I’ve heard that somewhere, up in Heaven I mean, there’s a big book where a secretary angel is writing down everything about our lives, keeping a record of the good and bad. I guess it’s kind of double entry bookkeeping, with one column for good and one for bad, and the angel has to make a lot of tricky decisions about which column to use. Or depending on how you behave, maybe most of the book is one long list of sins, and there’s a short appendix in the back for the good things you’ve done.
It’s interesting that writing has entered our religious mythology. Before the invention of writing, people probably imagined that the gods just remembered what they did, or maybe that the gods didn’t even really care, because they were going to fuck you up anyway. The idea of writing became part of religion long ago. There are many painted wall images from ancient Egypt showing souls being judged, and nearby stands Thoth, the god of writing, holding a bit of papyrus and a pen, while the soul being judged stands thinking, “Damn, he’s writing this down. When did that start?”
For the record, if you’re keeping records, this is my first blog entry from Washington, DC. To be more technically correct, this is my first blog entry from Rockville, Maryland, northwest of Washington, on the red metro line. It has been an adventure to get here, but isn’t moving usually an adventure? Isn’t that what it says on the side of U-Haul trucks? To some extent moving really is an adventure, in the good woo-hoo! sense of excitement and stimulation. It is also, as you might imagine, an adventure in the darker, ironic sense of the word.
But I don’t want to write about the unpleasant things, though they exist. I arrived here five days ago, and already I’m feeling a bit settled in. I know where a good grocery store is, I know how to catch the bus to the metro, for an afternoon of fabulous free museums. I spent one afternoon at the National Gallery, deliberately going slowly, telling myself “I live here now. I can do this.”
I’m also settled enough that two nights ago I started looking at the novel I finished in early June, as it is time to revise. It’s been almost two months since I finished the book, long enough to let it sit and age, like a good wine, or at least like sauerkraut.
Lying beside me on the floor is a large stack of two copies of the book, which two readers over the past year read and commented on. As parts of the two copies came back from the readers in pieces over time, I threw it all together, so now I have a cluttered chaotic manuscript that I was trying to put in order. Creating order wasn’t fun, though, and I said to hell with it and just started reading from the beginning.
Here is a good plan for revising: Read the entire book through, to see what is there, and to see what I ideas I might get as I go through it. Then with that broader overview, go back and start revising.
Here is what I will actually do: Read some of the book, get tired of doing that, go back to the beginning and start making changes based on ideas I’ve had over the last two months, plus whatever occurs to me. Read some more, stop, make more changes, and lurch my way through the entire book revising like a halfwit with no real plan.
Some books that I’ve revised seemed to need changes as vast and forbidding as a Russian forest. With the last book I wrote, in the final revision I probably threw away a third of it and dropped two major characters. I don’t feel a need for such extensive change on this one, as the structure feels OK, at least so far.
The main thing it needs to increase reader interest (one hopes) is to work on the relationship between Benedict and Miramar. Psychological change in characters is one way to give a book a feeling of forward motion, which of course readers like. So my idea is to make the father/daughter relationship more rocky to start with, and increasingly draw them together as the book goes along.
Here’s an example of a possible change. The current version has two lines reading:
“We’ve got some history around here,” he said.
“There’s history everywhere,” she replied, rolling her eyes at him.
The rolling eyes in the current context is meant to be a kind of good-natured “Oh, don’t be silly.” With a change of tone, however, it can become something like this:
“There’s history everywhere,” she replied, rolling her eyes and looking at him with the exasperated superiority that is one of the basic facial expressions of a 15-year-old.
In other words, I might revise Miramar at the beginning to make her a little more normal. I don’t want to take that too far, though, because a real 15-year-old can be a snarling little monster, and there be no monsters in this book.
I still don’t have a name for the book. In the last two months, when I haven’t been writing, another novel has been coming to me, and I find ideas for a new book occurring spontaneously when I wake up at night. I haven’t even made a definite decision to write the next book, yet it already has a name, while the one that is finished is still nameless. I’ve tried being clever with a name and that didn’t seem to work, so I’m wondering about simple. What if I just called it Benedict and Miramar? What do you think of that?