I’m gonna get it right this time

26 11 2010

I’m reconsidering.

Okay, so I’m always reconsidering pretty much everything, but this is a specific reconsideration: Whether to post novel-1 on Smashwords.

Part of it, I admit, is cold feet—what if nobody reads it? what if somebody reads it?—but part of it is wondering if this is the best way to send Unexpected People (soon-to-be-retitled) into the world.

You see, the editing worked: It’s better, now. A lot better.

It’s still not great, won’t set anyone’s hair on fire, but the stiltedness is (mostly) gone, the over-knowingness and, frankly, the Q&A aspect of so many of the conversations has for the most part been eliminated.

Here’s a bit from the first section:

From her crouch on the bed, Kit could both hear the squealing below and watch the neighbor lady getting into her car. She had a large bag and a bundle of papers; was she going to work on a Saturday? Bummer.
She was pretty, though, from what she could tell from the distance. Really tan, or maybe black; tough to tell from just the glimpse at her face; were those dreadlocks? Cool.
As the car crept backward down the driveway, Kit shifted her focus to the room. How many hours left? She didn’t have to be back on the ward until tomorrow night, so, what, 30 something hours left? Ten of those sleeping? A couple in the shower, dressing, her room. Twenty hours with her family. She sighed, then slid off the bed.
‘Well, I probably should shower, then,’ she mumbled to herself. A shower always made her feel stronger—not because that’s what normal people did, but because it helped her to gather herself to herself. Pieces of her flaked and chipped off every moment she was awake; taking off her old clothes then putting on new ones after she was clean was a kind of repair. It didn’t last, but those first moments out of the shower made her feel as whole as she could be.
She’d forgotten how humid the bathroom would get; the fans on the ward were much stronger. Still, Kit lingered, eyes closed, in the steamy room, waiting to propel herself into the day. You can do this. You can do this.

Janis heard the noise from the shower, and tried not to track how long it took before Kit showed up. Instead, she ransacked the cabinets for flour, sugar; did they have enough peanut butter? Check. Chocolate chips? Check.
She turned to Lindsay. ‘Chocolate chip bars or cookies?’
‘Cookies!’ Lindsay said immediately. She looked at Patrick, explaining, ‘You get more that way.’
He laughed. ‘It’s the same amount of dough, Linds, either way.’
She was unmoved. ‘But you get more cookies than bars.’
‘All right, all right,’ he relented. ‘You got me there.’

Kit lingered in her room, rummaging for her favorite socks. She didn’t have these on the ward—her parents did the packing—and wanted to make sure they were still around. The deep green didn’t quite match her purple hoodie, but she was satisfied with her outfit anyway. Low riders, moccasins, sweatshirt. It wasn’t like she’d be seeing anyone today, anyway.

The kitchen was so warm Janis cracked open a window.
‘Hey, did you meet the new neighbor?’
Janis looked puzzled. ‘New neighbor?’
Patrick flipped another cookie onto the board, then raised his eyebrows to Lindsay. ‘Pretty good, huh kid?’ She rolled her eyes back at him. ‘Yeah, the one with the Saab?’
Lindsay looked up from the cookie bowl. ‘That bug car? She’s nice.’
Janis’s frown deepened. ‘What, Saab, bug car?
‘Veronica,’ Patrick stated. ‘And she’s not nice, she’s fiiiiiiiine’ He waggled his brows at Lindsay, then flipped another cookie. This one hit the floor.
‘You dummy.’
He scooped the broken cookie into his mouth. ‘No worries,’ he gargled through hot cookie. ‘Five second rule.’ He swallowed. ‘Mmm.’
‘Gross.’

You get the idea: Kit is home from the hospital for the weekend, her mom Janis is trying to something normal and homey, and her older brother Patrick and younger sister Lindsay are enjoying the Kit-free kitchen.

The manuscript as a whole is dialogue-heavy, with only minimal place-setting. Over the course of the novel you get bits of description: the neighbor Veronica’s house is a one-story ranch, while the family’s house is two-story; Veronica has a cement back stoop and a small detached garage she never uses, while the other house has a nice wood deck, a usable garage with a basketball hoop, and a large yard with a wood swing and various berry bushes. I don’t give the town they live a name, but, in my own mind, at least, it’s in the Midwest—maybe Illinois or Indiana—and large enough to support at least a small college and with a diversified economy.

You also don’t get too much by way of physical description of the characters. Veronica is bi-racial, with long dreadlocks, in her late thirties; Janis is blonde, works out, in her mid-forties; her estranged husband Rick has a mustache, and later grows a beard; Patrick (19) is tall, Kit (16) has dark hair, and Lindsay (10-11) has long hair. That’s it.

Anyway, none of this has anything to do with my reconsideration. I know the publishing business is in the pits and the whole agent-editor-book contract model is wobbling—against that, the self-pub route seems almost reasonable.

