02 June 2015 0 comments

Those words lost in translation

I wanted to preface this impromptu discussion born of a stream of tweets churned out on my Twitter feed. This is not about inexperienced writers snubbing their noses at any sort of editorial effort on their work. This is about knowing the rules and knowing when to break them, and breaking them in a specific sort of way as an artistic technique. Let us not confuse the two, for we have all of us read unedited stories published on Smashwords or Lulu or Amazon that made our brains bleed with the urge to claw out our eyes. This is about the presence of prose poetry in fiction as a writing technique, and about how much of it is damaged or lost in translation through the course of the editorial stage of the publishing process.
Prose poetry is a recognized form of art, in that it is a recognized form of poetry. Sadly, it is not wholly recognized as a form of prose. Or at least, it is not recognized as a form of fiction prose.




I know that I am not alone in this. I also know that I am not the only one who struggles with how to maintain some kind of precarious balance between the details of the art and the polish demanded by the editorial process of the publishing industry. We don't want to be accused of being Anne Rice, too good for her editor, churning out chaff. We just want to be true to our artistic vision, and it sometimes goes beyond simple plot structure, character development, and setting descriptions. It's in the language. It's in every word. Just as the painter considers each brush stroke with deliberation and precision.

I have never been a writer to churn out shallow fluff. And by no measure do I write fiction to pay my bills. I have a shoddy day job that I tolerate that does that. I write because I have demons in my head, voices that argue with one another while I'm distracted, whisper their life story just loud enough to echo through the stillness in those quiet moments when I find a bit of peace.
It's the best way to describe the process, at any rate. It's the most accurate means of putting into words something that cannot be described. Like a painter who stares at a blank canvas until the painting reveals itself, layer upon layer. Like the Renaissance sculptor, who claimed, I seem to recall, that the marble had the statue in it already, he just set it free.

Though far from being a master in my chosen artistic medium let alone a genius beyond my time, I am an artist all the same. And in that regard much of the process, and the struggles, translate. Including the censors. While the constraints imposed on me hardly compared to Michelangelo and his turbulent professional relationship with the Holy Roman Catholic Church, there are days when I can sympathize with what he, as an artist, experienced on a psychological level.

It's not that I made Lucifer too alluring.
But all the same, there are times when I found myself struggling with what was lost in translation from original draft to the final product that ends up in the reader's hands.
I'm reminded of a reader who once mentioned, perhaps flippantly or in passing, that they would enjoy my writing so much more if it resembled more strongly the content of my blog. It happened early enough on that I frowned, filed it away, and forgot about it.

Polished writing has its place. For some writers, or some stories, it is in the polishing that their story and the style of its telling truly come to shine.
Yet not every story is a diamond waiting to be cut just so to enhance its luster and depth. Some stories are most evocative when their writing is left raw, when the imagery and poetry of the writer's words and language and cadence remains unmarred.

When I began my foray into published writing, I had no clear defining labels for my style or technique. I just wrote the words, let the characters talk to the reader through my fingers, and worried about the rest of it...well, never, to be honest. Or so I thought.
The struggle I experienced through the editorial process was real. Very real. Excruciatingly. It resembled a ritual disembowelling. With every editorial restructuring of a sentence, through the course of every sentence in a paragraph, the tone and flavor of my prose shifted. And with every shift the artist in me screamed and flailed and struggled against the straightjacket, helpless and confined, terrified at the prospect of the impending lobotomy.

And it was all because I didn't understand, except on a visceral level, the value of my prose and the weight of my style. It was all because I trusted that polish held the most value. It was such a battle, though, because one cannot transform etched dinosaur bone into precious gemstones no matter how much elbow grease one applies. Instead of refining the prose, all that happened was the raw edges got worn away, smoothed over, the teeth blunted, the claws formed down into an immaculate manicure.

As anyone who's read my writing knows, that's not a quality of my prose. That is not me. I cut my nails to the quick to keep from gnawing on them, I chew the callouses from the sides of my thumbs. I have the hands of an excavator, unearthing those bones inch by inch to engrave my story in scrollwork and slashing runes.

I appreciate the learning experience that the editorial process provides. I have grown and matured as a writer thanks in some part to that. My style has not changed, but I have learned to hone that style, to sharpen my technique. Deep down, though, I question whether my true art has suffered to some degree as a result. I am still reteaching myself to trust my instincts, my intuition. After all, it's not paranoia if your suspicions prove true, is it? I try to stay true to honesty and seek the truth, always, but how does one identify truth if there is no definition, no label?

I had a reader recently inquire about the original unedited version of Black's story. They were curious to see how much had altered and what impact those alterations would have on the language and delivery of the story. Black's story has a strong voice and unique style to it, and the stream of conscious technique is inherently prose poetry. It was written to be raw, slightly disordered, misdirecting and even misleading in its meandering journey from front cover to back. It is, as a piece of art, not so much the destination but the vibrant quality of the path the reader walks, the evocative experience of each moment, saturating the reader and oftentimes submerging them.

It is no wonder then that some readers expressed feeling claustrophobic, closed in, constrained. And at the time, I still didn't get it, I still didn't understand. It didn't click. Looking back I wonder if they felt that way in part because that sector of the audience didn't connect with the artistic delivery, or was it in fact that the artistic delivery was incomplete or flawed as a direct result of the editorial process?

