01 November 2012

November--The Merry Month of Manuscripts

November 1 is a day for anniversaries and deadlines. The end of hurricane season and the end of summer (in the south). Halloween festivities are done and Christmas decorations are being set up. Turkeys are milling warily about the barnyard, and students have decided once and for all whether the semester is salvageable--or not. Trees lose their leaves and the leaves are pressed between the pages of books....

It is also the start of National Novel Writing Month for those who nervous fingers cannot avoid the lusty keys. I have never been able to participate due to its unfortunate scheduling. I could write a draft of a novel in a month--if I had no day job to tend to, if I had no other disruptions, and if I had the idea in advance of the month. I would like to give it a go one of these years.

In an alternate universe years ago, before NaNoWriMo was invented, I cobbled together a longish short story with mini-chapters (12,000 words) for a summer writing workshop, which I called AFTER ILIUM. It took approximately three weeks of a few hours' daily effort. I easily outdid my classmates with their simple 3000 word stories. However, I always knew the story was too big to be contained in a short format and so I worked to expand it into a novella of 48,000. More recently, I decided to throw it into the gladitorial arena of self-publishing and filled out a couple underperforming chapters and added one more to round out the story. The result was 67,000 words, a short novel. This is what I could write were I to indulge in the NaNoWriMo timetable. But alas!

I was always concerned with 1) being accused of padding a simple story, and 2) actually padding a simple story just to make it longer(*). With editing it seems to be a fully-realized story with layers and complexity. It is lean and has no fluff or padding. Although it is on the surface a simple story of young man meeting older woman on a foreign trip, the  linking of the contemporary story with ancient epic gives this book its depth and profound qualities. [See footnote.]

However, the currents of the ebook seas, indeed the entire publishing ocean, were seasickness-inducing. I was tossed and turned and vomited much. I found some boats offering to rescue me and others refusing me. I battled sharks and welcomed dolphins. Now I hope where I've landed is a fruitful isle full of coconut bikinis and roasted pigs, a bounty fit for a Bounty crew.

So, here is an appetizer. Young Alex Parris is with his new lover, the older, Greek woman he met on the cruise ship to Istanbul. In her hotel room, where they spent the night together, they are up and preparing to join the tour group sightseeing Istanbul. Next they will visit the site of the ruins of Ilium, also known as ancient Troy, and that is where everything goes bad.

More samples are available at an oasis in the Amazon jungle. The full course may be had for less than the cost of a latte. Book and latte will provide you a pleasant afternoon or evening.

Excerpt from Chapter 4

What the hell happened last night? Alex wondered, and as he recalled the night of passion, he became aroused again.
“I meant that you have potential,” said Eléna. “A lot of young men have potential. Many of them waste it on useless things. I have seen it happen. They play these games and try to make victories and defeats, scorekeeping their lives. I see that in you, Alex Parris. Already you are making a tally. Here is ‘one’ for Eléna, yes? Who will be next? If you have this potential, where is it? Show me. Be more than a hard penis. Otherwise, stick with playing your computer games.”
Alex instinctively turned away, hiding his softening crotch from her view.
“Computer games?” He suddenly regretted telling her about his future plans. It did not sound too impressive the way he described what he hoped to do as his career. Anyway, he was a long way from last night now.
“You have great imagination,” she said, seemingly uninterested.
“It’s not child’s play,” he attempted to explain. “It’s a business. It’s my job—or, it will be soon. As soon as I get home from this trip. The job is waiting for me. And it’s a real job. I should be making at least thirty grand a year to start. It’s also creative—like being a writer or artist. I use a computer to tell stories. Actually, what I write allows you, the gamer, to write your own story—within the perimeters of the game, of course.”
He watched her as he spoke, saw a glimmer of ease flash at the corners of her face. Perhaps she was tired of fighting, he wanted to believe.
“And what story will you write about us?” she asked.
“Well, these games aren’t exactly love stories. They’re mostly fighting.”
“Then you will likely be alone in your fantasy,” and she pursed her lips, off to one side, the way she did to show she was playing with him. He noticed that quirk already.
“But now I have you, Eléna,” spoke Alex in a quiet, hesitant voice.
The glance she shot at him would have hurt if it was any sharper.
“I am not here to play your games!” Eléna roared. “I am not looking for anything. Nor anyone. I want to be in limbo now. Do you not understand?”
She stared at him until he looked away.
“Okay,” said Alex.
“You said you want to see some old city, some rocks. You want to be someone like that. It is not for me. What I want is silks and satins, not dirty rocks and old bones. Can you not understand that?”
He buckled his belt, sat on the corner of the bed to put on his boots.
“But you had that,” he said, softly. “Before.”
Eléna was quiet. She quickly turned away to stare at herself in the mirror.
After their night together, he did not understand how they could begin arguing. Unless she simply enjoyed arguing with him. Anything to provoke him.
“I’m sorry, Eléna,” he whispered.
“You are a silly boy! You know nothing!”
She seemed to be sobbing.
Alex stood and went to her but she turned away, pouting. He recognized the act. Suzie Meyer had done the same thing when he went to apologize to her for his frat brothers’ misbehavior. She had acted as though it was all his fault.
“You make love with me and you can say such cruel things to me?”
Alex thought she might slap his face if he stood closer.
“I apologize. It was the wrong thing to say.”
She raised her eyes to him, a tear slipping out of one corner.
“You are forgiven...for this one time,” she told him.


Things tend to get worse for Alex. It's a novel, after all. Conflicts mount. Troubles compound and become desperate. Attempts to solve problems instead worsen them. Alex is driven to the edge of despair in both body and mind, and his spirit is about to be crushed. Can he survive all that happens After Ilium?

*Just wanted to add an extra thought I had while driving to my day job yesterday. I've been asked how I padded the story and why it isn't a better story in the original, leaner version.

First, the original story was rather superficial with only the most crucial scenes filled out in any kind of real time action. Thus, writing the details of a scene originally suggested was an easy way to "flesh out" the story without it simply being some extra text to make it longer. It's still a rather short, lean novel at 68,000 words.

Second, editors suggested places where unasked questions should be answered for readers, so I answered them. That effort extended those chapters by several pages. Conversations were allowed to run longer with the necessary inclusion of additional information that gave the characters and the situation more depth than in the original version. Along the same line was a suggestion that readers needed to "see" what happens in a couple of scenes rather than providing only a mention. So, again, I wrote out the action as new, full-fledged scenes.

Of course, all stories can be boiled down to a sentence or two--if readers really want to get it over with quickly. The point, I think, is to wallow in the story, to live alongside the characters and feel their pain and joy--or, in Alex's case, just pain. It is not a crime to lengthen a short manuscript into a longer one. (Perhaps it is in the reverse case.) I believe every story has its own inherent length that is appropriate to what happens and how it is told. This final version, now with a few clunky sentences fixed and a handful of continuity errors repaired, is the best version.

I did find more to say as I was inbound from a trip to Japan last spring. There is room for a sequel. Many years after 22 year old Alex's adventure in Turkey, having fashioned some kind of a good life for himself after the tragedy of that summer, he has another adventure...a cruelly similar one, perhaps, yet wholly different in several profound ways (which "spoiler" decorum will not allow me to divulge). It could be a kind of tale of revenge which, after those years of recovery, Alex sorely needs.

(C) Copyright 2010-2012 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

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