Also, I cannot believe that I waited this long to create a Howard Hughes icon for the journal. He's so very dashing in that photo.
Thanks to the cool air of Dr. Muñoz, I had quite a good writing day yesterday. 1,366 words on Chapter Two of The Red Tree. And I begin to see something I should have seen long since. Not only will this novel be, in many ways, unabashedly biographical, but I also find myself, from time to time, using the immediacy and intimacy of its first-person narration to grind axes. Yesterday, it was those annoying people who have had trouble reading my books because of the way I blend dream sequences into the narrative (here we are, back at bloody dreams), without "warning," without telling the reader what is a dream and what is not. Those unperceptive people, and the sort of instructors, etc. who teach that using dream sequences in prose is a "cheat." By now, you should know that my attitude towards both sets of people is "Fuck the lot of you," but it also seems to be the attitude held by Sarah Crowe in her lonely old house off Barb's Hill Road.
Another thing. A couple of days back, James Owen (coppervale) was commenting on the length of novels. He wrote:
Well, the accepted definition (I believe) is that to be a novel a work must be at least 40,000 words. Fine. But when was the last time you saw, read, wrote, or bought a 40k word novel? Half of my friends on livejournal are working on novels, and I'd be hard-pressed (in a pinch) to find one working on anything smaller than 100,000 words. In the last week, I noted two with uncompleted books with wordcounts already exceeding 150,000 words. And these aren't trilogies (in progress) but single books (which may be parts of a series, now I think on it). So, based on a totally unscientific perusal of my working friends' 78blogs and my recent-acquisition bookshelf, there aren't many novels anywhere NEAR the low end these days - unless you look at the YA shelves.
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.
Not much to the remainder of yesterday. There was a very satisfying email exchange with Peter Straub, whom I would run away and visit this very day, were I not chained to this desk (Spooky keeps the key). I spoke with my new editor at Publisher's Weekly about the specifics of the reviews I'll be writing for the magazine. Spooky and I played three games of Unspeakable Words (I won two, she won one). I read part of Chapter Four, "A Hint of the Sea," of Fraser's book on the Traissic. Late, I had some grand rp in Second Life (thank you Lorne, Bellatrix, and Joah). And yesterday was the 100th anniversary of the Tunguska event, and hardly anyone seemed to take note. And no, I have not forgotten I said I would post photos from Sunday evening's trip to Moonstone Beach. They are behind the cut:
A deceased example of the common spider crab, Libinia emarginata.
Heavier surf than usual.
The tide rises.
Kelp, and I'm thinking Saccorhiza dermatodea. This frond was about eight feet long.
Irish moss, Chrondrus crispus.
A grand assortment of "seaweed."
The claw of an unidentified crab.
One of Spooky's impromptu stone altars, built from the ruins of one she built on June 10th.
Another of her arrangements.
Two Piping Plovers, Charadrius melodus.