For the past year, I’ve been at work on a novel tentatively titled Stella Vero. In an earlier post, I gave the title as The Snake Mother; Naked At Last, but as much as I liked that first title, it really had nothing to do with the story. I see Stella Vero as the third and last of a related group of novels that are spaced about 20 years apart in their composition. The first was Death At The Flea Circus, written circa 1968-72 and published in 2011 by Bottle of Smoke Press. The second is a book tentatively called Hippies, written in the 1990s but not yet published. And the third is Stella Vero, begun in late 2010 and currently about 30 pages from completion.
These three novels were written as stand-alone works, but once I got into Stella Vero I began to see common story elements and techniques that all three books share, and that make them different from all my other fiction. I think of them as “comic surrealism.” Another way to say that might be “magical realism with humor.” I’m not sure I’ll write any other books like these three once I’m done with Stella Vero, and I see them as a sort of loose trilogy.
As it now stands, Stella Vero has 129 pages in 74 short chapters. The finished manuscript will probably be about 160 pages, double spaced — a short novel by most standards. That’s about as much space as I need to do what I’m trying to do — any more would feel like padding to me.
I’ve been taking it very slow writing this latest novel. I do an average of one chapter per week, each chapter being 2 to 3 pages long. I’m not planning ahead much, plot-wise, although I have a vague idea of what happens at the end and a few things that may happen along the way. My approach has been not to over think the book, not to fuss it to death. I mull over the next chapter at odd moments during the week, and then sit down and write it in one sitting on a Friday or Saturday, spending an hour to an hour and a half on each chapter. I’m not doing any major rewriting, just giving a quick reread of the last chapter and fixing typos and clumsy wording as I find it.
This slow-paced approach to novel writing is working well for me — at least for this book — and it’s pretty much the way Hippies and Death At The Flea Circus were written, although the later went through at least three drafts. I’m certain I wouldn’t have known how to write Stella Vero had I not re-read Death At The Flea Circus several times during proofreading prior to its publication. I discovered (or remembered) techniques I’d used in the first book and later forgotten that opened things up for me with Stella Vero. Before that, I’d been thinking about the book for about 5 years, but had no idea how to start it, or where to go with it. Death At The Flea Circus gave me license to do whatever I felt like doing, and it proved that I could do that and still create a valid work of literature. It freed me up, creatively. So had Bill Roberts not offered to publish Death At The Fleas Circus when he did, Stella Vero would not now be nearing completion. Chances are, I would still be fumbling around with it, making false starts over the past year instead of cranking out over 100 pages of what feels like decent fiction.