Monday, July 18, 2011

The original dog story

"Fassen Files", my first attempt to write a book, started out a short story about ten years ago. I finished it, showed it to Gary, and he said, "There's a lot more to this than you have here--maybe an entire book." I could not imagine writing an entire book about a psychic dog so I backed it up on an unmarked floppy (I was bad about that), and tossed it in a drawer,  I returned to writing poetry because it was small, neat, and fit in my life full of small children and  puppies. (She pauses for a second to think about all those children and puppies. Tears up, continues typing .  . .)

We moved into this house. And while unpacking my office, I found the unmarked floppy and stuck it in the drive to see what was on it. I read the little story and "saw" the rest of it all at once. It took close to three years of writing off and on around those same small children and puppies. I remember the day I finished it (there was a bottle of wine waiting). I remember also thinking "Now what?" While I was certainly naive about how hard it was to get published,  even I knew you didn't find agents standing around on street corners with their hands out asking for manuscripts like loose change.

Regardless, I had some terrific, very patient, very generous beta readers waiting in the wings. They spent hours and hours with it and, between them, ferreted out clunky sentences, inconsistencies and plot holes. Thank you: Gary, Heather, Kelly, Jennifer, Stephen and Geoff. If it's not a perfect story, it certainly wasn't for lack of effort on your parts.

I moved on, wrote another book, and another, and another. With each one I've gotten a better sense of how to tell a story. And after every one, I thought about that first book kind of wistfully. It was a good story, but it was a first book and couldn't possibly be any good. I returned to it over and over, editing here and there-re-writing entire scenes sometimes before I remembered that it was a first book, and put it away again.

Recently Hal Johnson (Hi Hal!) and I were emailing back and forth about books and e-publishing and the Dog Story and Fassen Files came to mind. I hadn't looked at it in probably five years. It occurred to me that while it might not be strong enough to stand on its own, it might work as part of a set, so I pulled it up, re-read it, and saw its problems immediately, but I also saw what drew me to the idea in the first place. It wasn't just a story about a psychic dog. It was supposed to be a fun story about a love,  friendship and growing as a person and lots of other "girly things" and the biggest problem with it was that I was in too much of a rush to get to the things that made it exciting and didn't flesh those moments out enough.

So I've given every spare minute to it for the last two weeks. It's still exciting (I think it is, anyway), but it's also everything I should have let it be in the first place. I rewrote, edited, fixed notable problems, addressed plot inconsistencies, and sat back yesterday and looked at it. I still don't know if it's especially good, but it is a million times better than it was before. And interestingly it's actually about 3000 words less than it was before I sat down with it.

The Dog Story is coming along--there will be more to it very soon (I expect to finish it this weekend or early next week). Meanwhile--here's just a taste of what I've been up to, so you'll know that I HAVE been writing.

(And no, I will not be posting serial excerpts of this one )

October 8th
Every word in this journal is Trish’s fault. She wants me to record my daily activities, thoughts, and insights for one year. At the end of this year, we’ll look through all the words I’ve written and find what’s wrong with me. I’m not sure how this is supposed to help. I told her that I know words—I know them well—and they’ve never done anything except get me in trouble. But maybe I need more trouble in my life. God knows I need something.

October 12th
I was in a waiting induced coma, a state caused specifically by sitting in long lines at drive-thrus. I could have gone in and already been at home writing a different entry than this one with one hand, and munching a hamburger with the other, but that would have required getting out of The Line and no one leaves The Line once they’re in it.
            And then I saw him. At first, he registered as a small pavement colored, lump of fur skulking around the dumpsters. A rat I thought—albeit a big one--but a rat nonetheless. Then I noticed his wiry coat and was curious enough to open my car window and get a better look at the long haired rodent. For a moment I was preoccupied with the plausibility and couldn't wait to ask Don about it.  But a second later, the “rat” woofed at the rude brunette (me) staring at him while he ate his find of cold fries. And the pieces of what I was seeing finally formed themselves into a logical statement: there is no such thing as long haired rats that bark . . . 


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