Friday, December 31, 2010

2010, Adieu adieu adieu

Year-end roundup:

Books Read:
Henry James The Turn of the Screw and Other Short Novels
Ernest Hemingway The Old Man And The Sea
Elizabeth Strout Olive Kitteridge
Peter H. Wood Strange New Land: Africans in Colonial America
Carl Bridenbaugh Myths and Realities: Societies of the Colonial South
Richard Hofstader America at 1750: A Social Portrait
C.S. Lewis On Stories and Other Essays
Michael Bond A Bear Called Paddington
D.H. Lawrence Women In Love
Stephan Budiansky Her Majesty's Spymaster
Joshua and Anne-Lee Gilder Heavenly Intrigue
Cormac McCarthy The Road
Federico AndahaziThe Anatomist
H. Porter Abbott The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative
Michelle Davidson Argyle Monarch
Michael Bond More About Paddington
Jhumpa Lahiri Interpreter of Maladies
David Benioff City of Thieves
Mary Ann Samyn Beauty Breaks In
Victor LaValle Big Machine
Chinua Achibe Things Fall Apart
Haruki Murakami Sputnik Sweetheart
Colum McCann Let the Great World Spin
Agatha Christie Murder on the Orient Express
Mikhail Lermontov A Hero of Our Time
Rick Daley The Chronicles of Christmas
Agatha Christie Evil Under the Sun
Edgar Allen Poe Collected Poems and Stories
William Shakespeare Hamlet
Agatha Christie Halloween Party
Jorge Luis Borges Labyrinths
Nadine Gordimer Get A Life
Michelle Davidson Argyle Cinders
Jonathan Franzen Freedom (abandoned at pg 350)
Richard & Florence Atwater Mr. Popper's Penguins
Paul Harding Tinkers
Davin Malasarn Bread
Helene Hanff 84 Charing Cross Road
Laurence Sterne The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman
Michel Houellebecq Atomised
James Woods How Fiction Works
Roy Peter Clark The Glamour of Grammar
Richard Rive (Ed.) Modern African Prose

That's only 43 books, and I whine constantly that I have No Time To Read.

Only 9 nonfiction books are listed here, but I know that I've done a lot more factual reading than that in 2010. So huh. But a lot of my reading/research comes from JSTOR (an academic online periodicals library), and none of those materials are listed here.

Books Written:
In February I finished the first draft of a novel called Cocke & Bull, which I'm currently revising. In October I finished the complete rewrite of my Shakespeare-meets-scientific history novel Killing Hamlet. In November I wrote a basic outline of my next novel, tentatively titled Nowhere But North, which I'll be writing in 2011, good Lord willing.

Publishing Stuff:
I wrote some short stories but made no real effort to get any of them published. Why? Because it's a lot of work and my focus is on novels and if the five literary journals I actually read pass on a story, I stop shopping it around because why would I submit to a journal I don't even read? It's not polite.

But better news is that in November I got a new agent, the fabulous Weronika Janczuk. Weronika is patiently waiting to see some version of Cocke & Bull.

I wrote some good stuff over at the Literary Lab blog, and so did my colleagues Davin Malasarn and Michelle Davidson Argyle. Some day we'll pull together an anthology of our best writing tips, but for now we're all too busy and we keep revising our own ideas of what good writing is anyway. So don't hold your breath.

Other Stuff:
Progress was made toward finishing the upstairs of the house I share with Mighty Reader. Progress was interrupted when it became necessary to spend great gobs of money on a new furnace and having the fireplace rebuilt. Progress will continue in 2011 and I swear that at least the north room--the planned New Designated Writing Room--will be finished (complete with reclaimed cork flooring) by the end of 2011.

Progress was also made on learning some nice Mozart works for violin. We did not manage to buy a piano this year. Mighty Reader managed to alphabetize all of our books (no small feat), which means that my "to be read" stack is now scattered all over the house and I no longer remember which books I bought but haven't read. So some flaws in that plan, but it's nice to know that all the Hemingway is shelved together and that we know where it is.

Progress was not made on planting a tree in the front yard nor on building those raised beds I promised to construct. But we did get a ping pong table, thanks to the quick work of Mighty Reader.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Anachronistic Images

An anachronism is something that is chronologically out of place. For example, a woodstove is out of place in most modern kitchens, just as a microwave oven would be out of place in Renaissance Italy. As writers, we must be careful to keep things where they belong, relative to the calendar, unless we're doing some sort of Jasper Ffordian time-travel or being postmodern. It would not do to have your Regency heroine text her besties about how beastly her beau has been.

But it's not just technology--not just stuff used as set decoration or props--that we have to watch out for. We also have to keep an eye on the images we use in our narratives. We have to make sure that the way we illustrate our story suits the period of the tale.

This weekend, Mighty Reader and I went to a wetland to look at birds. The weather was capricious and at one point as we walked across a field toward a stand of tall trees, the wind came up and the noise of it through the trees was immense and I thought right away of a locomotive. It sounded as if some huge machine was rushing past us and I wondered if I could use that image. Right now I'm revising a novel in which the characters spend a couple of memorable chapters in a wetland/swamp during a period of storms. "This must be," I thought, "Exactly the sound that William heard as the wind blew through the swamp before the hurricane." O, brilliance! O, inspiration!

Too bad I can't use it. My story takes place in 1749 in America, and the first full-service working railway system wasn't built until 1804, in England. Which means that my characters would never have heard a locomotive, and the simile would be meaningless to them. Yes, it would have meaning to my readers, but I believe we writers should show a certain fidelity to our story worlds and that we should restrict our language and images to things which belong to the world of our characters. We need to be careful. To say that Polyphemus threatened Odysseus and his men, raising his great club like a baseball bat, is maybe to use a strong and specific image, but it is not an image that belongs in a story that takes place thousands of years before baseball was invented. It's lazy, authorial sloppiness (though the reverse--a ball player raising his bat like Polyphemus threatening Odysseus with his great cudgel--is fine). So watch it; that's all I'm saying.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Advent Ghosts 2010: A Story

The following bit of story is my entry into Loren Eaton's Shared Storytelling event for Christmas 2010. Go read the other stories!

"Christmas Eve" by Scott G.F. Bailey

The power was out, and had been for days. We stayed by the hearth, wrapped in sweaters, scarves and gloves, as close to the fire as we could get.

"We’ll run out of firewood soon."

"The roads are impassable. That should keep them away. Maybe there’s something in the basement we can burn for heat."

There wasn’t. After dark, under a thick overcast, the world was black and shapeless. The fire went out after midnight. We huddled by the dead ashes and waited. That was when we heard them, scrabbling down the chimney.

"Oh, God."

I reached for the hatchet.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dear Sprint Corporation

Thank you, Sprint Corporation, for selling me a new LG Rumor Touch(tm) cell phone. Thank you for letting me purchase it over your website, and thanks also for not making me pay the full $279 (plus shipping and tax) suggested retail price for it. The phone is quite fine in appearance and I look forward to using all the features, including "a touch screen and a full, sliding QWERTY keyboard and access to the most dependable 3G network, mobile e-mail, Web browsing and social networking." It will be really, really, really cool as soon as you guys figure out how to transfer my service from my current phone to this new LG Rumor Touch(tm).

For the low standards of customer service you have, and for the hours of my time wasted talking to your customer service representatives, I most emphatically do not thank you, Sprint Corporation. Last night your service rep told me that I'd be able to use my new LG Rumor Touch(tm) today, if I called you and gave you the phone's serial number. Alas, that was a lie. Today I am told that I'll be able to use my new LG Rumor Touch(tm) in, maybe, 48 more hours, if I'm available if and when your service rep phones me back. I made certain to mention to your service rep that I live in the Pacific Time Zone and not in New Delhi where your call center resides, so she or her proxy should take that into consideration on the off chance she or her proxy is actually going to phone me and let me know that my phone can be switched. Of course, she or her proxy will call me on my current phone and ask me to call her back on a different phone, and of course my cell phone is my only phone, but I'm sure that somehow I'll manage. Because, as I say, the new LG Rumor Touch(tm) looks like quite the rocking machine and I'll be pleased as Punch, no doubt, to use all its features once you knuckleheads manage to actually switch it on in your infinite wisdom. Season's Greetings, Sprint Corporation, and don't forget that you're already billing me for my upgraded plan even though I can't actually use the upgrades yet.

Also, you have got to tell your service reps to stop saying, "But don't worry!" every time they tell me there will be more delays to my service. Really, just stop it.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sorry, Jimmy. We'll Try Again Next Year

I have put James Joyce's Finnegans Wake back on the shelf after reading about 100 pages. But this is just a temporary break; Jimmy and I will get back together again after the holidays. Finnegans Wake didn't turn out to be a good choice of reading during this time of year. There are too many real-life distractions and not enough time for me to sit and read. So back on the shelf FW goes until the New Year when things will--I pray--settle down a bit.

In the meanwhile, I do not plan to read any fiction other than my own. I'm revising the first draft of Cocke & Bull so that I can set it aside for a while again before revising it further. The MS presents some interesting problems that will require quiet reflection before a solution presents itself. That's all I'm saying about that.

A lot of non-fiction is on my "to do" list: books about Greenwich Village and New York Harbor and the Progressives before WWI, books about ships and sailing, books about explorers and madness (likely a re-read of Geoff Powter's fabulous Strange and Dangerous Dreams, also known outside the US market as We Cannot Fail) and all of this will lead up to a rough draft of another book whose working title is Nowhere But North. I plan to structure that novel as three parallel novellas which act as framing stories to each other. It will be massively cool and the fore- and backshadowing possibilities excite me just thinking about them.

Anyway, Finnegans Wake is just too complex a work to be read in little snips here and there; it requires sustained effort and that's something I can't give it right now. But next year I'll reacquaint myself with Mr. Earwicker and friends.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Happy Birthday, Tycho Brahe

Today is the birthday of Tycho Brahe, Danish astronomer (1546-1601). He's 464, if my math is correct. His gold nose has yet to be found.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Hamlet Scissorhands?

