Another Pre-lim Drawing

Although I probably should feel more of a sense of achievement, I do not. My new (hahaha) book is now undergoing a final proof before formatting for Amazon. I feel drained, as far as writing goes. The only excitement I feel now is towards these fun parts, the drawing, the photos, the polish. It’s not even work: a thing done simply to do the thing is life, and it is also enlightenment; a thing done as a means towards an end is work, drudgery. I keep learning this lesson over and over. I hope I do, learn, I mean.

At any rate, I carry on, and here’s the latest in the preliminary drawings. I did this one while sitting in a cafe, people watching, enjoying a coffee and a bear claw. That’s my favorite, a coffee, a claw, some people. I need to get out more. :-)

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I love the feel of the tools in my hands, the pens, pencils and oil pastels. It feels good to draw, to make a mark, a line and others that hook together. Feels good.

 

Health notes- this last cycle of oral chemo kicked my ass. I finished it Monday evening, and I’m still recovering. I cannot believe I am still alive. I pray each day for help for everyone, all of you, and my dog, my family, my beautiful daughter and wife. I hope these small notes find all of you well and happy.

Revision and Editing Take a Long Time

Well, if you have a nice batch of cancer brewing in your stomach, the editing seemingly goes on forever. I kept track of my time:

9/19 10-1

9/30 1-3

10/1 10-12

2/6  2pm-3pm

2/7  noon-2pm

2/13 2-3

2/21 4-5

2/25 1-3

2/26 1-2, p.60

2/27 1-2:30 p.64

3/4 11:15-12:20 p.75

4/14 1:15-2:30 p.93

4/18 1:50-3:05 p.105

4/22 11-1:45

4/24 2-3.

start at p.106 or so, end of Telephone Call, continue line editing

5/6 2-3 p.110

5/7 1-2:35 p.125

5/9 4:14-4:37 p.130

5/12 12:10-2:17 p.132 middle (blog, cancer update)

5/14 12:23-2:46 p.142

5/15 12:38-1:43 p.149

5/16 11:15-1:37 p.162 (blog update, oed w3)

5/19 noon-1:08 p.173 (Random Access from Werewolves)

5/20 12:47-2:00 p.184

5/21 12:14-1:37 p.195

5/22 11:11-11:43 p.201

5/27 10:56-1:11 p.212

6/9 2:22-3:31 p.216

6/26 11-noon p.218

6/28-9 off & on afternoons p.222

6/30 11:10-1:10 p.228

7/1 1:45-3:10 p.233

7/2 2:37-? p.239

7/4 2:20-3:04 p.247

7/5 12:57-1:45 p.252

7/9 12:53-3:20 p.273

7/11 2:18-3:07 p.281

 

And that’s how long it took me to revise and edit Werewolves. Sharon is taking a proofreading pass, and as soon as those mistakes are corrected, it’ll be time to format for Kindle and post. I am thrilled. This book has been a lot of work, and I’ve never taken so long to finish anything before. Mostly, I wrote one short novel or about 10 short stories each year. About 4.5 years for a single book seems way too long to me. But there it is- A)Time be time, and things take how long they take and that’s that, and B)I really can’t think of anything better to do than write stuff like this, so this is how I’m gonna spend my life- making scratches in the sand. Seriously, it feels damned good to have finished this thing.

Editing and Revising

In skool, I once heard that Tim O’Brien, who wrote _The Things They Carried_ and _Going After Cacciato_, that he’s famous for revising, revising and revising some more. Supposedly, the guy gets up in the morning and looks over the day’s pages from yesterday, trashes 90% and takes up the pen to rewrite. I just don’t have it in me to do that kind of thing. I hate wasted effort.

My revision process works like this- I begin with a concept, a scene or a person who looks cool, and I imagine what that person might do. I write it up. But before I begin, I tend to think a bit about the scale of the piece. Is the thing going to be a novel, a short story, a haiku, a song or most likely, a novelette. The short novel is probably my favorite form. I like a piece of writing to be long enough to savor, but not so long that either I or a reader gets bored with the thing.

