Catbird Press - Floyd Kemske -- Notes on Draft 1

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Catbird Press -- Draft 1
Ongoing Fiction Editing Project -- Floyd Kemske


Notes on Draft of First Sixty Pages
4/6/94

I definitely think this novel has a lot of possibilities. For one thing, it has some perfect setups for the sort of good lines that make your writing so much fun to read. For another thing, it certainly looks at a different sort of corporate culture as well as another way to make a company more efficient and effective. For yet another thing, you create a perfect situation for your protagonist to be caught between his fears and his need to succeed and be respected. But it's going to be very difficult to preserve a balance here between corporate satire, Norman's plight, and science fiction. I will be that little conscience up in your head that keeps reminding you to keep the science fiction to a minimum, that is, to make the least amount go the longest way, and to let the rest of the action come about through the characters rather than through their supernatural powers. I think it will be fresher and funnier that way, and I think it will make the expected scenes the bites, the stake that much more effective. Choice and moderation are all. Choice and moderation are all. Choice and moderation. Choice. Moderation.

Following are a bunch of comments, responses, questions, and ideas:

I don't think you should start in so quickly with Pierce, at least not acting so much like a vampire; set the scene first, have the employees interact and talk about the hostile takeover and their fears (vampires play on fears; you can set this up in the beginning by getting into some of the characters' fears); you can also set up fun about hostile takeovers and the way new management often bleeds a company; have some corporate fun with this first, so that when it becomes serious it's also sort of fun

When Pierce finally bites Jacqueline, it doesn't need to be quite so vampirey; again, perhaps you could set Pierce up as someone who seems to be a lady's man, perhaps even makes some sexist comments; and then when Norman brings Jacqueline in, Pierce can be offensive to her, talking to her the way an 18th-century noble might speak to the daughter of one of his peasants, but modernized in terms of language; then when Pierce strikes, it seems to Norman that it is an incredibly blatant case of sexual harassment, and he feels that it's so shocking he can't do anything to stop Pierce (he might even decide that if he does, Pierce will fire him), and therefore he turns away and is happy that Jacqueline only moans a bit and doesn't scream, because if it was something too awful she'd scream bloody murder

I don't like to see Pierce so superhuman. Buying out a company, biting people, coming into the office only at night, all that's fine; but he doesn't need to know everything that's going on and he doesn't need to actually be able to paralyze; he should be able to do it by manipulating people, by using weak people who easily become paralyzed themselves; he should be especially clever, but nothing more

I think the bind you plan to put Norman in is very central to both the novel's humor and drama, and you'll have to be more careful with it than you have planned. Nothing is more boring and frustrating to a reader than a protagonist's constant wavering between the same things. It loses both its humor and its drama very quickly. Therefore, you need to conserve it (choice and moderation), to bring it in only when most appropriate. For example, I think the scene at the police station is really unnecessary and is, in any event, premature; Norman hasn't even really realized the bind he's in, and neither has the reader. But see below, where I suggest a completely different bind.

I like the idea that Norman is attracted to Pierce because he is the best manager he's ever had, but you'll need to show why Pierce even bothers with Norman. And you'll have to be careful not to make Norman's relationship with him too much like Gene's with Cynthia in "Lifetime Employment": where he admires Pierce's power and forthrightness and where he is a combination of afraid and proud that he's noticed and trusted. I like what you say about Pierce's reasonableness; focus on that: that he is absolutely unpolitical, unemotional, and analyzes everything about the company precisely, clearly, and correctly. In fact, most of the employees (the rational-leaning ones, the ones that are good and tired of politics, politics, politics) could be taken with Pierce's rationality, which leads to the principal change in the corporate culture: from emotional politics to rational work. More than becoming vampires, it could be this that changes the company. After all, Pierce isn't as much after the employees' blood as he is after the company's products, and he wants the employees to develop them faster, more efficiently. I think you don't need so many night employees; in fact, Pierce's principal reason for making many of his employees vampires might simply be to change hot, emotional politickers into cold, rational workers, and to create a happy, effective night shift. In fact, would Pierce really want too many vampires? That way, there'd be enormous internal demand for the blood products (or whatever) BioMethods is producing (and what are those products? manmade blood, perhaps? what was Pierce's reason for taking over this company?). Play with the line between vampirism and corporate takeovers, and try to do as little straight vampirism as is necessary. I'm convinced it will make a much more fresh and enjoyable book. Choice and moderation.

And Pierce doesn't bite only competent people (that is, people who won't make him less than what he is; [first related paragraph in Draft 2, second related paragraph in Draft 2] I imagine that anyone would make him less than what he is); he only bites people who aren't rational, and that's why he doesn't bite Norman, because although he's weak, Norman's rational, always standing back and observing. Perhaps Pierce's reason for showing Norman so much attention is that he feels Norman's rationality needs a lot of cultivation so that it can turn into useful activity. Thus he becomes Norman's mentor, and Norman's always wanted a mentor (perhaps he was attracted to Gwen for that very reason, but she doesn't have any patience with him). Perhaps Pierce only trusts rational people and therefore must take power over or fire all others. Well, it is rational.

I think this also allows Gwen a real place in the novel, not just at the end. She could be the ultimate emotional politicker, the woman who's risen in her company solely on the basis of a feared combination of chutzpah and sangfroid (sic). Her company could be now what BioMethods had been (so you don't have to go back into BioMethods' past). Jacqueline could be a sort of little Gwen (but I'd watch it, making the leading two emotional go-getters women; why couldn't Jacqueline be a man, in any event?). And Gwen could only lose her final battle for power toward the end of the novel, at which point, having either left Norman or just ignored all that he's going through (especially his new love for reason), she applies to work at BioMethods, Inc. and Pierce finds it absolutely necessary to bite her right away, she's so irrationally pushy and self-confident.

Although I don't have an alternative handy right now, please reconsider Norman's principal act being a job search. I feel he should be focused on his company.

So, are there going to be any past chapters intermingled with the present chapter? Not that there has to be, but I was just wondering. If you're considering anything, I definitely think that Pierce's past ventures would be the most interesting, and fun. Again with vampirism in the background, and past forms of takeover or entrepreneurism (taking power!) in the foreground. Coming from England to industrialize peasants in Rumania, perhaps; taking over a revolutionary movement; or founding a colony in the New World. A historian like you could really have some fun with this.

Watch the names; it's a bit much to call the vampire Pierce, but then Jacqueline's last name, Sanger, goes over the edge; and even Norman is a bit too close to normal in the midst of all this; I much prefer neutral names, but I'm willing to accept Pierce, since it is such a normal name.

I'm not quite sure what you're getting at by having Gwen bite Norman during sex. Do you mean to say that there is only a thin line between her sort of aggressive style and Pierce's? Or is Pierce somehow possessing her from afar? Or are you just being cute? If the first, then it's a little much; if the second, then it's another sort of superhumanity I object to; and if it's the third, it's a bit too cute. But then again it might be a fourth I haven't even thought of.

Is that stuff about a vampire novel, on page 18, about Anne Rice? The part about "art stretching aesthetic boundaries" is a bit much here, especially since you're already being coyly post-modern.

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