Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Evolution Of Hot And Heavy Work

If you haven't heard from me for a while, it's because I'm into hot and heavy work ... edits (major and minor) surrounding my novel ... TELEVENGE. Since returning from my Thanksgiving trip, I've buried myself in my novel. My goal ... submit by Spring. Spring is a broad term as far actual dates, but still ... Spring. Therefore, every waking minute available, I'm working on the novel.

Yesterday was a 16-hour day. I dragged myself to bed at 2 a.m. And still, the story rumbled through my head like an oncoming storm. I like what's happening, however. I'm thrilled when I tighten a chapter even more and it works. I toast myself with whatever I'm drinking at the time when I find hidden and unnecessary backstory. I get goosebumps finding the perfect word that has eluded me since the third draft. And I hug myself when I decide ... I'm writing this the way it needs to be written, not the way an editor thinks it should be written. Okay, I break some rules, but I know why I'm breaking them.

But I damn well know the rules of the craft I can't break. This is draft number 7 and by God, I'm landing on my feet with this one. And yet ... I know there will probably be at least one more quick rewrite before the final send off. Do I want the brass ring? Doesn't every writer?

Yes, I'm still promoting Southern Fried Women. It's doing very well, thank you, in fact ... it's like a recipe you try and don't expect much and WOW! It's a hit! I intend to speak at least once or twice a week at venues ... talking about SFW and wetting appetites for TELEVENGE.

But as I look back, this novel has been 15 years in the making. I began making notes and outlining the manuscript in 1991. But the story evolved as my life evolved. Time passed, I kept writing. Pieces of the story languished in typewriters, in drawers, in my head, and on yellow notepads. An overheard word, phrase, and a Southern-sounding name written on a napkin, intended for the manuscript, was found stuck in an old purse several years later during a move.

Stacks of spiral notebooks filled with scenes from Part I, cluttered the bottom of my file cabinet for years. Rewrites of outlines, chapters, character sketches littered my box marked, "FOR THE BOOK."

More changes in my life and major changes in the book occurred simultaneously. Working a full-time job left little time, other than weekends and occasional nights for changing or adding a sentence, a chapter, a word or two. But still, the story never faded from view. Never.

Every so often, another character, another chapter appeared on paper. Not a week went by for years, but what I wrote something for this massive work. It grew over time; the magnitude of it often overwhelmed me. Taking classes, working on the craft, throwing away the first and second drafts. Traveling all over the country to learn from the experts, one writing conference after another. I almost quit a time or two, convinced it was all crap.

Oddly, the story evolved again and at the strangest times. Got tighter, clearer, I "found my character's Achilles' heel and stomped on it" a time or two. I remember writing sixteen pages of TELEVENGE longhand in an airport. Tucking a notebook full of opposing outlines into my briefcase and missing my lunch over a period of weeks - cutting scenes and rewriting the entire second part of the book.

I remember writing when I should've been preparing payroll. Laboring over Chapter 33 for a whole week, when I needed to be compiling marketing material for my department. I also recall sitting in a writing conference in New York City, pulling out the synopsis, and tearing it up. Several days worth of work ... thrown in trash.

I remember sitting across from a literary agent, telling me the title sucked and that I needed to rename the book. So I told her to give it a shot. She did. And it was brilliant. Unconditional became TELEVENGE. (Looking back, it really did suck.)

I put the book on the shelf for a year, taking it down only occasionally. Wrote like a maniac for six months, then put it on the shelf again. Attended critique groups. Spent big bucks on a full edit of the first 100 pages. I read Donald Maass's book and the accompanying workbook on Writing The Breakout Novel. Twice. And then a third time. Then decided, as much as I respect him and like him, I don't agree with everything he says. And that's okay. I don't have to.

In addition to Don's book, I skimmed over a dozen other books on writing in addition to all my classroom work. The books pretty much said the same things to varying degrees. So I kept on writing.

I think of the professionals that wanted to chop here, and delete there, add this, subtract that ... I remember sitting at a table in front of Don Maass who laughed at the monster manuscript. I, however, only glared at that 4th draft of over 1,000 pages and cried.

Over a year ago, I stopped working on the sixth draft on a daily basis (only opening the file every once in a while.) Southern Fried Women took priority for a while. I finished the short stories, found a publisher, and began promoting it ... and now here I am. It's coming down to the end of this long journey. Should I have trashed the novel years ago? Or is it my destiny? How many books have I started and not finished because TELEVENGE calls me to attention every time? I have other books in me, yes, some nearly done. But this one has gripped my heart with a firm hand. It's the book many professionals declare you should write and throw out. "Get that first novel off your chest. Write the sucker and throw it out."

Yet, the green light is still on. I can't help but believe when you know, without a doubt, that there's a higher power involved in finishing a book like this ... you don't throw it out. You finish it. You take it all the way.

And so ... I am. I will do my part and pour myself into the story, one more time. Making it as perfect as I can make it. Then I will leave this book in God's hands. In the meantime, I've got some hot and heavy work ahead of me tonight.

Blessings to you and yours.

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