Maelstrom–An Exercise in Collaborative Writing

Our inmost souls encircled - Bruce Witzel photo

Perhaps I should have signed up for NaNoWriMo this year. My work-in-progress, a collaboration with my dead mother’s unpublished novel – Maelstrom – has taken off. Over the last week I have written 4000 to 5000 words a day. This morning I woke up knowing I’d have to pace myself if I’m not to run out of steam before the end.

I am currently twenty-nine chapters in and sitting at 133,000 words. My detailed outline says I’ll wrap it all up in forty chapters and hopefully come in under 150,000 words. Remember – this is my first draft of the collaborative work! There will be much trimming and refining to go before this book sees the light of day. But it has already waited, hidden away in boxes and shunted from pillar to post, for decades. Another year on the drawing board won’t hurt.

Trumpeter Swans - Charles Brandt

The way in which the process of writing this draft has evolved may be of interest to some. It fascinates me. This is how it has gone, so far.

First step: I did a detailed read through of the 2500 plus pages of what my mother had written, making notes as I went – my immediate reactions, frustrations, moments of poignancy, alternate storylines, and parts of the manuscript that I believe should never see the light of day.

Second step: I created a tentative outline.

Third step: Working through sections of the manuscript, I use post-it-notes to mark the pieces of the original work I will rewrite. At the same time, I create a list of sections, pieces and transitions that I will need to write from scratch.

Fourth step: This is definitely the fun part. I write and I write and I write, weaving together parts of my mother’s story with my own ideas and style. I have ahh moments as I come across pages of her writing that I simply must have. Then there is the slash and burn times when other pages hit the cutting room floor and I whisper to myself – sorry Mom, sorry.

Turkey Vulture[ - by Charles A.E. Brandt

(Me, the turkey vulture, chomping away at my mother’s work.)

After a read through of the first sixteen chapters, this is a portion of the feedback I received from my first reader/editor:

The story is hard-hitting and gripping. I was hooked from the beginning and I experienced intense feelings of anger and powerlessness, sadness and empathy, upset and revulsion. I could picture the people, scenes and events so clearly that they ran like a film in my head. In fact, at some point I actually thought that this book would make a good movie. It is action-packed; it evokes strong emotions; and it demands a just denouement. The characters come to life. They are complex individuals who tug at my heartstrings at the same time that they irritate and frustrate me. They are all caught in a system that controls their lives; they don’t like it, but they can’t do anything about it. The title – Maelstrom – says it all. They are swept up in a whirlpool and the reader gets drawn into it as well.

To say I was thrilled with her initial reactions would be an understatement indeed. Happy dance, happy dance!

I predict, that with another ten days of intense labour, the first draft will reach that magical – The End – moment. But those ten days won’t be in a row – this is where the pacing comes in. I have to guard my own energy levels to get through the climax. But, if all goes well, this draft will be in the drawer percolating before I break for Christmas festivities. And when I come back to writing in 2015 it will be full steam ahead with the third novel in the Crater Lake Series – Chasing Down the Night (cue the drumroll) working towards a June release date. I hope to return to second draft writing on Maelstrom as I work through final edits and formatting on Chasing Down the Night. The juries out on how that type of multi-tasking will work but rest assured, my blog followers will be the first to hear.

Violet!oilmultiplex - Bruce Witzel photo

13 comments on “Maelstrom–An Exercise in Collaborative Writing

  1. This was so awesome! I am so excited for you! The review is definately a happy dance to know you’re on the right track. Also, I anticipated your anguish over cutting , revising and rewriting of your mother’s work. Good for you though, and I just bet your mom would be so proud of you! Best of luck and looking forward to more blogs on this, turkey vulture!
    By the way, I always look forward to and enjoy your blogs

    • Thanks, Cleo and thank for taking the time to comment. As I come down the home stretch with this collaboration, I am more and more often the turkey vulture. The altered storylines and decision I made earlier on dictate that my ending will be far more fast paced and streamlined than my mother’s. But the bare bones of the story remain true.

  2. Christine says:

    4000-5000 words a day is an amazing amount of production. Way to go! I love how it seems as though the words just flow right out of you. I wish I had that problem 😉 I have no doubt your mom would be both honoured and very proud that you have taken up her work where she left off.

    • More like wrenched out of me with a sharp hook or something – that’s how if feels some days. But I am blessed with being an extremely fast typist and I think that helps. And when I get going it really does flow. My mom never thought I could do wrong and she always took my side – sometimes her attitude infuriated me because I wanted her to say – whoa there kid. It was only when she was gone that I realized how much I had depended on her always being in my corner. So, I think you may be right. I think she’d be saying I’m doing okay by the story.

  3. Wow. F.Guenette redefines “organization” as a higher order thought process. Sequential, cyclical, horizontal, diagonal, incremental and comprehensive.

    Do you play chess?

  4. mooremorrans says:

    This is awesome, Fran. I am so excited to read the final product, though I know that is probably a long way off. I admire your guts, ambition, organization and mission to complete your mother’s creation and wish you strength, determination and the sense to take time off when needed. All the best, Gayle

    • Thanks, Gayle. As the story heats up and I actually see the end in sight, it has become quite exciting. I never think of myself as having guts – more like I plunge over the cliff without any idea what might be involved and then find out as I go. I suppose that does take guts. Thank you for the well-wishes.

  5. Roy McCarthy says:

    Whoosh! That is some pace Fran. I think I’ve hit 5000 once or twice but you have to be pretty inspired and uninterrupted. Sounds like an amazing project.

    • I’m down to the wire with it now – two chapters of the climax and then one chapter to wind down. I’m having some trouble figuring out how to get a guy cuffed to a U-bolt in a stone fireplace – it’s just that kind of story.

  6. P. C. Zick says:

    You are being driven. Your progress is amazing. You don’t need NaNo. Blessings upon you as you and your mother move forward in this project.

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