|Posted on Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - 07:53 am: |
Some projects just never seem to come to an end. My current book, CALORIE 3501, is like that. It started out as a short story back in 1996, inspired by a New Yorker profile of two rival liposuctionists, and I began expanding it into a novel right after I finished the first draft of FAT WHITE VAMPIRE BLUES in 2000. Then I had to put it aside to do rewrites on that book, then put it aside again to write BRIDE OF THE FAT WHITE VAMPIRE, which, unlike C3501, had a contractual deadline. Finally, in January of 2004, I finished my first draft, then spent the next four months going back through it, incorporating a bazillion suggestions from my critique group (the George Effinger Writing Workshop, or GEWW), breaking up the most egregious lumps of exposition, and polishing the prose to what seemed to me to be a bright gleam.
I eagerly sent the MS off to my agent and through him, my editor at Ballantine. And then I waited. And waited. And waited. But this was my best book yet! Couldn't my editor see that? Why hadn't he been transfixed by the brilliance? Wouldn't they want to publish this book, say, yesterday, with an accompanying tsunami of P.R.?
We finally got an offer. It no make me a happy boy. No, sir.
So, back to the drawing board. The head of my agency said he'd read over the MS and brainstorm some new marketing angles. More waiting. M-o-r-e w-a-i-t-i-n-g. Finally, the verdict. "Andy, my boy, there's a damn good book hidden in here somewhere. When Michelangelo prepared to sculpt his David, he stared at the huge chunk of raw marble in front of him and told himself he was going to chip away everything that wasn't David. You still need to chip away more marble that isn't David. About twenty percent more marble. Get to it."
Not what I wanted to hear.
However, to give myself a little credit, I didn't argue or make a fuss. I told Ashley I'd give the MS another look-see.
And what do you know?
He was right.
I could hardly believe, reading it over again, that this was the MS I'd been so confident had been polished to the peak of perfection seven months ago. Hadn't I scoured it? Hadn't I carefully considered the suggestions of a dozen intelligent readers in my critique group? Hadn't I turned my own cool, hard gaze upon my work and excised the fat with my merciless laser vision?
Well, yeah. But putting it off to the side for seven months allowed me to see it with fresh eyes, as if I were critiquing someone else's work. My memories of how much time and care I'd put into crafting particularly lovely (but extraneous) passages had faded. I was no longer connected to my own words with a throbbing, blood-engorged umbilical cord. Wielding my red pen like a scalpel (or, in some instances, a broadsword) caused, not yelps of pain, but. . . pleasure.
I'm not done yet, but with each successive chip-chip-chip, I'm seeing my own David wiggle free from that block of marble.
|Posted on Tuesday, November 23, 2004 - 06:16 pm: |
SO true. Michael Kandel, one of the wiser men I have ever met, once advised me to put all stories on a shelf and work on something else for six months before doing that final re-read for submission.
It's like climbing down from the painting scaffold, and having a good look at that mural you've been painting. You notice all kinds of things you couldn't see when you were up there close to it, like maybe the third angel on the left having two heads.
|Posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2004 - 06:55 am: |
I like the idea of an angel with two heads, actually. I don't think that's one of the mistakes I'd change. I hope you and Kathleen have a terrific Thanksgiving, Kage. Thanks for popping by to say hello.
|Posted on Wednesday, November 24, 2004 - 09:57 am: |
Yeah, actually, some of my best angels have three heads.
Happy Thanksgiving to you too! I'm on my own for the holiday this year and plan to treat myself to a sea view and a martini in a nice restaurant. Let somebody else bench-press a turkey!
|Posted on Tuesday, January 04, 2005 - 09:01 am: |
Well, the big editing job is done now, emailed off to the agents right before New Year's Eve. Whew!
And here in New Orleans, we had another relatively successful night in our campaign to make the practice of holiday gunfire nothing more than a bad memory. Ten years ago, when my cousin Amy was killed by a falling bullet in the French Quarter on New Year's Eve of 1994/95, the typical New Year's Eve saw between ten and twenty persons injured by bullets fired in "celebration." Many shooters were doing this in total ignorance, expecting that their bullets flew off into outer space or fell into Lake Pontchartrain. But in reality, they fell back to earth with 80% muzzle velocity, traveling at about 600 feet per second.
Following years of public advocacy and education by the organization I helped found, the New Year Coalition, which has worked for the past decade with the New Orleans Police Department and other law enforcement agencies, we experienced four New Year's Eves in a row without any injuries from falling bullets. It might've been five years in a row, but there's uncertainty whether an eight-year-old who was wounded at 12:01 A.M. was struck by a falling bullet or a fragment from the fireworks his family were setting off. In either case, the situation is tremendously improved from ten years ago.
I hope everyone has experienced a happy and healthy start to their 2005. I'll try to keep everyone informed on these boards as to which conventions I'll be hitting this year, and I hope to see many of you in '05.