Wednesday, February 5, 2014

a strange messy hash: dull writing update

I am working to get a MS in shape before I send off a bunch of query letters to literary agents. The MS in question is a book called Go Home, Miss America that I began writing in 2012. The formal structure of the book is two parallel narratives told in alternating chapters, each narrative having its own central character (either David Molloy or Catherine Lark). I began the book by writing about David Molloy; Catherine was intended as a foil character. Over the course of several revisions, it became clear that the primary story is actually Catherine's, and David is the foil character. The original organization of the novel puts David's chapters first (the odd-numbered chapters, beginning with Chapter 1), which makes it feel as if his story is the primary one. Last week I decided to open the book with Catherine instead, so I have switched the first ten chapters around so that they now begin with what was Chapter 2, and I've moved all of David's chapters back one place, if you know what I mean. Chapter 1 became Chapter 2, Chapter 2 became Chapter 1, and so on through Chapter 10. Now the book begins with the story of Catherine Lark and the David Molloy plot is clearly something that pushes against Catherine's story rather than vice versa. I think I've explained this plenty by now.

Currently I'm reading through the MS in its new form. None of the prose has changed, but it seems like a whole new book, which I find very interesting. It seems like a much better book, too, which I find very very interesting. I'm fiddling with the writing a bit, of course, but I have made a promise to myself that in general I'll just leave it alone rather than rewriting the whole damned thing yet again. I am a furious sort of rewriter, because I actually love revisions since that's where the good stuff is found, and I enjoy solving the various problems of long-form fiction. I am particularly pleased that the MS now begins and ends with Catherine's story, and that the opening page is populated by farm animals who have been named after saints while the closing pages are populated by saints looking at farm animals.

Anyway, it's like I've been presented with an entirely new story to read, and I think it's a pretty fine book. I was alarmed to discover a dangling modifier in the second sentence of what's now the first paragraph of Chapter 1. I have fixed that, don't you worry. Maybe next week I'll have fussed enough with this novel that I can finally start sending out those query letters. We'll see. I find that I'm not in any real hurry to start the process of contacting agents again. I try not to think about how much profanity is in Go Home, Miss America. There is a lot of profanity in the David Molloy chapters. Some of it is very colorful profanity, which amused me a great deal when I wrote it.

I also continue, here and there, or maybe it's now and then, to work on revisions to a novel called Mona in the Desert. That book is getting longer all the time, but I have promised myself that I won't add any more new chapters. It's time to settle in with the MS and work on what I have down on the page already. Mona is told out-of-order, the narrative worming its way through some sixty or so years of family history, looping and coiling around itself and the narrator's contradictory claims. I'm not sure about this one. Some days it seems like a brilliant book. Other days it seems like a strange messy hash of a novel. We'll see. There is plenty of work to be done yet on Mona in the Desert. I am in no hurry with this one, either.


  1. Your moves remind me of my many reconstructions of Rooster. I had fun discovering how scenes played off of each other when they were moved. Then I'd have to find all the things that didn't work and correct them. The process made for very different stories.

  2. This is fun to read since I've actually read Go Home, Miss America and loved it greatly. I think I'll love it even more with what you're doing now, though. Catherine was my favorite character and I think opening the book with her is a wise move.

    I'm happy to hear you're fixing that dangling modifier, though. I was worried! ;)

  3. That alternating viewpoint business sets up certain challenges that are tough... I've done it once and wouldn't do it again, but more power to you!

    I've read the opening to your book and liked it and will read more when I get more of that precious but limited commodity, time.

  4. Davin, one of the big things I'm doing right now is making sure the timeline still works, and that all of the themes are introduced in the correct order. The meanings of scenes have sometimes radically changed, which is interesting, so I have to alter a word here or there to shadow or brighten things up as necessary.

    Michelle, Catherine is the heart and soul of the book; David is sort of the anti-Catherine. I am this morning considering giving an additional new scene to Violet, David's wife. Violet might deserve more time on screen. I haven't decided.

    Marly, I swore after The Astrologer that I'd never write in first-person again, but I broke that oath for the thing I'm writing now. So who knows? The two stories in Go Home, Miss America almost--but not quite--merge in Chapter 11, so the different POVs get easier to handle, even though each main character sort of remains an extra in the other's story.

    Time is hard to come by for all of us!