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?


  1. Yeah, I'm not sure I'll even consider something done when it's print, because if the rights ever revert back to me, there's always the chance I'll edit and re-issue as a self-pub or something.

    I shall be eyeballing your handful of readers with envy and waiting for more news on your next book!

    Someone should have told Mr. Sterne about the difference between good and bad winners.

  2. Hey Scott,

    I just read this essay by Nicole Krauss. It's about the writing of her novel Great House.

    The first few paragraphs does a great job of explaining the loss of clarity we were talking about the other day and I thought you might like it. The piece may also change your mind about constant revision.


  3. Mayowa,

    Thanks for the link! You're right that the first paragraph is spot on about how we authors sort of lose our status as authority of our own work. Perhaps when I actually have a publisher for Killing Hamlet and it's getting close to publication, it will seem like a house to which I've lost the key. I will be interested to see how my relationship to my novel changes during the process of going to print.

  4. Sometime next week, Michelle! I accidentally sent yours USPS and not UPS, so it might take a day or so longer to get to you. Damned lulu.

  5. Damned Lulu is right. Ugh. Well it's on my high priority list to read. I can't wait! I'm sure you don't mind if Adam reads it, too?

  6. Of course not. Though I warn you both that there is hardly any Shakespeare left in it.

  7. " the briefest, slightest, sparest, most faint outline"'s like a distant rumbling that gets louder and louder and louder.

  8. Big D: It is. It's also like a shimmering on the horizon that might be a mirage or it might be a city of gold. I can see it better the closer I get. I doubt it's a city of gold. It might just be, you know, Detroit. Still, that's something. I have enough ideas and a good enough grasp of the structure already that I'm certain I will write this book, which is a nice feeling.