Thursday, March 10, 2011

Chapter 48: In Which I Discuss What I'm Working on Now

I've mentioned it on and off, but I am working on a novella that will, if everything goes according to plan, be published by Quail Bell Press next year. It is called The Motley and Plume Players. My goal is to have a draft I'm quasi-happy with finished by May. This means nothing, since the old goal was to finish it over Thanksgiving break, then over Christmas break. One thing I've learned in the process is that, while the 150-page limit I imposed on myself would work great if I was writing a Nancy Drew book with an Edward Stratemeyer deadline hanging like an ax over my head, it doesn't work at all if you're trying to go deeper than that. Though I've been calling it a novella, I'm currently looking at what might be the first Elwin Cotman novel, clocking in at 250 pages. The whole process is maddening and intimidating and awesome, because I'm stepping way outside of my wheelhouse for this. Naturally, writing a novel is new to me. So is the psychological complexity I'm going for. The book is full of literary and theatrical allusions, and new ideas are popping at me from everywhere.

There are a few spiritual predecessors I'm looking to for guidance. One of them is Jhumpa Lahiri, whose style of patient, slow-burning stories is an influence. Again, I have never told a tale patiently, taking the time to develop the world the characters inhabit; it just doesn't gel with the short story. So I look to Jhumpa for stylistic guidance. The other predecessor is, naturally, Robert E. Howard. I look to him for discipline. He wrote Hour of the Dragon over the course of March 1934 to May 1934. He cannibalized some old Conan stories to do it, but that doesn't change the fact he wrote a masterpiece in two months. I have never been the guy who sits down and says "Today I will write for five hours" or "Today I will write 1500 words." I write when I'm good and ready, then let the work sit for a while before revising. But I'm trying to pick up the pace. I do wonder if I should parcel out a certain amount of time per day to write. You know, like the real authors do. I also wonder if maybe Darren Aronofsky is right, and the key to good art is going insane; thinking my characters are real people, then engaging in a whirlwind of delirious, dangerous writing that will ultimately destroy me. Worked for the girl in Black Swan. That's an option, though I don't think I'll go psychotic and start envisioning doppelgangers just yet.

I'm shopping the book in school and getting some good feedback. After this novel/la is done, I am going to devote all my energies to the "Fort Liberty" radio serial, which I want to podcast in monthly installments, like Dickens used to do with his novels. "Fort Liberty" is going to be a monster: a sprawling, multi-character historical epic. It will no doubt take all my attention.

First thing's first. Finish the book. And maybe a short story here and there.

I'll give updates on the progress of Motley and Plume. Right now I'm at 200 pages of mostly raw material. Next week is revising. Exciting times.

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