Johnny Depp to play Hamlet in 2011? He may be too old already. Who'd be cast as Ophelia, then?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sham and Shem (Finnegans Wake, Day 13)

There are times when I pick this book up and am baffled, defeated and irritated by the narrative. I have no idea at all what I'm supposed to be reading and I lose track of the subject of the sentence before it reaches a verb and I read the same line over and over and my eyes begin to glaze and I think about napping. This book is about nothing! It's all surface without meaning! It's a sham! Damn you, James Joyce! And then I immediately hit a stretch of amazing and wondrous prose that expands the worlds of language and human nature and I am filled with joy and curiousity and I keep reading. Thank you, James Joyce.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Famed Astronomer Murdered! News At 1601!

Something rotton in Denmark, or possibly in Prague. Or possibly only in our imaginations. But still: makes you think.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Lyle Lovett and Will Shakespeare: Together At Last

Much Ado About Lyle Lovett

If I was an actor, and I could play any Shakespeare character, it would be...Hmm. I'll have to think about that one.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Weronika Janczuk, D4EO Literary

I am pleased to announce that I am now represented by the fabulous Weronika Janczuk of D4EO Literary. In 2011, Weronika will be submitting my novel Killing Hamlet to publishers of fine literary fiction, and will be representing my future works as well.

Weronika is really smart, really funny, really cool and has (obviously) exceptional taste in writing. I've known her via the internet for a couple of years, and it's exciting to be working with her now. I hereby retract every negative comment I've ever made about the internet.

As everyone knows, literary fiction is a tough sell, especially in this market. I intend to remain quietly hopeful about Killing Hamlet finding a publisher, and I will keep working away on my other books (which rock like hurricanes, you).

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Everything Is Happening (Finnegans Wake, Day 7)

I realize that the level of reader interest in these Finnegans Wake posts is small, but them's the breaks. It's the book I'm reading and so it's what's on my mind and possibly only a handful of people on Earth are also reading it and the odds of them stumbling across this blog are slim, so this is a one-sided conversation and I know it. Yet, if nothing else, I sort of promised a few people that I'd write about reading this difficult text, so this is what you get for now.

I am at the end of the second chapter, and I realize that I'm reading this book very slowly--more slowly than I usually read--because a lot of the meaning (or at least the immediate impact) of the text results from the sounds of the words and so I am pronouncing each word in my head as I go along, sometimes more than once with stress on different syllables because often enough the words are puns, when you find the proper accent, and the sentences sort of unlock themselves and their meaning. So the book is a slow-moving puzzle for me.

Though I'm not exactly reading at a snail's pace. After a hundred or so words I usually manage to catch the rhythm of the prose and I can read along quickly enough, though the feeling is less that of reading a book than riding a roller coaster or being tossed about in a little boat by a heavy sea of alliterative verse. I never quite know what's happening in the book; there is a story in there, but Joyce is giving me impressions more than exposition. People are talking, a rumor is spreading, HCE has done a Bad Thing, but there are so many other things going on with the narrative, right on the surface, that the story is fairly obscured.

Which gives the narrative a weird sense of having no motion, of time having stopped and Joyce is not describing action to us so much as he's minutely describing photographs or portraits or murals, maybe. Things stand still, the narrative rolls along and over and under and through these frozen moments and everything in those moments is cast into high relief, but there is so much everything that your eye doesn't know--to continue the photo metaphor--where to settle and what to look at. Everything is happening.

So when I pick the book up to continue reading, there's no real way to see right off where I left off, because asking "what happened last in the story?" is a hard question to answer, because "next" and "last" and "now" and "then" are all meaningless in this narrative, which is a loop in time anyway, where Finn is about to come back again but not quite yet and though the book has a first page, the story doesn't and the sentences are so long that your grammarian nuns in parochial school would sooner become bawds than diagram them.

Anyway, I am enjoying the book, but I must say that I'm experiencing it more than reading it.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Sewing a Dream Together (Finnegans Wake, Day Five)

Boald Tib does be yawning and smirking cat's hours on the Pollockses' woolly round tabouretcushion watching her sewing a dream together, the tailor's daughter, stitch to her last. Or while waiting for winter to fire the enchantement, decoying more nesters to fall down the flue. It's allavalonche that blows nopussy food. If you only were there to explain the meaning, best of men, and talk to her nice of guldenselver. The lips would moisten once again. As when you drove with her to Findrinny Fair. What with reins here and ribbons there all your hands were employed so she never knew was she on land or at sea or swooped through the blue like Airwinger's bride. She was flirtsome then and she's fluttersome yet. She can second a song and adores a scandal when the last post's gone by. Fond of a concertina and pairs passing when she's had her forty winks for supper after kanekannan and abbely dimpling and is in her merlin chair assotted, reading her Evening World. To see is it smarts, full lengths or swaggers. News, news, all the news. Death, a leopard, kills fellah in Fez. Angry scenes at Stormount. Stilla Star with her lucky in goingaways. Opportunity fair with the China floods and we hear these rosy rumours. Ding Tams he noise about all same Harry chap. She's seeking her way, a chickle a chuckle, in and out of their serial story, Les Loves of Selskar et Pervenche, freely adapted to The Novvergin's Viv. There'll be bluebells blowing in salty sepulchres the night she signs her final tear. Zee End. But that's a world of ways away. [Emphases mine--sgfb]

I can't read this book for more than ten minutes without wanting to grab pen and paper and write something myself. Joyce's critics claimed that he'd gone beyond genius, beyond poetry and beyond all language in Finnegans Wake and maybe they're right, but maybe they're just not brave enough to jump into the limitless sky with old James just to see how far they fall, how far they fly, how they'll tumble and where they'll land.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Our Cubehouse Still Rocks (Finnegans Wake, Day One)

No, that's not a Robert Pollard/GBV reference, but is an announcement that I've finished Michel Houellebecq's Atomised and have begun James Joyce's Finnegans Wake.

I have no idea what I'll think about this book. I'm only a few pages in and I don't actually know how much of the language I'm intended to understand. I have decided to read it quickly and just plow straight through and if I get the gestures and some of the precise meanings, that's good enough. I am familiar enough (I hope) with the literary conceits and the basic ideas behind the book (the Fall of Man repeating itself over and over, and the weird sexual crime at the heart of the book, and that it's nighttime in Dublin and that Anna Livia (the mother) is the river Liffey (which also means that since her soliloquy ends the book and the first word of the introduction ("riverrun") is the last word of her soliloquy, she should also properly speaking be the narrator of the introduction, and that "Finnegan" is "Finn again" maybe, and the "wake" is not the wake of the old story but "wake" as in what comes afterward, like the wake of a boat, and Finn is perhaps Finn McCool, the hero who sleeps in a cave like Barbarossa, and after another Fall, maybe, Finn McCool will come forth and save Dublin, which is every city. Maybe.

This is less a text than a performance, and it's unreadable and it's not unreadable, and it's a novel and it's not a novel, and it begins with "riverrun" and ends on that same word in Dublin, which is the Garden of Eden. I don't know if I'll enjoy reading this book, but I do know that already it's making me think about narrative in a different way, and making me wonder about open versus closed narratives and gosh, but our cubehouse still rocks as earwitness to the thunder.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Shakespeare's "Hamlet:" Not Quite a Review

On Friday evening, Mighty Reader, two of our friends and I went to the Seattle Shakespeare Company's performance of Hamlet at the Seattle Center Theater. If you live in Seattle or evirons, you must go see this. It totally rocks the house.

This is a not-quite modern dress Hamlet, as there are nods to 19th-century fashion alongside high heels, Uggs and Eurotrash ski wear. The sets are minimal: a bare stage with flats painted to look like either castle walls or desolate winter landscape, a couple of chrome and wood benches and not much else. The Seattle Center Theater is a small space and the actors use the aisles between audience seats as extensions of the stage; Hamlet made his entrance behind me, to my right. I don't usually like things like that, but for this production it worked.

The cast is generally excellent. A lot of performances of Shakespeare strike me as being acted by folks who don't really undertand the language, but in most cases here the lines are delivered as if Elizabethan English is a living tongue and the actors believe in what they are saying. Many of the words have changed definitions over the past 400 years and the actors use that to change the meanings of some of the lines, usually for comic effect, and I think it works in this production. I was happy with how much humor director John Langs found in the play, and how much of it the audience got.

Darragh Kennan is too old for the part, but his Hamlet won me over pretty quickly. He addresses the audience directly during his soliloqueys and I think that works and I believed him. Richard Ziman as King Claudius is exactly the right mix of egotism, smarminess and savvy politician. His first speech is delivered at a microphone, surrounded by courtiers. His "prayer" speech is great, and the chemistry between Claudius and Hamlet is wonderfully hateful and dangerous.

Everyone, as I say, acquits themselves well. Gertrude and Ophelia are not really roles of great depth (few of Shakespeare's women ever transcend the level of stereotype anyway) but they are done well here. Ophelia's madness is possibly a bit predictably done, and I'm tired of seeing her with a handful of stones instead of flowers, and possibly I'm also tired of seeing her so over-the-top mad in her mad scenes. I'd like for once to see a bit of a subtle madness, a lost Ophelia rather than a lunatic. Maybe someday. Her exit from the stage after her funeral is cool.

