Week of August 16-22, 2009

Novel Work
I’ve moved out of analysis mode and back into the grunt work of writing new material again, starting fresh for Part II. So out go the contemplation of statistics and in come character sketches, source material, and all sorts of different frustration. It’s always such a shock to the system to go from finishing up a draft to working from the void again. That being said, I feel pretty good about the first week of it. Pumped out around twenty-five pages of rough draft and have had a lot of ideas about where I’m heading, structure, aesthetic. I feel like I have a pretty good handle on what this section should look and sound like, and am getting there as far as plot is concerned. When I began writing Part I of the novel, I had a detailed outline and numerous files of sketches and half-scenes that I used for kindling. A lot of the work was in arranging, filling out scenes, and making it work for the novel, since much of the material were “darlings” cut out of other stories. It seemed like a good plan, but there was a major problem. It didn’t really work. Five drafts and a complete rewrite later, Part I is almost completely different from what I’d planned it being. It’s taken a lot of flexibility and hard work to get it into decent shape, not to mention infinite patience and precise feedback from my agent. (Thanks, Nicole, wherever you are.) Being that I didn’t want to fall into the same quagmire again, I decided to take a different tact to writing the rest of the novel—working much more loosely with plot in a way that allows the story and character to emerge more organically. The drawback of this approach is that it requires a lot of feeling blind. We’ll see how it goes, but I like where I’m headed. It has been particularly interesting this time around in that Part II is the first of three historical sections of the novel, starting out in the summer of 1918. This is the year the US actually had soldiers fighting in World War I and is the year before the Red Summer that plays so prominently later in the book. Plus, the Cypriot character is coming up soon, which is exciting. Wish me luck! (I plan to write more next week on how I’m approaching the Historical Novel as form, dealing specifically how I plan to focus on storytelling while keeping the end product as historically real as possible.)

Dispatch from The Open City
“In the seizing moment of their struggle Jacob saw himself as this man must have saw him, a brief flashing image of a country boy in a worn out suit, arms grown too long for the jacket, the necktie flipped sideways because it hadn’t been tied correctly. Jacob’s face was smooth and dirty, his hair cut shabbily, bangs grown too long over his forehead, his lips and ears turning crimson. But it was his own hands that Jacob noticed most of all, his whopping large, able hands. With one mitt he held the man steady, with the other he still clutched the bridle, his grip firm despite the man’s and the horse’s pulling. It occurred to Jacob that he could whip this man, this drunkard who was trying to hustle him. Jacob was strong, a head taller than most men, blessed with the kind of large country-strong hands that had made him a natural at handling a pick axe or the arms of a plow. It wouldn’t have taken much to beat this man into submission, to separate him from the bridle and toss him towards a sewer drain. At home, the mere threat of Jacob’s violence was enough to scare off the other boys. This man seemed somehow oblivious to his disadvantage. It was as if he was daring Jacob to knock his lights out, as if it made no difference to him whether he was beaten or not.”

Kind Rejection Notes and Near Misses
Ploughshares asked for more after rejecting “The Current State of the Universe.”

Still Reading
The Twenty-Seventh City by Jonathan Franzen. I’ve really been enjoying this one and am racing towards the finish. If only I still had six to eight hours of reading time a day, but gainful employment beckons each afternoon and evening. Franzen’s characters in this novel are compelling because they are so completely lost, teetering on the brink of losing the status that protects the middle-class from devolving into the sort of people who live below them, whoever that may be they’re not always sure. It sounds trite, but for anyone who (like Martin Probst) has fought to rise into the middle or beyond, these cautionary tales can be quite frightening.

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