Friday, February 17, 2017

Dismantling the Pulpit

17th February 2017

Before I hit "Send" and my re-write went swirling into the upper atmosphere, I had to describe to my agent all the changes I made. This is the longest time I have ever spent on a re-write. Because I want this to be right. I had two tasks: take out the preaching and "up the ante." My birthday happens to fall on the same day as Billy Graham's, so the stars were so aligned that I couldn't help but become a preacher of some kind. In addition, my dad was a minister, so I grew up listening to my father in the bully pulpit Sunday after Sunday. But novels aren't pulpits, and this is partly why my agent sent me back to the drawing board. If people want preachers they go to church or read a political treatise. The job of a novelist is to tell stories. So I had to go back and take out a lot of material that was dear to me. I had to recite the writer's Pledge of Allegiance to kill my darlings. Darlings are those things a writer feels compelled to put down on paper because she is attached to them. But they get in the way. You have to take your dearies out into the woods and sever their heads.

There are probably way too many darlings, even this version, but I did my best.
And then came the task of upping the ante: I kind of resist this. I mutter to myself about a book like Middlesex, which was in many regards an astonishing story about gender, and was going along fine until (and I could just hear the editor saying, "Up the ante, Eugenides!") the author plunges us into a high-speed car chase. This completely wrecks the integrity and register of the book, sort of like ketchup in a french restaurant.

So, I resent upping the ante and mutter about it. But I did it, had people getting caught doing things they shouldn't and a new chase (on foot!) and a new sex scene. Mutter, mutter. I tried not to reduce it to ketchup and I think I didn't, and I think the book is better for it.
I don't like to be pushed. I'm a Scorpio, for crying out loud. I do the pushing. But I am very bad at having any perspective on my writing. Like my children, I think they're all wonderful. And if it weren't for the small question of marketing, that would be all dandy. But any writer writes to be heard, and so we have to listen to the publicum. All well and fine. But it doesn't stop me muttering about it.

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