Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Retrenching

I wrote yesterday's post in the midst of many strains, including work on a chapter of Drayton that, while working well in some regards, didn't have the right feel. What bothered me about the revised Chapter One wasn't that the work was bad as much as that it wasn't fitting in with the existing book as well as I had hoped. It was becoming apparent that, in order to make this one chapter work, the whole book would have to be revised extensively, and I was not yet comfortable with that notion.

It's not that the book as a whole doesn't needed revision. I'm sure it does. It's just that, whatever its value, whatever its weaknesses and strengths, it does not, I think, need to become an entirely different book. Any revisions should further explore the thing that it is, should iron out as many of the bumps and creases as my talent will allow, should shine light in the corners that are now dark.

And so, mostly on instinct, I have put that revision on hold.

However, I do have a new plan in place. I will continue to market the manuscript as it is, only I will stop sending it to agents and start sending it to independent publishers. The aspects of Drayton that turn off agents--the mixture of literary with genre fiction, the length, the humor--might actually turn out to be strengths when being read by an editor. The only way to find out for sure is to try.

And it is not the end of the fragment recently written. It strikes me that, with a few amendations, it would work as part of the second Drayton novel. That story will intertwine investigations that Drayton performs for a wealthy, reclusive eccentric, a certain C.F. Dudley, with work he performs for a local TV news vixen who is concerned about a stalker.

I think these are the right moves to make, although I have been wrong many times in the past, may be now, and most certainly will be again in the future. All you can do is stumble forward as best you can.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

You actually stumble forward?! Wow! You're lucky.

The great thing, in my semi-anonymous opinion, is that your Drayton character made--and continues to make you, BECOME as a writer, and that you-a-writer-becoming resisted confining him to a mere caricature of himself by writing only from the past and past writing strengths.

Now the character is, it seems to semi-me, communicating with you even more of what he can be, when written, that he requires two stories told in tandem, alternation, or near simultane-souly according to how your writing cookies stumble.

Len said...

I agree wholeheartedly.

Something I forgot to put into the post reflects on the communication between the alleged character and the alleged writer, I think. It is that one of the reasons why I am not going to change Michael Drayton, Detective Guy as it exists is that the change in the voice over the course of the novel mirrors the evolution of Drayton in the course of the story. It's his change and not mine, and it is egotistical of me to think otherwise.

Or else it's just a rationalization.

Anonymous said...

No, Drayton the Alleged is not a failed bank, he doesn't need to be rationalized. "...the change in the voice over the course of the novel mirrors the evolution of Drayton in the course of the story..." That's just right, and as interesting for the alleged reader as it for the alleged writer. The next in the Drayton Story, novel deux, is, if I construe correctly, a response to that change of voice (I thought it sounded deeper...ba dump)and the kind of writing it needs to vehicle it.

Len said...

I think you're right about the next story. It's still gestating, but I think that the tone in general will be similar to the most literary chapters of the first book. It seems to be about the nature of celebrity and the desire for it and also how we use mementos as a way of psychologically resurrecting the dead. Unless it ends up being about something completely different, that is.

Len said...

By the way, it's good to have you back. I missed you. In a strong and manly kind of way.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for saying so. These past and still oh so present years...well, I shan't publish details, but to speak allusively, it is a repeated and sustained 'zero effect'. As in, take any number, whole or fraction, times it by zero, you get zero. The 'zero effect' produces, even imposes, silence.

I do follow what you publish here and on 'Are You Happy Now'. Your most recent posts here conveyed to me just how much of a provocateur Drayton has been since the inception of his writing. At least I could again express my appreciation and encouragement.

Anonymous said...

From the Hon. Forgot-to-Mention Department:

"mixture of literary with genre fiction"

"the length",

"the humor"

...These are "turn-offs"?! Please allow me a sustained chuckle turned full-blown laugh out loud. L. did you know that, back in one year of the 1980's, the screenplay for "Casablanca" was sent out to "readers" at different movie studios, with its original title "Everybody Comes To Rick's", and with the name of author of the original (unproduced) play on the title, and it was unanimously rejected because 'it would not make a good movie'. Are these literature-phobic agents a variation on those "readers"? Better, as you plan to do, to send Drayton direct to editors who, at least, have to get their minds and hands dirty with 'literature'.

Len said...

Sorry for the delay in responding, but I had a spot of jury duty this morning.

a) I am completely familiar with the zero effect on everything from finances to test scores. Details are unimportant. The return is what matters.

2) Another reason why I'm tentative about substantially changing Michael Drayton, Detective Guy is that the change in tone also parallels my evolution as a writer. I develop, Drayton develops. The reader, poor thing, is on his or her own.

iii) I am familiar with the Casablanca story, and it is indicative of what anybody trying to market a story is up against. The agent whose response got me rewriting in the first place said that, at 58,000 words, Drayton is too short and that the portion that he read (the first 50 pages) didn't "hit the high notes." I took that to mean that the writing was subpar, so I started out endeavoring to improve it. On reflection, I think that there's a chance that he really meant that there wasn't enough action early enough. Those are, to me, criticisms made by someone looking for the next Spencer series--in other words, someone who is not me.