Anyhow, once I’ve picked a length, I like to just sort of follow this character around and jot down the things he or she might encounter. These items, scents, colors, symbols, other people and so on, at some point, and the pressure to find this point somewhere on my interior map, it grows and grows  until I feel like I’m gonna blow, until, finally, a kind of seed crystal drops, and the rest of the story coalesces around the seed, and then I can see the whole thing. I call this event coalescence day. It happens with every piece of writing I do; suddenly, once enough pressure builds and I’ve put in enough time and effort, I can see everything.

Once I can see everything, I stop and begin to make structural decisions and decide what needs to go where, what scenes are missing to make the plot work (since after coalescence day, I know the plot), and I know all the details that I’ve been working thus far, perhaps 1/3 to 1/2 way through the process of creating the finished work. I can see the themes and know what the work is about in terms of motivations, message and argument, theme. And because I know what the book is about, I can select from the images I’ve already been working and trash those that dead end and add those that reinforce character and theme so that the work becomes layered (good work is always layered, that’s my rule).  And once I have all these pieces, the process of mapping out the rest of the work becomes simple and all that remains to be done is to simply write it down. I actually make maps on paper, tension graphs, terrain maps, other visual aids.

Contrast this with another process where, someone puts up the whole story, like a house, and suddenly they realize, once the whole thing looks complete, that the bathroom needs to go where the kitchen is. Then they’re facing a shitload of work to tear out walls, reroute plumbing and throw away tons of effort, money and energy. I just can’t work like that. Instead, I take blank the page it, follow the characters around, and when I can’t stand it anymore, I figure out what else needs to go where to make a clear coherent unified piece. This way, my revision happens before I have to trash months of effort.

Editing on the other hand happens as a last step in which I clean up mistakes in parallelism, grammar, punctuation, sentence level clarity, individual word choices to reinforce tone and character and so on to make the work read more smoothly. This part is tedious sometimes, but it’s also really gratifying- it’s like taking a rough piece of jewelry and putting a high polish on it so that the finished product appears seamless. And man, I love that.

Here’s some examples of a few edits that I did today-

Unclear

broke: The smells of greenery, a hint fresh garbage and dry chicken shit dust the air.

fixed: The the not unpleasant smell of dry chicken shit dusts the air along with good greenery and a hint of fresh garbage.

Above, there was too much separation between the subject and verb there leading to some itchy feeling about a subject verb number mismatch. Yuck.

 

Overwritten

broke: A white henhouse abuts the length of one side of the fencing.

fixed: A white henhouse abuts the length of fencing.

 

Unintended repetition

broke: I look up into a sky bluer than any I have ever seen and blink at the sun.

I wake on deck, blinking up into the clear blue,

fixed: I look up into a sky bluer than any I have ever seen and stare at the sun.

I wake on deck, blinking up into the clear blue,

 

Punctuation correction

broke: Each day we take the boat out and Scotty shows me a little more.

fixed: Each day we take the boat out, and Scotty shows me a little more.

 

Every time I track one of these or one of the myriad other minor mistakes that happen easily in drafting quickly, I’m like, yay! one less thing for somebody to stumble over. Polish, who doesn’t like a shiny thing, lovingly smoothed and rubbed to a fine patina where not even the smallest crack shows. That’s the kind of craftsmanship I strive for in editing.

Here’s the rules, as far as I’m concerned: Revise for unity and coherence and Edit for clarity and polish. And do it in that order, revise first, then edit.

 

Today, I find myself editing p.239 of 276 total. So close to locking this draft in, I can freaking taste it, and it tastes GOOD.

A Very Quick Music Demo

In addition to writing words, I also write music. It’s all improv, so I might begin with a chord progression or a scale, or some other idea entirely, perhaps simply a note that appeals in some way, be that pitch, timbre or tone. From the get go of idea to a complete piece is merely the push of a record button. I use Ableton Live, Garageband, a Tascam single track digital recorder and an iPhone depending on the context and my plans for the finished project, as far as recording gear goes. I do not own any expensive mics, interfaces or consoles. Here’s a photo of my standard recording setup-

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Using Live this way allows me to develop material extremely quickly and to be able to get it down to a usable format fast! A moment ago, I spent 10 minutes building a track, just to use as an example. It is not pristine by any means, and time (rhythm) is something that I like to play with. Is it in time? Which aspects? How can you say? Does it matter? Do you want to dance? Why, why, why, should time rule with such a terrific grip? I say, I’m questioning it. Here’s the demo, literally, 10 minutes effort, working title, “Can’t You Find”-

