Friday, May 31, 2002
I made good progress with Chapter Eight today, at 1,031 wds. This book tilts towards what will be the first of two climaxes, and the end is almost in sight. Another month, and, if I stand atop my desk on tiptoes, I'll just be able to make it out, a fuzzy blob on the horizon.
I desperately wanted to write something long and erudite this evening, but my brain is mushy from too much word making, so I'm afraid such a post will have to await another night. So, I'll fall back on that hoary old standby, the Lovecraftian limerick, to entertain you:
There once was a shuggoth from Arkham,
Who went to Detroit on a lark'm,
He traveled quite light,
Got in late at night,
And wandered about in the dark'm.
My god. From my ass it came! How can I possibly follow the sheer genius and ineptitude of that! Good night.
Thursday, May 30, 2002
Is there really anything worth writing here tonight (well, this morning)? I did a total of 742 wds. today. Not bad, considering. I signed contracts. I spoke with my LA agent late this afternoon. The day just sort of rambled on. At least I started Chapter Eight. I didn't leave the apartment today.
Wednesday, May 29, 2002
Another hour and I have 689 wds., which might be it for the day, though I'd have liked to reach a thousand. But I think I'm getting a headache, which are even better than natural disasters for getting me out of writing.
Unfortunately, Birmingham doesn't have much to offer in the way of natural disasters.
Another hour and now I have 439 wds. to show for the day. Oh, and I had to go back and make a small fix towards the end of Chapter Five.
Almost two hours since my last entry and I have a chapter title and 166 wds.
This is when I start to wish for natural disasters . . .
Just finished making a second set of revisions to Chapter Seven (Spooky, check your e-mail.) and am now searching desperately for anything to do besides start Chapter Eight.
Sadly, the litter box is clean.
No, I tried to make a journal entry last night, but, you see, Blogger was down for some reason. So I'm making it now, instead.
I did not start Chapter Eight yesterday. In fact, I didn't write yesterday. Well, nothing that much mattered. I nattered on about animé and vampires and silly crap like that on the discussion boards (to be found here). I apparently named a convention, which is something I've never done before (and suspect I'll never have the opportunity to do again). And I did talk a great deal about Chapter Eight, and about the book in general, which was important, because so many bugs have yet to be worked out of this thing, but that's not the same as writing.
Hopefully, I will begin actually writing Chapter Eight today, after running through Chapter Seven one more time so I can zap it off to my first readers via the Modern Miracle of E-mail (I don't use emoticons, so you'll just have to take my word for the intended sarcasm).
Maybe this will be one of those days when I make Occassional Entries here.
Tuesday, May 28, 2002
I did a little work today, trying to get back in the grind. I finished proofing Chapter Seven and started work on an interview for a Brazilian webzine (the interview will be published in Portugese, which feels a little weird). But not much. Not a real work day, as it should have been. Tomorrow I should start Chapter Eight. That's the plan, at any rate.
The sky thundered and considered rain today, but none appeared.
Thanks to everyone who sent birthday well-wishes and gifts. They were appreciated, even if the damned birthday wasn't.
Saturday, May 25, 2002
Hi, it's Jennifer, not Caitlin. She asked me to put up some pictures from the trip she's talking about in the last entry.
Yesterday I finished Chapter Seven, as planned. It all came in a great rush, a scene that I'd been dreading. 1,453 words in only about five hours. Anyway, it left me too wiped out to get to the journal last night. Today I'll probably proof Chapter Seven.
Obviously, I didn't go to Atlanta to see The Cranes. Sometimes my work ethic is particularly annoying.
Jim Shimkus of Atlanta writes:
So I read "So Runs the World Away," and of course loved it. Then, I think it was two nights ago, I was re-reading Lovecraft's "The Shunned House" (a very atypical Lovecraft story) and I came across the description of the 1892 (I think it was 1892) report about vampire hysteria and subsequent heartburn. I thought to myself: "DUH!" Very cool and tricksy of you to work that into "So Runs the World Away." So, are the vampires and ghouls crashing at The Shunned House on Benefit Street? Or are they on the same Shunned Block in the same Shunned Neighborhood?
