Soul-Killing, Radical Revision

girlrevised

I’ll tell you what sucks.  What sucks is when an idea for a 3rd novel that gelled a couple of years ago around the idea of a highly unusual narrator — in the form of a crotchety, dying BOILER in an old house — suddenly strikes you as an idea that won’t work.  An idea that has gotten in the way of the story, rather than providing a lovely way to bear witness to the events, and relay them with a unique point of view.  THAT’s what sucks.

And,  what sucks even more is the realization that aforementioned novel is more than half completed.  Let’s say 2/3 to 3/4 completed.  With the wrong narrator.  And thus, now needs to be completely re-written.

I hate re-writing more than most.  One of the best moments of my life was when I read an interview with author Ethan Canin in which he said that he tried to do as little rewriting as he possibly could.  He poured everything into his first draft, and felt rewriting generally lost some of the narrative drive and force of the original.  I embraced his words like gospel.

Sigh.  Nonetheless, I have now revised about 12 of the original chapters.  I have at least 18 more to go.  My organizational skills are such that various files are stored in 2 different computers, in a wide array of files.  In other words, it could be way more than 18 additional chapters.

Some of the stuff needs to be tossed away entirely (ouch!!).  Other parts can, and will, be incorporated into the story fairly easily.  In the section below, I did exactly this, and I think it worked.  A snippet that was originally told by the boiler has been woven into an existing chapter.

Even when our souls are impaled, we must gather force and go on.  I guess.

celebrities-re-imagined-as-classic-paintings-L-Q8d0xT

Savannah is lounging around on the couch, her belly getting so swelled up it no longer looks like it could possibly belong to the rest of her body. She’s wearing a raggedy old pair of sweatpants that she borrowed from Madeline, a T-shirt she borrowed from her sister, and a giant sweatshirt she took right off John’s pile of laundry while it was still sitting on top of the dryer. That girl dearly loves to wear everybody else’s clothes.

The television set is on, as it always is, but Savannah isn’t really looking at it. It seemed as if she mostly liked to push the buttons every so often, make the sound go up or down, or switch to a different channel she would also not watch, then go right back to pushing the buttons on her phone.

Savannah holds the phone to her ear and says, “Daddy? Hi. Hey, what do you think I should have for lunch?”

Oh my god, Madeline thinks. You have got to be fucking kidding me. Not this food thing again.

“Cereal. I had a big bowl of cereal for breakfast.”

“No. I only like creamy peanut butter, and right now all we got is the crunchy kind. I hate that stuff. Plus I only really like peanut butter with marshmallow fluff, and pretty sure we don’t have any of that either. What else?”

“No, I’ve had bagels every day cause Marie always brings them home. Plus that’s what you said yesterday. What else?”

dorotheegotz

Madeline comes in with a big basket of laundry and sits at the far end of the sofa to fold it. Savannah puts her teeny feet in Madeline’s lap and goes on with her phone talk. The little-ness of Savannah’s feet, the childlike tone of her voice – Madeline is not sure exactly what it is – she finds herself sitting on that same couch, years earlier, watching her daughter. There was a period when Kate was four and five when she would watch the same movie over and over again, and then watch it some more after that. Her first great love was “Ghostbusters,” til everyone thought they would lose their grip if they heard that tune and heard those folks saying “who you gonna call” one more time. But just when Madeline thought she might end up a few bricks shy of a load as a permanent condition, Kate switched to “The Little Mermaid.”

Kate did not simply watch. She was totally immersed. She had a whole set of costumes and dress-up clothes and pretend furs and pink plastic shoes that she would line up all across the floor, and she would stop the show between every different scene so she could put on the proper costume. She sang every song and acted out the entire story out as well. By the time the Mermaid married the Prince, Kate was wearing a pink gown with gold stars all over it and a shiny silver crown on her head. She puckered up her lips and leaned her head way out to give her Prince a sweet pretend kiss. Madeline saw all of this as she sat on the couch folding laundry.

