21. long time lapse

Wow, haven’t been ’round these parts in some time — very nearly a year.  A number of factors have contributed to this. Psychological issues which I’ve (more or less) worked out. Completing my Masters. Job hunting. Job acquiring. Moving once, twice. The requirements of my current profession — yeah, that one quite a bit. Writing fiction… which has been somewhat haphazard this past year, ever since really that last post on March 16th. From then I’ve completed a considerable amount on The Lash, completed a short fiction piece, started three more novels (!) and worked periodically on the book for which this blog was named. And reading… with the completion of my Masters, I shifted from intensive textbook reading from the past three years to a fiction-binge … nearly 200 books since last September (!) — including the gluttonous gobble of Los Alamos’s public library’s graphic novel collection.

 

So… it’s good to still have a blog. I do believe i will be focusing more on other events as opposed to internal blurb n’ blather. We’ll see. 

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20. does size matter?

Soo I finished Until the End of the World yesterday. Another ‘milestone’, I suppose. Thinking back, I’ve had the relatively complete story outlined from as far back as March, 2009, and it was interesting to see those scenes transposed from bullet points to (fairly) fleshed-out chapters. Considering I first came up with the ‘core’ idea back in 1997–after the spring break car accident (which the beginning of the novel alludes to, with James arriving on a Grayhound bus)–that’s a long, long span of time.

What also struck me was how quickly it passed, and the end result word count — 53,000. That just about inches it over the line between novella and novel, according to the wiki article on word count/book length. Back when I was writing the beginning of this novel in tangent to the Book of Mirrors (spring 2010) I thought they’d be about the same–the goal was 70k. Instead, BoM increased to 82k on the first draft, expanded in part by Gabe’s extensive adventures with Vonoh, while this fell shy of the even 60k I’d reconsidered as the probable word count a month previous. Now, the book is only first draft, and I know I’ve a couple thousand to add to it. I sort of skimmed through the LGAT/Casteneda criticism sections, as I knew those could potentially bog the novel down right where it should pick up. Still, there are some essential nuggets of information I need to include. There may be a bit of expansion to the party scene in Part II, though nothing significant. It’s looking like the book may max out at 55 or 56k in the end.

But that doesn’t bother me.

A long, long time ago, when I was writing my first short stories and poems (high school days), actually writing a book-length manuscript was beyond ability or belief. I even attempted to write two different books back in the 8th grade(!) that reached 3,000 or so. I wrote an extensive plot summery for a book I wanted to write (and would never waste the time to do so now) not once, but three times (once at 16, two more at 21). And as a lot of my work has been either novellas/novellettes of ‘literary’ fiction or full on fantasy epics broaching or breaking 200k, I’ve sort of existed in a binary phase of either/or — either 40k or below, or 180k and above.

I should note that, after completing Sorrow’s Heart in 2010, at a whopping 300k, size suddenly became relative. I’d stretched myself and composed something mammoth (hell, I could have bumped it to 350 – 380 if I hadn’t decided to move an entire plotline to the next novel); size no longer mattered… at all. So 53k? So what? What matters is the story it tells. I’d rather it be short than bloated. Particularly with a book of this type (subversive romance/social criticism swathed in archtypical tropes).

Last night I read through a couple sections from Blurb, and I was impressed–much more than I’d anticipated. So that will be my project for the next two 1/2 months. And when I complete that, it’ll bring my completed book total for 2012 to 3…

…something I could not even have dreamed about, even five years ago.

19. scrubbing the dark

I had an enjoyable conversation with my friend E. last night concerning certain impressions recieved from the editing and writing of the past few weeks. Enjoyable in that I was able to articulate a strange and uneasy feeling in regards to the craft, and my current phase of composition…

I began the book I’m currently working on in January of 2010. Based on conversations with E. regarding cult activity, cult recruiting techniques, New Wage hogwash bottled as elixers of enlightenment–and then subsequent research as to the emergence and administration of these cults through the latter half of the twentieth century–I took the template for a book I’d been considering from back in 1997 (a romance between bad boy/good girl in a small town and the usual complications) and restructured it to incorporate some of these themes. Given that trauma, exploitation and abuse seem central to the underlying principles upon which these groups engage (offering ‘healing’ from the subtle wounds of the psyche, only to ruthlessly replitcate those wounds in new permutations in order to fashion a slave to the particular system)–this is pretty dark shit. I managed about 1/3rd of the text over the course of a couple months (drawing from previous ‘drafts’ — a graphic novel and screenplay written for college classes), then put it away for other works. As time went on, the book and its hold on me grew smaller and smaller as I struggled through various other projects, but never faded: I knew the ideas were strong and I knew that someday I’d have to return and wrap it up appropriately.