If you haven't picked up a copy of The Mammoth Book of Vampire Stories by Women (that's a mouthful - no pun intended), then you probably have no idea what Jim's talking about. But to answer the question, "So Runs the World Away," my story for that anthology, isn't, strictly speaking, set in the same house that H. P. Lovecraft wrote about. However, it is set on the same street, in roughly the same place. In July 2000, I went to Providence for Necon (actually, Necon's held in Bristol, but I spent some time in Providence) and was fortunate enough to stay at a bed and breakfast directly across the street from the actual house Lovecraft used as the model for his Shunned House. It's been painted a very disconcerting, cheery yellow that does nothing to negate its reputation, no matter what its current owners might have intended. One afternoon, we walked up and down Benefit Street, visiting the Atheneum, a library Poe often used, and taking in various old houses. We also visited the nearby observatory where Lovecraft studied astronomy as a child. That afternoon, along with a trip the next day to Swan Point Cemetery, where Lovecraft is buried, and some reading I'd been doing on vampirism in Rhode Island, were the inspiration for the story.
Friday, May 24, 2002
It's reasonably warm again in Birmingham.
I did 1,083 wds. on Chapter Seven today. I should be able to finish it tomorrow. Then I'll try to give myself a short break.
Not much of a report tonight, I know.
Thursday, May 23, 2002
Blah, blah, blah.
I missed my dentist appointment this morning, so I've felt horribly irresponsible all day long. You know, just like skipping school to see Aliens for the umpteenth time. Never mind. And then I only wrote 525 wds. on Chapter Seven. A few hours later, in a fit of guilt, I finally got around to the corrections for Trilobite: The Writing of Threshold that Jennifer and Subterranean Press have been waiting for me to do for the last month. And then I went to Caldwell Park here in town to "walk through" a scene in the book and leapt from the top of a picnic table.
Wednesday, May 22, 2002
The writing was slow and painful today, but I made it through 1,132 wds. I have the dentist tomorrow, which makes tomorrow almost useless, but I should still be able to finish Chapter Seven by Friday. Which is, by the way, my birthday. I loathe birthdays.
Tonight a question from Marcus Grimm (http://hitchcocksmacguffin.tripod.com/thelastword.htm), who asks:
"What's the outline process (assuming there is one) that you use when writing
your novel? How extensive is it?"
Generally speaking, I do not write from outlines. I know many writers who do, but I have only used them for prose in a few instances. When I write comics I do very sketchy outlines, just enough to get stories past editors who require outlines, and to allow me to block out the pages. When you only have 22 pp., every word counts. With novels, however, I have, generally, simply begun writing at the start and worked straight on through to the eventual conclusion. I have said before that, for me, it's a process of watching the story happen as I write it (which may be one of the sources of my aversion to past tense). More often than not, when I sit down at the computer in the morning (or afternoon), I have only the faintest idea of "what happens next," and the farther I "look" towards the end of the book, the less clearly I "see." This may be one reason that I write somewhat slowly.
Low Red Moon differs from both Threshold and Silk in that I did spend a few weeks making notes, back in November and December, before I began work on the book. Not exactly an outline, per se, but I wrote out the major plot points and played around with the characters. So, in that respect, this book is a new experience for me.
Overall, I have no particular feelings about outlines or synopses one way or the other. If they work for you, use them. If they don't, do not believe writing instructors who tell you that they're necessary. I hope that answers your question, Marcus. Thanks for asking.
Here in Burningspam, the weather remains too cool for a proper May. Hopefully that will change soon.
Tuesday, May 21, 2002
Stephen Jay Gould is dead.
There were probably other things that I was going to write about tonight, but they don't seem terribly important now. Few paleontologists have ever had as much to say that was worth hearing as Gould and even fewer have advanced our understanding of the complexities of evolutionary biology to the degree that he did. I began reading his books in high school and a highlight of my undergraduate years was running his slide projector during a talk he gave at the 4th North American Paleontological Convention at Boulder, Colorado in 1986. He was an amazing man, in an age when amazing men are, as he might have said, scarcer than hen's teeth and horse's toes.
I did work on Low Red Moon today. 1,165 wds. on Chapter Seven.
