Explain the evolution of the book.
I had been toying with an idea of creating a Southern Mythology, similar to William Blake’s mythology. I thought the idea for this novella would be a good chance to try it out. I first sat down and sculpted a short story of about ten pages. I asked a friend to give it a read. She returned it with a note: “This should be a novella.” I had never written a novella, and honestly, I wasn’t sure I had read many.
I first investigated what a novella really is. Is it just a book that’s too long to be a short story and not long enough to be novel? No. Novellas encompass much more. But the one definite point is that there are no definite rules. There is clear definition of what one is. After reading a few articles I came up with a few guidelines that I felt would work for me:
- Novellas are about one thing
- No subplots
There was another about rule that I abandoned later as I only saw it once, and it wasn’t working well for me. Novellas, sometimes, use symbols to move the plot forward. (I think that was it.) I love symbols, so this would fit me. I simply found it too contrived to use extensively in this novella.
I decided that my novella would focus on the theme of “neediness”. How we can all be needy at times; how supporting one’s needs makes one not needy.
The first completed drafts that I felt ready for publication could be divided into two parts: what the Fates were doing, and what Mark didn’t know. The narrator (unnamed at this point) would divert the story and explain what went on in Sammy’s life while Mark was being neglectful. Sammy and his neighbor, Jon, were seducing each other. Spending time, listening to each other, doing things together.
I knew if a novella wasn’t to have a subplot, the diversions needed to focus on neediness. These scenes about Sammy involved two neighbors, Jon, the new love interest, and Ms. Ledford, an elderly woman who lived above Sammy. These scenes were constructed to explain how we can be supportive of each other’s needs without compromising ourselves. There is a lot that I love about those sections. However, after hiring a second editor to help me, I decided that these sections didn’t enhance the experience for the reader. I cut them and read it and saw that the novella was much more focused on the themes.
Yes, themes. By this time, I realized I needed to include another theme: self-reflection. This would be a minor theme but was a must. Mark couldn’t undergo any change without self-reflection. This also helped me get into the Fates more.
What of those Fates? They also went through a small transformation. Each of the Fates represents a time: Parcae, the past, Clotho, the future, and Moirae the present. They have another sister Clymene, who is the Goddess of Spirituality and became important to support the theme of self-reflection. Initially, they were a jumbled mess. I had to sit down and create the rules. Things like, when Parcae arrives in the present, she doesn’t know anything about the modern world; Moirae can’t remember things that happened in the past; and Clotho can jump around in all possible futures. This was important as I felt that freewill would be a part of a Southern mythology due to Christianity’s hold on the South. Therefore, Clotho would have to be able to see all possibilities of what would happen when we make a choice. Initially in the novella, the Fates made those choices by weaving the future in the tapestry which represented the person. Freewill needed to be stronger, so I had to change Clotho a little. She can’t remember details of the future, but knows which choices would be best to present to someone for them to choose.
All of this took place over about ten years. I’d work on it a while, set it aside, and then come back to it when the Muse instructed.
M.W. Lee has a new MM fantasy romance out: Balancing the Weave.
For Mark, Pride weekend in Yamasee County, South Carolina, means spending the day with friends, flirting with the out-of-town men, finding a romance, drinking too much, and enjoying all of Pride. However, the Fates have arrived to address a hole which appeared in the tapestry representing Mark, his past, and his present, which will direct him to the future.
Throughout the day, the Fates confront Mark with memories both pleasant and painful about his former lover Sammy. Parcae uses her goddess tools to manipulate Mark’s thoughts so he remembers fun dates, fights, issues which make him uncomfortable, and accusations of being needy. Was it Sammy’s neediness that caused Mark to end the relationship? Or was Mark the needy companion? When Sammy once said Mark ain’t needy, what did he mean?
Can the goddesses help Mark work through these memories so his self-evaluation can lead to better relationships in the future?
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Parcae stood to stretch her legs while allowing Mark time to reflect about what he just remembered while she strategized her next affront.
Mark refused to consider the significance of the memory, choosing instead to attempt to hide in sleep.
