This is my New Year's post, which was inspired as I stared at the bonfire you see here on our property during our Christmas Eve celebration. "How far I've come," I whispered to myself that night after everyone had left, standing over the glowing embers with my hands in my pockets. But this is a mantra I say often.
I remember one trip back to New Orleans in late 2006, during which time I was still displaced and re-establishing my life in Birmingham, Alabama, when someone I barely knew asked me when I was coming back to the city. My reply must have had something to do with Hurricane Katrina keeping me away, and I remember his response being almost as if he was under some spell, as if he was part of some communal group hug that the entire city was locked into during that period, one that prompted him to say, "That was a year ago!"
Yes, it had been a year ago at that point, but it was still fresh in the minds of those like myself who for whatever reason couldn't just "come back" to New Orleans. It was an ironic time of great desperation and tremendous growth as I took care of my ailing mother far away from anything we were accustomed to. I would in fact spend the months following the storm in a hotel room in Tuscaloosa, Alabama before moving farther north, and it is that balcony that I still consider the starting point to where I am today.
And today I am sober, with the only new comment I have on this subject in the new year being the realization that I would give anything to be this way for parents that are still alive. Even though I know they realized I was sick, how wonderful would it have been to engage them at this level of maturity (pushed into existence as the result of Katrina) rather than the semi-volatile person that they knew as their son? My mother would in fact have to endure this person even in her latter years, with the event of her death meeting some quota of piled-up tragedy that would help push me toward sobriety. Well, that's not entirely true. The decision, as is always the case for the recovering addict, is the decision of the addict alone. But the decision was a good one, kick starting a period of productivity and awareness that has filled up my journal pages exponentially. My journal for 2006 was 109 pages. My journal for the year 2011 is now well over 500. And how strange it is to think that the documented year following the storm had so little activity, or at least, activity worthy of writing down.
The city of New Orleans has long loosened that communal group hug, replaced instead by a version of the city perhaps not entirely as it was before, but close enough by the resident's standards. Therefore, it is more than possible for Jessica and I to "come back," and our future plans include just that. But for now I am revoking my "Katrina card," satisfied here, as are my people in New Orleans, that we are all where we need to be for the time being.
Those are my reflections. What are yours? Happy New Year.
And she really does have the authority, doesn't she? When one stops to think about it, after she single-handedly provided the modern vampire fiction blueprint with the 1976 publication of Interview with the Vampire, it's almost unheard of to know that she's gotten little to no credit in the wake of the not-so-recent-anymore vampire craze that finally may be showing signs of stopping. Rice, in fact, has been quite vocal when it came to Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series, criticizing among other things the idea that Meyer's immortals inexplicably felt that it was necessary to attend ... high school. It's the stuff that's made Rice fans like myself furious in a way that one gets when they watch someone take credit they didn't deserve, especially when the real credit may go to a friend or a family member, or in our case, an author that you think of almost as family! It's like hearing someone claim to invent a brand when in all actuality, the brand exists because it's being targeted to a market that had no prior knowledge that the brand already existed! Vampires have become afterschool specials and we're all sick of it, and apparently, so is Anne Rice.
It's no wonder that she's given up on the genre for the time being and has instead moved on to werewolves with the February 2012 release of The Wolf Gift, a book that I guarantee will redefine the mythology. And I haven't even read it yet. I don't have to. That's just what she does. She turns legends inside out and fills in the holes that have existed for centuries. She did this reworking with vampires, witches, mummies, an ensemble of ghosts (most all of whom were from New Orleans, by the way), oh, and a marginal literary character by the name of Jesus Christ. And guess what? Anne Rice is about to do it again, readers, and no one has earned the authority to do so more than she has.
I've also seen recently that Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt is being adapted into a film to be directed by Chris Columbus, and I may have this wrong, but it looks as though she may have some casting pull this time around. This, as some of you may remember, is a far cry from when Tom Cruise was cast as Lestat in the film version of Interview, a complaint that she later retracted, but one that I suspect kept her out of the creative meetings that resulted in the horrendous 2002 film adaptation of Queen of the Damned.