And thanks to Katrina and Sherilyn for the copy of Live Seeds. It cheered me up a little.
Monday, May 20, 2002
Another day, another pile of words. The nothing in my head resolving reluctantly into a jumble of nouns and verbs and adjectives, resolving again into the artifice of sentences. The day-to-day rape of thought for the sake of structure and the impossibility of conveying the fluid by means of an inherently partitioned medium. A hand turning a doorknob, the realization that light has become darkness, the bowing of a head, each perfect in its fluidity, rendered imperfect and forever debatable by mere language.
Be that as it may (and it certainly may), I managed 1,126 wds. on Chapter Seven of Low Red Moon today. Who needs weekends anyway?
Also, I began my Lovecraftian Holmes story, titled simply "The Drowned Geologist," which I will try to write without neglecting the novel. Also, I read parts of Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz' The Grail Legend, along with Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Empty House."
The weather turned slightly warmer. I think we made 65F, but things will remain unseasonably cool for several more days. At least it's green outside.
Here's a fine quote from James Thurber that I ran across this past week — "When all things are equal, translucence in writing is more effective than transparency, just as glow is more revealing than glare." Undoubtedly, one of the most annoying and injurious maxims in the contemporary writer's bag of "accepted wisdom" is the oft parroted observation that "good writing is a pane of glass." Which is to say it is invisible, betraying no suggestion that any writer's hand played a role in its creation. That last night in Chicago, back in March, I saw it written on a pillar at After Words bookshop downtown, and pointed it out to Jennifer and Neil. "No," I said. "Good writing should be a pane of stained glass." But Mr. Thurber said it better than I, and so I defer.
Sunday, May 19, 2002
Chapter Seven moved forward in earnest today. I wrote 1,067 wds. and figured out how the chapter would end (I had no idea when I started it yesterday). I really wish I could begin to discuss the plot and the characters. I can say, however, that all of my first readers have declared Low Red Moon a much better novel than either Threshold or Silk, which has me a little amazed.
Today I read Blake's Europe: A Prophecy and quite a lot of The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens. I always find I read more poetry than usual while writing a novel. It seems to serve to clear my head and set me thinking in new and useful directions.
Yesterday's thunderstorms heralded a cold front, and summer has suddenly become unpleasantly wintery. The highs today were only in the low 60s and the lows tonight will be in the 40s. Very unseasonable. I even had to turn on the heat this evening.
Saturday, May 18, 2002
Though I didn't get back to Burningspam until 3 a.m., and was almost 4 getting to bed, I did manage to start Chapter Seven today. A modest, but solid, start - 606 wds. I expect much more tomorrow.
Here's a very fine little poem that a journal reader kindly e-mailed to me this afternoon, "The Lay of the Trilobite" by a late Victorian poet named May Kendall:
A mountain's giddy height I sought,
Because I could not find
Sufficient vague and mighty thought
To fill my mighty mind;
And as I wandered ill at ease,
There chanced upon my sight
A native of Silurian seas,
An ancient Trilobite.
So calm, so peacefully he lay,
I watched him even with tears:
I thought of Monads far away
In the forgotten years.
How wonderful it seemed and right,
The providential plan,
That he should be a Trilobite,
And I should be a Man!
And then, quite natural and free
Out of his rocky bed,
That Trilobite he spoke to me
And this is what he said:
'I don't know how the thing was done,
Although I cannot doubt it;
But Huxley - he if anyone
Can tell you all about it;
'How all your faiths are ghosts and dreams,
How in the silent sea
Your ancestors were Monotremes -
Whatever these may be;
How you evolved your shining lights
Of wisdom and perfection
From Jelly-Fish and Trilobites
By Natural Selection.
'You've Kant to make your brains go round,
Hegel you have to clear them,
You've Mr Browning to confound,
And Mr Punch to cheer them!
The native of an alien land
You call a man and brother,
And greet with hymn-book in one hand
And pistol in the other!
'You've Politics to make you fight
As if you were possessed:
You've cannon and you've dynamite
To give the nations rest:
The side that makes the loudest din
Is surest to be right,
And oh, a pretty fix you're in!'
Remarked the Trilobite.