She thought this: there was a time when she watched those movies with Kate, and she saw them through Kate’s eyes – at first, they were brand new, and every single thing you’re seeing is a wonder and a miracle, then they’re familiar enough to feel like home, but still funny enough that you get surprised – every time –cause you keep seeing all kind of things you didn’t see before, to where you think the jig is up if you have to sit in the presence of those same words for another minute of your lifetime. Quite a bit like life, Madeline thinks.

When Savannah pushes the button that abruptly ends her call, she says, “That was my dad. I was asking him what I should have for lunch.”

“Your dad?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Your father?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You were asking your father what you should have for lunch.”

Savannah can see that it ain’t a question, so she don’t answer.

“Your father, as in, the guy who put you on an airplane the minute he found out you were pregnant? Who said that you were dead to him? That father?”

“Uh-huh. He wasn’t a very big help. MadMad, what do you think I should have for lunch?”

“Oh, no. No, no. I’m not playing that game again.”

This advertisement comes on the television just then. There’s all these people setting around a table, completely frozen in time. One of them is caught right in the middle of spilling a whole pitcher of water. The first drop is just about to hit. Another is hanging in mid-air, kicking up his heels, his hair standing straight up in all directions. He is at the highest point, held in the split second before he starts on down. Yet another is tipping his chair so far back you know he’s about to tumble over backwards; but he’s caught right at the tipping point, held right there in the balance. There’s one more person. The only one who can move. He gets to walk all around this whole frozen scene, check it from every angle, ponder on exactly what’s going to happen next. He can take all the time in the world to figure it.

“Pushing the River,” NEW chapter excerpt

5698475842_ec155a33d2_z

            Sierra is lounging around on the couch, her belly getting so swelled up it don’t look like it could possibly belong to the rest of her body any more.  She’s wearing a raggedy old pair of sweatpants that she borrowed off of my Lady and a T-shirt she borrowed off of her sister, and a giant sweatshirt she took right off the Boy’s pile of laundry while it was still sitting on top of the dryer.  That girl sure does love to wear everybody else’s clothes.

            The television set is on, just like it pretty much always is, but she ain’t really looking at it, cept every once in a long while.  I swear the child likes mostly to push on little buttons, cause every so often she pushes on some buttons to make the sound go up or down, or pushes on some buttons to switch to a different picture altogether, and then goes right back to pushing the little buttons on her little telephone that don’t need wires.

            Then she holds the little phone right up to her ear and says, “Daddy?  Hi.  Hey, what do you think I should have for lunch?”

            Of course I can only hear but one side of this whole conversation, but it goes something like this:

            “Cereal.  I had a big bowl of cereal for breakfast.”

            —

            “No.  I only like creamy peanut butter, and right now all we got is the crunchy kind.  I hate that stuff.  Plus I only really like peanut butter with marshmallow fluff, and pretty sure we don’t have any of that either.  What else?”

            —

            “No, I’ve had bagels every day cause Marie always brings them home.  Plus that’s what you said yesterday.  What else?”

            —

2522978820_d2c4360368

            My Lady comes in with a big basket of laundry and sets down at the far end of the sofa to fold it.  Sierra puts her teeny little feet in my Lady’s lap and goes on with her phone talk for a bit.

When she pushes on the little button that makes the call come to an end, she says, “That was my dad.  I was asking him what I should have for lunch.”

            “Your dad?”

            “Uh-huh.”

            “Your father?”

            “Uh-huh.”

            “You were asking your father what you should have for lunch.”

            Sierra can see that it ain’t a question, so she don’t answer.

            “Your father, as in, the guy who put you on an airplane the minute he found out you were pregnant?  Who said that you were dead to him?  That father?”

            “Uh-huh.  He wasn’t a very big help.  MadMad, what do you think I should have for lunch?”

            “Oh, no.  No, no.  I’m not playing that game again.”

            This advertisement comes on the television just then.  There’s all these people setting around a table, completely frozen in time.  One of them is caught right in the middle of spilling a whole pitcher of water.  The first drop is just about to hit.  Another is hanging in mid-air, kicking up his heels, his hair standing straight up in all directions.  He is at the highest point, held in the split second before he starts on down.  Yet another is tipping his chair so far back you know he’s about to tumble over backwards; but he’s caught right at the tipping point, held right there in the balance.  There’s one more person.  The only one who can move.  He gets to walk all around this whole frozen scene, check it from every angle, ponder on exactly what’s going to happen next.  He can take all the time in the world to figure it.

