With only two nights to go in Key West, I wanted to post a quick something about this scene, nighttime on this section of the island, only hours after the bustle of the tourist-friendly Duvall Street closes and the customers and employees scatter. This is the "Blanket," Key West style, and it is a time of night I've grown accustomed to while here.
It is in fact so safe to walk these streets late at night, that for me, it's a little unnerving. The area in and around Duvall Street reminds me so much of New Orleans, with Duvall being closer akin to Bourbon Street, and the neighborhoods surrounding looking like parts of the Garden District. But in no way would I consider taking to either one of those neighborhoods in New Orleans on foot after hours, especially when there seems to be not a living soul around! It truly is amazing. Where does everybody go? Walking through the French Quarter for so may years has wired me to check for movement in passing car windows and to keep a steady, peripheral awareness that produces a special kind of tunnel vision. Here, I lapse into that pinhole-size perspective, and it makes it quite hard to sightsee.
But the points of the late-night walks have been all centered around a certain centering, for processing the night on stage, for exploring the storefronts and points of interest for any daytime outings, and more importantly, for walking around inside of my writer's mind. I felt like Owen Wilson in Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," and what a coincidence it was that I was in the land of Hemingway. I was looking for that old Rolls-Royce around every corner.
The third time is the charm! Here is the draft on which I'll build, the one that will be placed gently into the hands of beta readers and potential agents. The Internet was down when I completed it, which is probably a good thing. It reminds me of stories of mass conceptions during power outages. It has been nine months between drafts!
Anyway, this one clocked in at 422 pages, which means I was able to chop 44 pages from the previous draft, a statistic that only now in finishing I realized. I would never have expected that. There was numerology involved in today's completion, today being August the 3rd, 2011 (8+3=11), and as if to punctuate my belief that my work tends to be in sync with the universe, by no effort of my own, the novel was completed at 11:11 a.m. My "Silver Screen" channel was on in my office, and while the final pages of the manuscript slipped out of the printer, triumphant soundtrack music accentuated the event! But in all seriousness, today is the culmination of quite a bit of personal growth, and it is a testament to how far I've indeed come. I love you, Jessica.
As is one of the main purposes of this website, there will be more posts to follow regarding plans for the future of this piece. We will track my pursuit of agency representation, and ultimately, of legitimate publication. Let's do this together, shall we?
Thought I'd post a little something here about my recent week spent in Key West, during which time I edited my new book during the day and played music at night. It was wonderful in this regard. As long as I have this opportunity, my Key West weeks will double as writing sabbaticals.
But I do want to mention the literary significance of Key West, namely, the well-documented fact that Ernest Hemingway lived on the island for a short time during one of the most prolific periods of his life. The Hemingway House is a tourist attraction, and I did make the trek on foot to the house, and I did take the tour, and I did buy a souvenir coffee mug. Now, I did all of these things during my first trip to Key West (sans the coffee mug), and I have to report that the Hemingway mystique was much more potent that first time around. I think I know why.
Simply put, I grew up as a writer in New Orleans, the same city as a literary idol of mine, Anne Rice, also lived. I'd pass her house on a regular basis in the Garden District of New Orleans, the mansion sitting behind the gates on the corner of First and Chestnut, the residence the model for the Mayfair house in Anne Rice's own The Witching Hour. I even had the privilege of being inside two of her other properties, one being her house on Third and St. Charles during the Bacchus parade back in 1997. I remember walking around the house saying, "This is what words on paper built." I actually imagined the walls themselves being made of pieced-together manuscript pages. It was something to aspire to, an atmosphere that even now I try to reproduce in my own home. I dream often of being in her house, roaming the halls in search of her writing space, just to have a look.
I can't say the same for the Hemingway House in Key West, and to be fair, I'm going to assume that the main reason has to do with the fact that it is not a very well-kept place. Window fans circulate what little air there is in there, and aside from evidence of a bedroom and a kitchen and a bathroom, the house doesn't really look lived in. It looks like what it was, and that was a place for Hemingway to entertain and then eventually crash while on his never-ending benders in Key West. He does have a "writing studio" in a separate small building that the tour guide said was once connected by a walkway straight from his bedroom, but even that looked stifling and uninspiring. But the six-toed cats that roam the property were ... well ... there were six-toed cats that roamed the property.
Therefore, Key West for me is just as I had mentioned earlier, and that is a place that I have the luxury of going to twice a year (for now) and spending a week inside of my writer's mind. I saw very little of the island aside from certain streets that were essential for me to roam in order to survive. Unfortunately, Key West represents everything that I no longer am as a man two years sober, yet I will move confidently into the midst of this beautiful part of the United States and take from it what I can. Thank you, Key West!
I'm writing this after only moments ago finishing Chapter 20 of 30 of my new book, and in the moments between then and now, I've already taken the news to Facebook and Twitter, and now here to TedTorres.com. This is the excitement of a project drawing to a close. This is the vision of another black binder materializing in my office with another snapshot of where I am as a writer inside. This is why I do it, and it's why you should do it, too.
