Friday, December 11, 2009

A Little on Process - Part Two

I know. I do go on about this quite a bit, but when you’re at the end of a second book with a lot (I mean a lot) of editing ahead, it does tend to rub your nose in it. And writing’s a kind of nasal gazing activity, and I’ll be teaching the year of the novel at QWC next year, so how I write novels has very much been on my mind.

You see, I don’t plan them- not one little bit*. I tend to start a novel with a scene that may be the beginning and may be the middle, and I tend to have an end point, but that’s about it. I write in an extremely non-linear fashion. And it seems to work for me. I write and I fill in scenes and jump around, until I’ve written a book length manuscript, and then I move those scenes around, cut and change things, and fill in the gaps.

I write like people shoot films, quite often without any idea of what goes where, just trusting that it does. And sometimes it doesn’t, but usually I’m heading in one direction, even if the scenes don’t appear to at first.

So that first draft is all about energy, about getting the stuff in my head down. The second is about filling in gaps and moving scenes around, and the third and subsequent drafts are all about logic and internal rhythm, and working out what the book is about. Which, as you’d imagine is the longest stage.

I’m at this last stage with Managing Death. The bulk of the manuscript is written, people have suffered, major characters have died (no spoilers there, the books are about Death). And, until today, I hadn’t read the manuscript from A-Z. But now I have, and it makes sense – sort of, which is always an incredible relief to me. My ms is covered with hand written notes and post-it notes, some as detailed as actual scenes and others as vague as “write more here”.

From here I will spend my free time filling in the plot holes, and tidying the writing, looking at the consistency of the voice – it’s a darker story than book one, but the character is the same character and it is his voice that tells the story – and generally working on the novel until it makes sense to me.

Then, some time early next year, I’ll get my structural edits, and that will be the real test. Whether it makes sense to someone else, whether it works, whether the pacing is right, whether it’s funny, or dark enough.

That’s when the next level , the real personally challenging work will begin, because this story won’t just be something spun out of the illogical recesses of my mind it will be a novel with readers, and the questions they ask. And, as a novel, it will work or fail depending on how well I honour that connection. Because the process up to then is all mine, but after that it is a shared thing between me and the editors and the readers of the books. And it goes from being abstract and fun to something solid and capable of failure.

That’s the scary challenge of writing and publishing as opposed to writing alone. And you face that no matter how you get the words down.

Which sounds a lot grimmer than it is, because hey, I love this writing thing, and I’m dying for people to read these books, but I just wanted to share the chaos out of which they come, and the work that goes into making them make sense.

*I’ve tried, but I never read my notes. I just find them months after the event and it’s always interesting (to me) to see how far I’ve actually diverged from those notes (usually a lot).

For the QWC Blog Tour

Where do your words come from?

My head, there’s a long tunnel at the back of it and the words tend to stumble out of there at odd times and with peculiar rhythms. They also tend to come from the past, from dreams and memories, which makes them pretty unreliable, and quick to fade. I’m not that good at catching them, but I get some which is all you can really hope for, I suppose.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I grew up in Gunnedah, until I was fifteen. It’s a smallish country town in North Western NSW. Then I moved to Lismore in Northern NSW for about six years. I live in Brisbane now, and have done for ten years. I love it here.

What’s the first sentence/line of your latest work?

When the day was longer than it is now in the three grand columns of the Lands Found, and all things reduced, Jackknife caught his first wife with a song.

I shouldnt actually be working on that story, but I was taking a break from this one:

There’s a knife cold and sharp, and pressed like a longing for extinction beneath my Adam’s apple.

Which is the first line of Managing Death, bk 2 of Death Works which is coming out at the end of 2010. Of course, it probably won't be once I've worked through the book again, and it's gone through the various editorial stages before publication. You can check in December 2010.

What piece of writing do you wish you had written?

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner or Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. They’re both transcendental works of fiction, every word is perfect. Oh, and Wuthering Heights, and The Man in the High Castle, and The Left Hand of Darkness, and To Kill a Mocking Bird. I could go on for pages and pages. Maybe though the one piece of writing I wish I had written is William Blake's The Sick Rose. It's just so evocative and deceptively simple.

O Rose, thou art sick!

The invisible worm

That flies in the night,

In the howling storm,

Has found out thy bed

Of Crimson Joy

And his dark secret love

Does thy life destroy.

Hey, at least I get to type it.

What are you currently working towards?

Getting better, trying to work to deadlines without going crazy, and finishing a good dozen or so projects that have been bubbling away in the back of my skull and on my hard drive for far too long. Which doesn't sound like fun, but it really is. There's a terror and deep, deep pleasure to it all.

Complete this sentence… The future of the book is nothing like anyone expects it to be.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Loud Music

I’ve been furiously working on book two*, after finishing copy edits of book one**.

I’m finding that it’s music that is getting me through the sluggish parts of the day, which are many in a Brisbane Summer. And what is it that I’m listening to. For one a whole heap of stuff by Killswitch Engage – metal seems to keep my mind on target – and then I’ve just started playing a newish album by Lightning Dust there’s a glorious and elegant apocalyptic flavour to their work.

It's funny but through most of the process of writing book one it was Spoon, Okkervil River*** and Gotye until right at the end when I went all Emo. This time around it was mainly Okkervil River, the Editors, and the Decemberists - with a touch of Killswitch at the beginning. I thought this was going to be my Americana book but the pendulum has definitely swung to metal again.

That’s about it as I try to unsnare odd and contradictory plots, and smooth out timelines. Brain is well and truly frazzled.

Hoping to get my read-through edit of book two finished tomorrow. Wish me luck.

*book two being Managing Death.

**Book One being Death Most Definite.

***Still the best band ever and, hands down, my favourite live act.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Aurealis Awards

The Aurealis Awards shortlist has been released, and what a great list it is. Congratulations to everyone that's on it. I've so many friends and favourite stories on this list that I honestly couldn't pick a winner without changing my mind half an hour later. Though it's particularly exciting to see Peter M Ball up for so many awards, and Tansy for her excellent Siren Beat.

Not to mention Keith for his excellent job editing X6 - he deserves it - and Paul Haines for Wives. Hell, it's a great bunch this year so good luck to you all, I'll be coming along for what I reckon will be a fantastic party.

I've been working away furiously on copy-edits for Death Most Definite. Finished them on Friday (I hope, any problems that book possesses are no-one's fault but mine now, I've had some of the best editorial guidance of my life on Death Most - thank you, Hachette) and then had two Xmas parties to attend - with work at Avid in the middle - seriously hit the wall today. Got up to work on a draft of the Business of Death and found I was just too tired* to concentrate at all. So have spent the day recovering, even went off and finished my Christmas shopping.

Now, I'm going to finish reading Jeff Vandermeer's Finch, then play around on what will hopefully become my new website in 2010.

*Okay, I may also have been slightly hung-over.