new Journal entry coming soon -- May 2017
The challenge of getting The Object: a love story into print continues. I am still pursuing a traditional publishing contract, like a man stalking the last dodo. But I am also researching other ways of making this novel available.
Books, it appears, are not the best way of getting my work to an audience. I am advancing into other storytelling media. I hope to be shortly pitching my first freelance journalism since 2012. Video games are unquestionably the fastest-growing storytelling market, and I'm curious what it might be like to be on the winning side for once. To this end, I'll be attending the Game Developer's Conference in San Francisco this March.
Zip on over to the brand-new Arcade page. I'm making games as part of my autodidactic education in game design. For you they are free, my friend!
Finished and Submitted!
The Object: a love story is finished and has been submitted to several high-caliber literary agents. Now I am waiting for news. There’s no name for how I feel. Consider, I began writing this book in April of 2007.
Here’s a recap of the last eight (yikes) years of writing a book which I knew was ambitious, but was never supposed to absorb 20% of my lifespan.
In early 2007, I was distraught by the lack of interest in my previous novel, To The Last Drop. After firing off another dozen submissions, as an act of defiance (and with no other means of protest), I began working on The Object: a love story by scrawling this haiku in my notebook:
Listening to the birds
I start another novel
But then, To The Last Drop was accepted for publication by the wise folks at Baüu Press. Revisions, marketing, creating an author platform (you’re standing upon it now, dear reader), and promotion dominated the next two years. When To The Last Drop reached the end of its operational life, I turned back to The Object, salivating at the prospect of writing again, at last.
It was not to be. My father had been fighting a long campaign of defensive battles against heart disease, crowned by his 2007 heart transplant. That procedure gave my father almost two years he never would have had, during which he was thrilled to witness his daughter graduate from high school, his middle son move to Japan, and the publication of my first book. But it fell short of a “miracle cure” because, as we learned, over 1/3 of transplant patients develop cancer as a result of the immunosuppressive drugs necessary to prevent rejection. When melanoma advanced, my father had no more strength with which to fight.
I returned to New Mexico and the new manuscript in 2010. I wrote in grief and fury, as if the book might be my last act.
In the fall of 2011, I took a five-week journey through Europe to finish the story. After more rewrites to pull the book into shape, I sent it off to some friendly readers. While it didn’t blow their minds as I hoped it would, they provided important feedback to guide the book’s final (I thought) draft.
In July of 2012, I began submitting the manuscript. Over the following years, the response has been the most hollow, rolling anticlimax I’ve ever experienced. While many rejections mentioned that they liked the book’s premise as well as my writing style, they confessed that they “didn’t get it.”
With all my earthbound stubbornness, I fought against dismay by resubmitting, proposing changes, and going to an expensive writers’ conference. All for naught, and by the winter of 2013, I had crashed into a dead end.
It was out of existential desperation that I reached out for help, and found an editor who would lend me her fresh eyes. In the first conversation, which was me attempting to explain why I thought nobody understood my book, I experienced an epiphany: it became clear to me precisely what the problem was.
The book’s problem, in essence, is that I wrote it as a carousel of voices. But it really wants to be a roller coaster of story. I had to pull the book apart and rebuild it completely. This massive overhaul had the salubrious effect of cutting the book down from its worrisome 140,000 words to an industry-preferred 95,000.
This has been the hardest writing I’ve ever done. The joy bled out years ago, leaving only survival. Finishing the book was like pushing a refrigerator off my chest. In the end, it is irrelevant if this book took me eight years or eight weeks. That the book fulfills its true potential is all that matters.
The book is finished – for now. I will use my waiting time to address some of the dozens of important things I’ve put off over the last frenzied years. When it gets warm enough to camp at high altitude, I know precisely where in the Sacramento Mountains of southern New Mexico I’m going with my dog Saturn, this good, patient veteran of my artistic marathon.
It is most difficult for me to express how I feel at this moment, principally because I don’t understand my own feelings. Relief more than celebration, that much is clear. But even then I hold myself back – the shock of utter rejection in 2012-2014 has clouded my ability to trust my judgment. I am starving for validation from the outside world, always a dangerous gamble, but I’ve been playing with all my chips on the table for some time already.
