Then I looked and I saw
From my place on the ground
There was more in the world
Than I thought I had found
A few weeks ago I received my manuscript back from The Editor and, as expected, the experience was somewhat traumatizing. It was also educational.
First, it challenged my perceptions of my own work, and made me re-assess my “narrative” approach. I place “narrative” in quotations because December is written as a stream-of-consciousness/internal monologue, and so, as should be expected, The Editor told me that December lacks a narrative structure. The Editor didn’t sign the letter telling me about my lack of convention, and so I lack an address for the letter I feel compelled to write defending my work. I’d like to tell you about the evolution of December from a fairly typical story to the monster of internal monologue she is today in place of a response to said Editor.
Decemeber began as a fairly basic narrative with that third-person omniscience of general fiction. According to my computer, my first draft was finished about February 1, 2012 and began:
“Alright, my love.” Sheila replied as Cole shut the living room door behind him. He was preparing to walk to his University, carrying his computer, books, water and some coffee in his black shoulder bag. A lighter load than usual. Cole mused about Sheila’s use of ‘my love’ as he opened the front door, such an English thing, that use of ‘Love,’ ‘my love’.
And I seem to have liked that style because it remained until April 2012, when I started (but never finished) a first person version which began:
Perhaps it was the rain that set my mood so low, plummeting as with each drop of rain to tiled roofs, down stuccoed walls, to concrete roads, to glide through cracks and seep deeper and deeper into the dark unbidden earth. “Depression”, is what some people call it, I call it searching for sustenance where nothing else has.
If I remember correctly, the change was prompted by a desire to explain myself and provide background on the the events of the story. Three months later, in July, I had added background prologue and changed the opening to reflect the strange passage of time:
His first impression was that He was meant to stay with Her daughter, Karen, because He had been told Karen had a room open for rent. Karen did not have a room open for rent, but thought that the current tenant would be moving out within the month so had arranged for Him to stay with Her until that room became available. …
Thursday 1 December
Nearly three months had passed since Cole moved into Sheila’s home. During that time he and Sheila had become something like friends. Cole had made his preparations to walk back to the University Student Union Building where the chorus was performing their cabaret concert and was excusing himself from the living room.
“I’m going now,” he’d said and Sheila told him
“Alright, my love.”
This prologue/opening was very clear as far a story-line went, and I got to keep the “Alright, my love.” because that phrase had been stuck in my mind since the previous year. Between July and October I decided that the story should be a story within a story, and by October 7, 2012 I started an opening that read:
It’s strange to me. Finding these papers and examining the notes of a young life. The young life of a young man who bears my name, but who has faded beneath layers of experience.
Which kept the idea that the character found in December is an old life of old ideas and old ways, an object to be examined and reflected upon. By the end of October I refined my idea and created an opening which I rather like:
Today is the Seventh of October
Looking around my attic I see piles of odds and ends I have gathered over my life. I have to wonder when I started gathering these things. A sombrero hangs on one wall, boxes marked with different countries form a tidy hedge beneath it. It’s been awhile since I last came up here, whenever it was I bothered making the box hedge and cleaning the attic. A few years at least. It’s funny how distracting life can be.
And this approach, it seems, lead me towards the stream-of-consciousness idea (that and I’m pretty sure I had to read Virginia Woolf and James Joyce for class). The next phase scrapped the journals-in-the-attic device and started towards a more dramatic and uncertain tone:
Maybe we are the recollections of a time not yet come; a history to be examined and learned from by a future not yet established. Maybe our memories are invented as lessons for futures lives, and who we once were are instructors for who we are, and maybe who we are decides who we will become. Maybe we are nothing more than the memories of some future life.
Here I am. Cole stood in front of an arm chair, The living room. Sheila sitting in her chair. Getting ready, Books. Computer. Coffee. snack: carrots and rice. Water. Fits well enough. Is that her gaze? Almost feel bad taking off. Bag over shoulder. Leaving taking off. Out the door.
My files take a long time-leap from December 2012 to August 2013 from this point on, however the evolution from there was a fairly direct reworking of the entire work to the interior monologue, which I achieved over the summer of 2013. I reduced a lot of information into the limited first-person psyche and developed a limited narrator (underlined) that offers strict observational notes on the goings on in Cole’s world:
Cole stood near the pinkish arm chair, Here I am. This is where it takes place, it is placed here: here and now. Where is that? “Here and now.” Right now it is a living room, white walled, pink furnatured, with a flat screen TV, an old fire place, closed doors. Right now it is Sheila’s living room. Right now the here and now take place in Sheila’s house in Plymouth, England.
And that is the version I submitted for publication.