'But gentle, stupid, free from woe
I lived among my nation,
I didn't care - I didn't know
That I was a Crustacean.*
I didn't grumble, didn't steal,
I never took to rhyme:
Salt water was my frugal meal,
And carbonate of lime.'
Reluctantly I turned away,
No other word he said;
An ancient Trilobite, he lay
Within his rocky bed.
I did not answer him, for that
Would have annoyed my pride:
I merely bowed, and raised my hat,
But in my heart I cried: -
'I wish our brains were not so good,
I wish our skulls were thicker,
I wish that Evolution could
Have stopped a little quicker;
For oh, it was a happy plight,
Of liberty and ease,
To be a simple Trilobite
In the Silurian seas!'
Oh, and we had fabulously wonderful thunderstorms here tonight.
Friday, May 17, 2002
An early post today, since I was out yesterday and last night doing the geek thing. Anyway, it occurred to me yesterday that I constantly find myself shying away, in this blogger, from comments and criticisms that might be taken as harsh or controversial. In part, this is because I have become an obsessively polite person and confrontations have begun to seem unsightly to me. I avoid them when I can, even though I'm proud to say I can hold my own in most cases. But I think the journal has suffered for this. And I may begin to speak a little more freely. Of course, this means that, from time to time, I will offend one or another of you. For that I apologize ahead of time.
Now, off to the word mines . . .
Thursday, May 16, 2002
Perhaps, if I live long enough, I'll learn that "days off" are very bad for my state of mind. I didn't stay away from the ms. altogether. I did corrections on chapters Six and Four and then sent the whole thing off to my agent, but none of that was real work. Days that I don't write are only wasted time that I could have written.
So, the whole day was a gray slog of trying not to work, but really having nothing to do that isn't work. At least I have the trip to Atlanta tomorrow.
Wednesday, May 15, 2002
It seems as if I spend at least 20 minutes a day deleting "sporn" (my own word, denoting pornographic spam) from my various e-mail accounts. A particularly creative piece of sporn was visited upon me today. The subject line proclaims - "THE DUALITY OF THE HUMAN SPIRIT" (in all caps). Briefly, I considered the possibility that this was a message of great importance, meant to conveny to me a deep communication about the lightness and darkness that resides in each human soul. You can imagine my surprise, therefore, when I opened it (oh, how could I have done otherwise!) only to find: "100% FREE PORN Live Video Chat · Free Pics · Porn Movies Get free access to the hottest porn site on the net! No credit card needed!!" So, I'm supposing that somewhere a jobless philosophy Ph.D. is trying to get by as a sporn merchant and, finally, his training got the better of him and he simply could not help himself.
I read through Chapter Six today and sent it out to my first readers. I'll also be sending chapters Four, Five, and Six to my agent in NYC to see how she thinks the novel is progressing. Tomorrow I'll attend to other work-related thingies and on Thursday I'm going to Atlanta to see Episode Two with friends there. Then, on Friday, I'll begin Chapter Seven.
Finally, thanks to Steve Burnett, Christopher Lee Simmons, Amber van Dyk, May Brasse, and everyone else who took the time to reply to my key question (I'd have thanked you all by name, if you'd given first and last names). The answer, of course, if the "bow." Thank you. Now I am ig'nant no more!
Tuesday, May 14, 2002
Chapter Six is finished, which, by my rough estimation, means that I'm one chapter away from being halfway finished with the novel. I did an amazing (if I do say so myself, and I just did) 1,669 words today, in only five hours. But, as is almost always the case, completion (even sub-completion) only leads a sort of post-partum depression. A distinctly drained or diminished feeling, with hardly a hint of satisfaction or any sense of accomplishment. I don't stand back and admire the completed work. If anything, I try not to think about it, as the more I think about it, the more depressing the whole affair becomes.
Now I need to move away from Low Red Moon for a day or three (but no longer), to clear my head, and maybe work on other things.
Does anyone out there know the proper name, if such a name exists, for the portion of a key that one grips when working a lock? Jennifer and I spent half an hour online and searching through books Sunday looking for a term. I finally settled on "handle," though I am by no means certain that I'm correct. If you know better, e-mail me at Desvernine@aol.com and say so. Writers have to know the names for all the parts of everything.
