08 January 2011

The Non-Revision Revision

October 1998: As the Holiday Season approached, I was inspired to write a Christmas tale based on a children's card game called The Wish.

The story's basic plot, the characters, the setting--all began to formulate as I drove from Altus, Oklahoma, to Marlow, Oklahoma, five days a week to teach school, a 172 mile round trip--three hours a day.

Plenty of time to think.

As Halloween approached, the Holiday Season began to blanket me, and the Christmas story wended its way through my brain.

I called the story 'The Wish'. I talked the local newspaper into serializing the story. Two chapters a week were published with the climatic final chapter published on Christmas Eve.

The Wish cover 1998The local newspaper and I received many positive responses from readers, especially children. A few parents said they had cut out the chapters, scrapbooked them, and intended to read the story each Christmas. Some children wanted to know where they could buy the special cards the protagonist used in the story to play the card game The Wish, the same game the protagonist plays and the major plot catalyst for the tale.

After that serial run, I literally handmade several copies of the tale for family for Christmas 1998--this was before the days of PoDers such as Lulu and CafePress.

But, the story went dormant in my files. I had intended to send the tale on the rounds of agents and Houses, but something about the story just didn't feel right.

Feary Tales Vomit 1Halloween 2010: I was thinking about another addition to my previously self-published 'Mr. Creepers Presents FearyTales-Vomit 1'. I had PoDed several copies of 'Feary Tales Vomit 1' from Lulu and gave to family and friends as a 2008 Halloween treat. As I was thinking of the tales to include in 'Feary Tales Vomit 2', I was inspired to pull out 'The Wish', revise it, and make it available for Christmas 2010.

End of school finals, grading essays, the addition of two Grandchildren coming to live with us, and other erstwhile distractions didn't allow me the concentration I needed to put forth a valiant and earnest effort into the tale. So, I put 'The Wish' aside until things settled down, and I had more time.

When my two grandchildren, Caleb and Kyleigh, came to live with us, I decided to read the original version of 'The Wish' to them as their bedtime story, a chapter each night until Christmas Eve.

Caleb & KyleighOne night, after I finished reading a chapter of 'The Wish', and after I hugged and kissed the Grands good-night, Kyleigh said, "I want some cards like Angela has." (Angela's the protagonist of 'The Wish'.) "I want to play the Wish game and win a Christmas wish like she did. And I know what I would wish for."

I told Kyleigh I'd think about it.

As I closed the bedroom door, I thought to myself 'Why not?' I had always thought a set of cards as described in the tale would be a nice addition to go along with the book.

ExaltationDesigning, printing, trimming, and making the cards obsessed me for three days. During this spate of non-writing creative activity, the cards I was making for Kyleigh took on a life of their own and looked less and less like the cards I had described Angela had used in the book to get her Christmas wish.

As the cards evolved, the story walked up to the edge of my mind, did a perfect swan dive into the folds of my brain, delved into the deep abyss of dream thought, and then swam through the sea of synapses until it finally came to rest on the sands of Revelation Beach.

Ah, ha! Now I knew what the tale wanted me to do.

A new AngelaAs I began to retool the story I soon realized the revision of 'The Wish' had begun not in the usual rewriting and editing of the tale but in the creation of the cards for Kyleigh. The cards told me a similar but better story and helped me to understand the basic problems with the original tale.

I learned three lessons from this:

1. The 'inspiration' for the revision would not have happened without Kyleigh's pleading to make The Wish cards. Plus, the timing was serendipitous as well: The crispness of the cold wind, the colors of the season, the smells of holiday food, the excitement and anticipation on the faces of Children--these only happen for a brief period. I've learned over the years that 'inspiration' does not always lead to Story or Story Revision, but it's a good place to start--to record feelings, events, fears, needs, wants, and dreams--to be quiet and listen to that still small voice.

Hungry Bear2. For me, revision and hunger are synonyms--a bear hunting salmon during the spawning season--plenty of fish for the taking, but it's hard work that pays off only with tenacity, stamina, and stubbornness--and how hungry the bear is.

3. NOT actually rewriting the story is often better than trying to force myself to revise when there is no revision 'inspiration', no revision hunger. Making the cards for Kyleigh let me see the story from a different creative point of view, to explore avenues of plot and character, to understand motivation, and to begin the revision process.

Some writers paint, garden, photograph people/nature, restore old cars, and any number of activities not directly related to the craft of tell-tale story making, and such activity actually releases the creative hunger within them.

After the experience of making the Wish cards for Kyleigh, I'm determined to create things (games, cards, pictures, videos, faux newspapers--as in the 'NEVRLAND' tale) based on the story I am revising (or even writing) and open the sluice gates to allow different creative streams to contribute to the irrigational flow of Story Telling.

See you on the bookshelf.

Larry Mike

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