I have since altered it slightly and added a stronger through-line for the monologue to follow, as well as the possibility of a forward to help prepare the reader for the oddity of mock-consciousness. I’m still wondering if the forward is necessary, but I have a feeling it will be helpful in the long run.
I know this letter is longer than usual, but I hope you’ve found this process interesting.
Until we meet again,
The balloon heads seem to laugh in the sketch I drew of them. I hear their ha-ing drawing laughter. The coffee steams in the mug. My mug runneth- Ha-ing Ha-ing the laughter and the heads. There are no heads. I drew them only. Then the coffee and the sight of sizzling bacon and the scent of laughing balloons; there are no balloon heads. They are a sketch. They make no noise. The ha-ing ha-ing drawing laughter; metallic; electronic; not laughter; an alarm clock sound; it is the sound of my alarm clock, and the scent of coffee from the automated maker. It is a single room apartment; a dorm room. A desk and an automated coffee machine; my door is shut and a sketch of balloon heads with happy, laughing faces sits on my dorm-room desk.
I finish my breakfast and lay the plate aside near my coffee mug. I hit the mug and the liquid covers my desk. The desk is dry. I have the plate in my hand. I lay the plate on the floor beside my chair and drop it too soon. It breaks on the hard-wood floor. I have the plate in my hand. I stand and take my plate to the sink. I return to my desk and take my mug in hand, the cup is too full and I spill coffee. The coffee is frozen. My apartment is warm. I take my mug from its place near my desk and take a drink of warm liquid. My mug is nearly empty. I turn back towards the kitchen and hear the balloon heads laughing, and their strings trailing into the coffee pot. The sketch is on my desk. I turn and go back to the kitchen and pour a fresh cup of coffee. The heads are floating over my desk, then laughing like they’re popping.
I take my plate and go back to my desk and see the balloon heads drifting near the ceiling, laughing. I take my plate to my desk and sit. There’s no fork on my plate. I had placed the fork on my plate. I place the fork on my plate then go back to my desk with my plate where my sketch of the balloon heads sits half finished. I keep the plate on my lap and I eat. The bacon is soft and runs off my plate. I eat from my plate, the bacon is crisp and I cut some egg to eat over toast. The eggs separate back into yolk and white then re-shell and fall to the floor and break. I cut a slice of scrambled egg and eat it with a bite of toast and bacon. My sketches of the balloon heads have happy expressions while they drink coffee and wine through their strings.
I hear the toaster pop and I stand. I hear the bread finish toasting and I rise. I hear the toast clank and I stand up and go to the kitchen. I take a plate from the cupboard and brush off dust and webs. I’m sure I cleaned yesterday. I take a clean plate from the cupboard and place the toast on the plate. I place the plate on the counter. The plate hovers above the counter and the toast is still in the toaster. I place the plate on the counter to the right of the over, then take up the skillet in my right hand and tip the eggs and bacon onto the plate. The oil covers the plate and drips down onto the counter and over the counter to the floor. The skillet is still on the burner. I take the skillet in my left hand and remove the eggs and bacon with the fork and lay them on the plate. I set the skillet down on the hot burner and the oils ignite. No; there’s no smoke alarm. I set the skillet on a cold burner and turn off the warmer, then take the toast from the toaster and place it on my plate.
I cross to my desk and sit with my coffee and place my mug aside and take up a pen to draw the balloon heads. I take my mug of coffee from the counter and cross to my desk while breakfast cooks and I place my coffee aside and sit. I take up a pen. I take up a pen. I draw the balloon heads and they seem to smile and laugh and they drink coffee with their strings. They drink wine with their strings. Then I take up my pen and ink and draw the balloon heads in happy moods as they drink coffee and wine. I sit down at my desk with my coffee. I set my coffee aside. I begin drawing the balloon heads. I sketch the balloon heads with wide mouths like they’re having a good time; their strings hanging in mugs and cups of wine.
I beat the eggs in the skillet with a fork, mixing the yolk and the white. I break the yolks and mix them in the skillet with the white. I lay the fork aside and take a loaf of bread from the top of the fridge. I open the bread and remove two slices. I place the slices of bread into the toaster and press the lever down. I press the lever. The toast pops up burnt. No; I press the lever down. I turn and go back the fridge and open the door and pull out the meat drawer and take out a pound of ham. I open the meat drawer and pull out a pound of bacon. I pull a half-eaten pound of bacon out from the meat drawer. I set it on the counter and pull out two slices and place them in the skillet with the eggs. I see the sizzling of oils and the squealing of pigs in pain. I place the bacon on the skillet with the eggs and hear the sizzling and smell the eggs.