Sunday, December 16, 2007

Snowed In With The Manuscript

I was supposed to fly out this morning but the airline cancelled the flight. I'll leave tomorrow
late afternoon--and it's a good thing. We've been working eight hours a day on the manuscript but definitely can use today and tomorrow to finish up.

Thank you blizzard.

In my last post I said stuff comes up while editing. Indeed. A cousin of the author's snailed some rich material that arrived since I've been here--a series of letters we hadn't seen, a diary from 1907 written by one of the characters in the book we knew almost nothing about, except that she died young, leaving five children behind. We also learned of another store employee who is still alive: Winnie Risk is 93. I finally reached her by phone and got a great interview. This needs to go in. The new material triggers changes in what's there. Oh, it's so much fun, editing. Really.

And as we read over the book--we sit facing each other (we both have hard copies) at a card table taking turns reading chapters--I see areas that need help. So does he. Yippee for the extra time.

The only bummer. The Patriots have to play today in this. But they're 9 - 0 in snow. Go Pats!
We might even have time to watch some of the game.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Shoveling Break from Editing

The snow is falling at a rate of about 3 inches an hour up here in Boston where I'm on an editing job. On my breaks I go out to shovel.

Editing and snow-shoveling have something in common, I begin to think, as I'm hurling the white powder off, exposing the grateful red bricks underneath.

The first time it's hard to tell where the sidewalk ends and the earth begins. I make a few swipes off the path, unearthing big slabs of green grass. The second shoveling, I can see where I have cleared, even though tons more snow has fallen. The job is easier. This last shovel shift I can see even more clearly because the snow is deeper still on the sides of the path.

So, something about this is similar to editing. Each time you come back and do it again the path is better defined.

Maybe I'm stretching a simile: editing is like shoveling snow.
Maybe, actually, it is a metaphor: editing is shoveling snow.

Here's what I do know: my back hurts and we're supposed to get several more inches.

And I just heard the city snow plow--it rammed a huge mound onto my paths.

That's like editing too. Something big happens. Suddenly there's much more

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Zig Zag Writing

I've seen two movies lately, Michael Clayton and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, that play with the narrative--move forward, then go back and move forward again, covering only a few days.

Narrative interruptus is how Roger Ebert, describes Before the Devil Knows You're Dead. "The . . .screenplay. . .takes us up to a certain point, then flashes back to before that point, then catches us up again, then doubles back, so that it meticulously reconstructs how spectacularly and inevitably this perfect crime went wrong."

We hold our breath, knowing what's coming but, still--the suspense. Phew. With each replay we understand more, see more deeply into the characters, learn more about relationships, notice new details, cringe--again--at what's coming.

We want to shout: STOP. DON'T DO THAT!

La Vie en Rose, the movie about Edith Piaf', begins at the end of her tragic life then jumps back to the beginning before filling in the middle--in a helter skelter way. The chaotic time sequences seem to mirror Piaf's crazed, druggy life.

In a novel or a memoir, the reader can get cranky, jerking back and forth. Although everybody I know seems to have loved it, I gave up on The Time Traveler's Wife. Reading at night before dropping into sleep, I couldn't keep straight which time period we were in, and I got lazy about checking back to figure it out. My enduring memory is of a man being catapulted through the decades and landing in a garden or a museum, always naked.

I was a moody teenager, with long stretches of blank time, when I read Lawrence Durrell's The Alexandria Quartet. Three of the four books examine the same sequence of events from different characters' points of view. You understand everything one way and then, oops! Wow. Here's another take. The fourth book moves everybody forward in time. I drooled over every page.

In real life, we relive the past in our memories--and by writing.

When I was revising the memoir I wrote about my son's life and death, Losing Malcolm, I would get stuck in spots, not want to turn the page. "No," I would say, "I don't want that to happen. I want a different ending."

But just like in the narrative interruptus books and movies, no matter how many times I revisited the scene, I couldn't change the outcome; I could only learn more about what was going on.

And keep writing.