San Diego Poetry Guild

notes on guild, poetry, and San Diego


Interlude: Place Holder

I've been away from my blog(s) for about a week now, which in the blogging world is about one nano-blip shy of an eternity. My partner Octavia Davis and I are working through the fifth revision of a novel we started about three years ago. We decided to devote this time exclusively to rewrites (about two weeks total), but after a week in the trenches we're pretty confident we have a finished draft -- finished, that is, the way one finishes doing the dishes: there's always more.

The novel's about a woman who's been stuck in the bloated aftermath of several horrid experiences, including the death of her mother at a young age, the recent loss of a child, a divorce -- sounds like a lot but it's "spread out" the way real life tends to be sometimes. Anyway the novel picks up with her heading across country in a minivan to meet her brother back at the old homestead, a plot of land and a house they've just inherited without much interest, in either of them, to do anything with it. She brings her boy, seven years old, and a plant and some stories to tell, and the novel leaves them stranded out there in this old house with the brother, and all of them are forced to get a long and reconsider what's come to pass in light of a letter, written by the dead mother just before she offed herself, that surfaces on about p.150. The letter forces some reevaluation, and basically the novel's about that choice, or opportunity, we get sometimes to revise our sense of things in light of certain key revelations and disclosures, often delivered up from a past otherwise locked down and impenetrable.

Loyal readers who have ventured this far will no doubt recognize my continued interest in the "letter" as a site of literary action.

Octavia and I collaborate, and I take that word very seriously in this case. We split the work--she's a lot better at character and "big picture" structures, i can hack a few good lines and generate a decent plot twist. For the first version, I spent a few weeks spitting out chapters, then we sat in front of the computer during the hot days of summer we get here in SD round about August (actually, the real summer comes in September, when here in the inland regions it gets up around 95 and stays that way through the night as heat from the desert keeps the coastal breezes away). Later, after that first batch of hackwork was finished, we talked a great deal about what was needed, weaknesses in the characters, plot defects, bad writing, etc. Later versions we composed jointly, with O. in front of the computer sometimes sculpting a few paragraphs while I fried up tofu for lunch or folded the kids' laundry, then I'd take over and touch up some sentences while she assembled the sandwiches or put in another load.

More recent sessions have been more "fun" in the sense that we're really working together, side by side -- two people, one keyboard. Not like we're elbow to elbow plucking out "Heart and Soul" or anything like that, but we share ideas and "talk/write" sentences, filling in words for each other, coaxing the other through an odd construction, stuff like that. And what we have now is an entirely different beast than what we started with.

So, there's that to plug in here as a blog report interlude (my own self-assessment perhaps). By the way, I've gotten some good feedback on the first three reports, from the reportees themselves and a few others just passing through. Please come back soon for the next three installments. I think I know where I'm going next for report #4, but I'll keep that a secret for now.

That novel we're writing, I should add, is pure maternal melodrama. I took a film studies class a while back that focused on the genre--mostly 30's and 40's generation Hollywood flicks, like Now, Voyager and Stella Dallas. I've been a fan ever since, and this novel seems to have evolved (for me, not so much for Octavia) as a kind of deliberate purge / cautious celebration. Octavia argues that there's a gothic element to it as well, and I take her word for it.


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