Monday, January 23, 2012

Sown and Sewn, Part I: A Handful of Drafts and Scratches of Notes

If I may digress into a stupid analogy for a moment, let's consider gin. The writing of a novel is like drinking a shot of warm gin. If you can drink one, you can drink ten. Novels, yeah, if you can write one, you can write ten. I say this because I think anyone can, anyone. I've done it, the warm gin, ten gins. I've written a novel, ten novels.
I write fast, I know this. I've also developed my own system for doing it which was clearly defined in The Novel: Guerrilla Style. I write quickly, but I also write everyday.
Of my nine completed manuscripts, two stick out as the extremes. Undertakers of Rain which took about 7 weeks to complete and Sand and Asbestos which took about 26 months. I became completely absorbed in the first, and I took tremendous breaks during the writing of the second.

Of the nine novels I've completed, there are two that are unusual in that I would consider them both to be the first novel. First there is Mascaras Y Munecas which is really two manuscripts: 24 Hours in Vancouver & Mascaras Y Munecas. 24 Hours in Vancouver I wrote over a two or three day period in the fall of 1999. The second piece took up several weeks in the fall of 2000. I did not look at either piece again until 2010 when I revised them into one manuscript. The other “first” novel, From Ansbach to Color was my graduate school thesis. Being a grad school thesis, it was subject to the requirements and whims of my program's course of study.
The other five: Dysphoric Notions, Psychotomimetic Peacocks, Mapping Generic Streets, Gun to the Head and Just Then the Moment were all composed between January 2009 and December 2010. Yes, I did work quickly.
With all nine of these novels, I've learned a few things:
1—The first ¼ takes longer than the last ¾.
2—The work in that ¼ is mostly meetings with characters, getting to know them and understanding their situations and circumstances.
3—I work best with my 3-in-1 draft system. See The Novel: Guerrilla Style.
4—I value the pen on paper, the notes, the scratches and the nasty handwriting. My second Grade teacher, Sister Ernstein promised me two things: my penmanship would improve and if not I would be a failure. Neither has come true.
5—I generally can talk about the project and the process openly and freely without admitting details of my frustrations and failures.

So, taking all this experience of the former nine and using what I've learned for novel number ten is another dimension to the process. It may be a clever way for me to procrastinate further still during this early stage. I'm hoping that Sown and Sewn proves to be a record of the process of novel number ten:

The Errors of Fabric

Like many of my novels, this one has a similar process. I've got characters all over the place. I have characters in love, I have some grieving from the loss of love. I have characters in 1993 and some are present day. Some live in my beloved Denver, Colorado and others live here in Portland, Oregon. I have homeless men, and crazy men. I have beautiful, strong, independent young women. I have beheaded bums and social workers. I have abortion and baseball umpires. In short, there is stuff scattered everywhere. I have stories, vignettes and entire portions of this novel all cleaned up and ready for the addition of “what just happened?” and “what's going to happen next?” Let's meet some of the major acts:
Part one: a rash of beheaded bums in the Platte River development. Enter an old bum named Terry and his case worker Maggie. Terry knows something about the crimes. He's delusional, sometimes prophetic and quick to stir to anger and guilt. Two cases need cracking, who's murdering and beheading bums in present day Denver and what the hell happened to Terry?
Part two: It's 1993. Terry and Carrie are two video store clerks/college students. Enter Rachel. Rachel is the one who everyone warns young men about, but who can resist her? Terry is the central character of this portion of the story. Rachel becomes pregnant, Carrie is killed during a robbery. At any rate, it's the end of the world for Terry.
Part three: “Rogues and Tramps.” This is modern day Portland, Oregon. Here we meet Claire at a low point in her life. She's dealt with a teenage pregnancy. With her, we meet Frank, a friend who helps her through this tough time. They're an unlikely pair. “Rogues and Tramps” began, for me, last fall. It was not intended for this, but the entire novel stems from one moment within this story.
Part four: Modern day Denver meets modern day Portland. Unlikely connections.
Part five: Redemption. This is still nebulous to me. I'm just not sure how Claire will deal with everything yet. I doubt she knows either.

Despite the amount of material I have thus far, this novel is really just beginning. The Sown and Sewn series serves at once as progress report and record.

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