Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Murderer's Mom -- the pitch (in progress)

Grace asks: "I get more and more curious about your book. Do you have a blog entry somewhere back there that talks about what it's about, what it's called and all the rest of that? If not, do you feel like doing one just to fill me in?"

Here's the elevator pitch (in progress).

I got the idea for this book when I read the transcript of a dispute between Jeffrey Dahmer's parents over what to do with his brain. They seemed like normal people, each trying to do what's best according to their own lights, and I wondered what it would be like to have a killer in the family.

The story is the emotional and spiritual journey of a middle-class mom, Claire Davidson, whose 22-year-old daughter murders 15 college students in a campus spree killing. In the aftermath, Claire faces the death-penalty trial of her daughter, the dissolution of her marriage, dangers to her children from their peers and their own attempts to deal with the atrocity. She goes on a journey of discovery through her daughter's life, to find out what happened to the girl and how she herself had become a Murderer's Mom.

(Pitch format from Michael Hauge's Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds. He'll be giving a workshop on story structure in the Portland area in July.)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Word count, May 2

Got back to the story for the first time since before Pascha. It was OK to skip Holy Friday, Holy Saturday and Pascha, but Monday through Thursday of Bright Week? I had a lot of other stuff to do, but also, it's resistance against this painfully shitty first draft.

So I sat in my coffee shop and got just over 500 words and gave up. On the way home, I gave myself a stern talking-to about the fact that the Robert Penn Warren paragraph I posted earlier today was certainly not a first draft and that you can't get to a paragraph like that without a first draft. That was one thing.

The other was that -- as I despairingly notice that I seem to keep coming back again and again to the same set of fictional "facts" -- they are relevant again and again in the story. Instead of thinking that it means I need to find the final resting place for them, before I know all the alternatives, I need to realize that it means they're important, and each time they come up, I learn something new about the character's backstory.

With those two bits of advice, I came home and finished off the word count to 1,035. And the latter observation turned out to be true. I now know that my protagonist will have to make a journey to visit her ex-husband, to Las Vegas perhaps, but maybe someplace else. I don't know for sure where or when.

So I'm back at it again. My preliminary plot planning is making the writing possible, but not much easier. But possible.

When the poet writes a novel

From Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men.

"No," he said, and it was another voice, quiet and easy and coming slow and from a distance, "I'm not here to ask for anything today. I'm taking the day off, and I've come home. A man goes away from home, and it is in him to do it. He lies in strange beds in the dark, and the wind is different in the trees; he walks in the street, and there are the faces in front of his eyes, but there are no names for the faces. The voices he hears are not the voices he carried away in his ears a long time back when he went away. The voices he hears are loud. They are so loud he does not hear for a long time at a stretch those voices he carried away in his ears, but there comes a minute when it is quiet and he can hear those voices he carried away in his ears a long time back. He can make out what they say, and they say, 'Come back.' They say, 'Come back, boy.' So he comes back."

I've been trying to tell people what I love about the writing in All the King's Men, and I generally descend into hand gestures and gibberish. But here's a sample from my ongoing transcription of the novel. Read it aloud, thoughfully. Listen to the rhythm; notice the repetitions. Notice that it's a muscular prose -- by which I mean that it carries information, not just feeling, and the feeling is in the information.

It is also tough-sounding -- which is in the sounds. It has Ks and Ds and not a lot of Ss and Ns.

I can't imagine it being written by some 22-year-old in love with her own voice (of whom I frequently am first, without the excuse of being 22 years old). It's the sound of a man's voice (the first-person protagonist is a man). A woman's voice could be as strong, but it would be different, I think.

Anyway, enjoy.