But that required re-entering into the darkness. And after the birth of my daughter, I’ve found myself more and more reluctant to engage in that particular mental field; I know that when one scrubs the abyss for its barnicles and rust, seeking some shine of truth, flakes and residue is bound to linger, even if the act be merely the creative composition. I recall completing the 300k text for Sorrow’s Heart in the summer of 2010 and openly thinking that I would never again venture that deep and dark in my writings, not with a young one in the household.

But this book still remained incomplete, and such projects–particularly when there is a perceived verve, a power, contained within its full potential–those projects tend to haunt. To irritate. So I’ve put it off, and put it off, but I’d long planned to complete it by spring 2012.

(It feels like the last almost-year, in fact, has entailed wrapping up old projects so as to move fully into new ones)

I write all this because, yesterday and the day before, I wrote the climax to this book —  very dark and disturbing stuff, psychological violence of the most invasive and debilitating (to these characters). And I came home and found my little girl running down the street, smiling and squeeking with joy, the perfect picture of 2 year old innocense. I was able to ‘act’, to shove down the disturbance of that which I had processed and put down… but it lingered, and I did not like being even in my daughter’s proximity with the ‘haunting’ of such writing. In a recent blog post, R. Scott Bakker confessed that he would not be able to write his sci-fi novel Neuropath now that he has a daughter. Having a child changes you in ways you cannot predict (or, at least, it should change you…)

Alongside that, I also finished my edit on Sacred Cycles, and my overall opinion is… mixed. I wrote it in 2007, and no-doubt some of my research coupled with travel trauma coupled with general depression wormed its way into the text; do I not write, partially at least, as a form of therapy? In any case, I found most of the novel impressive. All those edits and hours paid off, and a good part of the prose is satisfactory to my eye and inner voice (not bad, considering I wrote it five years ago). There are maybe a dozen areas that need serious editing and re-writing, which is not significant at all for a 225k-word book. But on the other hand, I wonder if I was overdoing the dark a bit, if the depression and delving of the dark side wrenched the work into caricature…

then again, I browed an article on street children in the Ukraine and one on the increasing human trafficking situation in the U.S, and I am reminded that it is bleak out there, and no matter my misanthropy, the truth of the ‘real’ is much, much worse…

18. happy cycling

I added the words up for this year and I’m sitting at just over 70k… not bad for two months and around 25 days of it without composition of any significance. The goal right now is somehow, between my school duties and masters work etc., to hammer out another 100k by the end of May. That, and complete my current editing goals…

…which have, well, expanded. After completing Immortal Coil last month, I decided now was as good a time as any to continue on — to give the million and so words cranked out in my ‘primary word’ a surface edit. This required re-entering creative ground I was not quite comfortable with, for a variety of reasons.. “but,” I told myself, “I might as well; if nothing else, those old books certainly helped you shave down the rough edges of style and craft…”

I wrote Sacred Cycles, the first volume of my incomplete five-book ‘meta-epic’, in 2007. The 225k text took around seven months, stretched out over 11 months (i was married that year, which dominated most of the summer ). The book was complex and convoluted, dense and demanding, and even flush in the creative buzz I knew it might be a hard sell in the foundering, fluctuating book market of that period (things haven’t gotten much better). I edited the book periodically through 2008 and then basically put it away in 2009 under the advice of a college professor, moving on to other works. I gave it a once-over in 2010 before finallizing a print job… (printing that amount of words is usually $20, a sizable investment to a brokeass college student).. and let it sit for the next year, as I completed other projects, some in the same world, others far different.

