I have been working hard on my book these past months and have finally begun to put it together! By that I mean, I have a stack of 88 pages of my first draft! I’ve dreamed my whole life of writing a book, and now it is becoming real between my fingers.
Right now I am focusing on the combination of Vincent’s narrative (excerpts from the newest translation of his letters printed in an amazing font based on his handwriting) and my narrative (journal entries about art and Vincent), and I will bring in my research in the second draft. Mostly because I am on a roll! I am finally putting my words next to his, and like a weaver, I watch the themes emerge from the entwined threads: doubt, depression, lost love, poverty — yes, but also faith in nature, distrust of society, an ardent desire to become a conduit of love, to spread beauty with our art and thus, discover the truth at humanity’s core.
I am moving along our lifetimes chronologically: from 20 to 26 years old in my life, and from 27 to 37 years old in his life. It takes a lot of organization of over 700 hundred pages of text.
A mentor of mine pointed out years ago that I like to start big with my projects, and then edit, cut, and sculpt away the excess until I am left with what I was really pursuing. She was totally right, of course! This is happening on a grand scale for this book, however.
These are excerpts from Vincent's letters only, doesn't even include my writing!
I have seen the pages of my book in my head many times, but only now do I hold the pieces in my hands, only now do I hold my book in my hands.
But what’s your ultimate goal, you’ll say. That goal will become clearer, will take shape slowly and surely, as the croquis becomes a sketch and the sketch a painting, as one works more seriously, as one digs deeper into the originally vague idea, the first fugitive, passing thought, unless it becomes firm. (Between 22 and 24 or June 1880 to Theo)
This quote is from the first letter of Vincent’s that is in my book. He is around 27, and is just coming to understand that he is an artist. Like me, he resisted the idea at first. I contrast this letter with my first few journal entries about him, how I was wandering around Paris at 20, “falling in love with Van Gogh” as I called him then. I must admit it’s rather charming to reread my words as I fall deeper and deeper in love with his work, farther into the cavernous depths of my research, and creatively become ensorcelled with this project and its various iterations over the past six years.
One interesting stylistic element I have stumbled upon, was how to mark edits within a letter or entry. I remembered one scrapbooking tool I had come across months before, and well… I think it works damn beautifully.
And as I sift through his words and mine for the essence of our relationship, separating the wheat from the chaff with various tools and blades, I find I am once again reaping. Vincent planted the seeds over a century ago for me to find, and now they have blossomed and lured me to my task.
The most exciting news is that, looking at my pace, my book will be ready to send out to agents by the end of the year. I originally hoped to send out the first few chapters to agents now, but after reading up on some publishing advice it’s become clear I need to have a full draft I’m proud of before I start bothering agents. Either way, I’ve got a schedule now, and it’s conservative. I might even finish sooner!
I hope you’ll forgive me for my sporadic entries in the meantime, Reader. There is little I want more in my life right now than to finish this book. It drives me onward, endlessly, and chastises me when I work on anything else.
Art is jealous and demands all our time, all our strength… (6 June 1882 to artist and friend Anthon van Rappard)
Thu, June 7 2012 » Personal, Research, Writing the Book » No Comments
I have been working away at my book, chopping up all the prints of scans for my journal (removing margins and unnecessary material) and it’s been quite time consuming! I kept wanting to update here, but also feeling the pressure of time. Here’s a view of my desk when I was in the middle of things.
You may notice my mentor sitting in the corner, making sure I’m doing good work… :) I had over 450 pages to edit and organize by date, including my personal journal from YellowEurope, which will be the backbone of my book.
I am realizing that this book will not look like anything normal whatsoever, but it will look good. Here’s how I’m organizing all my writing:
Now all this is just for my writing, but I also want to include as many quotes from Vincent’s letters as possible. Luckily, I’ve been reading his letters for years now and selecting favorite quotes to share via @Vincent_Says on Twitter and Vincent Gogh on Facebook. I have now started going through the painstaking process of organizing and selecting material from those documents, and also putting them in chronological order.
You might wonder, why organize all this material? The structure of the book will be such that it alternates between my journal excerpts (some in the form of letters addressed to Vincent) and excerpts from Vincent’s letters. I also want to throw in my research from various sources about him: biographical, art historical, scientific and mythological breakdowns of him and his work. One of my ambitions has always been to show all the sides of Vincent that I can, in order to look through that prism and perhaps get a glance at the truth of him.
All this means that Time will be the most complex element for the reader, as she or he bounces between periods as different as 2006 (when I first fell for Vincent), 1886 (when he first went to live in Paris), and 1936 (when his popularity began to explode). To allay any confusion, I am designing a dual timeline (almost like a double helix) with Vincent’s life and mine intertwining, yet echoing each other. The timeline will unfold in great detail at the back of the book, and there will also be a small timeline graphic on each page, marking the time from where that particular material is coming.
