Philip Roth is quoted as saying, "The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress" (John Irving reported it), and this seems utterly true . I've written three novels now and none of them has visited a publisher for any length of time and I've spent years working on them to make them better. That part is done now as I work on finishing this one for the last time. Here's my new take on the process of novelling: you make it lovely and then you let it rest, then you edit it once or twice and you let it go. Last month, on John Gardner's birthday, I thought about how he died at age forty-nine... look at all of those fabulous novels, from Grendel to Mickelsson's Ghosts, not to mention October Light and Nickel Mountain and the Sunlight Dialogues... not to mention the books on writing, the scholarly career, the years of teaching, and the short stories. I want that.
To that end, I have plowed through the halfway point in this novel and am heading for the three quarter mark, with the ending written and nothing save a major life crisis will get in my way. The summer was good; I stood in the room where Hemingway wrote "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" and I heard how he wrote only 500 words per day but he wrote them every damned day of his life, no matter what.
A writer needs focus. A writer needs that "intent," selfish or not. I'm going to finish this novel and publish it, and meanwhile work on its successor (which will be set in Tennessee) and then I'm going to publish that as well. And then write more. And just keep writing and writing until I'm dead. Then I'll write from wherever that turns out to be (wink).
It's good when the play influences the work and the work becomes as play. The summer so far has been blessed with both and I find myself trying not to think about it too hard: to just do what presents itself as the work of the day and to let myself enjoy every moment of it. The sights and sounds of the tropics linger and already have begun to mix with memory. A poem of mine called "The Wild and Tame of Key West" has the line, "Spirit ciphers linger in the sunset," and that's about where my consciousness is these days. Well, the morning awaits and it's back to the novel...
Galleys, sent from the editor of the Doctor T.J. Ecklebirg Review: this is all new... "Here are our suggestions... Here's what it's going to look like in print... Here's what we'd like you to do..." Not many changes, as it turns out, mostly requests for more description, another piece here or there and so it's easy to oblige. It made the piece stronger, in the end. I've always imagined this is what good editors do. Well! Okay, then. I suppose there will be more to get used to as this continues.
Good "acceptances" news, as posted on the front page. That's twelve acceptances since I revamped myself for 2013... it's also thirty-six rejections, a less publicized record. Still, that's a cool ratio. Speaking of ratios, I woke up with horse-racing on my mind and went looking around for metaphor words and other fine phrases--found some lovely ones like "statistics speculation," "coming off a layoff," "front runners versus stalkers," "heading for the inside rail" so I'm feeling a poem brewing. I also discovered that the term "handicap" comes from a wagering, bartering game having to do with competitors putting their cash in a "hand-in" cap and a referee who then equalized the bets. The notion that "handicapped" people in the old days were forced to be beggars and have "caps in hand" is completely false (see Snopes for more). To "handicap" a person, in the original metaphor, meant to give them a more equalized chance of success. I like it. Do you?
Enjoying the sense of freedom with classes over, I started wandering through journal markets again. While it used to depress me, I find that now I get engulfed in ideas. Wrote a quirky little essay about high school, race riots and tobacco fields in 1974. With my birthday coming up, I'm feeling oddly 'retro.' In other news, received a lovely rejection letter from Penumbra and sent out several homeless poems. Now, I'll try to reorient myself back into the real world, or what passes for that, and finish the the day. SMH
John Gardner, without espousing any particular religious aesthetic, claimed in On Moral Fiction "It was said in the old days that every year Thor made a circle around Middle-earth, beating back the enemies of order. Thor got older every year, and the circle occupied by gods and men grew smaller. The wisdom god, Woden, went out to the king of the trolls, got him in an armlock, and demanded to know of him how order might triumph over chaos. 'Give me your left eye,' said the kind of the trolls, 'and I'll tell you.' Without hesitation, Woden gave up his left eye. 'Now tell me.' The troll said, 'The secret is, Watch with both eyes!'
Woden's left eye was the last sure hope of the gods and men in their kingdom of light surrounded on all sides by darkness. All we have left is Thor's hammer, which represents not brute force but art, or, counting both hammerheads, art and criticism." (3) He maintains that fiction ought to strive toward life affirmation, to "hold off the twilight of the gods and of us" (5, OMF).
I believe this with all of my heart, and that art should also be playful and serious, mocking and heroic: it may be whatever we are as humans, whatever we aspire to, whatever humbles us as well. Thank you for being part of my experiences here. I do feel life has suddenly opened me up for another grand adventure and I'm rearing to go (and holding on tightly)!
Today I wrote a poem called "Shorthand Daily" and sent it off, re-recorded the MP3 of "The Elixir" for The Silver Blade, and tried to edit a strange poem about my childhood called "Ahab's Day." I hope the evening is wide open for writing fiction, because the new spring air feels like haunted houses to me and I'm eager to talk about the old house in Davidsonville and its many ghosts.... SMH