A lot of the staging and the interpretations are cool, in fact. The action opens in total darkness, the first line ("Who's there?") startling and spooky and the light comes up gradually on stage as the action progresses toward the entrance of the ghost. Claudius and Gertrude wear bathrobes and drink flutes of champagne when they greet the returning ambassadors to Norway. The play-within-a-play is downright brilliant, especially the dumb show that opens it (and also Hamlet's scene beforehand with the players as he tiresomely gives them advice). I remember being struck during the third act, maybe, with how surprising the production was. But I was struck more, truth to tell, with how versatile Shakespeare's poetry and plots really are, and how well they endure the centuries. Shakespeare's plays--especially his tragedies--are so complex, so refusing of easy interpretation and summary, that there are nearly infinte ways of understanding them, of reading and performing them. There is simply so much to Shakespeare, such great depth and complexity, so many levels and possibilities sitting right there in the prose that it will be impossible--no matter how many more centuries pass--to "wear out" the plays and exhaust the interpretive possibilities of them. Shakespeare was that good. He was better than we are, and I am again humbled by his genius. He was a man, take him for all in all, but we will never see his like again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Tristram Shandy, Day Thirty-Four and Done

So that's that for Laurence Sterne's satire on English bildungsromans, and a fine time it was. I'm sure I'll miss the Shandean universe even while being happy to move on to some other book. I will not get into the "did Sterne finish the book or not" question, except to say that the idea of some sort of plot resolution is foolish and, honestly, how and where would this narrative properly "end?" I'm just glad to have read it and I exhort you to read it if you haven't done already.

What on Earth will I read next? Finnegans Wake? The Ambassadors? The Cry of the Sloth? A Moveable Feast? Or something entirely else? Hard to say, and you don't care so I won't belabor the point.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Tristram Shandy, Day Thirty-Three

There has been a lot of activity recently. Book VII contained three trips from Calais to Paris (all narrated simultaneously): Tristram as adult writer of the novel, in more-or-less present tense; Tristram as adult before beginning to write the novel, at an unknown age and traveling alone; and Tristram as a child, traveling with his father, his uncle Toby, Corporal Trim and Obadiah (Mrs. Shandy remained in England). Sterne (you know, the real writer) takes the opportunity to trot out all the stereotypes of French that the English loved in the 18th century, and had a couple of jabs at Catholicism again, but not so badly this time around. Anyway, lots of fun and more mention of the mysterious "Jenny," the woman in Tristram's life about whom we will learn, in the end, almost nothing. Book VII serves no other purpose than to pad out the book and to interrupt the narrative and delay the story of Uncle Toby's love affair with the Widow Wadman, which begins immediately again with the start of Book VIII. Mrs. Wadman is carrying out a determined and well-planned assault on Uncle Toby's passions, though of course Toby has no idea that he is in any danger, poor fellow.

Also! TG and I went to lunch and had a marvelous time. We met at a used bookstore where I purchased a Vintage paperback of Thomas Mann's Death In Venice and Other Stories, even though Mighty Reader and I have no room on our shelves for even this slim mass-market volume. I bought it anyway; I could not help myself.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tristram Shandy, Day Thirty-One

Alas, the war has ended with the Treaty of Utrecht, and Uncle Toby has no more to do! Almost all of his energies--since retiring from the army because of his wound had in Flanders--have gone into (and come from, truth to tell) recreating all of the battles fought by the English army, in miniature on his bowling green past the kitchen garden, as near to in real-time as he could manage, taking forts and cities one by one as guided by the daily mails and newspapers. But no more, for there is peace in Europe, and a heaviness has settled over Uncle Toby's heart and he grows listless and disinterested in life. There is a malaise, an overcast, and also a lot of free time. Into that free time, into that heart yearning for something, comes love, in the form of the Widow Wadman.

But we must wait a bit to come to that, for Book VI ends and Book VII opens with young Tristram taking a trip across France, and for 25 pages we are given a travelogue of all the French cities between Calais and Paris, at breakneck speed, and it is only after 25 or so pages of Tristram's travel journal do we discover that he is still a boy of five or so, and is accompanied on this trip by his father, his Uncle Toby, and Toby's manservant Trim. The narrator has yet again, as he puts it, "begun some distance from his subject."

I also wish to mention that Chapter XXXVIII of Book VI contains, just after telling us that Toby will marry the Widow Wadman, a blank page upon which the reader is urged to write his own description of the Widow. The narrator assures us that she is the most desirable woman the reader has ever seen or imagined, and is wise enough to know that he cannot draw one woman desirable to all readers so he lets each reader fill the imagined shape of the Widow Wadman with his own desires. Which is quite clever.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Tristram Shandy, Day Twenty-Nine

I am past the midpoint of this book and Tristram is now either a few days old, or a few years old. The narrative has looped around a bit. I believe that in the main timeline, it is only a few days since Tristram's birth. His mother has gotten out of bed for the first time since her laying-in only to overhear her husband and Uncle Toby discussing the sad news that the firstborn son, Bobby, has suddenly died. We have not learned how or why, but we do know that Bobby was about to be sent off to tour Europe as all young men of station are expected to do, and we also know that Bobby was a bit of a dimwitted lad.

Other interesting news is that Tristram’s father has begun writing a book, the Tristrapedia, which will detail the necessary steps in the education of young Tristram and guarantee that he will not be so thick-headed as Bobby. It comes as no surprise to learn that for the first five years of his life, Tristram is entirely ignored as his father puts his energy into writing the Tristrapedia and not into actually raising the boy. Such is the way of the Shandys. Tristram, meanwhile, when he is a few days old (I think) has been inadvertently circumsized by a falling sash window. Ouch. And, yes, highly unlikely.

So Mr. Sterne continues to amuse and play formalist games but alas, I find that I have begun to skim over some of his digressions. That can’t be a good sign. No doubt one reason it’s taking me so long to get through this book is the tiny type and the yellowed pages; it’s just difficult to read the damned words, especially for an old man like me, reading mostly on poorly-lighted buses.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I Have Sworn To Move On

Scene: Last night, in the livingroom. Enter Me and Mighty Reader.

Me: So, I had this idea about the protagonist's motivation and I think I should rewrite the section where Act 4 ends and Act 5 starts. I don't think that I've quite nailed it and I had this sort of epiphany at work today and I think I can more clearly delineate his internal world and--

Mighty Reader: You're talking about the same book you just sent to your agent, right?

Me: Yeah, but it's a really good idea. See, the primary motivating force in his life has always been a sense that--

Mighty Reader: Oh, for God's sake.

Me: What?

Mighty Reader: You have got to start writing a new book. You have got to stop fussing with Killing Hamlet. Don't be the guy who rewrites the same book for the rest of his life. Just don't.

Me: But--

Mighty Reader: No, just don't. Move on, already. Write the Antarctica book. You keep saying how brilliant it's going to be. So write it already.

Me: (pause) Well. (pause) Okay.

Mighty Reader: (making a fist) I really mean it.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Killing Hamlet: No Longer In My Hands

At long last, I have sent the latest version of Killing Hamlet off to my agent. I hit "send" at 12:38 AM this morning, and then I went to bed. This followed a several-hour session of entering corrections into the ms (I did one more round of revisions last week; Mighty Reader had some excellent suggestions) and I'll be happy to not see this book for a couple of months. I will spend the holiday season regrouping, reading, and thinking about my next book. I am not NaNoWriMo-ing. I'm not that brave.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Just Curious

Why is it that as soon as you hand a MS to a reader, you get your best ideas for the story and you want to snatch it out of their hands and make them wait for the results of the next round of revisions? Don't get me wrong; I'm grateful for the ideas, but still. There is always a version of the story that I like more than whatever version of it people are actually reading. Maddening.

Also: Tristram Shandy, day 22 (I think): Our narrator has finally been born, though he has yet to appear in a scene. He's been talked about quite a bit, though. His mother remains cloistered in her chamber, just as she's been the entire book. His father and uncle Toby have spent the majority of their time in the parlor, though Mister Shandy did take a walk down to the fish ponds when he heard the sad news that his son was named Tristram by mistake; he was intending to call him Trismagistus after the famous alchemist. Damn that Susanna and her poor short-term memory. Uncle Toby has sent for preacher Yorick, who baptised Tristram, to see what can be done about it. Mister Shandy expresses little in the way of hope.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Paul Harding's Tinkers: Not Quite a Review

One of my long-term projects is to read all of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novels that I haven't already read. I try to read the new ones as soon as they're announced and I'm also trying to get to a couple older ones each year. I figure that--with my already too-full reading schedule--I'll be caught up with all the previous winners in a few years. It's part of my larger project of reading more American novels and reading more contemporary American literature. What this means to you is that I have recently finished Paul Harding's Pulitzer Prize-winning novella Tinkers and I'm about to bore you with some thoughts I have about the book. I had mixed feelings about Tinkers while reading it and my feelings remain mixed, but I find that over time the proportions of that mixture keep changing.

Tinkers is the story of George Crosby and his father, Howard. The book opens with George lying on his deathbed in the living room of the house he built, moving in and out of dreams, memories and hallucinatory states. Harding shows us George's connections with life and the world breaking down, and the recurring metaphor of the universe-as-machine gets introduced in an absolutely gorgeous passage taken from a fictional book about clock repair. In places like this, Harding's prose shines like gold and I was breathless reading it.

As George's mind and body break down, the story of Howard Crosby bubbles up and takes over the narrative. Howard is an itinerant salesman in the back woods of New England, a soft-spoken, gentle man who suffers from violent, terrifying epileptic seizures. Howard's sense of the universe as something that can come apart at the seams is similar to George's experience of falling away from life, and I think Harding does a good job arguing his point that life, both communal and private, is a fragile thing made up of many parts that aren't held together by much of anything. I really enjoyed the "Howard" portions of the narrative, and found myself becoming frustrated when the story shifted back to George.

By now you've probably already heard the glowing praise for Harding's attention to detail and the way the story is built up from lovingly-writ passages that describe bits and corners of the physical world. You've probably heard that the narrative is loosely-structured, folding in on itself and traveling nothing like a straight line. So this is a book full of beautiful writing and formal experimentation. I keep thinking that it's a sort of Ulysses and Remembrances of Things Past in miniature. Which sounds really cool, doesn't it?

