The View From Thirty Thousand Feet

Take a breath, then exhale. Relax. Recline. Head back, eyes closed. Feel the world fall away as you rise. It’s lift-off.

That’s how these last few days have felt to me. Earlier this week, I handed over to my editor the next-to-final draft of At the Edge of the Solid World. The book has a beautiful, haunting cover, and an online presence. It’s due to be published in July. It’s out for proofreading now and should come back to me in a few weeks, hopefully with all errors caught, and with comments on infelicities that have so far escaped the eyes of its early readers. This part of the process leaves me feeling as if I’m entering a little limbo, breaking through the fog of close proximity to the manuscript. Lift-off. As I glance back at the trajectory that has brought me to this point, I think I can begin to see what the novel looks like from a remove.

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Why the Fugue?

I clicked over to Margot Singer’s recent post at the Paris Review in a bit of a panic. Singer asks whether a novel can be a fugue, or can be structured akin to a fugue, and she offers up her own début, Underground Fugue, as an example of a novel built upon a fugal framework. Since I’m in the midst of writing a novel that also takes its cues from the fugue, I worried that Singer had beaten me to it and undercut me before I could even finish. Not that either one of us imagines that we might be the first writer to take this particular path (Joyce, Burgess, et al) but still, nobody wants to exhaust themselves labouring over a book that ends up reading mostly like an echo of someone else’s. Continue reading →

Unspeakable

Two years after the last time we spoke, an old friend of mine was convicted of having committed a terrible crime.

I’m thrilled to say that I have a long short story, or perhaps a short novella, in the latest issue of Numéro Cinq. It’s called Unspeakable. Resistance is the word that first springs to mind when I think back over it. It’s a story that in some ways resists being read at all, beginning in a dizzying rush before it shifts gears to a more bearable momentum, and by the end it resists being brought into existence by the events it depicts. A lot of those events are true. Most have been distorted. Some have been exaggerated, others reined in and restrained. Names have been changed throughout. I’ll leave my explanatory remarks at that. To say more would be to cross the lines the story draws around itself.

Minimisation

Today I hit the magic number on the word count for Winter Fugue. The number is 80,000. That’s how many words I’ve got. They’re clean and serviceable, so I’m pleased to have them on the page, although they’re not yet in their best possible shape. They’ll need further revision, further tightening, especially with an eye towards their holistic function, their service to the work as a whole. Nevertheless, in their current state, they do what they need to do. They convey, without any lack, the events, the emotions, the rhythm, the tone, and the senses Winter Fugue wants to convey. More than that, by reaching the magic number, they give the novel its optimum length. Pretty much any how-to guide for aspiring novelists will tell you that 80,000 is the target to aim for. According to the conventions of the mainstream publishing industry, that’s roughly how long a proper novel is.

Except Winter Fugue isn’t quite halfway complete. Lately, as I pace out each new chapter relative to the ones before it, I’ve been figuring that the manuscript will finish up somewhere in the vicinity of 160,000 words. Way too long, but there it is. Not much I can do about it. That’s the way this book wants to be. For that reason, on top of just bringing the book into existence — on top of summoning the intellectual, emotional, and physical stamina necessary to sustain the pace of my output until the book tells me it’s done — one of the fresh challenges I’m starting to face up to is the task of condensing it all into a summary form. Winter Fugue is at a point in its development where I have a clearer sense of its trajectory and its overall shape than I did when I began. This means it’s at a point where I’m thinking more carefully about where it might go when it’s no longer in my hands, about how to place it in the hands of initial readers, potential publishers, and so on. How can a piece of prose so much longer than the ideal novel be shortened, compressed into a synopsis, in a way that doesn’t imperil what its length achieves? Continue reading →

On Ethical Immediacy

I confess I was nervous, even pre-emptively embarrassed, when I wrote in January about what I call the murmur and how it stands as the source of the imperative to write. It seemed too abstract, too wishy-washy, too plainly preposterous to be taken seriously, and all the more so when I came around to using the loaded language of morality and ethical immediacy to describe my response to the imperative to write. Then, via @Twitchelmore, there came to my attention a video of a captivating conversation between Gabriel Josipovici and Lars Iyer, and one of their early exchanges particularly piqued my interest: Continue reading →