There was something nice today, an e-mail from Jhonen Vasquez saying how much he'd enjoyed Threshold. It was a bright spot in an otherwise, literally, bleak day. A freakish mid-May cold snap here in Birmingham, with the temperature in the 60s most of the afternoon and a cold north wind and clouds that hung uselessly about, refusing even a drop of rain.
I have begun, I realize, a contest of wills with myself. I demand that I finish this book before I move back to Atlanta (there are a few other possible destinations, but Atlanta seems inevitable). I just have to find a way to endure Birmingham for five or six more months. Mostly, this means staying inside, taking as many trips as work will allow, including frequent trips to Atlanta.
Monday, May 13, 2002
Can she possibly have anything left to say after yacking all day long? Probably not, but one of the secrets to writing is continuing to speak long after any one else would have had the good sense to shut the hell up.
I did 1,348 wds. on Chapter Six today, which made it a very good day. I intend to get up early and finish the chapter tomorrow.
And I'll leave you with this shockingly amorous shot of me and Figbash:
Figbash and Me
. . . and don't e-mail me wanting to know where his other hand is; some things are personal.
Sunday, May 12, 2002
And that brings me to the end of the scene and, except for printing, I'm done for the day. Though I may try to think about the Lovecraftian Sherlock Holmes story that I have to write by the end of June (I mentioned that, ages ago).
Ta-da! I've reached Page 196. I can see 200 from here. It's turning into a Very Long Writing Day, but I'm determined to finish this scene.
Caitlín writing in real time. I think this qualifies as fairly weird.
Page 195, so that was a quick one. Helps make up for the aforementioned Interminable Paragraph.
Here's something fun from firstname.lastname@example.org — trilobite cookies! You know what they say, a phacopsid a day keeps the doctor away. But it probably attracts dentists in droves. Anyway, check it out:
Back to the word mines . . .
Page 194, so I'm back again, just for a moment. There's nothing quite so infuriating as spending half an hour on a single paragraph.
The temperature's hovering somewhere in the low nineties out there. P. J. Harvey (Is This Desire) is in my Discman.
Ah, well. There you go. I actually fixed it myself. And having reached manuscript page #193, I get another bite of the carrot.
Yesterday, here in Birmingham, was the annual crawfish boil, hosted by one or another of the local crap rock radio stations, and downtown was briefly inundated in a small, but disorienting, flood of unpleasant people. The vacant lot where this affair is held, off 18th or 19th streets (I don't recall which, if either, exactly), just south of the tracks, used to be filled with neat lines of rusting, ancient railroad cars and locomotive engines. I used to go there every now and then and shoot video. Now all the trains have been hauled away to a local railroad museum and once a year the lot is filled with a teeming mass of sweaty, half-naked bodies swilling cheap beer and eating crawfish, lining up for port-a-potties, and baking themselves pink as the crustaceans for which the fête is named. Oh, and there's loud music, of one sort or another. Needless to say, I stay away.
I need to get back to work.
Okay. So I kind of screwed that up. Jennifer will have to come along later and fix it. The labyrinthine ways of Blogger are still largely a mystery to me, but somewhow, by trying to enter a URL I created a loop so that the Blogger "edit" command became a hypertext link, disabling my ability to edit or even remove the error. Anyway, please forgive the mess. As I was saying . . .
I'm feeling kind of bad about last night's skimpy entry, so I've decided to write a little in here today, as I'm working on Low Red Moon. Ordinarily, I have a sort of reward system whereby I am allowed to go online and goof off a bit after finishing each page. The dangling a carrot trick, you know. It gives me nice little ten-minute breaks between pages and a goal. I don't always take advantage of these breaks, if the words are coming easily and I'm afraid of losing momentum. However, this afternoon that is not, as yet, the case, so here I am. Normally, I'd check my various e-mail addresses (at the moment I have only four) and the discussion boards on my website (I'm not going to attempt the damned URL again, so if you're interested, you can reach the boards via the "links" page on my site). So, this will be a curious little change of pace.