The only problem is that it doesn't work. It doesn't add up and while there is much to love about Harding's writing and his observations of humanity caught in the machinery of life, Tinkers is a frustrating experience for a reader. As a writer, I am very glad I read it because a lot of Harding's prose experiments are fascinating and, as I keep saying, beautiful taken in isolation. But that's part of the problem with the book: it's a lot of experimental pieces that Harding hasn't pulled together into a whole. There seems to be no underlying structure to the work, no movement, and ultimately very little meaning.

It's as if Harding had essentially one thing he wanted to say, and he found fifty different metaphors to illustrate it and assembled them together, without actually hanging them onto a story. There seemed to be no point to the "George" portions of the novel. Harding abandons his "185 hours before his death, George..." structure halfway through, and begins to loop around and play with point-of-view, voice and a laundry list of other narrative technique, some of them lasting no more than a sentence or two. This is where I think of Ulysses. The difference between Harding's book and Joyce's, however, is that Joyce was using all of his technique in the service of a story, and Harding doesn't seem to be. Joyce was able to sustain formal experimentation over a 500-page narrative but Harding's brief experiments stumble over each other in a book that's less than 200 pages in length. I'm all for experimentation in literature, but the basic materials of Tinkers seem too slim to support the weight of all the formal ideas piled upon it.

A lot of what Harding does in Tinkers is interesting, gorgeous and well worth reading if you're a writer or if you want to see some of the possibilities there are in formal experimentation. I have no problem with this book winning the Pulitzer Prize, for a number of reasons I won't get into. But at the same time, reading Tinkers frustrated me because I wanted more than experiment and gorgeous prose; I wanted Harding to talk about more than one idea over and over; I wanted the incidents in George Crosby's life to have some sort of dramatic or emotional meaning. Tinkers seems, in the end, to lack a beating heart around which all this lyrical prose is wound. If Harding's fundamental materials had been less slight, he could have kept all his experimentation and variation-on-a-theme metaphor and I'd have loved this book instead of merely admiring it.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Killing Hamlet: Why Won't Scott Just Shut Up About It?

Just a quick one (while he's away). Any day now, my chosen handful of readers will have printed versions of the manuscript to read at their leisure, after which leisurly reading they can all tell me how much they love, hate or are unmoved by my book. Very likely before I hear back from any of those chosen readers, I'll give the ms yet another very quick look and then I'll email it off to the East Coast of the USA and wait wait wait for my agent to find the time to read it. Very likely, he'll have one of his assistants read it first and if he/she doesn't say "hey, this really stinks; why you wasting my time with this?" then he'll read it himself and at some point, possibly around the New Year, he'll get back to me with comments. Thank God some things (like, say, emergency surgery) aren't run the way the publishing world is run.

What I find interesting about this is that I no longer ever think of anything as being "finished." Everything I write is in a provisional state; everything can be rewritten and changed around and there is no endpoint, there are just times when I decide to stop working on a narrative and have someone else look at it. Every previous time I have sent the MS to my agent, I've felt like I was done writing it, but this time I don't, and I don't see myself considering anything I write from now until the end of time as being finished. Revision, this is all to say, is a powerful tool and we should all remember to read the owner's manual. This winter while I'm not actually working on a novel, I might go back through all my short stories and see about knocking them around and possibly improving them. It could happen.

Although--and I hate to admit this--last night on the commute home, I wrote the briefest, slightest, sparest, most faint outline for The Next Book. It's going to be really cool, I think, with three timelines that all overlap and intertwine and will possibly work backwards (I haven't decided on that one yet) and I have no real idea how I'm going to write it all out in the first place though I have some ideas. So possibly I will launch right into another novel after I finish reading the joyful thing that is Tristram Shandy. And about Mr. Shandy: Hey, Laurence Sterne, I know that it was perfectly legal and socially acceptable in the 18th century to slag on Catholics because the English government took away religious freedom and you Anglicans were all empowered and mighty and shit, but that trope is beginning to get old for this reader. Give it a rest, will you?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tristram Shandy, Day Thirteen

The book continues to amuse and delight. Tristram continues to not be born yet, although Obadiah has finally returned with Dr. Slop's bag of instruments. Dr. Slop has expressed his intention of climbing the stairs to see how Mrs. Shandy is coming along in her labor, but Mr. Shandy has stopped him; it seems that Dr. Slop is only in the house in case the midwife requires his assistance. Dr. Slop is not pleased with his auxilliary role in this birth, but Mrs. Shandy will have her way in this and Mr. Shandy is not prepared (or was, rather, unsuccessful in his attempts) to fight her on this point. Meanwhile, Corporal Trim has read out a sermon writ (and misplaced into Uncle Toby's copy of Stevenus) by Pastor Yorick, about the general failure of men's consciences to keep them on the path of righteousness. I have the feeling that this sermon was actually one of Laurence Sterne's own and that he was inordinately proud of it and so felt compelled to include it in his novel. I dare say that Pastor Sterne's prose fiction reads better than his sermons and I sympathize with his congregation.

However, the unborn Tristram Shandy gives more advice on structuring a narrative:

I have dropped the curtain over this scene for a minute,--to remind you of one thing,--and to inform you of another.

What I have to inform you, comes, I own, a little out of its due course;--for it should have been told a hundred and fifty pages ago, but that I foresaw then 'twould come in pat hereafter, and be of more advantage here than elsewhere.--Writers had need look before them, to keep up the spirit and connection of what they have in hand.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Killing Hamlet: Third And Final Revision

And, hopefully, this is my final revision post about this damned book. I am revising the MS for the third time, and I think after this round of work I'll be done enough to send it off to my stellar agent guy. I find that I can't really describe in any intelligible way what it is that I'm actually doing during the current rewrite. Keeping an eye to mood and character, mostly, I guess, and smoothing out little bits of language. Possibly this is a quality-control check for internal consistency. Really, it's hard to say. As I mentioned to Mighty Reader a few nights ago, I currently enjoy a rare state of clarity regarding the entire story, and I'm not going to waste this opportunity to revise while I can see the whole of the tale at one time. I almost never have this sort of awareness of the narrative-as-a-whole, and it's such a rare thing that I find I cannot even describe it in a meaningful way, so I'm not even going to try. Hell, I don't even remember what the original impetus was to write this blog post.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tristram Shandy, Day Seven

More advice from our humble narrator about writing:

Writing, when properly managed (as you may be sure I think mine is) is but a different name for conversation. As no one, who knows what he is about in good company, would venture to talk all, so no author, who understands the just boundaries of decorum and good-breeding, would presume to think all. The truest respect which you can pay to the reader's understanding, is to halve this matter amicably, and leave him something to imagine, in his turn, as well as yourself.

For my own part, I am etrnally paying him compliments of this kind, and do all that lies in my power to keep his imagination as busy as my own.


What's happening in the book: Mrs. Shandy has gone into labor, ready to finally give birth to baby Tristram. The laying in is at the rural estate of Shandy Hall at the insistence of Tristram’s father. Mrs. Shandy--during the previous year--took an expensive trip up to London under the pretense that she was pregnant, and a clause in the marriage contract states that Mr. Shandy need only pay for one such trip to London per pregnancy, real or imagined. Mr. Shandy has invoked this clause and Tristram will be born in the country, 200 miles from the physicians of London. Mr. Shandy is hoping he won’t regret this decision. The midwife has been sent for, but before her arrival Dr. Slop, the man-midwife, has arrived for a casual chat and is without his bag and instruments. Mr. Shandy’s manservant has been sent to Dr. Slop’s house to fetch the bag. Tristram’s father and Uncle Toby (who lives just up the road) have been speculating as to whether Mrs. Shandy will allow Dr. Slop to deliver her child, or if she will insist upon employing the midwife. The women of the household are upstairs attending to the birth while the men, downstairs in the drawing room, are smoking pipes and discussing wind-powered carriages, among other things. This is at about page 100. Tristram will not actually be born until about page 300, because there are plenty of things that our narrator must relate before we can get to that happy moment (where, I believe, we will learn also how he came to be called “Tristram,” a name his father despises above all other names).

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Killing Hamlet: More Thoughts On Revisions

A quick one: it occurred to me that with every novel I've written, at every stage of the writing process, my awareness of what writing a novel is and how it should be done has changed, often radically. This interests me. It also interests me to note that these changes of perception/opinion have not formed any sort of linear progression. It's more like a game of mental Twister than a path I am following.

It also interests me to notice that the more I write and revise, the less I think consciously about certain things, not only regarding process but regarding story, narrative structure, use of language, and all manner of things. So I keep changing how I think about writing, but I think less about how I think about writing all the time.

I note with some alarm that in some ways it's becoming more difficult for me to discuss craft issues, the better I am able to actually deal with those issues. Of which, huh.

I am also tired of all these repetitive posts about how I'm revising this book. Don't I do anything else? Don't I? Well?

Okay, Mighty Reader and I saw "Never Let Me Go" last night. I confess that I have not read the book, but I am assured that--as far as movies go--this was a pretty faithful version. There was a blatant Statement Of Theme in a scene tacked onto the story at the very end that was not in the book and, in my opinion, weakened the impact of the film and that's unfortunate. But still, it was one of those beautiful, well-acted and surprising movies that leaves you for hours afterwards with the impression that all of the air has been sucked out of the atmosphere and you'll never be happy again. Yay, indie films! I might actually read some of Ishiguro's books now; Mighty Reader has all of them, as it happens.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Tristram Shandy, Day Five

I wasn't going to post updates on my reading of Sterne's postmodernist premodern novel, but today at lunch I ran across this gem:

Writers of my stamp have one principle in common with painters. Where an exact copying makes our pictures less striking, we choose the less evil; deeming it even more pardonable to trespass against truth, than beauty. This is to be understood cum grano salis; but be it as it will,--as the parallel is made more for the sake of letting the apostrophe cool, than any thing else,--'tis not very material whether upon any other score the reader approves of it or not.

In other words, the narrator announces himself unreliable: if he must choose between truth and beauty, he'll choose beauty and he doesn't much care how you feel about that.

