Dime Grime: New Hire & Popsicle. Yep, fake title. Meanwhile, I’ve been silent here for some time. Zero posts. I’ve been writing journal entries but they aren’t blog fodder. Too personal, too much about auto-therapy and otherwise too much of me writing my way through it. It? The struggle, that’s all.
But I’ve been editing my ass off, too. Above is an image of the fourth draft version for A. (my only beta reader) to get her hands and eyes upon – everyone knows, after all, that it’s much more pleasant to read a hard copy of a thing, and even better, a book version, even when it’s just a fourth draft. Hey, it’s a quick and cheap enough thing to do on KDP – slap together a crappy layout and cover – and get it delivered all within a day or two.
I’ve contracted with a new, one-stop editorial and production outfit. “One-stop” is a term we used to use when I worked in the music retail business decades ago. It’s where you can bundle all the otherwise disparate services required to get an indie book to market, namely, editing, proofreading, interior formatting/layout and the cover.
Phase 1: Cover design, complete no later than 2.28.22.
Phase 2: Line editing, complete no later than 4.11.22.
Phase 3: Formatting/Layout, complete no later than 5.9.22
May 9th, 2022, then. Expect Time Crime 2: Empire & Oracle. Yay! Well, within a day or two thereafter because it takes a bit of finagling to get it on Amazon (they have to approve my references and such) and Ingramspark and have them post it for sale.
Why so late? What happened, that is, to the proposed early 2022 release? Well, life. The self-editing is going more slowly than I envisioned. It was a stretch goal, anyway. As it stands, TC2 is one-hundred or so pages longer than TC1 and most of that has been added during the first three self-edits. I’m almost a third of the way into the fourth self-edit. And it was the fourth self-edit that I insisted be the minimum before I sought professional editing. Meanwhile, the business of indie publishing hasn’t stood still since my last effort. Schedules with vendors seem to be getting further and further out, so be it.
Now, with the beefier timeline, I’m convinced I ought to run the manuscript through at least one more self-edit, the fifth, while I’m waiting, as it were. You can’t have too many self-edits. You can run out of gas for the wholesale self-editing of your manuscript, to be sure, and you need to back away from it a couple times, which is difficult for folks like me who want to get the thing done. It’s therefore a balance between doing the due diligence on behalf of my own work and knowing when to let go and allow the world-of-action to have its way with it. Not that I’m surrendering everything to my new editor when it’s time. It’s a collaboration and here’s hoping it goes well.
There it is, then, me checking in with the update. That nobody asked for. Know that I’ve never stopped working on the manuscript. And during the next five months, when I get past the fifth TC2 edit, I’m gonna have a go at the second draft of TC3. And perhaps even get back into the first draft of TC4! Big plans. Meanwhile, established timelines.
P.S. I’ve decided not to pursue an audiobook version of TC2. It’s frankly too expensive – TC1 cost me $5,000 to produce and to date it has sold a meager 22 copies. At a revenue of something like $25. Pretty pathetic. A big loss that hurt. Hell, it was the reason I took that job at the home improvement store, working all those crazy hours and what have you, to pay for it. And then the time it took away from the editing of TC2 and all that. So be it. Anyway, when Findaway Voices emailed me to proclaim that they’ve sold out to (been purchased by) Spotify (yuck, I use Qobuz for my music streaming) I took it as an omen and encouragement to drop the idea completely. Here’s to print and eBook, folks.
P.P.S. I’m off Facebook. And Twitter. And Instagram. Well, I’m trying like hell to get off them – deleting an account seems to be akin to, I don’t know, getting gum off your shoe. Anyway, the crowd roars…! Because I always hated being on Facebook and the rest of social media. They tell wannabe authors to plaster themselves all over all the social media but, frankly, it just never seemed like me. Right here, my feed on Goodreads, my Amazon Author page and Substack is where you’ll find me!
“There has to be a being whose feet are not made of clay.” Something K said. I’ve been pondering this, especially coming from a person who seems to default most times to what I would call a tempered nihilism. Which is when the front door to overt faith is intentionally closed but the back door to a better idea is left open.