Ugh, it’s cliché and metaphor and allegory, mere shadows of how I feel at this singular crossroads in my life. My words fail, but as an expression of my heart’s space, I direct you to Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, specifically Partita No. 2, and most specifically, the climactic Chaconne movement. I heard it late one night on the radio and have been listening to it nonstop ever since. I’m listening to it as I write this. Its emotional complexity in a single violin’s rising, slipping expression of despair alloyed with hope, wisdom undercut with regret, fear wrestling against fortitude, culminates in an exhausted and aching triumph.
The term “inner monologue” is familiar, but in myself it’s always felt like a dialogue. Opposing emotions argue for their supremacy. Contained in the performance of a single player (in this case, the brilliant Hilary Hahn), Bach’s piece is the most beautiful expression of this inner dialogue I know. The entirety of Bach’s Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin are recommended, but here is the filet mignon: link on you tube
[editor's note 9/16: the entry above (from the heady days of Spring, 2015) encapsulates the last 9+ years with this book. I have decided to preserve all the earlier journal entries. I find the tone to be a little too earnest, all things considered, but I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now.]
October 1, 2013
Mine was a successful trip to the New York Pitch Fest, run by the Algonkian Writers Group. The conference was comprised of sixty writers across a variety of genres. My group of fifteen, mostly general or upmarket women’s fiction, was headed by a nurturing and industry-fluent former editor at Random House. We workshopped our pitches, honing in on the perfect one-minute enticement for our manuscripts. Then we took turns pitching to four editors from major publishing houses.
I was very pleased by the camaraderie our group established. Encouragement, inspirations and new ideas from fresh eyes. Or group dynamics harmonized, well-conducted by our group leader.
Of the four editors to whom I pitched my novel, three requested a partial or full copy of my manuscript. The only editor who passed on my pitch categorically doesn’t handle my kind of books. In fact, none of the editors specialized in Literary Fiction, but nevertheless found the idea of fifty narrators intriguing. Perhaps I ought to start calling it Upmarket Fiction, which means Literary Fiction that people actually buy. After all, the point isn’t how clever I am for my structure, but rather how fun and entertaining the exploration is for the reader.
My New Pitch
Of the greatest importance was the transformation of my old query into a credible book pitch. I will shortly be changing the copy on this site to reflect the improvement. Also of enormous value was a keen strategy moving forward. Rather than submit to the editors immediately, I will be digging for a new handful of agents, with the added leverage that my book’s industry appeal has been proven. In the lag time, waiting for responses, I will once again edit my book, particularly the all-important first fifty pages.
Here is my new pitch. Items in brackets need further refinement, something I will be working on immediately:
The Object is Sandra Briar’s life story – a journey from teenage runaway to promising artist to careworn grandmother – as told by fifty different characters.
Wherever she travels in the world, she is always the object of someone else’s story. [common question: why her? To be answered in this space]
Sandra Briar’s brother tells the account of their running away to the beach; a screenwriter fictionalizes her in a movie “based on a true story”; a jaded professional photographer guides her through the great cities of the world; a mother bitterly recounts how Sandra betrayed her son; a starving cookbook writer observes her absorption into New York’s glittering nightlife; her children’s book is read aloud on a stormy night to a little girl.
These stories overlap to become the patchwork quilt that is her portrait. Neither her mother’s perspective, or her rival’s point-of-view, or her own voice, or even the tale created by some writer, possesses the whole truth.
Comparable titles include David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas and [Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout or Murakami or “Any Human Heart” by William Boyd, more research necessary here]
My debut novel, To The Last Drop (Bauu Press, 2008), is about a present-day water war between Texas and New Mexico. It received four out of five “stars” from High Times Magazine (April, 2009) and my design for the book’s cover has sold hundreds of t-shirts. I also write screenplays and freelance journalism, most recently an article about musician Joe West for New Mexico Magazine (December, 2012). I am writing the lyrics for a new album by the Icelandic rock band Vinyll.
