As I mentioned, I am in the midst of the tenth draft of Anori.
Which means that I go back and forth between feeling like a writer – at the exact center of a marvelously spinning wheel with moments and experiences flashing out in wonder – and a monosyllabic imbecile who blathers on about nothing. Or both at the same time, the wheel spinning out blather.
Well, at least I wrote this. It feels like something, even if it isn’t.
Now on my tenth draft of Anori, I have gone through many renditions of how to give the reader background information on Apollo’s breed of wildcat: the serval. This heavy-handed version has been expunged:
The dusty glossy edge of Wild Cats of the World stood out black and orange. She reached up for the book and let it drop hard on the floor, making Apollo jump. “Let’s see what it says about you. Maybe you’re just some mongrel cat with a complex.”
Dee leafed through to the section and examined the black and white head shot. “Your face looks right. The serval is a tall, lightly-built cat with a small, slim face, dominated by very large oval-shaped ears. Relative to the rest of its body, the serval has the longest legs of any cat species.” She watched him approach from across the room. “Long legs. Check. Serval coat…speckled and spotted. Like the cheetah, the serval is among the more specialized cats. Its long, mobile toes and strong, curved claws also help it hook a mouse hidden in the grass or extract a rat from a burrow.” She looked at him over the book. “But you’re supposed to eat them, not leave them dead.”
I’ll tell you where the hell I’ve been! In some tech black hole where the server won’t let me log onto my blogsite, like I’m some kind of fucked-up psycho ranting on about crazy stuff. And even if I am, it’s my right to be like that, goddamn it.
And so, yes, I’m back, at a local watering hole (with wifi that doesn’t screen my flawed genius) sending out a sadly and recently scene from my Anori opus:
“I ever tell you about the Hooded Seal?”
“I know all about that one.”
“The Hooded Seal is born off the coast of your island, Newfoundland, and it has five days to suckle. Then it’s on its own.”
“It’s a tough world out there. We all know that.”
“Five days to figure out how to fish, or else it’s dead. Five days or you’re dead. You know how far it swims, Fitz?”
“Everything is a long way out there.”
“It swims across the Labrador Sea to Greenland, all of that, a thousand kilometers, following along the continental shelf. It eats tons of shrimp and squid.” Dee put on a kettle for tea. “Oh, and it can dive down to 120 meters and stay underwater for over an hour. That’s something, isn’t it?”
“The seals are better than us now?” He swigged from his pewter flask. “Is that what you’re on about? The dogs of the water? They know better and all that?”
“There are eighteen species of seal in the world, everywhere in the world, and they’ve evolved into what they are.” She stopped, expecting Apollo to be behind her and coil through her legs. “Do we care about any of this? I mean, they’re just seals. We eat them or club them or whatever.”
“You joined her animal group. You told me about that.”
“It’s not about protecting seals, Fitz. It’s not even about appreciating them. It’s just awareness, being aware. And we’re not.”
“Maybe we’re not up to such high demands, Deirdre.”
I have been struggling with the shade of blue for the Infinity Corporation logo for years now. There are many shades of blue: baby, sky, cobalt. And then I realized that the right shade of blue would have to be the darkest one of all, hedging toward black, the color of the deep ocean, the only color that might appear in the void of space. And that is Midnight Blue.
Also of note in today’s writing was the naming of the Lunar colony (New Phoenix), the ship (Umiariak) and their news channel (Mina).
It took me ten weeks to process Tennessee’s notes, but at long last I have begun my eighth (ninth?) draft of Anori. Tennessee (my editor) made excellent suggestions related to killing characters – a terse goodbye to Valerie and Robi – as well as complete restructuring, which means sideways, headache-inducing thinking and no more scenes in Newfoundland like this precious little one:
Flagstones, newly dug, and boards bent into the red earth, led down a narrow path, following the base of a rocky ledge to a meadow. Fitz walked ahead, his windbreaker too small, pants heavy and large. The archeological site was deserted, a wheel barrow with shovels and picks lined up at its side, standing by a row of tents, the one at the far end with its front entrance unzipped and flapping in the wind.