G not having feet of clay and also possessing the cosmic authority to balance things, this is enticing. Versus a Jesus or Buddha or Muhammad figure who merely professes the way things ought to be and in the end function as gatekeepers themselves. When all we seek is the way home. G provides the way home.
G of course is essentially an expression of kami, a Japanese spirit that could be referred to as a nature spirit because all spirits, all kami, within Shinto, even when present within man-made objects, have Nature as their origin. Because we do, too. Christianity and Islam demonize Man, exactly akin to critical race theory – we are cursed with original sin never even having had time to commit any. Born guilty. Born sinners. Born separated from the Divinity we seek, whatever its form. To the extent that should you, as a personality of some type, be granted access to Heaven, whatever that is, still you are NOT to identify yourself with the God.
But why not? In the Eastern mythologies, we are not only allowed to identify with the Divine, we are encouraged. Hence, unconsciously, we know, experiencing Godzilla, that G’s empowerment, appearing external, as if from the so-called natural world, is really a manifestation of our own empowerment, for we are of nature, hence we are Nature just like G is. We are G. G symbolizes what we are capable of expressing at our best and (this is the both the trickiness and inspiring jazziness of mythology; namely, that the affecting image communicates the sense and quality and authenticity of its true-fiction) at our worst. The best G flicks have G as an embodiment of the play-of-opposites. Because that’s what we are. G is not a good guy. G is not a kid’s toy. G is not silly. G is not a hero. The only thing G protects is the balance. The balance of Nature, yes, but also the balance within ourselves, for we are, all of us, of Nature. That we continually seek to disrupt the balance, that we cannot find it even if we seek it, is of course the mystery of our predicament. Which inevitably makes for a good story.
Throughout history, electoral politics f*cks people up into thinking they have it right. Oh, our group has finally got it right – the human potential movement, for instance, is coming to pass! Now is no different. The crazy leftists and socialists becoming what they hate, namely, righteous zealots who tolerate no resistance. (The term “progressives” is a misnomer – they’re better described as “regressives” because anybody who reads the history of socialism knows it ends in tyranny). Anyway, that’s what the leftists hated about Trump. Well, it’s what they seem to hate about everybody: simply that you won’t do what they say. End of story when you get to this point, you’ve simply arrived where all tyrants arrive, the, as J.C. called them, “hoarder of the general benefit.” G shatters this schism. But here’s the key which just so happens to be endlessly entertaining (because it is human nature to enjoy watching ourselves): ther resolution, correction and rebalancing ISN’T PRETTY.
What do I mean? G arrives with a mandate of salvation but also destruction. Perhaps akin to Shiva, too, death and destruction invites birth and creation. Here you are, says G without saying it: yourselves. He’s an affecting image, not a personality (we know this is where the G filmmakers tended to f*ck up their own mythic genius, it happens, especially when money and ignorance are involved). I am each of you – the best and the worst in you and this is how the world is: a spectrum of all things, the mysterium tremendum.
We know in our hearts what is right and we do its opposite anyway. We have feet of clay. And we always will. Be humble in that way. The closest you can get to enlightenment turns out to be a realization and surrender to this dark aspect in concert with the light. The poor leftists. Always there is a group seeking a so-called compassionate utopia. And drunk on their idealism. And it inevitably frustrates them into a hangover condition of becoming mean-spirited and bitter. They become what they hate. Utopian societies were popular in the 19th century and also, of course, in the late sixties, when folks like Nancy Pelosi were young.
But the politics is always boring, current events are duller than a cold pile of cat sh*t. And they stink like it, too, especially when distorted and propagandized by the click-bait mandated, money-mad media conglomerates. But to MYTHOLOGIZE the predicament, now we really begin to get sh*t done psychologically, hence mythologically. We want to be G (perpetually forgetting that we already are). We want to be thusly empowered. Hence, capable of attacking the power tower whenever we want and to suffer zero damage in the process. Wrecking things is part of our biology-psychology-mythology, after all. Some folks, the hoarders of the general benefit, the petty tyrants of this world that appear over and over throughout history, hence throughout the mythologies, are destined to play this role; we wouldn’t have a story (and perhaps life itself, as we know it, at least) without them.
