Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Empty Chamber: Part 3 ... apathy, abandonment, time to move on

Damien fights off one of Grim's undead minions
I finished The EMPTY CHAMBER when I got back to Seattle and started working at Boeing. At the time, I'd made a stab at 'cleaning it up' but editing really wasn't my thing at the time. I wasn't really good at it, my sense of flow was off, comma usage was all over the place, and short/brief sentence structure was painful. As many beginning writers do, I was bogged down in colloquialisms, a rampant disdain for grammar in the thinly veiled guise of 'style', and way too many words with the pretension that nothing shall be cut!  Nothing, absolutely nothing could possibly be cut. Every sentence, every chapter seethes with too much wit and humor to possibly ax, right? Not satisfied with the end product, I wrote an epilogue to The EMPTY CHAMBER, piling on the word count even more until the beast soared to  125K.

Damien on the road and armed
In the end, it was a jumbled mess with far too many pop-culture references, vampires, werewolves, gorillas, demons, and wise cracking punks to clean up in to a consistent tale. That, and I think it failed message-wise and probably theme-wise. People I gave it to actually seemed to like it for the most part (at least they read the whole thing) but after a few failed queries to agents, I had to be honest with myself. This novel was flat-out unpublishable as it stood. I suppose, if I had passion for it, I could have hammered on it, slimmed it down, let the a critique group and their long knives strip it to the bone, but I didn't want to do that. I was restless.
Our hero encounters the obligatory werewolves
The EMPTY CHAMBER was an experiment. Like an empty basketball court at night, it was a place to practice up, get my chops down, experiment with a novel length fiction form, gauge how much stuff you actually have to think up plot/character/setting-wise to fill up a book's worth of words. And I think this is the hardest part for a writer, to abandon that first novel when its time is nigh.
Damien takes the plunges into the underworld
When this moment actually occurs varies. And if you truly believe your first novel is thee ONE, who am I to tell you to abandon it. By all means, if you have the passion to re-write, re-edit, shop it, mop it, overhaul it, then push on., go forth. My threshold was far less. Not that I didn't love The EMPTY CHAMBER, I most certainly did, in fact so much so, I actually illustrated each chapter (some of the art included in this post), but I really needed to move on as a writer.
Damien, sporting his 90's era tattoo, consults his soul agent on afterlife options
Some things did come out of it that I'm still quite proud of. The epilogue add-on, more or less a short story, provided a means to explore new terrain (I might actually post that to the blog at some point). My writing had improved quite a bit over the seven years.
Damien in a moment of repose with afterlife friends
And one idea I still rather enjoyed was the concept of a 'universal afterlife', a purgatory clearing house for souls where all of mankind's religions barter for the righteous (and the damned). The EMPTY CHAMBER's protagonist, Damien Faust (how's that for a name?), as apart of his redemption must head into purgatory and retrieve his soul from Grim with the help of his soul agent. An obvious theme going back to pretty much every modern myth and religion since time began, I'd managed to put my own bureaucratic existential spin on it, not new, just different. I liked the idea, so much so, I recently incorporated elements of it into a comic script for my college roommate (comic writing, a post for another time).

The EMPTY CHAMBER still sits on my hardrive, I pop it open from time-to-time with the good intention of one day rewriting it. But I doubt I will. Like nostalgia, it's fun to visit the past from time to time, but you can never really go home again.

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