Having completed the 9th (or 11th?) draft of Anori, I have no clue what I have written. Some of it flowed just as I remembered. Others parts had to be reworked…to what effect I have no clue. Dee was consistent. I think. As was the tone. On the verge of death or already dead. Something like that. Anyway, I shouldn’t be blogging about this. I am a cotton-headed ninny muggins at present.
Instead I will offer this quote from Ken McGoogan’s book Dead Reckoning on the taste of polar bear cub meat: Apart from its tenderness, the cub’s meat had a particularly piquant taste, and we greatly regretted that the old bear had not had twins.
All editors are assholes because they think they know better than everyone else. I’m editing Anori for the nth time, and I know that I am an asshole. More than usual anyway. (Meant as a joke? Needed? Find a better means.)
Editing is about honing the narrative, dumping the meaningless characters, trite dialogue and extraneous description. It’s about writing something that has truth to it. (Truth? As in? Clarity needed here.)
Editing also ruins the simple pleasure of enjoying a film. (Why simple? And why film? Have you mentioned this previously?) Before going to bed, I went through the channels and watched bits of Coppola’s The Godfather Part II and Kubrick’s Paths of Glory. I have seen both numerous times, but they now came off as dull, dominated by weak dialogue and predictable archetypes, nothing more than melodrama.
The 2005 version of King Kong was more engaging with its sentimental ape and girl in a nightgown. Even the reboot of Hawaii Five O, with its B actors and trite Chat GPT script, had more entertainment value. It wasn’t pretending to be something it wasn’t. (What? You’ve lost me here.)
Less is more. That’s the mantra of the editor. Which would leads me to believe that none is the ultimate aim. And so why write at all? (Indeed. Consider deleting this post.)
I am amidst another edit of Anori, which is been smooth and terrible, satisfyingly angst-ridden? Anyway, I have dumped another couple of bits I previously adored. This is small bit of dialogue which did nothing in the end.
“I’m the captain.”
“Hubris, Pax, That’s what gets captains killed.”
“That’s what what makes them captains.”
“What happened to Cook and Bligh?”
“They didn’t kill Bligh.”
“I think you’re missing the point.”
The second is a scene that took the narrative sideways and just didn’t even work.
Nico offered her his hand. “I’m trying to understand who I am.”
“How did you get up here?” She went past him and looked out at the empty expanse. The sky had gone dark, the clouds coming in low. Dee crossed her arms. “Where did Pax go? Seriously, where the hell is he?”
Nico walked ahead. “You know, I was on the football team in high school. Middle linebacker. We won the city championship.”
“Congratulations.” He stopped suddenly. “I raped a freshman at a party.”
“What the fuck are you telling me this for?”
“I got her totally drunk. I was drunk too, but I knew what I was doing. I just did it mechanically, like it was my right, took off her clothes, stripped her naked, and, yeah, went at it. She was so goddamn beautiful. I was King Kong. That’s’ what I thought. And I loved the girl. I think I did. Evelyn. She never looked at me again.” He zipped his jacket up and then back down again. “I never had to face what I did. And I wish I did.”
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 am back to killing my babies. Today I had to delete a pet scene from Anori which recalled my father’s secret passion for Charlie’s Angels:
“My father’s other guilty pleasure, Tommy, along with the crackers and vodka, was Charlie’s Angels.” She turned around and smiled brightly at the others. “He would never admit it, but he loved the titillation, a knife against their throats, lovely breasts on the verge of exposure.”
“Can’t say I was ever against those girls,” Fitz admitted.
“He would fall asleep before the show was over and then wake up and snap, ‘Who put on this poppycock? What is this nonsense?’ He’d switch the channel before the crime was solved.” Lai looked back and forth between them, her eyes small and dark. “I never found out who did what.”
“Or more importantly who this Charlie fella really was,” Fitz added.
“Christ, it was that guy from Dallas, the oil guy. Everyone knows that.”
“John Forsythe,” Dee sighed.
“But that ain’t the point, is it now?” Fitz added.
“What’s the point then? The girls running about in their underwear, Farrah Fawcett and her big hair?”
