Tuesday, November 9, 2010
A Tale of Two Hamlets
Pictured above is a stack of paper about a foot tall, made up of most of the versions of my novel Killing Hamlet. There have been, I think, twelve major revisions of this book since the first draft was finished, back in 2007. After revision number eight, I realized that the story just wasn't working at all and I told my agent that I was going to rewrite the whole story from scratch. And I did, and now it's drastically different and I've revised that version four times.
Originally the story was called Ophelia's Ghost. Then it was The Secret Parts of Fortune. For a while it was So Honest A Man. Now it's Killing Hamlet and I'm sticking with that because, I think, that title actually works for the book.
I'm telling you all of this because yesterday I sent the current version off to my agent so that he can (I hope) fall in love with it and start submitting it to publishers. I suppose that at a time like this it's natural to sit and reflect on the road taken to get here, so that's what I'm doing. I really don't have any specific point to this post; I just wanted to take the photo above and post it because it amuses me. The spiral notebooks on the top of the stack were used to write the two first drafts (all my drafts are done longhand) and the printouts were for revisions (because all of my rewrites/edits are done longhand).
Michelle can tell you that taking a book and rewriting the whole thing from scratch is not only a huge pain in the ass and a scary undertaking, it's also a strangely liberating activity. Once you see that none of your work is set in stone, that none of it is permanent or sacred, you're freed up to take risks and push the story into territory you'd never have considered if you were just working over the same material again. My first version of the book, for example, was essentially a prose retelling of Shakespeare's "Hamlet," with a few twists and told from the point of view of Horatio, Hamlet's best friend. I kept thinking, while working on that version, that if I were to write the book again, I'd do a bunch of stuff differently. Which is what I ended up doing. It's now no longer Shakespeare's story at all, but a new tale that winds through and around Shakespeare's Denmark, pulling the old story into new shapes and sending familiar characters into unfamiliar, uncharted areas. I think it's really cool now. But it's taken me almost three years to get here.
Anyway, there is no rest for the wicked and I have lots of other projects. I have one new novel in first draft form, and I have another novel in the planning stages, and I have at least two more that are still just ideas. I'm going to begin a serious outline of the novel currently "in planning," and then write a first draft of it. That should take me until the spring to do. I'll set that first draft aside and turn to the first draft I've already written of that other book (Cocke & Bull is its title) and see about revising the heck out of it. I've been making notes for the last seven months.
Like I said, I really have nothing useful to say in this post. I just want to give some kind of update on what I'm doing to sort of demonstrate that I'm not just some guy who writes about writing; I actually write as well. And, you know, I think it's important that people who are moving through the publication process talk about how it's going so it can be demystified.
I was tempted to write something about my agent, and how things have gone with him while working on this book, but today I'm posting about that on my own blog. So you can look here if you want to read that story.