Killing Hamlet: Ready For My Close-Up

I think I'm finished (really, this time) with my revisions to the MS. I added a passage to each of two scenes last night (one with Ophelia who continues to charm, and one with Sir Yorick, who used to keep a wolf as a pet) and I'm most pleased with them. The MS sits at about 80,350 words right now, and I think I'm about ready to send it off to my agent. I'm giving myself until the end of the month to think about things, though, rather than running off half-cocked and wishing I'd waited to send it. I've decided to ignore the project until next weekend, when I'll read the whole thing through and concentrate on nothing but the story and characters and see if the narrative adds up to a good sum. It is inevitable that I'll make changes, because I can't help myself, but hopefully I can sit and read it like a reader, not so much as a writer. If all goes well, I'll send it off to New York around Halloween. I should email my agent and see if he's okay with that. I have no idea what his schedule is like these days; busy, I'll bet. He's always busy. I swear the man never sleeps.

In other news, Mighty Reader asked me yesterday if all of the Shakespeare I've read over the last couple of years (primarily "Hamlet," of course; I've read that play dozens of times now) has influenced my writing. Of course it has, and in really great ways. Here's my short, quick-and-dirty list of things learned from the bard:

1. Great drama is multidimensional and ambiguous. The reason, I think, that Shakespeare's tragedies continue to be read and performed is that they are complex and do not draw clear conclusions for the audience/reader. They present difficult moral issues from a variety of points of view and there's no easy way to sum up the plays. Ambiguity and multiplicity of meaning are good.

2. Put a comic scene right before an emotionally draining scene. It can't all be dark skies, and contrast is always good.

3. Give your side characters some good lines and some good scenes. A lot of Shakespeare's supporting cast are more interesting humans than his protagonists, which flies in the face of conventional wisdom but conventional wisdom is often unwise.

4. Clever and surprising language is a gift for the reader, and you shouldn't be stingy with it.

Also, and unrelated to Shakespeare: I continue to read and love Tristram Shandy, but I probably won't be posting much about it. I am going to start reading a lot about Antarctica soon, and I probably won't be posting much about that, either. When I finish the Sterne, though, I'll start on Finnegans Wake, of which I've read sections over the years but never the whole of it. I may post about that experience. What will I do when there's no more Joyce to read, I wonder? I've sort of been saving FW so that I wouldn't run out of new Joyce. Well, one can't have everything, can one?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tristram Shandy, Day Three

It is so long since the reader of this rhapsodical work has been parted from the midwife, that it is high time to mention her again to him, merely to put him in mind that there is such a body still in the world, and whom, upon the best judgment I can form upon my own plan at present, I am going to introduce to him for good and all: But as fresh matter maybe started, and much unexpected business fall out betwixt the reader and myself, which may require immediate dispatch, 'twas right to take care that the poor woman should not be lost in the mean time because when she is wanted, we can no way do without her.

So concludes Shandy's long digression about Parson Yorick, who paid--at his wife's behest--for the training and licensing of the midwife (so that his parish would have a midwife of its own). You'd think that at this point the narrator would tell us directly about this midwife. But first there is the matter of a particular article in his mother's marriage settlement. This brings us to Shandy's mother, of course, and his father, and honestly we must needs hear about them before we could possibly even think of further discussing the midwife.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Tristram Shandy, Day Two

The narrator has told us that he was conceived " in the night betwixt the first Sunday and the first Mondayin the month of March, in the year of our Lord one thousand sevenhundred and eighteen." He has good evidence to support this claim. On November 5th, 1718, he was "brought forth into this scurvy and disastrous world of ours." Hey, it's almost his birthday. Now that we know when Tristram was born, he must tell us also how. Which means that he is now telling about the midwife, but before he gets too far into the midwife's tale, he must tell us about the parson whose wife took it upon herself to help the midwife get her training and license in midwifery, but before he tells us about how that came to pass, he must tell us about the parson's horse, who bears a great resemblance to that horse of legend, Rosinante.

I'd quote you some of it but it wouldn't really work, I don't think. The narrative moves forward and backwards in overlapping segments with promises of things to come and remembrances of things past and loads of literary allusions (the aforementioned Cervantes reference and the fact that the parson riding the old nag is named Yorick; the parson will die in a few chapters and, of course, Shandy will say "alas, poor Yorick" and there have been other Hamlet references by now). Well, I'll give you one paragraph that won't tell you a thing about the story but it might give you a small taste of this novel's flavor:

I know very well that the Hero's horse was a horse of chaste deportment, which may have given grounds for the contrary opinion: But it is as certain at the same time that Rosinante's continency (as may be demonstrated from the adventure of the Yanguesian carriers) proceeded from no bodily defect or cause whatsoever, but from the temperance and orderly current of his blood.--And let me tell you, Madam, there is a great deal of very good chastity in the world, in behalf of which you could not say more for your life.

The "Madam" here is any presumed reader. Sometimes it's "Sir" and sometimes it's "Gentlemen" and sometimes it's "Your Lordship." Shandy has no idea who's reading his autobiography, but takes no chances at alienating anyone. There is an amusing bit where he offers to sell the dedication to the highest bidder.

Anyway, I really like this book. I can see where a writer like James Branch Cabell picked up elements of his narrative style.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman

Today at lunch I started reading The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, by Laurence Sterne. I was supposed to read Joyce's Finnegans Wake next, but I had the Sterne with me and I needed to read something and I've already got a good start into the book so I'm going to stick with it. When, a week or so ago, I told Mighty Reader that this book was close to the top of my to-be-read stack, she wrinkled her nose and asked why I wanted to labor through it. I can understand her question; Tristram Shandy has a reputation for being a difficult and unreadable novel. The irony of me delaying the reading of one difficult and unreadable novel (Finnegans Wake) for a different difficult unreadable novel (Shandy) is not lost on me. But that is by the bye.

Here's the thing: Tristram Shandy was published in nine volumes between 1759 and 1766, and has not been out of print since. There must be a good reason for that. It's a comic novel (a term this year's Booker Prize winner hates, I hear) and a metanovel and a postmodern novel written before there was postmodernism. But none of that's got anything to do with my decision to read it. My interest has to do with a theory I have that a lot of the allegedly "difficult" novels in the English canon aren't really difficult, they're just a bit mannered and stylized and once you figure out the mannerism and the style, they're as easy to read as Dick and Jane. A couple of years ago I read Ulysses and it was brilliant and sometimes dense and often challenging but mostly, it was a lot of fun to read. Last summer I read Moby Dick. Admittedly, Mr. Melville and I had some ugly moments on the high seas but I stuck with him and eventually I got it and when I finished the book I wished there were 400 more pages to read. Even now I sort of wish I was still reading that book. I miss Moby Dick.

So I'm betting that other allegedly "difficult" books are going to be a swell time for me, and I'm going to read them in the spirit of fun. Which is the spirit in which literary fiction should be read, kids: F.U.N. So far Mr. Sterne has not disappointed me. It's as much (or more) about the process of writing the book as it is about the story told within the book. Sterne (or Shandy, if you will) addresses the reader directly on almost every page, explaining how he's structuring the narrative and how you really must bear with him if you don't quite get the references just yet and yes, we're strangers now but eventually we'll be fast friends so you must just trust your narrator. It's all quite good and I am expecting a picaresque novel of 18th-century England and a lot of silliness along the way.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Killing Hamlet: An Excellent Final Chapter

I was very diligent today and read through the second half of my MS, revising as I went along, cutting here and putting in there. On the whole, I am well pleased with my little book. The final act works better than I'd imagined it would, and the last chapter is the best thing I've ever written, I think. I remain in love with the final passage in the book.

I am not in love with what work remains to be done, though. I edit/revise by hand, so I have a stack of the last 150 pages of MS with my handwritten notes in red ink, sitting next to my computer on my desk. They wait for me to type all my changes up into the Word(tm) document. I really really loathe that particular task. Not only is it dull work, but I tend to introduce errors into the text at this stage. Which is just annoying. Still, it must be done and the job that's never started takes the longest and all of that happy crap. Not that I'll be starting it tonight, mind you. I'm not crazy. Not that crazy.

As I went through the narrative I wrote notes to myself on 3x5 cards, mostly just questions to answer (Chapter Fifteen: Is the scene with the hat necessary, or is it just padding and one joke you can't let go?) and big-picture issues I want to think about for a few days or a week before I declare the book finished enough to send off to my very patient agent. There are not many of these 3x5 cards, but if I act on a few of them it will mean some major rewriting to a couple of chapters, so I want to carefully consider things before I move on. It's been my experience that if I have any question at all about a chapter, a scene, a single word or a whole dramatic arc, something is broken and I need to fix it. One must trust one's instincts, you know.

Still, I am happy to report that the narrative is not substantially different at the end of this round of revisions than it was before I began. All hail the power of positive outlining.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

My Cranium Is Suddenly Lit Up

It's difficult to talk about the creative process without sounding like a nut job. If, for example, I were to say to you that when I have an idea that's really good--like a passage that will push a scene out into nether space and expand the meaning of the whole narrative--the inside of my cranium is suddenly lit up with a bright white light of such power that it should blind me and everyone sitting nearby, and that I'm not speaking in metaphor but that this light actually does exist and I can feel it in my head and while it shines pure rays of bluewhite, I can feel the forepart of my brain getting sort of cold but in a pleasant way, like when one has a glass of clear ice water on a hot summer day, you might be inclined to think that Bailey has gone off the deep end of whatever shaky pier he's been treading.

But that's just the way of it: when I have a really good idea, it's as if my entire physiology has altered for a moment. Possibly I'm just having a seizure. How would I even know? Frankly, I don't care if I am. It's a good trade: some stray brain cells I probably don't use that often in exchange for three perfect sentences and one near brilliant image.

