July 2nd, 2009

Ellen Ripley 1

"Shipwrecks above Liverpool's tide. We walk alone against the sky"

I slept more than eight hours last night. I think I felt too bad to do otherwise. Early this morning, Spooky and I were awakened by a tremendous clap of thunder. A wonderful storm, but I went right back to sleep.

Yesterday was sort of a disaster. I did write, but only 561 words. Two problems prevented me getting any farther. Firstly, I appear to have picked up a cold at the damned doctor's office (one reason I try to avoid doctor's visits). Secondly, I've reached this last third of the story, and suddenly I'm not sure what happens next. "The Sea Troll's Daughter" is a sort of inversion of the storytelling formula derived from Beowulf, but here at the end, I'm lost. I despise trying to be a clever writer, but there's the sense that the ending hinges upon some bit of clever plotting. So...the story's due on Sunday (and this is the very-much-extended deadline), and I'm uncertain how to proceed. It all needs to wrap up in another two or three thousand words.

I spent much of yesterday in bed, listening to Spooky read to me. There just wasn't energy for much else. I feel quite a bit better today. With luck, I'm past the worst of whatever it is I've contracted. I'd really like to stop writing blog entries about illness.

I found something I wrote last year on July 1st, regarding the length of novels, that I thought I'd repost:

This is an old gripe with me, and one that has direct bearing on the writing of The Red Tree. Many of my favourite novels are, in fact, quite short, and certainly far under 100K words. For example, The Haunting of Hill House, Cannery Row, Grendel, The Wasp Factory, The Road, Billy Budd, Turn of the Screw, and Ironweed. The list could go on and on. Great novels, many under 75k, or even 50k, words in length. But I was made to sign a contract that specified a novel that would be 100k words in length. So, rather than allowing the novel to be as long (or, rather, as short) as is needed for the story at hand, I must attempt to push, to pad it, stretch it, or try to convince my publisher to accept a shorter book. And one should never, ever force a story to do anything that is not required of it. There, that's an actual piece of writing advice. I will confess that, being generally disinterested in the ins and outs of publishing, the reasons for this bloating of the American novel escape me. If I had to guess, though, I'd point back to the rise of the blockbuster novel in the 1970s and 1980s. Often, these were thick books. Very thick books. Obscenely, unnecessarily thick books. The example that leaps immediately to mind is Stephen King's It (1986). Could have been half as long, and would have been better for it. But then I still maintain that the original version of The Stand (1978) was far and away better that the longer 1990 publication (which, among other unwise things, "updated" the story from 1980 to 1990). Or look at J.K. Rowling. The books get fatter as the phenom of Harry Potter grows, and that last one is so flabby as to be almost unreadable. Anyway, if I point to the oft-bloated bestsellers as a trend, then maybe I can also suggest that this led to a sort of reader expectation. "Good books are long." Something like that. "I want my money's worth." Along those lines. I can easily imagine many indiscriminate readers buying into (and/or actually creating) this expectation. It becomes, in a consumerist world, a question not of quality, but of quantity. Books have become, in the last twenty or thirty years, unreasonably expensive. So, who wants to spend the same amount of money on a "thin" novel when they can "get their money's worth" with a fat one? Frankly, I think that people thinking of novels the same way they think of pizzas is one of the signs of the Apocalypse.

Regardless, I'm looking at where I am at this stage of
The Red Tree, and I'm guessing that it's a 75k-word novel, maybe. I've written a little more than 20k words at this point, which means I'm getting a feel for its length. Which leaves me with difficult decisions ahead of me. And, I should say, I am not inherently opposed to long novels. Not at all. If they need to be long. Moby Dick, The Lord of the Rings, Watership Down, Dune. It's just that I am opposed to the idea that novels must be long. Bigger is not, we are beginning to see, better. All-you-can-eat-buffets, Hummers and SUVs, those grotesquely vast McMansions, the human population, and the bloated novel...all these things rely on the lie that more is, by definition, better, when, in fact, many times, it's disastrous.

As it turned out, for better or worse, The Red Tree eventually ran to 100,860 words.

Okay, need to try to go get some work done now, says Herr Platypus. But please have a look at the eBay auctions. Thanks!