Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake

[writing] The Heart of the Beast

Between having a cold and some general distraction this weekend, I still managed to get a fair amount of in done on The Heart of the Beast, my collaboration with Jeff VanderMeer. Unfortunately, due to the aforementioned factors my pacing was off and I also neglected to report progress here. Still, I put in about ten hours of work, and netted about 10,100 words to the working draft (ie, counting my revised/extended work product, not Jeff's source material). Perhaps 20% is new wordage in the form of inserted scenes or wholly redrafted paragraphs and scenes. Book now stands at 34,400 words. This is respectable for the first four days' effort, and given that our target is in the 100,000 word range, also encouraging.

Much of yesterday's work was going through Jeff's print-outs of the first sections of the book and comparing them back to my revised electronic file. The source files he sent me weren't the same revision as the print-outs, and besides that he'd made a number of hand-written annotations. I was busy cherry picking material between version changes, or in some cases, taking a third way which made more sense to me. This effort is superficially similar to revising one of my own novels, but in fact represents a rather different creative effort, because I know what I'd originally intended in one of my own manuscripts, whereas in this process the best I can do is work from the words themselves. Obviously, I do have some access to auctorial intent here, in the sense that Jeff and I communicate quite regularly, but that's still a distinct externality. In that vein, several times I almost queried Jeff on some detail of plot or character, but decided this part truly was up to me, based on how we'd set the ground rules for our collaborative process.

Also through this process we've hit a curious snag. I have about forty pages of printout remaining, perhaps 10,000 words, for which I have no corresponding electronic file. For this I did query Jeff, to see if he had the file handy. Otherwise I shall need to retype that section. This feels qualitatively different to me than the process of working from notes or outline. If they were my words which I was forced to retype from printout, I know I'd default to frustration. If needed, I'll try to think of them more as incredibly detailed outline, rendered at 1:1 scale with respect to the actual material.

Past that, I'm into the outline and the handwritten note fragments. I've been extending the outline considerably as I work on this first third of the novel, putting in scenes which are required by character or plot logic, or simply implied by prior action. By the time I get there, it will be pretty robust. It's interesting, because I don't plot or structure at anything remotely approaching this level of detail when working on my own, but because I'm in many ways mimicking Jeff's process, that's been the net effect here.

More to come, of course. And in the mean time, a bit of WIP:

The kitchens were housed on the first floor of the Can Man's establishment, and took up a portion of the cellars. Down below, the ovens belched and roared like hoarse iron beasts. They lay almost directly beneath Moot's room. While that served as an extra source of warmth in the winter, it did nothing for her during the other ten months of the year except keep her well supplied with the twinned scents of woodsmoke and baked goods whenever the chimney dampers were closed. The upper floor of the kitchens opened onto the courtyard as well as to the nested, fractal halls of the building's dank interior. This area was unwalled, punctuated only by gap-edged brick columns and nearly random furnishings of comestibility: long, weatherbeaten tables of varying heights and dimensions; scattered plates and silverware atop them; along with misshapen, unmatched chairs — all of it pilfered or snatched from both the dead and the living of the city. Likewise the rinsing board, soap, towels, and even water piped in on parasite lines from other cisterns and pumps around Black. In the far corner, the serving troughs, which three times a day were piled high with the bare essentials for nutritional survival, which was to say: dried fish and pickled eggs and mashed chick peas and rice and sour apples and figs and dates and plums and mutton and huge, brimming carboys of warmed tea spiced with cardamom, which often took two or three urchins just to lift, left alone pour. One advantage of being in the Can Man's employ was that he took food very seriously indeed.

Originally published at jlake.com.

Tags: beast, books, process, writing

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