There is always this uncomfortable anticipation/dread that comes with opening an old book, one labored so fiercly on so many years past, edged with the sinking swirling feeling of “gawd, what was I thinking?” I felt this quite keenly in 2010 / 2011, while reconstructing my very first novel from its bloated 2001 completion to a leaner, read-able draft. Venturing into Sacred Cycles, volume ten of my ‘collected works’ library, contained very much the same tension.

But this time around… it’s different. Complicated. For one, the book mostly works now. This is a surprise; I labored long and hard on this sucker and sometimes despaired of ever feeling satisfied over it. I keenly recall the massive rewrites, the surprised little pleasures, the surface skim of printed words and subsequent bewildering twine of pride and frustration.

But now…  My initial reaction through the first few chapters was puzzlement at the general quality. I’d half-assumed it would read stilted and unsatisfactory; for years I’ve had the impression that I had edited too much, and in that process pulverized the potential.  There was also a wierd sense of dislocation. The book felt dense, almost too dense. So many names and worldbuilding to occasionally warp the pacing. This ambiguous feeling was exaggerated, perhaps, by having Immortal Coil as an immediate contrast.

In hindsight–approx. 1/3rd through SC–I’m really, really glad I wrote IC as a ‘side novel’ and potential introductory text to the overall arc. IC is a better, friendlier novel. The characters resonate stronger, and there’s far fewer of them. The world contains depth but manages to navigate the problematic density that affects SC. The “dimestore misanthropy” that I infused into SC is toned down or developed in a more sophisticated manner.

And yet… there is a quality to SC that I’m enjoying. Quite a bit of the prose has been honed through the dozen or so edits to a sharpness and surety that makes reading it enjoyable (and that’s the goal, frankly). I recall from previous edits that the book started really clicking around chapter 6; so it is the same now–other than a handful of faint edits, chapter 6 passed so smooth I had to double-check to make sure I wasn’t just lulled by the storytelling.

A good feeling, all in all. It’s been more than five years, and all that struggle did pay off, in the end. There’s still work to do on SC (not to mention the 700,000 words still to be written in this series) but for now, I’m happy cycling.

Current composition work is on Until the End of the World. I’ve composed roughly 8k in the past week, and considering it’s been almost two years from when I ceased working on the draft…  it’s an interesting feeling,  all told. I managed to type out rough sketchs of the second ‘cult criticism’ sections. Given that it’s been four years from when I did the initial research, I’ve had to visit RickRoss and other associated forums to remember some of the details, even if the storytelling structure remains concrete.

Oh, but this is a dark book… I’m only working on it during my breaks at school. Don’t want that creative energy in the household, frankly. After this (probably completed by the end of March?) I’m going to whip out Blurb and then return to speculative fiction for the rest of the year–the Lash, The Subtle Wound, and The Netherworld Throne. all of which will carry into 2013…

..happy cycling. Sometimes I wonder why I haven’t gone mad.

17. …

A couple of days ago I was playing with my daughter in her room. Lego blocks scattered by her feet. I leaned into the top of her head, and kissed her sweet-smelling hair. “I love you, Yuna.”

She looked up to me, then reached out and patted my hand. “I love you too.”

At 22 months. I melted.

….

I took a break from writing for the past week. Fallout exhaustion from completing BoM? Perhaps. Stress in applying for jobs (applying at school districts can take an hour or more)? Probably. I also bit the bullet and began reading and revising Immortal Coil, which I’ve been planning to do for months now.

Overall, I was impressed. Very impressed, given that major passages in the second half are at 1st/2nd draft stage. There were passages I re-wrote; the usual dozen nicks-per-page of honing and cutting; a growing awareness of certain ideas and words overused that will need to be addressed in the next line edit… but the novel clicked. The characters maintained consistency. The conflict was crushing. I enjoyed reading it, throughout. Images lingered, and haunted. Given that this may be the text I use as my stepping-stone, and given that I haven’t read it from when I completed it back in April 2011, these were very good impressions.

Now, I do believe I am going to work on little projects for the time being, let this edit ‘breath’, and come back to it for another editorial sweep in April.

It almost… not quiet yet… but almost feels like the time.

