If you’re well known and announce on your blog that you’re “going dark” to work on some major project, your readers may accept this in anticipation of some future gift. If nobody reads your blog and you announce that you happened to have gone dark due to some major project, well, this is not so impressive, as nobody missed you in the meantime and if anybody happened to, they don’t give a flip about your darkness.
In my case, which I suspect runs along the lines of the latter, a long-standing desire of mine shoved aside other writing projects, including blog.sortmind.com, for almost two months. This was to scan in and correct the entirety of the 1,587 page rough draft of my novel Akard Drearstone, written from February 1976 to March 1978. I’ve been asking myself if all this hasn’t been a waste of time and energies better spent on new fiction, but I think this dig into the past has been beneficial. Besides, I just finished a new novel in May, Seven of Cups/Beyond DamnStar, and here was an opportunity to relax with some easygoing archeological work. Obsessive, all-consuming, easygoing archeological work.
I’ve long wanted a digital copy of this rough draft not only because it’s important to me to have a backup–I’ve never looked forward to photocopying 1,587 pages of something I’ve since rewritten over and over and over again–but because Akard Draft 1 was my first breakthrough effort after my first two practice novels. I recall the green typewriter dream I had when I was writing the rough draft: the endless paper rolling through the green machine on a sunny morning, spewing effortless rough draft fiction–apparently from Raw Void. Akard Draft 1 was the full power creative motorcycle, and I enthusiastically welcomed its raw energies pouring into me. I’ve tapped into that energy again scanning and rough-editing this draft.
Yet this is the only draft novel I have even the slightest desire to treat this way. It’s definitely time to stop looking back, and again concentrate on the numerous new writing projects lined up on the runway.
Here’s the breakdown of the formatted manuscript after a scanning project lasting almost two months. The novel has been rough-edited but needs a final proofing against the paper manuscript, but I don’t feel up to that task now and I figure the novel is readable as is. The 1,587 pages of Chapters 1-31 come out to 661,581 words, 2,298 pages in a single Word document. To that I’ve added two appendices: the fourteen songs Akard composed and a short story I wrote some years later called “Chapter 32,” bringing the total to 681,656 words in 2,376 pages. The document in one file is 5 MB, and despite my trepidations about amalgamating a file that large, Word 2000 handles that length well.
The Basic Plot
Akard Drearstone Draft 1 traces the rise and fall of Akard Drearstone’s rock group over a year and half, and describes founder/songwriter Drearstone’s attempts to make sense of this high energy insanity and the violence it engendered.
Akard Drearstone is a rising star in 1977, but he wrecks his fifteen minutes of fame on the Johnny Carson show, then languishes as a bank clerk in Houston for two years until the spring of 1979, when he meets Jim Piston, troubled genius bass guitarist, and from their collaboration rekindles his old fame and sets up a music commune in a rural area north of Austin. The novel meanders all over the place for 1,587 typed pages as the four musicians in the group battle corrupt businessmen, freak out on psychedelics, get busted by mysterious narc agencies, stage demented concerts on the beach or at the scene of a car accident in Houston, debate the merits of a new philosophy called Exponentialism with a writer for a Sunday rotogravure magazine, postpone working on their album in favor of a three month-long videotape, write novels which get inserted into the narrative, and finally break apart in personality conflicts, psychotic violence, revenge trips, and drifting confusion.
The Three Major Iterations of Akard Drearstone
Version One – Writing and Revising, Intending to Publish–Then Aborting
I wrote Draft 1 from February 1976 to March 1978. Draft 2, from May 1978 to December 1979, was still a sprawling beast, but I developed many new writing technologies, and the second draft became a test-bed for fixing and strengthening novels in the future. I declared the novel done in October 1980, and proceeded to start typing a manuscript to submit to publishers, but by the end of summer 1981 I aborted the effort. I’d outgrown this thing, had new writing to explore, and didn’t have the heart to finish typing out the last thousand pages just to complete a project.
Version Two – Aiming Straight for the Desk Drawer
In 1984 I decided I wanted a photocopy of my then-final Akard, as I had no copies to store offsite of either Draft 1 or 2. I took the 300 pages of typed manuscript (with its carbon copy) and then copied the remainder of the final draft. In so doing I cut several chapters, regardless of the effect this raw removal had on the final version, to arrive at a manuscript totaling about 850 pages or half of the original. That was satisfying in itself, even though I now didn’t consider Akard publishable.
