Cleolinda Jones (cleolinda) wrote,
Cleolinda Jones


@cleolinda: Extremely Crappy Draft: 173,749 words. Enter stage two: Readable Draft.

@cleolinda: Precisely! RT @particle_person: Yes! That is enough words to still have lots of book left when you toss the half that don’t work right!

@cleolinda: I guess it’s not really time for a victory lap yet. Maybe a victory… skip.

@alliancesjr: Admit it, you’re going to do a victory macarena like it’s 1992, aren’t you?

@cleolinda: More like a victory flop. I just keep sitting here going, I can’t do this. What am I doing? I can’t do this.

@cleolinda: But it’s like… doesn’t really matter if I can’t. Don’t really have a choice, do I? Have to keep going with whatever I’ve got.

@alliancesjr: Like a shark. But…on land.

@cleolinda: LAND SHARK!

It's not a complete A-to-Z draft, but it's more an issue of correct sequencing than huge gaps, I think. And a lot of it will be tossed out, by design--I've got multiple versions of several scenes dumped in there, plus notes to myself. My first job, really, is to go through my draft my cursor on the strikethrough font. But also, there are things I'll probably write or rewrite from scratch. That's why it's a Crappy Draft--again, by design. It's got all the seams hanging out on purpose: it's easier to get into a revision state of mind when it's really, really obvious where you need to start. Actually, let me show you a Twitter conversation I copied out a few weeks back for an entry but never posted:

@cleolinda: I'm to a point where I'm just going to say to hell with it and show my critique partners awful zero drafts, just so it feels like it's real.

@cleolinda: Drafts that have crap like "[dissipated--noun? connotation of used-up, shunned, WORDS I DON'T KNOW THEM]" all over the place.

@particle_person: Not so much drafts as leaks?

@cleolinda: Heh, yeah. They're pretty bad, but if I wait until I've ironed all the brackets out, I'll never finish.

@cleolinda: "[Think of something interesting.]" "[This, except good.]" RT @ladonnapietra: @cleolinda "Stuff happens here; I don't know what."

@InvertedTritone: I have [ALL THE WORDS WHERE DID THEY GO] and [HENRY SAYS SOMETHING WITTY MAKE IT GOOD] in my current draft.

@cleolinda: "[BANTER]"

@cleolinda: Actually, I'm not much for self-conscious "LOOK AT MAH WRITING GOOOOO" banter, so that's not really a problem I run into to.

@cleolinda: I have a serious dislike for self-consciously "witty" dialogue where the characters all sound like the same person (the writer).

@cleolinda: I would rather it feel real than quotable.

@particle_person: Elmore Leonard's rules for writers?

@particle_person: "If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it."

(While we're here, something strange I noticed--I have about five completely different scenes lumped in there about 3/4 of the way through that accomplish the exact same story beat--O NOES, THE VILLAINS ARE COMING TO GET US! [The villains do not come get them.] I MEAN, EVENTUALLY! It's really odd, not to mention repetitive. So this is the point where you pick one, maybe put the others aside for a later book, and move on with life. Again: Crappy Draft.)

Having pulled all this together, though--I don't think Halloween, while personally meaningful, is a realistic deadline for a Readable Draft. I would probably have to bust my ass 24/7 to get this done in thirty days, and... I'm not very good at that. That kind of scheduled cramming does not account for illness (I've spent the last two weeks struggling with migraines), unplanned interruptions (I lost all of this past Wednesday, 8 am to 4 pm, to dealing with switching our cable services and getting the new, better wifi installed), or anything other drama that life might throw my way. Also, I would like to do another ebook or something, because I am stone broke. There's no way to do two projects in a month; I might be able to manage them by my birthday in December. And if I can't, it's okay--deadlines almost always cause me to shut down psychologically.

I will say, prior to this burst of productivity, I would get hit with two or three stressors at once, and I would say, Just let me get through this. Just get whichever exploded appliances replaced, get the internet fixed, get through the migraine, get through the head cold, get through the friend or family drama--just let me live through this as quietly as possible, maybe let me do some research reading, and then, when things are better, I'll get back to work. Well, I finally realized this was a point that was never going to come. I like to joke that "I cannot art under these conditions!," but conditions are never going to "improve." There's only one condition, and it's life. So no matter how shitty I felt, no matter who lost a job or got in an argument, no matter what broke or caught fire, I was going to have to keep moving and stop waiting. So I am going to make a good faith effort to get as much done as I can, and I'd like to be done by the time I turn 33, but I need to feel good about what I've managed even if I don't.

