"You know what? The bastard blows me out of the water. This guy writes Maine like Ardai writes New York. If you're not reading him, you don't know what you're missing." --Chris F. Holm, author of The Big Reap, The Wrong Goodbye and Dead Harvest.

"Bagley's got the poet's eye, but that doesn't mean everything is prettier in his work. It means the ugly stuff is more vivid. More intense. Like a sudden switch from analog to HD. And that's a trait to very much admire in his work." --Anthony Neil Smith, author of Hogdoggin', Yellow Medicine, The Drummer and Psychosomatic.




Thursday, July 24, 2008

Like a Cut Cat

I like revision. Always have.

I realize that makes me a weirdo, but there you go. Too many writers view the process as a necessary evil. It’s kind of like a root canal in that regard. You know you have to go through with it, but you also know it’s going to hurt like hell. That’s the wrong attitude.

I’m at the tail end of the revision phase with Bitter Water Blues right now. The trick is to tweak sentences, find words that work better than some you used, trim the fat and make sure the continuity is smooth without letting the novel feel too polished and slick. Raw, but not too raw.

Kill your darlings.

There’s the hardest part. One scene in particular was a favorite of mine, but it did not fit the novel. Bitter Water Blues is told in close third-person, with three major and a couple of minor P.O.V. characters. The scene that ended up going featured the husband of one of the main characters, and it was his only P.O.V. scene in the entire manuscript. Also, the wife had already been changed so much as the book took shape that the scene no longer fit their relationship. As much as I loved the scene, I knew it was a drag on the novel. So I deleted it with no regrets.

The man called Tribe was kind enough to run a version of this scene (under the title “Cat Crimes”) on Flashing in the Gutters back in September 2006. I found the file this morning and opened it. Rereading the piece, I have to say I still like it but I know cutting it from BWB was the right decision. No harm in posting it here, though. Some of you will recognize this, but hey, it’s summer: time for reruns.

***

After fifteen minutes of careful scrubbing with damp paper towels, Jim Philbrick gave up trying to clean all the cat shit off his brand-new Kameleon 8-in-1 Universal Remote Control. It came off the housing easily, but the mushy ochre mess oozed into the tiny spaces around each button and there was no way in hell it was coming out. Jim slid open the door and chucked the remote out into the backyard. It hit the chain link fence around the basketball court but didn’t break. Jim threw the dirty paper towel, too, but it just fluttered onto the deck.

“Cocksuckingmotherfuckingnogoodgoddamnsonofabitchingcat.”

Jim stomped back inside. The doily was still on the coffee table. He’d set the remote’s signal to match his TV, VCR, DVD player and cable box and left it on the doily. Now the remote was lying out on the grass and the doily was caked with cat shit. At least the cat got something of Laurie’s this time. Forget the eighty-five bucks the remote cost him. The money didn’t matter so much. It was the goddamn principle of the thing.

He’d bought the remote on his way home from the office because he was tired of using four different devices. It took him half the morning to get the damned thing programmed right. When he’d finished, he’d set it down on the coffee table just long enough to get himself a sandwich and a glass of iced tea before settling down on the couch for serious channel-surfing. Just long enough for Jasmine to stroll in and squat on the new toy.

Laurie’s stack of Cat Fancy magazines sat on one side of the doily and a couple of her mystery novels were on the other. Laurie’s favorite things in life were cats and mysteries. Most of all, she loved cat mysteries. She had all of Rita Mae Brown’s books, “co-written” with a cat named Sneaky-Pie. She had all of Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who… series, books with asinine titles like The Cat Who Knew Shakespeare or The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern. In hardcover.

Jim had an idea for a new book in the series: The Cat Who Took a Dump on the Brand-New Universal Remote that Cost Me $79.99 Plus Tax at the Radio Shack. It wouldn’t be a whodunit. Laurie only had one cat –and she’d settled for only one because Jim was allergic—a fat Persian named Jasmine.

Jasmine. Even the name pissed him off. Jim believed that all animals, for better or worse, had personalities. Like some people Jim knew, Jasmine was a sneaky, rotten little asshole. When Laurie was home, the cat walked around like it owned the place, giving Jim the look. She had a flat, arrogant face and her eyes showed contempt for every living thing except Jim’s wife. The cat would sit purring in Laurie’s lap and look across the room to Jim as if saying, “You got a problem?”

Times like now, when Laurie was at some committee luncheon or off banging her realtor boyfriend at one of his empty listings, Jasmine slunk from room to room, avoiding Jim and shitting on any of his possessions left lying about. Laurie refused to believe her precious Persian would do it, even when confronted with the reeking evidence. She always said, “It’s your own fault, Jim. You upset Jasmine so.”

His hatred of her gave Jasmine some kind of feline anxiety disorder and disturbed her bowels? Jim wanted to disturb her bowels with a baseball bat. He looked for the cat now, getting down on the floor to peek under the sofa, the chairs, end tables. Nothing. The boys kept their bedroom doors closed, so she wouldn’t be upstairs. He tore through his and Laurie’s room. There she was, hiding in the closet on a stack of spare blankets. Even when he had her cornered, Jasmine gave him that look, the I-can-shit-on-your-stuff look, the I-don’t-care-who-knows-I’m-fucking-around-on-you look.

Smiling at Jasmine, Jim reached for the strongbox on the top shelf. He’d come up with a new title for his book: The Cat Who Ate a Fucking Bullet.

©2004 by Patrick Shawn Bagley

5 comments:

Chris said...

I'm a fan of revision as well. As far as I'm concerned, that's where the book goes from being a complete mess to something passably close to the book in my head. Cutting good scenes never gets any easier, though.

pattinase (abbott) said...

And maybe, God willing, you can use a great scene like this in the sequel.

Bill Cameron said...

I'm with Chris. Revision is where a story goes from gibberish to, I hope, comprehensibility. It's usually not until the second draft, and sometimes the third, that I really get a handle on what the damn thing is even about. Beyond that, I've never written anything that wasn't improved by making it shorter.

David Terrenoire said...

Count me in as a fan of revision, too.

Early on, when this Internet thing forst came up, I started sending stories to Blue Murder. They were all arounf 5K, the usual length for my print pieces. But on-line I noticed that 3K was about all anyone could read.

So I cut quite a few stories from 5 to 3 and, with one or two exceptions, it made the stories better. It was an interesting exercise, and educational.

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

And by the time you get to your final revisions, the hard part of the job is behind you.

You learn a lot about what's important to your story when you have a 2K or 3K length limit (or 700 in the case of FITG).