Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Continued Reflections on Editing the Collection: Revering Our Heroes Too Much; Or, Trying to Be Not Me

I'm home sick with sinus-junk, so what better to do than blog? Especially as I'm applying another round of edits to the forthcoming collection, I've had some revelations concerning the development of my own voice and style, and how I'm guilty of, once again, trying too hard to imitate one of my favorite writers, trying to incorporate their style into my own,  instead of letting my OWN voice find a style and express itself.

So, if you follow this blog even a little, you may have read one of my recent posts, in which I was faced with the humbling realization that the collection needed some more work, especially in tightening my prose in a few places. In particular, I've noticed two things as I've gone through another round of line-edits:

1. I sometimes use WAY TOO MANY character attributions:

EX: John smiled, nodded, raised an eyebrow and scratched his chin while shrugging his shoulders, saying, "Yeah, that does sound weird."

2. I've once again committed the sin of being so taken by one of my favorite authors, I've been trying to copy and imitate his style and incorporate it into my own. 

I've gone through this phase several times already - copying Stephen King, H. P. Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury. This time, it was the late great Charles L. Grant I was trying to imitate. 

And in some ways, it makes sense. Discovering Grant's brand of "quiet horror"  was a revelation. I fell in love with his prose and the way he built tension and suspense and his delicate lyricism. One thing in particular he did with meticulous precision was build tension through interjections or one-line fragments. Trying too hard to do that in my own work, as well as forcing my lyricism, is what I'm guilty of this time.

Now, to be fair: as I progressed further through the collection's edits, I noticed some of the older pieces - stories that have been edited countless times already - didn't require much changing. Not only had I apparently already fixed these errors, but some of those stories were written BEFORE I discovered Grant's work, so they didn't feature my faux attempts at imitating his style with the tension-building-fragments.

Of course, forcing lyricism (or, maybe simply overindulging and overwriting), remained a consistent issue. This has always been a particular quirk of mine, and believe it or not, I've gotten a lot better at avoiding this.  However, as I continued to edit, I started thinking about WHY I didn't seem to struggle with this as much in my final edits of Hiram Grange and the Chosen One, and I realized several things:

1. I honestly went through MANY more edits with Hiram just doesn't feel like it, because Hiram was one continuous story-line straight through. It feels like I've edited the collection endlessly...but I HAVEN'T, really. The publisher only proposed a short story collection this past September. I assembled the short stories, wrote the connecting narrative frame, and have been editing all that for only eight months (in between a few other projects). 

Because of how long the Hiram project took to gestate, I spent TWO YEARS writing and editing that, over and over. I really HAVEN'T edited the collection as much as I think I have, it just FEELS like I have because I've read through 1o different stories - stories I've read before - and the collection's connecting frame. 

But the frame is brand new, and still needs lots of editing, and in some cases, several of these stories were flat out re-written, so now THEY need fresh editing, being essentially fresh pieces themselves. All of which makes me feel very relieved that I proposed a November 2013 release, giving me plenty of time to give this collection the attention it deserves. 

2. Hiram Grange was a pulp-adventure, work-for-hire gig. The collection is personal and about LIFE. Now, this sounds pompous, so let me explain. I'm in no way ashamed of Hiram Grange. It was a lot of fun to write, I'm proud of the work I did on it, and you should go buy it right now

But I understood my goal: even though I still wanted my prose to be clean and flowing, it was a pulp story. I knew it needed to be fast, furious, full of action and blood and guts and big explosions. 

Also, much as I loved him, Hiram Grange wasn't MINE. Tim Deal of Shroud graciously let me tell my own story, and I dare say if someone read a stack of unnamed Hiram manuscripts, you'd probably recognize mine from the pile. But he still wasn't mine.

But the collection is mine. Very personal, in some ways. And I think because of that, I'm trying too hard to ASPIRE to something bigger, greater, trying too hard with my language, and forgetting the most important rule for ANY writer: the words must never get in the way.

So that's what I'm really focusing on now, going through these edits. With Hiram Grange, I had one simple goal: not to suck. For it to read well and smoothly. And, from what people have said, I not only achieved that, but told a fun story. With the collection, I need to relax a bit, and just focus once again on NOT SUCKING. The stories and their themes will speak for themselves...and they will speak with more power, I think, if I let THEM do the speaking, and not try to force the language to do the speaking for them.

In his visit with my students several years ago, Dan Keohane said the best thing I've ever heard anyone say about this: that he could tell when he was reading great writing when the words disappeared and he saw only the story in his head, nothing more. So that's my goal: get out of my way own way, and let these stories tell themselves.