Posted tagged ‘Omphalos’


July 13, 2020

For those of you following my Ouroboros writing saga, I can tell you that I have the third part of the collection “finished.” I wrote the last 1,000 words of Obelus over the weekend. It comes to 13,000+ words, which is sufficient (since it qualifies as a novella).

I think I mentioned that the word “obelus” has a number of meanings, and my use is of the meaning of the typographer’s symbol of a dagger to indicate that a passage or reference is of dubious reliability. There are eleven parts in my Obelus, and their intent is to upend everything that comes before it in Ouroboros and Omphalos. (The shifting nature of identity and even reality is a major theme in these works. The fact that “obelus” has so many possible meanings feeds into this nicely.)

I say it is finished, but I’m sure I’ll come back to it. As phrasings or character traits or tropes come up in the other three parts, I may revisit Obelus to reference or develop these. I may also find that I want to write about a whole new matter — a twelfth part — to slip into Obelus. Thus I fully expect the word count to go up, maybe a little, maybe a lot. But if not, I do consider it sufficient as it stands.

The hard part comes now. Olios is part four, and it will involve altogether new writing. It’s going to be a collection of short stories and other writing referenced in the other parts, and I have to write them. (I half believe that the first three parts existed “out there” somewhere and I was just taking dictation as they were revealed to me. I don’t truly believe this kind of thing, of course, but it does come up in one form or another in the story.) I have one finished and another well on the way. But I need about four more to do justice to the section and the whole collection.

This work has been a beast. In the first six months of this year, I couldn’t get it written fast enuf (and I’m thinking of changing every “enough” in the work to “enuf” just because it is intended to be very self-conscious writing), but the days of 9,000 words written in one sitting are gone. I was happy to get 1,000+ words down last weekend. I’ll apply myself and get the work done, reaching at least the 10,000 minimum to qualify as a novella. But I must write these pieces in different styles, with different voices and vocabularies and even different (fictional) audiences, so I’ll have to find a different motivation than the momentum of the frenzied days.

I hope in the end it adds up to something worthwhile.

I can’t account for it

May 25, 2020

One of the reasons I lost interest in running, I think, was because I was quantifying it too much. I would come home from work (back when I went elsewhere to work) and know I had to run at least four miles that evening if I was going to reach my target of thirty miles for the week. I wore a watch that talked to satellites and that tracked my pace and distance, and I could download this data when I got home to analyze my run, generally to feel disappointment in my performance. It got to be a chore, even an obligation, rather than something I did for exercise and esteem.

So now I find myself doing something similar with the writing of Omphalos. This thing continues to write itself. I have sat whole days at my computer, tapping away to get the story down as it reveals itself to me. I know where it’s going, and I know how to get there, but I still encounter surprises along the way. And the words just keep coming. At this rate, I’ll have the first draft done by the middle of June. I took ten years to write One-Match Fire, and Omphalos will be my second completed novel draft in 2020 alone. I can’t account for it, but then, I don’t want to. I want to ride the wave and be in the moment the way I failed to do when I was running.

I have kept one small quantifier in my journal about this. At the end of each week, I put down whatever word count I have achieved in the whole novel. And (unlike my running days) my pace has quickened. Here are some numbers:

02MAY – 4,600 words
11MAY – 16,660 words
18MAY – 25,000 words
25MAY – 38,900 words

I have two chapters left to write to complete the first draft, and I know I’ll easily exceed the 40,000 minimum for calling it a novel, though I’d be fine with it being a novella too. Ouroboros, for which Omphalos is a sequel, is at 47,600 words now. Both of those word counts will likely increase as I align better what happens in each work, putting in some foreshadowing and some back references and that kind of thing. I also have the wise thoughts of a trusted reader to use in Ouroboros (and then I’ll inflict Omphalos on him because I can).

I am in the moment with the writing of these works. And when I’m away, thoughts come to me about how to fix this or address that, and I want to get back to my keyboard to make the magic happen. It’s a good place to be and I don’t want to harm it by being too quantitative about it.

bits and pieces

May 13, 2020

When I began working from home in March, it was to be a temporary thing, probably no longer than a couple of weeks. I am still at home, though I moved my workspace from my cold and mildewy basement (the dehumidifier runs almost constantly) to some bonus space in our master bedroom. It’s much better here, especially considering that I am making the work-from-home move permanent. Here are some things I have learned in my ~8 weeks of the experience:

  • I didn’t know mildew could make me physically ill.
  • Houses, and especially their plumbing, make a lot of noise.
  • Lawn mowing in the neighborhood makes a lot of noise.
  • Barking dogs in the neighborhood make a lot of noise.
  • My wife had been watching soap operas during the day when I was at the office and continues now.


