…….by looking over the first chapter of an acquaintance’s novel. It’s been a while and I was more than a little nervous, because it’s different editing the work of someone you know (even slightly) than the work of someone you don’t know.
There’s that added pressure of not wanting to hurt or bruise feelings as you go through their words and say, “That sentence strikes a nice image, but take out ten words” or “Reduce that paragraph to two or three lines”. But you gird your loins and you wade in and you do your best to give them clear, concise notes on how to excavate the story buried underneath a mountain of words, like an archaeologist sifts through dirt to find the relics.
Because that’s how I view a completed manuscript – as an archaeological site that is pristine and untouched. Editing is the tool used to dig and sift and brush away the excess to unearth what lies beneath. Michaelangelo had a similar point of view – he didn’t carve the statue of David out of marble, he simply whittled away at the excess, freeing what was already inside the slab.
My own experiences with the editor of my Novel Now Finished taught me a lot as I prepared to go over that first chapter. And I discovered that I still have that skill to edit, to offer notes and suggestions. It was rusty from disuse, but there, and the notes I made for my acquaintance helped him enormously. I feel confident in that skill again. And I plan to move forward and keep doing it. Not only am I working on a marketable skill, but it helps me to improve my own writing.
Complementary skills, writing and editing. And useful.
It was a cloudless summer day in the year 1900. Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of the secluded volcanic outcropping. Farther, higher, until at last they disappeared. They never returned. . . .
The first time I read Picnic at Hanging Rock, I was maybe 13 or 14 and had come straight off seeing of the movie of the same name (directed by Peter Weir) on TV. Both the book and the film carry the narrative in a strangely quiet way, trusting the story to invite and beguile readers and viewers for years to come. For me, with my love for all things unexplained and mysterious and slightly supernatural, that made it all the more haunting.
In my recent re-read of the book, I was reminded once again of how the quiet voice of the omnipresent narrator slips past one’s guard. It insinuates itself into one’s thoughts as it tells the story of a women’s school in 1900 Australia. Like Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House or We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the subtleties at play require one’s full attention or you’ll miss the clues that paint the final picture.
There are a variety of characters that work against and play off of each other – from unpleasant and cruel (Mrs. Appleyard), to the ethereal (Miranda), to the lost and hopeless (Sara). And while there are a few male characters one might think of as leads (Arthur and Mike), this is primarily a story about women. It’s about how, in the aftermath of the events at Hanging Rock, their lives change from existing in the protective web of their expected roles in society to the uncertainty of life’s cruelties and uknowns.
Told in the frame-work of being based on actual events, Picnic at Hanging Rock has haunted many readers over the years. It has also inspired many amateur detectives determined to solve the mystery of two missing schoolgirls and their teacher.
In essence, the book and the movie are to 1967 what The Blair Witch Project was to 1999.
……and I can feel the tangents wanting to take off and create something new. This is exciting to me, because it means that this play has a lot to say, that there’s more depth to it than I had originally anticipated. But because these tangents are too nebulous and without form, I’m making them wait until this revision is finished.
I know, I know, I’m being terribly mean to these tangents. I mean, they only want to help my Ancient Greek comedy become something truly magnificent.
And I can’t argue with that, because I want the same thing. Still, this revision has to happen first and then the tangents can come in and do as they please. If it makes anyone feel any better about it, I write these tangents down to remember them. That is, if there’s something solid enough to write down.
In any case, I’m delighted to see characters that I’d written out make their way back in, One character has regained his speech after I took it away from him. Issues that I have strong ideas and feelings about are working their way in, which is only right. Theater, and the arts in general, are about exploring ideas (good, bad, ugly) and politics and feelings. The arts are here to make us think, not just make us feel. There is something at work within the confines of this play that I can’t readily identify, but it’s exciting to me.
……for the sequel to Novel Now Finished. This is new territory for me, because I’ve never actually written a true sequel before. I’ve written many stories that developed into multiple novels (written or in summary form), but never upon completing a manuscript. I know who’s returning, who’s new to the story and I even have a story to go with the idea.
I’d known from the start that this would be a five-book arc – I didn’t want to write more than that involving these characters. Part of that is because of my own experiences in reading several different series – by the time I get to book six, I’m bored and wishing the whole thing had been wrapped up in the previous book. This is not the fault of the writer – I’ve read many authors whose series spanned multiple titles and have always enjoyed them. But lately, my attention span has petered out at book five and I’d rather leave my audience wanting more than losing their interest (this is also an old theater saying).
While writing Novel Now Finished, I had no idea of how I was going to carry this character into another book, let alone four more. I don’t usually plan my stories out to the tiniest detail nor do I use an outline – I tried the outline once and found it to be more of a hindrance than in any way helpful.  I was a little worried about how I was going to stretch this character’s story out beyond this one novel, regardless of how much I enjoyed her world.