“A bit of sloppiness that.” Fitz bent down to the tent, head-first into a man, middle-aged, as he backed out. “Watch your—Unh!”
“That’s the irony,” Eileen whispered behind Dee.
“You all right there?” The man zipped the tent shut before standing up.
“Looking about for Tommy Baines.”
The man adjusted his glasses. “He must have gone with the others, an hour or so ago.”
“Off to the pub, that it?”
“Don’t know about that.”
“We’ll just show the girl around before he makes his way back.”
“You’ll need Tommy to take you through for that.”
“We’ve been around the heath, seen the pit, the chunks of slag,” Fitz replied. “We know where not to put our feet.”
“That a leopard you got there?”
“He’s a serval. His name’s Apollo.” Dee smiled at him. “He won’t bite.”
“Aim to keep my hands intact, thanks.” He gave them a wide berth as he headed up the path. “Evening to you.”
“That’s his spot.” Eileen pointed out the yellow and blue flagging tape in the distance. “They’re saying it was an iron ore camp, set up to make their nails for the ships.”
“A lot of theories about the Vikings could be gutted with a place like this,” Fitz added. “They’ll be looking up and down the coast and across to Nova Scotia next. See what they can find.”
Dee watched the wind churn the distant water into a wash of whitecaps, each chasing after the thick grey clouds low in the early evening sky.
I just completed a more-or-less final draft of Anori, the first book of The Cx Trilogy about leaving earth on a generational space ship to another galaxy. There might have been a brief moment of satisfaction – more of relief – but it was emptiness that reigned.
The final line of the book reads: Dee felt almost calm as she looked ahead for the ship, realizing she had no idea what it would be like, how anything would be at all.
Next up is the first draft of my teaching memoir, Fuck Pedagogy, which should be much easier to write. After all this is not an imagined world but a place that I know all too well. The opening lines of this book now read:
“Why do you want to teach?” Phil was my supervisor in teacher’s college, a big friendly guy with a thick beard and glasses. “I want you to draw what that looks like.”
Posterboards were distributed. I drew a prison.
“Hmm.” Phil hovered over my shoulder for a moment. “Why the barbed wire?”
“I didn’t like school.”
“Interesting.” He stayed another moment, nodding to himself, and then carried on to chat with others.
Every time that I open Anori – something I have done a couple of thousand times – and wait as the document slowly loads, my always eye fastens on the opening line. And it’s never what I want, which has led me to change it some fifty or sixty times.
Dee watched the police car turn down the empty street and vanish on the other side of the park.
The keys to this sentence are a. the police car, b. the viewpoint (from a penthouse apartment) and c. the winds of Hurricane Sandy.
Jostled by the winds, the police car vanished on the other side of the park, as Dee slid the balcony door closed.
And then I think it’s all too much and that I only need the bare bones: The police car vanished on the other side of the park.But, that doesn’t work. Neither does: Dee braced herself as the gusts of wind came up again.
I want to communicate an isolated and brooding tone in the opening, something like Dee stood alone watching the police car as it went from sight on the far side of the park.But not that either.
The writing process can be hard, especially in what is left behind. I had to remove another scene from Anori. The dialogue was strong but it didn’t move the story. And so…expunged.
The set-up: Dee has just arrived in Greenland (where the space ships are being launched) and has dinner with Val, one of the pilots, who confesses a dark moment from her past.
“Yeah, this, I don’t know, trapped in a prison from cradle to…what?” Dee laughed. “What do you die in?”
“Death bed, I guess.”
“Grave! Cradle to grave. Trapped in this existence.”
“Try not to think about it and then move on.”
“Better than thinking about being raped.”
“It was someone I had known for years. The whole thing, I mean, the whole thing was such a nightmare. We were friends. He was laid back, a decent guy. And then, I don’t know, he just turned into this asshole Mr. Hyde.”