Note from Jennifer: the discussion boards are here
Sorry I missed a night. I didn't leave the apartment for two days and tonight, finally, Jennifer made me go out into the world and seek Thai food. But the work's been going well - 1,061 wds. on Friday and 563 wds. on Saturday - so now I'm about two-thirds of the way through Chapter Six. It's been a tough chapter, including a bar scene that took me three days.
The more I write, the less there is to say in here.
Friday, May 10, 2002
Today the novelizing seemed determined to live up to every vile thing I've ever said about writing. I managed a respectable 1,002 wds., but it took about twice as long as usual. The words came only with the greatest reluctance. Hopefully, tomorrow will be less tedious; I feel the book moving, finally, towards its center.
This evening I wrote text for an exhibit at the McWane Center here in Birmingham. Mostly material on Alabama mosasaurs and the Late Cretaceous seaway in North America. It was refreshing to be writing something that I didn't have to invent first. Anyway, if you're in Birmingham this June, when the exhibit opens, stop by McWane (it's downtown, near the old Alabama Theater) and have a look. The exhibit will include mosasaur, bird, and dinosaur material I helped collect and prepare when I was at the Red Mountain Museum in the '80s, as well as a giant ground sloth skull from an Alabama cave that I did the primary preparation work on.
I also spent part of the day reading William Blake. We had a nice thunderstorm this afternoon and may get more tonight and tomorrow.
Thursday, May 09, 2002
About this time of year, the air in Birmingham begins to turn brown and solidify. And my allergies don't take kindly to chunky, brown air.
Chapter Six grew 1,050 wds. today. And I upgraded QuickTime on the iBook. Yippee.
Now that the mail-box bomber has been apprehended, and we've all learned that he admires Kurt Cobain and played in a punk band called "Apathy," I'm wondering how long it will be before Washington starts giving Fundamentalist Christian groups money to identify the leaders of the "grunge movement" and educate unsuspecting teenagers about the evils of punk . . .
Wednesday, May 08, 2002
I've been trying to get to bed earlier, but The Great Race was on TCM tonight and I couldn't resist. Anyway . . .
Another 936 wds. on Chapter Six today. I have the very ambitious goal of finishing it by Friday. We'll see. Also, there's a very kind interview of Threshold, written by Ed Bryant, in the May issue of Locus. Plans to edit an anthology of short fiction for Subterranean Press are moving forward. Details to be announced. I also made it back to the UAB library this evening to finish the work I started there, but was unable to finish, on Saturday. So, it was a very busy day.
Now I'm off to deal with the pen-and-ink journal. But always remember, kiddies — "Fate wears bloomers."
Tuesday, May 07, 2002
For a long time I've feared that this journal, at least that portion of it that pertains to the writing of Low Red Moon, must really be boring as hell. The daily report of numbers. How long can that go on without becoming absolutely mind numbing? But I also understood from the start that I wouldn't be able to discuss the story itself, the day to day evolution of the characters, the big plot snags and the days when the storyline inevitably becomes something new and unanticipated. These are all the exciting facets of writing a novel, not the drudgery of this many words, this many pages that is all I'm really able to report here. Of course, it's also true, as I've said again and again, that novelizing is pretty goddamn boring most of the time. In that respect, these report are entirely accurate. So, I'm scrounging about for interesting tidbits that I can relate from time to time. For example:
In the elevator with Gwenda Bond at World Horror in Chicago and she says something about how much she likes the title, Low Red Moon, and I have to confess that, though I love it myself, as does my agent and editor, I have absolutely no idea what significance it has to the novel. Gwenda laughs and I laugh, but in the back of my mind I'm thinking, You know, it can't go on that way forever. Sooner or later, it has to mean something beyond its original inspiration. Which was, of course, the Belly song. One day in November or December I was making notes for the book and listening to Star and I thought what beautiful lyrics and how I'd love to try to capture one small fraction of the album's sad, spooky earthiness in prose. Since Chicago, I've figured out the other reasons it's called Low Red Moon, much to my relief.
I'll try to include more anecdotes of that sort as the weeks and months go by. They happen and I tend to just let them sail by, unnoted. But they have to be at least as interesting as word counts. Speaking of which, I did 1,028 wds. on Chapter Six today. Doesn't that get you tingly?
