Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Process Letter G4-4/Goddard

Dear John and Jeanne,

I hope all is well with the both of you. As the autumn here in Denver is already ending and the cold weather approaches, it seems like so long ago that I sent off the first copy to you. It has been an interesting process this for me this fall, as I'm just getting an idea of the logistics of the protocol of the reading of students' manuscripts. It seems crazy how short of a time the readers have with students' work. As I think about it, I can't help thinking about my cohort Rob Bass, who told me last summer that his manuscript is already 600 pages. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I would never endeavor to read such a long book, much less write one. In short, I thank you both for the consideration on the first read of From Ansbach to Color, as well as a thanks for this second read.

To be honest, John, I don't remember where the title came from, or why the order of Ansbach and Color changed. I had a working title of 'Oma', but that proved to be so boring. Oma is not, nor has she ever been a big part of the story. I think I used Oma for the title during the first semester due to the chapter “So Etwas” because that was where I began writing the story. The title as it is emerged around the time I read We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. Although my manuscript and his novel have so very little in common, I can imagine one similarity. He uses color to describe the terrible state of the world in his dystopia where things are gray or white. But as his main character D-503 meets his mate I-330, Zamyatin describes their world with more color. Color for these characters emerge with their enlightenment and love. I was taken by his descriptions, as I was conceiving ideas like this of my own, I don't think it was outright imitation. The chapter “987” for instant, is all about color. It's the playful manner in which Aisling sees the world, defining the color of the world with numbers found on paint swatches. There is a little autobiographical note here, I spent a year in the custom framing business. I worked with a woman who would often describe to me the color of a sunset, or autumn leaves on trees with matting numbers. As I think about it, there was a Crescent Acid Free mat called 1025a which was a lilac color she often referred to when telling me about a mountain sunset. So, when it comes to the title of the book, I don't remember the particulars of how it came about, or why, but I like.

There have been some rather obvious changes in the manuscript. I took Jeanne's advice in the opening chapter “In Lieu” by cutting that down to about two pages. I realized that it went on way too long. This chapter was one of the last I wrote, and it really didn't do much for the story. In the early conception of this chapter, all I wanted out of it was the death of Frau Gernhert. That was easily conveyed in a much shorter space. “Lightning in the Upstairs Room,” although fun to write, was another chapter that got cut outright. After reading some of your notes I realized that it was a chapter that did nothing for the overall plot. Some of the less obvious places where trimming occurred are sprinkled throughout the story. The first few weeks of the revision, I'm afraid, was the process of removing unimportant material. I find it amazing how easy it was to cut so much, an activity akin to what I do with the shrubs and trees in my garden. Needless to say, I removed almost twenty pages during this process, and that accounts for about ten percent of the manuscript you read back in August. I am happy with the change.

Thematically, I thought heavily about some questions John had about Carmichael and his past. Questions about how he got to Germany, was he missed at home, is he a runaway, etc. The addition of a rather obvious exposition was needed, for sure, but I didn't want to lose the flavor of the episodic nature of the story. These elements needed careful placement. For instance, cousin Joseph is often times on Carmichael's mind, but what happened to him? During the McDonald's scene with Frau Gernhert, as Carmichael reminisces about hamburgers and fries, I found the ideal time to give the account of cousin Joseph's death. As an activity in exposition, I'm pleased with what happened: a juxtaposition between a fast food apple pie and death.

I did not differ in the overall feeling that the chapters with dramatic conflict were the more successful chapters in the manuscript. The addition of conflict came in very small packages throughout the piece. Like the exposition of cousin Joseph's death, I added some more back story to Carmichael. He, of course, would have needed help escaping Oakland and Social Services. His help came in the form of Principal Siemens, a character new to you during this read. Although I had trepidation about adding a new character this late in the process, I think it was needed. Principal Siemens doesn't have too much page time, but he was the catalyst to Carmichael's German adventure. I must admit, the Principal Siemens character was a well needed element. It's funny how one small change can produce so much more work. Although he is an authority figure, I wanted to make him benevolent like many of the male figures in the story. I think I was successful with it. While this character's function was to fill in the gaps of Carmichael's logistical existence in Germany, I found it to help push the plot as well.

I have not talked with any of my classmates about their experience with the G4 schedule of packets. I found the amount of time given to be sufficient. I believe the amount of time between the return of packet one and the sending of packet four is appropriate. Although I'm satisfied with my work, I think I could go on and on with this manuscript. Even now, I can think of at least a dozen things I could do with it, and perhaps once this semester is finished, I will continue work on it. However, any changes I may make when not strapped with deadlines will be more organic. In the meantime, I believe in the process this semester has taken, and I'm pleased to give the manuscript to you now.

Thanks for your time and consideration.