Version Three – Seeking a Publishable Novel
In 1992, a vision of including the twelve year-old Jan as the narrator enabled me to thoroughly revise and slim down the novel. Jan becomes us, the reader aghast at the psychedelic atrocities foisted upon her, aghast at her hopeless infatuation with the mentally disturbed bassist Jim Piston. The epilog set in 1981 provides some distance and shows her eighteen year-old self choosing life instead of the death trip she’d been enslaved to as a child. I wasn’t quite sure about this version, and in 2005, I scrubbed and revised the manuscript, bringing it psychically up to date. In 2010 I brought more modern consciousness into the novel, including cutting Jim Piston’s hundred page novel-within-a novel. I could publish this final Akard Drearstone with no qualms.
Editing the Rough Draft
I corrected obvious misspellings and updated punctuation in the interest of clarity, but left my sloppy capitalization and the occasional grammar error untouched. I did correct certain misleading errors, but didn’t change errors of time and inconsistency. The idea was to restore the original rough draft with its initial Draft 1 corrections, which were the black or blue pen changes done either upon rereading a chapter or else during the final rereading of March through May 1978. I ignored all red felt tip second draft suggestions which began after chapter 20.
Numinosity and Immortality
Though there have been times when I’ve harshly criticized Akard Draft 1, I’ve always known its central place in my writing life. Draft 1 was written in a numinous glow. It wasn’t until Chapter 21, “Bloodtunnels,” that I began to dare to mark up the rough draft in red pen in preparation for Draft 2. This implies that a certain reverence for Draft 1 was finally being superseded by the need to better organize my thoughts for revision.
One plan has occurred to me during this scanning and editing project, and here I write from the perspective of a writer’s lifetime and leaving all this behind when I head to my next incarnation. Before I began the scan, I knew that the 1,587 pages would not fare well much beyond my lifetime. You can definitely imagine them–along with all my paintings–in a landfill somewhere. In fact, think of how much human art and writing and music is moldering in landfills or is completely broken down to atoms by now. Well, at this point my novels The Martian Marauders, Nonprofit Ladies, and Jack Commer, Supreme Commander also exist on publisher Double Dragon’s servers, and my novella The First Twenty Steps exists on Barnes and Noble’s and amazon.com’s servers. At least they are out in the world in a way that my entire Opus On Hard Drive With Several Flash Drive Backups is not.
So consider this: that the final goal of a scan is to at least upload Draft 1 to sortmind.com, probably unlinked, but who knows? This way the MS. is on servers in Harrisburg, PA and I’m sure elsewhere. Or even, gasp, sell it on PubIt for $4.99! Or put it on one of those web sites for wayward novels. And, of course, consider that I want to eventually market the final 2010 Akard Drearstone–well, market them together! Or tie them together somehow.
Akard Draft 1 is so important to me that I don’t want it to wind up in a landfill. Somehow it should survive me. Even if only for a few decades. I don’t know why that’s enough. I do think I would be embarrassed if aliens found Akard 1 and managed to spread it throughout the universe.
I would definitely not parade Draft 1 as the real writing–the final Akard is far superior as a novel. Consider that I would have had no motive in March 1978 to type up an exact copy of the rough draft. What if Akard I were all I had ever written? No, my desire was always to revise it into a real, workable novel. So the frozen Draft 1 serves a unique purpose, based on what it means to my entire writing journey. Rewriting it to a final and publishable version was necessary; but this first foundation was an amazing experience to have lived through, and I find myself proud of the young man who dared to compose it.
In the red slashings on the manuscript for Draft 2 ideas I can see a good readiness to cut the lengthy philosophical musings that characters (and the author!) can get into, but now I’m seeing these as 70’s flavor. So far I’ve seen nothing that bores me or slows down my interest, and I don’t find myself groaning in disgust at adolescent BS. Okay, Chapter 1 is over the top, an inadvertent homage to my cynical Rice University writing style, and probably would stop any reader from continuing the novel right there. But, hey, I was just warming up.