(Just in: cable guy says we have problems with our wiring! Again! Some more! Electricians coming over will definitely take up another day I'll never get back! YAY.)

That said (ADMIRE MY SEGUE), I'm having to go back and read over my research notes, and I'm also going back and rereading (or even reading for the first time) some classically gothic literature. In particular, I had somehow never read The Turn of the Screw before, despite knowing the story. (Spoilers. Also, possibly triggering child abuse themes, I'm not sure.) As much as I liked Portrait of a Lady at the time... Henry James can be kind of dry. I think first-person makes the story a little livelier here, though. Then I found as much of the 1961 adaptation--The Innocents, with Deborah Kerr--on YouTube as I could.

I have questions.

Before reading the book--since I knew the ending anyway--I went and read up on some of the literary criticism. What I find interesting is that critics seem violently divided between "the ghosts are real" and "the governess is insane." Henry James himself doesn't help--at first I read that he unambiguously called it a "ghost story," but apparently he said a lot of things, and sometimes contradicted himself in the same breath. And the thing is, I really love the idea that the governess is a completely unreliable narrator and that the ghosts aren't real at all, despite the fact that they are very real to her. I love that kind of thing--when a narrative has only one perspective, particularly if it's first-person, it's the only reality we are given. There's no ominiscient narrator, no subtle authorial commentary, no competing first-person POVs for balance. This is all we have to go on, and it's a wonderful unraveling moment when you realize that you can't trust it. (The most vivid example of this I have ever personally seen is the Robert W. Chambers story "The Repairer of Reputations." I mean, it starts out kind of odd and 1895's-idea-of-futuristic anyway--and then you start to go, wait, what? And then it totally goes off the rails. It feels like your sanity is crumbling.) The reality of The Turn of the Screw never actually unravels; you could read the story and think it's completely obvious that the ghosts were real (or that they weren't), and have no idea that anyone else would think differently. But the fact is--and there are a boatload of critics to prove it--that you can interpret the story in one of two distinct ways. (By contrast, "The Repairer of Reputations" unravels in a way that leaves the details unexplained, but lets you know that the narrator is absolutely unreliable. You don't even have that ambiguous certainty--if there is such a thing--with the governess.) The thing is... I'm not sure I can buy either interpretation on its own. I tend to think it's more complicated and psychological than "the ghosts are totes real and the children are possessed," but...

If the governess is imagining the ghosts, how is she able to describe Peter Quint with no prior knowledge of him?

Seriously: this is the question you have to answer if you want to say that the ghosts do not exist in some capacity outside her mind. If you can't answer this, the entire intepretation falls apart. Critics have come up with explanations--I just can't buy the idea that Mrs. Grose is gaslighting her, though.

The other issue I would point out is that something is legitimately off about these kids. Even if we cannot trust the governess's perception of their behavior--it is a fact that Miles is expelled from school. I am also really creeped out by the way he calls her "dear"--not necessarily because it has a romantic tone (although it kind of does), but because she's his governess. Literally, his "govern"-ess--she's an authority to him, and yet this very young boy is speaking to her as if he were her equal, and in a very casual, affectionate, even condescending way. It's just really, really inappropriate--although the fact that, in the book, the governess seems to think it's wonderful and charming is maybe another strike against her reliability. Either way, it leads into an interesting development in the movie. (I don't even want to spoil it for you.) I actually don't see any evidence that Jessel and Quint are possessing the children to "continue their relationship," which has incestuous implications for the kids. What you see in the movie is Miles acting inappropriately towards the governess, not his sister--as if he's acting out things he saw the adults do or heard them say with another adult. And as much as the children whisper off by themselves in the book, I don't know that any kind of reincarnation-incest is really implied.

(It's tough to say, though, because here's the conversation that I've seen people interpret to mean "Miss Jessel died of a botched abortion":

"I must have it now. Of what did she die? Come, there was something between them."