“He was drunk?”
Val shook her head violently like she was trying to not be drunk. “Everybody drank. I had too much. But not pass-out drunk, nothing like that. Just hanging out, relaxed. And then he was on me. He had me pinned, with my arm behind my back.” She half acted it out. “He was going to break my arm. I could feel it. He pushed me backward and tore my dress. He fucked me like that on the floor. I kept trying to move my arm but I couldn’t. he pushed down on that side of me like he had practiced it or something. It lasted two minutes, if that.”
Dee gripped her chopsticks tightly.
“He actually called me with this bullshit confession later, fucking crying on the phone. I don’t know why I listened. He wanted to stay friends. He kept saying that.” Val ground a chopstick into the wasabi. “I left my dress under the table in the living room floor. I came home and threw it there. I didn’t touch it. It sat balled up there for weeks. I couldn’t look at it. I would veer to the other side of the room when I walked through, all of that.”
“You don’t talk to people about any of this?” Dee asked.
I am stuck on a scene in my book, Anori. There needs to be something there, but I don’t know what. It begins like this: Dee and Tommy are on the coast of Maine (with Dee’s exotic cat) where they talk about the end of their relationship. A park ranger arrives and tells Dee that exotic animals are not permitted in the state park. The exchange is cordial and the ranger leaves.
But then what? I have a tentative scene of three poachers appearing with a dead moose in the bed of their pickup. The ranger returns and says nothing. The contradiction is the aim. The ranger does nothing because he knows the poachers and will receive compensation. I like the premise of this but don’t know what should happen in the end. It seems that the stakes will have to be raised – Tommy proving himself with bravado or Dee challenging them – but I don’t want this scene to detract from the arc of the novel.
To put into context, the following scene is this: Dee and Tommy return to New York City the next day with Apollo. They spend another night together, and there are moments of hope. Dee begins to reconsider her perspective. But Tommy vanishes early the next morning. Dee is saddened and yet relieved. She returns to her work in Greenland.
Options include: a) Dee and Tommy see the poachers from a distance and leave. (Missed opportunity?) b) Tommy shoots one of them in the foot. And then…they race off to NYC? (Stakes too high?) c) Dee records their confrontation on her phone and threaten to expose the ranger’s corruption. (Convoluted and heavy handed?)
Presently, I am thinking a combination of b) & c). Tommy threatens the poachers and then he and Dee leave the park in a hurry. No one follows. I like the idea, but is it obtuse?
Using dialect can be a very effective device in establishing a character’s voice, although the tendency toward caricature is a real danger. In other words, the character needs to be more than the funny things he says.
Fitz and Eileen are from Twillingate, Newfoundland and are the parental figures for Dee Sinclair in Anori.
“Lord, that Tommy loves the digging.” Fitz drove the pickup truck down the steep road, wheeling wildly back and forth between the puddles and rock. “Looks just like a wee one mucking about in his Smallwoods, that skully of his pulled over his ears.”
“That ain’t no skully.” Eileen had her cigarette perfectly rolled, the loose tobacco strands tucked evenly, in spite of the torturous ride. She looked over at Dee. “Skully is a lady’s bonnet. Fitz is just teasing about our boy doing so well.”
Newfoundlander is such a lyrical language, similar to Irish, so full of witty phrasings and thousands of their own words, that is hard to hold back.
This voice is most effective when delving into the essence of something, developing a theme by mixing profound thought with straightforward language.
“You can’t trust any of these…fellas there, Deirdre.” He crumpled Dee’s hand in his. “You know that better than the rest. We’re amoral by nature, despicable. That’s how we are. Libertines, consuming the flesh. All of us bleeding ownshooks. I don’t like thinking of you being used like that. You’re such a beautiful girl. You radiate the sex. Men are drawn like babies to that.”
As wonderful as jink (praise), dwall (to become unconscious) and skully to use, economy is required, lest the writer appear an ownshook (ignoramus) themselves.