Tuesday, October 18, 2016

paying out a long braided steel cable

The next morning, the Lady Grace encountered the ice pack. It was as if they had run aground in the night on the shores of a broken white wasteland, or had discovered an archipelago of floating islands, a few fathoms thick, blanketed with snow and streaked with muddy yellow at the waterline. The ice pack shifted, rising here and dropping there with the currents and the action of the slow waves. This shattered wasteland covered the hundreds of miles ahead of the Lady Grace, crazed ice hard and blinding bright in the daylight, the seams between the separate floes black as if great quantities of ink had been poured out by the hand of Heaven. The Lady Grace followed these dark seams south, into the pack. It was, as the whalers of Grytviken had warned, much farther north than usual, especially at the start of summer. But it was loose pack, and under reduced sail the Lady Grace pushed her way easily through the gaps in the frozen archipelago, sometimes running half a mile or more in open water.

Jernagen and Weir had set up their scientific gear on the quarterdeck. Weir lowered his dredge over the taffrail, paying out a long braided steel cable, hoping to find something new swimming in the deep cold water. Jernagen measured the air and water temperatures, the geomagnetic variances, the mineral content of the ice and the water, and the spectrum of the sunlight. Weir netted petrels, fulmar gulls and dreamed of dissecting Emperor penguins. He photographed crabeater seals, killer whales, humpback whales, and Finner whales. He found shrimp and jellyfish in his dredge, a thousand feet below the ship's keel. Jernagen and Weir sat on the deck with their heads close together, scribbling notes in their journals, smiling and breathing each other's pipe smoke.
This post is just a reminder to myself that yesterday, after a break of a month, I began again to work on the draft of the novel I'm calling Nowhere But North. I've written about 70,000 words of that draft, and have about 25,000 still to write. I think it will be a pretty good book. Currently, I realized at lunch today, I am entering that phase of first draft writing when I have pretty much abandoned ideas of propriety, which is to say that as far as what and how I write, anything goes. This is how it always is, having mentally collapsed under the pressure of the work, I decide that every idea--no matter how absurd--is probably a pretty good idea and should be allowed its place in the book. Three quarters of the way through and I've become punchy. The above-quoted excerpt is not an example of the absurd which creeps into the novel.

14 comments:

  1. Go for it! I think writing without self-editing for first drafts is the only sensible approach. I had a writing teacher (in Berkeley, off all places) who pounded that into my head. Get it down. All of it. I could always trim later, and what a shame it would have been to abandon what might later turn out to be solid gold nuggets within the tons of unsmelted ore. Hey, Scott, I like what I read so far. I hope to read it all someday soon. Keep pounding those keys or pushing that pen. BTW, what is your method? I recall Thomas Wolfe standing in the kitchen writing on a table on top of his refrigerator. Whatever works!

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    1. Correction: "on top of his refrigerator" not "on a table on top of his refrigerator". That would be weird!

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  2. Tim, I usually have an outline and a ton of notes before I start drafting, and by the time I've reached this stage of a first draft I have more notes than I can possibly use, so it's not really like flying by the seat of my pants or anything. But I do find myself thinking things like I should put a bear into a scene, that would be cool, or I could have the point of view shift suddenly from below the ground into Heaven and have God looking down at my characters, or what if the little girl running down the street was actually Saint Sophia the Martyr, returned to Earth? I've used all of these ideas, all in the last quarter of my novels when I stop caring about the tidiness of my outlines and the possibilities of anyone actually reading the books.

    I draft with a pen, in small spiral-bound notebooks. Usually at lunchtime, an hour or so every weekday. I edit things on the commute home, riding the train. To revise, I print everything out and take a red pen to the MS, at lunchtime and during my evening commute. I almost never do any writing at home or on weekends. So an hour a day, by hand.

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  3. "Exit, pursued by a bear."

    Amazing what an hour a day can do. And what a sense of obscurity and freedom can do--that one's tricky. I like this dramatic landscape and the companionability of the two. I could have dealt with something more scenic with their activities, too.

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    1. I'm still struggling to imagine my story's landscape, to keep in mind the varied and strange and beautiful that Antarctica really is, while at the same time keeping the texture I think I want in the narrative. But it's early days, and there will be plenty of revisions, I think. I hope this book doesn't keep growing and growing, though. I already think it might be too long, and I have another 20,000 words probably to write just to finish the initial draft. My books always get longer during revisions, too, when I flesh out the sketches of ideas I've written in. But I have no deadlines nor word count limits, so I can do as I like.

      I'm trying to work the theme of friendship into the book, alongside other less lofty human traits.

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    1. Just talking about myself again, pretending this dusty old blog has a purpose. I have decided to give the Emperor penguins a greater role in the novel, though I am not assigning them individual names. Not yet, anyway.

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    2. Also, one of my characters quotes snatches of Charlotte Smith poetry, so thank you for bringing her up on your own blog.

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    3. Apparently there was a conference about her in the middle of last month. "Just a peep at the delegate list alone was enough to get Smith scholars everywhere into a state of excitement" and the staff at Chawton House gave everybody plates of lavender shortbread. ( http://www.bars.ac.uk/blog/?p=1433 )

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    4. How exciting, and what an interesting slate of lectures. I'd like to hear the Beachy Head songs. News of this conference would make Harold Bloom pretty grumpy, though I'll bet he would've gobbled down the shortbread biscuits.

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  5. A list of things that do not make Harold Bloom grumpy:

    1. reading very fast
    2. telling everybody that he is, in fact, Falstaff

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  6. That report disconcerts me though: the gap between this tootle about nice lavender biscuits and Sir Thing in his smooth blue blazer, and the words they're actually discussing, the "withered heath and barren thorn", "Earth ... aghast", "pathless forests frown," is too large.

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    1. My first thought: Well, you know how it is. Professionals discuss the artist's relationship to the world without necessarily engaging themselves in a relationship to the world. So you can have privileged folks eat a catered lunch while considering the sonnets written by a woman in poverty. The earth, the heath, the seaweed battered by waves, the anger, and the dead daughter are all kept at a comfortable distance, invisible behind the wall of sweets.

      My second thought: But it's not like Poe scholars are required to be laudanum addicts or whatever. Maybe this is too hard on the scholars who, if they succeed in broadening interest in Smith's work, won't be the majority of her readers. Maybe I misunderstand your idea of the gap. I confess myself exhausted of late.

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    2. It's not so much that I believe, prescriptively, that they morally or ethically should be holding their conference during a tempest in the middle of a graveyard by the sea, on chairs of thorns, with a happy child nearby for contrast; and at the end they all say "Adieu!" or Farewell!" or "Death!" and go home to weep, and die of plague or suicide, it's more the idea of someone burying themselves deeply, deeply in this language of human weakness, inability, anxiety, and coming out the other side using sets of words that are not only utterly opposed to that unstable area of feeling, but also actually fights against it and tries to destroy it or banish it: everything is charming, sweet, comfortable, delicious, satisfying, informative, and moving on an upward trajectory, without any kind of contrast or acknowledgement of difference or failure. The report is unhesitatingly confident that an inspiring trajectory is the natural order of things. Meanwhile the Sonnets are standing there saying, "Anyone who thinks like this is deluding themselves."

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