Catbird Press - Floyd Kemske -- Notes on Draft 2

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Catbird Press -- Draft 2
Ongoing Fiction Editing Project -- Floyd Kemske


Notes on Second Partial Draft

First of all, this draft reads very well, with several minor exceptions. It is the most compelling novel you've written so far, the hardest to put down, but there's still a lot of humor, about people and the corporate world. The historical chapters are especially intriguing, and the book is paced and structured well. You've made some important changes since the first partial draft, but I don't think you've gone far enough. Most of what I have to say is an echoing or extension of what I said about the earlier draft.

I still feel that too much action is based on the supernatural rather than on the characters. Pierce still has too many powers, especially his apparent ability to read minds and to pop up everywhere. More than anything, I think the problem here is one of doing too much: you're writing both a vampire novel and a management novel. The more you are able to merge these two, the better the novel will hold together. The reader shouldn't know whether he's reading a business novel or a vampire novel; it should work as an unnoticeable hybrid. So far, the novel works pretty well, but if the two strands aren't sufficiently developed together, it will be very difficult to pull them together at the end. The result will be a standard vampire-novel ending with lots of loose corporate strings and missed corporate opportunities.

You should keep asking yourself: is this supernatural element necessary, is it interesting, does it get in the way of other elements in the novel (a balancing process), and can I keep it consistent throughout the novel? For example, does Pierce have to be able to read people's minds or can he simply be a manager who, through experience, can rationally anticipate some of his employees' reactions? Is it interesting that he has the power to read minds? Does it make him a better manager, or does it make him a super-manager in the virtual boss mode? And if he can read employees' minds, can anyone ever surprise him? Will this create more limitations than possibilities in the plot? Did you choose to do this because it becomes necessary for Pierce to read someone's mind later in the story? If this is your plan, what are you giving up to get it? Credibility? Consistency?

The same thing goes for more important matters, such as Pierce's biting of people to get their ideas. Of course, the question of whether it is necessary doesn't come up, because it's a central concept. It's definitely interesting, but does it work to have Pierce biting geniuses and then choosing Jacqueline, who's got pretty trendy MBAish ideas Pierce could find on the bestseller list, and then a secretary who reads Anne Rice novels? There simply aren't many new ideas going around corporate hierarchies; the ideas are to be found more among the scientists (and among the few business school PhDs who write original books; by the way, I didn't buy into Pierce's comment about "big ideas and small corporations" in the past, with "small ideas and big corporations" now; there are still lots of big ideas and great strides, and the limited-liability corporation was itself a nineteenth-century idea). Does Pierce not want to make the scientists into vampires, because that would make them less efficient (as he learned in Leeds, and because it would be draining (sic) to deal with becoming a vampire, to lose the desire to come up with one's own ideas, and to spend so much time and energy feeding on others' ideas)? Perhaps a compromise would be to have Pierce taste ideas without turning their owners into vampires; a bite that would not be deadly, a bite that could, in fact, be a form of management, creating a connection that would make Pierce seem special to the one bitten, as someone with whom one has had sex seems special (and we know that many managers use sex or at least sexual tension to keep employees under their control; but note that this often backfires). It doesn't really have to be supernatural control, the way Dracula controls his victims. (And speaking of sex, is Pierce supposed to be attracted to Lowell's company because of the prospect of all those young women? Is he after more than ideas?)

Getting back to biting Jacqueline: you do a lot of supernatural gameplaying when you have her bitten in Pierce's office, have her body found in her apartment, and then have Pierce sneak her body out of the coroner's office. Wouldn't it be even more effective, and less straining of credibility and space in the novel, to have Pierce taste her idea, have her moan, and then have her start to act differently toward him (less aggressive, out to please rather than to challenge)? Of course, this would change a lot of the first part of the novel: there'd be no reason for Norman to call in the police, but that sort of "No one believes me, and the bad guy is making me out to be a junkie" stuff has been done so much in TV dramas, I don't think it adds anything. I think focusing on people's reactions to the takeover, creating an environment of fear of what will happen next, upon which Pierce can prey, adding some fear of his own, would be much more interesting.

