I’ve finished good drafts of the Three Legacy Novels outlined in the June 18 blog post. The question was: could I make the older manuscripts of Jump Grenade, Akard Drearstone, and Sortmind into fully modern, high quality expressions? Was there a karmic/fate reason for returning to their energies? If not, I knew I had to relegate their last versions to the desk drawer, along with clear and conscious reasons for my refusal to complete them.
I don’t feel I’ve been looking backward out of fear that my well may have run dry, though I’ve seriously considered whether looking at older novels may imply that. But I truly don’t feel I’m just trying to pad my writer’s résumé with a bunch of trashy old stuff. For instance, I have lots of experimental novels and novellas I have no further interest in working on: Nova Scotia, The Fifty-First State of Consciousness, Zarreich, The Galaxies Groan Within, Parts I and II, Linstar, Notice and Dream Topology, the Holy Dark Ages, The Psychobeauty, The University of Mars. I suppose I could always change my mind about some of these but they call up no deep reverberations. They were either just practice or their themes have been better explored elsewhere. I can feel massive new writing clamoring for expression; I don’t feel a further need to return to old stuff.
I wondered if I could publish all three legacy novels in 2017. I figured I probably did have time to at least get them into a more or less completed manuscript state–to do the real writing all three needed–but that finalizing them, doing the covers, publishing via Sortmind Press to whichever platforms I choose, then marketing the things, would involve toil and time pushing publication further out.
Working on these novels may put me into opposition with our cultural preference for the new and shiny; for instance, like an artist who should show “recent paintings” instead of great work painted fifteen years ago, a writer must consider older unpublished manuscripts to be mere practice. But I’m not going to disguise the age of these works, because the way they’ve lingered in my life is why they still have so much force. So, the three karmic works in progress, in the order I’ve worked on them this year:
Jump Grenade from 2008, really not so very long ago …
Draft 2, May 13 to May 24, 2017
The official blurb:
Billy Bolamme, sixteen-year-old star Junior Dropout Basketball League player, transmogrifies into avenging avatar Ocean Singe Horror after missing his 500th point in a row. In a temper tantrum he kills a taunting radio announcer with hand grenades, then blows up the entire sports arena in order to eliminate ten thousand witnesses to his crime. From here on out his fame and luck can only grow.
Changing the title this year from the enigmatic “Ocean Singe Horror” made a second draft a much more attractive proposition. I returned to some fun fiction writing and I have to admit that sometimes I laughed out loud at parts of the novel. I found the book very satisfying though I have no idea how much a writing success it could really be. But fiction does take care of something very deep, so it was all to the good.
What I wanted in Draft 2 was to get rid of my recent bad habit of overuse of italicized thinking, reorganize the plot, make the facts files consistent with the novel, and truly inhabit the thing. The second draft is all of 143 pages. I could live with Jump Grenade right now as a completed expression, but I do want to see how a Draft 3 amplifies the characters and how a vigorous sports writing style could work.
Jump Grenade is one of those quick-flowing, revealed novels like The First Twenty Steps or CommWealth; even its rough draft unfolded easily, and Draft 2 didn’t need major plot restructure. However, is it too light? Just a joke? What could I emphasize in Draft 3–Dan Ryder’s thralldom to Billy and his eventual liberation? The Buddhist monastery undertone? I’ll let the book sit awhile before Draft 3.
Akard Drearstone from 1976
Draft 12, May 25 to July 17, 2017
The official blurb:
A twelve-year-old girl living at a rock commune near Austin, Texas in the summer of 1975 observes the rise and fall of the Akard Drearstone Group as she falls disastrously in love with the group’s severely disturbed bass player.
[Hmm … this needs a lot of work. There so much more in this novel.]
I started this project with the dread that a rereading might force me to dump Akard for good. My evaluation essay before rereading was pretty negative. Was this novel just too adolescent? I knew the first chapter didn’t work and had some ideas to fix it, but there was also the sense that over the decades I’ve just cut and cut so much out that I didn’t really have a novel anymore, just a shell of an ancient one.
I think I was hoping that all three of these karmic novels would go as easily as Jump Grenade’s second draft. Maybe Akard just needed a little tweaking? But rereading the first thirteen chapters, the first sixth of the novel, certainly shattered that naiveté. Dull! Boring! If I’d stopped rereading during the first few chapters, I definitely would have abandoned any thought of a Draft 12.
I then wondered if I shouldn’t just think of the eleven drafts of Akard as a major learning experience in my writing life, including the novel’s apparent evaporation in its 2010-2012 iterations, and just skip Akard and channel my writing resources into producing a fantastic Sortmind.
