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Writ in Stone

Posted on 2006.02.15 at 03:42
"What one has most to work and struggle for...is to do the work with a great amount of labor and sweat in such a way that it may afterwards appear, however much it was labored upon, to have been done almost quickly and almost without any labor, and very easily, although it was not."

"Carving is easy, you just go down to the skin and stop."

"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free."

I find myself in a rather unusual position, and thank the powers that be for putting me there. For a year and a half my manuscript has been tied up with a publishing house. I've persevered through staff changes and firings, poverty that has left me choosing between buying tins of meat for my cats or paying the light bill. My book has kept the interest of an editor at Random House through surges in the horror market and swells of religious controversy. One reader predicted that I will be "the first author of our time to have a Catholic Jihad declared against him." Part of me wants to scream, "Bring it on!" That old adage of "any publicity is good publicity." Then I remember Clive Barker talking about receiving death threats from religious zealots who wanted to crucify him for "pandering obscenity, perversion and blasphemy." But I digress.

Recently, Colleen Lindsay, an incredible woman who has poured her life into promoting the best and brightest Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror authors, wrote to tell me that "I know for a fact that there are at least two other [publishing] houses interested in it." ["it" being my manuscript, Crucifer].

I recently decided to make some minor changes to "Crucifer," prompted by an author that I greatly admire offering to read it for a blurb. Colleen's words worked me up into an editorial frenzy. Minor changes to a few chapters consumed dozens of hours. Blood poured down my brow from repeatedly smashing my head against the keyboard. Oh, the agony of struggling to write simply--to chisel away the extraneous stone and set the angel free! Finally, I have reached the place where I can lay down my tools. For now...

Most of the authors I have met hate the whole editorial process. They would rather have their fingernails ripped off with pliers. But when it comes to writing, I'm a dyed in the wool masochist. I love the way a character taps my shoulder and whispers in my ear, telling me how he would say a line, as opposed to what I've crammed into his mouth. I feel a strange ecstasy when a bulky line of prose crumbles, revealing a simpler form. And sometimes the editorial process is like having blinders removed, going from pan-and-scan to widescreen. I see images lost to the periphery and move them front and center. The saying that "clothes make the man" is as big a lie in writing as it is in our culture of surface. You must strip away the clothes, wipe off the makeup, get to the skin with its beauty, deformity, odd hairs and birthmarks.

Years ago I went on the greatest journey of my life, and buried my poor ass in debt to take a trip to Paris. Again and again I return to the moment when I stood inside the Louvre gazing up at Michelangelo's "Dying Slave." I had only seen Michelangelo's sculpture in photographs before, and even then felt awe. But when I stood within touching distance of the master's creation, my soul trembled. I understood the word "sublime" not as an abstract concept, but as a state of being. It took everything I had not to drop to my knees. The dying slave is more than sculpted stone, even as a man is more than an amalgam of water, minerals and fats. My breath touched what the artist had touched, my eyes caressed the secret places that his hands had known. In solid rock, a heavy brow drew up with suffering. Muscles strained in extremis and somehow simultaneously exuded sensuality. My eyes fell to the slave's hand and traced the veins over his knuckles and up his milky forearm. I'm a very pale man. When I stand naked before a mirror, I can see the veins in my arms and chest, copper blue, twisting under skin that has a luminous transparency. The dying Gaul's marble skin had that same transparency! It was physically impossible, but undeniably true! Hard tools had chiseled stone and given it life. Tears flowed down my cheeks. I knew how God must have felt as He watched Adam take his very first breath. I understood the truth behind the myth–-that the breath of God is man's creative potential, the power to turn dream into reality. Letters, consonants, words, sentences, these are the dust I work with. I work and rework, trying to achieve transparency. Forever humbled by the art of those who have gone before me, I pray that I have the breath to give my creation life.

Blood and time are such small prices to pay.


(Deleted comment)
(Anonymous) at 2006-02-16 17:14 (UTC) (Link)
Hang in there, Rob. Publishing is a nutty, aggravating, snail's pace business. If your book is as good as a lot of people seem to think it is, it will find a home. Maybe later, rather than sooner, though. I've been going through my own bit of purgatory these last few years with a project. You can't let yourself get hung up on one book, though. I hope that you've been working on your next one.

Best wishes,
Andy Fox
rjcrowtherjr at 2006-02-17 14:37 (UTC) (Link)
Andy, so wonderful to hear from you. You will prevail. I know the mass market release of "Fat White Vampire Blues" will take off. And "Calorie" will find a home. Any progress on the agent front since your last fine representative sadly passed away?

I haven't been waiting in a comatose state--I'm working on the "final" draft of my next novel, "Blood Bound," and have about 160 pages left to polish (out of around 580pp). After struggling to get published for 18 years, I feel I've at least caught a glimpse of the promised land. I may be hanging from a cliff, but I've got very tough fingernails!

Best to you, my friend,
Justine Musk
moschus at 2006-02-16 17:24 (UTC) (Link)
Awesome news about the interest in Crucifer. Can't wait to see how this plays out.

I never thought much about M. one way or the other -- my interest in art was 18th C onwards -- until I went to Rome and saw the Pieta and I was spellbound by it. (That trip also introduced me to Caraveggio.) So I know what you mean.

I'll be in San Diego this weekend for the SCWC -- I teach a workshop on Fri & two read & critiques over the weekend -- will you be around?

rjcrowtherjr at 2006-02-17 14:25 (UTC) (Link)

San Diego Visit--SCWC


Wonderful! I can't believe SCWC is here already. I'd love to hear one of your readings, to listen to the cadence of your voice matched to the words of BloodAngel, and share dinner with you.

(cross-posted with more details in an email I'm sending you.)
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