Posted tagged ‘Ouroboros’

Obelus

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.

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.

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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 . . .)

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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?

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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.

Omphalos

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.

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“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.)

bits and pieces

April 13, 2020

A photo from the archives. This golf ball had been pressed into the fresh concrete of a sidewalk near my home, and weather and usage had cracked away the thin layer above it, revealing the incongruous ball below. Since there are no courses nearby, the ball was evidently placed here deliberately. This patch of sidewalk has since been replaced, so this little mystery is no longer there.

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Have you ever seen or heard of a menace being dismissed as “moonlight”? That the menace is more imagined than substantive? I mean beyond the literal sense of a shadowy something cast by weak light from the moon. More in the way of a noun. “You’re nothing more than moonlight!”

I’m using it much this way in Ouroboros when a character has very little to work with (moonlight) but needs to make some big conclusions.

It seems like I’ve seen this usage, but I can’t find it as a legit definition anywhere. (If not, then I’m going to use my writerly privilege to evolve the meaning of the word!)

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We’ve named our kitchen table Autumn because it is always dropping its leaves.

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I had worried that One-Match Fire was not going to be publishable as a novel because ten of its twenty-four chapters have already been published as stand-alone stories. I even asked about this on various publishing-related blogs and message boards, but I got contradictory responses. Some insisted that I had forfeited first rights to the whole by publishing some of the parts so no publisher would touch the novel. Others had never heard of such a thing and thought that this history showed the whole had a market. One publisher I was interested in (whose submission window finally opened this month) was unclear about it in the guidelines, so I wrote to the email address they listed for questions. I got a response within a few hours from the editor herself saying that she’d heard of this “stigma” but that she didn’t think it was valid, certainly not with the indie presses. (She also said that getting ten of the stories in print already was impressive, which was a nice word to carry me into the weekend.) So I submitted the novel to this press. Whether they bite on the whole or not is dependent on their stylistic judgment, but at least I know that it has a chance.

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My friend Peter Anderson had one of the short stories in his collection, Where the Marshland Came to Flower, reviewed last week on the Story366 blog. The editor there is reviewing a short story every day of this leap year, and last week he reviewed one of Anderson’s from his collection. The title of the collection is from a poem by Nelson Algren. (And one of the stories had been previously published prior to the whole.)

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In Ouroboros, I have a semi-literate character use the word “accept” in place of “except” in an email. Funny, then, that in my re-read this weekend I found myself using “except” when I meant to say “expect.”

Ouroboros

February 12, 2020

My work on this continues, though not at the freakish and unsustainable pace of earlier. I think I wrote about 4,000 words last weekend rather than the 14,000 of the weekend before. Even so, that’s an astonishing pace for me.

I’m lucky to know exactly where the plot is leading. This has been the biggest influence on my writing pace, along with iced tea, unsweetened, of course, and a willingness to sit down at any time of the day to add “just one little thing” and find myself done about an hour later.

I have only one more chapter to write, and a little coda after that, and then the first draft is done. I’m at nearly 38,000 words, and I’m confident I’ll break through the 40,000-word barrier, which is what many consider the absolute minimum definition of a novel. But as I’ve said, if it were considered a novella, that would tie in nicely with what’s going on in the story.

Of course, it’s all garbage. Since it’s so short, I’ve been able to read through it completely several times, and I am keenly aware of its shortcomings, its clumsy writing, its underdeveloped characters, its structural contradictions, its naivete. But admitting you have a problem, as they say.

Part of my trouble is that the subtext and underlying themes and ancillary plots and whatever are continually evolving in my head. What seemed brilliant at first soon seems amateurish, but then it gets rescued by this tweak or that new character or this obscure literary reference or that clever tie back to the theme. This is happening to me constantly with this story. I reach an impasse and walk away from it, and an hour later I have a solution or a new avenue to go down.

Most recently I had a revelation for a new character, one who guides and goads another character (who needs it, believe me). I half knew there was a weakness in this part of the story, and then I realized I should add this new character to address it, and then as fast as I could write the idea down on my ever-present notepad, it blossomed further in my head in a way that supports and deepens the plot.

So I’m confident that when I finish the first draft of the thing, I’ll be able to go over it once again and muscle it into acceptable shape.

And, oddly, it’s making me think about my next big project, which also involves an early short story idea — far older than the one that inspired Ouroboros — that I can develop into a novel (or novella?).

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Have you ever read any of the Thursday Next novels by Jasper Fforde? What do you think of them?

Ouroboros

January 28, 2020

This thing is writing itself! My job job in the last few weeks has been to keep up.