I mention all of this because I had one of these bluewhite flashes yesterday afternoon, on the bus homeward, while I was revising Chapter 10 of Killing Hamlet. It was then that I remembered what I love about revisions: to revise--to rewrite--is not to sit and check my grammar, usage and spelling; it is not to pore over the MS and see how I can be more concise or more precise or whatever. It is to hover over the narrative I've built so far and recognize that what I've wrought is not a book, but a scaffold on/in/around which I can be more creative and on/in/around which I can spin yet more ideas and push boundaries and discover new thoughts I'd never otherwise think. Revisions, that is to say, are where the going gets cool.

This is something I had not remembered quite yet, and now I feel like I should start at the beginning of the MS again and go over all that I've already revised and look for places where I ought to be adding more coolness, straining at the seams of the world, making scrimshaw out of my exposition and fireworks out of my plot points. Or something. Anyway, I think this is going to be a good book. I don't know why people find revising their work to be so odious. They must be doing something wrong.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Killing Hamlet: Revisions Revisions Revisions

I am making excellent progress through the manuscript, I am pleased to report. As usual, no matter how many passages I cut, the wordcount keeps creeping up. See earlier reference to Xeno's manuscript and the impossibility of actually making it to the end of revisions.

Knowing how the story ends destroys any mystery while I read this, so I can't exactly say if things like foreshadowing are working. At times like this you just have to trust in the process and trust that you knew what you were doing during the drafting phase, and trust your own grasp of story mechanics and narrative structure. We'll just see if it all works when I let someone actually read the damned thing.

Although Chapter Nine? That totally rocks. The last page is amazingly cool.

Also: Last night Mighty Reader and I saw Guided By Voices at the SODO Showbox. The crowd was a bit too heavily populated by beefy guys drunk on too much beer with man-crushes on the amazing Bob Pollard, but the band rocked and Bob was in fine voice and they played all my favorites ("Striped White Jets!" "Motor Away!" "Gold Heart Mountaintop Queen!" "Hot Freaks!" Too many more to name!). I was worried that it would be sort of sad, a bunch of old geezers up on stage playing loud music, but GBV were awfully cool and amazingly amazing and I am happy to have had the chance to see them live. This was the final stop on the reunion tour, and this lineup will likely never hit the stage again.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Killing Hamlet: Revisions and the Writerly Eye

I have noticed that when I'm reading a novel, not only am I attempting to actively engage with the narrative and enjoy myself, I'm also sort of on the lookout for things that I would consider failures of craft. I can't help it; it's just the way I read.

Every novel is in part the result of decisions the author has made and most of the time, I am sure, those authors have made different decisions than I would have made had I been writing their book. Sometimes this results in my surprise and delight as a writer comes up with something much more cool than I ever would have stumbled into. Most of the time these decisions are invisible to me and I'm just caught up in the narrative.

Sometimes, I find myself thinking along the lines of, "Gosh, I wish he hadn't done that. I hope there isn't going to be a lot more of that as we go along." This is what I think when, for example, the author telegraphs a punch or gives a clumsy explanation for character action or lays out a slab of prose that doesn't flow well with the surrounding prose or just uses a word I dislike (for not all words are created equal, and some words are just ugly in the ear and invoking them destroys the poetry of the passage).

Anyway, this is what I think of as reading with my writerly eye: remaining vigilant to lapses of craft in whatever prose is before me. It's an irritating way to read and frankly it's caused me to read much more slowly than I did in the past. This writerly eye is, I am sure, a by-product of my own writing and revising, because it is the way I read my own works.

This doesn't mean that my inner editor is my primary reader, though. I read first and foremost for pleasure, like any other sane person. Reading just feels good in my head, and I love the simple process of converting graphics into concepts and stories and gosh, but whoever invented the alphabet and writing is my best friend forever. I also read for surprise, for the delight of character and plot and theme and all the other values I have learned to appreciate in fine writing. The writerly eye is more like a separate and parallel process that goes on in the background while I read. Sometimes I think of a narrative as a river through which I am wading upstream and my inner editor is like a hand trailing in the water and sometimes things that don't belong in the river get caught by the fingers of that hand. If it's my own narrative, I pull the seaweed or tin cans or other junk out of the river and throw it to shore and then admire the clean sparkling water flowing around me. If it's someone else's book, the junk remains caught in my hand until--if it's not a well-written book--too much of it collects and I decide to shake all the crap off my fingers and go find a different river to wade.

What I'm doing here, of course, is searching for the proper metaphor for the process of revisions. Some of it is like trailing your hand in a moving river, but some of it is like untangling a knot of string, and some of it is like taking in the waist of a pair of pants and some of it is like patching a hole in a wall and some of it is like planting bulbs in the fall and hoping they'll all bloom beautiful flowers in the spring and some of it, of course, is like trying to decipher Linear B when you have no knowledge of ancient Minoan.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Killing Hamlet: Revisions, Day 3-ish

I have begun to revise the latest draft of Killing Hamlet, and I think that—because I did so much pre-planning before starting the draft—the revisions will be pretty straightforward and, mercifully, quick. I already have the story down, and the characters are pretty solid and there aren’t any big issues I need to figure out to make the plot work. It all seems to be secure structurally and so I’m just going to be working on balance and language, I think.

The main thing I see so far is that I used a lot of what I’m calling “approximate language” in this draft, where I wrote something like what I mean, but in an imprecise manner. So I’m revising for precision, to get the exact meaning down on the page. This entails a lot of rephrasing and reordering of sentences and phrases, because my drafts sometimes resemble unorganized sock drawers, where all of the items are there together, but not quite matched up the way you might like. This is just dealing with the mechanics of language and grammar, so it’s not hard work and the results are immediate and pleasing.

Another task is to make the beginning match the ending in terms of voice (my first chapters are always written in a very formal language that strikes me as too stiff when I get to the revisions stage and I have to fight to loosen it up a bit). The first draft of the first chapter almost always makes me cross and it’s some work to get through it. I have to take a couple of whacks at it before it stops being in Martian and reverts to English prose.

Other things to do include working in images that became important later on (images that I only discovered while I was writing the draft, making the second half of the book a richer narrative than the first half until I pull these images back through the story to the beginning); making sure that the characters are the same people all the way through (because sometimes I only figure out who a character really is during his death scene so I have to make sure that everything leading up to that moment will actually match that moment); cutting out dead-end ideas and misfired Chekhovian guns, cutting out repetition and repetition; putting in or strengthening foreshadowing; and adding repetition and repetition of symbols and ideas.

So while I am changing almost every single sentence (Mighty Reader is taken aback by the amount of red ink on my pages in what I tell her is a “light edit”), it’s generally pleasant work having to do with storytelling and aesthetics. There are two minor scenes—or possibly just they are additions to extant scenes—that I’d like to work into the first third of the book somewhere, but other than that I don’t see myself making any structural changes to the narrative. Which puts me, if I’m right about all of this, on track to send the new version off to my agent by the end of the month. Which would be totally awesome, as the kids say.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Odds and Ends: A Brief Update

So, first off, I will admit that I have put Jonathan Franzen's novel Freedom back on the shelf, unfinished. I have pushed onward through 350 pages of this book and I realize that, with the exception of some fine passages in the first act, most of the writing--the prose itself--is simply okay, and this sort of ongoing okayness is getting on my nerves. I am simply not enjoying the simple act of reading this book, so I quit. Also, I think that not only is the prose merely okay, the story--that is, the characters, the premises, the plot and the conflicts--is also merely okay. Possibly the story is less than okay. Hell, the story is insignificant and I just don't care what happens to any of the characters. Neither, I suspect, does Mr. Franzen care so why should I bother with it?

This book is alleged--not by Franzen but by many reviewers/readers--to be about modern day America, and is alleged to discuss important topics like the Iraq war, corporate greed, the environment, et cetera. But the thing is, Franzen and his characters mention all of these topics, but none of them are actually discussed. Nothing of any real import is explored. This book is not about anything except the vapid and selfish lives of some folks from the Midwest. Everyone is sort of just floundering about in the middle of this floundering novel and I have swum to shore from where I can sit and watch Freedom sink to the bottom without me on board. So that's that. I'm going to read other things (first Tinkers and then Finnegans Wake).

Also, tomorrow I begin revising Killing Hamlet. First step: read the entire manuscript. I have already got a growing stack of notes for bits and bobs I want to add to the narrative, and this afternoon it occured to me that it might be both fun and appropriate to have Hamlet allude to Beowulf, which is the prototypical Danish myth. We'll see.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Adrift, Sort of, In a Sea of Compulsive Activity

I realize that I have gone too long without working on a novel. Bits of my mind seem to be working their way loose and rattling around my head and making it impossible to concentrate on little things like work. There is a compulsion to write chunks of meaningless and disconnected fiction and I am annoyed, more-or-less, that I'm not involved in a grand project. Thank God, I say, that I get to begin revisions next Tuesday.

This compulsive need to create fiction has resulted in one short story that I think is successful. I've submitted it to a literary journal; we'll see what happens there. Finally, I think, I am getting a handle on the short story form.

Ideas for new books/novellas/whathaveyou have also been coming at me too quickly, almost, to bear. Mighty Reader and I were wandering through our local library last weekend when I had a sudden image of a story and I've written down a 600-or-so-word synopsis of the story outlining the three major conflicts and sets of characters and someday, maybe, I'll have time to even write the damned thing. There was a period of time, a few years ago maybe, that I worried I'd have to struggle to come up with ideas for stories. There was a time when I felt such immense gratitude to the universe if I came up with the slimmest of ideas, and now all I have are ideas but I have no time to do anything with them.

Mostly, what I have is the urge to write. I think revisions to Killing Hamlet are going to be a lot of fun.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Reading "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen, Pt 4

This may be my final post about the novel in question. Not that I've finished it; I'm only about halfway through but I am considering setting it aside and reading something else. Why? I could say "politics," but that's not really true. Here's the thing: Franzen clearly has some axes to grind with big business, the Republican party and all sorts of modern cultural phenomena. Some reviewers have slammed the book because they don't agree with Franzen's politics and see the entirety of "Freedom" as an attack on the American Right. Those folks are not reviewing the book; they're reacting against Franzen's themes and that, I don't think, is how one reviews literature. So I tell you now that Franzen's politics, or what appear to be his politics from my partial reading of his latest novel, are off the table. Frankly, I agree at least in spirit with what I've read so far. So that's not where this novel fails.

