Wednesday, May 30, 2007

cut from the novel, redux

6 more chapters done. I’ve cut 150 pp (total). Which is good. My shoulders hurt. Apparently my brain can only produce short sentences.
Here's something I cut. But I might put it back elsewhere:

What they would say
The air is thicker than water isn’t that a saying? Air is thicker than water and that’s how we know something. That’s how we do something. When we had hands. The air falls down the steps like water smelling of breath and words. We wanted to leave but the air is always too thick, we wanted to. Now we go from one room to the next with never a way to settle down and do anything. If we stand at the open spaces, the boxes of light, what’s the name of those, you can see that the air is thinner out there. We used to go out there. If someone would call. If someone would put out a hand. The light from that place out there is bright and sometimes a movement sweeps through it. What was that called? It moves the trees, yes the trees. Did we love the trees? did we cut them down? If someone would call. If we had a name.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

cut from the novel

Cut from Chapter 5:
The thing about a cemetery was that it was eventless, Carl thought. You could put flowers down or plant an ornamental bush, but this was only a change in the landscape. He’d spent some time in cemeteries, even before he became interested in the afterlife, because of their importance to a historian, and he’d noticed the tendency of some families, to want to furnish the gravesite as if it were truly a house, or at least a room. Flowers, stuffed animals, photos, flags.
Once in a cemetery in Columbus he’d come across a woman sleeping on a man’s grave, her arm draped around the flat-to-the-ground headstone. Her husband’s or her lover’s. The grave was not too old, for the sod lines still showed in the grass. The woman’s eyelids flickered, and she breathed slowly and regularly. At the time, it had seemed to him extreme, and pitiful. He’d backed away, afraid that she’d awake and he’d have to face her bizarre grief.
Some of the old graves in the Logan Cemetery, behind the Logan High School, were like tiny stone houses, family enclosures. The doors of these were always locked, of course, and so he’d never seen inside. But who knew what might be in there—an armchair, a barbecue grill, a photo album, a set of Dickens.
A classic case of Carl thinking too much.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

doing the numbers

Revision log entry:
went through 2nd chapter—cut out 1024 words (yay!)
Total now: 30,878; 123 pp. Plus took off 6 TNR pp. (total 11 TNR)
Edited 63 pp. Total pp 117;
All of which means that I now have

702 (original pp)
-123 (total cut so far)
-11 (TNR pp)

Anal? Yes; but it works for me.

Monday, May 21, 2007


My metaphorical pencils are sharpened. The toast is crisp, the novel slightly underdone. Time for the 3rd revision, which I hope will be the last, but then maybe you always hope a revision will be the last.

The vision I had of the novel, years ago now, has come down to this piece of worked stone, this crisped and nibbled pile of pages. The question is always--does it come close? how close can it come?

You get tired of it, you feel fond of it, you hate it, you fall in love with it again: blah blah blah.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

short story countdown

I just found out that May is short story month: who knew? And like some others, I'm moved to list, in no particular order, my favorite short stories of all time (with the understanding that "of all time" is a flexible term, and that the list may in future change according to a wild new enthusiasm, or if I take a violent and inexplicable dislike to any of these, although I probably won't).