I finally decided to do a quick Draft 12 for my own satisfaction. Rework those first thirteen chapters and give Akard a graceful mothballing, taking publication off the table unless something truly extraordinary happened in the new draft. Write for the ideal reader that I also am, but have fun with the novel without worrying about the result.
But strangely, Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic pushed me to lavish some fresh attention on this novel and to consider it publishable. I saw that chapters fourteen on began the marvelous energy that was so astounding to feel coming out even in 1978’s 1,587-page, thoroughly unpublishable rough draft. In retrospect I see that the existing Draft 11 was a good novel that no sane reader would get through because of that first sixth. Two concepts would prove central to infusing Draft 12 with modern consciousness:
- Thoroughly rearranging and cutting the first thirteen chapters to a tight nine, especially working in bombastic rock journalist Kevin Stukia’s over-the-top article for Ungodly Procreative New Jersey Suburbs Music Magazine. Shoving this insufferable character in early made me realize that this novel could open up new expression channels.
- Keeping Akard set in 1975 and thus recognizing it as a “historical novel,” essentially an alternate mid-70’s America which suddenly diverges when the Cinder Block Incident invests lead guitarist Akard Drearstone with a vision.
I’m surprised at how well Akard 2017 turned out. Initially feeling so disgusted and weary at the thought of tackling forty-two years of Akard karma, and then unexpectedly feeling the vitality rising through Draft 12 and somehow addressing all those issues, has been an amazing experience. For a number of years I’d assumed Akard was a mediocre novel, but some of its characters are the most four-dimensional I’ve ever created, and Draft 12 finally allowed Akard, Jim, Harray, Jan, and Michelle to flourish. The gut reactions to music, already good in Draft 11, shine with renewed force; in fact, Draft 12 was the first time I consciously noted that the emphasis is more on how the audience hears music as opposed to what the musicians think when they play it.
I feel I can finally publish this novel with an open heart and at the same time be done with it.
Sortmind from 1987
Draft 8, August 25, 2017 –
The official blurb:
An answer to any question is delivered in a telepathic instant. But is a database of all our queries and responses being used to track the progress of a coming apocalypse? High school art students Oliver and Sam struggle to define themselves in the face of urban terrorism and the malfunctioning, reality-altering Sortmind app.
[OK, I’ll work on this one too …]
Sortmind went through numerous drafts through 2010 that more or less kept tidying it up but never really challenged the central problems of the novel, which were endless unintegrated plotlines sometimes veering way past the “willing suspension of disbelief,” and more importantly, its library-centric cuteness. They say you’re supposed to write what you know about, so I guess I felt I had to showcase a fantastical version of my day job, but the whole library trip was just … cute. I had a writing teacher at Rice who warned the class that sooner or later we all succumb to getting cute, which is truly a disgusting thing to have to admit. Maybe I’ve gotten this crap out of my system now.
In 2016’s Draft 7 I altered the novel more thoroughly than any other novel I’ve written. Vast sections were uprooted and either abolished or chopped into new plot. The story was greatly simplified and I was able to replace that cute library world with a more believable start-up company marketing its newest app. I deleted a few surviving attachments to original verbiage, yanked some last vestiges of over-explanation, and intensified the characters, cutting over 34,000 words, the equivalent of a 130-page novel/novella.
Yet I hadn’t taken time to analyze that draft, and I more or less forgot what it was all about until it came time to revise it this year. I made an aborted start at rereading it in April, where I got bogged down in the first chapter–OMG, any novel’s kiss of death!–and conjured up the fear that Draft 7 would prove to be cheaply repainted 1987 consciousness after all. Was I mainly just interested in revising Sortmind because my website was named for it?
But I’d truly forgotten how well I’d overhauled this novel last year, and I reread/edited the manuscript in growing awe, feeling that I might be looking at the best novel I’ve ever written. I can see that Sortmind finally, really, works. Though the book is based on concepts and characters going back to 1987, its ongoing Draft 8 is fully modern, and I’m rather shocked to realize I’ve been sitting on such an excellent novel for so long.
copyright 2017 by Michael D. Smith
Various blog posts relating to these novels:
- Three Legacy Novels (June 18, 2017)
- Sortmind Draft 7: Surprisingly Uncertain Work (June 17,2016)
- Homage Part 1: Farewell to The University of Mars (April 4, 2015)
- How Do you Deal With Your Backlog? (February 29, 2012)
- An Archeological Excavation of Akard Drearstone, Draft 1 (July 19, 2011)