But there’s another option, as well, which is to go the small press route. I have to look into this further, to find out if manuscripts may be sent directly or if they still require agency representation, but I think this story would fit a small press well. That I have a second manuscript already in the can would, presumably, work in my favor.

So, much more research, a little more editing, and then: a decision.





666?

8 09 2010

Two-thirds, that is—I’m about 2/3 of the way through the chop-edit of my first novel.

I’ll go back over it, again, once I’ve finished with the axe, but by then sandpaper should do.

As I’m thwacking my way through this, it’s so, so clear how much a first novel this is. I knew that, before, even when it was still my darling, but my cold eyes now see all of the cracks covered by my previous affection.

Still, I plan to go through with my plans to Smashwords this. Flaws and all, it is still an engaging enough read. And I’ll never write another novel like this one.

Perhaps that’s why I’m willing to put this cracked-pot out there: because I won’t ever write something like this again.

My second novel, as I’ve mentioned, is better, more complex, and my third novel—well, two of my three third novels (not counting the first third-novel, now languishing in a persistent vegetative state)—take(s) me even further away from my experiences and more into ‘what-if’ territory.  I don’t want any of these novels to become mechanical (cf. Ian McEwan, Richard Powers), but I do want to see if I conjure a novel out of the air rather than memory.

I rush to remind that the first novel is not autobiographical—and in the reminder hope you don’t notice the rush. To say that the characters are not me or her or her or him is true enough, but, in fact, I’m not wholly comfortable with how much is recognizable. This is one novel that, for those who know me, one could say Oh, yeah, I see that. And not just see what I see, but see parts of me that I don’t see.

Terrifying.

But if I am to write for others, I have to allow that those others will see what I don’t see. I can control everything up to the point I let it go, at which point I must simply let it go.

So that’s why I want to put (the still provisionally-named—please, if you have any suggestions, let me know) Unexpected People out there. Few people are likely ever to read it, certainly, but the risk—the risk!—that it might actually be read, well, let me start dealing with that now, with the novel that got me started.

That all sounds backasswards, I know: I’m afraid not that I won’t have readers, but that I will. But there it is.

And so if I am ever to make a move with my other novels or any other writing, I have to stop hiding, stop protecting whatever the hell it is I think I’m protecting, and let it go.

And so, after the chopping and sanding, and the running of my hand over it one last time, I’ll let it go.





You strikeout like that

17 07 2010

In a discussion of death, a bit of editing; strikeouts old, italics new:

‘M&Ms?’
‘No thanks.’ Cate pulled out a chair. ‘I just don’t know what happens.’
‘Well, that’s the difficulty, corker,  isn’t it? there’s the rub that’s the bitch of it, isn’t it?’ Veronica considered. ‘You don’t know until it happens. Don’t know if it’s better, or worse, or anything at all.’ She separated out the blue candies. ‘For what it’s worth, I don’t think people who kill themselves go to hell.’ Cate’s face was pointed toward her shoes. ‘I know the Catholics used to believe that, but now,’ Veronica let out a breath, ‘now even they offer a Mass for suicides.’
Cate’s spoke to her shoes. ‘For sure real?’
‘Yeah. For sure real.’ Veronica popped some chocolates into her mouth, then pushed the bag toward Cate. ‘I don’t think, hm, I don’t think any God worth believing in punishes people after death who’ve suffered so much in life.’ ‘I don’t see the point in a God who punishes people who’ve already suffered more than enough.’ for suffering.’
‘Even people who deserve it?’
Veronica smacked her hand down on the table. ‘Deserve it? Deserve what, Cate? Suffering?’ Her tone was harsh voice rose. ‘Everybody suffers. Everybody,  . And not because they did something bad so they have to pay for it.’ just for being alive.’ Veronica was out of her chair now. ‘Goddammit, I hate this kind of talk. this shit. Like there’s some kind of hidden meaning in suffering: ‘You’re good, you’re bad’.People do bad shit all the time and nothing happens, and other people are just living their lives, and BAM! they get hit with the worst shit imaginable.’ She didn’t notice that Cate had drawn drew her feet up onto her chair, and had wrapped  herself into a cube. her arms around her shins. ‘No, suffering is just there, because we’re just here, and it’s got nothing to do with how good or bad we are. Goddammit! If suffering were about who deserved it, all these goddamned dictators and killers and drug dealers and all the rest of them would be writhing on the ground in pain. Wri-thing. On. The. Ground. But they’re not, are they.’ Winning and losing Good shit and bad shit happens, and that’s that.’ Veronica was stomping stomped around the kitchen.
‘No goddamned morality about that. And these goddamned These f Fucking televangelists, these goddamned hunters looking for trophies, treating us like prey. Goddamned predators!   goddamned predators, just lookin’ to get their hooks into us. bottom feeders. No, goddammit, if there is a god, I don’t think she’d set these people up to represent her!’ Like they give a shit about any of us.’ She paused in her rant, and happened to glance at glared out the back door window, then turned to see Cate, cubed. She wiped her hand over her face, and sighed. ‘I’m sorry, Ah, shit, Cate, I’m sorry. I can get going, sometimes.She huffed out a breath. ‘Not helping.’

