  The wind blows the snow into the driveway.  And Josh has basketball and archery on Saturdays.  

Swimming is not going all that well. 

Please, let's not get all negative on me now.  (That's a Bob Dylan lyric, isn't it?)

I am.  Writing.  A book.

I'm sorry, but I'm not going to tell you what it's about, because every time I do that, (I've done it three times), I feel the energy of it drain away from me.  I want to keep that energy for the book.  (If this sounds like a Victorian argument against the wasteful spilling of seminal fluid, I don't care.)

I think there might be lots of interesting stuff to say about the writing-a-book-experience without spilling, as it were.

But first, there's something I've got to get off my chest:  I'm sorry!

I apologize in advance for the following items:
  • For holing up, more or less, until this book is written.  (Don't look for me at the pool.)  
  • For not participating in altruistic activities,  as I otherwise would if I weren't engaged in the narcissistic pursuit of literary immortality. 
  • For being cheap with money because my hours of writing are not in any way billable.
  • For being even more of an airhead than usual--yes, it's possible--because I am caught up in a fictional world loosely based on a true story.
  • For not keeping up with things generally, for the reasons noted above.
I hope that those of you who are affected by any of this will understand.  If you've noticed no difference whatsoever, then you are a happy person whose expectations of others are properly calibrated, and you shall never suffer the slings and arrows of, um, disappointment.  

Most of all, I hope that my modest sacrifice of time, money, and grace will be worth it.  


That's Latin for we shall see.  Now that I'm an almost-famous author, I will be peppering my posts with Latin and French. 

You might want to print them out.  They might be valuable one day!

One more thing.  I apologize in advance if I turn into a pompous literary ass.  I doubt that will happen, but it is one of the occupational hazards of becoming a famous author.

Au revoir!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

I Love When Everything Stops

I told my friend Jen, a little too gleefully, that I secretly enjoy cancelling things.  She was nonplussed.  And I understand that response.  She has been teaching me how to ride horses again, after a 30-year hiatus.  And as you might guess, people tend to cancel their scheduled riding lessons with casual frequency.

Kids get sick, sports conflict, child-care falls through...There are a hundred good reasons, but occasionally an adult rider simply forgets, until five minutes past the lesson hour when they are ensconced in the bathroom-decor aisle of the Super Target, that they had a lesson at all.

So I back pedaled as fast as I could, on a horse.

It wasn't that I liked cancelling things.  I liked it when things were cancelled.  I liked acts of God, when the scheduled activities of the day are dry-erased because of snow conditions or wind chill warnings.

One of my favorite memories is New England's blizzard of '78.

A snow drift reached the second story of my house.

We had to evacuate to a friend's house.

School was canceled for a week.

We lived in Swampscott, eleven miles north of Boston, and a short walk to the Atlantic ocean, which boiled over our fortifications and poured into the streets.

Folks strapped on skis, snow boots, snow shoes.  They tied small children to sleds and trudged or skied into a hushed and humbled seashore town knocked back a hundred years.  To my way of thinking, it had never looked more beautiful.

Debbie, who gave us refuge, had a fireplace.  She rolled newspaper into tight wands that ignited a toastyand crackling hearth. She made beef Stroganoff  with sour cream and mushroom soup,egg noodles, and steak.

By day, there was a steady back-beat of Jackson Brown, Gordon Lightfoot, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Linda Ronstadt.

In the evening, there was Motown and Jimmy Cliff.

Deb taught me the jitterbug.

We turned on the news every night to get the latest on the storm, school closings, and Gov. Mike Dukakis's sweaters.  He had a great collection of pullover sweaters in a variety of colors.  This is the only example of Dukakis in a sweater that I could find on Google.  He was much younger in 1978, but this is a nice sweater.

Sometimes, like right now, as a writing person, I have to carve out time to sit and type.  Sometimes, like right now, that involves not doing something else, (like going to church).  It almost always involves trying to get some distance on my subject--pulling away from it--in order to see it more clearly.

Having everything in one's life temporarily suspended affords me the guilt-free luxury to get that perspective, and the time to sit down and type about it.

Of course, I regret the catastrophic implications of severe weather.  I don't mean to turn a blind eye to it, or to gape with rapacious curiosity.

(On the other hand, in moments of pending disaster, aren't we all more aware of those who are most vulnerable to the vagaries of nature and circumstance?  Do they suffer so much less at other times, when we are not looking?)

It doesn't have to be the weather, of course.  It could be illness within my own family.  Assuming a manageable case of the flu, not involving the stomach, I'm all for it.  Let's cancel everything and stay home. Let's hunker down, take long naps, watch movies, and drift aimlessly through the hours.

I'll spend the day with my son, or I'll spend it alone but not lonely, uncomfortable but not miserable, convalescing on the couch, snuggled up to a dog.

Proust spent most of his waking life and writing hours in bed.

Winston Churchill, you may be surprised to learn, didn't rise from his bed until called upon to do so for a meeting that could not occur within the confines of his own bed chambers.

He was very productive in bed, Churchill.  There, he ate, drank coffee, dictated all manner of communications, and engaged in strategy and decision-making at the highest level.

It can be a productive life style, staying in bed.  At one time, it was the privilege of achievers; today, it is considered a hallmark of clinical depression.

I am writing from the couch.

I should really go douse the kitchen floor with adhesive remover, walk the dogs in the blistering cold, and then commence scraping the glued-on layer of cardboard that had been somehow nuked onto the sub-flooring byone of this house's previous owners.

In any case, Whosie, the kitten on my lap, has become an obstruction.

One must go, and do what one must.

Oh, but I do love stopping!