“Swamis” is Out There… somewhere

In the end, I just hit “send.” So, yeah, my first submission to a publisher is in the cosmic cloud, the ether; en route or already in England, sitting in the electronic in-box, just waiting to be hit upon. It’s a package, put together by their guidelines. Here is part of the package, my verbose answer to… you can just read it.

Erwin A. Dence, Jr.    Writers write, right?

“Swamis” is the novel it has taken me sixty-nine years to write, writing being the attempt to organize, or transfer, or translate random experiences and chaotic thought into some sort of comprehensible narrative; and then to edit the dogshit out of first and second and third drafts, cut out characters and side stories because they don’t move the plot, sacrifice lyrically flowing passages for something clearer; trade real or imagined cleverness for clarity.

The manuscript has become my main obsession; “Swamis” has become its own creature. I cannot write anything new without going back to ensure it is supported by everything written before it, and, when I’m not writing, whether awake or, increasingly, asleep, I cannot help thinking of subtle plot points, or little changes in dialogue that just might make the novel better.

The first time I made it to ‘the end,’ I celebrated my genius, briefly, then sent copies of the unexpurgated version to people I trust, readers and writers. Flaws in structure and logic and style were pointed out. I have taken (most of) the feedback to heart. The current version is so(oo-oo) ‘mainstream’ in comparison to the manuscript copyrighted in 2020.  

The creature has to stand on its own. I have staked a lot of what I have hoped my future in writing might be on this novel; however, I’ve never made a living writing, and I do want to hold onto some part of what I believe to be (or consider to be, or hope is) my voice.

I have a website (blog, if you insist), realsurfers.net. I started it as a memoir, stories of surfing in Southern California in the sixties and seventies. Because I have had a second life as a surfer in the Pacific Northwest, because it provides a platform on which to display my art and writing, because I just can’t help but write some commentary on shit going on in the real world, realsurfers (the material, not the web site- one page, scroll down) has evolved. 

Some outtakes from “Swamis” have appeared on realsurfers.net.

I currently write a column for the monthly, online “Quilcene Community Center Newsletter,” mostly optimistic pieces in the town I’ve lived in for the last forty-plus years; and I did have a (paid- $30 each) column in a weekly paper, “The Port Townsend Leader,” for about ten years. “So, Anyway…” was a take on life from the perspective of a blue collar family man. While most of the posts were semi-humorous and self-deprecating, having that platform gave me the opportunity to cover serious events including 9/11 and several financial downturns, again, from the working man’s perspective. I also felt compelled to write a few memorials on local people who passed on, and who otherwise might not have had their story told or their significance pointed out.      

Having a backstory for even peripheral characters in “Swamis” is important to me. I would like to present each of them as real, flawed, damaged. There are, possibly, probably too many side stories, too much exposition; these can be cut out, cut back, or simplified. 

I have written some poetry (“Reflections” was edited by “Surfer” magazine creator John Severson and published in 1968- I was seventeen, republished in 40th anniversary anthology); many short stories, some of which I put together and copyrighted as “Mistaken for Angels;” a collection of lyrics for thirty-seven songs, copyrighted as “Love Songs for Cynics.” I have written several screenplays, including “Inside Break,” “Definitely Not Dylan,” and “Near Life.” 

In one of my dream scenarios, aided by my tendency to imagine and remember words and scenes visually, I can visualize “Swamis” as a limited series. I have had several limited brushes with Hollywood.

“At That Moment” (originally titled, “Moment of Death”) was my second (attempt at a) novel.  The first hundred pages were double-spaced on a word processor, the next so many on a typewriter, the last pages in longhand, carrots and line-throughs and scribbles and all. 

Through my work as a painting contractor, I ran into a legitimate Hollywood producer. He sent “At That Moment” to an agent, who said the author is “A diamond in the rough.” Rough. This almost-connection meant, according to the producer, that if I had an idea for a screenplay, someone would read it. Hollywood-speak.

“Near Life” was my idea; a takeoff on the ‘near death experience.’ I worked on the treatment and screenplay in coordination with the Hollywood producer, and, after a short time, did not recognize what I had envisioned as a fairly simple story. 

Nevertheless, the screenplay was almost sold. The producer was waiting for an imminent call from John Travolta’s people, while I tried to concentrate on painting trim while… waiting. The difference between ‘almost’ and ‘sold’ is I am still painting houses. 

Not a bad career; you can see the results; and, if there’s a problem, it is usually solved with another coat of paint. There is a phase in the process, going around and around the house or office, touching up.  I refer this to the ‘tightening-up phase.’

I have self-published two books, “Washington State Ain’t No Fit Place to Live,” subtitled “If It Ain’t Raining the Bugs Are Eating You Alive,” complete with a cover featuring a couple posing, before and, on the back, after the eruption of Mount Saint Helens. The other book was a collection of columns entitled, “So, Anyway, So Far.” In both cases, I was successful as a publisher, not so much as the writer/illustrator. 

I came up with a cartoon strip, “Boomers.” I drew forty or more strips, wrote out the ideas and punchlines for many more. This led, after multiple phone calls, to a meeting with the cartoon editor of the “Seattle Times,” my wife and a child or two waiting in the car. I was told no one was really interested in baby boomers; that, yes it was funny, cartoon strip funny, and… good luck. A few months later, the (Pulitzer Prize winning) editorial cartoonist for the then-rival “Seattle Post Intelligencer” came out with a strip entitled, “Boomer’s Song.” It didn’t last very long.

“Swamis” is well along in the ‘tightening-up’ phase.  Thank you for your time and consideration.    

OBVIOUSLY I insist on taking my own course in things. SHIT, why do I do that? I have listened to feedback from folks who have read parts of earlier versions of “Swamis,” prompting me to make the book more linear, more mainstream. STILL, I remain stubbornly committed to keeping as many of the little snapshots of side characters in the manuscript. MY relentless review and edit process has brought out some subtleties in plot and character I just had to pursue; and, so far, for everything I cut, I add a bit of color or clarity to the part I’m polishing; and I keep thinking I can trim a few words later; and yet, the length, which I would love to have at exactly 120,000 words, just keeps holding steady at an additional three thousand.

AND NOW I get to wait for some answer from the great out there. Time. Waiting. Craziness plus… no, I have stuff to do. The buoys are still down around in the northwest surf zone, so I don’t have those to check out numerous times a day. Okay, it’s been an hour or so since I hit “send,” I should check my e-mails.

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