Monday, March 06, 2006

You prick

If you prick us do we not bleed? asked Shylock in The Merchant Of Venice.

I guess all writers do by definition. We're sensitive human beings. So when we get pricked by even well-meaning, gentle criticism there's a danger we'll bleed to death. There were a couple of Comments posted over on A Half Life of One at the weekend that fell into that category. Here's the first from John Ahearn:

Hi, Bill--Greeetings from the land of Bully George and Gunner Cheney.

Just finished your book this morning (still and always the Johnny come lately) and thought I'd write to thank you for posting it, and to tell you how much I enjoyed it. The idea that one can be a kidnapper and a murderer without disarranging one's life very much--as long as the bills get paid--is worthy of Kafka.

Having said that, however, I can see why it wasn't published. Without the viewpoints of the other characters, it remains a short-story that's overtopped its banks. It's a good one, but it's simply not a form that gets published. For it to be a publishable novel, and to sharpen the overarching irony, we need to be in Maureen's head through all the travail, and to hear the son's voice as his dad comes apart, and most particularly the victim's voice as she wends toward her fate. We need especially to be with her as she weakens and dies in order to know exactly how rotten a scumbag Nick truly is--while the world accepts him back as a successful rate-payer.

I hope I'm not being presumptuous in saying all this, but I felt I had to because the posted kernel is so good. I'm a fifty-nine year old booknut, voracious reader, writer. (Last published in 1969, small press, not a ripple, very disillusioning. Poet now--at least you know where you stand and what to expect.)

I'm happy to read that you've begun another. Probably the best way to go--throw this one in the drawer for a couple years, then go back to it, fit it out to travel in the world. But don't abandon it--it really is too good.

Thanks for posting it. It's a great read. --John Ahearn

I must be honest and say that the observation that the book "is a short story that's over-topped its banks" did kind of leave me mentally winded for a while. However, I'll accept the point John is making that the characters that surround the main protagonist are under-written and under-developed. I could work on that. I deliberately didn't get into their heads and write from their point of view because I wanted to underline the total isolation of the principal character. But John makes a valid point.

John's description of the "hero" Nick as a "rotten scumbag" also took me aback somewhat. I know what Nick did was wrong and that the way he did it descended into unforgiveable depravity but I always saw him as a good but essentially weak man overwhelmed by circumstances. Thinking about it over the weekend I've changed my mind somewhat and accept John is probably right - the guy is a scumbag. Trouble is, I might have done the same thing in similar circumstances and I'd rather not dwell on that possibility too long.

The second Comment came from Reader X as follows:

What about some "shortening"? Your book reads: "Five minutes later Alan Tait, the senior business director from the bank, who Nick had dealt with ever since he had founded the business fifteen years before, smiled self-consciously as he walked into the room with his right hand extended. “No chance of a game today,” he said, nodding at the view through the picture window as he avoided direct eye contact."seems too long-winded (to me).

It would prefer to read somethig like:"Five minutes later, the senior business director Alan Tait entered the room. “No chance of a game today,” he said, smiling self-consciously and nodding at the view through the window as he avoided direct eye contact."

The fact that X founded the business fifteen years before, etc, etc, could be discreetly said somewhere else (also in preferably shorter sentences).reader x

I don't quibble with any of that at all. Some of the writing is "flabby" as I've mentioned before and it could do with editing.

So where does all this leave me? Another re-write? Guys, right now I couldn't face it. I must have re-written that book twenty times already. I'm sick of it. Maybe in a couple of years.

In the meantime keep the suggestions coming. Readers are the oxgen of a blog but commentors are the very lifeblood. Prick me as often as you like guys - I really appreciate the efforts you're making to help me.

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