In the early stages of the novel there's a lot of plot that, upon further examination, I think you'll find to be less necessary and important than you originally thought. This is where the management/vampire dichotomy becomes important: if the novel is first and foremost a management novel, then whether or not Jacqueline dies is of no importance whatsoever. Even if it is equally a management and vampire novel, is all the plotting worth moving Jacqueline up in the organization? Of course, it also lends itself to making Norman stay away from home for a night, but that really doesn't seem to be too important to Gwen, who completely trusts him (to the point of incredulity). And it, too, strains credibility: why wouldn't Pierce have let Norman go home earlier? Why would Pierce want Norman to be put in such a difficult position with his wife? I suppose he's arrogant, and it could be argued that he wants to cut Norman off from his support network by making everyone doubt what he would say. But I don't think it would make a serious difference to the plot if Norman were to go home a half hour after the bite and if the police were never brought in. And it would definitely save the novel from too much unnecessary repetition, such as Norman calling in to say he'll be home late, he'll be in early (this repetition also gets in the way of some of the more humorous repetition, such as with the children's meals, language, and TV habits). These calls also strain credibility as well as patience. In short, I think it would be better if the Pierce-Jacqueline relationship would appear to be hanky-panky in the ancient corporate style, but with lots of mystery surrounding it and with the mystery that scares Norman being not so primarily Jacqueline-related but also related to other scary occurrences, including Pierce's style and the actual disappearance of executives, perhaps, and/or the frightening speed of the re-engineering, and/or the sudden change in the company's direction, and/or massive layoffs, and, of course, what he perceives to be his growing role as pimp to Pierce's desires (if he continues to go after women; or, of course, he could be bi). In summary, I think there's too much weight on all that derives from Jacqueline being bitten to death. There are some more ideas below, in the what-to-cut paragraph.

Management: You've created a vampire manager/takeover artist, but then you have done little with either management or taking over a company. There is a little about Pierce's management theories and propensities, but I don't think there's enough in the present-day chapters. And as I've said above, there is far too little about how the people are reacting to the takeover, and there is little about what the company was like and what it is becoming (although the latter, I assume, will be more of a focus in the latter part of the novel). Pierce's management of Norman is a little heavy on the supernatural and, toward the end of this section, on intimidation as a tool, but it is otherwise effective. His management of others and of the company of the whole, however, is much too sketchy. I assume that his theories will grow as the novel progresses and as we learn more about his historical experiences that form the basis for his theories, but I must remind you that it is important to put these things together and not leave it completely to the reader to pull together the historical theories and experiences with the present-day actuality. Most readers, as well as most reviewers, will miss a lot of what you're trying to do.

In this first part of the book, Pierce seems to be depending too much on finding business ideas in the company, which makes him both unprepared, even though he's been through more reorganizations than anyone, and naive, if he believes there will be any managers with ideas he doesn't already know. Which brings me back to an idea I've already mentioned: the rationality of his biting the scientists for real ideas, but the concern about making them vampires. There might be answers in the latter part of the novel, but it doesn't seem necessary, or interesting, to me to have Pierce turn corporate types into vampires. He just needs to manage them. It makes being a vampire too serious and gives up some wonderful ironies and games you could play with a vampire manager who doesn't go the usual vampire route. What you have is a setup for a vampire novel, but not for a vampire management novel.

As usual, all of what seems like filler the Norman/Gwen relationship, the Ackerman suicide, the big-hair contest, etc. is excellent. It's here that your work always sparkles the most, and this humor contrasts well with the more serious or darkly humorous historical chapters as well as with the horror that grows within Norman. Which brings me to the horror growing in Norman: I think it grows a little too quickly and a little too blatantly. I discussed this a little above, in terms of his going to the police and being unbelievable. There's simply too much evidence of the supernatural too quickly (see the next paragraph for a major example). I'd prefer to see this develop more slowly, with fewer sudden appearances and dark rooms. In fact, I don't quite understand why Pierce works only at night. I like the fact that it's just a matter of taste, but in a crisis, or for a change, it would be nice to have Pierce show up during the day as well (something you may have planned for a little later). It just makes the scheduling a little extreme and overwhelming. Why not simply have early meetings, but after dawn, so Pierce doesn't have to deal with too much light? The darkness stuff has been so overdone by others, this would be refreshing, and would not change things at home for Norman, only make them a little more believable and a little less central to the book.