Not that this is the final version, but you see what happens.





Cuts like a knife

15 07 2010

The editing is surprisingly easy.

‘Surprisingly’ because I had avoided it for so long: Once I decided that if this was to be proper novel, and not just a novelty of the imagination, my inner surgeon emerged.

Again, this wasn’t at all an issue with the second novel. That one wasn’t a surprise, and so I treated it as I treated any serious bit of my writing: as something to be worked and reworked and ground down and down until until I could run my hand over the grain without it catching on a notch or splinter.

But this first one, mmm, this one was a gift, and I treated it as something that wasn’t quite mine.

Now it is, or at least, it’s becoming mine, something I claim as my own work. The affection remains, but it is no longer precious.

That’s as it should be.





Slice it up

12 07 2010

Yes, this is a kill-your-darling situation.

I re-read (for the nth time) Unexpected People, and, well, nothing like a serious consideration that I’d put this out there for me to detach myself from the piece.

If it’s going to live, it can’t be my darling anymore.

I think the basic set-up is okay, but jeez louise the dialog is too much. So slice and dice and chop and sand and I think it could be okay.

It’s funny that only now can I see a way to edit this. When I made initial inquiries to agents back in 2007, I knew it was flawed but thought that an editor could help me figure out how to fix it; I hung back, I think, because of this, not engaging my customary editorial ruthlessness. But now, now that this will all be on me, I’ve snapped out of it, and I’ve begun sharpening my knives.

It won’t be a masterpiece, regardless, but it could be better.

And so it will be.

Once again, stay tuned.





Take a chance, take a chance

11 07 2010

Publish or perish?

What ought to be the fate of a first, flawed (fatally?) novel?

My second novel is pretty good, with no obvious structural flaws—although there are, of course, still flaws—and perhaps worth the effort to find an agent and, with luck, a publisher.

But the first, mm, the first is most definitely a first novel. Too much of this, not enough of that: the motivation for one if not two of the main characters remains murky, and however human the characters are (I am pretty good with character), they are a bit, tsssss, how do I put this, too wise?

Still, even with the over-knowingness, the characters are appealing, and I’d like to give them a chance. Hence the dilemma.

E-publishing removes almost all of the obstacles to publication, which is both a good and a bad thing. If an author thinks a novel is engaging enough, she can bypass all of the gatekeepers to print publication and go direct to the cybersphere. But gatekeepers are not always bad, and can keep an author from putting out something for which she feels affection, but which is also perhaps not ready for prime time.

Kill your darlings, said Faulkner, and I agree, wholeheartedly. I’ve struck beautiful sentences, etched out lyrical paragraphs, and consigned lovely metaphors to the trash bin, all because they didn’t advance the tale or the argument.  The play’s the thing, said another well-known author (albeit in a different context), and it is because I ardently believe that the overall purpose matters more than any part that I am willing to kill my darlings.

But what if the entire play—or novel, in this case—is your darling?

I never, er, well, not since I was a kid, did I expect to write a novel, and then  whooosh, this one (tentatively named Unexpected People) poured out of me. I wrote it in three months, after getting home from the late shift at work, and it came out clean. There was editing and trimming, of course, but I wrote and I wrote and then as I neared the end I wondered how it would end and then it did.

I wrote, and then I was done. What an amazing feeling!

The second novel was more complicated, which in turn required more discipline, more editing, more time; it is, on the whole, a more involved novel. But it also wouldn’t have happened without that first one, with what I learned in the writing of the first one, with what I learned I could do.

So do I chalk up Unexpected People as a kind of exercise, the practice before the performance?

That seems wrong, not least because it wasn’t an exercise, but a thing in itself: the stories, the characters, matter in themselves.

There is another way to deal with this, of course: try to fix those flaws. When I’d considered this previously, I thought, Oh, no, any surgery would kill the patient. But now I’m not so sure: I just sent a copy to C. (she’s helping me with a possible cover for a Smashwords version) and, just for kicks, decided to re-read it. The problems are evident—so much so I’m worried about what C. will say—but I still like the people in the story, still want to find out (even though I already know) what happens.

(Yes, I’m more hesitant to have a friend read this than strangers. That’s how it is.)

So I’ll finish reading it, then consider ways to shrink the flaws, perhaps by cutting back on the knowingness (i.e., the talkiness) of the characters, and hear what C. has to say.

I both do and do not want to publish this on Smashwords. There’s the whole matter of trying to get readers for it and marketing and shit would I have to Tweet and. . . tchaaaaarrgh maybe open a fucking. . . Facebook! account and all of the other issues of self-publishing.

But those are all technicalities, and secondary to the main question: Do I kill this darling, or let it find its way?

Stay tuned.