Crowdsourcing A New Title
The most immediate necessity, however, is to come up with a new title for my novel. I have thought of it as “The Object” for so long, it is hard for me to reconceive. This is what I have come up with so far:
The Intersections of Sandra Briar
Intersecting Portraits of Sandra Briar
A Life Intersected
An Intersecting Portrait
What You Think I Am
What I Think You Think I Am
One Hundred Eyes on Sandra Briar
Her Life in Mosaic
Her Portrait in Mosaic
This Woman, and Why
August 21, 2013
I will be attending a writers' conference in New York during September. It is specifically a pitch-fest. That means that the entire focus is on selling (i.e. pitching) one's book. Half the conference is devoted to workshopping pitches, the other half is a series of formal pitches to editors. It is all about learning how to sell the sizzle -- the steak itself is irrelevant. So it's basically a four-day conference on writing the blurb on the dust jacket. Yet I understand that it is of vital importance, and I need to summon up my deep enthusiasm and devotion.
The conference laid out a pre-assignment, and I've included it below. My pitch -- the thing I'll memorize so well that I can recite it with sincere excitement in my eyes -- will be grown out of this raw material. At first, squeezing my unconventional work into these very square holes was an agony. I persisted because I had to. Eventually I punched my way through, and in fact I see the value of breaking my book down this way. It pulls out what many potential readers want to know. Remember, this is all pre-conference work -- the entire point of my going is to learn how to do this better. But I thought it might be interesting, and it opens the book up in a way that I haven't tried before. I've made some remarks to entertain you, dear journal reader (they look like this). Also, I've redacted Spoilers for your benefit.
Story Statement (in the film industry, this is called a logline)
An adventurous, witty woman’s life story – a journey from teenage runaway to promising artist to careworn mother to deeply-mourned grandmother – is narrated by fifty different characters.
Antagonistic Force (this was tough. My book doesn't have some villain who compels the action. Does your life have one particular Lex Luther, against whom you must overcome while learning a valuable lesson? I didn't think so. Anyway, snark doesn't sell novels, so here goes)
Everything came easy to Oliver Hume. As a result, he was one of those rare people who lived without regret. He was living in Cannes with a Monégasque Princess when he met Sandra Briar on the beach. [SPOILERS REDACTED]
The Object: a love story
It is called “the Object” in the sense that Sandra is not the book’s subject, but rather its object – she is the one observed, judged and acted upon.
The Object is literary fiction, best compared with David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (2004) and Jennifer Egan’s A VisitFromThe Goon Squad (2011), which share a nonlinear structure layered with interconnected lives. All three feature multiple narrators, and each individual chapter reveals a distinct voice and backstory. The books are further comparable in their unexpected blend of genres and styles, sly comedy and cutting tragedy.
The Object is different from these and other books because it is one woman’s life story told in a confluence of fifty different narrators. The reader experiences a story of unique possibility, empathy and constant reevaluation.
Primary Conflict (ugh. "The hero must overcome a primary conflict to achieve a goal." That is the only formula, right? Even though ...
"How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well-written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him." -- Hemingway
"Even the tale of wood catching fire in the kitchen stove can grow from within to become infinite." -- Italo Calvino
... Sorry, I'm sorry that I keep arguing. But I will not go quietly into that good kjaftæði! Ok, here goes)
Sandra Briar defends her heart amid the overlapping chaos of other people’s lives.
Sandra is conflicted about motherhood. Four years after her father’s death, she ran away from home when her mother began dating again. When Sandra returned, her mother had fallen into a religious depression. Sandra rejected religion the way she rejected everything about her mother. When she finally had her own child, she struggled to maintain a balance between repeating the sins of her mother versus creating a monster by benign neglect.
An example of this appears in the chapter “Fidel’s Mommy,” which is told from the point of view of one of her six-year-old son’s friends. [SPOILERS REDACTED]
Sandra learned to run away early, and the conflict of “flight or fight” complicates every aspect of her life.
Examples of this include [SPOILERS REDACTED]
Reader’s Conflict (I added this category, because the traditional concept of "conflict" doesn't reach my novel's ambition. There has to be a better thing to call it though. No publishing executive wants to hear about "reader's conflict.")