"The Death of Ivan Ilyich," Tolstoy. I'm always trying to talk people into reading and loving this story, which truth be told is hardly a story, more of a novella. But whatever it is, it's brilliant. Ivan dies, and then lives in back story, and then dies again in slightly slow motion--simple, yes, but it's Tolstoy who's telling this, and he is the master of rendering daily life in high relief, and also of making you see that even characters you thought were contemptible have something else to them, and further that in some ways you are just like they are, with the contemptible and the glorious generously and chaotically mixed. If you don't believe me, read it--I'd love to argue about it.
Quote: "Having told his wife at dinner-time of Ivan Ilych's death, and of his conjecture that it might be possible to get her brother transferred to their circuit, Peter Ivanovich sacrificed his usual nap, put on his evening clothes and drove to Ivan Ilych's house. At the entrance stood a carriage and two cabs. Leaning against the wall in the hall downstairs near the cloakstand was a coffin-lid covered with cloth of gold, ornamented with gold cord and tassels, that had been polished up with metal powder. Two ladies in black were taking off their fur cloaks."
"A Good Man is Hard to Find," Flannery O'Connor. No matter how many times I read this, it hits me with the same well-aimed jab. Unpleasant family goes on a road trip and meet the Misfit, a brutal criminal, with not entirely unforseen results. O'Connor is so unsentimentally sharp you wonder how she lived with herself, but at the same time the characters are shown in detail that is so well observed that it's almost loving. Also it's funny. And has one of the best endings ever.
Quote: "'Now look here, Bailey,' she said, 'see here, read this,' and she stood with one hand on her thin hip and the other rattling the newspaper at his bald head. 'Here this fellow that calls himself The Misfit is aloose from the Federal Pen and headed toward Florida and you read here what says he did to these people. Just you read it. I wouldn't take my children in any direction with a criminal like that aloose in it.'"
"The New Atlantis," Ursula K. Le Guin. (I'm pretty sure this is the title.) This is a surreal story, part of which takes place in a tired somewhat future world, where resources are scarce, and people aren't allowed to marry or do anything so useless as play music or make art. The other part is a poetic evocation of the awakening of a longdead land that might be Atlantis--the 2 parts of the story comment on each other, layering and overlapping. A haunting story. (Couldn't find a quote for this on-line, and my copy is not to be found.)
"A Wilderness Station," and "Meneseteung,"Alice Munro. I could have chosen a dozen other Munro stories, because I love her work inordinately, but these 2 go together nicely, because both use "documentary" material to write stories that are alternate histories. "Meneseteung," a fictional bio of an obscure (fictional) 19th century poetess and spinster, collages it up with newspaper articles, poetry, artfully slipping points of view--very postmodern but extremely readable. "A Wilderness Station" is the violent and ambivalent story of what did or didn't happen when 2 brothers and a woman who is wife to one of them go out to try and wrest a hard living from the bush. It's the lady or the tiger, except so much better (I always hated that story).
Quote (from "Meneseteung"): ''Champlain and the naked Indians and the salt deep in the earth, but as well as the salt the money. . . . Also the brutal storms of winter and the clumsy and benighted deeds on Pearl Street. The changes of climate are often violent and if you think about it there is no peace even in the stars.''
Julie Orringer. This is from her 2003 collection, How to Breathe Underwater--the story of a sad family who goes to a vegetarian Thanksgiving. It breaks a lot of rules about how to write a short story in the most satisfying way, and uses a child's point of view in a daring and unsentimental way.
Quote: "Ella pushed at her loose tooth wit hthe tip of her tongue and fanned her legs with the hem of her velvet dress. On the seat beside her, Benjamin fidgeted with his shirt buttons. He had worn his Pilgrim costume, brown shorts and a white shirt and yellow paper buckles taped to his shoes. In the front seat their father drove without a word, while their mother dozed against the window glass. She wore a blue dress and a strand of jade beads and a knit cotton hat beneath which she was bald."
Kafka. You knew I was going to say this, didn't you? In fact, I don't always like Kafka, although I always admire him. But "Metamorphosis" is so beguilingly written, so seductive, I can't resist its awful charm. You remember the plot: man becomes bug; goes downhill from there.
Quote: "He needed arms and hands to push himself upright. Instead of these, however, he had only many small limbs which were incessantly moving with very different motions and which, in addition, he was unable to control. If he wanted to bend one of them, then it was the first to extend itself, and if he finally succeeded doing what he wanted with this limb, in the meantime all the others, as if left free, moved around in an excessively painful agitation. “But I must not stay in bed uselessly,” said Gregor to himself. "
"Happy Endings," Margaret Atwood. This is a deconstruction of narrative that makes fun of the plot of all fictions, but still manages to be moving. The beginnings are individual, Atwood reminds us, and the middles can be byzantinely different, but the end of all stories is the same.
Quote: "John, who is an older man, falls in love with Mary, and Mary, who is only twenty-two, feels sorry for him because he's worried about his hair falling out. She sleeps with him even though she's not in love with him. She met him at work. She's in love with someone called James, who is twenty-two also and not yet ready to settle down. "
"Rock Springs," Richard Ford. I don't like Ford as much when he's writing novels and being funny, but when he's writing short stories, when he's gloomy and low-down, I love him to death. In RS, the narrator and Edna plan to go to Florida, but things go from bad to worse, every detail of their miserable road trip lovingly detailed.
Quote: "But we were half down through Wyoming, going toward Interstate 80 and feeling good about things, when the oil light flashed on in the car I'd stolen, a sign I knew to be a bad one."