From here on out, the chapters are shorter, and thus, I can more easily incorporate my "edit, insert, read, and move on to the next chapter" regimen with an accelerated sense of progress. I've worked through the clunky prose, passed the point of my sobriety, and now I'm sharing the drive and enthusiasm that the writer of the pages I'm editing right now had when he worked in a trance-like state at the Hoover Public Library. However, this is also usually the time when I start planning ahead, although this time around, my aspirations are more grounded in reality.
Five years ago, and weeks after my mother and I settled into Alabama after Hurricane Katrina, I had in fact had most of Scenes from the Blanket written and edited. Only the final three chapters (if I recall correctly) needed to be written, and I remember carving out a workspace and going to work in the very small apartment I had rented, downing cup after cup of coffee and pounding out the rest of the book. But the planning for the future part was all about getting it published as quick as possible, using the crutch of having survived the ordeal of Katrina as my justification, or more to the point, my reward. I was going to self-publish yet again, and this time, I was going to do it right … whatever that meant.
Well, as I've preached over and over again here on TedTorres.com, self-publishing is not the way to go. It creates an instant stigma in the industry, and there is no amount of promotion that can be done, either by yourself or through outside agencies (I actually hired a publicist during this time) that is going to blur the reality of that stigma in the eyes of anyone even coming close to taking you seriously as a novelist. It took two knocks upside the head with this lesson to finally learn it, and it is why this third book will be worked into the system legitimately, and it is the only plan I have for this book as of now.
But this is not to say that I haven't made other plans! They are just the more constructive kind, manifested in the form of a stream-of-consciousness Word file that I started yesterday (this is primarily how I outline my novels) with notes for a fourth book. It will mark a departure for me, leaving this Blanket Trilogy I've created behind as the first part of my literary canon (while, of course, still pursuing legitimate publication for this new one), and marking my launch into a genre more akin to dark comedy.
The new book has a working title, but it will change. It has to. Like everything else in life.
Goodbye, Amy Tan. You were posted during a time of high fever, and although I loved the lecture, it's time your face moves down a notch on TedTorres.com.
With that out of the way, once again over a month has passed since my last post. But it's been a busy month, occupied with recuperation from a minor illness, lots of shows with my band, and as I am happy to report here, lots and lots of editing on my new novel. In fact, I'm only pages away from the half-way point in both the edits and the inserts, and soon it will be time to implement the third part of my three-part plan, which is to send this completed first half to an editor in New Orleans.
Most of the work on the book was done in the building you see pictured here, the Hoover Public Library, with its rows of quiet study cubicles, its in-house coffee shop, it's art gallery, and its post-modern ambiance ... especially at night. Among other locations in the library, this room was where most of the new book was written before my moving to the country, and I've since had the pleasure of revisiting the library a few times during trips into town, utilizing its resources for a few more hours of intense work, reminding me both of how good it can be to get out of my office at home during the editing process, and how much love and nostalgia I have for this facility. If you ever find yourself in the greater Birmingham area, be sure to visit. It truly is one of the most amazing libraries in the country.
Now, as a completely unrelated aside, I would like to address the lack of recent movie reviews on TedTorres.com, reporting that I have in fact seen lots of current releases, but at the same time, admitting that my takes on most of these films have been so to the contrary of most mainstream critics lately as to almost look as though anything I'd post here would be intentionally argumentative (if that's even the right word). In no way am I the guy that will say the sky is red or that water isn't wet just to prove some point, but I'll be damned if even Roger Ebert and I have been on opposite ends of the opinion spectrum on a lot of these films, and I've always considered Ebert to be the closest (at least 95% of the time) "real" critic there is out there to me. I've in fact wanted to write about most all of last year's films, and I even had a pretty good rant about how sick I am of the media complaining about how long the Academy Awards show is every year. C'mon! If you're a movie fan like myself (and unlike myself, if your not working on Sunday nights for the past four years!), a show that celebrates film in all of it's facets like that one does couldn't go on long enough!
Glad I got that out.
By way of a quick progress report, I've implemented a three-part plan to complete the final draft of my third novel. I love the number three. I always have. I always will.
See? Like that. Three declarative sentences in a row.
Anyway, the first part of the plan is to forge ahead no matter how difficult this red pen stage is, although as I've mentioned earlier, I have broken through to the more inspired and sober parts of this book. And again, I have to report that this stage has been, for lack of a better word, misrepresented on TedTorres.com as being my "favorite" part. I was actually referring to the second part of the plan ...
Which is the inserting of the corrections. This is the part I love due to its certain level of finality. After doing as much as I can of the edits, the second part of my daily regimen is to go back and put chapters in the can, so to speak. This second stage sort of reminds me of the old "Billy Boy" cartoon, where the goat eats up the train tracks, the snake eating its own tail. But it's a productive consumption of track, bringing me all the more closer and quicker to getting the finished manuscript into the right hands.