But you can’t be righteous when you see things in mythological terms, when you remain aware of the light and the dark within us all. Myth humbles. It allows for perspective. Because we always see ourselves within it. We wrote it, after all. And, yes, each of us is no better and no worse than anyone else. But only in terms of existential value, let’s call it. Day to day, rather, the social function of cultural and personal mythology requires a merit based system: you have to earn your keep. It doesn’t always have to be directly about money. Express your veritelically authentic personal mythology – be who you truly are – and you are bestowing your boon. If nothing else, you are leading by a good example. Will you thus be a symbol of good? Within the balance, within myth, it doesn’t matter. Which is to say it isn’t a proper question. What’s important is that you will be a symbol of truth – the only truth we somehow seem to have access to in this crazy world and our crazy lives. I don’t have the answers. This post has nothing to do with trying to bestow them. I’m just trying my best to write it out and get to a better place, to get home in my head and heart if nothing else. It never entirely works, of course, writing it out. Nothing does, But some things get you closer than others. So be it.
From the 16th century Chinese tale, The Journey to the West: “[The Monkey King] saw, however, that the people of the world were all seekers after profit and fame; there was no one who showed concern for his appointed end.”
I pounded out two chapters of the manuscript editing yesterday despite not particularly liking any of it. I’m halfway through, having picked up considerable speed these past couple of weeks after finally leaving behind the work of adding what amounted to perhaps one-hundred additional pages to the story. Raw creativity is not editorial creativity. They are similar only in the sense that whenever we write, we are self-editing to a certain degree. Otherwise, it’s a different part of one’s brain.
Meanwhile, in the name of progress, namely, in the name of getting to the fucking end of the third draft, I let a handful of glitchy things go – a redundancy here, an inconsistency there. With the idea of getting to them later, in the next draft, or the next, ugh. Let’s face it, one and done is a great concept in concept only. That is, if any writer has the luxury, the nerve or, in the rarest case, the talent to crank out the first draft of a novel and summarily hand it over to an editor to fix it, or simply self-publishes it as-is, sans any self-editing, then I’ll eat my hat.
Why it is that manuscripts (and I assume it holds as true for non-fiction as fiction) arrive so utterly malformed and furthermore require round after round of washing, rinsing, ironing and folding? It’s like having a baby: human children are so fantastically unready for life, so lacking in any ability to care for themselves. Subsequent years of dependency become, as with children and their parents, the source of infinite frustration and disappointment for the writer. Editing, like parenting, singlehandedly wrecks any semblance of romance that accompanied the original idea.
That said, “I want to write book” isn’t even something I ever said to myself; it’s not an idea I ever had in my life, even while I was in the midst of writing my first one. TC1, that is to say, just happened or, more accurately, the process of creating it just kept happening. Line after line, paragraph after paragraph, all horrible and hackneyed, page after page and ultimately year after year, the manuscript kept becoming a novel and then, eventually and surprisingly – it still surprises me – an indie published one.
What gives? What goes on? Why is it the way it is to write and publish a book? For they are two different things. The publishing part – my experience being of course indie publishing – bestows any number of rewards, from seeing the book cover through to completion, and the interior formatting – making the thing look nice is its own reward – to uploading it to the various platforms and then tweaking the marketing and enthusiastically following the sales, such as they are. But the writing? Which includes the editing? How does one survive the ceaseless adjustment, correction, improvement, rearrangement, deletion, addition, clarification, elaboration, trimming and primping and fortifying and fucking wrestling that is novel birthing? Because it isn’t anything like birthing. Rather, it more resembles the assembly of a Frankenstein monster, replete with the ghoulish and gory unsightliness, the pervasive sense of horror and the lingering stench of death that such a concept implies. Oh, and the cosmic fright.
Wait a minute. Do I really mean to say that writing a novel is horrible? Or horrifying? And ghoulish and frightening? And that it has the stench of death? Yes.
You don’t believe me. You think there must be something good about it, otherwise us idiot authors wouldn’t keep doing it. Okay, yes, let’s see, the attributes, the good things, the pleasantries and rewards of the endeavor, can we list those? Um… well, no.