Parcae considered. It seems to me that if left alone, his memory inclines toward dishonesty. In lying to himself, he can’t or won’t learn. He needs to ask himself who he was in the relationship, but most importantly, who he was to Sammy. He needs to face this honestly.
She nosed about the room, acting like a nosy mother-in-law eavesdropping on the private conversation in the adjacent the next room.
“I wonder,” she spoke out loud to Mark, “why did Sammy date you?”
Mark though for a moment before replying, I liked his sense of humor.
Parcae sighed. “That’s you, not him.”
“You going to include dick size too, shallow man?” Parcae snapped. “I asked why he—” she stressed the he “—dated you.”
I don’t know why he dated me. We never talked about it, Mark thought, matching her snappy tone.
“Yes, you did. Remember, after you’d been dating for a couple of months, he told you.”
Mark searched for the memory without finding it, so he remained still, his mind becoming blank.
Parcae ambled about the room, swishing her crinolines, which sounded like children playing in piles of dead autumn leaves. The sound cleared the air around Mark, and he felt the pinch of crisp autumn evenings, smelled the scents of autumn, burning leaves, warm cider, and funnel cakes. Mark’s memory opened and brought him back to the first Friday in October, when he and Sammy decided on an impromptu date to ride rides, play bad carnival games, and eat junk food at the Big Seven County Fair.
A smile came across Mark’s face, which Parcae noticed and approved. Instead of allowing him to rely on his own memory to show his past, she created a vivid memory so that she could observe how the memory touched him.
“Exactly,” Parcae said. “A good memory. Good memories bring clarity to past relationships.”
Mark thought, How do they do that?
“Comparison,” Parcae said. “Who you were then compared to who you were when you broke up.”
As her crinolines swished, Mark’s memory cleared. Instead of a scene being replayed as a motion picture, the memory flashed a series of slides so that Mark experienced a photo album of their date at the fair. The view was that of the gods.
Mark observed –
Mark and Sammy laughing as Mark pressed against him on the scrambler. Sammy’s wide mouth created a half joking yet half fearful expression.
Mark commented, When the ride stopped, Sammy showed me that the mechanism hadn’t closed properly.
The next slide: Mark exaggerated a baseball pitch as he attempted the Milk Bottle Toss. Sammy stood with his hands in prayer position against his mouth with an exaggerated hopeful expression.
Mark thought, I could just be silly with him, and he’d join in.
The next slide: Both of them standing in line for the Spook House. Mark noticed his arm resting on Sammy’s shoulder, as if he were leaning on Sammy.
Mark observed, I was being affectionate but unsure because of the location. Sammy never seemed bothered.
The next slide: Mark saw them sitting at a small picnic table under a canopy at the Penniless Pig, sharing a large plate of loaded fries. The slide transformed to a motion picture.
“What were you doing on the swings?” Mark asked.
“Being silly,” Sammy laughed as he devoured some fries. “In Germany, riders get the swings to spin around, and they reach for each other, and push each other back and forth. It gets harder as the ride gets faster. I was trying to do that.”
“Is that allowed?” Mark asked.
“Don’t know,” Sammy said. “since all we do is sit, either it isn’t allowed or no one’s thought of it. But … um …” Sammy paused.
Mark noticed Sammy glancing away, smiling, embarrassed, in that special kind of embarrassment when the lover admits he likes the beloved. On the sofa, Mark recognized his heart’s increase of excitement.
“Well,” Sammy continued, “Sometimes a couple would reach out and grab hands and pull each other closer. I was attempting to be romantic.”
“Did you want to hold hands?” Mark asked affectionately, without a hint of mockery.
M.W. Lee studied English at Limestone University in South Carolina, and DePaul University in Illinois. He has led many lives, as an adjunct professor, data entry clerk, ESA teacher in Saudi Arabia. Currently, he has a new day career as an HIV case manager with the Hawaii Health and Harm Reduction Center. His personal essay, “The Sea and Debussy” appeared in the on-line journal The Scarlet Leaf Review in October 2021.
Lee works during the day and writes at night. “Balancing the Weave” is his first published novella. He enjoys reading a wide range of fiction; however, space operas, dystopian, and post-apocalyptic fiction are his favorites. He is currently writing a crime novel.
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