Tuesday, August 14, 2012

the church of the sleepy God

I've been writing my new novel(la) for almost two weeks, and I think that I'm about 1/5 of the way through with the first draft. Which means that I should, at this rate, be done with the draft by the middle of September, which is record speed for me writing any damned thing. This draft is going to be very rough, I'm afraid. Especially because I'm following the Malasarn Method of not knowing anything about the story until I've written it (though admittedly on the back cover of the notebook in which I draft this I have been writing down cryptic notes to myself like "the church of the sleepy God" which will, I think, take up a big chunk of Act II if there happens to be an Act II in this narrative, which is doubtful but Chapter 3 opens with a mention of the above-mentioned church so one assumes that there will be more of it in the story itself and look: I am trapped in a parenthetical!), so I don't know how the book ends or even what the overall shape of the thing is going to be. I have no idea what it is that I'm writing, not really. Not that it seems to matter, as my narrator would say. Yesterday that narrator had a name, but today I seem to have forgotten it.

Ironically, I seem to be leaning heavily on a few of Salman Rushdie's narrative conceits from Midnight's Children, a book I didn't exactly love. There's also a bit of Joyce and maybe even some Sebald and certainly some Nabokov but not the way you might think. I try hard not to think about any of that; my job is to create an object that pleases me aesthetically, nothing more. So we'll see how that goes. I'm pretty sure the first chapter, written when I didn't know I was really going to be writing something, will need to be heavily revised. I blame Malasarn. And Sam Beckett, because there's a lot of Beckett in this. Sort of.

Meanwhile, I continue to revise Cocke & Bull. I think the new scenes are going to add to the overall mood in a good way. Cocke & Bull is a historical fiction, set in summer/fall of 1749. Flintlocks, criminals, love and longing, slavery and murder and justice. A good time, I think. It's interesting to be reading Brothers Karamazov while working on that novel. Karamazov is, at one level, a novel about a murder, but the murder doesn't take place until somewhere past the halfway point in the narrative. Dostoyevsky was a digressive writer, freely interrupting whatever the plot might be to allow his characters the space to discuss whatever happens to be on their minds at whatever length they require. I don't see myself writing 800-page novels ever, but I am working on becoming a less compressed writer, a writer who allows more of the atmosphere of the fictional world to be felt by the reader. I've been trying out a variety of techniques for this with a variety of results. Possibly what will happen will be the abandonment of my ideas of narrative unity. I'm not comfortable with that. I like narrative unity and remind myself that all art is artifice. The only real way to map the living world is to go out and live in the world, not to write things down. The creation of novels involves sorting, deleting, ignoring, implying causality and doing all sorts of filtering that don't happen in reality. How realistic is Realism? Not a lot, that's how much. It's a poser; a real head-scratcher. Mona in the Desert with her church of the sleepy God is just one more experiment in creating realist fiction that doesn't look like Realism. But I think I'm having a good time with it and I think it might add up to something. We'll see. Not that it seems to matter.


  1. Sounds fascinating :-)

    Your post got me thinking about the process of writing, and how I really stink at it (having a process, not writing itself, I mean).

    Your self-awareness as a writer(of influences, approaches, and so on) is remarkable...as are the many philosophical points you raise.

    Thanks for giving me much to think about (and yet another reminder to stop being such a sloppy and slapdash writer when it comes to process ;-)).

    May your muse stay with you :-)

  2. Well, writing is building, and a competent builder thinks about his materials and methods of construction, I claim. And after you build a few houses, you take it for granted that houses need walls, and floors, and a roof and rooms and windows so you spend your time considering more subtle aspects of a house since your project will contain the axiomatic house elements from the start.

    Another way of putting that: even though I claim to have no idea what I'm doing, I'm paying pretty good attention to what I'm writing and I'm watching how the material develops with an eye to form and meaning even if I don't yet see what that form and meaning will be. I know that images that I keep wanting to repeat are images that I should repeat so I think about reinforcing them. I know that I like parallel structure so I look for scenes I can reuse with different characters or different outcomes. And so on. I've developed some habitual ways of working with a narrative over the years, but I try to make sure that my narratives aren't written by habit, on autopilot. My theory is that familiarity with method and form will free my mind to be more creative with everything else in the narrative. Though I try to find a new form for every new work, too. So it's tricky and I'm blathering on too much.

    Hey, thanks for commenting! That's what I meant to say. Good luck with your own writing!

  3. I am envious that you are revising one project and writing another. And I am excited that you will finish a project, well first draft, in a short period of time! And just think, in a few months, you'll have a published book out in the world. :)

    I am in an odd place with my writing right now, and I don't dare discuss it in public for some reason. It's a frightening place, and it makes me sad and irritated most of the time.

  4. Email me!

    Sometimes when I'm working on Cocke & Bull, it seems completely fractured and unreadable, as if I don't speak English at all. Some of what I'm writing now seems clumsy and lifeless. I try to persevere and realize that I can't honestly judge my own prose.

    It still feels like The Astrologer is a million years from pub day. It's not in any way real to me. It's almost meaningless. That might explain why I'm keeping myself so busy with other projects, hmm?

  5. I will send you and Davin an email.

    I think Astrologer will feel more real when you have a cover and get edits and layout. :)

  6. This post makes me feel like I'm holding onto a lit stick of dynamite. There is so much energy and potential in it. I'm glad you are having fun and challenging yourself and questioning everything! And yay for an email from Michelle! And yay for the Astrologer cover! And yay for the church of the sleepy God. I would step into that church.

  7. The church of the sleepy God believes that time does not exist. The sad thing about that is that there are no birthday celebrations or holidays, because there are no 'days.' When the sky gets dark, it's because God is sleeping and His eyes are closed. On the other hand, the sacramental requirements of the church of the sleepy God are pretty easy.