C’mon, you say, seeing your name in print and on the cover of the book, that must be a fantastic feeling, a real sense of accomplishment and success and worthiness. Isn’t it? Nope. Firstly, as anyone who employs a pen name will tell you, you’re never going to see your given name in print unless some reviewer digs it up and then you’re just as likely to find yourself being torn to shreds in public for being a hack. So, no, the your-name-on-the-cover thing is a no-go. And I dare say that for those authors not using a pen name, we can assume that you have nevertheless poured so much blood, sweat and tears into the book and struggled so mightily to see it through to its miserable publication result that it now so much does not resemble what you started with – you know, the thing, the wild dream of it, that had you all excited in the very beginning? – that, well, ho hum, there it is, a book. My book, yes. Sort of.
This is to say nothing of the final punishment, for many if not all of us, of never being capable of stomaching, let alone reading even a page, nay, a mere paragraph of the text ever again short of being under the threat of death. Please, read us a passage from your novel. Oh my god, no…!
If writing and indie publishing a novel, then, is so fucking awful, at least as I describe it, then why do it? Just quit. End the misery. Move on to something else.
This brings us to the painful pivot point: people who write novels can’t help it. They can’t help themselves. The novels can be said to have possessed them and the novels go about writing themselves. Except it’s not as if the novel, writing itself, does a good job of it. No. The weirdly raw and unformed intimation of a story with a proper beginning, middle, end and requisite disaster is just that. Weirdly raw and unformed. Malformed might be a better word. “A fucked-up mess” covers it pretty well.
Hundreds of pages and many months, perhaps years, down the road, there you are authoring this thing and you find yourself decrying its utter lack of compelling plot, its conflicting this and that, its yawn-inducing dialogue, plot quirks and character cliches, characters whom, by the way, have all somehow managed to sound either exactly like each other or like nobody on Earth or any other planet ever realistically, let alone compellingly, ever could. Perhaps the problem is that you’ve been, as they say, telling and not showing? Or, wait, is it the other way around? Because at this point, having endured the ceaseless swirling around inside your head of the story, whatever has become of it, to say nothing of the rereading of your words that never seem like anything a real writer would ever puke out, everything about the so-called manuscript has long since lost all meaning, let alone interest, let alone clarity and purpose and the whole thing has officially entered the realm of “hackneyed prose” and “non-story.”
We writers ask ourselves, Who would fucking read it? What in hell am I going on about? What happened to the plot? Who are these characters and why are they here? What are they supposed to be doing? What’s the point? Ugh.
Anything can seem like a failure in the middle. These are words of wisdom I read somewhere long ago. And now, I’m living them.
What to do? Quit? You can’t quit. Not because you wouldn’t rather quit. It’s rather because your manuscript, which may or may not still resemble a novel, will never allow you to quit. Like I said, it writes itself. It’s as if the novel is Moby Dick and you are Captain Ahab. The novel is the great whale doing its thing, swimming the oceans of the world, indifferent to the rotting corpse of the captain roped round the neck at the other end of that pesky harpoon. Perhaps, someday, you may be free of each other. Perhaps not. But the only stopping that will ever happen is death. Of you or it.
Is it really that bad, buddy? Hey, when it’s your work, your honest-to-Ahab life’s work, your personal mythology and all that, to write a novel or a series of novels then it just is. It is as bad and as good as it gets. Bliss, as we are compelled to recall, is not happiness; rather, it is fulfillment. Whatever that means, right? This is our predicament. Shared by the gods.
Man is the little world creator. Indeed. A novel being merely one example. And this novel, TC2, like the last one, will get done. To the best of my ability. Or I’ll die trying. And the world will be the judge. That’s the way it is with novels. I think it was Campbell himself, a great writer of outstanding non-fiction, who suggested that when it comes to books, it’s all about getting it off your chest. Right on. And, write on….
Zimmer and Campbell of course render a better explanation of the nature of Gawain and his mythological function than I can. And because the greatest myths, despite being bound to the context of their times, inevitably manage to successfully speak to our contemporary predicaments, the different destinies assigned to Gawain and Lancelot, very much akin to the different destinies assigned to Gawain and Parzival, speak to the different destinies we must seek to unravel in our own lives. What are we to do? What job or vocation is rightfully ours and what obligation belongs to someone else?
