Archive for the ‘Writing Lab Notes’ Category
Welcome to the next installment in my novel Viral Times. I’m sharing the “behind the scenes” notes about revising in this Ultimate Version of my long-crafted book. The storytelling has been built and rebuilt over many years.
As I said last time, this revision process is guided by taking the storytelling that was in first person and shifting it to “close third,” the kind that lets a writer deliver the POV character’s feelings and sometimes internal dialogue. All to serve the Man vs. Self conflict. Jennifer Nation, the evangelistic neuro-scientist, is the story’s main antagonist, taking her role as the person who stands in the way of my hero Dayton’s wish — to live in a world safe from the viruses that make biological touch-sex deadly. He strives to find love again after losing his wife to the pandemic.
But in a way, Dayton is also does antagonist work in the story. He helps Angie (introduced in Chapter 3) to erase the threat of the new man-made virus Jennifer desires to build.
These pages were a pleasure to revise because I liked the tension that was already there. I do wonder about how seamless they appear, since the scenes happen in different locales but the same time-frame. They felt heavy with scene, but the sequel was in there, embedded and concise.
In our entry this time, we learn more about , who’s Jennifer, who earned a Nobel for her work in brain mapping — the evolution of fMRI brain scan sciences of our current day. She’s left her post at PharmAlliance (see the First Four chapters for details). Now she’s on a road trip to recover her faith.
October 2021, Outer Banks, North Carolina
She missed her parents most on Sundays. It was the day they would picnic together, take photos and read aloud to each other. Sunday was also the only day of the week they prayed. Ten years later they were both gone, taken by God’s plan on that fiery day. He left her prayers for their survival of that crash in the woods unanswered.
In return, Jennifer believed God owed her an answered prayer. She prayed for resources to keep building drugs, this time the kind no company could hijack: biological pharmaceuticals. God could find her an HP Gross-spectral Epigenome Navigator. They didn’t look down her bra at that final PharmAlliance exit search when she was starting her sabbatical, so she snuck out her code for the GEN interface. That was a sign. The security team was usually anything but chaste. In exchange for her parents, the Almighty would have to get her a heads-up display for a GEN. She brushed her hair and felt the inputs for her brain’s neuron backplane. God didn’t build any of that, but it was like divine intuition to gene combinations and RNA derivatives. She played the GEN like Paderewsky on a Steinway. An investor angel, yes. She had faith she could find one to deliver such an instrument again.
So she started her pilgrimage on a Sunday with a road trip to search out fresh promise. She filled her heart with hunger and her passenger seat with her assistant Frieda. Jennifer was surprised that the woman felt a calling to follow her. She didn’t know if an acolyte or a friend was sitting in the Cooper beside her. When they arrived in the morning sun of the vacation town of Duck, the Pentacostal Wave Evangelical church was starting to fill. It stood alongside the steady surf of the Outer Banks, a windswept wooden building no larger than a nave and only a dozen pews deep. But when Jennifer walked in, it felt as big as the eager pounding in her chest.
From the pulpit, Thurungian Brother Ignacio spoke the words that galvanized her desire. The man with sandy hair and a well-freckled tan shouted a sermon to inspire hope. He spelled out the challenges to fidelity, but he had few answers.
“Sex is everywhere, spread across anonymous networks.” He paused to stare upward and wave his hand. “In game shows hosted by fornicating film stars. In the promises of lust that drain all the way down to web ads for Dry-Day Senior Diapers and Retro Flush antiviral toilet cleansers.” He called out most pernicious sin, lurid pornography, a word now out of vogue in favor of “passion.” Men and women who taught lessons over these nets about how to go down on each other, techniques to practice while inside the virtual sex networks.
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The object of the writing over the next three weeks is to show how the work of revision challenges me as I finish the final draft of Viral Times. This log will show how I’ve tried to respond. I believe it’s a novel about important topics. Public health and alternatives to quell viral pandemics, a part of our lives for generations to come. Plus, how it feels when the worst happens in any medical crisis — the damage to a heart from losing a soulmate to untimely death, through any disease. And how you might repair that damage to your life.
But no matter how that work succeeds, there are lessons for me, and for my workshop writers, about how to break the ice of revisions.
So here goes: My work on Chapter 5, Love’s Hurts. The first four chapters’ story are available in the sidebar link, a revision that benefits from my editor Jill Dearman’s pen on a wooly 350 pages of a book. That entire earlier draft was in five first-person points of view. A real challenge, Jill said.
You gave yourself a very tricky challenge by putting all your protagonists in first person. Early on Jennifer’s voice and Dayton’s don’t sound so different. You could still change back to 3d person if you want. But if you are committed to all 1st person, your job is to make everyone’s voice as distinct as say Crawford’s or Zeke’s. Or their point of view as incredibly vivid and unmistakable as Angie’s. Dayton and Jennifer –because they both take themselves so seriously!—are sometimes hard to tell apart voice-wise.
I revised Love’s Hurts back into third person this morning — and I found myself crying while I slid back into the moments of Delta’s finale. I’ve never been at a bedside while someone I loved died, so this is all imagining my own loved one’s final days to come somewhere in the future, or the memory of tending to her after illness.
But the important thing is that I was crying, so it felt real enough to me. And maybe it might to someone else, too. I also did the revision after reading a chapter of Donna’s Johnson’s “Holy Ghost Girl” — so the prayer aspect of Delta’s healing rose up. I can see how Donna’s book is going to seep into this final version of mine.
Assateague Island, Spring 2021
She couldn’t recall a time she slept so much. When she opened her eyes, the mornings were already lit up. That dog — what a name, Sherlock — once he heard her stir in the deep-down comforter, he’d pad over from the doorway where he slept. He’d put his snout on the edge of the rough oaken sleigh bed and wag his tail. Angie knew dogs that barked at people in the morning. Sherlock was as quiet as Delta, who would bring Angie herbal teas and massage her meridians. Then she’d shuffle back to the kitchen, or hum to herself on the porch at her workbench, reclaiming whatever junk the surf threw up onto what she called her beach.
The sounds from her house felt different to Angie, noises distinct from Philly or the Hamptons, the places where the music never stopped and somebody was always wheedling or snorting or uncapping a moan in closed room. Angie was starting to think of those sounds as the soundtrack of a former life. In the mornings she drifted in and out of sleep while the sound of the waves boomed loudest, the hours when Delta said the sea was at high tide.
Delta was none of the things that Aurora or Tiffany or Alexandra had been on Angie’s sex video sets: no swagger or panache, no buffed skin or enhanced parts or perfect painted smiles. Delta had looks to drive away anyone but devoted nieces, parents or siblings. No one would ever start a family with a woman so coarse. But something made Angie drink in the sight of her caretaker. Read the rest of this entry »