And the thing is that that's fine. I wish him well and hope that the next Robert B. Parker falls into his lap. There's no dishonor in that. However, in order to find that needle in the great heaping haystack of submissions, he has to overlook books that are--dare I say it?--more nuanced and less conventional. Agents are and more-or-less have to be guardians of the status quo, at least in regards to the great, heaping haystack of submissions.

A lot of this, I think involves me learning to tame my own egotism and ambition. Which is fine because those are logs that supply the flame of growth. And how's that for an overwrought metaphor?

Anonymous said...

When I read what you wrote about that alleged agent's comments, I immediately thought, too, that he was asking you to make a 'P. P.' (that is, 'write like' Parker or Peterson (who seems to produce books like rabbits produce--well, you know what).

From his reported comment, I also infer he wanted more 'action' out of Drayton early on. Whereas I, who also am not you but also not an alleged agent, was especially interested and engaged precisely by this 'absence of action' (though there is action of a different kind) on behalf of, and instead, a nicely controlled introduction of the character to himself and to the reader. That's better off as two sentences probably, but I'l leave it and just keep going.

"...books that are--dare I say it?--more nuanced and less conventional." Dare to say it, yes. Why not? More importantly, dare to write it.

My ignorance about what are the intricacies of the 'getting published' ordeal easily show when I write on this subject. But it frequently impresses me what is acceptable and allowed as publishable in the so-called "graphic novel" format, the kind and range of experiment in writing that is invited and, it seems, has readerships to sustain it (however modestly). In this format there is much writing that is interesting; whether it is conventionally (who's convention?) 'good' or 'bad', I don't know.

I thought there would be a deft segue to some conclusion but, turns out, that's it!

...Maybe it's time for a sequel to Chandler's "The Simple Art of Murder". Call it: "The Simple Art of Drayton".

Len said...

I agree. And the people who publish graphic novels are independents. On the Norman Mailer blog, I started, but have not had a chance to get back to, a series on changes in the distribution of entertainment and art, and I'm starting to see that this is part of that formula. The large publishing houses are corporatized and moribund. Sure, they're publishing people like Michael Chabon and Jonathan Safran Froer, but only occasionally and probably by accident.

I was reading about Bennett Cerf a few weeks ago (due to a fascination with What's My Line?, especially in the short Fred Allen era) and found out that he called his publishing house Randon House because they started out by choosing books at random. Which I think is a delightful method. It gets one past one's prejudices.

Unfortunately times have changed. Big publishers--and therefore agents, who are big publishing's sycophant's--want blockbusters because they've, over time, painted themselves into a blockbuster corner with big advances and poor financial decisions. Which leaves room for independents, who can choose funkier books and follow their whims more and not have to risk everything because of changes in technology.

I'm an oddball peg trying to squeeze myself into a mainstream hole and am only now coming to see that there's no reason for it.

And just for the record, I could see Drayton being done in a graphic novel format. I'm not sure that I have an idea suited to it yet, but that doesn't mean that one won't occur to me.

Anonymous said...

You got my semi-not-so-subtle hint, about a Drayton story in graphic novel format. Though, to qualify myself, I see just about everything as having possibilities of a version in graphic novel format.

I was thinking in particular (and to continue the semi-not-so-subtle hint) of the graphic novel publishers First Second and Fantographics. Take a look at, as well (and though they concentrate exclusive on 'classics' of literature), Self-Made Hero.

Your in-progress essay on "The Means of Distribution" was instructive to me, and I have hopes you will, as you can, continue to develop it.

As you know from my selection of quotations and references contributed to P.'s realm of the Unknown, I have something of a 'problem' reading texts written--contemporarily in particular, in English...English is the language I can't help but think with, I hear it relentlessly therefore, and I need something, in language, in invention and imagination in language, that makes me think, listen, imagine differently than I do through the habits of my own language. The reading project you have begun to report on (I hope you will give us more), reminded me of a reading experience I had which I'll chance to publish here. After I read Peter Mathiessen's 'Watson trilogy'--"Killing Mr. Watson", "Lost Man's River", "Bone by Bone", I lost my concentration for much of what is written today. No judgment is intended. The 'Watson trilogy' was written originally as a single book, but Mathiessen's publisher insisted it couldn't be published as such and so the author recomposed it into three separate books. This year, finally, the Everyman Library published the (revised and rewritten) story as a single book, now titled "Shadow Country". Somehow--I know this is plain narrow and arbitrary, but I can't help it, the prose of the three books, and now the one book, which to me are one of the greatest sustained acts of imagination in writing, somehow they changed the experience of reading in English. This is too personal to publish, I guess, because, really, I can't explain myself. And I've forgotten the point of mentioning it...I guess it has something to do with so singularly fulfilling for me the possibilities of what prose and storytelling in English can do...After that my need for the Other in language increased exponentially. And at the same time so did my attention to bandes dessinees in French/graphic novels in English. With graphic novels in English, the text-image combinations have an effect of 'de-familiarizing' my familiar language.

