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Master of Fine Arts (M.F.A.)
Year Degree Awarded
Month Degree Awarded
short, deuce, cull, claw, pram, warp
April 6, 2007
I submitted the first draft of this final project to Sabina Murray’s workshop in the fall of 2004. I was mainly concerned with narrative then. I wanted the story to move. I wasn’t interested in writing as much as providing a framework. I told myself, there’ll be time enough for writing, the creative kind—keep the flourishes to a minimum for now. The result was an outline with flimsy characters sifted in. Workshop feedback suggested the same. (Sabina also caught a malapropism I’ve not been allowed to forget: I described a character’s long legs as like those of a gelding. I meant yearling, I think. We all had a laugh. In a draft before this final project version Sabina snagged another one: ‘braying’ used when ‘rearing’ was intended. For a lobster.) I didn’t work much on that first draft for the next year, focused as I was on short stories. (During that time I planned on submitting a collection as my final project. I had six or seven that I thought were pretty fit and worth more work.) In the spring of 2006 I went at the novel more consistently. By the summer I was working on it daily, which has more or less been the case since. The basic narrative of the second attempt was the same: guy leaves corporate job to work on lobster boat on Cape Cod, meets many characters in that insular world, one of whom may be hauling other lobstermen’s pots. Guy also has love interest. Through that narrative I meant to explore the development of D.L., who saw himself as a lost, alienated 30-year-old with potential but unable to fit in anywhere. His journey from New York, the site of his two most recent failures, to Orleans would yield new and different perceptions. I like the idea that a protagonist continues to do what he/she’s always done until circumstances of the narrative prompt change. D.L. was meant to see that many of his problems existed only in his head.
I read Dostoyevsky’s The Double in David Lenson’s Individualism and its Discontents course (spring 2005). It got me thinking again about self consciousness. I didn’t intend for D.L. to descend into paranoid madness like Golyadkin but The Double served as an example of how I might explore D.L. more than I had on the first go round. Changing perception was the broad theme to work through the narrative. I would fill D.L. out more, lend him more introspection. The challenge seemed to be in gauging when and how much the story should be in his head. I started doing an end around. I thought I could introduce new perceptions through other characters. Hence Jack’s early talk of cliffs moving. In previous iterations, D.L. ruminated more on that non sequitur. He was talking to himself and it seemed too obvious: Was Jack saying my problems were in my head?
Another concern is that D.L.’s thoughts often felt and still do at times feel like commentary. The scene in Wellfleet, which is mostly dialogue between D.L. and Suzie, is an example. Dreamlike moments—the cliffs, high tide flowing as a river down Jack’s street, D.L.’s faux dream, Jack’s real dream, even H. erectus walking among us—are attempts to create more of D.L.’s world, to create more of a feeling. To whatever extent those moments are effective, I think there should be more. My biggest concern with this effort is that there’s still too much dialogue. I don’t know if I’ve lost some creative vigor or if the paucity of literary prose is a result of the process, particularly the initial narrative concern of wanting to keep the story moving. Or something else. But I’ve felt less natural, less like myself as a writer throughout much of the process of writing this novel.
I handed over a new draft to committee this past winter. Feedback included concerns over the dialogue itself, that the characters weren’t moving while talking, weren’t described enough; missing connective tissue between chapters; problems with moving around in time rather than taking a more linear approach; and too much in the way of lobstering details.
These are the areas I’ve focused on since. Switching to linear time has made a big difference, I think. I’ve worked on movement and dialogue but there are still long chunks in which characters are talking more than doing (as related to above creative concerns).
Lobstering details have been a concern from the start as I didn’t want this to be Lobstering 101, but also because it can clog the narrative. I’ve often struggled with feeling the need to include information that isn’t necessary and gets in the way. It’s a tough habit to break for me but I think I’ve gotten better in that regard in my years in the program, particularly with short stories, in which more concision is a requirement because of space.
The pages that follow are a considerable improvement from that first draft of 2004. I see this as the first half of the novel. I imagine the second half will be about as long. I’m not crazy about the title but I have a scene in mind at or near the end that makes sense of it. ‘Thin water’ is clear water, not turbid.
- Jeremy Church