My example of too much too soon is Norman's first meeting with Pierce: he's in a dark room on a dark floor, he uses a red pen, he doesn't shake Norman's hand, he looks ageless, he wears a scarlet tie, he has eyes like dried blood, he says, mysteriously, that Pressman is permanently absent, his name is Pierce, there's the stuff about eviscerating a frog (which I like), he gets rid of everyone before anyone knows anything (implying that they were killed), he stares into Norman's soul, he's got a blank piece of paper (good that it seems ominous but turns out to be routine; but it's still a part of the ominousness at this point), he knows exactly what to say to Norman even though he knows nothing about him and has only just met him and knows only that he's nervous as hell, not that he isn't married to his job, he talks about "primitive desire for mastery over others" and a night shift for management, he says that he's only available at night, and when Norman leaves the dawn arrives. This is just too much to start off the novel; please consider dropping some of the little things as well as Pierce's working all night and only at night, and his mind-reading.

I don't like the way Pierce calls non-vampires "human beings." It's not a matter of species, as Norman jokes, but a matter of disdain. "People" will do, I think. Or come up with an original construction, such as "livers" (lilylivers?). See page 121 for your own effective use of the word "people."

Does Cheryl have to be so erudite? Can't she say the same things in a different way? Or could you at least have her have a masters in English, but have found it impossible to get a job that would leave her the time and energy to write the great American novel, so she's secretarying (but then you'd have to consider having her give up her hair competition, unless it's just her way of fitting in or being camp)? The way it is now, it's you rather than her who's camp. You're too good a writer for camp.

I think Chapter One is too long. Consider breaking it after Jacqueline smiles at Norman at the bottom of page 22.

If Pierce came to Montgolfier because of his brilliant ideas, why did Pierce wait years to bite him? Whom did Pierce live on in the meantime? One answer could be that Pierce tasted Montgolfier pint by pin, letting him live and come up with new, refreshing ideas. Only when Montgolfier was doomed did he take all of his blood, and move on. And what happened to the other Montgolfier brother? And how could Pierce have survived a year without blood? Some idea he must have swallowed! Finally, if Montgolfier was such a progressive who cared about people, why wasn't he on the side of the Revolution? By the way, at Princeton Architectural Press I edited a book by the author of The Montgolfier Brothers and the Invention of Aviation, and a few years earlier I had recommended the Montgolfier book as a Christmas gift in my books column! Small world.

If Pierce knew he would start plagues of revenants, why would he ever kill anyone without staking them, except under unusual circumstances? A plague gets people looking for a cure! Also, does someone bitten have to turn into a vampire when they die? Could the vampire choose which of his victims to allow to become a revenant? I don't see why biting alone would do it; there's certainly a history of biting and living. Couldn't the depleted person simply die? Then Pierce could start a plague only when he planned to leave the country, that is, to be cruel and unaffected. This would also solve the problem that occurs in the U.S., where he would have made an entire nation of revenants. By the way, is "revenant" the current vampire coinage? I'd never heard it before, but then I haven't kept up with vampires, and I've never read Anne Rice. It sounds pretentious to me.

Suggested Cuts: pages 34-37; 46-49 (which could be replaced with everyone shocked at how differently Jacqueline is acting, almost as if she were in love); 62-67 (which could be replaced by Norman talking to himself or to Gwen about what constitutes sexual harassment and how it affects both parties, since both Jacqueline and Pierce are acting very strange; the cop scene is funny and you might try to fit it in later; I just think it's too early for Norman to go this far, especially if you don't kill Jacqueline off); 68-74 (which could be replaced with a scene where Pierce "admits" to the mutual attraction between him and Jacqueline, which I think would work better than a cover- up); 94-97 (which could easily be replaced by a similar conversation based not on the disappearance of Jacqueline's body, but rather on the way she was acting and on what people are saying about Pierce; the conversation might be even funnier like that); 110- 113 (Pierce's appearance at Norman's home; couldn't he just knock at the door?; it's pretty intimidating to show up unannounced at an employee's home; Norman could tell Gwen that Pierce was gaining a reputation as a vampire, preying on women, sucking the company dry; he doesn't have to believe he's a revenant this quickly).

Some little things:

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