With fifty different narrators, the very nature of Sandra’s life story is endlessly being rewritten. In their contradictions and omissions, each chapter introduces her anew through the experiences of her disapproving mother, or a blind man in a park, or her former best friend.
This conflict between interjecting voices unsettles the reader, forcing that reader to ask, “What is my true life story?”
Setting (Fifty chapters, fifty narrators ... so no, I didn't set my entire novel in a charming New England B&B, whose eccentric occupants teach the protagonist something about something something. I'm very sorry.)
The beach is the primary setting, which the protagonist returns to again and again throughout the stages of her life. Just as the waves constantly re-carve the shoreline, so does life at the beach surge between feast and famine, with the tides.
Dynamic change is the only constant, whether the beach is Long Beach Island, the French Riviera or Florida’s Gold Coast. Point-of-view determines whether the beach is a source of hope or hedonism, home or heartbreak.
The book also presents many settings seen fresh again: backcountry mountains shaking with deadly avalanches, New York from the perspective of a starving cookbook writer, on a delayed airplane with true love on the line, the world’s great cities through the jaded eyes of a professional photographer …
June 4, 2013
Since my last journal entry, The Object has received a few nibbles but no bites. While most responses were familiar form letters (“Dear Author”), a number of agencies eased into the rejection by beginning, “the concept of your novel is intriguing, the protagonist is interesting and you write well, but …”
I made an appeal to one of these agencies and actually received a response with notes explaining their reluctance. I’ve offered changes which address the source of their disengagement. There is no guarantee here, not even a lukewarm offer. However, at the moment, it’s all this book has. Out of ninety-five submissions, I have received 45 rejections and 50 non-answers, a particularly deflating form of rejection.
Recently I ran into a friend, writer Bett Williams (Girl Looking Backwards, The Wrestling Party). Our conversation quickly fell from our current projects down to the state of the publishing industry, a commiseration of helpless shrugs and shaking heads. But this is how the industry is now, and I owe The Object every opportunity, no matter what the cost. Which means I will have to go to a writing conference and shop it around.
“It’s a big, strangely-shaped, deeply serious yet mischievously irreverent fifty-headed baby.”
That’s the sort of thing I’ll have to start saying, as my ego and superego are smushed together like playdoh. Because I know my pitch will quickly turn to tar in my mouth, and my forced enthusiasm will weigh around my neck like a necklace of greasy, stinking coal.
But I have no choice. Traditional submissions have failed. I must find an agent, and this is the next option. My goal for the writing conference is to get someone to read the entire manuscript. Not the first five pages, not the first chapter … the whole book. So I need to research which conference to attend this fall, and then create a polished three-minute pitch, elevator pitch and logline (with assorted promo materials) which I’ll practice until it gets carved into my brain next to my social security number and the theme song to “The Jeffersons.”
The Ice Land
[coming soon: those Iceland pics of waterfalls, friends, the moon]
With no thrills for my novel, I was happy to be diverted across the world for a new opportunity. I am writing the lyrics for a new album by the Icelandic rock band Vínyll. I’ve seen these guys perform at the Central Park Stage in New York, South by Southwest in Austin and Icelandic Airwaves in Reykjavik. I am deeply honored that they asked me to collaborate on their album.
I first met these guys in 2003, when I was writing my novel Sacking Iceland. I would have never made it through that summer without my friends. I’ve always been saddened that I can’t play music with them or any of my other talented allies. But at last, perhaps, I do have something to contribute. They want their lyrics to be in English because only 300,000 people in the world speak Icelandic while the number of people who speak English is at least 10,000 times greater.
They first asked me write lyrics for this one pretty little ditty. After attending a funeral for dearly-missed friend and longtime Madrid resident Shelly Garcia, I wrote “Secondhand Heart.” We were all pleased with the result, so they asked me to write all the lyrics for the new album. We took a trip out to the countryside and worked hard in a rented summerhouse.
We had eight hard working days together in Iceland and I wrote the lyrics for six songs. Since I’ve been back, I’ve written lyrics for two more. They have music for twenty songs and growing, but fifteen is the upper limit for an album. They will be recording this summer and hopefully the album (or MPwhatever) will come out in the fall.
