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Trip To Alan's - 01/23/08

I flew down to see my brother Alan in Towson, MD Wednesday through Saturday. It was not only to visit to see both he and Abbie, but also so that we could work together on the third major edit to my novel. He had already done many minor edits, and had just done two major ones. But this one was a big one.

Both of these major edits have resulted in weeding out over sixty pages of text from an original three-hundred-ninety pages - for which I have formally named him Chainsaw. He is wicked with the pen.

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But then having spent over 40 years teaching English literature at both the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD and as head of the English department at Frostberg State College in Frostberg, MD, he has no sympathy for poor writing or structure or, as it turns out, for even his poor younger brother.

I flew in Southwest Airlines to BWI arriving about one o'clock. Alan picked me up, and after a quick bite to eat at the house, we traipsed into the living room and got right to the editing.

While Alan worked - though we chatted back and forth constantly about structure and form - I continued my study of a book on creative writing by Les Edgerton, Finding Your Voice (the second book I have read by Les, who I have found to be one of the most helpful writing advice authors out there, if you're interested in that sort of thing). But, man, each time he scraped his editing pencil down the page it was like he was taking a razor blade to my chest; it was awful.

Believe me, by the third day of this, I thought that all I'd have left would be a forty-two page short story only worthy for Dingle Berry's Digest of Crap! Ouch!

We had agreed that when I came down, I would cook both Wednesday and Thursday - with sous-chef de cuisine assistance from Alan where needed - Portuguese dinners from one of his cookbooks, and then Friday we'd go out to some exotic restaurant in Baltimore. I had wanted to get down to Baltimore's Inner Harbor for lunch on Friday as I just love it down there. But we were so involved with the editing and discussion, that we opted for a twenty minute break and cans of soup at the house instead: there was no stopping The Chainsaw!

Wednesday, we selected an interesting sounding stewed chicken with paprika rice for the dinner. It was okay, but we all thought was pretty bland for a Portuguese recipe. The saving grace was the Fetzer Merlot and a great salad dressing that Alan made up to put on romaine and sweet red pepper salad.

Thursday's dinner was much better - a medallions of pork with onions and a hot chili pepper marinate, which sat overnight Wednesday. I added a nice side of steamed Brussels sprouts in one of my wine induced states of herb broth creations. Now, that was a pretty tasty dinner, and went down really well with the Bardolino wine of the evening.

Friday evening's dinner out was more that exotic - it was a real Road Trip! Abbie wasn't feeling up to it but encouraged us to go without her into Baltimore to The Helmand, an Afghanistani fine dining restaurant. It is named after Afghanistan's longest and most important river, and of real road trip quality is that it is owned by the current President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai's brother! Now, that was an experience!

Wednesday night after dinner, Alan headed up to his office with the book for some uninterrupted editing while I watched the movie Once. By the time the movie was over around nine o'clock, he had run through about a hundred and twenty pages, and so we spent the next several hours discussing the days editing.

We were deep into it by nine-thirty Thursday morning, sipping fresh ground coffee he had brought back from Ireland. We stopped for about forty minutes to fix lunch; Abbie had meats and an elbow macaroni salad she had brought back from a girls day out to Amish country in Lancaster County earlier that week. That was great stuff!

But back to the editing almost before the last of the sandwich was swallowed. While he worked, occasionally stopping to point out what he was doing, I read parts of Daniel Silva's Secret Servant, which Alan had wanted me to read to see how this really talented author wove his storyline together. Abbie had mentioned some of the author's that she enjoyed, and brought the book from the library for me to look at as it was his most recent.

We popped open the Bardolino around four o'clock and sipped that while discussing some of the structure of my writing until I had to get the meal going around six o'clock.

After dinner, Alan and I trooped upstairs to his office, and while he edited, I pulled out about a half dozen of the more classical works, and read parts of them as comparison to the more modern approach to voice, tone, and structure that he was teaching me how to do. Stuff like Moby Dick, Wuthering Heights, Snows of Kilimanjaro, Sanctuary; you know: all the light stuff... We were up until after midnight again.