"There was everything."

"In spite of the difference—?"

"Oh, of their rank, their condition"—she brought it woefully out. "SHE was a lady."

I turned it over; I again saw. "Yes—she was a lady."

"And he so dreadfully below," said Mrs. Grose.

I felt that I doubtless needn't press too hard, in such company, on the place of a servant in the scale; but there was nothing to prevent an acceptance of my companion's own measure of my predecessor's abasement. There was a way to deal with that, and I dealt; the more readily for my full vision—on the evidence—of our employer's late clever, good-looking "own" man; impudent, assured, spoiled, depraved. "The fellow was a hound."

Mrs. Grose considered as if it were perhaps a little a case for a sense of shades. "I've never seen one like him. He did what he wished."

"With HER?"

"With them all."

It was as if now in my friend's own eyes Miss Jessel had again appeared. I seemed at any rate, for an instant, to see their evocation of her as distinctly as I had seen her by the pond; and I brought out with decision: "It must have been also what SHE wished!"

Mrs. Grose's face signified that it had been indeed, but she said at the same time: "Poor woman—she paid for it!"

"Then you do know what she died of?" I asked.

"No—I know nothing. I wanted not to know; I was glad enough I didn't; and I thanked heaven she was well out of this!"

"Yet you had, then, your idea—"

"Of her real reason for leaving? Oh, yes—as to that. She couldn't have stayed. Fancy it here—for a governess! And afterward I imagined—and I still imagine. And what I imagine is dreadful."
Emphasis mine. Yeah. God knows what else lies between the lines, if that's how subtle we're getting. One critic apparently "states quite categorically his belief that Victorian readers would have identified the two ghosts as child-molesters." The text is both cryptic and suggestive: he did what he wished "with them all"? The other servants? The... children? I don't know.)

The interpretation I finally came around to, after seeing (most of) the movie, is that the ghosts are real, but they're not haunting the children--they're haunting the governess. The children are "haunted," as it were, by what they saw and experienced when Quint and Jessel were alive. Quint isn't possessing Miles to behave the way he does; he acts of his own free will, in ways that a disturbed or traumatized child anywhere might--inappropriately adult tones and behavior, strange games in the middle of the night, acting out at school. (In fact, I tend to think that the "things" Miles said at school involved telling his friends about what he saw Quint and Jessel doing, and that kind of knowledge--and willingness to spread it--was so shocking in a child that he was sent home for it.) What the ghosts are really doing is compelling the governess to abuse the children with her outbursts and accusations--the abuse is what they're continuing, not their "relationship." So the children may be telling the truth when they say they don't see the ghosts, who are real, but genuinely not appearing to them. And that's exactly what drives the governess over the edge, their denial--which is all the more insistent because it's sincere. Granted, you can't really use a movie to interpret a book, but That Scene gave me the idea. So.

Of course, I say this, but there's probably a dozen little things that argue against it. (In the text, at the end, why does Miles immediately think that the governess sees Miss Jessel in the window? Has he overheard that this is what the uproar with Flora was about, or--is he aware of the ghosts after all?) Which may be why the story's so enduringly fascinating--I'm not sure there's any single interpretation that ties everything up with a neat little bow. 

While we're here, hours after I started writing this post--the #occupywallstreet thing has blown up into a multi-city protest, but police have arrested "about 400" protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge so far. There's a livefeed, and, apparently, some kettling happened. Mark Ruffalo, of all people, seems to be tweeting from the front lines ("People in 5 different jails. They are releasing people now. 3 in NYC and 2 in Brooklyn"). BPAL, meanwhile, has put up a charity scent to help send pizza to the protesters (the pizza is already going out): "Rock the protester cliché! This is a filthy friggin’ patchouli, dark, deep, rooty, and strangely sexy, with cocoa absolute, tobacco absolute, and bourbon vanilla." More as I hear about it, assuming anyone in the media bothers to cover it in the first place (*side eye*).

ETA: Here's an article that does a fairly good job of explaining what's going on and how it came together.

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Tags: arting under these conditions, black ribbon, book discussion, books, bpal, down with this sort of thing, gothic, look at my writing go, movie discussion, movies, tribulations, writing

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