I gave myself a four-day weekend (in part because our new vacation policy at work is to use it or lose it, and guess who tends to come out ahead in that arrangement?) and devoted most of my conscious hours in those four days to writing this novel (well, likely it will be a novella, but as I may have said before, that could be thematic).

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that this story had its beginnings in a short story idea I’d had a decade or so ago. But the more I thought about the story happening in the real world, the more I saw that I had a lot more than a short story. I began with a few characters and an idea of the plot. The thing has exploded since then. Characters keep introducing themselves to me. The original plot is now a subplot. I write and run into a problem then take myself away from it for just a short while and a solution presents itself as though it had been queued up all along and I just needed to free my thoughts to receive it. The plot or the point or the goal or the whatever has changed profoundly each week, and I’ve had to go back over what I’d already written and massage it into shape to fit the new whatever. I’ve had to do this several times.

At this writing, I have more than 28,000 words written, and literally half of that I wrote in the last four days. It just keeps coming. As far as I understand the plot today (it morphs) I think I’m about two-thirds done. Thus the likely novella designation. But it will be a whole unit. Unless further characters or plot points come forward, I don’t think I’ll reach the conventional word-count definition of a novel.

This story has had its grip on me since before the holidays. In that time I’ve hosted family members in my home twice, and I’ve had to play nice with them while the story kept trying to tug me away. (I snuck away often, and I still kept to my obscenely early morning writing routine.)

There is an idea that is semi-believed by some writers that the stories exist “out there” and that we merely tap into them and do our best to get them down in words before they’re gone. I don’t believe that kind of mystical stuff, of course (except that maybe I do).

Ouroboros

January 13, 2020

My new project continues to consume my imagination and more than my regular amount of writing time. Last weekend I was pleased to have more than 4,000 words written, but since then I’ve had such fundamental insights about what direction to take the story that every one of those 4,000+ words needed to be reconsidered. It’s all good though since I now have more than 12,000 words written, and they’re all in line with my latest understanding of where the story is going and how it’s getting there. (Also, note this nearly unprecedented happening in relation to the story: I drank two pitchers of iced tea — unsweetened, of course — on Sunday as the words flowed. As far as I can recall, I had only done that once before, and it left me so agitated my skin was buzzing. Not so on Sunday.)

I think I mentioned that I dug an old story idea out of my file of old story ideas as something to play around with as I waiting for something to grab me. It turns out this old story is what grabbed me, and while I know my tone and approach are different from what I had imagined in old story days, I think it is going to be a much better developed tale full of fun ideas and interesting snark.

When I first started working on this, I had no more plan for it than to be a short story, but then, just for fun, I began imagining how the story would actually take place in the real world. Various means suggested themselves to me, and for a brief while I even thought of trying to live the fiction. Instead, I took the route of merely writing it as fiction.

Chief among my challenges was coming up with enuf motivation for my two characters to carry out the steps to the story at the length of a novel. In walked a new character to provide the motivation. If One-Match Fire is about fathers and sons learning how much they love each other, this new story is about brothers squabbling and finally coming to respect each other. Once I worked out the sibling rivalry motivation, a lot of the pieces began falling into place.

But then I felt I didn’t have enuf* tension/conflict in the story, not for something the length of a novel. Enter a pretty good antagonist who very quickly took over the story and made it hers. This is one of those cases of a character taking on a life of her own. So she may end up being the protagonist rather than the antagonist.

But I felt I finally had all of the pieces in place. Then last week came along.

While I’m at the office, working for the man, plenty of insights come to me about the what and how of the stories I’m considering. I write these insights on a notepad I keep for this purpose, fold the removed pages in quarters, and slip them into my shirt pocket for transcribing later. Last week may have set a record for notepad pages. The ideas were flying into my head. And when the idea of creating some parallel structure within the novel arrived, everything about the story changed.

The story idea I thought I had turned out to be merely the visible part of a bigger and much crazier story. It’s becoming like a set of nested dolls. It’s consuming itself. I think it may be called fractal fiction or recursive fiction. It’s certainly metafiction. But I don’t want to cleave too closely to definitions; the story is busy writing itself and going in its own direction.

I have a great start. I know where I want to go — I’ve even begun writing the last chapters. I know some of the stops along the way. I think I have all of the characters I need worked out. The setting, which strictly is not important, is fine. I’m having a little trouble with establishing the year when the story takes place, but I think I have that resolved too.

I still don’t have a title though. “Ouroboros” is not really on target. “Frankenstein” is already taken. A few other ideas I’ve had miss the mark too. I’m sure something will come to me eventually.

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*I have worked in the word “enuf” to the story. I’m evolving the language. You’re welcome!