Why a timeline? Because Time is the land we are mapping.
Why a double helix? Because this project taught me that Time is cyclical.
Here’s my first draft (from October 2009!), where I graphed Vincent and my life side by side, time vs. personal fulfillment:
I know it’s small on this page, so click on the graphic (and then click on it again) and you will get the close-up version. Admittedly, all of Vincent’s mental collapses are not on this graph, but I did the best I could on the fly. Next up, I will take an updated version of this graph and turn it into a double spiral timeline for the book (vertical happiness will be translated into radial happiness). I don’t know how much all this will make sense to you Reader, but I had to at least try to tell you my plans, no?
Next week, I will start sending query letters to publishing houses. Gah! Wish me luck!
For now, I must return to the realm of words. Thus, as a parting gift: the sunflower in snow, only a few block from my apartment in Chicago.
Until next time…
Thu, February 23 2012 » Personal, Research, Writing the Book » No Comments
It has been too long. I wanted this entry to tell you that I have scans of all my writing about Vincent in my hands, that the truly creative work has begun. Unfortunately, my patience has been tested these past two months in the scanning of hundreds of documents, the resizing and cropping, the two printing companies that said they would not print my project, and the three rounds of reformatting as each company has their way of doing things. A week ago I thought I would have to rescan every document; I felt a kind of mental claustrophobia that I can’t remember ever feeling before. I finally settled on ordering about half my scans, and fixing the images and re-ordering as necessary.
I so desperately want to get to the meat of things, but the grunt work must come first. Only today I remembered Vincent’s frustration during the early years of his career as an artist, when he was mostly teaching himself (with a few mentors here and there) how to draw and paint… It continues to be so very remarkable to me how our thoughts mirror each other from over a century away.
But then I loathe myself so much for not being able to do what I’d like, and at such moments one feels as though one is bound hand and foot, lying in a deep, dark pit, powerless to do anything. Now it’s over, inasmuch as I got up last night and pottered around a bit, putting one thing and another in order… (26 January 1882 to Theo)
Yes. These are the highs and lows of creativity — confidence and passion sometimes drives you to utter despair when things won’t work. I’ve begun to recognize my own phases now, which helps even them out. But now, I’d like to share a little something from the book with you.
Three pieces of paper reappeared in my life after an over two-year state of tucked-away-ness in a plastic bag with all the museum maps, tickets, and other paraphernalia I collected in YellowEurope.
But these words were written before that trip: the night before I reached Chicago, the day I left New York City for Vincent. New York had taught me more than I ever imagined, but to start my own theatre company, to produce my own work, I knew it was too rich for my meager wages. I left many things I adored behind, including my financial independence, to come to Chicago, live with my parents for a year and make Vincent’s Yellow happen. That is what I mean when I write to Vincent that I left New York City for him.
I hadn’t read these words of transition since I wrote them. When I read them aloud a few weeks ago, I began to cry. Not because of the memories – I hadn’t actually read the letter yet! I cried because even then I did not realize I was in Holland.
It was Holland, Ohio, yes — not Amsterdam where I would arrive five weeks later — but Vincent was already with me. Could Holland be a state of mind? I’ll be meditating on that. Here’s taste number two of my book.
My goal is to have put the first chapter together by the end of the year. My plan is to start publishing the book online for free for a limited time, if possible, while I’m pursuing book publishers. I’m toying with the idea of transforming this website into the book itself. If online, the book will be released in segments, in the style of Dickens. If you are reading this now, I hope you will also enjoy reading the book for free within the next year!
~~~~~~~VAN GOGH POPCORN~~~~~~~
If you haven’t heard about the new biography Van Gogh: The Life, you’ve probably been living under a rock. It introduces a new theory that Vincent did not shoot himself at all, but that some mischievous boys in Auvers shot him accidentally, and that Vincent (already feeling a burden on his brother with a new family) took responsibility for the actions instead of ruining one or more of those young mens’ lives by pointing a finger.
This theory sounds quite possible to me (without having read the book yet), the motivations fit more with Vincent’s personality… However, it seems to me that the fact remains that we will never have any conclusive evidence. Once I read through the theory, perhaps I will find it to be most likely.
The truth is… we’ll never know for certain. The gun was never found. But I certainly enjoy this alternative ending, and the questioning of his death.
Perhaps this new theory will mean Van Gogh will no longer be so defined by his suicide?
One can hope.
Scans of my journal entries about Vincent are in my hands!
The time to edit has begun.
251 pages of my writing…
Creativity engine — GO!
Fri, November 11 2011 » Personal, Popular Culture, Research, Writing the Book » No Comments