Making Sausage

The cliché is “If you love sausage, never watch it being made.” As someone who once loved such and had seen it made on several occasions, I can attest that there’s some truth in that. Another cliché is “Scratch a writer, find a reader.” So there’s the dilemma. As readers we neither want to know nor need to know the process that produces the stories and books we love to read. Sure, there’s idle curiosity at work, but past a point, watching a writer at work is a lot like watching paint dry, without the drama. As writers, looking away during the process is not an option. Which perhaps explains why some writers never, ever re-read their own work except to review a proof, and then only under duress. I understand that. For my own part, when I’ve done something that at least approximates the vision I had of it, I don’t mind. It reminds me that now and then I get it right.

None of which changes the fact that the process can be very chaotic and messy and unpleasant. But it’s got to be done, or no sausage. For example, this was the original opening of the Lord Yamada story that was eventually published as “The Mansion of Bones.”  ( Beneath Ceaseless Skies #19) :

            The world was spinning slowly. Or at least the sky was.  It was a too-bright blue with white clouds rotating high above me. Suddenly Kenji was rotating above me too. He peered down from an impossible height, though apparently lower than the clouds, and sighed.

            “Lord Yamada! You’re finally awake. Good.”

            I groaned. If this was what “awake” felt like, I would have gladly opted for oblivion. “Where am I? How did I get here?”

            “You are at the temple on Mt.Hiei. How you got here is a  mystery, but you did manage somehow. You’ve been here three days and the good Abbot would greatly like to get rid of you. We can start by getting you back on your feet.”

            That didn’t seem likely, as it was all Kenji could do to help me sit up, and even that proved to be a mistake. I tried to be sick but apparently had nothing in my stomach to be sick with, save for a little bile. I just sat still for a few moments and waited for the world to stop turning without me.

            Now that my eyes weren’t fixed above me I could see we were in the temple gardens. I might have appreciated them more if I had been able to make my eyes focus. “What am I doing here?”

            “You don’t remember?”


            “The Abbot said you asked him to give you the tonsure.”

            I gasped and immediately put my hands on the top of my head, but the hair was still there, if a bit stiff and dirty. I let out one slow breath. “I gather he refused. I’m surprised. The abbot owes me a favor.”

            Kenji sighed. “Which is probably why he refused your request. You were falling down drunk at the time. Becoming a monk is a big decision and should be done upon sober reflection. There is plenty of time for drink afterwards,” he said.  “Can you stand?”

            “I have no idea.”

All right. Those of you who have read the story (or remember, or bother to check) will realize that this is not the way the story opens. At all. When Kenji finds him, Lord Yamada is not on Mt. Hiei, he’s at the ruins of Enfusa-ji, a long-deserted temple. And he is not on the tail-end of a bender, he’s stone cold sober and has been for weeks. In short, the lead-in took an entirely different direction from the one I’d originally thought.  So I have this fragment left over that, in some alternate universe, perhaps was the real opening to that story. But not in this one. I realized somewhere along the line that the reality of the situation was not that Yamada was continuing to fall apart, but rather that he was pulling himself together, and so this opening no longer fit.

The process is messy and inefficient, and bits sometimes fall on the floor. So there’s a reason I don’t show anyone including First Reader my rough drafts, and  most of the time it’s probably best if readers just stay out of the picture until the story’s done. For their own good and your own sanity. If you’re lucky, they’ll like what you’ve done when you’re through with it.

If you’re really lucky, so will you.

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