Saturday, December 24, 2016

solstice update (writing)

Jasper Johns, Winter (1987)

Happy belated solstice, everyone. The cosmic waltz continues, and so do we.

Three months from now, it will have been two years since I put out novel #2. It was self-published, begrudgingly, as you know—but shit happens, as you also know.

Since then? I've been blogging, as you can see. I've drawn the occasional comic strip. I've been writing a lot of short stories, which will see the light of day as soon as the unimpeachable congress of lit magazine editors says they are fit to see the light of day. We might be waiting a while.

At times I've mentioned that I've been working on a third novel, which is true—although there have been a few false starts.

Attempt #1 began in the fall of 2013 and was finally abandoned in the summer of 2015. I had a (mostly) finished rough draft by early 2014, and periodically took it back out for a few months at a time trying to refine it into something interesting, readable, and (hopefully) publishable. But it just wasn't working. The pieces weren't fitting together, and as I was trying to force them to I realized I wasn't having any fun with it. I'll just say that it was going to be a kind of dystopic story with a structure inspired by Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, and I was reading Edgy White-Liberal and Fast Company for research/inspiration. It was an ugly story about ugly people, and I've already been there, already done that. Besides, whenever I explained the sci-fi angle to someone I was told I should watch Black Mirror, and it's always a bad sign when your idea prompts a suggestion to check out something someone else has already done.

So I mined it for spare parts and moved on.

Attempt #2 began around the summer of 2015 and went from the freezer to the morgue at the beginning of this year. I was really stoked about the premise, and had a blast writing the first 20,000 words or so. But the premise was also its doom: once it was established, there was really nowhere for it to go. (Hint: there was going to be a character named Ferdinand Duke, a nod to Witold Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke.) Committing to the story and following the plot towards its logical conclusion would have been incredibly tedious to write and to read. The solution I came up with was tacking a mindfuck onto the whole affair, but (1) it didn't answer the question "so what happens between the first thirty and last thirty pages?" (2) I'd be fixing a story that's entirely dependent on a gimmick by attaching another (unrelated!) gimmick to it, and that is not a recipe for success.

I might post the first few dozen pages here sometime when I'm at a loss for anything to write. I still think they're funny.

Attempt #3 began as a novella around the autumn months of 2014, with a finished first draft and everything. I took it out of storage after it became clear Attempt #2 was stillborn, and found myself facing the opposite problem. The pieces were coming together, and it did want to go places. No matter which section I looked over, it seemed to want to get bigger.

A lot of writer and editor types will tell you that brevity is a virtue. This is true most of the time, but only most of the time. A story should only be as long as it needs to be to achieve completion, and sometimes that can be pretty damn long. Moby Dick without all the meditative and parabolic chapters and stuff about whales would be a more concise book, but hardly a complete book. The more I went over and tooled my draft, the more it became clear that I wasn't dealing with an organism that only needed some toning and sculpting. It dawned on me that all I had was part of the thing's skeleton and a small assortment of organs. The rest of it was still missing.

Attempt #3 may be the one that ends up becoming a finished novel, but it's going to be a big one. The draft of the novella is going to be broken apart and turned into chapters in a broader story. Some material from Attempt #1 is going to be repurposed and implanted into its tissues. The ending of the novella is just going to be a turning point in the plot.

I'm excited about the possibilities, but I'm also scared.

Apprehension #1: I've never done anything like this before. The Zeroes clocked in at about 111,000 words. The novella draft, with all the expansions I made before deciding I needed to back up and look at it as a component in something larger, is about 50,000 words. This is going to be a long story, and it's going to take a very long time to write.

Apprehension #2: Time. I need time, and time is becoming a luxury. Melville wrote Moby Dick in about a year, but he was putting in at least eight hours a day, every day. How long would it have been in production if he averaged two hours a day?

Apprehension #3: Gee, it sure would suck if I killed/bankrupted myself composing some giant opus over like four years (oh god, and editing it for like another year after that) and had to resort to self-publishing again.

I need to get better at shmoozing and networking. This will detract from my writing time, surely.

I'm thinking about self-publishing a collection of short fiction consisting of most of the stuff I've had published, and a lot of the stuff that didn't make it (but is still pretty darn good, in my opinion). I won't even bother pitching it to presses and agents. It would be a "stories 2012–2015" sort of affair, just to get them out there for anyone who might want to read them, and because they all fall under the umbrella of "literary" fiction (read: realism), and after returning from the tropics I've made a conscientious effort not to develop stories that don't involve some element of the speculative or the fantastic. It's vain, certainly, but I would rather like to have the material from that period of my life bound together in a more accessible and tangible location/format than my My Documents folder.

This too will detract from my writing time.


  1. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I really think you should give Patreon a shot. You really seem like a good candidate for it. Plus, you already have a bunch of content, stories, reviews, comics, that you can release in another format. In particular, releasing short stories as a part of this seems like an opportunity.

    There are no guarantees, but after an initial time investment, you could scrape a decent sideline that could free up time for writing. Plus, it could help you stick to a writing schedule.

    I'm sure I could give you a hand with this, somehow, if you're interested. I'm a marketing major, I already have a bunch of ideas.

    1. You know what? I'll bite. Drop me a line ( and tell me what you have in mind.

      I will say I'm a wee bit skeptical that people will wish to pay money for short stories or darkside of the moon thinkpieces as enthusiastically as they'd commission art or support a podcast.