Archive for the ‘Finnegans’ category

fictionally true to life story

February 21, 2013

So come along with me as I tell you a true story about a fictional story. It happened to me, and as you’ll see, those four words have several layers of meaning.

My wife and I found ourselves with a free Sunday (we lead such active social lives, don’t you know). The weather forecast called for relatively warm temperatures for mid-February in Missouri. Our winter-starved souls called for a little self indulgence. And our pocketbooks were so emaciated that they would hardly notice if we took even more from them.

So we jumped into my wife’s car, which she’s named Blanche, by the way (do you name your cars?), and drove to a tiny town in mid-Missouri called Rocheport. Rocheport was once a major Missouri River port, but the river shifted and then the interstate hurried people past, and Rocheport settled in as a quaint, sleepy little burg of about 200 people with some old homes and other historic features. In recent years a winery has grown nearby, and the KATY Trail, a state-spanning hike/bike trail, now passes through the town. Rocheport is once again seeing commerce, though of a more refined if slower-paced sort than the pioneers, hucksters, and exploiters of a prior age.

Our plan was to enjoy a very nice meal at the very nice winery restaurant on the cliff top with a very nice view of the Missouri River valley. And we did, managing to sample a good bit of the local vino as well. (Several bottles came home with us.) Then we went into Rocheport itself and began strolling the tree-lined streets and visiting the antique shops. (Also, the ice cream shop.) I bought a few gifts for someone whose birthday is this month, and we had a delightful time. (Next time you’re in town, let’s go to Rocheport together, okay?)

Rocheport probably has more bed and breakfast inns per capita than any other place on the planet. We stayed in one there a year ago and had a fine time. My wife has been wanting to visit with her sister, who lives in St. Louis, for a long time. I suggested that the two of them book a weekend at one of the little town’s B&Bs since Rocheport is just about literally halfway between St. Louis and Kansas City. I even pointed out the brochure for one of the B&Bs that features girls-only weekends.

But my wife noted that the B&B had a select clientele. It was a purple-roof establishment, which is to say it catered only to lesbians. Where had she heard that, I asked. Well, she remembered reading about it somewhere.

I knew exactly where she had read about it. It was in a work of fiction, set in a small town not-too-loosely based on Rocheport. It was an unpublished novel. One written by me.

Part of my hope from visiting Rocheport that day was to spark my attention to my languishing novel. It’s one of my Finnegans murderless mysteries, and I’ve been letting it lie fallow for a while. I think I can come to it coldly enuf now to give it a fair read through. And a chuckle.

even worse than writing the novel

April 16, 2012

I’ve begun working on writing a query letter for Finnegans Deciphered. Ugh! What a difficult and unpleasant task writing query letters is. It’s harder than writing an entire novel. I have to distill the essence of my 64,000-word story into about 200 words of scintillating, captivating prose. Success hangs on doing this right, on picking the right angle, the right details, the right words, the right tone, and then the right agent. I hate this part of the work.

I’ve written plenty of queries before. I’ve even written some that have worked well, garnering interest from several agents. But the effort is freighted with loads of conventional wisdom and horror stories of imperious agents. There are (often conflicting) formulas for how they should be written and supposedly good and bad seasons for when they should be sent. I happen to believe that most agents see past all of this nonsense and look for the kernel of interest within the query.

And that probably makes the job harder. If it were simply a matter of applying conventional wisdom and your choice of query letter templates, then I wouldn’t be facing this anguish. Instead, though, I think I need to write the query that gets to the kernel of interest about my novel. And how do I do that?

I want to give the novel another read through. There are a few more details I want to address, and I’ve let it sit idle long enough to (I hope) allow me to approach it with a more objective eye. It’s not time to begin sending out queries yet, but just laying the ground work for that is a chore.

chapter titles – any thoughts?

February 27, 2012

I realize it’s a bit premature to think that my chapter titles in Finnegans Deciphered are anything like final, but I don’t think it’s too early to ponder them and the work they can do.

The number 17 is important in the story. It happens that there are 17 chapters in my novel. I had thought briefly about making that happen deliberately for some thematic connection, but I realized that I wasn’t sure just what that connection would signify, so I abandoned the idea. Plus, though I knew I had finished up with 17 chapters in the first draft (merely by coincidence), I suspected I would be chopping one of the longer chapters in two, thus giving me 18 chapters. But I didn’t since that would have given the novel three chapters devoted mostly to a single event in the story, and I thought that was drawing too much attention to something that wasn’t that important to the plot.

