Sunday, April 29, 2018

Deliverables and milestones

Second draft calls for a second screen
(NB: that's the Productivity Commission's draft report on Low-Emissions Economy to the left, not my novel.
And yes, I get the dissonance of printing a 500 page report on low-emissions economy.)

So I finished the first draft of my location scout novel 11 days ago. “First draft” is an accurate description of the last maybe ten pages. The first ten pages are more like “thirty-seventh draft”. Everything else sits somewhere in between.

How’d it feel to reach that point? 

Well, I used to feel stink that I had all year in Dunedin to finish it and I didn't, but that pity party petered out.

There was some elation 11 days ago, but it was specific to having had a successful day’s writing.

Back in Dunedin, I had jumped ahead and written most of the final chapter, with a square-bracketed statement at the end that indicated a one-off shift in perspective that’d last a page at most. It took me months to fill in the other blank spaces and get to that last, unwritten passage, but on the morning of Thursday 19 April, I’d reached that point, but still didn't really know how to pull it off.

It was a strange ‘writing’ day for other reasons. I had to go in to my dayjob for two meetings that were two hours apart, despite it being one of my days off, and I decided to write in town before, between and after the meetings to be efficient and avoid school holiday distractions at home. When I got set up in town, I decided to do some automatic(ish) writing to lower the stakes in a brand new environment and maybe get into this new perspective for writing later in the day. But straight away the voice just clicked. I wrote two-thirds of a page and pasted it wholesale into the end of my novel. Re-reading it after my first meeting, I repeated the first three lines at the end, wrote a better transition between the old and the new, and just like that, I was done.

Only, I wasn’t’. I’m not. But I’ve reached a milestone.

After finishing the first draft, the first thing I did was go back and change the first sentence, which alluded to a scene that no longer occurred in the novel. After that, I spent two days going through all 170 notes I’d made in Evernote, from the first one in April 2015 about what I thought might just be a short story through to notes I’d made a couple days before about things to address in the next draft. Now I have a 120-row table in Excel which I'm working my way through.

It was interesting to see that it was three years, almost to the day, since I started on this path (sometimes it feels longer - there were the two years between finishing The Mannequin Makers and the idea for this novel occurring to me; sometimes shorter - I basically started afresh in late Feb 2017). However I accounted for my time, I now had a 105,000 word manuscript to show for it. 

The quantity is there, now it's a matter of making sure there's quality, too. 

I made a mistake last week with my one pure writing day (my other day off work was a public holiday spent with family). In the spirit of gearing up for a great, systematic, enriching second draft, I decided to re-read Michael Grosso’s The Man Who Could Fly, which, despite the fact I read it two years into the project, represents a kind of ur-text for my novel. The problem with re-reading this book a year later was it was the same slog it was the first time (though without as much of my own cynicism getting in the way). Whatever momentum I’d worked up with my string of 5am starts, with every session at the keyboard moving the book forward, with the small sense of accomplishment of finishing the first draft and surprising myself with a passage that clicked this late in the process… that all drained away as I slogged through the first 100 pages of Grosso’s book.

So I put a stop to that and I’m back into my text. Making it better. Or making it different and then letting time tell me if it’s better or worse.

I’m not sure if there’ll be a clear demarcation between a second and a third or a fourth draft. Between now and the end of May I’ll go through it as often as I have to, making sure character X’s motivation is consistent, the logic for twist Y is embedded in earlier moments, the chapter titles are that right mix between intriguing and meaningful, that all the references to music on the roadtrip are absolutely necessary (my wife’s main suggestion when she read the manuscript in January)… and then I’m going to let a second person (and maybe a third) read the thing.

Maybe then, to bide my time, I'll return to Grosso...

