Thursday, January 17, 2013

Break on Through...

As you may know from reading this blog, I have a number of unpublished manuscripts on my hands.  Sure, I've got some self-published material out there (and to your right), but "unpublished manuscripts" still means the potential to be published by someone other than myself.

The first manuscript I completed after the serial nature of what became The Cloak of Shrouded Men is currently known as Modern Ark.  It's the trickiest thing I've ever written, trickier all the more for the simple fact that I originally set out to write it with a story I thought was going to be far more mainstream than it turned out.  As it is, Modern Ark represents for me my purest literary effort to date, something that I willingly put against whatever you may think of as literary fiction.

I recently went on a binge watching Tarsem's passion project The Fall, something he spent years filming, which I sometimes refer to as the adult's Wizard of Oz, about a girl who steps into a storybook, basically, with far less romantic results, although for adults, the romance of The Fall is far greater than what can be found in Wizard of Oz, no matter how passionately Judy Garland sings (the late Hawaiian folk singer "Iz" Israel Kamakawiwo'ole combined "Over the Rainbow" with "What a Wonderful World" to create the definitive version, and one that's far more relevant to The Fall than Wizard of Oz).

It's filled with Tarsem's patented whimsical imagery, which in last year's Mirror Mirror went mainstream (and probably would have been more successful if Snow White and the Huntsman hadn't been released as well).  It's also soaked in melancholy.  The man telling the girl the story is a stuntman who experienced the first layer of the eponymous event.  He's depressed, suicidal.  He turns the story into a dark corner, and the girl rescues both the story and the storyteller, in the end.

I've begun thinking of The Fall as one of the best comparable stories I know to Modern Ark.  Life of Pi is another.  The popular bestseller of a decade ago finally became a movie.  It's one of those books that some people will say is impossible to film, although I think it's instantly cinematic, a boy deserted on a raft with a tiger.  Maybe I just read too many Calvin and Hobbes comics.  As an animated film, Life of Pi would have been incredibly simple to envision.  Tarsem could've done it, too.

If you don't know what Life of Pi is about, yes on one level it's about the boy and the tiger, but it's also about the boy and the life he's trying to continue living after a disaster at sea.  The tiger might be seen as a metaphor, a trick of the imagination, like Calvin's best friend Hobbes.  It was the kind of bestselling literature that the first decade of the new millennium bequeathed readers, but isn't so common these days.

Modern Ark is tricky like that.  The main character, Finnegan (who used to give the book its name until I rethought it, James Joyce considered), is both a man and a dragon.  It's something that makes perfect sense in a metaphysical sense, and conceptually it's completely necessary, but for readers it might be something of a nightmare.  Life of Pi was a hit in two forms.  The Fall is still waiting to find an appreciative audience.  If Modern Ark can escape such a fate, it's because it's also about a vampire, who becomes obsessed with Finnegan's sister.  Maybe readers are bored with vampires now.  Or maybe they're looking for a new way to look at them.  (Fifty Shades of Grey may suggest that.)  I don't know.  I didn't write Twilight.  I wrote Modern Ark.

I discovered in the midst of writing it that at that point, I really wasn't capable of writing a traditional narrative.  So I started to discover digressions.  I was raised Catholic, and read Bible stories even before I could conceivably care all that much about the Bible.  I discovered a wealth of rich characters.  In many ways, that still defines my relationship with religion.  People can sometimes forget that every religion begins with a good story.  It's the best way to sell anyone on anything.  Modern Ark isn't about religion, but I use religion to help explain the necessary relationships that define its story.

I tried selling Modern Ark to agents and publishing houses for maybe a year after completing it (or so I thought, because there have since been revisions).  I had no luck.  I'll admit that I grew discouraged, stopped making the effort.  It was a tough sell.  I knew that going in.  But I never abandoned it.

A few days ago I submitted it once again, this time to Amazon's Breakthrough Novel Award contest.  I found out about it because of the CreateSpace activities I've been up to since last July.  It sounded like a great opportunity.  I've since discovered that no book that won the award has distinguished itself in any other way.  I'd never heard of them.  I decided it didn't matter.  It's worth the shot.  I believe in Modern Ark.  I'm not ready to give up on it.

Although if this one doesn't work out, maybe it's time to think self-publishing again...


  1. Good luck with the Breakthrough Novel contest. Sorry I don't know more about The Fall.
    And the movie version of Life of Pi was incredible. Such an amazing spiritual journey. Those that have said the book was dull need to see the movie.

    1. There are people who say the book is dull?

      As you can imagine, I cannot recommend The Fall strongly enough.

  2. I'm getting my submission for that contest ready right now. Good thing we're in different categories because that will save the awkwardness of having to vote against each other...yeah, right. Pitching is not my strong suit so I'm sure I won't make it out of the first round.

    1. I've been working on a pitch for this book for so long, I no longer have any idea what's effective. So I go with what I know.

      Good luck with yours.


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