But that’s not the point of this post. Rather, I want your thoughts/opinions on my chapter titles. I realize you don’t know the plot of the story, but that’s actually good for my nefarious purpose. My intent with these titles is to be both playful and intriguing. My notion is that someone might pick up the novel in a bookstore, not knowing anything of the plot, and scan the list of chapter titles. And if they are titled well, the individual will be intrigued enough to want to read the novel based on no more than what is hinted there.

So here are the titles as they currently exist:

  1. In which Greg doubts he is welcome
  2. In which Ann and Greg meet their fellow guests
  3. In which Greg has a date with history
  4. In which Ann takes a turn about town
  5. In which Ann and Greg have a pretty good lunch
  6. In which Ann and Greg have a very nice dinner
  7. In which Ann and Greg have a nice conversation with Ava and Willows
  8. In which Ann and Greg go Sunday cycling
  9. In which Ann and Greg spin and spin
  10. In which a sleepy afternoon is interrupted
  11. In which many revealing words pass among new friends
  12. In which Greg doesn’t feel very good but soldiers through the morning
  13. In which Greg misses the point but presses on regardless
  14. In which Ann holds court
  15. In which Greg grows weary of the chase
  16. In which Greg learns there is more
  17. In which Ann has one surprise left

So there you go. Based on these, do you think someone might be intrigued? Do they do that kind of work?

Just as the right book title can often make the difference, I think good chapter titles can be a sort of marketing tool as well. At the very least, I think a writer should give them some thought even if a reader never does.

I suspect that the “In which” business might be a little cloying. It’s actually meant to mimic a writing style of old. A hundred-year-old novel also plays an important part in the story, so I feel permitted to use this format in my chapter titles. I can remember reading some old works (published in the same era as my fictional novel — which may be one of the few times a person can call a novel “fictional” and not be redundant) where each page had a unique title in the header.

Of course I can’t know that the final work would even have a page listing chapter titles, but I can’t concern myself with that possibility now. Right now I am trying to make the novel coherent and whole. I’m trying to make every component contribute and be worth its weight.

Finnegans Deciphered, and unending

February 22, 2012

I’ve decided to insert a backstory into Finnegans Deciphered that I had earlier discarded. It’s more character development than plot, but it deals with the antagonist of the story, and I think it makes her (or him?) more interesting. It will also help explain another bit of backstory in the novel that I’d deliberately left vague.

I’m not doing this to inflate the word count (hovering somewhere in the neighborhood of 64,000 words) since what it will add will hardly amount to a thousand words at best. But while talking about the story with my beta reader, I mentioned this idea for the backstory, and she said that she thought the antagonist’s motivation seemed a little sparse. This will help remedy that.

My beta reader had a number of comments about the story, and while she generally liked it, her ideas have sparked areas where I can devote more attention to development. I’ve already made some too-explicit things more obscure, and I’ll make some obscure things more explicit. All of this involves rewriting at various points in the narrative, so I have a big job ahead of me incorporating her many ideas. But the story will be better for it. And I’ll keep busy. Everyone needs a hobby.

repeating myself repeatedly

February 20, 2012

How many times should the words “for the first time” appear in a 64,000+ word document? Or rather, how many times should they be allowed to appear?

I wanted to add a few lines of text somewhere in the middle of Finnegans Deciphered, the novel-in-progress I’m never quite finished writing. I knew it had to do with Greg Finnegan having a sudden realization about something. For the first time in the story he considered a thought (one he didn’t want to consider, but that’s beside the point here). I knew I had used those very words in the passage where I wanted to make my addition, so I sent Word on the hunt for them.

I found five instances of “for the first time” in the novel manuscript. They are in five very different parts of the novel, well spread among the 64,000 words. I don’t think the casual reader would even notice their repetition, much less find them repetitive. But I was surprised by this little discovery.

Surprised, but not motivated to change any of them. It just left me wondering.

Actually, someone who cared about such things would probably find other, more frequent repetitions in the novel. I use a river as a recurring image in the story. The words “flowing” and “current” and “drifting” and even “backwater” (especially “backwater”) appear several times. And it makes me wonder what other textual habits I have in there that I’m not aware of. I suppose I use the word “though” a lot. Perhaps “perhaps.” Maybe “maybe.” I’m not sure I have an objective-enough eye any longer with this document to be able to spot them.

My beta reader finished her reading. She spotted plenty of typos, and it seems the big revelation at the end (it is a mystery novel after all) was too obvious. So I’ve been doing some work on the story. Mostly it’s just misdirection, but each change gave me an opportunity to enhance the story beyond just fixing it. I’m still looking for ways to add sensory details and to punch up the dialogue. My husband and wife characters, married more than 40 years, ought to have some shorthand in their conversations. They ought to be able to read each others’ minds a bit in order to affect how a conversation between them should be written.

