Monday, July 21, 2008

Thoughts while editing/revising novel: HOW MANY FLOORS DOES THE NIGHTMARE HAVE?

1. Footnotes are addictive. I started with a couple here and there for an intended purpose and now am approaching the Wallace-ian (well not quite, there are none that go on for pages, just a couple that are paragraphs thank god). As of now there are 60. There is something immensely pleasing in adding extra info to the text without having it definitively mannered in the flow of the graphs. I do not recommend getting started with these, as it's hard to stop. (Sidenote: When I saw DFW read several years ago in Boston, someone asked him in the Q&A about his excessive footnoting and I swear he blushed a little, and said he'd had a problem, and he was mostly clean now, thanks.)

2. Though I think I like the original title now, part of me wants to call the book: READ THE CHILD THIS BOOK OR IT WILL SUFFER, which is a phrase that appears a little too early on in the narrative for me to be okay with using that title, though I think it would be kind of neat. Neat.

3. Esp. in early drafts I like to put one paragraph or set of graphs on a page by themselves so they can breathe and I can better see how to add or subtract from them, which is something I started doing in the other novel I wrote earlier this year. I have found it much easier to generate a lot more 'healthy feeling' text in this fashion, though now I have grown too fond of the graphs on their own pages to put a lot of them back together. SAMEDI THE DEAFNESS was the most recent book that made me want to write like this, though I think I read an interview with someone else, like maybe William Vollmann, who said this helped him a lot. It might have been DFW come to think of it, but I don't think so. Nicholson Baker? I can't remember. Oh, maybe Gary Lutz?

Actually I think it was Don Delillo.

Probably a lot of people do that.

4. Switching voices is fun but I think there usually needs to be at least some discernible reason for doing so ie: perspective, collision, etc., maybe something more than just a new voice, otherwise it disrupts more than it adds I think. This novel has several voices though they tend to play off each other and are set up in various parts of the novel distinctly to add to that section, then are not repeated. The hardest part I'm having in revision is there is a voice at the end of the novel that goes on after the last 'palpable action' occurs and kind of deals with some of the energy left at the end, I think I like the way it works, though I am having trouble making all the words fall in line. Funny how you can write carefully, with attention to every syllable, and then come back the next time and look and say, 'What the fuck was I thinking?' Certain kinds of writing are all about mood, I think. I've been in a lot of weird moods lately.

The worst example in me of this is I was writing a novel about a guy who tells his son he's got a job at Disney World so his son will be more happy and excited about moving to Disney World, then he locks himself in his den and starts destroying all his old records. At that time I was reading Gordon Lish a lot, I read like 4 or 5 of his books in a row, and I went back and tried to add a scene where the guy leaves the den and gets in his car and decides to kill himself by parking on the highway in the fog and getting hit, then he gives up and goes to a diner and sits there and some guy at the counter orders him a full enormous steak dinner with everything and demands he eats all of it, then makes him come out to his car and get in and sit. The scene ended like that. It sounds better now recounting it than it was when I tried to insert it, trying to write somewhat like Lish, god it was terrible.

5. Reading Aase Berg's REMAINLAND while line-editing certain things has added a lot of visceral elements to the mind of the book: I felt close to those words anyway, but specifically looking at the phraseology each Berg poem between revising my own lines is interesting in its collision.

6. I think this novel could be considered a sister novel to the one I wrote in ten days earlier this year, though I'm not sure how to say why, nor should I.

7. Advice from a very drunk Tom Bissell while I was at Bennington, advice I have cherished since (this is an approximation of how he said it, though he said it better I am sure): "People say in writing you have to kill your babies. Don't kill your babies! They are your babies. They want to be there. Nurture them. They are what is most you."

8. I would love to use this image turned vertical for the cover of the novel now. I can see the bold font on there massive. So me. It would probably work for anything of the books I've been submitting come to think of it. Scare the customer.



9. More later.

21 comments:

KEN BAUMANN said...

on:

2. i really like that title. i really like that title. i really like that title. i really like that title. i would buy 20 for friends without reading a word.

3. i want to try, but i feel like i've been doing, maybe, do

4. i like the sound of that story. i want to read it. give it a pound again, who knows? ??