The day-to-day deliberate practice of one’s modest, Earthbound skill set – one’s pedestrian vocational talents – and the autonomy, complexity and commensurate reward that a character like Gawain enjoys probably describes most of our wholehearted visions of a worthy life. The experience of being properly alive, that is, for most of us, hinges upon being welcomed within the world-of-action as it stands and for who and what we are, vocationally, within the context of our individual life. So-called higher aspirations, those pivoting upon existential and psycho-spiritual and cultural mythological tenants can routinely be regarded as somebody else’s job, namely, the spiritually adept, the predestined paraclete that speaks for and ultimately defends the veracity and cosmic legitimacy of our everyday expression of how things are. Heroes like Lancelot and Parzival begin their adult lives at least as flawed as we do, thereby ensuring our ability to identify with them – they may in the end be god-like but they are not gods. From God or the gods we are to remain perpetually and necessarily removed. But by way of their predestined role as symbols, heroes of the fraught stature of Lancelot and Parzival indeed emerge as paracletes, as Bodhisattvas, advocating for us, showing us the way, allowing for our opportunity to enjoy our humble version of divine grace, atonement and transcendence from the sufferings of this world, all the while remaining within it.
For Gawain, enlightenment is rather to be experienced within the world-of-action, within the here and now and in the manner allotted to the rest of us. Lancelot and Parzival, as scholars like Zimmer and Campbell have expressed, are of the type who fall further and rise higher because to rise higher all aspects of the play-of-opposites must be integrated by way of first-hand, thereby inarguably legitimate, experience and for the benefit of our own identification. They have faired and failed sometimes even worse than we, have demonstrated every weakness and nevertheless have won through by way of atonement and their unique mythological resilience, as it were. Gawain is not expected to perform acts of chivalry beyond his means unless it is to evoke the presence, performance and salvatory participation of the god.
What am I saying? That the enlightened householder life-style (a Hindu reference) that Gawain in his way embodies – the vocationally successful, those who enjoy so-called right livelihood as the Buddhists describe it – is all I’ve ever sought. My vision-of-greatness remains entirely within the context of this life upon this Earth. I do not aspire to transcendence beyond escaping the exile of my own foibles and mistakes and my failure to properly respond to my heart.
A life akin to Gawain’s provides for the experience of being properly alive in an everyday sense and death is relegated to, as Gawain implies, an ever-present expression, let’s say, of one’s destiny, hence it is impossible to be feared. Each and every day of one’s life expresses the success of being who you are and in that sense your work is already done and you can never fail nor suffer the qualms of not yet achieving your individuation, especially in terms of your own faulty self-knowledge or failing courage or despairing heart. You have conquered those challenges. You have cast those burdens aside for the enlightenment of being who you are. Moreover, within the context of a such a life, no manner of demise can be perceived as premature. As Gawain declares in another one of his adventures, namely, that of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight:
Five is the guy. At least lately. I have chugged away at getting him upriver and whether any of the story of his sailing adventure is worth including I can’t yet say. His journey is fraught, there is conflict, it moves the story forward and all that. Sometimes I like it, sometimes it seems a crazy diversion. And despite the rest of the manuscript being at the third draft stage, this is first draft material, hence, it requires a second look in terms of substantive value and of course the line editing. I may have over or underwritten things. Which is to say the idea is important to the architecture of the plot – Five’s origin and travel, his entry into this novel – but my rendering may be tedious and boring. It must add value above and beyond being a component of the plot. Let’s face it, a castaway and solo sailing adventure is hardly a unique idea and it can make for its novel, hence, it threatens to bog down or bloat TC2 with what amounts to a spurious side story. It’s been my challenge, then, to render Five’s experience in line with the style, level of detail and pace of the rest of the manuscript. How to get the job done, for instance, in a page-turner manner without driving the manuscript too far past 500 pages?