 

I LOVE this setup. It’s extremely fast, reliable and flexible. For instance, here, if I want another amplifier, I just drag and drop a sim into the guitar chain that you can see on my screen above. I don’t have to go to the store and spend $1000 and carry around a 50 pound piece of hardware. Likewise, I can route any signal in any direction. Some of this stuff you can’t even do with hardware. And that little keyboard, I can use it to play drums, a grand piano, a cello or whatever. Still, I play a physical guitar, just so there’s _one_ instrument that I’ve actually had to spend some real time learning. But for prototyping and a home studio, it’s hard to go wrong with software. Good, good stuff!

Werewolves, Preliminary Drawing

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Lately, I’ve been thinking about cover images for _Werewolves_.  The sketch above is one of the preliminary drawings for the book. Not sure where it’s going to go,  front or back cover, but it will probably be collaged in Gimp with other images, foreground and background objects and text, or it may not get put in place at all. It’s merely a sketch. Fun to draw a little. I love the paint-like effects that I can produce with oil pastels. They build up on paper somewhat like paint can on canvas, deepening the colors, blending them and adding a slight 3-d quality to the work. Of all the color media I use, which includes, crayons, markers, colored pencils, watercolor pencils and the oil pastels, the pastels are maybe my favorites. They have an intensity that I just can’t get any other way. Controlling them on the paper remains challenging. And, as you can see, my drawing technique is limited.

Doing this sort of work very much helps to inform the writing. Whether I use an illustration or not with a given piece of text doesn’t have much to do with how effective it is. My main concern is that illustrations offer me a different point of view and allow me to see elements in the writing that I might otherwise miss.

I learned to draw about 25 years ago by working through Betty Edwards’s _Drawing on the Artist Within_ which details not only drawing instruction, but also demonstrates how to link ideas and create parallels between various sorts of media. I’ve never put in enough time to draw very well or very efficiently, but learning the basics added a complete layer of depth to the way I look at the world, because drawing isn’t really about hand-eye coordination or other some such; it is about learning to see accurately. Seeing things accurately completely changes perception, permantently. If you are interested in learning to render images realistically (that is, to draw) by hand, this book is one of the best of its kind plus more.

 

Health note- I’ve been pretty beat up by chemo and drug interactions lately and haven’t gotten much done beyond bare survival for the last three weeks, but this week, things seem to be on an upswing, and I’ve been able to do more each day than simply get out of bed, put on pants and eat. I had a small epiphany the other day: this is my retirement, which I never expected to have, and as such, perhaps I should try to take it a little easier. This view has led me to feel less anxious about writing, editing, and drawing.

“Office”

Here’s my office-

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Yes, that’s the foot of my bed in the foreground there ^. The “office” takes up about 1/5th of the bedroom that I share with Sharon. She has been very gracious about letting me set up my stuff in our space. I try to keep things neat looking, but the world’s shittiest filing cabinets (purchased only about 8 month ago at Target) are falling apart, plastic cracking, and so the top of my desk has begun to fold in on itself. See that monitor there, sitting at an angle in the sunshine, that’s really starting to bug me. But, who cares. I never do any work at the desk anyway. It’s just a surface to put stuff, and I only sit in the green chair in front of the desk when I make music. Then, the desk holds my laptop which hooks up with a couple of midi controllers, an audio interface, the guitar, mic and monitors.

Writing happens in the red chair. I’ve spent a lot of time in that chair, sitting there with my legs crossed, one elbow on the arm of the chair, laptop balanced on my leg and belly while I type. Before I had the red chair, I sat in chairs at the library, similarly shaped, low-slung armchairs hidden away up in the stacks on the third floor where I could look out the windows and watch the ravens playing in an updraft alongside another building next door. Now, I almost never open the blinds. But when I do, the view of the fire escape, the breeze, sound of song birds, city noise, these all treat me, like a reward for sitting there putting up architecture inside my mind.

Writing a book or a blog doesn’t require a great deal of space in the three dimensional world. See that wire at the bottom left corner of the window? That’s my link to the punchdown block in the basement that leads to an ATT router somewhere out there in the more illusory world, and eventually to sallaughter.com and then on to you. As far as i’m concerned, you might as well have a seat in the green chair, or pretend to, and we’ll carry on our conversation as you like.