“Dare to dream,” Lai replied. “Molestation will be your return.”
It’s hard easy to delete a scene that works. It can take a long time to accept. That’s why it’s called “killing the babies.” I liked this scene because it gave background to who Dee was before the novel and underscored her sense of isolation. I edited and rewrote it several times before finally realizing – and then accepting – that it just wasn’t needed.
She went back to her old club. It was an automatic thing. She gave the address to the cab driver and half expected the place to be closed. It wasn’t. She climbed three floors up, above the DJs and the stage to where the air ducts cast crucifix-like shadows against the ceiling and the giant holograms of naked dancers, and looked down at the scattered audience in the pink and green lights, the flow of heads and arms reflected in the plexiglass floor and walls, the girls, gorgeously brown, grazing their arms and breasts against the men who, clutching their drinks, leaned back and followed them up the stairs.
“Elle.” A hand came from behind, brilliant blue nails clutching her wrist. “What the fuck?”
Dee couldn’t remember the woman’s name, just that they had worked together, been naked, had orgasmed in tandem.
“I haven’t seen you in fucking years.” Her skin sparkled with rainbow translucence, like an abalone shell, her lips dark red, her green eyes highlighted by painted glowing lines.
“Here I am.”
“I heard you were with Nico, right? Didn’t you go out to Iceland or something?”
“I saw what happened. Holy shit. I mean what the fuck, right?”
“I’ve been out there for more than a year.” Dee said the words for no reason; she just wanted to leave. “I’m this kickass biologist now.”
“I did a shoot in Turks and Caicos. You been there? That sand is so fucking…”
“You look like some perfect angel.” A bull of a man arrived, a tattoo of the buildings on his bicep, and she wanted nothing else. She needed his hardness, his arms and tendons, his need, his pelvis rotating like a machine.
I wanted a scene that demonstrated the military might of The Anori Project as Dee and the others collected animal specimens from around the world. And so I had a squad of soldiers save the scientists in Libya:
There were lights on the horizon, vehicles, and then a sudden pressure in her head, like she had descended thousands of feet, and then it reverberated out and was in the ground, dust rising up. She felt her knees buckle as she slumped against the wall. The militiamen moved quickly past her and inside the house.
Lt. Graham heaved Dee up by the bicep and pressed his boot onto Jamal’s neck.
“What is this?” Dee demanded.
“Fence has been breached,” Graham told Dee. “This one has a crew out there looking for something more.”
Jamal tilted his head, searching the street past the SUVs. “Where is this fence?”
“Magnets.” Graham opened the door of the middle SUV and pushed Dee and Robi in. “Payload secured.”
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.
The thing about writing is that it draws from nebulous things that live in my head – memories, feelings, images and the words that put those together. But the real thing is they’re not actually things, but unthings, abstract nothing things swirled into a cloud of something, a story as it were, not building blocks but protons and ions, effervescence and frequencies, half like dark matter, a presence that can only be detected by its influence on other things.
My current project, Anori, has the following scene: Dee is driven by her ex-husband Tommy from Newfoundland back to NYC. The scene used to feature Dee’s Uncle Ralph; however the book needed less of Uncle Ralph and more of Tommy. The scene also requires a switch in scene, from California to Maine. The thematic elements will remain (distance from someone once loved) as well as key images, but the voice and setting need a 180 degree shift. And so the scene becomes a mangled corpse that has to be picked.
I could kill it all, wipe the slate clean, but I don’t want to do that. The dark matter of the old scene has an unthing I want to preserve. And scorched earth is stupid. Other things were hacked out. There is no more Dodgers game, no more sexy forest ranger, and no more porno shoot in the Hollywood Hills. (sigh)
I now have Dee and Tommy, still in love, but incompatible, stopping and starting in their conversation, exposing their history and feelings, afraid of saying anything to hurt the other but keen to let the other know what they still mean. There is much to mine from my own life here, long drives with things unsaid, guilt and pain and regret. This is the magic of the process, knowing the characters and direction and now searching out where it is they say what needs to be said.