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I think my muse hates me.
At the very least, she takes pleasure in tormenting me – taunting, teasing, coaxing me into territory where angels fear to tread. Well, okay, maybe the angels would be comfortable here, but it’s a stretch for me.
“Could we please just write something straightforward and not too challenging? I went along with that whole arduous rewrite – tore the last novel apart to make you happy.”
She gives me a LOOK. “I’m still not happy. You’re in a hurry to put it aside. It needs polish. There are pages where the writing is clunky and utilitarian. Look at this moment, where you tell what you could be showing -”
“Right. I see. It still needs work. But, you still want me to start querying it, AND you’ve got these outrageous ideas for what to do with Swimming North. What do you want from me?”
“I want everything – your mind, your soul, that stupid logical streak that always shuts me down.”
“This is beginning to sound like Mephistopheles. Do I need an exorcist?”
And now she smiles, and I know that I have lost this war. Muse gets what Muse wants. Swimming North has given me enough trouble already. As my Beta readers will probably tell you, it has some good moments. I accede that point. But the thing has always twisted in my hands, evolving just on the edges of my understanding and my skill level. For the last couple of months it has been blissfully out of my mind while my Beta readers have been reading it, and I’ve been working on rewriting the WIP.
As my edits are coming to a close on Filling in the Blanks I made the dangerous decision to open my mind to the contemplation of what to do with SN. And then my muse got involved, and the question turned into ‘what is SN going to do with me?’
I sat down with a pen and notebook to get some structure in place. What is the Armature, per McDonald’s so excellent advice? And then the Maass questions: What does Vivian want more than anything else in the world, and what does she hate? What are her heroic qualities? Where is her major conflict? What about the other characters, some of whom are on the flat side. What motivates them?
Which is when the Muse got involved. “Think bigger” she says. “Give George a POV and a history. While you’re at it, give your other characters early POVs. You’re not using them effectively. The book isn’t about Vivian – sure she’s the protagonist, she’s critical, but that doesn’t make her necessarily the focal point. And while you’re at it, give the poor girl a cat – why does she not have a cat?”
And so on. It’s not that I don’t think these are good ideas, it’s just that I was already struggling a little with the shifts in reality and the surreality, so the idea of throwing even more into the mix is alarming. I know that there is no point fighting, though. I will follow blindly where my muse drags me, albeit with some struggling and screaming from time to time. Sooner or later we will arrive at something resembling a completed novel, and then we shall see whether this was madness or not.
Vivian’s cat is black with golden eyes, in case anybody was wondering. It doesn’t have a name yet, but I predict that by nightfall it will.
“All experience is an arch where through gleams that untravelled world whose margin fades forever and forever as I move.” Tennyson, from Ulysses
I’m sitting at the desk in my fully customized mudroom, reflecting on the nature of the Elusive Writing Goal. This mysterious creature, the EWG, flits across every town in every country across the face of the planet. It is a chameleon creature, ever shifting, ever changing, and has beckoned many a weary writer onward to an untimely death. Some have ignored its enticements completely, enduring the consequences of a bleak and unsatisfying life. Others have quested to the ends of reality and beyond, losing themselves and their sanity in a never ending pursuit of perfection.
A problem, then, for the conscious writer. What is the safest way to deal with the EWG?
Ha! Safe? If you consider yourself to be a writer, abandon the concept of safety at once. Myth, my friends, pure myth. We are risk takers, venturing off of the established paths. We delve into the nature of human emotions, one of the most dangerous pursuits known to man. We spin our minds and souls into words and send them into the public domain where anybody might read them.
All in pursuit of the mysterious EWG.
What does your EWG look like? Can you even answer that question? When you think you have captured it at last, it morphs between your very fingers and slips away, hovering in the distance, daring you to catch it one more time.
At the moment, mine has alighted on my shoulder and is singing promises in my ear. Almost, it says to me, almost. A little more polish on this manuscript, just a little more, and then you can send it out to agents.
Even under the enchantment of the EWG I recognize the hidden dangers in this casual statement. Agents. A promise of rejection; a hope of validation. And always, unspoken between the EWG and me, the hope of a published novel just out of sight around a corner in time.
I know that the instant I believe this MS is done, the sweet little EWG will grow claws and scales and become a dangerous beast. Foreknowledge is not much protection, however, and so I linger in this phase of the almost done. I am cherishing a sense of completion before the novel is complete, because when it is I will believe that it is not.
And still, even knowing, I will pursue the EWG into the weekend. We will polish Filling in the Blanks, one word at a time. And when this month is done, we will query. That’s what it says to me now, and I am compliant, complicit, to follow the margin that fades “forever and forever as I move.”
It is Friday, writers of the blogosphere. And you know what that means.
A step away from the mundane tasks of the week. A relaxation of the tyranny of the clock.
And the challenge to live this weekend with intention.
I hereby publicly declare a significant challenge for myself this weekend: by midnight Monday, I will have found my way to the end of this draft of Filling in the Blanks.
Now, I know that every single time I announce a big grown up goal like this, life conspires to throw obstacles in my way. At times I feel like Ulysses, and wonder which god I accidentally insulted that it should take so long to reach the end of my journey. However, barring shipwreck or unexpected attacks from cyclops, I really do believe I can get this done.
