The Mark Blog


Last week, I had my Final Review with The Mark Program.  Amazingly, they told me they wouldn’t change a thing; it was perfect, genius, revolutionary.  They introduced me to a top agent and publisher on the spot, who offered me a $100,000 advance on top of a healthy percentage of royalties.  They said they wouldn’t be surprised if the Pulitzer was next.
Okay, not really. They did say it’s come a long way, but that it still needs work.  No surprise there. All in all, there’s no doubt I benefitted from this process, but now the hard part begins. I’m on my own.  No deadlines, workshops, reviews.  It’s all up to me.  This is what separates the dilettantes from the professionals. 
How many more drafts will it take?  Hard to say.  Will it change dramatically again, as it did between the first and second drafts? Probably. 
Luckily, I won’t be groping in the complete dark.  Both Antoine Wilson and Rob Roberge have given me wise, copious notes to get me rolling again.  Although they believed it was working as a linked collection, I’m not ruling out heading into novel-territory.  I would need to locate or invent a central narrative thread, however, and I’m not sure I want to force it if it doesn’t come naturally.
The stories, in case you haven’t been following my blog (and shame on you!), concern one central character, from middle school to middle age.  There are thematic links: falling in and out of love, dysfunctional friendships, the hazards of lust.  Some changes I can foresee making are condensing the scope, focusing on the 30s, combining a few characters, streamlining plots.
The worry, as always, is just how long this can take. I probably shouldn’t, but I can’t help but feel the pressure of age.  If I was in my 20s, maybe I wouldn’t be so concerned.  Enough fellowships, residencies, and readings – it’s time I actually got something published.
Overall, I am excited to begin the rewrite, but still wracked with doubt.  And a lot of that has to do with me, or really, how much the main character resembles me.  In a way, this can be a good thing. It makes the work resonate on a personal level, more so than if it was total invention. But it can also feel self-involved, or, as Antoine put it, “self-mythologizing.” He was speaking of the way the main character wrote about himself, but it might as well have been me, too.
The strongest voice for the book seems to be first person, i.e. the narrator telling his own story.  For the next draft, I need to pinpoint all the ways this character and myself are different, and, in so doing, discover what the writer can tell you about the character through his narration.  In other words, how reliable is he, and what truths seep through for the reader that may not be even be apparent to the narrator himself?
This was one of the biggest challenges I received from my Final Review.  The others, lose the clichés, come up with less “telling” endings, all seem doable. This process has meant looking over my life, wondering about what I’ve done, and not done, what I did right, and what I did oh-so-wrong.  And where it all leads.  A big chunk of it has led to writing this book.  But I’m not so interested in memoir.  I still enjoy manipulating facts too much. Sometimes, in order to be honest, you have to lie. Other times, you have to be honest. Writing can be an act of negotiation between the two.
In some ways, my fate and the book’s fate feel intertwined.  It feels as if it fails, so do I.  Then again, they say you learn most from failure.  That may be true, but when does the learning end, and the being begin?
Though I haven’t blogged for two months, I’m feeling a little sad now, this being the last one. Big thanks to Antoine, Rob, Libby, and also web-masters Sasha & Daniel. And, of course, to you, whoever you are, for reading.  I’ll miss you all.