Friday morning, at it early again, though Alan was starting over at the beginning. Wednesday, he had just done some light editing of the first hundred and twenty pages, but as he got further into the book that evening and then Thursday, the chainsaw was really humming. So, he wanted to go back to the first hundred and twenty pages with the same fervor and hack that up as aggressively.

But he was uncovering all the good stuff that I had buried in my initial drafts of mind dump. I tend to write in what's called "stream of conscience" form. I'm a very visual person and when I'm in the zone, I write down exactly what I see in the scene; all of it - too much of it, actually. But, that's the style used by Melville, Faulkner and the Bronte sisters, for example, and is the literature that I grew up reading. So, I sort of tend very naturally to that type of writing. But in today's popular fiction, a much more direct style is used, so I have to edit out all the overhead to unveil the meat of it underneath.

But it was really slow going Friday as we ended up on so many different discussions that he fell behind in where we had wanted to get to by five o'clock when we left for The Helmand. And when we got back, we were so exhausted from continuing discussions through dinner and on the trip in and back from Baltimore that we decided to just relax and watch the cute independent movie Saving Grace - which was just what we needed.

But after the movie, we were back at it, though around midnight had to close it up. Not only did we get a lot of editing done - the elimination of around sixty pages of text and the manipulation of hundreds of phrases - but I learned more about creative writing structure than I ever could have in taking a dozen classes. The Chainsaw was awe inspiring, but not something for the faint of heart, that's for sure!

Regardless of all the editing trauma, I had a wonderful trip and a wonderful visit with Alan and Abbie. Though we weren't able to complete all of the work, Alan did finish it up late Saturday afternoon and it will be off in the mail to me Monday. I can hardly wait for it to arrive so that I can go back through the manuscript, and relive all of the discussions we had as Alan penciled in his comments throughout the text.

I'll have my hands full in transferring the changes to my electronic version, and making the changes and additions that Alan has suggested. Looking forward to the next round of editing as we try to bring this to a marketable form. Any agents out there reading this are encouraged (pleaded!) to take me on! We're almost there...

Anyway... I flew back into Manchester around one o'clock Saturday afternoon and spent some time going through the mail and messages before my daughter Marissa and I headed off to get the movie of the night (We Are Marshall - a marvelous moving movie, if you haven't seen it) and Chinese takeout.

When I woke up Sunday morning, it was snowing like wild with already a few inches down; about three or four more fell before tapering off in the mid afternoon. It was so beautiful, that I spent the entire day reading scene and plot structure theory, sipping coffee, and just relaxing in the living room. Went shopping late that afternoon and did an impromptu pork medallions in sauteed onions with long grain brown rice and a steamed broccoli dish with a hint of cumin and curry washed down with an inexpensive - and pretty nice - Woodridge Merlot that was on sale at the store.

And Monday, I started my new position with Liberty Mutual here in Dover working on their new personal lines application as a senior programmer/analyst - my thing, right up my alley, and hoping to learn a lot in this new problem domain.

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A short break Wednesday afternoon to pour out the wine of the evening. Alan doesn't look like a chainsaw here...

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All bid-ness; no sense of humor. The chainsaw is at work... Nice Moroccan embroidered hat to keep his head warm; too bad it doesn't warm his heart to the foibles of author under edit...

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The sous-chef de cuisine Wednesday night preparing the marinate for Thursday's dinner.

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Okay, he sorta caught me off guard here during one of the many Wednesday night's stew stirring events. It smelled great, and we were really surprised that didn't manifest itself as much as expected in the end product. No fault of the chef: reciepe followed exactly; just no real dynamic taste that we had expected.

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Abbie heading off Thursday morning for her day's schedule.

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Late Friday afternoon during a second sweep through of the first hundred pages. Well... what was left of the first hundred pages to sweep through at that point, anyway.

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