Anyway, do you pay attention to how much you repeat yourself in the stuff you write? Do you have certain words or phrases you find creeping into your work?

Finnegans Deciphered, and collected

January 17, 2012

I’ve passed an important milestone on my journey to complete my novel-in-progress, Finnegans Deciphered. I consolidated all of the chapters into a single document.

For me, that’s a sign that the major writing is now finished. All that remains is tinkering and, of course, wholesale editing and possibly rewriting and hair-pulling frustration and unfocused anguish. But at least the hard part is now behind me!

The final document has swelled by four hundred words since I did my first count of the “finished” novel. That’s the result of my wedging in of late revelations and plot needs, but it’s not the four thousand or fourteen thousand more words I’d feel more comfortable with. The novel barely qualifies as a novel, at least by commonly accepted word-count standards. But I won’t concern myself with such outside standards. I have to be true to the tale I have to tell. Plus, it’s possible that as I do more comprehensive read throughs, I’ll develop this or that plot point or character quirk or even monkey around with the tone and I’ll find more words that need to be said. Or not.

It’s come to seventeen chapters, and seventeen happens to be a significant number in the plot. Nonetheless, I suspect one of those chapters will be split in twain (a possible location for more words to add to the count), so that coincidence of chapter count and plot point won’t survive. That might have been fun to keep, but it also seems a bit twee. (Also, it’s only coincidence that I posted this entry on the 17th of the month.)

So now I’m at the point where I have a whole document “in hand.” That will make for more difficulty finding given places in it that I want to address, but I think I know the story well enough now to be able to navigate it. Perhaps I will print (on paper!) the whole thing and have it literally “in hand.” Then I could carry it and a red pencil to my cabin in the woods for a weekend read-through session. Sounds lovely.

Finnegans Deciphered ~ the progress thusfar

January 2, 2012

I ramble a lot in these blog posts, so maybe I’ve mentioned this before, but I think I am in the end game of my work on Finnegans Deciphered. The little revelations about this or that in the plot have more or less ceased popping into my head. I’m not getting the same understandings of how a given development in the plot ripples through the story any longer. (In fact, I’m beginning to have these insights again about Larger than Life, my fits-and-starts work in progress.) I take all of this as a sign that I’ve pretty much told the story I have to tell, and now I need to polish it. Why, I’ve even begun tinkering with a query letter for the manuscript.

I noted in an earlier post that I had no idea how many words the novel came to or whether I’d need to come up with some subplot to beef it up to “novel length.” And I’d avoided doing an actual word count for a long time because I was afraid of what I would find (or not find). But I whipped up the courage over the weekend to do the math — thanks in part to the frisson of good vibrations that a large glass of iced tea often gives me — and to face the result.

And the result is . . . passable. The word count as it stands today is 61,576, which, I think, meets the minimum for calling my novel a novel. I suspect that there is some fat in that number, that I will need to trim my florid prose a bit in my editing, and that may take me below the 60,000 word threshold, but I also suspect that in my continuous read through, I’ll also discover places where I need to supplement my words and even add bits more to the plot to help it make sense (or in some cases, make less sense since it is a mystery novel of a sort).

Part of my process is to begin a story by tumbling all of my thoughts into a Word file just to see what I have and what suggests itself. As I’m writing, I add to this file just so my stray thoughts and surprising revelations and brilliant insights aren’t lost until I can wedge them into the narrative. Plot points, character development, descriptions, reminders. I have a whole page where I have reworked every single character’s name several times. (Curiously, or maybe not, every single character in my completed novel, The Sleep of Reason, was changed from what I had at the start. Also, no news on the progress of that novel finding an agent, though I am hoping now that the holidays are past I can begin shopping it around again with more hope for attention.) The notes file I have for Finnegans Deciphered stands at about 12,000 words. And that’s just notes. I intend to read through it to see what points I may have missed (or dismissed) that might still find their way into the novel.

Another curious thing, though it retrospect it seems perfectly organic, is that my two main characters, Ann and Greg Finnegan, have taken on lives of their own. I envision a series of novels with them — that had been the goal from the start — but I’m seeing things about their character and their history that I can work in to the other novels. I’m even having a good time imagining an “origins” novel about them. Of course, long-time readers of this blog will know that this is actually my fourth Finnegans novel. The first was apprentice work, from which I intend to steal certain things. The second is a good story that needs an overhaul. The third was lost in a hard drive crash (though I think enough of it survived in email attachments to resurrect it). And now I have the fourth nearly finished. So the Finnegans exist in a world; it’s not surprising to see that they have whole lives and backstories.

So here we are at the start of a new year. I feel as though I am in a good place, which is something to be pleased about (though that might be the iced tea talking).


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