The idea came to me while I was rearranging a snippet in Novel Now Finished – a simple image of the character standing at the entrance of a seldom used road. Suddenly, I had an idea of what the story would be, of what the mystery would entail and who was going to be involved. I also knew that there would be some character dynamics at play that I hadn’t tried before, so I’m curious to see how that works out.
And a few days ago, I wrote the first page of what’s to eventually become the sequel to Novel Now finished.
The character showed me what’s going to happen next in her story. Now all I have to do is pay attention and write it.
 I’m not suggesting that outlining or planning out a story to the smallest detail is wrong in general, just wrong for me, specifically. If it works for you, then by all means, keep doing it.
……where chaos reigns and ancient mythologies collide. And that’s on a good day.
Most of the characters are based on the Greek gods and goddesses, but as I revise the play, I’m paying more attention to other mythologies. I make reference to a number of them within the dialogue, but I actually want to have the other ancient mythologies represented. To do that, I’m looking to give them a voice and space.
Since the ancient gods and goddesses are archetypal (ex. Athena is an archetype of war and wisdom), I’ve tagged a couple of the speaking roles to change over to a different mythological god/dess. It’ll be interesting to see how that works out, especially among mythologies that aren’t as readily identifiable, like the Greeks or Romans. Archetypes are common throughout every culture and myth. One of the reasons the ancient mythologies and plays resonate today is because we can still see ourselves and circumstances in those archetypes thousands of years after they were first staged.
There is, naturally, a Chorus, because what ancient play – Greek, Roman, Egyptian, (fill in the blank) – doesn’t have a Chorus, the impartial conscience and voice of the play itself? Generally, the Chorus’s role in the ancient plays (particularly the Greek ones) served to comment on the action within the context of the play. My Chorus sings about the action, what the situation is and offers back-up to Hera and Juno when they discover that their philandering husbands are one and the same (for my purposes, Zeus is Zeus and created his Roman counter-part, Jupiter because his ego determined that he can).
And what ancient play is complete without music? This play was inspired by the music of the Eagles and music has always played a part in grounding my stories to a time and place and feeling. I even created mini-soundtracks for my screenplays, each song triggering a scene or a moment that demanded to be put down on paper.
But, while writing this play, I encountered a significant problem – I’m not a musician and I don’t know how to write song lyrics. How am I to incorporate music into this play, other than to use and pay royalty fees for previously recorded music?
Fortunately, I am blessed to know several local musicians who have become very dear friends over the last few years. During a conversation about my play, I mentioned my concern over how to incorporate music. Unanimously, they said, “We’ll do it, all you need to do is ask, and it’s done.”
So now I have music and possible lyrics. I promised to have my song ideas for them upon completion of this current revision. My goal now is to find the right places for the songs to go and carry the story forward.
I have the feeling, however, that Zeus will make every effort to make it all about him. Because that’s his nature.
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton
John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbridge Gerry
Stephen Hopkins, William Ellery
Roger Sherman, Samuel Huntington, William Williams, Oliver Wolcott
William Floyd, Philip Livingston, Francis Lewis, Lewis Morris
Richard Stockton, John Witherspoon, Francis Hopkinson, John Hart, Abraham Clark
Robert Morris, Benjamin Rush, Benjamin Franklin, John Morton, George Clymer, James Smith, George Taylor, James Wilson, George Ross
Caesar Rodney, George Read, Thomas McKean
Samuel Chase, William Paca, Thomas Stone, Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe, Richard Henry Lee, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Harrison, Thomas Nelson, Jr., Francis Lightfoot Lee, Carter Braxton
William Hooper, Joseph Hewes, John Penn
Edward Rutledge, Thomas Heyward, Jr., Thomas Lynch, Jr., Arthur Middleton
Button Gwinnett, Lyman Hall, George Walton
…….and it felt good. While I didn’t write the actual ‘The End’, it was a definitive ending that will carry over into the next story. There were a lot of fun and humorous moments in this story, as well as frustrating ones, but I muddled through and got to that final period that ended the final sentence.
There were some interesting things going on in this story, not the least of which that it has parallels to my saucy speakeasy story.  The story begins and ends in a cemetery and involves a family. The Narrator descends into a basement (house, library, county court house, store) on at least four separate occasions. She grows progressively less resistant to the idea that she has power, that she matters, that she has a voice. Her reliance on ghosts is cut off until she finally is able to embrace her strength and power and chooses to face it, rather than run, which was her normal reaction.
If I were to apply Jungian theory to this, I’d call the basement the physical representation of the Narrator’s subconscious. In each instance, she is given information, which she takes back with her to the surface. By not resisting her own power, she is literally able to unlock and open doors without using a key or lock picks. By choosing to embrace this power, she destroys the lies told about herself and is given the opportunity to know herself honestly.
This was not a planned theme – as I drew closer to the ending, I became increasingly aware of these subtle meanings within the text. As I go back into it, for editing, revision and general clean up, I’m sure I’ll start finding more subtleties and either rein them in or emphasize them a little more.
 I wrote a blog post in March of this year about the multiple similarities between this novel and my saucy speakeasy. You can find it here.