16. whatamItalkinbout

…so, flush in the triumph of another novel completed and no one to talk to about it (other than my better half, but that only goes so far), I called two friends. The first wasn’t there, so I called my old high school buddy whom I collaborated/competed with back in the day. The reaction was unsurprising, given certain psychological factors between us, an artistic tug-of-war never settled from the halcyon days. Yet again I recieved the impatient  impression of ‘not wanting to hear about it / patiently waiting for a chance to keep talking,’ which is normal in a regular phone call conversation but seems to spike when certain subjects (like quantity of writing) comes up.

I suppose it’s appropriate, given that my next novel is “blurb” and it’s all about the craft itself and the frustrations of unpublished authors. The fragile ambitions of ‘artistic’ youth, and how they fade or furrow to certain grooves as age atrophies or aggrevates the nascent talent through lack of success (with some funny tales from roadtrips thrown in for the heck of it…). The core idea is a writer, failed and flailing, decides to take a road trip after his father’s death to visit his old writing buddies from back in college. Some have attained success, others have veered into comfortable middle-class occupations. A few have undergone frienzied descents into alternative realities and/or into the isolation void, screwed loose by the insanity of percieved “end times”, by artistic angst unlevened by outside experiences. All, without exception, are unhinged in one way or another by the demands and distractions of mainstream society, and petty jealousies, back-biting, envy, guarded enthusiasm, feverish competition… these emotive bladders burst all over my core protagonists as the novel progresses.  I plan on constructing lots of rants about the surface skitterscat modern technology has skullfucked into the living generations, hence the title, “blurb” —

blurb

noun

1.

a brief advertisement or announcement, especially a laudatory one: She wrote a good blurb for her friend’s novel.
verb (used with object)

2.

to advertise or praise in the manner of a blurb.
 
1907, coined by U.S. humorist Gelett Burgess (1866-1951) to mock excessive praise printed on book jackets. But also sometimes attributed to U.S. scholar Brander Matthews (1852-1929).
 
 
 
…..and yes, I plan on mocking ‘excessive praise’ and all the hyperbole and histrionics that clamor for our attention, our wallets, the very currency of life itself, time.

15. …BoM completed, and other considerations

So today I completed the first draft for The Book of Mirrors.  The usual rush of completion was almost immediately followed by a despondant come-down. This may stem from the fact that I have a lot of work to do on the draft. Unlike many of my previous books, I didn’t edit as I worked, at least past the 1/6th point; more than three quarters of the novel is first draft, and I know that some areas are going to recieve a vigorous red-pen workout across multiple drafts before I’m satisfied. (other sections I somehow nailed almost perfect — the wages of practice and inspiration, I suppose).

The draft came in at just over 82,000, which is about 12-16k more than I thought it would be a year ago (or even two months ago). What astounds me is that I gnashed out over 55,000 words in less than a month. On a project that bubbled inside for nearly two years. Part of that haste, I know, stems from the fact that I wanted something substantial to present to my daughter for her birthday in April (this book is dedicated for her, after all) and I needed to give it a couple good rinses after completion to achieve even a nominal satisfaction in the giving (pride, ever the poisonous passion!). Part of the haste stems from the fact that I have a goal of completing 5 novels this year, and to accomplish that I need to put the words to the paper. A huge part of it comes from the very real stresses accumulating from my masters degree requirments and the need to finda  job for this fall–both of which are going to require significant time allocation. Now that BoM is done (and this really was my big goal for this first half of the year), I can focus on those necessities without this bogging down my mind.

That said, I’ve decided to delay my submission process for another year, possibly two. I have a two year contract to complete with LETQP and frankly, I’d like to beef up my portfolio a bit more before biting the bullet. I have minor projects I’d like to complete before shackling myself to spec. fiction. I have a shit-load of stuff to do, and the grind of trying to locate an agent right now… no thanks! I’ve waited 20 years, a couple more before the knives come out is no wait at all.

(that, and I can complete 8 novels in that stretch).

For the rest of the semester, I’m going to putter away on UtEotW and Blurb, with a few additional chapters on the Lash, with the goal of having all three done by August (the first two by May, if possible). Then, in the fall, work on TNT and TSW. This is ambitious. But shit, I can do it, no problem! If nothing else, the last four years have turned me into a machine.