IN THE BEGINNING, WHEN WE WERE WINNING
So, as Ian surmised from my last post, I finished the first complete draft of The Everlasting today. I haven’t done a word count, but it’s probably around 200,000 words, nearly 500 pages. About twice the size of Cut My Hair.
It was a strange experience. I ran the gamut of emotions, feeling both elation and sadness, satisfaction and fear. It was quite a mix, like a manic episode. As I told Kelly Sue, I felt like I should be put in a bathysphere and dropped in the middle of the ocean. I could crawl into a ball and will my molecules to separate until they got so far apart I completely dissipated. Then I might feel normal again.
That all sounds negative. It’s not. I have a tremendous sense of accomplishment, and the fact that I started to cry as I was writing the emotional climax leads me to believe I was on some kind of right track. It reminds me of writing the skinhead brawl in Cut My Hair, when I had to walk away from my computer because I made myself physically sick. When other people read that chapter--"Like An Outlaw (For You)"--when the book was published, they had the same reaction. It’s a good omen.
I don’t actually remember how I felt when I finished Cut My Hair. It was a much more drawn out process (ten years from starting the writing to publication), with nothing like the last four months of intense work I put into The Everlasting. The closest I can think is after I left Dark Horse to whip Cut My Hair into shape, I was going to do my major rewrite by typing the whole thing into my laptop. It had been written on an old Brother word processor, which was really a typewriter with a disc drive. Thankfully I had printed as I went, because I lost a lot of other material when that machine finally broke.
My goal on that rewrite mission was to do a chapter a day until all twenty-five of them were input. I think I ended up averaging about two chapters a day, which put me on an even better path than I anticipated. I went to my nearest Kinko’s and ordered up twenty-five bound copies, including a cover from an old sketchbook depicting the church scene from “Hideous Towns.” The lost artwork of Cut My Hair! When I picked up the copies, I carried them back to my apartment on foot. My muscles were sore and spasming by the time I got back, and it only added to my pride. The feeling of having done physical work is not something a novelist probably feels that often, unless you count cricks in the neck.
The feeling today was something different, something beyond that. You talk to most prospective writers, and there is a line between those who have actually finished a project and those that haven’t. Even with Cut My Hair on my resume, though, I felt like I still had something to prove, that the second book would be as big of a challenge, if not bigger. As an editor, I learned that everyone has one in them--one of whatever they want to do. If they pound away at enough, they will stumble on it. It’s why sometimes you’ll look at an artist's portfolio, and there is one good thing in amongst a bunch of bad things. Or why first-timers jump out the gate and wow you and then their second album, screenplay, book is terrible. Or think The Wonder Boys, and the writer is so crippled by the prospect of the follow-up--which is usually bigger, better, and more ambitious in scope--that he can never reach the last page.
Maybe that’s why so many of us go in for trilogies. We extend the concept of beginning-middle-end to the whole of the story, making them signposts for the series, as well. I finished The Everlasting, but I still have to do They Are All In Love (Have You Seen The Horizon Lately?), so the work is still in progress, yeah?
I definitely thought about The Everlasting as part of this Romance cycle of mine. It is part two, so it is inevitably the darkest hour. I look at the cycle as (1) the Fairy Tale, (2) Love Fails, and (3) Love Conquers All. I don’t adhere to the idea strictly, obviously, but then, I don’t have to. I don’t believe in creative rules. I had some rules for The Everlasting, as far as how I wanted the narrative voices to advance specific goals and depict specific aspects of the main character, Lance Scott's personality, but those slowly fell by the wayside. I followed what worked. In a way, I suppose, it was the synthesis of everything about Lance. The prose about him blended together as his splintered personality collided with itself. (I’ve already set up some restrictions for They Are All In Love, too, in a challenge to myself. Namely, the main character, Percy, who lives in exile, has banished pop music from his house. Thus, no avenue for pop music references.)
In the trilogy sense, as well, I allowed some story parallels to exist with Cut My Hair. They crept up naturally as I wrote The Everlasting, and I can actually point in my notes to the spot where I realized it, too. Certain types of events repeat, but they relate to the overall themes of the series, and in 99% of the cases, when something happens to Lance that also happened to Mason, the effect was totally different. What works for Mason doesn’t work for Lance, and that’s part of the thrust of the book. Youthful folly is no longer so cute.
Sorry if I am all over the place, but I’m just lining everything up in my head. Plus, if you put Scotch in hot chocolate, it tastes just like one of those mini chocolate bottles of liquor. Swear to God!
Next step for me is to spend a couple of days away from the book, giving me time to forget it. Then I will pick a good block of days to just sit and read it with a red pen, looking for redundancies, holes, whatever. Just a nice overview and clean-up. I may even go away and do it, I don’t know. The cat could resent me if I do that. She likes being part of the process. (I swear she knew today. Animals can certainly sense extreme emotion, and she gets motherly with me when I’m upset. Lots of passing by my shins and meowing.) Then I’ll likely do what I did with Cut My Hair and bind up some copies and get some feedback and start looking for an agent and publisher.
Current soundtrack: Robbie Williams, Greatest Hits
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2004 Jamie S. Rich