7405094364_1524042a47_z

One Paragraph

PaperArtist_2013-06-20_18-45-09

This is where I write, in the  back sun room of my house, a room with three walls of solid windows overlooking my yard and garden.  My laptop sits on a reclaimed-wood table I had made for me, having fallen in love with it at a local flower shop and cajoled the owner into giving me the name of the man who had made it.   And this is the way it all looks to me when I sit down to begin, when the picture of what I need to say remains out of focus, out of my reach.

Today I struggled.  Today’s particular form of struggle involved looking up an ungodly number of words in the thesaurus.  Really.  Ungodly number.

I finished the chapter I have been working on.  !!  And whereas I wrote more than a paragraph, it is one paragraph that will allow me to lay my head on my pillow tonight feeling like I have done something.

“As if it is the most natural thing in the world, as if she has done this a million times, Madeline reaches for the breast of a fifteen-year-old girl.  She squeezes the nipple, and she directs the breast from a position slightly above Dustin’s head into his eager, expectant mouth.  For a few fleeting seconds, Madeline feels she has been given a magnificent gift.  In a featureless hospital room, with an exhausted adolescent mother whose breast she holds in her own hand, she has been granted a moment of profound grace.”

Now the scene looks like this.

PicsArt_1371771139505

 

A Report on the Natural World, part 2

PhotoArtA segment from the novel-in-progress, from the chapter I had requested feedback.  As my daughter said when she was about eleven years old:  “It’s contemporary fiction.   You don’t know everything.”

 

 

“Um, I’m not sure if he’s in a good position.  I think his head may be a little bit too far away.  From the breast.  Your boob.”

            Sierra looks from her baby boy’s head, to the breast that lay in her hand, to Madeline, and her mouth again falls open.  She is exhausted, and not understanding, and trying so hard, and wanting to try even harder, and wanting to give up.

            Madeline looks around the room, says to Sierra, “Would  it help…do you want me to get on the bed with you?”

            “Yeah yeah yeah yeah,” she says.  “Yes.”

            “Yeah, you go head, Mad.”  Billie waves Madeline towards the bed, her fists clenching and re-clenching as she speaks.

            The aunt, the uncle, the cousins, who have been murmuring among themselves with downcast eyes, decide at this point that they will excuse themselves and get refreshments.  Madeline edges to the side of the bed and sits down with a tentativeness that resembles slow motion.  Seated a respectful distance from Sierra, she tucks one leg underneath the other, letting her foot dangle casually off the side, in an attempt to project calm confidence.  And with the simple movement of raising her rear end slightly off the bed to tuck her leg, she gets her first real glimpse of newborn Dustin Roy.

            Tears threaten to well, pour, spring from her eyes.  The sum of tears inside her threatens to flood the room – Billie, still holding a pile of meticulously-folded things, Sierra still cross-legged on the bed with her mouth agape – they will be swept up in the great salty tide and whisked down the corridor, past roomfuls of astonished new mothers cradling infants, while Madeline swoops up Dustin and saves him.  She saves him.  She seizes him and holds him and swaddles his blanket tight and rubs her cheek against his newborn hair and smells his skin and makes a pact, a pact that very instant that she will do anything in the world to protect him, anything at all, forever, she will do anything she needs to do for the rest of time as long as there is time, because he is there, and he is perfect, and he is new, and everything is possible for him, everything, he will have a good life, he will…

            “MadMad?  What should I do?”

            Madeline keeps her eyes fixed intently on Dustin, as if pondering the question quite seriously, until the dam that threatens to burst has proven it will hold.

            “Um, let’s try again.”

            Sierra goes through each step — positioning Dustin, squeezing her nipple, then maneuvering the outer third of her breast so it comes down to Dustin’s mouth from above.  After each separate move, she looks back to Madeline, and Madeline nods.