Random Access

I’ve been writing a novel, off and on, for the last four years or so. It’s a big wooly thing with so many viewpoints that it shifts around like dunes on the move. I’ve had to take a break after preparing each section, so as to transplant my brains from one character’s head to another, something like that. I keep telling myself that it takes as long as it takes. I finished the first draft of the book around 18 months ago. Time be time. And that is all.

Lately, I edit as many pages as I can stand, every day that I have the energy to sit in my “office” and concentrate on words.

Here’s a segment that I finished today:

 

29- Random Access

 

Under the trapdoor, in the cellar, there is a movie theater with fresh fragrant popcorn and icy cold air conditioning. Two waxed paper cups hold cola. Topher takes one from the concession stand, and Elizabeth gets the other. She holds the cup in one hand and cradles her new hammer in the other. No one greets them, but the lights go down as soon as they find their seats in a sea of red velvet plush. The action begins on screen. Elizabeth zooms into the picture. The frame extends beyond the limits of her view which is the same as looking out of someone else’s eyes. 

She sees what you see.

A man in shirt, tie, and suit slacks lounges in a recliner. It is a leather affair with a mahogany side table. The news on TV distracts him. A short thick glass full of ice and whiskey sits on the table next to an ashtray. The man has drag from his cigarette before he catches a glimpse of movement and looks right at you. He says something, a name, like John maybe, and you tell him to shut up. The shot bangs, and he takes it in the forehead. You allocate a moment to place the second shot carefully. The bullet smashes through the bridge of his nose. Anyone worth shooting once is worth shooting twice. You barely feel the gun buck in your gloved hand. The ejected shells rattle on the hardwood floor. You let them lie. No fingerprints, loaded wearing latex, nothing about the brass matters.

Exiting, the front door clicks shut quietly behind you, but ringing is all you hear. The nighttime air feels cool on your bare legs, and you begin to run. Out for a jog is all your appearance suggests, running shoes, shorts, gun and thin gloves now tucked between layers of wide elastic around your middle under your singlet. You move out in darkness. A third quarter moon shows in the sky.

OED, W3

Sharon brings home a game, sometimes. It’s in the local paper; they call it the Word. That’s it, just Word Game. They give you a word, and you’re supposed to take the supplied letters there and make other words out of them. I remain ignorant of so many possibilities. A friend once said that there are like over a hundred two letter words, Scrabble player. You have to memorize them all to be any good at that game. I’m like, “What?” Each day, the paper posts the daily word and then the answers from yesterdays word. They give you a minimum count and a time limit as in you need to make 17 words out of Salvages in 25 minutes. They also give a hypothetical upper limit, as in, can you find 27 or more words in Salvages? Every time I get to the answers the next day, Sharon hits me over the head and says, “Dang. We forgot ‘savage.’” And then we’re faced with some word in the answer list like lavage, and I’m like, “Wow, my ignorance is stunning isn’t it?” Sharon says, “No way. That’s not a word. They made that up.” So we reach for a dictionary.

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I think it’s pretty cool, having the whole (most of anyway) language there on the table. We look up the word and a little of my ignorance abates. Besides, once you look up one word, you inevitably get sucked into another, especially in the OED, and the next thing you know, you’re reading the dictionary. For pleasure. How crazy is that?

You can also use these things in the course of your writing, of course!

Cancer Can Really Slow You Down

I haven’t written in long time, but now I finally have the energy to write a short note.

Wow! I’ve had almost eleven months since diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. It is hard to believe that I am still alive.

Thank you for your support throughout this process. You have helped keep my spirits up, and among many other contributions, you’ve given me money, presents and prayers and conversation. I do not think that I would have survived this long without you. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

I am so happy to be alive and able to try to make the world a better place.

Right this second, I’m thinking about my nurses, the other immediate contacts in offices and my doctors who have treated the cancer in my body. I’m thinking about them because during my last several visits with them, they’ve given me miraculous news. By no means is this disease cured, but the news is nonetheless good. The most recent scans, taken April 29, 2014 at Washington University’s Siteman Cancer Center show dramatic improvement: all tumors are smaller, and the primary site at the head of my pancreas, the tumor no longer shows on the scan. We do not know whether any of the cells in the dozen or more sites (pancreas and liver, and surrounding areas) contain viable cancer or not. There is simply no way to know.

