Interested in reading my novel Apocalypse Nation? I’ve decided to post the novel in serial format on Medium. Click the image to find links to both the current and previous installments.
Why so many drafts? Why so much work?
It’s because you have to get everything into the piece. You can’t pick or choose, not in the beginning. Everything has to go in. All the characters, the landscapes, the details, the dialogue, the mysterious stuff that bubbles up from inside that you can’t control, the mystery, the entire story arc—you can’t leave any out.
Early on, it seemed like it was imperative to only write what I thought needed to be there. I attempted too much cutting and paring from the start. It took me maybe ten years to learn that I had to include it all. And it took another five years to discover that I have to take most of it back out. I have to put it all in at the beginning but then I have to take most of it out by the end. That’s why it takes so long. How many times did I get stuck somewhere in a story and decide that the only way forward was by “figuring something out?” How many times did I let that stalled motion kill the story, while I slogged through the muck of “figuring”? There’s no figuring involved. I simply had to learn to put it all in and then be patient. The stuff that needs to be cut loose will rise up all by itself.
It’s like moving into a house. You have all this stuff that you bring in. You might have thrown away a few things before you moved, but still there’s boxes and bags everywhere. You brought everything that you thought was important. All the boxes sit around and you maybe set up the bed and hook up the cable that first night, but you’re exhausted from loading and hefting your stuff. And then you probably have to go to work the next day so you let the boxes sit for a while, pick through them after you get home, or on the weekends. After a few weeks, you’ve been living with all the stuff out and about and you can see things a little more clearly. You have the spices in the cabinet and the DVD’s in the rack and the sheets and towels in the closet. You’re really starting to see the place—really starting to make it feel like yours. Some pictures go up on the wall and then you decide you need a new lamp and maybe some new curtains. The pile of stuff is no longer that big. You get the place decorated the way you want it, adjust the angle of the television, bring in some plants to brighten up the study. Finally, you decide that you really love the place and you’re about to settle in and relax for a while. It’s then that you notice all the leftover boxes. A lot of that stuff that you brought with you is now superfluous. So you begin to throw stuff away. Some of the stuff you store in the attic, just in case, but mostly you can clear out everything you don’t need. Only once all that stuff is gone can the place be really finished.
It’s the same way with drafts. Everything goes in the first draft, even the stuff you don’t think you’ll need in your new place. Everyone works differently, of course, and you may start throwing stuff out early, but I’ve found that I can’t go throwing stuff away until I find out what I need. That’s what’s happened with my novel manuscript Apocalypse Nation. I thought I was done drafting. It felt “finished.” But I was still at that stage of home decorating where I was blind to all the boxes in the corners, filled with unnecessary belongings. With a little editing help from a fantastic new friend, I found that I had a lot of things I could cut, throw away, reshape, or store in the attic. Now Apocalypse Nation is bright. It is a literary thriller—as much about people and sacrifice as it is about things that go bump in the night. I have hope that it might find a home. You are going to want to read it. Stay tuned for further developments.
There are too many books. There. I’ve said it. Stop writing books please. I’m only halfway through The Iliad and now David Mitchell has another fucking book coming out? C’mon Mitchell. Give me a break. Sure, your books are in turns puzzles, elegies, adventures, and epics–but can you slow down a little bit? I haven’t even read Mill On The Floss yet. How has this happened? I mean, it took me weeks to read Middlemarch nearly twenty years ago and I just haven’t had the time to get back to Eliot. And Marilynne Robinson has a new one coming out, too? It’s just generally very uncool of her to put out another book when I’m still thinking about Housekeeping. Bogus move, Robinson. It’s like all these writers are trying to say more words than the world needs. Stop putting your words together. It’s annoying and rude. I’m going right now to start a Facebook group that will demand all writers stop writing books for at least two hundred years so the rest of us can catch up. All except for George R.R. Martin. If that guy doesn’t hurry up and get Daenerys Targaryen up on a goddamn dragon, I’m going to lose my mind.
A fantastic book by a writer that is sure to write even more powerful work. It’s hard to believe a writer as young as Boianjiu could write something so assured and powerful. It’s called a novel, but it could very easily be considered linked stories–many different POV’s–narrators–stories–all centering around three young woman in the Israeli army. The most powerful story, “The Diplomatic Incident”, is an amazing act of story telling. Boianjiu effectively includes nearly half the globe in this story–pulling characters from Israel, Egypt, the Ukraine, and Somalia–switching points of view–bringing people from factories, from the desert, human trafficking, refugees camps, the military, the country, the city–all converging on a small observation post on the Israeli/Egypt border, to one guard tower and one particular moment in two female guards’ lives. In fact, pretty much every story here has the scope of a novel, but the tight control of language required by short stories. Consider my socks knocked off.
I was thinking about this book today. I haven’t read it in nearly fifteen years but the opening and closing paragraphs have stuck me with ever since. Here is the opening paragraph, complete with crazy punctuation and spelling and sudden shifts in point of view. The novel is a stunner. And the last paragraph, which I won’t print here, will knock your socks off.
Ye wake in a corner and stay there hoping yer body will disappear, the thoughts smothering ye; these thoughts; but ye want to remember and face up to things, just something keeps ye from doing it, why can ye no do it; the words filling yer head: then the other words; there’s something wrong; there’s something far, far wrong; ye’re no a good man, ye’re just no a good man. Edging back into awareness, of where ye are: here, slumped in this corner, with these thoughts filling ye. And oh christ his back was sore; stiff, and the head pounding. He shivered and hunched up his shoulders, shut his eyes, rubbed into the corners with his fingertips; seeing all kinds of spots and lights. Where in the name of fuck…
–James Kelman, How Late it Was, How Late
“I went down, strapped the duffel to the rear rack of the bike, and rode it over to the Bowery, to the Kastles’. It was my first ride through the streets of New York City, but on a bike I already knew. I had to watch out for potholes, and cabs that came to sudden stops, but crossing Broadway, zooming up Spring Street, passing trucks, hanging a left onto the Bowery, the broadness of the street, the tall buildings in the north distance, the sense of being in, but not of, the city, moving through it with real velocity, wind in my face, were magical. I was separate, gliding, untouchable. A group of winos in front of the Bowery hotel gave me the thumbs-up. At a stoplight, a man in the backseat of a cab, a cigarette hanging from his lips, rolled down his window and complimented the bike. He wasn’t coming on to me. He was envious. He wanted what I had like a man might want something another man has.
There was a performance in riding the Moto Valera through the streets of New York that felt pure. It made the city a stage, my stage, while I was simply getting from one place to the next. Ronnie said that certain women were best viewed from the window of a speeding car, the exaggeration of their makeup and their tight clothes. But maybe women were meant to speed past, just a blur. Like China girls. Flash, and then gone. It was only a motorcycle but it felt like a mode of being.”
–Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers
To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as this, the roll of the world eastward is almost a palpable movement. The sensation may be caused by the panoramic glide of the stars past earthly objects, which is perceptible in the few minutes of stillness , or by the better outlook upon space that a hill affords, or by the wind, or by the solitude; but whatever be its origin the impression of riding along is vivid and abiding. The poetry of motion is a phrase much in use, and to enjoy the epic form of that gratification, it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night, and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass of civilized mankind, who are dreamwrapt and disregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars. After such a nocturnal reconnoitre it is hard to get back to earth, and to believe that the consciousness of such majestic speeding is derived from a tiny human frame.
—Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd