Wednesday, September 30, 2009

"Cocke & Bull"

I am now 1500 words into my next book, "Cocke & Bull." Don't ask me about the title; it came to me in a dream so I'm going with it. Anyway, I am pleased with most of my 1500 shiny words. They do pretty much what I want them to do, and the chapter is unfolding in a satisfying way. Though I keep feeling the narrative trying to get away from me, which is why my next step is not to write more prose, but to sit down and write up an outline more detailed than my single-paragraph synopsis. A list of events and scenes is what I need, and soon. I also need to do a great lot of reading for research purposes. This story is set in 1749 in the American Colonies (Maryland, north of Baltimore on the shores of Chesapeake Bay to be precise), and I realized that I just don't know enough about the times to get the depth of character that I want. Though I have found a dictionary of criminal slang for that time period, and that should be a lot of fun for me.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The End is in Sight

I made excellent progress last night, typing up my changes into the ms. I think that I can finish up in either one long session or two nice short sessions at the keyboard. I remain well pleased with what I've wrought, and even though I am still in Writer Mode and keep coming up with all sorts of new ideas to throw into the book, That Way Lies Madness And I Refuse To Succumb To The Lure Of Additional Scenes. Unless I do succumb, in which case someone needs to drop by and hit me with a brick. It is a fact undeniable that changing one word anywhere in the manuscript necessitates changing lots of other words throughout the rest of the book, and I just don't have the rest of my life to fiddle around with it. I have other books to write, and "So Honest A Man" is fine the way it stands.

Also, my astrologer has told me this:

Your time is up, Virgo. No further stalling will be allowed. We need your answer now: Will you or will you not take advantage of the messy but useful offer that is on the table? Don't ask for an extension, because you ain't getting one. Please take advantage of this chance to prove that you love yourself too much to get hoodwinked and abused by perfectionism. Be brave enough to declare your allegiance to the perspective articulated by the mathematician Henri Poincaré: "There are no solved problems. There are only more-or-less solved problems."

Who am I to argue against that sort of logic?

The word count keeps dropping, little by little, but as I've been saying, the book is plenty long enough and the lost words were all just cluttering up the prose. It's a good book, and I'm glad I wrote it.

Bird Head For Charity

Buy a great anthology. All proceeds go to charity! Big-name writers, flash fiction, cool stuff. Pre-order and save $5!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

But who are these "young people?"

This is interesting. We are apparently in a literary boom. No wonder agents are buried in queries.

Also, Amazing Ben Thompson's cover art (finally):



The book has loads of cool illustrations and maps, too. I like maps. "Badass" comes out next month. Buy it at your plucky local independant bookstore!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Revisions Update, Part Something

I've been typing up all my changes to "So Honest A Man" into the Master Document(tm) these last two weeks. I really hate this bit, as it entails going through the marked-up pages and editing the Word doc to reflect all the edits I've made by hand on my printout. It's slow going because my handwriting isn't the best, and sometimes I've changed my mind a couple of times about revisions to passages and it takes me a while to figure out just what I meant. If there are radical changes to passages or scenes, it can take me longer to type up my changes than it took to do the actual revisions.

I find this very dispiriting work, and since I'm only reading the ms in bits and bobs as I edit, I keep getting the feeling that the narrative makes no sense. Of course it doesn't when read in this manner, but it's an odd mental place to find myself.

Happily though, when (like last night) I sit and take the time to read over a revised chapter, I am immensely pleased with what I've done to the book. It's a really fine story that I've written, and all of my changes work. The current plan is to ship it off to my agent around the first of October.

Approximate word count at this stage (about 50% through typing up changes) is 88,000. I assume it'll stay about that same length. I'm interested in that number, but not concerned about it. The book is plenty long enough.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

New Hope for Novella Writers

I read this morning that a new publishing house, Madras Press, will be publishing a line of novellas and donating all proceeds to a charity of the author's choice. Which is, you know, way cool. Of course, Madras Press stole the charity idea from Davin, Michelle and me at the Literary Lab. Or, not. In any case, if you see their books in your local independant bookstore, pick them up.

Also, if you're a dead European writer of novellas, there's a good chance that Melville House will publish your book. The Proust title featured on the page to which I've linked is quite fine. Their entire The Art of the Novella line is really cool. "Bartleby the Scrivener" is a must-read for anyone.

Other places printing small books that are very cool include Hobart. The Mary Miller book "Big World" is way better than good. Mary autographed my copy. She had no idea who I was, but that's okay; most people don't.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Jonathan Evison Book Wins Award

Jonathan Evison's fabulous debut novel "All About Lulu" has won the Washington State Book Award for fiction. Go buy a copy, especially if you live in the Pacific Northwest. Support your plucky local authors published on small presses! And read his next book, "West of Here" when it comes out next year. Do it. Jonathan is a really nice guy; he and I had a great conversation about agents a couple of months ago, and Jon bought all the beer. For the whole room. And he likes rabbits.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Crazy

I have clearly gone mad, but I just realized that I miss being in the process of revising my novel. Not that I'm going to start in again, but...I do miss it. Which is likely a sign that I need to start working on my next project, working title "Cocke & Bull." That'll show me. That'll show me good.

Cutting Room Floor, Part 3

More expostion I don't need:

Like all young men on their first real exposure to education, Hamlet was amazed at his capacity to learn and mistook that capacity for a greater intellect than he actually possessed. I’d gone through it as well at his age, and it is only because Hamlet was truly likeable that I could withstand his earnest lectures about every subject under the sun. In the first and second year at university a young man feels that he either knows or is about to know everything worth knowing, and that every thought, even if it merely echoes the thoughts of the writers of antiquity he is being forced to read by his masters, is being thought for the first time in history, by him, and he is compelled to give voice to it. Hamlet regaled me with all the Plato, Aristotle et alia that I read years earlier, and I was expected to be astounded by the ideas he discovered. The prince was an excellent parrot of classical wisdom, entertaining and well spoken if not insightful. He enjoyed philosophy and the poets but had no mind for history, theology or any practical knowledge.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Cutting Room Floor, Part 2

More backstory that didn't make it into the final draft.

I was so skinny and weak that no tradesman would apprentice me, and my father understood that the only thing to do with me was to have me educated. When I was six years old he sent me to the bishop’s Latin school. This was once the place where all Wittenberg’s men, except for those few who could afford private tutelage at home, began their studies. The Latin school had been housed for nearly a century next to Schlosskirche, in one of the buildings owned by the diocese. After the Lutheran usurpation of Wittenberg, the bishop’s school was closed down and a Lutheran school took over that building. The City Council turned a blind eye as the bishop continued to run his own school, on a much-reduced scale, outside the city limits at the abandoned Benedictine monastery. Our teachers were aging monks; a few of them had once lectured at the university. Under city edict, theology and the Catechism were banned as subject matter, and at times the City Council opened its eye and closed the exiled school to remind the bishop who it was that really held the keys to Wittenberg’s kingdom of knowledge.

It cost money to attend Latin school, and oftimes my father could not afford my tuition. When I could not attend school, I made an effort to help my father and his apprentice in the shop, running errands and getting in the way. From my father I learned nothing of the bookbinding trade, having neither the dexterity nor the interest for it. I did learn how to avoid a beating when I could, or take one when it came. These skills served me well at Latin school, where it was said that youth learn neither manners nor grammar passively; knowledge is taken in through the skin as well as the eyes and ears.

With the interruptions to my schooling, a course of education that normally took no more than four years lasted eight in my case. A boy usually left Latin school at nine, having learned his basic grammar from the histories of Cato, the letters of Cicero and the comedies of Terence. He then went on to one of the colleges, or the seminary if he was destined for the priesthood--or the clergy, I should say, as there were no longer any Catholic seminaries in all of Saxony. Those few Catholics left in the city were fortunate that the bishop’s school retained the monks who had lectured at Wittenberg, for by the time we were old enough to enter the university we were not only fluent in Latin but also knew our Xenophon, Demosthenes, Virgil, Catullus and Ovid. Perhaps our studies in music, geometry and arithmetic were not up to the same standards as our Lutheran neighbors, but certainly we surpassed them in rhetoric and dialectics. I was not the most brilliant boy at the bishop’s school, but I took to Latin like a native of Rome, and when I’d read some of the classics I dreamed for the first time of more than beef and mutton. My schoolmates and I stormed the walls of Troy, founded great cities along the Elbe and captured foreign princesses before wandering home to our hovels and our fathers’ workshops. When I was ready to sit the university entrance examination I was well enough prepared for the challenge. What nearly kept me from my degrees was lack of money.

My father could little hope to afford my university education. While he had at last been allowed to join the lowest tier of his guild, in Wittenberg the trades were not yet as powerful as they were elsewhere; there was steady work but the Duke’s taxes were heavy and the guilds had more ambition than wealth. Our family lived in a shack built against the bindery, we ate gruel morning and night and there were months when no work at all came my father’s way. I was another mouth to feed from his small portion of food--food better spent feeding the ugly apprentice who now lived in the shop. We argued over my going away to Italy or France to enter a seminary, but I felt no calling. I refused my father’s suggestion of the priesthood and greatly vexed him. I was a headstrong boy, even at fourteen.