It has taken me a few years to come back around to a state of mind where I can approach that work of art again without the residual negativity overwhelming me. The prospect of revisiting it when the contract expires at the end of this year actually incites a spark of interest, fueled by these tidbits, these puzzle pieces, that are finally sliding into place. There are so many of them. The artist in me sobs, grief-stricken, as the shards of shattered marble and dust settle against my upturned palms.

I cannot undo what is done. But I can make it anew. I can make it what it wanted to be. I can forge it into what it should have been all along.

And I find myself wondering how many of us as writers and artists turn to self-publishing for this reason. To hold true to ourselves, to hold true to our artistic vision, to keep the teeth long and pointed, the claws edged razor sharp, to retain that raw edge. Sure, it might draw the reader's blood here and there, but damn it they'll feel the pain and their pulse quickens and they feel alive. Their blood stains the bone alongside mine, though. They aren't the first, they won't be the last. But the experience, oh the experience, if it's raw enough they'll keep coming back for more. Just like I do. My muses know it, and they laugh at me, and then fight over who gets to whisper their story next.
08 February 2015 1 comments

Walking a crooked mile

American Crow mobbing Red-tailed Hawk.
Source: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/american_crow/id
While driving yesterday, I saw three large crows circling above a winter-bare tree. They took turns dive-bombing at a dark shape in the branches. They were persistent, calculating, and energetic. Thankfully traffic was sparse enough to let me slow down a good bit as I got closer.

That dark shape was a red-tailed hawk. It didn't seem terribly disturbed by the mobbing crows, but then, even bare the branches kept them from getting too close so it's possible they'd treed it out of the sky.
This time of year, with no nests or juveniles to protect, it's rather curious to see crows being hostile. Defending hunting territorial lines, perhaps. Or did the hawk steal their roadkill, maybe?
Or they were just being the intellectual assholes that's earned them notoriety in the avian world. All equally possible.
Strange omens. It hasn't been that rough a winter, really.

The message of the ravens-- paying attention to what I've learned, owning and truly embracing the knowledge, is a challenge for me at times. Embracing my strengths, and my weaknesses, and trusting what I know and what I am -- those things are difficult as a writer. I struggle a great deal, unable to just let the muses flow. My own struggle frustrates me. It's a bit of a vicious circle.

It reminds me of a video I saw, a time lapse of a dam being dismantled and the land reclaimed to the river, setting the water free. It was a slow, arduous process over years, redirecting and reshaping the land, removing the buildup of sediment that had accumulated in the original riverbed.

Tearing down the obstacles and obstructions in one's psyche isn't swiftly achieved. It has to be done over and over again, I've found, a retraining of psychological self-speak habits that have formed ruts.

The hawk represents the perspective often lost when one's focus become too deeply engaged. A caution to step back, remember the big picture, let the mind escape from the worry and anxiety.

The crows harassing the hawk... I've spent a great deal of effort as of late trying to hold true to those aspects of awareness and knowledge I've gleaned, trying to find ways to incorporate them into my life more fully. Creating broader grooves, new tracks through the woods.
Taking a break to enjoy the refreshing breeze against my skin (figurative, since wind chill factor is a thing, this time of year) and reinvigorate myself, renew and ground my energy, is probably the best reminder I've had for a while. Can't always be pushing, pushing, pushing. Gotta relax and recharge somewhere along the way, regain that perspective, remember what you're doing it for, what it's really all about, what the end goal is.

There's as many paths from point A to point B as there are people in the world.

It fascinates me, all the possible permutations that exist.
It's also quite enlightening to observe the expansion and evolution of my writerly abilities over time.
Scrivener is such a crutch when it comes to outlining; it's something I loathe doing unless I'm writing an academic research paper of some kind. Which, you know, tell me to write a thesis and I will absolutely crank out an outline. It's just an association thing, after so many years of higher education, I guess. I have this delineation between creative writing and academic writing, and though it sounds like an excuse, it's also a delineation between left and right brain engagement as well. Too much order stifles my creativity -- and turns my prose into post-grad level rambling that would have most readers of fictitious escapism throwing their Kindles against the wall.

So. No bulleted outlines, by all the gods old and new. NOPE.
Before recently, though, I'd not dared attempting to toss timelines out the window and write non-linearly. The thought of jumping around writing scenes out of order had me in a panic trying to imagine keeping track of what happened when, who knew what, etc. My brain? Doesn't care enough to keep up with things on good days, let alone over the course of however many months it takes to write a novel.
Scrivener to the rescue, it turns out. Using a loose structure of scenes nested in chapters, I've developed enough comfort with "outlining" that I can do the jumping around, and write what the muses throw at me, without losing track of what's planned for where, and who's done what.
Good thing, too, because Konaton seriously wanted some blood today. That's makes three times now that blood has a role in the story, all so neatly fleshed out you'd think I planned it that way. HA.
Fucking muses, I swear.

That puts Red's story over 50k. That scene doesn't quite wrap up the ending, but it comes close. There's still a good bit to flesh out in between a well, but at least now Konaton's given me a solid picture of what he's capable of doing, as well as what he's willing to do. Having that character awareness definitely helps.
 
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