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

March 2018 consumption diary


(A heavy weighting to the old timers this month, thanks to road-tripping to the Taranaki in an old-timey mood)


Homo Deus: a brief history of tomorrow by Noah Yuval Harari (non-fiction, audiobook)

I've recommended this book to three people since I read it, each for different reasons (the link between the science behind our soullessness, animal suffering and veganism; the future of automation/an algorithm for everything and what it means for education; how it uses Kahneman and Fredickson's peak-end rule to explain how unreliable a narrator we are of our own lives) - but each time with the caveat that the book is confusingly structured.

I get that it's a bunch of conjectures that spring from the central premise (homo sapiens has done a good job of minimising the impact of famine, plague and war and is able to focus elsewhere for the first time in forever), so it was never going to be the most cohesive thing, but it has a couple of (long) false starts and, while it builds well in each chapter, the book itself never seems to culminate. It's definitely more rumination than fulmination.

Still, it was the right mix of a secondary explainer of the work of others and more adventurous, more challenging thinking.

Good stuff.

Sex Object: a memoir by Jessica Valenti (non-fiction, audiobook)

The pat thing to say here might be: this is the kind of book all fathers of daughter should read if they want to understand the world their daughter is/will be part of. But I think fathers of daughters are the low-hanging fruit when it comes to activating their empathy for females. The challenge is to get to the budding dudebros a decade before they procreate, just before they leave their first half-cocked abusive message on social media.

But then again, isn't it wrong to talk about this books value in terms of what it can do for (or "to") men? Yes. Yes it is.

It's clearly a bit of a tangle for me to talk about, briefly. But the book is its own tangle.

Yep, here comes that word again: structure. I felt off-balance throughout, the way the present and a variety of past eras intermingled, and how the same incidents (eg Valenti, as a schoolgirl, finding cum in her backpocket after a subway ride in a crammed car) are referred to multiple times, which seems to lessen their impact.

Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young

I feel like I've been on a run of these books the last 12 months or so. Trees, cephalopods, Noah Yuval Harari's long excursion into the immorality of factory farming, and now this. Young doesn't just talk about cows, there's sheep and chickens in her book too. And it's a fine addition to this genre which I call: Make Craig go vegan.

But I am incredibly lazy and am able to shoulder incredible amounts of guilt and shame if it means my comfortable life can be maintained.

I'm not sure if this genre needs to throw more books at me, or if the books I've read just need to sit with me a little longer...

The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson (short stories, audiobook)

Like everyone whose ever done a creative writing course (it seems), Jesus' Son when I first encountered it, and still do I guess. I loved Train Dreams, too, which felt more like a long story than a short novel. I wasn't so fussed about his 2000 campus novel, The Name of the World (also short for a novel: only 144 pgs), and didn't finish his biggie, Tree of Smoke (pace Denis).
I loved

Johnson, of course, died last year, and Largesse was published posthumously in January this year. The title story originally appeared in the New Yorker in 2014 and you can read it there. Seriously, read it now. It's the absolute stand-out of the collection. Somewhere between Train Dreams and Jesus' Son. There are only four other stories in the book (three previously unpublished) and though nothing else quite reaches the same heights as the opening, it's required reading for everyone who had Denis Johnson phase and needs some reacquainting.

Saga Land by Kári Gíslason and Richard Fidler (non-fiction, audiobook)

Gislason and Fidlar blend travelogue, contemporary family saga, retelling of medieval Icelandic sagas and a biography of sorts of Snorri Sturluson.

I was into Norse mythology in a big way in my early teens and was therefore familar with Snorri as the author of the Prose Edda, but didn't know that much about the sagas of more contemporary (for the time) Icelanders. Saga Land provided a good background and a taster of the sagas themselves, but I don't feel sated in the least. MORE SAGAS PLEASE!!

But all of the components of the book held my interest, and were stitched together well. The ending of the contemporary story (which also served to conclude the book) was missing the bloody end of the sagas, but again, that's non-fiction for you.


Midnight Special
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Derren Brown's The Push
In Search of Fellini
Atlanta Season 1