With nowhere else to go (and I pretty much intend to stay isolated through the summer), we’ve visited the cabin nearly every weekend. And if ever we get a break in the rain, I plan to get on my bike.

I hired a man to deliver a load of gravel to the cabin, so that’s given me a new, long-term chore to work on when I’m out there. (Now, if I could just get the other crew to finish work on the spillway . . .)


The image above is apropos of the age, I think. It’s actually the side of a tissue box, but it illustrates the spread of contagium, don’t you think?


Work on Omphalos continues. As of this writing I have more than 17,000 words down, and I think I’m about a third of the way through the story I have to tell. So it will be about as long as Ouroboros. It’s a sequel, and because it builds off of Ouroboros, I’m finding little things I need to plant there, which means another rewrite of the earlier work. Omphalos has also been writing itself. I’ve found myself spending whole days writing it, which is not my usual way.

“suddenly illuminated by a flash of lightning”

May 4, 2020

from Chapter XII, Third Part, of The Counterfeiters by Andre Gide, from the journal of the central character, who is a writer of a novel called The Counterfeiters:

“As soon as I got home, set to work on The Counterfeiters. My exaltation is calm and lucid. My joy is such as I have never known before. Wrote thirty pages without hesitation, without a single erasure. The whole drama, like a nocturnal landscape suddenly illuminated by a flash of lightning, emerges out of the darkness, very different from what I had been trying to invent. The books I had hitherto written seem to me like the ornamental pools in public gardens — their contours are defined — perfect perhaps, but the water they contain is captive and lifeless.”

This captures pretty well the experience I have had since mid-December with the writing of Ouroboros and now Omphalos. They are unlike anything I have written before, both in subject matter and in experience. I’m not going to resort to a naturalistic metaphor, but it does seem with these two works that everything I had written hitherto (may I use that word?) was merely preparation for what I’m working on now. I may eat these words later, but for now, I’m in a good place.

Gide’s novel has been a chore, and the characters are hard to relate to, and the setting (Paris, now nearly 100 years ago) is hard to grasp, but passages like the above are a nice payoff. (Melville’s stuff works the same way for me sometimes.) I think I’ll read more Gide after all.


April 27, 2020

My novella Ouroboros (still working on it) sprang from a short story I had written, which sprang from some notes I had made for it more than a decade ago. I wrote the short story for a contest and submitted last fall (and learned last week that I didn’t win or rank), but the story’s premise wouldn’t leave me. I began to think about how the story would take place in the real world. The more I considered this, the more I saw that I had a novel, or at least a novella, on my hands.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned here that the writing of Ouroboros was unprecedentedly swift; I finished the first draft in two and a half (pre-quarantine) months, sometimes writing the whole day long on weekends. The more I wrote, the more story details and subplots and characterizations and meta derring-do came to me. (What would be the plural of “derring-do”?)

Ouroboros is now with a trusted reader, and when I have his responses and have incorporated them as well as I can, I think I will have a novel (it’s nearly 48,000 words, so by some definitions it’s a novel rather than a novella), that I can begin shopping around.

I feared, when I reached this point, that I would descend into a slough of despond because I wouldn’t have some great subject to drive my imagination. I had this happen when I had finished One-Match Fire (which is in submission at various places), but that was brief, for the short story that eventually became Ouroboros took over.

And now a story idea I’m calling Omphalos is pushing itself into my creative consciousness. (The title came to me from reading Fowles’ novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman, though the word’s rippling meanings seem to further support my story idea and dovetail well.) It will be a sequel to Ouroboros (or if some agent or publisher thinks Ouroboros is too short, the second part of it). The same characters will be in play (though I’m adding one foul-mouthed tweener), and they’ll mostly be dealing with the consequences of what happened (or what seemed to happen) in Ouroboros.

And just as with Ouroboros, thoughts and ideas and plot resolutions and characterizations and meta derring-do are rushing into my head for Omphalos. Once again, the (first-draft) writing is coming to me easily, and while the meta aspects of the tale are complex and need conscious awareness and adherence, I’m not slowing down or stalling. I began actual writing (rather than note compiling) of Omphalos over this last weekend, and I got down nearly 3,000 words, which is really very good for my normal pace. At this point I’m not stumbling about, wondering where the plot is or should be going. And since I know the characters pretty well already, I know how they should behave.


“Omphalos” is the Greek word for navel, as in belly button, and there will be a lot of navel-gazing in the story. (“Omphaloskepsis” is an actual word meaning navel-gazing.) But the word has had other uses and “meanings” through the centuries, and I intend to exploit those as well as I can or need in my story. Also, I like the repetition of relatively obscure “O” words as titles for these two works. (I suppose if I come up with a third work, I’ll need to find a third obscure “O” word title.)