Revising Myself

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The Boot (little Tosca dog added for cuteness)

So let me tell you about the mental deterioration caused by having a boot Velcroed to your foot. The emotional arc runs like this. First, anger and self-pity. (“Why did I have to break my stupid foot AGAIN?” “Why am I the only one who has to drag this heavy boot around?”) Which segues into a sort of grudging acceptance. (“Well, my foot does feel better with the boot on.”) And, perhaps, even occasional glee. (“What a great time of the year to have a handicapped placard!”) But as time and patience wear on, the boot feels less and less like a help and more and more like an anchor. By the end of six weeks, I was ready to chew my leg off. Plus, it is pretty much impossible to sleep with the damn thing on so by the seventh week, I was not only depressed but severely sleep-deprived.

Which turns out to be the perfect state for doing a final reread of a novel because a) it keeps you from thinking about the Boot and b) your internal critic has fallen asleep in a corner.

Now I’m not recommending that anyone who is having trouble revising a novel should run out and break a foot. I’m just saying that rereading stuff you wrote years ago is much easier when you are semi-conscious.

Oh, sure, certain parts are fun. There are whole sections that are fine and then, suddenly, there’s an inexplicable scene, something so off the wall that you don’t even know why it’s there.  Then you spend several hours trying to read your past self’s mind. Failing that, you take the scene out and put it in the discard file. Not the trash, mind you, but the discard file, because sometimes, half a book later, you realize why you needed that inexplicable scene so you have to dig it out, dust it off and put it back in. Much easier to do when you aren’t totally sane or well-rested.

But then I got the Boot off.

About the time I hit Book Three which, well, needs work. A lot of work. First twenty-six pages are great, page 27 is a mystery to me.  Then there appears to be some important stuff missing which I didn’t notice when I wrote it originally but realize I need now. And as the pages go up, so do the places that need shoring up or rewriting or discarding or something. And I begin to wonder if maybe I should just abandon Drac and company and go see what’s on TV.

You know, like normal people.

There’s a scene near the end of the movie Oliver! where Fagin, master fence and pickpocket, has decided to give up his life of crime and work like everybody else. He is confidently walking into a brand new sunrise when suddenly, from behind a pillar box, out steps his prize pupil the Artful Dodger, all decked out in top hat and tails, holding up a stolen wallet. Fagin hesitates, reviews the situation, and decides that maybe he’d been a little too hasty about tossing aside his old profession. He takes the wallet from the Dodger and off they go to look for more.

That’s kind of how revisions are for me. I work until I’m frustrated, hip deep in the spaghetti of intersecting plotlines, no idea how to get out from where I am. I decide I hate everything, that none of it is good, that no one wants to read it anyway. And the burden of making all the little pieces fit together right falls away. I’m free, released, heading off into the sunrise. But then I turn a corner and there is Drac, a little smirk on his face, holding up a shillelagh.

“Bet you wonder what I’m doing in Ireland.”

“No, I don’t give a damn what you’re doing in Ireland. I’m done, I’m finished, I don’t care.”

“Yes, you do.”

“I don’t.”

He twirls the shillelagh. “You know, it’s not actually my shillelagh.”

“I don’t care whose shillelagh it is.”

“And after the Ireland story, I think there’s one about Texas.”

“I’m not listening.”

He pulls out a Carney’s chili dog. “And, of course, there’s this story.”

I hesitate. “Oh, yeah, I like that story.”

He takes a bite of the hot dog and smiles. “I know.”

“All right, all right. Gimme that.” I tear the hot dog out of his hands. “So what happened in Ireland?”

“Hell if I know. You’re the writer.”

Good thing he didn’t give me the shillelagh.

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Dark Shadows Burton-style

Okay, I’ll admit it. I was one of those kids who raced home from school to watch Dark Shadows every single day. I could hardly wait to get my daily dose of vampires, werewolves, witches, shaky sets and boom mikes.

Which explains a lot really.

Years before Lost, Dark Shadows was playing with alternate timelines and shape-shifting villains. Which was why you couldn’t miss an episode. You missed an episode and you wouldn’t know who the heck was possessing Caroline this week. (Actually, it was Caroline in the Past, AKA Charity Trask, who was always getting possessed by a dead dancehall girl named Pansy Faye. Who was more fun than the real Charity Trask so when Charity was singing and dancing it was a dead giveaway that she was someone else.)

Barnabas was always Barnabas, no matter what time period they were in, because he was old as dirt, but occasionally someone from the Present would run into Barnabas from the Past in the Past and he would have no clue who they were. Because he was Barnabas, but he hadn’t gotten to the Present yet. People from the Present were always getting mistaken for witches in the Past and then they’d have to be rescued from hanging or stoning or something.

Luckily, all those time travel paradoxes did not apply in the Dark Shadows universe. You could go back in time and visit yourself and the world would not implode.

