February 17, 2005


I got an e-mail from a friend I have not talked to in a bit. Very cryptic. It just said, "Hey! What are you doing?" That was it. The whole thing. And it was like getting spanked upside the head by existential angst because...WHAT AM I DOING????

It must be LIST time. You know how I feel about LISTS! I will try to DO IT MYSELF in order to avoid being murdered by my husband who IS the most patient man on earth but come on, EVERY GUY HAS HIS LIMITS.

SO! MY LIST! I sat down to make it two entries ago and DIGRESSED but now I shall embark upon a list of what I need to do over the next seven weeks:

1) I am going to TRY TRY TRY (I think can I think I can I THINK I CAN! PUFF! PUFF!) to finish the INITIAL ROUGH DRAFT rewrite on the book I wrote before I wrote gods in Alabama. I just redid chapter one, and I thought it would take a couple of hours, and instead it's taken four working days. By the time I got through it, 3 plot points and maybe thirty or of the original sentences survived more-or-less intact. Heh.

So, I'm thinking it's going to be a new book, just BASED on a sub-plot that haunts me. The book was originally called 40 Dead Horses. The horses are a big part of what I am keeping, and my agent has suggested this for a working title: 40 Ghost Horses. He feels ghost is more EPHEMERAL and PRETTY and conjures up lovely white horses cantering in wispy and graceful silence across the night sky instead of, you know, several metric tons of fly-blown MEAT, and yeah, OKAY I can see that. BUT! Given the main character's call-it-EXACTLY-like-she-sees-it, tact-free, BLACKLY veryveryvery blackly funny personality, I STILL prefer the stark, flat HONESTY of the word DEAD. But okay, I can see where it might not be terribly APPEALING to a reader who doesn't know the context and WHY that name is ironic. I think people in the store would see the title and assume the book is going to end with the entire cast committing suicide in a horse abbatior and RUN the other way. BUT ANYWAY, what do you think of that? As a working title? Here, look at it on it's own:

40 Ghost Horses

I think I like it...

BACK ON POINT (which is sadly, I believe, still only point ONE...): It WAS (I admit, I admit!) an overblown book, 120K+ words with maybe 90K worth of STORY. But I thought a pare down with a side of tinkering would fix it. BUT NOW? Looking at it two novels later, with (I HOPE TO GOD) a more educated critical eye and very little MERCY for my own especial pet weaknesses---I NOW see that the two MAIN characters have to be totally removed as if they were collectively a diseased appendix. About all I am keeping of them is their names. I am too distant from one and the other is just...wrong. He is actually a completely different PERSON---I am writing my way to him. And the MAIN storyline is a series of red herrings, tricks I played on MYSELF that led me to the WRONG END and I am also doing a RADICAL SUB-PLOT-ECTOMY to remove a SELF-INDULGENT storyline. Also, woman I once thought was an important secondary character needs to be thrown down a well. UGH I HATE THIS WOMAN. I need a well full of PIRHANA, a well full of BATTERY ACID and SHARKS and FATAL DISEASES. NEVER do I want this woman to darken my prose again. But!

The more I strip away, the more I can see the clean and (excuse me, FORGIVE! FORGIVE!) gorgeous bones of the book I ACTUALLY WANTED TO WRITE emerging. It’s like I am flensing away an entire WHALE and finding the bones of something sleeker, say a JAGUAR, and I am wondering why on EARTH I ever thought a jaguar skeleton was a good place to stick a whale pancreas and some blubber and ambergris and a blowhole. This was what? Five years ago? And at that point, I could see this book (and it is in its own defense an AMBITIOUS book, I will give it that) in my head, but I didn't know how to write it.
Brain to page, brain to page...longest trip in the universe. But I think I see the way now. That. Gets. Me. Hot.

Even though I've fallen so hard for these people all over again, I'm horrified by the SHEER AMOUNT OF WORK it's going to take. I have two months before I start touring...and I ALSO have this new book pushing in at the edges of my brain and requesting very kindly that I get off my widening butt (the BRONCHITIS has played HELL with my work-outs, I JUST this week am back up to my usual schedule) and WRITE IT and in a week or so I will be back in BETWEEN, GEORGIA because my editor is ready to go to PHASE TWO of editing it, and CRAP!

SEE? SEE? I need a list. Because OTHERWISE, since I am me and my mental illness number is hovering somewhere ABOVE that building in Taiwan that's taller than the Sears Tower, whatever that building is called, the VERY TALLEST one, GAHHHHHH WHAT THE *@^#@^& IS IT CALLED??? ANYWAY, because my mental illness number is way way way up there, I feel like an anvil is going to DROP ON MY HEAD AND KILL ME before I get to write the book I want to write next and that won't stop unfolding itself in long chains in my head, clotting up the two books I need to be thinking about NOW and I need to MAKE A LIST and then begin CHECKING THINGS UNIFORMLY OFF IT IN AN ORGANIZED FASHION but every time I sit to make a list so MUCH is going on in brainland that I hare off into digressionary extended metaphors about...HYBRID JAGUAR-WHALE VIVISECTION???? *passes out from lack of oxygen to brain because I forgot to keep INHALING three paragraphs ago.*

GOLLY! I hope that answers her question.
I think I will write back and say, "The Usual. What are YOU doing?"