So long winded, and still no point!

Len said...

You give me a lot to ponder, which is always a good thing, however, what I'm struck by is the idea of needing a language other than the one you think with as literary food. This makes absolute sense with me and raises a small spark of envy with because I only dabble around the edges of a couple of other languages and couldn't competently get through a nursery rhyme in any other tongue.

Instead, I find myself drawn to many things British--right now, mostly TV shows--perhaps for a similar reason. I savor the differences in expression, even glomming onto a few, and the greater subtlety and and deftness of usage. the vocabulary is different, almost exotic and certainly more worldly than American English tends to be. I think of Alan Davies on QI advising Bill Bailey that the best way to avoid being bothered for photos by fans is to "chin the first one." I think of The Proclaimers introducing me to that marvelous word of Scottish origin, "haver," meaning to talk nonsense or to hesitate in deciding. And then, from Ireland, there is the Irish comedian Dara O'Briain, who unknowingly made me a present of the Irish demi-curse "fecker." To be able to say, "The fecker havered, so I chinned him," is a delight to me.

So, all of that was jsut to say that while I also don't know how to say what you don't know how to say, I also feel a similar, perhaps related feeling. Even when dealing with words, some things are beyond words.

Anonymous said...

Yep, you've got it, that samely unsayable that launches thousands of words. Daniel Sibony (I have referred to him and his writings in the realm of P.'s Unknown), calls it an "entre-deux", an 'in-between-the-two', the necessary rapport with an other which, in the between precisely, makes or becomes a passage through which life, invention, imagination, jouissance, and so on, can pass beyond their own fixities, stagnations, identities. In the entre-deux is the renewal of the play of/the play with that-whatever-it-is which, so to speak, translates us out of our impasses. In this case, impasses of language, of imagination.

When it happens, it is, as you say, delightful. The Scottish and Irish language lineages that still flow into and through our own speech, as you example--so much expressed meaning to play with and off of.

Len said...

By the way, I've looked into the graphic novel idea a little, and it seems like I need to hook up with an artist because I don't draw well enough to be able to pull it off. Perhaps after I take a course in using software called Illustrator, I might be able to handle it, though.

It needs to have a certain look, though. I wouldn't be against having an artist read the existing manuscript, though. It would be interesting to see what one might do with it.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear that you've put graphic novel format in the ponderator. I would presume to say that collaborating with an artist--the entre-deux again, is the better choice because, along with you the writer having the necessary skills and feel of an artist equal to the text, the text will be 'set in motion' between you.

You mention already a "certain look", which tells me you are seeing, or getting glimpses of, a text-in-translation-to-image. I infer that "certain look" has to do, at least in part, with presenting visually the character Drayton is as well as the Place where he is the character he is. The images, then, as a kind of 'translation' of between the lines.

After the 'big idea' phase, I'm a complete flop. How, where to invite and interest collaboration, I don't know. You, though, seem to have the know how to get your hands on the schematics and tinker with the contraption.

Len said...

I think the "certain look" would have to be the equivalent of what you have in the past referred to as the "noir voice." I'm not certain what that is, but I think, that, as the late Hugo black said about pornography, I'd know it if I saw it.

The person who drew it would have to have some knowledge of Providence, Pawtucket, and other parts of Rhode Island. Maybe I could get some kid from the Rhode Island School of Design or even my brother, who lives in Pawtucket and can draw in a self-taught, interesting, and idiosyncratic way. Hmmmm.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm, indeed.

"...self-taught, interesting, and idiosyncratic"...like Drayton's detective style. Drayton's voice is a "noir voice", n'est pas? I remember, from what I read, that in describing with a life-long familiarity, but also with a practiced detachment, the place he inhabits, he gave that "voice" to the place itself. Character and place, witnesses one to the other, as it were. What is exterior from the view of the reader is interior to Drayton's view and voice.

Len said...

I hadn't thought about that before, but I think you're right. And i might have to forget it again immediately because I don't know that it's a good idea for an author to understand too much of how his or her work works. In that article in The New Yorker that I referred to earlier, it's said that late bloomers have a tendency to talk about finding the work rather than making it, and that's always been my stance. When I'm doing my best is when I'm discovering what's implicitly there--Plato's ideal forms, I guess--rather than composing or making something. Sometimes the mistakes are better than what was intended and the best work is done when the brain forgets to be the boss and goes fishing instead.

Anonymous said...

I agree, forget it immediately ('forget what?', you'll say having already forgotten it). Just go on implicitly blooming those bloomers of your own design, mistakes and all, and that you wear so well. That the "mistakes" are often better than what was or seemed to be intended, that's why I favored the word "play" (and the word-play). I can indulge myself this explanatory talk from The Reader's Observatory because I am outside the writing and don't live with it as you do. Also the inside-outside observation may be a cue or a clue one day to an artist for Drayton.

I read--where I forget, that once Miles Davis showed someone all the awards he'd won for his recordings, and which he did not display but kept in a closet. 'Do how I won all these?' he asked. 'By forgetting what I did before.'