Like Running Into an Old Friend

So chapter 1 is up and you’ve met one of the people who’s been living rent-free in my head for lo these many years.  Since I like talking and writing about writing roughly as much as I like writing I figure that I’ll probably put some supplemental material up, probably in the form of quick little follow-ups on Wednesday afternoons or Thursdays.

Like I said on Tuesday, I haven’t touched this story in years.  I was actually a little worried coming back to it with the intent to have other people read it.  I’m not actually entirely certain that my intention was to have other people read the book at the time.  I showed it to a couple friends and talked about getting it published but that was about it.  I was scared of actually trying and it was much easier to say that I was an aspiring writer than to say that I was a failed writer with a pile of rejection letters.  I’ve always been my own worst enemy that way.

[1]

This is how long it’s been: I was actually afraid that I’d lost the file forever.  I originally wrote it using WordPerfect 6.0 on a hand-me-down Toshiba laptop running Windows 98.  I still have the laptop, but I have exactly one first-generation jump drive that it will recognize and I have no idea where said jump drive is.  Fortunately I was smart enough to move my WPDOCS folder over to The Beast when I upgraded six years ago.  Since then I’ve upgraded to Ludwig, which runs Office 2010 on Windows 8.  Word 2007 did just fine with my old WordPerfect files, but apparently Word 2010 does not.  As such, when I opened the file I saw 156 blank pages staring back at me.  After a couple of minutes of panic I managed to get the file open in Word 2007 on The Beast and save it in rich text format.  If I ever meet the guy who decided that rich text format was a good idea I’m going to shake his hand.

Either way, I opened the file with trepidation.  I assumed, for one thing, that I’d end up having to do a total rewrite on the first chapter.  Turned out that, no, I didn’t.  The opening chapter was much different from what I remembered.  I think what actually happened was that I realized at some point after I finished the book that the opening chapter was really weak and I rewrote it.  I also know that I thought about re-writing the book when I was living in Texas so I might have decided then that there was much work to be done.  I know I never actually got around to doing that re-write and that was probably for the best.

That’s not to say that I opened it up, read the first chapter, and said, “Hells, yeah, this is awesome!” and just slapped it up on the bloggity blog.  I actually did a fairly extensive edit[2] because, wow, problems.  I barely read any fiction back in the day and it’s blatantly obvious that I just didn’t have an eye for proper word choices.  I also had this really bad habit of assuming there was something wrong if I wasn’t starting each sentence off with new, different, and exciting words.  That meant that I had a lot of overcomplicated sentences that took the passive voice out behind the woodshed and just beat it black and blue.

There’s also the problem that a lot of the book is Nate’s inner monologue.  This shows up a lot more in chapter 2 as well and I know there’s a big chunk I’ll have to re-write or just get rid of altogether, since it’s a lot of totally distracting and unnecessary exposition.  I seemed to have a bad habit of adding unnecessary explanations to overemphasize his thoughts and reactions to the things going on around him.  At the time I thought that they were little flourishes that enriched the experience.  Now I realize that they were totally unnecessary.

I assume there’s some next-level copy edit stuff that can drastically improve what I’ve already improved, but I’m rather pleased with what’s currently on the page.  I was much better at the whole writing thing than I thought.  Now I’m sad that I’ve spent the last decade running away from writing as a career option.  I could have been so much farther along that road by now.

There’s another thing that fascinates me about this particular book.  It’s only 18 chapters in spite of the fact that it’s about 86,000 words and 156 pages in Word.  That’s about 300 pages in trade paperback for those who need a measuring stick.  That basically means that every chapter is about 8-10 pages long in the ol’ word processor and clocks in at nearly 5000 words.  The upshot is that the chapters in Second Chances are much longer than anything else I’ve written.  I think my sci-fi novel was over 40 chapters in about 100,000 words.  I’ve got another project floating around that currently sits at 7300 words and 4 chapters, plus the first page of a fifth which means those chapters are about 1/3 as long as the ones in Second Chances.[3]

What does all of that mean?  Fuck if I know.  I tend to think of myself as a guy who writes short and punchy fiction stuff and reserves long-form for history and whatnot.  I can apparently switch that up from time to time.

———————–

[1]That song instantly became my favorite Toad the Wet Sprocket song the first time I heard it and it’s one of my all-time favorite songs, period.  I realize now that it’s because I’ve always identified very strongly with the song.  Ah, hell, who am I kidding?  I knew it at the time.

[2]If I missed anything, well, that happens.  I assume that the book would benefit greatly if it passed through the hands of an experienced copy editor.  I’m just self-publishing on a blog here…

[3]That other book is a project that’s haunted me since about 2006.  I actually put up a couple of the older versions of the intro chapters on the Typepad incarnation of AH.  I started yet another version back in December and thought I’d finally solved the problems I was having with the writing process.  I almost immediately realized I hadn’t.

The problem with the process for that particular book is that it started out as a fairly transparent boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-rejected-by-girl, things happen, boy-gets-girl bit of authorial wish fulfillment.  The girl in question was mostly there to act as a prop.  Eventually I realized that the girl in question was actually the more interesting character by far but I couldn’t just flip the script because the things that happen to the boy are actually what drives the plot.  This puts me in a bit of an awkward place that could be potentially amazing, since I want to try to do this alternating perspective thing and have the two stories run in parallel, but that’s really hard to do.

I will solve it eventually, though.  Or the characters will solve it for me.  They’ve been living in my head since 2006 and the reason I started trying a rewrite in December was because the girl in question literally popped into my head and renamed herself.  It was this crazy moment, since, like I said, I’d originally conceived of her as the prize at the end of the boy’s journey.  I ended up giving her this really powerful backstory wherein she’d gone through an awful lot and come out strong but brittle.  I was thinking about the book back in December for whatever reason and realizing for the first time just how much shit she’d gone through and how my initial conception of her as a character was, frankly, insulting.  All of the sudden it was like she was there and she just said, “Yeah, so tell me again why I’d still be introducing myself as Ellie.  My name is Jane, dammit.”  I have a theory that when your characters show up and rename themselves you’d best listen.  Or get counseling.  One of those things.

A lot of things fell into place at that exact moment.  Sadly, it’s still not quite enough.  Part of the problem is the structural issue.  Part of the problem is that I hit this point where I was having a really hard time describing a key moment and writer’s block kicked in.  Hard.

One thought on “Like Running Into an Old Friend

  1. Most unpublished prose leaves me gritting my teeth at the writing style. This doesn’t. Hurrah for you!

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