Sunday, July 30, 2006

Hope Springs Eternal

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never is, but always to be blest:
Alexander Pope, The Essay on Man

I was lying awake this morning at 4, thinking about my poor rejected novel. I decided to get up, and in the peace and quiet of an early Sunday morning, go at it again. While I was working on the Anthony section, I was struck by the peculiar diction, awkward, and then remembered that I had written the original draft in the first person. When I changed it to the third person, I thought that because it was from his point of view, in his voice, the diction would be all right. But reading it this morning, I realized that it wasn’t. I dug up the old first person version. That is better.

The rejected novel is much too long for “literary” fiction. No small Canadian publisher could afford to print it. There’s no doubt that the members of our writing group have liked the Anthony section a lot more than they have liked the other sections. Bill suggested I cut everything but the Anthony section, but I hated to give up what after fifeteen years of working on it had become the central structure of the novel – the story of various people in an apartment building, how they become a family, how they interact. This morning I think I have found a way to keep some of that but still make the novel short enough, and still feature the Anthony section. The novel that had been rejected was 111, 000 words. This new version will be about 40, 000 words, more a novella than a novel. I am feeling quite hopeful.

Sherrill Grace has written an interesting book about Malcolm Lowery. She studied his manuscripts of Under the Volcano and describes his method of re-writing. He added phrases, stuck them in the middle of existing sentences. It makes the novel denser. I will go fish out Grace’s book. When I was teaching creative writing, I would often use her description of Lowery’s method. I think that what I need to do with this new version of the novel is just that – add phrases rather than whole sentences.


Peter said...

I have that book, I think (The Vancouver Years), but as much as I love his writing and as much as I am influenced by his writing, there is such a thing as too much density. Malcolm Lowry succeeded overmuch, I think, that way.

Have you read his novella Forest Path to the Spring?

Anonymous said...

I find your idea about a novel about people living in an apartment building interesting. Are you aware of George Perec's book Life: A User's Manual? It's also about people living in an apartment building. I haven't read it myself, but I've read about it.