I’ve lived with this book long enough that the thought of actually completing it is nearly incomprehensible. I contemplate it in the way one considers the vast realities of God and Death – I know they exist, but it’s hard to wrap my mind around the reality. Maybe this is one reason I’m procrastinating so effectively. Much as I curse the endless revision loop I seem to be in, I suspect that I fear the unknown awaiting me on the other side.
Never the less. The time has come, as the walrus said. Other books await. It’s nearly time to get back to Swimming North and I have some shiny new ideas about Gatekeeper. I tell myself that this is it: I will finish this draft, edit, and then move on. The plot is simply not important enough that I should spend my entire life trying to turn it into a work of literature. It’s a good story. The next one will be better.
Listen to me – I sound like I’d already finished the damn thing, and I haven’t written word one yet this morning. I will, though. I will work on it today, and tomorrow, and by Monday night this draft will be done. Knock wood.
What about the rest of you? Where are you at in your writing? Share a little about the current WIP and what you hope to accomplish this weekend, or in the weeks to come.
I am delighted to announce the release of By the Rivers of Brooklyn, by Trudy J. Morgan-Cole. Trudy is a long time friend and has always encouraged my writing habit. In honor of this occasion I wanted to insert a picture of the book, but as it turns out I am technologically incompetent and don’t have hours to spend figuring out how to do this. You’ll have to go over to the website to see. You’ll want to visit the website anyway, because on Wednesday, June 17, Trudy is hosting an online launch party complete with prizes.
Speaking of the online launch party, I have a free, autographed copy of this novel to give away. In order to be entered in a drawing for the free (yes, I said the word FREE) book, you can do one of the following things:
1. Visit the By the Rivers of Brooklyn homepage anytime between today and midnight on the 18th, and leave a comment offering Trudy your good wishes, letting her know that I sent you on over.
2. On July 18th, tweet something nice about the novel with a link to http://www.bytheriversofbrooklyn.com or to my blog, and let me know you’ve done so.
3. Order a copy of Trudy’s book online on June 18th. Now, you might well ask, why do I need a free copy of the book if I’m going to order one? Because you can give one away to somebody else, that’s why! And then somebody else will get to read the book, and you will feel virtuous and generous, which are all good things.
And now, on to the important matter of why you should be interested in this novel anyway. An excerpt from the back cover, for starters:
“By the Rivers of Brooklyn transforms into fiction the experience of the 75,000 first and second generation Newfoundlanders who once lived in Brooklyn, New York – and the universal experience of migration of people throughout history who have gone away to find work and prosperity but never stopped dreaming of home.”
Now, if you’re one of my friends here in the USA, you may be asking “where the hell is Newfoundland?” I’m glad you asked that question. Newfoundland, (emphasis on the New) is a Canadian province, located on the East Coast. It’s a long way from Brooklyn. An interesting fact is that they have their own private time zone. I’m serious. Trudy’s always four and a half hours ahead of me. Or is it three? Anyway – it’s the half hour part that is interesting.
With that settled and out of the way, let’s move on to a couple of questions I asked Trudy the other day:
Q. What was the inspiration for this novel?
A: Family stories. My family are great talkers and storytellers, and I grew up listening to stories about great-grandparents and great-aunts and great-uncles, some of whom I’d never known and who lived far away. As I grew older I became aware that weaving through the threads of the stories we tell are the stories we don’t tell –those concealed by cryptic facts like the fact that my mother was born in Brooklyn, New York, but brought home to St. John’s to be raised by her grandparents and aunt when she was still a baby.
I love that interplay between the stories families tell and the secrets they keep, so I dreamed for years of writing a big, sprawling novel about a big, complicated family, some of whom lived back home in Newfoundland and some of whom went away, as people from Newfoundland have always done, to find work and opportunity in far places. The borough of Brooklyn, where my mother was born, where both my parents briefly lived as young adults, and where so many of my family went to when they left home, always exercised a pull over my imagination so it was natural for me to want to set this story there.
Q: What most pleased you about how this book turned out, and what, if anything, was most disappointing?
A: What pleased me most about how the book turned out was that I was able to cut 1/3 of the word length and in the end I didn’t feel like I lost anything –the cuts made it a tighter, stronger book but everything that’s essential to the story is still there.
At this point nothing is disappointing except the odd typo that crept past all the editors and proofreaders. I guess I will be disappointed if I don’t find some readers (other than my close friends and family!) who get immersed in the book, relate to it, love it. Once it’s published the book stops being all about me and becomes much more about the readers, I think, and whay they bring to it. So what I really care about at this point is how people respond.
Q: And last, do you have a favorite quote or passage from the novel?
A: Favourite line from the book –a little out of context, but it’s from one of the few unabashedly romantic passages in the book, and I guess I like it because it sums up some of what I believe about love:
“And it’s too bad, because she sees now that he’s absolutely right, that she wasn’t meant to be either the girl locked in the tower or the knight on the white horse, that nobody can be anyone else’s savior, or else that everyone is.”
And there you have it. Congratulations, Trudy!