Oh, and Sophie, the WBC, went to the vet today and was pronounced perfectly healthy for an old cat of indefinite age, except she has to have a right upper carnassial tooth pulled soon.
Monday, May 06, 2002
Like Chapter Five before it, Chapter Six has been slow getting started. It didn't help that this weekend was the sort that places every conceivable obstacle in the way of the act of writing. But I did 163 wds. today, and some more revision work on Chapter Five. I think it will go well tomorrow.
There are few things on Earth more boring than 12:19 a.m. on a Monday morning.
Saturday, May 04, 2002
Chapter Five is finished (aside from a few minor revisions, which will be done tomorrow); I wrote the last 700 or so wds. this afternoon. I didn't have to meet the daily quota of one thousand, as there weren't a thousand left to write. Late this afternoon I proofed Chapter Five. Now it's time to move along to Chapter Six.
Thanks to a couple of freak accidents in the last 24 hours, my left hand has been rendered all but useless. First, on the way home from the Quay screening last night, I broke a thumbnail down to the quick, so badly it had to be bandaged. I was only reaching for an umbrella in the floorboard of the van. Then, about one o'clock Friday morning, I was attempting to extricate a taper candle from its shrink wrap (because, Lord knows, we need candles to be shrink wrapped for our protection) and impaled my palm with a steak knife. It wouldn't have happened if I hadn't been sleepy. Anyway, lots of blood and I'm pretty sure the tip scraped bone. My hand hurts all the way down to the wrist. But the wound quickly closed without recourse to stitches. Obviously, typing was more uncomfortable than usual today. I'm waiting for manual catacylsm number three. Maybe that was when I dropped the ring in the garbage can at the post office, which would mean I'm now in the clear.
Much of this afternoon was wasted at UAB's Mervyn Sterne Library, another victim of proration and Alabama colleges that would prefer to spend money on atheletics instead of libraries. I'd gone to copy a paper on local trilobites, another on a fossil bird, one on Pleistocene reptiles from cave deposits in north Alabama, and a chapter on Ann Radcliffe. I got most of the first two copied. The first three copiers I tried were broken. The machine that adds credit to your copier cards was also broken and would take only one dollar bills, not fives. The copier that did sort of work seemed programed to charge whatever it felt like per copy (four to sixteen cents). Then I ran out of time, because the place closed at five today, since finals are over, and it won't open again until Monday. It was a relief to get back home where there was nothing but work to deal with.
By the way, I referred to last night's comments on linguistic disintegration as a "rant." I hate it when I'm self-depracating. "Rant" carries a negative connotation, of course, which was unwarranted in this case.
Another stormy day, and I expect we'll have a rainy night. Which is fine, the leak in my office roof notwithstanding. It helps me sleep.
Friday, May 03, 2002
I wrote 1,101 wds. on Chapter Five today. I'm sure I'll finish it tomorrow afternoon. I'm pleased at how well and how quickly this chapter has revealed itself. I hope it's a sign of things to come and that the remainder of Low Red Moon will be similarly agreeable in its conception.
I also dropped by the McWane Center (the museum where I do volunteer work) to identify some mosasaur and other Cretaceous vertebrate material for a new exhibit on Alabama fossils. I may also be writing a little text for the exhibit, provided I have the time. And this evening Jennifer and I went to the Brothers Quay screening at the Museum of Art. It was a bit disappointing, really, as they projected from a DVD, which limited the image size. Worse, though, was the fact that attendance was so poor. Maybe forty people showed up for an event that had been advertised for a couple of weeks. Still worse, fifteen or so left within the first half hour, complaining, loud enough that we could hear, that the films "didn't make sense," were "silly," and such like. Why did these people pay their $6 to get in? Had they never actually heard of the Bros. Quay? Considering that this is Birmingham, I strongly suspect that many of them had not. I don't mind saying it's things like this that make me all the more anxious to get out of Birmingham again.