7. agree

8. FKJFDLKJDSFLKJSFDKL YES what is that image from

BLAKE BUTLER said...

hmm, yes i think i like that title too, i am confused, it appears on like page 3, maybe i can move it, maybe it doesnt matter, hmm

typing hmm can help

the image is a person with a goiter

KEN BAUMANN said...

http://sinoemedicalassociation.org/pathologylectures/1goiter3.jpg

there are many great goiter images

i like that title most
i don't think it matters

BLAKE BUTLER said...

goiters really hurt my feelings but i can't stop looking at them

Keith said...

i think either way that photo needs some iodine. is that it?

BLAKE BUTLER said...

they need a lot. they need out of my sleep

Josh Maday said...

really, how large do you let the already giant scrotum on your neck get before consulting a doctor? just in case this happens to me, i would like to know. i'm passing up some easy jokes here.

i like the title mucho. this thing needs to be unleashed into the world; sister to WHERE AM I? let it out. WHERE AM I is still melting my eyes. i am full of love and jealousy for that novel.

paragraphs alone on a page really works, for some reason. maybe it doesn't feel overwhelmed by the loads of text above and below? it works, though.

i would like to see someone make an appendix or a companion volume that is just footnotes to the original work, and maybe a preface that is longer than the main text itself.

i am full of coffee and goiter-free.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

thanks josh. massive preface yes. i could see you doing that with a weird philosophical battering ram.

i've always imagined in my mind having a novel that is all in quotes, one big long quote, and then at the end having another character say, 'yeah man, that's pretty cool'

i dont know why i think that's funny

peter b. said...

i am performing a goiter self-examination as we speak

Adam R. said...

I think in the Kimball interview at NYTyrant Gary Lutz said he starts with two words and tries to move them apart by adding words between them, or something. I guess that's different than cordoning paragraphs onto a page.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

peter, be careful, they can hide from you

adam, yeah that interview is awesome. that is slightly different than the other but a good practice also

Darby said...

I hear you about footnotes. I remember DFW getting asked by Charlie Rose about them (end notes, rather) in Infinite Jest and he was really embarrased about having to explain them. I don't use them in fiction often, for some reason, unless I'm being deliberately footnotey. They show up in my nonfiction like a plague.

I'm still curious as to just exactly how many floors does the nightmare have. I don't think I've ever had anything more than a two-floored nightmare.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

yeah, they seem embarassing some. i am trying to cut only the most vital ones now.

i am also trying to answer the floor question. so far the answer is 126 pages long.

Shane Jones said...

that was a good post. it made me feel full.

Justin Dobbs said...

Hello,

I am the man who couldn't comment.

And I'm busy with my goiter, you see.

So I won't be able to comment on this post.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

dats just my baby daddy

Josh Maday said...

you know, i think goiters are nearing the tipping point of becoming a major fashion trend. people will get them tattooed and adorn them with rhinestones.

yes, blake, i would have fun doing the battering ram preface. last year i started a story or an essay that was composed entirely of quotes, and at the end i would write something like, Yeah, that's pretty much it. i read that Walter Benjamin said he always wanted to write an essay that way. I didn't feel so innovative when I read that a guy wanted to do that in the 1930's or 40's. that story hasn't quite come together yet. maybe someday.

yes, NYTyrant is pretty great from cover to cover.

Josh Maday said...

i'm sorry. giant goiters should not star in my comments when you are talking about Gary Lutz, DFW, etc.

my head is spin spin spin from coffee on top of tired at 2:15 am.

can't wait to watch INLAND EMPIRE. maybe i shouldn't. i'm excited about my idea of what it will be based on what i've read about it.

i read a passage in LANDS OF MEMORY tonight where a woman is talking to the narrator, who was crying, and he has not looked up at the woman to see her face yet, but he imagines what her face looks like; and as she keeps talking, her face changes in his head and he does not want to look at her and see her actual face.

that has something to do with something that is not a goiter but closer to Gary Lutz and DFW.

Marsuped said...

I'll snap some pics of fat necks for you. Plenty of them around here in the cornbelt. I saw a hot tub full of them yesterday. Went bowling with some too.

BLAKE BUTLER said...

josh, tru dat. goiters are enticing, even away from such genii.

i think inland empire may take your expectation and donk it in the rear. it is a pretty incredible film. you should write a story as to what you imagine of it before you watch it. i would like to read that.

derek, please yes do.

the goiters probably bowled you right off the lane.

bye america.

Josh Maday said...

i like the idea of writing about it before i see it. yeah, i'm certain that my expecations are going to be destroyed and surpassed. i am anxious to watch it, but i'm waiting to make sure i will be able to watch it uninterrupted. in the meantime, i'll write about it. i'll send it over if it isn't crap. good idea.