Part of being professional is knowing when and how to manipulate the level of detail in favor of keeping the story moving. When in doubt, give the reader the opportunity to fill in the detail, resist the urge to explain and all that. But requiring too many leaps of logic results in the type of annoyingly silly, ultimately nonsensical, fragmented, hackneyed non-stories that you see in, say, too many Ultraman episodes. Our characters are here, then suddenly they’re over there – context comes and goes and a jarring sense of discontinuity poisons our otherwise enjoyable suspension of disbelief. The thrill vanishes, we feel gypped and manipulated and the whole experience becomes one of meritless frustration. It’s the experience of tossed-off indifference to quality and the problem can arise from lack of inspiration, lack of time spent on a thing and, conversely, too much time spent on a thing. The proper balance and chemistry rarely comes easily – it can be argued that it almost never comes easily – and it becomes another aspect of professionalism to battle through the sticky, oftentimes unwieldly nature of a creation and bring it home to at least competent completion.
Have I gone too far this way or that with Five’s entry into the story? I have to maintain a workable faith in my intuition and the editing process, both. Meanwhile, I see it as an opportunity to communicate Five’s psychology. And it’s part of the nature of a charismatic character that we enjoy watching them, listening to them, and reading about them when they’re doing virtually anything. Take Sherlock Holmes as an example. Conan Doyle could place Sherlock within the context of a moon launch in the modern day and people would be compelled to at least try it out. Now, this strength of a character’s charisma of course leads directly into a weakness, namely, that a writer can make the mistake of assuming that you can indeed disregard context and rely upon the charisma power of character to carry the story. In the end, while it may perhaps sell some books, initially, to refresh, as it were, a character’s context in otherwise incongruous ways, the lasting effect is one of diminishment. Sherlock Holmes is a private detective within nineteenth century London and environs. That context is inevitably tied to the value and success of Sherlock as a character. You cannot manipulate that context without overmanipulating the character and, in a sense, losing him.
And this has been the curious experience for me of writing the second novel, namely, that of working with established characters, of not being required as in the first novel to develop the main characters from scratch. These are two different tasks. As it stands, Mr. Z., Vixy, Captain Chase, Professor Wilhelm, Neutic, Five, Cog and the General are known, whereas the Emperor is not so much and the Empress is almost completely new. All their character arcs are different, too, hence each character demands its own special care and handling. They write their own stories, too, of course – it isn’t as if I’m in complete authority – which is both fun and frustrating. This helps explain how Five’s castaway status and sailing adventure came to insert itself, really, into the story. Five himself deemed my original attempt as lacking. Lacking? Yes, quite frankly, in the first draft and even the second I was attempting to avoid the complexity of that plot line. For whatever reason, I didn’t want to write anything more about it. At the time it seemed irrelevant and I was satisfied with leaving it a mystery. But self-editing required me to repeatedly confront the lack. And Five himself spoke to the solution, even beyond my own intentions. He demands how I’m to write his way, my way or our way through it – it’s a weird experience from an author standpoint, believe me. And anyone who writes fiction will likely identify with it.
Meanwhile, at least I’ve finally brought the story forward to where I left off in the editing prior to being overtaken by the impulse to reconfigure Five’s process of arrival. For better or worse, he has run his catamaran aground at the northern portion of the Tonle Sap Lake, damaging the craft beyond reasonable repair (given his circumstances), and this afternoon I look forward to perhaps a paragraph or two that will put him properly and literally on the ground near Angkor in 1296. He will tough out the remainder of the rainy season by way of establishing a reliable shelter, developing a routine of hunting and gathering and exploring the geography. I already know that I don’t have to write that part out. With a handful of allusions, more or less deft, we can provide the reader enough to work with. At least I think so. You don’t describe every step a character takes or every breath he breathes. Herein lies part of the magic trick of writing a novel that people want to read: as an author and with the help of an editor you work to create something that readers enjoy reading and most importantly, reading themselves into.
Anyway, when the dry season arrives in Angkor, Five will be in the bamboo grove where I left him prior to this crazy rewrite, somewhere around page 175 or so in the manuscript. Which is now at something like 520 pages including a table of contents, the notes and glossary but no illustrations. Henceforth, however, rather than adding I am compelled to return to trimming. But, we’ll see. Again, it’s not all up to me.
P.S. On Monday, the TC2 book cover redesign gets underway….