And some very specific hands are part of the third part of the plan, again happening in conjunction with the first two, and that is to get the finished pages to you (and you know who you are), my invaluable confidant on the outside. In this regard I feel like William S. Burroughs in Tangiers, feeding his finished pages to Ginsberg and Kerouac in New York, telling them that it doesn't matter in what order the pages go, just publish it.
Well, I'm not that liberal with the piece. My OCD won't allow it. I've already written my Naked Lunch.
Behold the power of three!
It's a new year, and what a better time to get back to one of the main purposes of TedTorres.com, which is to trace the creation of a new novel through completion for my fellow writers out there. And so, here's one of what will be many progress reports to come.
Okay, what you see above is a single page from one of the opening chapters of the manuscript, and what I'd like to point out here is the amount of red ink scribbled in both the text and in the margins. Yes, it's been a difficult beginning so far, but I know exactly why, and it has everything to do with the approach with which I took this time around with the actual writing.
I'll tell you this: no more will I run through a draft without looking back. I don't care what Stephen King preached in his book, On Writing. It never worked for me during the first two books, and even the initial thought of working that way in theory never settled well, even as I started this new approach. I do not recommend it. The experiment was a success only in the aspect that I learned what not to do the next time around.
It's quite obvious that these opening chapters, written over four years ago, were done in times of great distraction, and only in completing the first draft did I finally develop a tone for the book, one in which I now have to go back and keep consistent throughout. In essence, it doubles if not triples the amount of work during this next run-through, making me think twice about a previous statement I'd made claiming that the red pen stage was my favorite ... not like this, and not with such admittedly amateur prose.
However, I can report that as of a few days ago, I have chiseled through the marble of the early expository stuff enough now to where I'm starting to see the better written pages. Whew! I knew they were there somewhere. I mean, it hasn't been that long ago that I was writing the thing, and I certainly remember how meticulous I was then. Who knows? Maybe I hit some sort of stride as I writer somewhere in the early sections of this book, finding my style and then going on auto-pilot throughout to the end, with those early pages the only evidence of my stumbling around looking for a voice.
But then again, it could be that I got sober somewhere in there, which made me pick up speed in every aspect of my life, especially the productivity part.
There. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I'm going to go with that second one. If it weren't for putting that bottle down, and if it wasn't for the support of my Jessica, I would have never even completed a draft.
You know this book is going to be dedicated to you, Jess. Just deal with it.
Of the many friendly criticisms I've received of my two books over the years, the one that always rings true is that I don't need to be in such a hurry to end my stories ... and I'll be damned if I'm not guilty of just that this third time around.
After passing the new manuscript past some eyes other than my own, I've come to realize that my ending just doesn't quite cut it. And so the plan now is to retain as much of the original ending as possible -- with a few tweaks here and there -- while going back into the body of the piece to fatten up some spots that could make the whole thing work. I'm actually excited about the prospect of doing this as I head into the second draft process next week, which consists basically of incorporating some of the previously mentioned edits, with the third draft scheduled to begin as I take the manuscript with me to Key West, Florida during the second week in December.
I have noticed, however, that I have a natural order of things that I ease into when I'm finishing the actual writing of a book, and so far, it always leads to one of the characters having a conversation with the person at the center of the conflict, and then that character reflecting on the events of the big picture.
At the end of The Petrified Christ, Daniel Foster has his conversation with ... well ... someone ... and then reflects back on the entire story while in his office at Loyola, laying down some conclusions on his personal theology to the once abrasive graduate student Rodney, and then wandering out of the building into the night. Scenes from the Blanket has a similar ending, in which Blake Worthington, after having confronted the architect of the curse and the curse itself, takes his thoughts to paper as we're given one of many glimpses into his personal journal, and thus, a conclusive wrap-up of where his head is. And I'll just say that my third book has a similar ending, although I won't say who has the conversation and who does the reflecting.
It's the rhythms that fascinate me when it comes to writing, be they organic -- in which characters seem to take on lives of their own, doing and saying things that you never intended before you sat down to write them -- or constructed, as is the case with my current end trend. I'm content with it, though, and I figure that if these three books are going to make up some sort of Blanket Trilogy, then it feels right to have this common thread running through all three.
Well, here it is, the first draft of my third novel, completed today at 1:47 p.m. When I spanked its newborn ass, it had come in at 466 pages and approximately 116,500 words.
But the real work has just begun, as now I get to dive into it red pen first and start sculpting this thing into something that can compete in the market. Admittedly, this second step in the process is my favorite, and this will be the first time that I've written a draft from start to finish without obsessively going back and re-working every page before moving forward. The idea here is that now I should be able to edit the book objectively and take the ride almost as if for the first time, finding out what works and what doesn't, what characters need to be flushed out, and most importantly, if I've been successful in saying what it is that I wanted to say.
Not a bad way to end the week!