The process of writing song lyrics is challenging. At the outset, I foolishly thought that rhyming was going to be the main hurdle I’d face. After all, I’ve been devoted to haiku since high school. That shows the depth of my ignorance. For the first time ever, I had to think of words in the dimension of sound.
So in addition to putting a song’s spirit into words, making it hang together with some ars poetica, the lyrics need to sound good when sung. And not only on their own, but conjoined with the other words and the melody. The idioms and meaning have to be clear so that Kiddi, the singer, so he can give it his own expression, and so the band can play with the emotional rise and fall of the song in mind.
I work slow and steady on this, as I do everything else. I may not be the fastest or most talented, but my endurance abides. It’s the only part of me that is truly unassailable and there my faith resides. Everything else is just kjeftæđí.
January 4, 2013
Hurry Up and Wait
A new journal entry for the new year, while a new batch of submissions fly toward their targets. Like sparrows, in a blur of tiny wings.
Moving on from the disappointment of my first round of submissions, I meticulously prepared yet another list of potential agents. Each query letter was personally crafted for every single agent. Delayed by the holidays to be sure, but this process took weeks.
For my previous submission, detailed in my September 4, 2012 journal entry below, I tried to use a free service called Agentinbox. DO NOT USE THIS SERVICE. It failed to deliver my queries and wasted a fat hump of time. For this new batch of queries, I found my targets the old fashioned way: Writer's Digest, Poets & Writers, and googling "literary fiction" with "literary agent."
I have continued to work on my query letter, soliciting advice from anyone who could read. I've worked on it for so long I don't trust my eyes any longer, but this is what I sent out:
The Object is a novel which tells one woman’s life story from fifty different points-of-view. These tales amass her portrait in a collage of overlapping contradictions, omissions and connections. Some perspectives are as intimate as your lover's scent, others are as unexpected as the strike of a rattlesnake.
Through the stages of her life, from teenaged runaway to loving mother, from world-traveling photographer to shut-in, from beloved to betrayed, from victim to savior, each chapter introduces her anew through the experience of her grandson, or a blind man in a park, or her former best friend.
This novel is like a memoir written on a splintered mirror, asking the reader: what is our true life story?
If you scroll down to my previous journal entry, you'll see that it isn't terribly different from the original query. I'm sure I could make it clearer, but I don't know how. There is a limit to how many times I can rewrite three paragraphs before madness sets in.
While waiting for the last round of rejections, I started working on the screenplay adaptation of The Object. I was boosted by the successful adaptation of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. While perhaps it did not live up to its potential, and would have found greater emotional resonance if the storylines hadn't been diced up so finely, it was nevertheless a triumph of ambitious artistry, with moments of beauty. That the movie has turned the klieg lights upon David Mitchell's books is probably its most important legacy.
I just saw the Hobbit, another three hour epic. This new era of three hour run-times could be a boon to a writer like me, who revels in big, complex stories. And it should boost snack sales at the theater, which is really the point of all this anyway.
Trying to adapt The Object, which is 570 pages long, into even a three hour movie is going to be very hard work. I re-conceived my story, mapped it all out, gutted and reattached all the plot plumbing. When I adapted the first scene (the chapter "Cherub"), I found that it worked very well and that I enjoyed the process. Wonderful to see my story in an entirely new way. However, three hours to tell it properly is going to be tighter than an earthworm crawling through a keyhole.
If this book gets published and someone wants to turn it into a film project, I am going to recommend taking it to a cable channel as a series. HBO, FX and Showtime are all producing excellent shows with rabid fanbases. I have more than enough material to write one complete season. Should I just jump in? Is writing a 50-page spec pilot for a series a better use of my time than cramming everything into a 180-page spec feature script?
I have also been making headway on editing the omnibus book of my father's works, Up To Your Ass in Brass. I have compiled his correspondence and satirical notes and humorous anecdotes, a veritable plethora of shibboleths. There is more of that to go, including his famed NYC restaurant list. However, the largest amount of time will be to read and write an abstract for each of his eleven published books. This project has a few years to go, but I am committed to it. When it is finished, it will be a fine thing.