I worshipped Jonathan Frid with his plastered down bangs and David Selby with his fearsome sideburns (When you think about it, werewolves really should have fearsome sideburns). Did it matter that the sets moved every time someone closed a door? No. Did it matter that the boom mikes got almost as much screen time as the actors? No. Did it matter that the actor who played Roger once did an entire scene with a fly crawling over his face? No, but that was pretty funny. So it was with much excitement that I waited for the new Tim Burton version of one of my all time favorite shows.

Then the first trailer came out.

And it was a comedy.

I wasn’t sure how to react to this. I mean, the original Dark Shadows could be hilarious at times, but only by accident. That was what made it funny. Making Barnabas a laughing stock when he ought to be a tragic figure seemed sacrilegious. I was prepared to be appalled.

Only I wasn’t.

Because there were funny bits, but the core of the story was true to the original series. Johnny Depp’s Barnabas is perplexed by the Present which the original Barnabas never was. That seems more realistic although realistic has never been a word used to describe anything involving Dark Shadows before. But Barnabas’s core angst is the same. He still hates being a vampire, he still longs for Josette, he still suffers at the hands of Angelique.

So I’m in.

And while Johnny Depp will never be Jonathan Frid, he will always be Johnny Depp which turns out to be almost as good.

Dark Shadows logo © Warner Bros.

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So what did you think of the new Dark Shadows movie?  Post your comments below!

I Liked Vampires Before Vampires Were Cool

No, really.  I have the rejection letters to prove it.  Back when the years still had a 19 in them, I sent out queries to a bunch of agents.  Here’s what I got back:

“Great characters, but I can’t sell a vampire book.  Would like to take a look at your next book.”  (Sadly, the next book also had vampires in it, the same vampires actually, just doing different things.)

“No market for vampire fiction.”

One agent just sent my original query back with “Vampires are out” scrawled across it in blue ink.

Disheartened, I took the next logical step.

Trying to figure out how to turn my vampire characters into something else.

But turning vampires into something else isn’t as easy as it looks.  Since my characters can become wolves, making them werewolves seemed to be a perfect alternative, but it wasn’t.  Werewolves breathe, vampires don’t.  And being dead is an important plot point.  So they could be zombies then, zombies are dead, but a little too one dimensional for my taste.  Once you’ve discussed their obsession with brains, there’s really nowhere else to go.

And decomposition is never sexy.

So my characters remained vampires.  I became reclusive, writing vampire stories for myself, not showing them to anybody.  I was very reluctant to admit that I wrote at all, let alone my subject matter.

“Oh, you write stories?  What do you write about?”

“Oh, stuff.  You know, stories about stuff.  How are those Dodgers doing?”

Then Twilight happened.

But instead of feeling liberated, I suddenly felt trendy.  And embarrassed.  Not that my vampires sparkle, but suddenly I felt everyone expected them to.  Years and years of work reduced to a fad.  I didn’t want to be accepted just because I had written a vampire story any more than I wanted to be rejected because I had written a vampire story.

I want people to care about my characters because they’re good characters, not just because they have fangs.  Yes, they’re vampires, but I can’t change that, heaven knows I’ve tried.  For my characters, being a vampire is an inescapable feature, like having a third arm.  You can’t ignore it, but if you take it away, everyone is going to notice the hole.

Why I’m Not Participating In NaNoWriMo

Because I was.  Briefly.  Okay, I started yesterday, but you see, I have a broken foot.  Not that I’m not perfectly capable of functioning with a broken foot, but it is distracting to have to drag a massive air cast anchor along wherever you go.  Also, it makes my leg go to sleep if I sit at the computer too long, although maybe that’s just me being over enthusiastic with the air pump.

But I digress.

I realized yesterday that I had missed the beginning of the month by about 13 days.  Which meant that I was at least 12,000 words behind the rest of the class.  But, no worries.  I was 15,000 words into a paranormal romance I had never finished.  So, okay, cheating, but still 35,000 words short of a novel.  Plenty of NoWri to go.

After spending the entire day struggling with this thing (and occasionally letting air out of my cast), I’ve discovered that it’s really hard for me to concentrate on writing a story when I’m also concentrating on reaching a daily word count.  It’s like trying to read a book and do math at the same time.  One part of my brain is diligently creating a scene while another part is as antsy as a small child on a road trip.  Are we there yet?  Are we there yet?  The process became less about writing a story and more about running a marathon.  Who cares if I really need this scene or not?  It’s 600 words!  I can’t cut it now!

My usual output is a little more unpredictable.  One day I write seven pages; the next, I go back and take out the word “the.”  Telling myself that I have to come up with 1600 words today or else leaves my brain feeling like it has been shoved into a too-tight air cast.

So for those who succeed in writing a novel this month, I salute you.  Me, I’m going back to writing vampire stories.