“I want to raise the family name to respectability and honor here in Wittenberg,” I told him. My proud claim meant nothing to my father; he cared naught for honor and knew that I mistook respectability for no more than a clean bed.

“Hmph,” my father said, and dragged me off to see the bishop.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Cutting Room Floor

So last night I finished revisions of "So Honest A Man" and in a few days I'll tidy things up and send the new version off to my agent to see what he says. Hopefully he'll say "Wow!"

I ended up cutting all of my protagonist's childhood from the book, because it was nothing but setting and backstory. Some of it wasn't bad writing, but the book is better without it. Here's a snippet of snipped prose:

In the warm months I ran the length of Wittenberg’s streets, in the tall shadows of newly built marble counting houses that shouldered their way into lots between the older step-gabled brick buildings. Barefoot and clothed in whatever stray patches of rough cloth my mother had sewn together into breeches, I got into what harmless private mischief I could. In an alley behind a carpenter’s shop where I meant to collect wood scraps and stray ends of boards, I once ran foul of a gang of older boys who had cornered a lad from one of the city’s few Jewish families.

“Foreigner,” the older boys spat, shoving the little Jew down into the mud.

“I am no foreigner,” the frightened boy protested. “I was born in Wittenberg, as were you.”

“Jew,” they accused, beating on him with their fists. “We should burn you and yours at the stake!”

The boy saw me and called out for help. I took a step toward him. Some of the older youths came forward.

“What ho,” they said. “A little Dankser.”

“Nay,” I answered. “I am German.”

“Jew!” they threatened.

“Nay, I am Catholic,” I said confidently.

“Papist!” the boys cried, and fell upon me. When I arrived home hours later, bloody, naked and with no armload of kindling, my father gave me a few blows when I told him what had happened, and that I had fought back.

“A man fights not,” he said. “No matter what is done to him.”

Saturday, September 12, 2009

"Moby Dick" page 360

Melville refuses to gloss over the violence and cruelty of the whaling business:

As the boats now more closely surrounded him, the whole upper part of his form, with much of it that is ordinarily submerged, was plainly revealed. His eyes, or rather the places where his eyes had been, were beheld. As strange misgrown masses gather in the knot-holes of the noblest oaks when prostrate, so from the points which the whale's eyes had once occupied, now protruded blind bulbs, horribly pitiable to see. but pity there was none. For all his old age, and his one arm, and his blind eyes, he must die the death and be murdered, in order to light the gay bridals and other merry-makings of men, and also to illuminate the solemn churches that preach unconditional inoffensiveness by all to all. Still rolling in his blood, at last he partially disclosed a strangely discolored bunch or protuberance, the size of a bushel, low down on the flank.

'A nice spot,' cried Flask; 'just let me prick him there once.'

'Avast!' cried Starbuck, 'there's no need of that!'

But humane Starbuck was too late. At the instant of the dart an ulcerous jet shot from this cruel wound, and goaded by it into more than sufferable anguish, the whale now spouting thick blood, with swift fury blindly darted at the craft, bespattering them and their glorying crews all over with showers of gore, capsizing Flask's boat and marring the bows. It was his death stroke. For, by this time, so spent was he by loss of blood, that he helplessly rolled away from the wreck he had made; lay panting on his side, impotently flapped with his stumped fin, then over and over slowly revolved like a waning world; turned up the white secrets of his belly; lay like a log, and died. It was most piteous, that last expiring spout. As when by unseen hands the water is gradually drawn off from some mighty fountain, and with half-stifled melancholy gurglings the spray-column lowers and lowers to the ground -- so the last long dying spout of the whale.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Missed Deadline

I just sent an email to my agent, telling him that I'm going to be about two weeks late with my revisions. I did not mention the word "deadline" because it turns out that I'd only given him the end of August as a provisional date. How smart I was to hedge my bets and pad my timeline.

Anyway, here's a brief status report: I have done all the big changes I wanted, and I still like what I've done. I'm almost finished reading through the whole ms, with about 45 or so pages to go, and happily enough I'm not finding much to change. A few entire pages without a mark on them! Chapters Seven and Eight didn't fare so well, and were almost rewritten from scratch, just because I didn't like the pacing.

My plan of action is to change one big scene, add in another big scene (already written) and add a bit of dialogue to another scene. Everything else is just playing with language and condensing dialogue. The hope is to actually finish revisions by Friday night, and type up all my changes into the Master Document the weekend of the 12th, when Mighty Reader and I have returned from a well-earned vacation along the coast. I may post pretty pictures if I think of it.

Was there a point? Oh, yeah: back in June, this revision looked impossible, but now here I am, nearly finished with it. See yesterday's post about perseverance.