What is the point of this journal entry? I guess only that I am stubborn as hell. I've done everything I could. The first submissions of 2013 are on their way.
As my father used to say of his time in the army, "Hurry up and wait."
September 4, 2012
In Submission, Waiting
The Object has been submitted to literary agents, and in fact has already received its first two rejections. Once I reached two hundred over my career, I stopped counting how many rejections have piled up for the last fifteen years. With a failure rate above 99.5%, one could argue that I might be in the wrong business.
But I am miserable unless I’m writing a big story. Only I can write them, and they must to be told. Without a backup plan, there is nothing to do but keep casting the net, again and again. Preparing the submissions is tedious, but waiting to hear back is the real agony.
I included fifteen agents in this first batch of submissions. The first email rejections will come almost immediately, while self-addressed stamped envelopes start trickling back in a couple weeks. Those submissions failed to get past the very first reader. In some cases, the agent may not be accepting any new submissions at all. My hope is to get out of this first round with less than five instant-bounceback rejections.
What did I submit? The heart of a fiction submission is the query letter. The point of a query is to sell the concept of my novel as well as my qualifications as an author. What the hell, here’s the basic query for The Object:
The Object is one woman’s life story, told from fifty points-of-view. Some perspectives are as intimate as a lover or rival; others are as unexpected as a houseplant or her own immune system. These narratives assemble a portrait in mosaic, a quilt of overlapping contradictions and omissions. She is approached anew each time: by a blind man in a park, a cleaning lady, or a former best friend. This novel asks, what is our true life story?
The Object is my seventh novel. My sixth, To The Last Drop (Bäuu Press, 2008), is about a modern-day water war between Texas and New Mexico. Favorably reviewed (e.g. High Times Magazine, April 2009), my book’s small publisher wasn’t able to secure wide distribution. In trying to circumvent this, I did internet, print, radio and television interviews. These are preserved on the website I created, AndrewWice.com, which has over 30,000 hits. My book cover logo sold out as stickers and t-shirts, and has been picked up by a local t-shirt/design store and is one of the briskest sellers. I would be honored if you would read my manuscript.
I then tailored the query to each particular agent. Not only does this make the letter more personal, but if I am can't express why that agent would be a good fit, then I shouldn’t query them. At least not this early in the process.
In addition to the query, most agents request the first chapter as a writing sample. If they like my novel’s concept, the sample will give them an indication that I can pull it off. Some agents want a biographic sketch as well. If an agent is intrigued by my submission, they will request a full manuscript.
Who are the agents? A collection of longshot all-stars, up-and-coming agents at big agencies, and agents who have recently founded their own agency. There are many resources for finding agents, but they are not equal in the depth or accuracy of their information. For the first time I am trying a free electronic submission service called Agentinbox, in addition to paper queries based on uncovering the agents of contemporary authors whose work offers challenges similar to The Object. [editor's note 9/16: big mistake]
At this point, agents are an essential part of the publishing industry. Successful agents have personal relationships with editors at different houses. Their opinions are trusted by those editors who have been singled out for the pitch. Without an agent, access to large and medium-sized publishers (of which there are fewer every day) is impossible for a fiction writer.
Beyond access, I need an agent to guide my career. I know that what talent I possess does not spill far beyond the lines of being a writer. An experienced guide in the industry, responsible for the business side, would allow me to devote my time to pure writing.
The difficulty in landing an agent is that, the old maxim goes, you can’t get published without an agent but no agent wants an unpublished writer. Five years ago I broke through this paradox when a small house published my unagented debut novel. I hope that the experience I gained in marketing To The Last Drop makes me an attractive client. In the end, they’ll make their decision based solely on whether or not they think they can sell the book. It's enlightened self-interest in a world in which book readers are quickly becoming a specialized consumer group, like model train enthusiasts.
The agent’s assistant is the first to encounter the query, and their job is to say no to everything that arrives. Only the queries which can’t be ignored get passed up to the agent. Thusfar in my career, I have not been able to craft queries that can’t be ignored. If a good agent picks me up, I'll never have endure this submission process again.