Because of this news, Sharon and I briefly considered surgery, a Whipple, procedure, which involves cutting out part or all of the pancreas, the visible sites in the liver, 1/3-1/2 of the stomach, the duodenum, and perhaps some portions of major blood vessels which feed and drain these organs. However, I consulted two surgeons, two oncologists, several nurses and a patient who has had this procedure done, and the conclusion that we reached together is that with or without the surgery, no one knows or can even make any kind of reliable estimate of whether the cancer will present itself again in the future, though the chances are very high that either way, it will come back and kill me. Because I am currently enjoying relatively good health and energy, we have decided that the best course of action is to stay on the track that Dr Finnie (my oncologist) has laid out for me: oral chemo for the foreseeable future.

I do not want to undergo a major surgery with a long recovery (best case scenario, 6 weeks of immediate recovery involving a lot of bed rest plus 6 months of considerable pain in the abdomen as it heals). Given the fact that I may only have a few more months to live, this best case scenario does not sound like a good deal. I do not want to spend what could be the last summer of my life laid up from having a huge gap cut in my belly. The worst case scenarios involve possible immediate death on the operating table, severe life altering complications and a weakening of the immune system that reawakens the cancer and causes it to bloom.

Back to the good news: I’ve felt pretty good lately and am up and around. It’s almost summertime, a period where Sharon has a bit more than two months off work (she’s a high skool librarian), and we can spend time together that is usually impossible due to her full time job. Also, with the rise in energy, I’ve been able to devote some time to editing the novel that has been in progress for the last four years. I’m beginning to think that I may have been granted the boon of enough time and good health to finish it, which would be awesome indeed!

Additionally, spring here in Saint Louis has been absolutely gorgeous. Cancer comes not only with devastation, but also gifts, one of which is that because death is so near, I’ve become much more aware of the precious nature of everything and everyone. The magnolia blooms IMG_1382

have come and gone, but god, they were glorious. The irises

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and other bulbs burst forth last week. This week brings the peonies. They’re popping right now while I’m writing. Just like this

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I hope this message finds you happy and healthy, and I wish you the very best!

Worms

Here’s an excerpt from the book I’m currently working:

——————————————————————–

I turned the corner, and Samantha stood under the shower, naked, glorious.  Her black hair pulled straight back, wet, over her shoulders.  Her eyes looked directly into mine as full of promise as a new fifty dollar bill.  The water ran off her shoulders and down her breasts. I put my arms around her and she lay in them as limp as a noodle.

“No?” I said.

“No.” she said.

I couldn’t seem to breathe anymore.  I could feel that muscle behind the bridge of my nose, the one that controls the tears; I could feel it grip my ducts and squeeze.  I wouldn’t.  I could swallow.  And I closed my eyes.

The shower was hot and steaming.  I was alone, no sign of Samantha.  I soaped up and scrubbed.  I felt cleaner than I had since I’d stabbed Sandra in the belly.  I felt cleaner than I ever had in my life.  I turned off the water and slid the shower door open.  Water dripped off me and pooled at my feet, and the towel was warm and fluffy on my skin.  I closed my eyes and savored the feeling of the fabric rubbing on my skin.

The two clerks stood before me.  They began shouting in French with Chinese accents as soon as I opened my eyes.  The glass block shower stall was gone, and I was standing, naked and dripping in the middle of what had become a fine art gallery filled with old Dutch Masters’ paintings.

“What about the Morte Noir Bleau?  Do you think you can drip all over it and walk away?  You imbecile!” the clerks said in unison.  They spoke loudly enough to wake Rip Van Winkle.

I looked down, and sure enough, a dark blue painting of Death was under my feet standing in a puddle of water.

“How much is it?” asked Samantha from my elbow.  She was dressed in a white on white suit, striped, with white heels about five feet tall.  They made her legs go on forever, the sight of which gave me an erection on the spot.  The clerks covered their mouths and giggled without accent.  They pointed and stuck out their tongues from behind lips as long and thick as nightcrawler worms.

“I’d only buy it if it’s not water damaged, you know.  You’d have to certify it,” she said.

The paint was beginning to run.  It started to look like an overwashed watercolor rather than an oil.