out of the ashes

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Woola Woola Boys and Marvin


I’m working furiously (slowly) on my rewrites of a few chapters written years ago in my second draft for Marvin—retitled “The Dance Of The Spiral Virgins”. At the time I wrote them I thought they were perfect. Well, anyway, they don’t work anymore for many reasons, so they are out.

I think the new chapter replacing one of them works “perfectly” so far. I’m four pages in. In this chapter it is essential to get Marvin into the governor’s mansion as a houseguest—a permanent houseguest. That’s the long and the short of it. I think what I’ve written is good.

Regarding this, I want to tell you about a book I read.  A portion of it at any rate. THE book that inspired me to create my own work of high fantasy, “The Redemption of Marvin Fuster”, back in 1998. “Winter’s Tale” by the brilliant author Mark Helprin.

Regarding the book I must preface my remarks by quoting from the back cover:
“Is it astonishing that a work so rooted in fantasy, filled with narrative high jinks and comic flights, stands forth centrally as a moral discourse? It is indeed.
…I find myself nervous, to a degree I don’t recall in my past as a reviewer, about failing the work, inadequately displaying its brilliance.”
                                                                --New York Times Book Review, front page

The reviewer’s comments were spot on. But, loving the book and the characters and the myriad of sub-plots—the exceptionally beautiful lyricism of the writing—I wondered when I first read it about a certain section; the silliness of it.
Pearly Soames is the antagonist. Not just any bad guy, Pearly is a riot. You love him even knowing he’s out to kill Peter Lake, the lovable, clever hero. He is the leader of The Short Tails, a ferocious gang of misfits in the belle époque era of new York. In the chapter, Peter Lake Hangs From a Star, Mr. Helprin says something about one group in Pearly’s gang—the Woola Woola Boys. I quote a section:
“It was called “Woola Woola,” and was a complicated technique for looting trucks and wagons. The chief woola boy was Dorado Canes, under whom were a dozen men in the Woola Woola team. Two or three of the men in the team hid in a doorway or an alley and waited for a wagon to pass. As it did, the woola boy would come from nowhere and run up to the driver, jumping up and down and screaming “Woola woola woola! Woola woola woola! Woola woola woola! As loudly as he could. The drivers were shocked…”

To me this did say something about the gang (most of what Pearly and Co. did was pure genius), but even in my first read I was flattened by the silliness of this passage. Still, the work as a whole was magnificent, as the NY Times reviewer indicated.

Which brings me back to Spiral Virgins and Marvin getting into the mansion. I hope the humor in my latest effort, of how he (and Anselm, his angel) accomplishes the absolutely necessary part of the plot, hasn’t caused the narrative to drift into silliness. That it doesn’t mirror the only failure of Helprin’s book.

I’ll call upon my faithful readers to answer that question when I complete the chapter.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

July 4th, 2012 Anno Domine


This is not the Common Era. What the hell does that title mean? Was there once an Uncommon Era? Give me a break.

Happy 4th (anyway)!

“Write beautifully.”
Okay. Think plot, though. That’s what I’m working on. Re-working on. 

I’ve gone into Marvin—changed the title to “The Dance Of The Spiral Virgins.” Gone in and begun re-reading each chapter in the new preview at Createspace and in my doc. I bagged the opening chapter wherein I opened with a weak description of Marvin, etc., etc. in the last upload to Createspace. Months ago I thought it was so much better than the one before it. It hit me that it wasn’t, and it didn’t do anything at all for the story. So, in the latest I simply have Marvin falling in a dream—the dream in which he meets Amy. Afterward he’ll be in the hospital, with a bit of back story showing how he came to be there. I have to keep forward movement in mind, and yet I don’t want to lose the humor or lyricism.

When I redid the entire book a year or so ago, I kept several of the original chapters, as I liked them. In particular the night Maribeth tells Daddy and Mums about her new pet, stashed in the overflow bedroom in the basement. I was charmed by how I’d presented Marvin as the new creature—how I reconciled his being accepted into the family by Richard, the governor. Looking back the entire episode left me flat. It was too pat, too quickly arrived at. The next morning (next chapter) I had Marvin dancing up to the breakfast table, and there being interrogated by the governor, who’s had a change of heart concerning the new boarder. Marvin reads two classic books at the breakfast table in something like ten minutes, and gives a synopsis of both. Richard lets him stay. It was all wrong, especially the narrative voice in the chapter where Maribeth introduces our hero to her father.

So now I’m completely revising that part of the plot, cutting out the windy “lyricism” and the contrived portion at the breakfast table in the chapter following.
I keep thinking, Once I get those two chapters straightened out (I’ll have to go forward in the ms. and make certain there are no references to either of the incidents in the cut chapters!) I’ll be good-to-go. Finis, at last. How many times have I said that?

Still, in the end, it’s plot, plot, plot. Oh...And make the characters real, even if it’s a fantasy. Sometimes writing is so bloody hard.