Waiting is difficult. After years of this struggle, I no longer entertain happy fantasies about agents leaping up from their desks in joy and thanks. Mine is the outlook of wary recalcitrance. Without this shell, those hundreds of form letter rejections would still be stuck in me, dangling darts of depression.
In this waiting time, I wrote an article for New Mexico Magazine about musician Joe West and the Frogville Recording Studio. Hopefully, the editors like it and I’ll get more opportunities to write about music in northern New Mexico. I’ve also started shoving around ideas for the screenplay adaptation of the Object.
Thinking about a film version of a novel which doesn’t even have an agent might be putting the cart before the horse, but I need to work on something or I go crazy. The crazy is already settling in, so I need to climb up into my writing chair. It’s also interesting to take the novel apart and put it back together again as a screenplay.
Film and novels have very different strengths. Adaptations fail when they simply try to redraft the book into a screenplay. To make a good film, the entire story needs to be built from the ground up all over again. Only in this way can it reach its potential. And so, that is where I will now sink my deep-bore attention.
I am looking forward to seeing the adaptation of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, my favorite living author. The fact that someone even attempted to adapt such a grandly sprawling yet structurally refined big novel gives me encouragement, down here alone in the mines.
May 18, 2012
“But writing letters by hand in the mornings when he should work or exercise, is the quickest way for a writer to destroy himself that I know.” -- Hemingway
I am certain that this applies to blogs as well. But the third draft of my novel is now in the hands of several special readers, and I must attend to other tasks in the interests of my new novel, the Object. Tasks such as writing a journal entry to bring you, dear patient one, up to date.
I started writing this book five years ago. Due to professional and personal duties, my work was interrupted. In June 2010, I finally began to work on the novel full-time. After two solid years of writing & cutting, I have a 576-page third draft.
Not only did this book take an unusually long route, its non-linear narrative imposed tremendous variability. Normally I would do research for six months, then write the first draft straight through. This book was written on a chapter-by-chapter basis (each chapter is from a different narrator’s point-of-view), and the paint on the chapter order isn’t dry, so I have not yet read the entire book straight through from beginning to end.
Which brings me to my novel’s current status. My special readers, and their beautiful fresh eyes, have the best chance of deflecting my novel towards betterment. Although I keep hinting that my curiosity is crippling, they have not volunteered much. The wee drappie o’t which has trickled down, I’ll share with you.
“Cherub” will be the new first chapter and “Prey” will move back several hundred pages, in agreement with my primordial instincts. I wanted to see if “Prey” worked as the first chapter, and have learned that it doesn’t. That alone justifies my special readers. The only other thing they’ve told me is that the book is funny.
I am not allowing myself to peek at my novel, letting it rest like a medium-rare sirloin. So at this moment in the world, only my special readers are making the book go right now. The story is only alive in their fragile eggshell minds. It’s like lending someone your bike and they ride off into the dusk and you hope they come back before you’re called in for dinner.
Their job is to find all the things wrong with the book and this should keep them busy. I already see a hole that needs filling, and am planning out a new chapter. Hopefully, I won’t have to add much content, but rather shape & refine what’s there.
The Plan: after incorporating my readers’ notes, I will write the 4th draft, its final draft before submission. With my shotgun-submission style yielding a 99% failure rate, I have found a particular literary agent who I believe will both love my book and guide my career with sagacity. I’ll be applying my new laser-submission style to this one particular agent with a query letter I hope to be able to send early this summer.
The next update, I imagine, will be after I hear the results from my readers. Stay tuned.
On a very different note, my step-grandfather Grandpa John is being buried today. He is very much the embodiment of “The Greatest Generation.” My last grandparent, I have been thinking a lot about him. They simply don’t make men like this any more. My stepbrother Josh Adler wrote a moving tribute. I quote from portions here:
“My beloved grandfather John Adler passed away on Monday night, at the age of 95. Grandpa John was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, to recent German-Jewish immigrants, and he lived in A.C. almost his entire life. Both his parents died in quick succession when he was 8 years old. He was raised by an aunt and uncle with a large family. He started his first job, delivering laundry, at age 8, and worked virtually every day of his life until he was nearly 94, when a heart attack sent him to the hospital, and to a doctor, for the first time.
