I’m not going to post updates every single day of my Moshfegh-inspired, Watt-oriented 90-Day Rewrite, but today, Day Two, I thought I’d share that I gave Day One a solid effort and ended up filling several pages in my journal. I short-answered the eleven questions about the coming week’s goals, and I filled in the blanks on the three-act template/outline provided by Watt. And I gotta admit, I understand this book and what I’m trying to say in it with newfound clarity.
As Watt predicts, my current draft already has a three-act structure (that I wasn’t, until now, thinking of as such) and, as he says to shush his naysayers, of course it need not be told in order (mine sure isn’t). But to be aware of the beginning, middle, and end of the story you’re telling about a character can at the very least help you better realize what they’re thinking and feeling in each of their scenes (which are, in my book, scattered and fragmented within essays. But for my 90 Days, I’m not worrying about the essays). These 90 days ahead are simply helping to structure my final pass, before sending to Ampersand to print-and-ship, and I’m focusing for now just on the fiction, on the tea house woman’s story, on making sure I’ve brought her to life as best I can. Because despite the fragmentation of her narrative, this book—the third of the series—marks a significant departure from my first two: it’s stark realism, there’s no magic in sight, and instead there is a decaying house, a shit-bottomed dying father who no longer recognizes her, a revolving door of unimpressive lovers doing too little to distract from the sadness of this or the stress of inheriting a failing family business our woman never wanted in a town unable to maintain and retain its young people.
In the current draft, we meet the tea house woman in bed with a young lover. The next time she appears, we’ve flashed back several days to an awkward confrontation with her ex. Next, she’s giving the eulogy at her father’s funeral (some time after hooking up with the young lover). Later that night, she’s drunk in a bar. In the morning, she makes breakfast for a new lover she’s picked up in the bar. And then she’s alone.
Obviously, there’s more to it than that, but those are the basic points along the way. Moving forward, here are a few of Watt’s questions for today, and my thought-answers after yesterday’s discoveries:
1. Does the reader understand clearly why this day is unlike any other? Not yet. But I have no problem adding that it’s New Year’s Day, her father’s dead, she’s in bed with his nurse, and she doesn’t want him to stay but she also doesn’t want him to go, because until today her house has been filled with friends, neighbors, and New Year’s Eve revelers (attending the masked ball she opted not to cancel so as to celebrate her father’s life and her family’s longstanding NYE bal masque tradition).
2. Does the reader understand the dilemma? Is it universally relatable? Not yet. But if the answers above provide the facts of the story, then the tea house woman’s feelings about these details will be what helps readers relate. And the specific dilemma—which exists currently but isn’t apparent—is that even though she isn’t interested in love or marriage or children, her first marriage well behind her and with enough problems of her own now let alone someone else’s, she wanted to at least send her father off with the belief that she wouldn’t die alone. His fear, not hers. But she wanted to relieve him of it. Do we live for ourselves or for our parents? Our own happiness or our family’s? I think that’s universal enough, no? Not to mention exes that won’t go away.
3. Is there crucial information that still needs to be revealed? Yes. Even though I’m not going to reorder my story to make it chronological, I can still make it much clearer where we are in the story. The morning we meet her in bed is New Year’s Day. On Christmas Eve, she went to her ex’s for dinner despite her reservations. That night, when she gets home, her father’s dead. She spends Christmas day waking and taking away from their own families the people in town who can attend to his body—reverend, undertaker, etc. These people encourage her to cancel the annual NYE ball, but she insists it’s tradition (tradition, the thorn in her paw from the moment we meet her in this book, v. previous). Dec 30, she eulogizes her father/goes to a bar/hooks up with an out-of-towner home for the holiday, makes her breakfast. That day, Dec 31, she’s fully absorbed with all the last-minute prep for the ball (she’s dressed as Catherine the Great), and during the dancing her father’s nurse finds her, sad and lonely himself, and in the morning he’s still in her bed. That night, in bed alone, her house is dark, empty, silent. Happy new year.
And a change I still have to make, which I’ve known for a while: the tea house woman is a quarter Asian (the other quarters are Russian, Hungarian, and French). The racial identity essay around this character edit also needs to be revised. I’ve never written Asian characters. Everyone I know has read my tea house woman as Asian all this time. I never thought she was Asian. People think I’m joking. In Different Racisms, adoptee-like-me Matthew Salesses writes about his own journey of not writing Asian characters, then writing biracial Asian characters, then finally writing Asian characters. I’m still working on figuring this out for myself. Maybe when I finish this book, I’ll be a little closer.