I am at Rockvale Writers Colony again, working (as ever) on Medea on the Bayou. I am in the Giles Hill room, which has a four poster bed with curtains, tasteful furnishings including a wonderful antique writing desk, and a huge bathroom and wardrobe. It has been a lovely quiet week, and I’ve gotten both writing and revising done. Maybe not nearly as much as I would have liked (it always takes a little while to adjust to being in a “room of my own”) but I am pleased with my progress overall. What I really need right now is a beta reader (or two!)—someone who can give me real, structural-level and poem-level critique. I’m not sure what the book needs right now. I have some thoughts about how to make it more Louisiana-ish, but it’s unclear what the book needs to actually be good.
Look, I know I have a confidence issue, but this isn’t that. My concerns have more to do with how individual poems work as poems. Sometimes it feels like they are really just prose in disguise. And that’s problematic for a number of reasons:
- This is meant to be a novel-in-verse. Emphasis on verse. I don’t want to write prose.
- Prose is fine as a thing, but the world doesn’t need a novelized version of Medea. (But to be honest, I’m not sure the world needs a book of poems about a play that was already written in verse.)
- If I’m not writing poetry, what the hell have I spent the last 3 years doing? (I guess it’s possible that I’ve written another hybrid piece… and we know how well loved those are (not).
Anyway, you can see my dilemma. For the most part, these poems haven’t seen the light of day (though I’ve sent many out, and even published a dozen of them) so I don’t know if they are working. By the fact that so many of them have been rejected, one could say “they’re probably not working, JC.” Or maybe they just don’t work as stand-alone poems. Which is altogether another problem. I want them to work as stand-alone poems, but sometimes you need exposition, and exposition isn’t very poetic.
The thing I tell my students about writing adaptations is that you have to honor the original source, but in the end the adaptation is a new piece of writing and it’s only about itself I’m trying to do that; I honor Appolonius of Rhodes and Euripides by recreating scenes from The Argonautika and Medea, but I’m also adding new characters and new scenes and new information so that readers get a fuller image of Medea as a person. And I’m also trying to maintain a strong narrative voice. How well I’m succeeding, I can’t be for sure. But I’m trying.
One of the ladies I’ve met here at the colony (Jen Knox, check out her new book, We Arrive Uninvited, available as a signed copy here) read What Magick May Not Alter, which I had left a copy of the last time I was here. She said she liked it (yay!) especially because of its strong narrative voice. And I think that’s true about WMMNA—it does have a strong voice and it’s good with character development—but then it should be, because I invented everything.
Here with Medea, I’m not sure I’m delivering on the promise of creating something new and I’m not sure about the narrative voice. She’s already a known quantity as a character—am I revealing something fresh about her by writing about the early part of her marriage (as well as the plot of the play), or am I just…wasting readers’ time? I ask myself: why should anyone read my Medea when Euripides’ play is so perfect? My go-to answer—“Because I wrote it”—is not what you’d call a particularly compelling response. Do I think that someday professors teaching a classics and adaptations class will teach my book (this is assuming it finds a publisher)? Not particularly. But it would be really cool if they did, right? Who’s the audience? People who like poetry and people who like Medea for sure…but is there a broader audience for it? What if there isn’t?
I’m not sure what’s brought on this little crisis of faith. I think it’s because I’m seeing the whole collection (it’s about 96% done) together finally and I’m worried that if it doesn’t work as a collection (or if it’s prose-in-disguise), then I will have wasted my precious writing time writing something that isn’t worth a damn. Well, ok, it’s worth at least a single damn, but you know what I mean.
I am afraid I might have another albatross around my neck. Last year, I didn’t sell one copy of WMMNA—not one single, solitary copy. (In fact, Madville took a net loss of two copies, which were apparently returned.) I don’t want Medea to be in the same situation. I want her to find an audience. I want people to know her as someone besides a child-killer. I think my book shows her in a rich full way…I think. (But what if it doesn’t?)
Anyway, that’s where I am with this project. I say I’m 96% done because I have a few plot holes that need to be addressed, but I think the collection—whatever it is—is really coming along. (There’s still revising to do, which drops my percentage down to 46% done, but I’m working on that too.)
In other news, tomorrow is Mother’s Day (probably not Medea’s favorite holiday), so make sure that you tell your Moms how much you love them. They do so much for us—mine is perfect—and they love us just as we are. Even when what we are is a confidence-lacking, attention seeking, desperate-to-be-adored-by-the-masses writer of poetry.
P.S. The cats are Rockvale’s super-sweet barn cats. (Doesn’t it figure that’s what I’d take photos of?)