Even the muddled plot of record company president Ted Placemat’s ties to the CIA, Akard’s mysterious bodyguard, Dollar Mike from 1973 Wisconsin, beer magnate Maverick Mustang’s narc agency, Diane and Jan as finishing school spies, Dyson Annersnex’s corporation built on Exponentialist principles, none of which I ever figured out or brought to any conclusion, none of this seems to slow things down. It seems like “valid 70’s paranoia” and serves to describe the characters.
Long after my 1981 abandonment of Akard, after two more novels and two novellas, I wrote the story “Chapter 32” as a way to continue the Akard universe but also to psychically end it. I left the story in rough draft, though it served as the basis for the ending of the completely new Akard Drearstone of 1992-94. “Chapter 32” becomes Appendix 2, and, though several character names and plot lines reflect Version 2 changes, it echoes the rough draft spirit of the 1976-78 novel.
I learned a lot about characters in Akard Draft 1. There’s an ensemble quality to the novel, in that each of the four musicians in Akard’s group gets several good narration chapters in which to flourish. I split my own personality into those of the four musicians and examined each of the four parts in depth.
I learned that my villains can be highly complex and can be fairly and humorously handled. Harray worrying about the proper Buddhist response to his wedding night was a major breakthrough for me. Chapter 30, in which Akard foolishly rides a motorcycle from Dallas to Chicago in order to finally confront Jim Piston’s twisted arrogance, is a long perceptive study of the Akard/Jim relationship. And I get an objective picture of the shellshocked Akard drifting for months in the wake of the shooting incident, trying in vain to lose himself in drugs and transcendent experiences.
Maybe it’s because I had 1,587 pages to keep hammering this in, but not only my four main characters, but also supporting ones like manager Harray Andreality, businessman Ted Placemat, and the Exponentialist philosopher Naomi Kugel seem like four-dimensional people to me. There are also decent visual descriptions of most of the characters, something I’ve always thought I wasn’t good at. In addition, the novel’s absurd length allowed me to give last words and last scenes to a dozen or more major and minor characters that eventually got cut from the modern Akard Drearstone
I used to think I had no knowledge of writing about male-female relationships in Akard I, and only learned to write about that in my next novels, Zarreich and The University of Mars. Those novels performed some much needed censor breaking and enriched my writing–but I see endless male-female probing in Akard Draft 1. The topic is there, and done fairly well, I think. In Chapter 12 I set the stage for Akard to consider a real relationship with Jo Bocrahdt, who later became Katy Regan Journa and his future wife by the time the final Akard was written. And I was able to explore Charley and Deb’s interesting relationship not only in their 1971 flight from legal difficulties in Wisconsin, but also after she got pregnant and then faced prison time for her role in attacking Piston with a puma stolen from the Houston zoo.
My original conception of the end of the novel was that it would just peter out into what I called the “open-ended.” But even at the time of writing I didn’t appreciate the story arc of Akard’s despair and confusion, which takes up almost the last third of the novel in his various strange adventures that seem to have nothing to do with the rise and fall of his group or the shooting incident and the trial of Jim Piston. Yet now I see this despair arc as necessary, and how, after his motorcycle ride to Chicago and final confrontation with Piston, it pushes Akard to return to life and creation.
The Best Diary/Journal
Like most of my second drafts, Akard Draft 2 strove to cut verbiage and get to the point. I also wanted a new psychic distance from the rock and roll and counterculture milieu. I did learn a lot about writing from Draft 2, and was always figuring out new ways of correcting errors. But the same level of detail I was so eager to cut in order to write Akard Draft 2 is what makes Draft 1 so interesting to me.
Akard 1 is the best diary/journal of this era. I knew at the time that the rough draft of Akard was a definite therapeutic writing out of everything that had happened to me since I entered Rice University in 1970. When the idea for Akard hit in August 1975, I knew I’d throw everything into this effort. The entirety of the novel spread out instantly before me, despite the fact that writing it would lead in unimaginable directions.
For years my standard assessment of Akard Draft 1 has been that it was one good novel, one bad novel, and three mediocre novels, all thoroughly mixed together. But going through it now, seeing it as an archeological excavation and no longer as the “real” Akard Drearstone, I’m thinking that, basically, all of it worked quite well in its own way.
copyright 2011 Michael D. Smith