John grew up in Atlantic City in the 1920s and 30s, in the glamorous era of Prohibition, a setting made famous in the HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.” Grandpa lived the real Boardwalk Empire. His uncle recruited him early to assist in the family bootlegging operation, and John was driving the moonshine deliveries by age 12. When the authorities caught him, they had to release him as a minor and he’d go right back to it. He would throw counterfeit whiskey bottles in the ocean overnight so that customers would mistake the fake product for real Canadian contraband, covered in seaweed and brine. Grandpa knew some of the real-life characters that inspired the Boardwalk Empire show, including Nucky Johnson, and John personally installed the electric lighting for Nucky’s wedding. (It should be said that the bootlegging days were the only time John skirted the law, he was straight as a rod and had no tolerance for dishonesty or turpitude.)
John Adler helped build a very successful electrical supply company, which wired all the casinos on the Boardwalk. Building casinos sometimes put my grandfather on the other side of the table from Donald Trump, whom Grandpa John detested for the poor way that he saw Trump treat his family, his employees, and his contractors (whom he never paid in full). When John Adler and Donald Trump faced-off in negotiations over the Taj Mahal, then planned as the largest and most expensive casino ever, John walked away from the deal rather than waive Calvi’s lien rights to win the bid. Trump caved and gave them the lien rights. Calvi was the only contractor to obtain lien rights, and was the only contractor Trump paid in full for their work.
John continued working at Calvi every weekday until he was nearly 94, starting each morning before dawn with his traditional sliced grapefruit, then a 45-minute walk on the deserted Boardwalk, then a short drive to his office near the casinos.
John Adler was one-of-a-kind, a legend and a hero to his family. We should all be so lucky. We love you, Grandpa John.”
One image has appeared in my mind, in thinking about Grandpa John. I have tried to pin this image down as a haiku.
Beneath quicksilver clouds,
a three-masted schooner
saws into the waves
“Rejection is good for the soul. My soul is now a mule.”
Trying to kick through the walls of this maze. The newest front in my struggle is the upcoming Audiobook Broadcast of The Object. While giving away my stories for free might seem like a poor return on my investment of nine years … something something new media landscape, iterations of disruptive innovation, etc.
Convincing people to publish, let alone buy, let alone read my book, has proven much harder than writing it. So I’ll read it for you, just to show what a good sport I am, starting on Sunday, October 30th at 10 pm mountain time.
These challenges threaten to drag me from skepticism to cynicism. But cynicism is a bitter draught, and if an artist drinks from that cup, there is no going back.
The difference between the two is that the skeptic believes in the truth so fiercely that everything is held to an uncompromising standard. By contrast, a cynic believes that truth doesn’t even exist. As the old Chinese aphorism explains, “He who wears the mask of the cynic is afraid to meet the true hero.”
So the fight goes on. In addition to the audiobook, I have a couple ideas for freelance journalism articles, and opportunities in games haven't been exhausted. And I am still trying to find some non-cynic to publish my novel in print.
I’m reading a ferocious book which itself teeters between skepticism and cynicism, I Hate The Internet by Jarrett Kobek. It’s an excoriation (literally, to flay off the skin) of Silicon Valley’s culture and product: the advertising juggernaut that is the internet, and what it’s done to our already dumb, failing society.
It’s a jagged saw hacking at the neck of a beast too privileged to fail. The book has a caustic sense of humor, with a detached yet corrosive tone which reminds me of David Foster Wallace – even though the book dismisses him as a pretentious jock. It denunciates the exploitation of intellectual property, labor, race and sex, and reads like Howard Zinn with a flamethrower. Barely a novel (which it acknowledges), the book drools some cynical bile but the anger with which it was scrawled keeps the heart aloft because calling out the Big Lie always matters.
“In fact, all of the people who exercised freedom of speech and freedom of expression on Twitter were doing nothing more and nothing less than creating content that they did not own for a corporation in which they had no stake … So that was radical activism in 2013. Hosted by a service owned by white dudes which displayed advertisements for Coca-Cola and Pepsi.” (p. 63)
novelist, screenwriter and audio producer