Friday, February 27, 2009

The Ritual Notes

I recently completed writing a cycle of short stories, which for now is simply called "The Ritual Cycle." It is essentially a novel in the form of a collection of short stories; that is, most or all of these stories could, with little or no tweaking, stand on their own, but taken together there is enough continuity, development, and story arc to make a coherent novel. The thing is 80,900 words long, and took me almost three years to write. I finished it a couple weekends ago, writing the last 23,000 words in a five-day blitz prompted by the fact that 1. I was sick of writing the bloody thing and B. the characters and I were starting to have long in-depth conversations and arguments, something which is at least lessened with this ending.

The Cycle begins at the end: the opening story, "The Ritual," is about the reunion of nine off-beat teenagers (five are seniors in high school, two are juniors, one a sophomore, one a college freshman). They had gone through three years of high school together, but split up because their families moved away in different directions. The story is about their reunion, and about all the rituals that both lighten and darken their lives.

The second story goes back to the beginning, the start of the majority of the characters' ninth grade, in which some of them get into several fights. The rest of the novel leap-frogs its way through the years up until the same reunion which opens it.

Such is the bare outline; the spirit of the cycle itself is hard to explain. It's written rather impressionistically, nine solid characters in a world that shifts ever so slightly-it doesn't contradict itself, usually, but it feels like it does. The characters, to quote a cliche, march to the beat of their own drummer; except the drummer is actually a bagpiper, and he's drunk, and he quotes T.S. Eliot.

Terry Pratchett says not to base characters on people you know, but on types of people you know, and this is what I've done here--these living, breathing, unique, extremely idiosyncratic characters are all types of people I've known. I know they're all real, because I've met them all; though about 15 or 20 people were blent to make up these nine.

As a further note, one of the stories contains some of my favorite just-for-the-hell-of-it writing I've ever done: a sentence that's 573 words long, one that's 563 words (both grammatically correct), and one that's 407 words long WITHOUT PUNCTUATION (except the ending period).

I think this is the most publishable thing I've written so far, and I intend to send it off to... someone. Well, probably a lot of someones. Currently my self-appointed editor-in-residence (my roommate) is going through it with a red pen, and once I have thoroughly argued with all of his edits I will be requesting readers. There are a few people I have specifically in mind, but if you, gentle reader, want to be on the list, contact me in whatever way you like and I will sign you up. If you can't wait and want to see the earlier less pretty draft, let me know about that and I'll send you one.

I'm going to leave with a few quotes randomly selected from my recently finished work, just for fun.

And there she was.
He thought it would be over by now, a buried throb, but at the sight of the girl in the blue dress, her hair done up and her face split with a smile like a ray of sunlight—the hurricane formed again in his soul. Goddesses don’t die that easily.

“Thing I noticed about pirates,” Joseph said. “They don’t have great love lives. Oh, sure, all the girls want them. But as for finding one and sticking with her—it just doesn’t work.”
Owen shrugged. “You always make sacrifices.”
“Not virgins, I hope.” Lily came around the corner of the building.
Owen laughed. “Not this time.”

He had hit the Snooze button on his alarm clock, apparently, and apparently gone back to sleep. The insistent klaxon was enough to get him up, this time. He sat up. He lurched across the room, and a sudden urge took him to shout “Brains!” and tear someone's head open and eat the gray matter inside it. He resisted, however, as no victims presented themselves.

The four of them sauntered down Main Street. A car full of older girls drove past, and they whistled at Owen and Lars and Lars raised his cane in salute and they thought that was just so cute. Lars didn't let them see him roll his eyes. The four boys turned the corner, passing more old wooden buildings whose fronts made them look boxy when in fact their roofs were sloped like anybody's. Joseph imagined they would have cringed if they knew he knew their secret. Another turn and they were behind Main Street. The back, the behind-the-scenes, as always told the truth and the truth was shocking. There were garbage containers back here, entire garbage bins filled with trash bags. Behind the mini-mini-mall was a garbage container filled with bags of old unsold gift items, which acted as foreshadowing to the ultimate fate of the items in the gift shop that did sell.

“What were you guys doing out there?” Lily said.
“Out there?” Owen said.
“Out where?” Lars said.
Lily glared at them. “Out there, outside, running around like maniacs.”
Owen looked at Lars. “Were we doing that?”
“I don't think so,” said Lars.
Lily glared witheringly at both of them.
“Nope,” said Lars, as if coming out of great reflection. “Definitely weren't out there.”
“That's right,” Owen said.
“Definitely not saving the world and all existence from inane creatures out of the deepest pits of Hell.”
They both laughed nervously and Owen gave his brother a look like You're an idiot.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009


The weather today seems to speak of the fall of empires, the ancientness and newness of all things. It puts me in mind of Shelley's "Ozymandias."

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Monday, February 09, 2009


We were talking about MacBeth in American Lit today (because we were talking about Huck Finn, which naturally brought up superstitions, which naturally led to MacBeth), and I was inspired to post a bunch of semi-random stuff about the subject.

As far as the curse itself goes, I read recently that reportedly Shakespeare used real black magic incantations in the play (and it would be just like Shakespeare to have a book of them lying around), and whatever group of occultists he stole from got annoyed and put a curse on the play.

The first counter to the curse I learned about came from a play I did in middle school in downtown Madison: if you say the name, you go out behind the theatre, spin around three times, spit, and swear as loudly as possible. Later versions I've learned about add the necessity of knocking on the theatre door and asking someone to let you in. Another yet replaces the swearing with the Lord's Prayer (this being the preferred Bethany Lutheran version).

Also in that class are Romeo and Juliet, from Bethany's production of that play this past fall (in which I was the Apothec'ry). Romeo mentioned that every night backstage he said "MacBeth" just before the play started, except for one night--the one night on which there was an obvious snafu in the production. Also, I realized that before or during the recent production of the Mikado, in which my roommate and I were chorus members, he had said "MacBeth" at least once before or during each performance--and nothing major went wrong during any of them.

Juliet then remarked that we are MacBethany, and that must be the reason for such reversal. Which seemed perfectly logical to me.