The work of Bros. Quay falls into that category of artists whose oeuvre adds to the frustration of my own prose work. Art that is so perfect, so completely enthralling, every image so vital and precise. Edward Gorey has done the same thing to me before (see "A Story for Edward Gorey"), to a lesser degree, along with a whole host of filmmakers. I often think I'm much too visually oriented to ever be a truly good novelist. I spent an hour today writing a scene that could have been expressed as, "She's watching a western on television. Hearing a knock at the door, she walks down the hall and asks, 'Who's there?'" But I needed 340 wds. to convey, to my satisfaction, the same basic action. This is not because my fiction is "wordy" (I adore the idiocy of that description of prose, and I'm still searching for that prose which manages to avoids words altogether), but because it is, or at least seeks to be, extremely precise.
And speaking of precision, and a lack thereof, I had a long rant today about "archaic" words and the continuing disintegration of the English language. Jennifer has to listen to these things and she deserves your pity for that. Anyway, this particular one occurred when I needed to use the word "attenuated" and I could just see some reader rolling his or her eyes. So I wound up using "long" instead, but, goddamn it, I meant "attenuated." When I was in college, I repeatedly had both literature and writing instructors caution me to use the simplest possible vocabulary at all times. Sometimes when I asked why I got answers (other times I didn't). And the answers usually proclaimed the virtues of contemporary American poetry and fiction, "postmodernist" writings, as having made themselves more accessible to the "common man" by eschewing (that's one of the bad words, sorry) a complex vocabulary and "speaking plainly." One professor went so far as to declare postmodernist writings "fiction for the people" (never mind that he was never able to actually explain what "postmodernism" is).
Anyway, even though I didn't always agree with these sentiments, I absorbed a lot of them, and only recently, as I've struggled for the aforementioned precision, and spent more time reading 19th- and 18th-century literature, do I realize how much more difficult my job has been made by our increasing tendency to jettison words that might fall outside the understanding of the average EH 098 student. The English language is a poor enough tool for communication, but one of the few advantages that it does truly possess over more logically consistent languages such as French is its vast and descriptive vocabulary, much of which it has accrued by frequently borrowing words from many other languages. As the roster of words which are not "archaic" or "difficult" or "pretentious" continues the shrink, English forfeits this advantage in the name of hoping to achieve clarity of expression for our society's lowest common denominator. Heaven forbid that someone might have to consult a dictionary while reading a book, or that they might learn a few new words in the process!
Perhaps, in time, entropy will have allowed us to come full circle and we will at last be freed forever from the shackles of grammar and vocabulary and will communicate in the smallest possible number of simian grunts and bellows. Simple expressions that everyone may understand, no more elitist thesauri, and the unfairness of literacy will finally go the way of manners and wheat pennies.
Thursday, May 02, 2002
Today I did about 1,250 wds. on Low Red Moon, which would seem like a lot, normally, but seems less given the last few days. I should finish Chapter Five by Friday.
Poppy called today and we talked about Spooky Kitten Girl and sushi and summer and writing and so on. We talk far too infrequently these days.
Summer seems to have already come to Birmingham. Spring was short. It often is. It's sticky tonight and I'm having to run the air conditioner. And my allergies are being annoying. Tomorrow night (Thursday night) the Birmingham Museum of Art is having a Brothers Quay film festival. So see, it's not that Birmingham has no culture. We just have to wait until everyone else is done using it.
Wednesday, May 01, 2002
I love storms. Few things can at once be so soothing and stimulating. Last night, a couple of hours after I'd gone to sleep, I was awakened by a tremendous thunderstorm. It hailed for at least twenty minutes straight. Terrific lightning and thunder. And then it stormed on and off all day today. Towards evening, the last line of storms passed over Birmingham and the day ended with blue sky that felt scrubbed clean by the rain. Unfortunately, the leak in my office, which we were told had been fixed, started leaking again this afternoon, so it was buckets and towels for an hour or so. But nothing was damaged and I suppose it's one of the small prices to be paid for living in a hundred-year old building.
It was another exceptional writing day today. 1,800 words in about five hours, bringing the ms. up to 156 pp. The novel left me utterly exhausted, but I had a 45-minute phone conference with my film agent at 6 p.m. to discuss scenarios for prospective screenplays, so I had to stay sharp. Now I'm completely fried. I'm going to crawl off to bed and try to finish proofing the galleys for Trilobite: The Writing of Threshold before I fall asleep. I think my insomnia is lying down on the job.