What I find objectionable while reading "Freedom" is the way in which the political references are inserted into the narrative. I have recently encountered an episode where the Richard Katz character is giving an interview (to a college freshman or high school senior--I forget which--who's going to post the interview as an mp3 to the web). In this interview, Katz launches into an extended diatribe against consumer culture and ties it to Republicanism and rich entertainers pretending to be philanthropists. Those sentiments, as I say, are fine by me. But the Richard Katz character has never before in the narrative given us any reason to believe that he is anything but indifferent to culture or politics. He's spent decades in a drug-fueled haze, touring with his little band, living in his crappy New Jersey apartment and focusing his mental efforts on sex, music, and his own happiness (or his own misery, if you like). All of Katz's diatribe about politics is out-of-character. Out-of-character. It feels tacked on, as if Franzen did a revision of the manuscript with the sole intention of finding places where he could shove political slogans and speeches into his characters' mouths. That, Jonathan Franzen, is bad writing, and that is the only sin I hesitate to forgive. You have written badly, and it will take a bit of effort for me to pick up your novel and continue reading. I'm not sure if I want to make that effort, if this sort of bad writing is going to increase in frequency as the novel progresses. You've lost this reader's trust.

So here's the deal. I'm going to read on during my lunch break today, and if you don't misbehave, I'll give you another chance. Otherwise, I have a six-foot tall stack of "to be read" books to which I could turn my attentions.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Countdown to Revisions

Revisions to my novel Killing Hamlet are not scheduled (yes, I'm clearly insane having worked out deadlines and schedules like this for the book) to begin until Tuesday, October 5th. I have, of course, already started anyway. The first chapter is pretty well marked up in red penl; I've made some notes and written a few paragraphs for a scene I want to add somewhere in the first third of the story (Fredrik relates a dream of total war to Horatio and then has to hide behind a tapestry--hey, that last bit sounds a mite familiar); I've made a list of ideas, motifs, et cetera that I want to have running all through the narrative. Unless I discover something seriously wrong with the story itself, the actual revisions should go pretty quickly; I am expecting to spend no more than two weeks on it. We'll see how that goes.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Reading "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen, Pt 3

I promised to talk about why I'm still reading "Freedom" even though I have complained about Franzen's narrative style. Well, the book has plenty going for it:

The characters, times and events are all familiar to anyone in/near middle age in America, so it's easy to engage with the story on that level. I have met people like all of the main characters in real life, and Franzen is talking about the way real people try to navigate through the real world. So that's all good stuff. It's not quite D.H. Lawrence or A.S. Byatt, but it feels true.

There's also the language. Some of Franzen's prose is just plain gorgeous. I give you two examples:

There's a hazardous sadness to the first sounds of someone else's work in the morning; it's as if stillness experiences pain in being broken. The first minute of the workday reminds you of all the other minutes that a day consists of, and it's never a good thing to think of minutes as individuals. Only after other minutes have joined the naked, lonely first minute does the day become more safely integrated in its dayness.

and

A melodious bird that Walter had despaired of teaching her the proper name of, a veery or a vireo, grew accustomed to her presence and began to sing in a tree directly above her. Its song was like an idee fixe that it couldn't get out of its little head.

Here is Patty talking about herself in the third person. I have some issues with this device of Franzen's, but some of it works:

The only thing that gave her any hope was how well she was concealing her own inner turmoil. She'd been maybe a little abstracted and shaky in the last four days, but infinitely better behaved than she'd been in February. If she herself was managing to keep her dark forces hidden, it stood to reason that Richard might have corresponding dark forces that he was doing just as good a job of hiding. But this was a tiny sliver of hope indeed; it was the way insane people lost in fantasies reasoned.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reading "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen, Pt 2

I'm now about 200 pages into Franzen's novel and while I have mostly overcome the feeling of experiencing the story through a sheet of glass because of the emotional distance Franzen creates with his choices in narrative technique (see this post if you've not already), I am still finding myself sort of being resisted by the text. The characters are interesting, the story is engaging and Franzen's prose is fine, but I have noticed that there is no variation in tone. The mood remains the same all the time, and so I am not getting from this book the feeling of movement I wish I was. Mr. Franzen, you are making me work a bit more than I feel is necessary here. And I don't mean "work" in a "the reader is challenged intellectually or aesthetically and must overcome his prejudices or lack of experience with formal experimentation" or anything like that. I just mean that there's no variation in the tone of the book and so, after a while, I sort of feel like I've been running in place all this time and getting nowhere. The general tone of the narrative, even during Patty's autobiographical sections, is one of journalism, of observer, and I realize that my difficulty with Franzen's text remains one of emotional distance from the story. So, huh.

Still, I don't want to put the book down, so perhaps I should find some nice things to say about "Freedom" to explain why I keep reading. Possibly in my next post. Right now, I'm a bit frazzled from working this job o' mine, to which I must now return. Adieu, adieu, adieu.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Reading "Freedom" by Jonathan Franzen

This is not a book review, if that's what you seek. I've been reading Jonathan Franzen's Freedom for a couple of days now, and I'm at about page 100. It's a good book and I'm happy to be reading it, but I have noticed some things about Franzen's narrative style that I'd like to think about out loud, as it were.

The first thing that struck me about the writing is the way Franzen chose to tell the story primarily in narrative summary rather than in dramatized scenes. There are--up to page 100 anyway--few actual scenes. Franzen will give a snippet of dialogue or an isolated character action but rarely do you see an event played out for any length of time. Perhaps the story covers such a long stretch of years that this is the most economical way Franzen could find to build his narrative. I don't know. But this technique of continuous summary creates a distance between me as reader and the world of the story. There is no real immediacy, no sense of urgency. This bothers me, but the fabulous writing and the characters more than balance that out.

The next thing that struck me, as I moved into the chapters which comprise Patty's autobiography, is that Patty writes of herself in the third person. This gives rise to some funny moments, but again there's that emotional distance between reader and story. Patty holds her own tale at arm's length and we are also held away. Patty's character is growing on me, but too often it does feel as if I'm being told about Patty by a disinterested-if-amused third party, not by Patty herself. Patty-the-autobiographer's emotions don't really come through on the page. So this is, to me as a writer, a curious choice.

I'll be interested to see how things continue. Possibly Patty's resolve will break down during the course of her autobiography and she'll stop being so distant. I have no idea. I'm still not actually sure what this book is about. I'm on page 100 and I feel like I'm still reading the backstory, the setup. It's an engaging backstory even with my reservations regarding Franzen's narrative techniques, but I still keep expecting the story to fly into action somehow, to get kick-started into a life larger than it has so far.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Finished!

At 6:00 PM PST!

wordcountometer = 79,537!

It's come in a bit shorter than my target minimum of 80,000. But I'm sure I'll add scenes during the rewrites in October. That always happens. On Halloween, or thereabouts, I'll send the revised MS off to my agent and hopefully in 2011 we'll be submitting it to publishers. But for now: phew! It's been a rough six and a half months. Mighty Reader and I are going out for dinner at a fancy restaurant to celebrate my victory.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Chapter 22: Brief Excerpt

Hopefully no real spoilers here:

Hamlet took me by the collar with his bloody hand. He shook me hard and looked wildly around.

“Oh, I know you and your sciences. You would say that my thinking these thoughts is proof that God allows it.”

“My lord, we should leave the castle.”

“Your sciences could lead to a world where earthly kings, and even God Himself, is of less import than a bear.”

“My lord, I am as fond of bears as any. The castle is burning. Prithee, let us away.”

“God’s wounds, Horatio! I see the castle burning! It is not the end of civilization. But a world where everything is equal in being nothing but a measurable phenomenon, or a bear? I do not want that. You do not want that. No man wants that.”

“My lord, if we leave the castle immediately, I swear that I shall forever place man and God above bears.”

“Your word upon it.”

“My word upon it.”

Hamlet retrieved the severed head and

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Chapter 22 Finished!

wordcountometer = 76,838!

That was a rough one, but exhilarating. My Literary Lab post on Friday will talk about the work I did on this chapter, going back into it after I'd thought it was finished and adding in two long segments. Still, it's done now and I think it's pretty good. Body count is now through the roof. Really, I have no idea how many corpses are lying about. Scores of them. Sad, really. But don't worry, because none of them were real people. It's just fiction, you know.

Anyway, my favorite bit is when Hamlet turns to Horatio and asks why there's a bear in the courtyard. The inclusion of a bear (all because Mighty Reader made a joke about it) was a fabu idea, I must say.

I am pretty sure that I'll wrap everything up in Chapter 23. I may finish this book by the end of the weekend. That would be cool; I could start revisions on October 1st if I really wanted to. I think the book is pretty solid already, though of course since I don't read back at all while I'm working on a first draft, I have no real idea. I'll bet there's a lot of stuff I've forgotten about since I began writing on the first of March. That seems forever ago.

Also, and very importantly, I wrote the Final Sentence of the Novel this evening, on the bus ride home. I'm sure I was channeling a better writer than I am, because yes, it's that good. I am well pleased and I can't wait to get to that final sentence.

Anyway, in about 3500 words, I'll have this first draft (of the total rewrite of a novel I heavily revised eight times already) finished. And that's a relief, I can tell you. Soon soon soon.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Chapter 21 Finished!

Francisco the bear's chapter is written. Yes, I should've been reading entries for the "Notes from Underground" contest over at the Literary Lab, but I needed to finish this chapter. I have, I think, three chapters left to write and the book will be done. The outline for the next chapter is all written, and it looks very exciting indeed! The carnage has begun! Corpses will begin to pile up in all the corners!

Anyway.

wordcountometer = 73,396!

