Benny and his friend Griffin at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Killer Assassin Robots Ride Off into Sunset

Well, I did it. For the third time I’ve typed the words “THE END” to my science fiction novel (current title: “Are You Still Working on That Thing?”)

This is the third complete draft of the blasted story. The first draft was 50,000 words, written in one month for National Novel Writing Month in 2002. The second draft, completed the following year, cut 10,000 words and added another 30,000, bringing the grand total to 70,000 words. Then I ignored the thing for three years.

Now I’ve finished the third draft, with a total of 87,000 words. It’s kind of frightening, really, to produce nearly 90,000 words of something that may never be useful to anyone. I’ve been plugging along since January, constantly grumbling, occasionally excited and generally discouraged. In August, when I realized that the 25,000-word chunk I’d written about Jupiter was gonna have to go (a science fiction novel, remember), I nearly gave up.

But I soldiered on, confining my outside reading to history books so I wouldn’t sound like Richard Russo or Jane Austen or Anne Tyler. I was, however, imprudent enough to watch the first season of “24” on DVD, so my new Jupiter chapters are really short with lots and lots of shooting.

So is it any good? Well, I’d be the last one to know. I can’t bear to look at the thing. I wrote the novel’s climax yesterday at some humdrum library next door to a senior rest home. (Writers always tell you to write in boring places; don’t distract yourself with a lovely view. In that respect, the Pittsfield Township Library was perfect.) Anyway, writing the final chapters took three hours. I finally left to pick Benny up from daycare, sporting a glazed expression and a splitting headache.

Today I wrote a tiny epilogue (320 words) to wrap everything up. I flirted with all kinds of fun little moments, then resorted to the old “guy wakes up in hospital bed” bit. And while there isn’t a wedding (the experts say a novel should end with a wedding, celebration or funeral), there is a proposal – of sorts.

So what have I learned in my year of revising? Well, I learned how to write fiction when I ‘d rather do anything else. I learned to write fiction while tired, while sick, while my kid is whining, while the guy next to me in the coffee shop yaks loudly on his cell phone (“Did you get my email? I sent it 10 minutes ago. Let me tell you what it said …”)

I’ve learned to write pages and pages of dreck, realize it’s dreck and cut it all, then decide it’s not dreck and put it back, then go back and change previous chapters to support the dreck … You get the idea.

I also learned that killer assassin robots can fill a multitude of plot holes. Think of them as literary spackle.

Meanwhile, I’m excited at the prospect of having a life again. Benny will be baptized on Sunday, with friends and family standing by. Christmas is coming, and my more conscientious relatives are demanding gift lists. And finally, in January comes the next season of “24.”