Posted by joshilyn at February 17, 2005 12:17 PM

Um...I hate to make trouble...(ok, I don't REALLY hate to make trouble, but I like to pretend I hate to make trouble)...but I like the title "40 Dead Horses" better than "40 Ghost Horses".

"40 Ghost Horses" makes me think of some song by Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson and some other people I can't think of. "40 Dead Horses" makes me wonder WHY are they dead? WHY so many? WHO or WHAT killed them? Are they LITERAL horses or METAPHORICAL horses? I want to KNOW these things!!

But hey, that's just the opinion of one reader. Someone who, FWIW, has already bought The Book That Doesn't Exist, AKA Gods In Alabama. (Your amazon sales rank number was 29,666 at that point, BTW) :-)

Posted by: DebR at February 17, 2005 12:47 PM

See, 40 Ghost Horses, while I like it, makes me think of a Nancy Drew book that I worshipped when I was, oh, about eight years old. The Secret of Shadow Ranch, wherein a "ghost" palomino haunted a ranch and bedeviled the ranchers, until Nancy sleuthed her way to the Scooby Doo ending and revealed the ghost horse to be...just a horse, but with glow in the dark paint or some such. ANYWAY, I like 40 Dead Horses, but I guess I can see why the agent would think it might scare people.

Posted by: Aimee at February 17, 2005 1:23 PM

But see, you both are FTK regs! YOU two might buy the book with that title, but you know ME, and you KNOW I am NOT going to meditate moribundly on putridity or wax endlessly poetical about maggots.

Or, if I did, the maggots would at LEAST be in funny hats.

Posted by: joshilyn at February 17, 2005 1:51 PM

Hmm. I, too, prefer your original title to the suggested one, but I wonder, would simply "40 Horses" work? Or maybe a touch of familiar poetry? "Four and Twenty Horses?" *winks, then ducks quickly*

Posted by: David at February 17, 2005 1:52 PM

Well, having no idea what this book is actually about I thought another neat title might be The Spirit of 40 Horses. But, what do I know?

Posted by: Peek at February 17, 2005 2:26 PM

Ok, given that those of us whe prefer "40 Dead Horses" just might...MIGHT, mind you...be not-quite-normal, maybe you should trash both your original title AND your agent's title and come up with something entirely new.

Here are some Helpful Suggestions to get you started:
---"40 Corporeally-Challenged Horses"
---"40 Horses Bought the Farm"
---"The Bell Tolls for 40 Horses"
---"The 40th Maggot-free Horse Died at Sunset"
and last, but not least, my personal favorite...
---"Maggots in Funny Hats"

Posted by: DebR at February 17, 2005 3:48 PM

Just as a side note, Purple is Far better than Pink.



Posted by: Splinky at February 17, 2005 5:17 PM

I vote for 40 Dead Horses! (Are we voting? Is this another contest? I don't think so. Anyway . . .) If I saw a book on the shelf with that title, my head would tip over to the side and I'd be thinkin' "What is THAT all about?" and I would HAVE to pick it up and check it out . . . just like I did with Dogs of Babel and other strangely titled books that I have BOUGHT in the past.

Posted by: Dana at February 17, 2005 10:31 PM

ok...you must must must keep 40 Dead Horses. Cuz, frankly, 40 Dead Horses is so very ...well... YOU, don't you think? Not in a maggoty, hatless way, but in a hilariously, hyperbolically, melodramatic way, no? 40 DEAD horses has a kind of punch, a zip, a kick, an OOMPH! to it. 40 Ghost Horses is a teary western wanting to be the N'Sync of New Teen Literature. Just my humble but always always right opinion. :D

Posted by: hiai at February 18, 2005 5:25 AM

Another vote for the horses to stay dead. Anyone who shies away because of that as a title isn't worthy of your talent. (LOL! Because I SAID SO!)

Posted by: Mir at February 18, 2005 6:21 AM

How about "The Jaguar in the Whale" and just confuse the $%^* out of people.

Posted by: Jocelyn at February 18, 2005 11:33 AM

I have to go along with the "40 Dead Horses" contingent. Ghost horses are just horses of a TOTALLY different color. So to speak.

Posted by: Lisa at February 18, 2005 2:29 PM

They're dead! Why not be honest about it? "Ghost" is such a gray area...dead is more black and white. Which suits you better, in my humble opinion. And yeah, I'd definitely pick up that title just to see what all the equine mortality was about. So, let 'em stay dead! If you're asking, that is, which I guess you weren't. :)

Posted by: Amy at February 18, 2005 3:10 PM

Pluffy dear, what about 40 Etheral Mounts??? Grins.......btw, Bane says hi.

Posted by: Gabi at February 20, 2005 11:41 AM