There are so many other short stories that I love--there's one about a bird expert who gets captured by some guerillas, and another by Le Guin with characters that change roles in each of several sections, and a wonderful one by Toni Cade Bambara that is not "Gorilla, My Love" (although that one is good, too)-- but I can't think of them right now, or can't remember the titles, plus I'm hungry, plus I want to watch Ugly Betty. If you have a list, put it up. If you love or hate these, let me know. I'm open to other people's opinions. Really.


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

over but not yet

School is over in the sense that classes are done, but also not over because there is the grading to get through, and last stray appointments, and paperwork (which is always noxious). I've set a date for going back into the novel one more time (one last time, I hope)--in about 10 days. Going back in, which makes it sound like a country, or a jungle, or the sea floor, and it is like all of these: foreign, tangled, deep.
But I'm looking forward to it.
In the meantime, I'm taking up the gauntlet of Isaurine's post on little annoyances.
My Top 10 Little Annoyances:
1. Yellow highlighter in books. I used to be very purist about books and couldn't stand anything written in them at all, but now when I'm reading a book I am mostly charmed to see what someone else thought about a scene or a concept. And sometimes people write mysterious things in books, as if they are sending coded messages. Once I got a book out of the library, a mystery novel, and someone had written on one of the last pages: "you know Bill." Had Bill also killed someone with poison tea stewed from the leaves of rhubarb (as in the book)? Or what?
But I still can't stand highlighter: too disfiguring, no interesting content; too neon-ish.
2. Running out of chocolate. Maybe this isn't a little annoyance though? more catastrophic?
3. Having to return phone messages. I don't know why, but I hate to have to call people back who have left messages on the answering machine. The smart thing to do would be to turn it off; or to always answer the phone (which I almost never do; I also hate answering the phone).
4. Having to get dressed up in something other than a nice pair of pants and a top. Any occasion which requires more means that I will be trying on everything I own and leaving clothes strewn across 2 bedrooms while I try to find the right thing to wear to the English Awards banquet, for instance, or a cousin's 1st communion party.
5. Students' papers which are enrobed in plastic covers: hate them. Too slippery, so you can't stack them; also hard to hold open while reading.
6. The mail, because it is always so boring. This is because of email probably--I get a fair amount of interesting email. But my mail almost entirely consists of advertising flyers and offers from my credit card to pay off my other credit cards and (last week) the offer of an easy-pay plan to buy a spot in a mausoleum.
7. Losing my place in a book and then having to read back and forth (so to speak) to find the spot I stopped. Using a bookmark would take care of this, but I also hate bookmarks.
8. When my sister says she's going to call me back in 2 minutes, and then she doesn't.
9. When my pen runs out of ink. How can this happen so often?
10. Having to buy a new purse. I always put this off as long as possible because I like consistency in my accessories. The purse has to be large enough to put a book into it, and it has to have a shoulder strap, and a zippered pocket, and it has to be not ugly. This doesn't seem like much to ask, but it always takes me months to find a new purse. I could probably do a life of myself by what purse I was carrying at the time: the years of the giant leather backpack-like purse, the canvas sack era, the purchase of the Coach bag (signifying full-time employment), and so on. But I won't.
How about you? what are your top ten?