I certainly hope that this is the case, which would give Anne Rice the "author"-ity that she has deserved from Hollywood for well over thirty years now, taking her place as the reason why vampires are still around to make sparkly and send to proms.
Have you ever seen one of those shows on any of the various home and garden channels where they tear apart and remodel a house? Or maybe they bring in a celebrity inspector to point out all of the various problems and then proceed to rip down walls, all the while in a frustrated huff, even though you know these guys will be able to do the very labor-intensive work required, and even enjoy doing it? My girlfriend, Jess, has turned me on to these shows being that she is quite the handywoman herself. But I find inspiration not from gaining knowledge on home improvement, but from the obvious metaphor, the idea that "constructing," or in my case, "reconstructing" a fourth draft of a novel is very much like going into a building, finding where the leaks are coming from, and then going to work to patch things up.
The good news is that rarely does a novel written in such a meticulous way as my third book was written see anything beyond a fourth draft. As I've stated earlier on this blog, the third draft was the one that I was going to build on, the foundation that will hold the structure together just long enough for the inspectors to come in and snoop around. This is where, in my case, the trustworthy beta reader came in, pointing out that certain parts needed to be developed, and that the piece could benefit from as little as a few more lines here and there.
I have made my construction plans via sticky notes (index cards are traditionally used here, but hey, I have a "Stickies" app on my computer) arranged like a storyboard with each chapter getting its own, color-coded note. The notes put on these sticky notes will be inserted into the manuscript via what I call "prompts" typed in bold, cueing me to start there and write those few lines, or whatever is needed to make that part work. This is where I am, and it's a good place, being that the beta reader admitted that it was the "cleanest" manuscript they'd received in a long time, and perhaps more importantly, that the novel was more than salvageable and "needs to be represented."
Which brings me to a decision I've made recently that you can read more about in the "A Brief Disclaimer" section of this blog, and it has to do with the previously self-published versions of my work. Basically, I've realized that nothing is going to happen with them in the form that they are in now, that is to say, stigmatized as self-published works. If I am to recognize the integrity of my past work for what it is and what it could be, I need to take it out of the market for now, knowing that they are simply not ready to be consumed. They are early works that tie into this third work-in-progress, one that is designed to stand on its own, and one that will still stand as my potential launching pad into the industry. But since I cannot un-publish those novels, the novels exist now in my mind only as manuscripts (self-publishing companies should make clear that you still own the rights to your book) and nothing more. As a result, these novels have been unlocked, giving me the freedom to go back and change minor punctuation and grammar, things that had previously fallen victim to both my inexperience as a writer, and the heavy hand of copy editors assigned to make my book more "marketable," and thus destroying any stylistic consistency. It is because of this, you will no longer hear me acknowledge these editions as even being in existence, and it is my wish that these editions no longer be included in my body of, as of now, un-published work.
These manuscripts have in fact already been altered, but only in matters of the above mentioned grammar and punctuation with the content remaining the same, and I've sat down to do this in wonderful new writing locations. As you know, I love finding new spaces to work, and I have recently discovered the University on Montevallo's Carmichael Library in Montevallo, Alabama as the place where I will more than likely write most of my next novel. It reminds me very much of the university libraries that I've worked in throughout the years as both a student and a post-graduate alumnus, sometimes choosing to immerse myself in its academic atmosphere of desks and cubicles and campus tranquility instead of drinking it up on a Saturday night. Nowadays, the drinking part isn't even a factor, but revisiting a college campus not only gives me the inspiration that I need in such a rural part of the country, but it allows me to tap into my natural wiring as an academic, working in the environment that at one point in my life, I'd planned to become a part of. It's good to know that these constants exist around me to mirror the constants of my artistic sensibility.
It's very much like when you hear of an artist's career in some retrospect documentary, where the artists themselves are talking about their work as if its relevance to them has never dissipated. They are able to pick apart and dissect their movies or songs or books as if they had just created them, and you realize that this is the case because the artist lives with the art that they create, and the places where they were created, and the reasons that they were created, for the rest of their lives.