"Francisco the Bear" was a short chapter; only about 2100 words. I expect the next two chapters to be about 3500 words each, because a lot of things happen in them. The last chapter will likely be pretty short. I may only have 23 chapters, adding whatever would be in the last chapter into the penultimate chapter so as to not have an epilogue-type thing. It will depend on how precipitously I want the book to end. We shall see. There is no way I won't finish this book by the end of the month.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Chapter 20 Finished!

Just now! Just a moment ago! Eel reference included!

wordcountometer = 71,318!

Up next, Chapter 21, "Francisco the Bear." Francisco is a Eurasian Brown Bear (Ursus arctos arctos). He and the king will share a memorable scene.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Chapter 20, In Progress!

Working title: "Sing Him To Sleep."

wordcountometer = 70,600!

Brief excerpt:

The queen was given a free hand to make the fortress into a festive place. Branches of evergreens had been brought from the forests and tied into great swags with ribbons of red and white to adorn every window facing into the courtyard. Bunting of red, white and gold hung in the corners of the yard, around the great marble planter and over the doors that opened into the great hall. Danish soldiers were everywhere, their armor polished bright and decorated with red and white ribbon as if they were not men at arms but a child's toys. The smell of mulled sack, fresh evergreen boughs and roasting meat filled the air.

"It is like unto a hunting party in a forest," a passing noblewoman remarked. "Gertrude is very clever. I will not be surprised if a live stag is chased down the halls, the king loosing arrows at it."

Friday, September 3, 2010

Chapter 19 Finished!

Possibly written in record time! Horatio is now finally off the island of Hven and back onto the island of Zealand. Hey, it's Denmark; they have 400 islands. Not my fault. Anyway, the protagonist returns to Elsinore and the final act begins. Yay! There's going to be a bear in an upcoming chapter, which will be very cool. It's like I'm John Irving.

wordcountometer = 68,064!

Finished draft by September 30! Or else!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Jonathan Franzen, "Freedom"

I have not read any of Franzen's books, and to be honest I haven't had any interest in him before now. It's not that I found anything about him or his writing particularly off-putting; it's more that I was ignorant of his work and his was just another name floating around out there. Also, admittedly, I thought The Corrections was about prison. Really.

But all the publicity surrounding Franzen's newest novel, Freedom, edged me on to read the first chapter of the book, and you can do the same if you poke around online and have a look for it (I used the "look inside" Amazon.com feature, myself).

David Shields ("author" of a collection of plagiarism called Reality Hunger) has, apparently, said unkind things about Franzen's writing, calling it old-fashioned and behind-the-times and irrelevant. Of course, what David Shields doesn't know about literature is Almost Everything There Is To Know About Literature, and why people even talk to him is a question for which I haven't yet found a good answer. This paragraph adds nothing to my essay; it's just an excuse to bash Mr. Shields, which is something people who understand and read fiction should do often. Take that, Shields.

Anyway, I read the first chapter of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom last night, and now I want to read the whole book. The voice of the prose and the tone Franzen takes with his characters reminded me, I realized, of everything I enjoy about J. D. Salinger. Which is high praise coming from me. So my advice, for what it's worth, is that you should at least go read the first chapter of this book and see what you think.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Chapter 18 Excerpt!

I have gone with anatomists to witness dissections of corpses. Some men gaze upon the inner organs and hidden places beneath our skin and see a beautiful puzzle, but the dead meat and jellied guts I saw on the dissection table were obscene and horrible in my eyes. Had I some magic, I would erase those bloody images from my memory and unlearn whatever lessons I learned from them. If a man seeks the truth, he must be prepared to discover that the cosmos is both beauty and ugliness, both birth and corruption.

It took me nearly an hour to light a fire in the room upstairs at Uraniborg. I used a few blank sheets of paper I had with me for tinder and carefully stewarded the flames, feeding the stove with sticks of kindling Voltemont and Cornelius had made until the fire lived on its own and took the chair legs and other wood piled by the stove. I had time to think, time to wonder what was true.

No great man is infallible. Ptolemy the Greek imagined a cosmos centered around the Earth, with heavenly wanderers swimming about us, all rotating beneath the glorious roof of Heaven. The entire universe traced a majestic course that encircled us with the glory of God. Ptolemy imagined a universe of great beauty and simplicity, and what he imagined was not true.

Copernicus the Pole saw that the Earth doth move, orbiting the sun with the five planets. This was heretical speech, and indeed remains a heresy. It is the truth no priest will hear, but it is true: the sun is the center of the universe.

The noble Dane Tycho Brahe imagined a cosmos of great complexity, with sun, moon and planets wheeling about the Earth in eccentric spiral orbits, an inelegant and drunken dance over the face of the sky. When I first encountered Tycho’s theory I grew dizzy trying to picture it. There was so much motion, so many worlds spinning in Tycho’s vision, and it was but so much fantasy.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Chapter 18 Finished! Chapter 19 Underway!

Just now! Just two minutes ago! And I think, even though it might have a few rough spots that will need some smoothing during revisions, it's pretty much what I wanted. It ends a bit sooner than I thought it would, which means that the bit I had planned to end this chapter has become the first page of Chapter 19, but that's fine. I think Chapter 18 ends at the right spot:

I ran.

Run, Horatio, run.

wordcountometer = 65,213 at end of Chapter 18! 66,480 total so far!

Act IV is done! On to Act V and all the killing! There will be eels! And a bear! And explosions! And the color blue! And a quote from King John! And the Big Finish! And so much else! It will be very cool indeed!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Get A Life" by Nadine Gordimer

I am about a third of the way through this short novel, and I have the following observations:

1. It's all telling, with few dramatized scenes and almost no dialogue.
2. There is no "story question" where the reader wonders "will X happen to Y?"
3. It is unclear who the protagonist is, or if there is one at all.
4. Ms. Gordimer has clearly read Virginia Woolf.
5. Reading this book sort of feels like being pushed around, but I like it anyway.

To sum up, it's a pretty good read. The kind of book people who don't like literary fiction will point to as an example of what's wrong with literary fiction, showing how little they know about literary fiction and why we don't listen to their complaints.

Also:

Chapter 18 continues apace in my WIP! Things are going well, and I've made it through the internal-monologue portion of the chapter and am in the transitional scene leading to the battle of philosophies in an abandoned library, which will end with death threats! Excitement! And inside jokes:

Hamlet or not Hamlet? Was that the question?

Hopefully I'll post an excerpt towards the end of the week, maybe the bit about Ptolemy, Copernicus and Brahe, 'cause that's good stuff.

wordcountometer ~= 62,400!

It occurs to me today that possibly, if I don't slack off, I can finish this draft by the end of September. We'll see. I'd love it if that happened.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Chapter 18 Update, Chapter 17 Excerpt

Chapter 18 ("The Earth Doth Move") is under way. I've written the first 600+ words and the scene so far pleases me a lot. A whole lot. The narrator/protagonist is using the history of science as a metaphor for his own life, and the idea of scientific inquiry will lead him to question his own ethics. What larks! That's why we have literature! Ahem.

Chapter 17 excerpt (all the usual caveats about it being rough et cetera):

North of St. Ibb’s, the grounds were given over to the grave yard. Beyond this half moon of land was the cliff overlooking a drop of thirty yards down to sharp rocks at the edge of the water. Hamlet pulled Corambis through the snowy cemetery and let the old man fall to his knees at the edge of the overhang.

“Repent of these lies,” Hamlet said. “You ancient serpent! You devil! Repent of this tale!”

“My lord, you have misheard,” Corambis said. “Pray let us go back to the church, and I will explain all.”

Hamlet set the point of his rapier against Corambis' breast. The old man looked up at the prince, his lower lip quivering, more in anger than fear, I thought. I was a few yards from them.

“Stay back, Horatio,” Hamlet said. “This is not your affair. It is for the prince to make a reckoning of these slanders, is it not so, Corambis?”

“My lord, I beg you let me rise.”

“Then rise.”

Corambis stood, unfolding himself slowly upward. He had lost his cap and a cold wind stirred his hair. His head, with its fringe of white, was like a dead bloom atop a dry stem in some abandoned garden. Corambis coughed and spread his hands before the prince.

“My lord, I am an old man.”

“Would you like to go home, old man?”

“Aye, my lord.”

“Are you a Christian?”

“You know I am, my lord.”

“Then Heaven is your home. You have my leave to go there, though I suspect you will find yourself in the other place.”

With that, Hamlet thrust the sword into Corambis' chest. Half the blade’s length passed through the old man’s shuddering body. Corambis' legs buckled and he toppled, slipping over the edge of the cliff. Hamlet stood alone, the sword bloody in his hand.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Chapter 17 Finished!

Yay, me! I will have to type all of it up into the Word(tm) document this evening, if there's time. When I was finishing up the chapter I realized that I had one too many characters onstage, so I killed off that extra character. Seemed the easiest way to deal with him. You know my methods, Watson.

wordcountometer ~= 60,000!

One more chapter and I'm out of the dreaded middle section of this novel and it's forward into the breach once again, to enact the tragic consequences of everyone's actions thus far, kill a lot of folks and finish the book with some sort of iconic imagery. You know, the usual stuff.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chapter 17, In Progress

I don't have a title for this chapter yet. I am thinking of calling it "There Were Two Hamlets." We'll see. Anyway, it's been much easier to write than Chapter 16 was, which is nice. I have a feeling that Chapter 18 will be very hard, as there will be a sort of philosophical war in it, and I have to make sure it remains interesting and forward-moving instead of bogging down into a Socratic dialogue or something similar. It's another one of those chapters containing a scene I imagined at the start of this project and now that I approach actually writing the scene, I become jumpy and worried. Anyway, today at lunch I killed a major character, and it's been some time since this narrative had a corpse, so that's good. I think it's a good death scene, and I think I've successfully given this character life so that his death will have meaning. Again, we'll see.

wordcountometer ~= 58,800!

My favorite line so far: "My lord, I am an old man."