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“Crystal Methuselah” redraft requesting runway clearance

Today I’ve divided my time between working on an almost-total rewrite of my long-ago (July 2006) flash piece “The Crystal Methuselah”, and writing comments onto the last remaining Form Mastery Projects I never got around to in January so that I can mail the whole blasted lot of these things out either Friday or Monday.

As for the Form Project stuff, all I can say is that someone is busily, merrily, having students read and study Edward Said’s Orientalism and then letting them loose on Asian film… and some of my more politically-inclined students are missing the point that (a) Said’s original text was discussing a different “Orient” than they are, and (b) that in a lot of Asian films made by Asians, the East is rendered mysterious, mystical, and arcane, and that when we see such things in Tarantino movies, for example, we should bear in mind the possibility that they’re riffing on things originally in Japanese- or Hong Kong-made films.

I also learned that “Hong Kong wrote a book.” I kid you not, and context doesn’t help. Seriously, I think I’m going to trot out the thing my poetry prof said to me: you should write one poem for every hundred poems you read.

Anyway, as for my own writing, “Crystal Methuselah” is coming along relatively well. Though I’m near the end, I’m actually already over my target wordcount of 4000 words, which is okay, because there’s still at least a couple of rounds of editing and pruning to go once this redraft is done. I’m finding that there’s almost none of the original story–I’ve decided that instead of showing the damage done to my protagonist during her ordeal by showing her rather shocking state of mind in the present, that it’s more powerful to render her state of mind in the present something less than a state of mind, a kind of battle against a standing wave of controlled thought and programmed action. Instead, all the character that there is, resides in her lost, never-to-be-recovered past, and the process of her loss during the ordeal she undergoes, which I’ve sketched out in a lot more detail.

I’ve also cut most of the characters from the original, so that the only character that remains the same is the protagonist. She has similar interactions, but with different characters. Finally, more (I hope) tantalizing hints of backdrop are shown throughout, which means my worldbuilding is improved in the story… I just hope it’s not too distracting!

I’m hoping to get this one sent out sometime in the next month or so, and I have a market in mind, though I need to research a little more to make sure I’m not wasting my time on it.

Anyway, that reminds me that a lot of people have been discussing their revision process. I have to say, before I went to Clarion West, I wasn’t really strong on revision. I would take stories that were in their original form, and I would tinker, but I was loathe to move sections, let alone remove sections or characters or threads from stories. “It’s there for a reason,” I would insist.

During the workshop, and especially since, I realized that one of the “reasons” for some of the threads in my stories is that I get fascinated with a new possibility or avenue, and abandon the old one. This is a chronic characteristic of my writing, and while it’s probably okay in a very long work, where, after all, the form is spacious enough to allow you to get back around to things you’d let drop for a while, this is a killer in a shorter form, especially in, say, a 5,000 word short story.

Nowadays, I still don’t have a very standard approach for revision. Sometimes, it’s just tinkering, fiddling with things, because the story has either popped out with relatively sold structure, or because I’m insistent that this is the structure I want. But other times, “revision” is actually a complete redrafting of the story, from the ground up.

When it’s the latter, what I often do is open two text files, highlight the original, and then copy bits and pieces onto the new page in the order I want them to appear in the story. Then I rewrite from the beginning, sometimes saving tiny bits for reuse, and often just overwriting whole scenes and going with it when I pass the moment where the originally saved bit ended.

If I have critical feedback from friends, this step is preceded by my going through a copy of the previous draft and marking those bits, with notes or by simply rewriting the original to reflect the comment.

After that, I always go back and fiddle. I fiddle a lot, not so much with the ideas or dialogue, but a lot with the rest of the prose. I have a tendency to repeatedly state things, or overstate them, and eliminating that takes a lot of repetitive work. (My friends would likely agree I’ve still got a way to go in catching myself out on self-repetition.)

“The Crystal Methuselah” has turned out to be one of those stories that gets a pretty thorough rewriting. There are some suggested elements which have not made it into this draft – one of them being a comment from Maura directing me to Raise the Red Lantern, I think it was. That’s an example of great feedback that would totally be used if this were a longer story, but with limited space, I’ve left the “how male oppression structures the interaction of women among themselves” thread as something only hinted at, in the background, because while it’s a great, fascinating thread, I don’t have room for deep exploration and I feel that subject has been excavated very well so far.

Oh, and I think the title needs work… it’s a pun, and I’m a little leery it might turn someone off, since it’s an obvious wordplay on an illegal drug causing problems in the prairies these days. I’m thinking of “Peng Zu,” maybe, but it feels a little flat. Maybe something to do with Tai Shan, an important place in this story, might work instead.

UPDATE (5am the next morning): Well, I have some excellent news. The current draft is done, and only 1,000 words over my target length. I may well be able to cut it to 4,000 words with some focused revisions. I also have a pretty neat metaphor which is tying some things together and might work well as a title. I’m quite happy with what I think is on the page, as in, on the level of character and plot. Of course, when I revisit this thing, it’ll probably look somewhat different from what I thought I wrote, but thats part of the game. At least, for now, it’s looking good. I can work on it some more next week, between planning my courses for next semester and working my way through my novel manuscript.

UPDATE (5:30am the morning after that): Okay, here I am again, and I’ve cut 700 words from my 4,950 word draft. I need to get this story down to around 4,000 words to send it to the market I’m considering, and of course, I’m not in any mad rush, but I really wanted to cut all 950 words so that I could let the story ferment from tonight. After all, it’ll need a week or so of sitting before I can get back to it with a clear enough head to re-edit and proofread it. But one more day won’t matter, I suppose.

While the process of cutting is brutal, and difficult, it also feels good to have achieved so much. It’s strange how cutting 700 words from a 4,950 word story seems like a big achievement.

Ah well, tomorrow evening, I’ll be ata birthday party, so I won’t be at home obsessing about writing, which is a good thing. Sometimes writing is the only thing I talk about for a few days, during the semester-breaks, anyway. I have these high goals for myself, goalsof getting a lot of stories out on the market in the next semester or two, and then working on some longer fiction works… I have some novel ideas that are burning a hole in my mind.

Anyway, tomorrow, all that goes on hold, as there’s the party I mentioned. (The sister of a friend, but at a potentially great place, so what the hell.) And for now, there’s always blissful, beautiful sleep.  To which I go happily.

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