Lessons learnt from post-publication polishing, Part III

There’s nothing better than good old-fashioned time in a writer’s journey. We become better writers with the passage of time, and learn what our weaknesses are and how to edit our work. Excellent, experienced critique partners and the most esteemed editor in the world telling us such-and-such is awkward phrasing, an overused word, cluttery chat, overwrought prose, or infodumpy dialogue won’t mean anything if it doesn’t click in our brains. We have to see it for ourselves, not merely be told it’s a problem. Only then can we begin to understand how to improve.

Thus, I noticed a number of shortcomings while editing the second edition of Little Ragdoll. In addition to what I’ve previously mentioned, I also found:

1. Rehashing established information. We already know, for example, everything good Allen has done for Lenore since he gave her a safe place to stay when she was a 15-year-old runaway. Why be reminded of the main points every time Lenore reflects on or talks about their history together?

We also already know all the good things Father and Mrs. Murphy up in Yorkville have done for Lucine and Emeline, and how they adopted oldest sister Gemma’s birth son Giovanni after she divorced her abusive, unwanted husband and started over. There’s no need to be reminded again and again.

2. Pointless, cluttery chat adding nothing to the scene, or coming across like me putting my own viewpoints into characters’ mouths. At one point, Allen is talking about how his parents were very upset when Giovanni was adopted and taken out of their clutches, since they’d been planning to sell him for at least $1,000 on the baby black market. There’s no need to point that out when we already know how black-hearted they are and why Allen doesn’t want them coming anywhere near his kids.

In another scene, when Ernestine, Julie, and the three oldest Ryan siblings are comforting Adicia after her black-hearted, unmotherly mother coerced her into sacrificing her virginity to save her mother from returning to prison, Ernestine and Girl/Deirdre get into a discussion about the repackaging of Beatles’ albums. Though Adicia snaps at them to have this conversation later, and they apologize, it’s still really inappropriate they began discussing that during such an emotional time.

3. If a character is meant as an intellectual or someone very political, make sure that naturally flows with the overall direction of a scene or dialogue. Emeline just wouldn’t be the same Emeline if she didn’t constantly bubble over with chatter about books, philosophy, music, Eastern religions, and vegetarianism. Likewise, Girl/Deirdre, and, to a somewhat lesser extent, Ernestine wouldn’t be the same if they weren’t so tuned into politics and social issues. They have to be discussing that for a reason, not out of the blue.

4. Some dialogues and passages don’t lose anything, and are made stronger, by cutting out the fat. This goes for removing overwrought prose, too many details, unnecessary lines, rehashing established information, and polemics which sound more like the author trying to work one’s opinions in than a character naturally expressing such thoughts.

In the scene of Ernestine and the Ryans riding up to Hudson Falls from Poughkeepsie for Thanksgiving 1972, I cut out everything Deirdre said about a certain topic. Now, Adicia begs to talk about something else after she feels Deirdre’s scathing critique of this subject is finished. I similarly cut out the dialogue Ernestine and Deirdre have when revisiting this subject during baking on Christmas Eve.

5. When a story is set during a very political time, conversations of a political nature are kind of inevitable. The first time the subject of the Vietnam War is broached, it leads into Lenore hoping Allen isn’t drafted, and then turns into the girls planning what Lenore will get Allen for his upcoming 21st birthday and trying to get Lenore to admit she has a crush on Allen.

Chapter 37, “The Year the World Went Up in Flames,” is about 1968, and so it naturally follows there will be discussions about things like the presidential election, RFK’s assassination, the feminist protests by the Miss America pageant, and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Were I only starting over with this story today, I’d write certain things differently, maybe change wraparound narrative passages into active scenes. Part I in particular might be drastically different. But this is how the story came together, and I can’t alter everything in the impossible quest for perfection.

Happy 50th birthday to A Quick One!

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Image used solely to illustrate the subject for the purposes of an album review, and consistent with Fair Use doctrine

Released 9 December 1966, A Quick One was The Who’s sophomore album. From my experience in the fan community, this seems to be one of those things which is largely judged differently along sex-based lines. A lot of guys tend to hate it or think it’s junky bubblegum, while female fans are more forgiving and are even known to like it more than a little.

This isn’t one of the greatest albums of all time, but it’s not the worst either. It’s a typical 1966 album, in that there are a few hits and radio favorites padded out with a bunch of filler. For the most part, I find the filler fun and cute. One guy on the old album reviews section of thewho.net claimed he wanted to throw up every time he played it. As I said in my own review, why would someone play any album he hates so much it makes him want to throw up?

Track listing, with stars by the bonus tracks:

 “Run Run Run” (written by Pete)
“Boris the Spider” (written by John)
“I Need You” (credited to Keith but probably 90% written by John)
“Whiskey Man” (written by John)
“Heat Wave” (cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland song)
“Cobwebs and Strange” (instrumental) (credited to Keith but probably 90% written by John)
“Don’t Look Away” (written by Pete)
“See My Way” (written by Roger)
“So Sad About Us” (written by Pete)
“A Quick One, While He’s Away” (written by Pete)
“Batman”*
“Bucket T”*
“Barbara Ann”*
“Disguises”* (written by Pete)
“Doctor, Doctor”* (written by John)
“I’ve Been Away”* (written by John)
“In the City”* (written by John and Keith)
“Happy Jack”* (written by Pete)
“Man with the Money”* (cover of an Everly Brothers’ song)
“My Generation/Land of Hope and Glory”* (first part written by Pete; second by Edward Elgar)

As per the custom of the era, the album was repackaged for the American market, and retitled Happy Jack. The U.S. version removed “Heat Wave,” and added “Happy Jack” between “Cobwebs and Strange” and “Don’t Look Away.”

The album failed to chart in the U.S., though it reached #4 in the U.K. The only successful single was “Happy Jack,” which charted at #3 in the U.K. and #24 in the U.S. “Boris the Spider” became one of John’s most popular songs, one of the songs most associated with him. “So Sad About Us” also became very popular, as well as the original closing track.

By 1966 standards, “A Quick One, While He’s Away” is a complete anomaly, particularly on an album full of songs ranging from 1:53 to 3:04. It clocks in at 9:10, and, true to what Pete admits is his own pretentious nature, it was billed as a mini-opera. The subject matter is also pretty risqué for 1966, since it’s clearly about an affair and cuckoldry. It consists of six parts:

“Her Man’s Been Gone”
“Crying Town”
“We Have a Remedy”
“Ivor the Engine Driver”
“Soon Be Home”
“You Are Forgiven”

Pete wanted cellos in the concluding section, but since The Who didn’t exactly have the type of budget as The Beatles did, they had to sing “Cello cello cello cello cello cello cello” several times.

The band were under a contractual requirement to write at least two songs each, though Roger only wrote one. Pete was always their predominant songwriter, though John showed a real talent for songwriting already at this early point. I love the dark, twisted humor in his songs. Roger did go on to write some pretty nice songs, but I think we’re all glad he chose to stick primarily to singing.

It’s fun, cute bubblegum pop, not the hard rock The Who became known for, but that just makes it different, not wretched and inferior. Too many so-called fans seem to think they had to sound a certain way for their entire career, instead of God forbid trying out different musical styles and evolving over time. It’s fine to have a personal preference, but not to bash them for failing to measure up to that preference every single time.

WeWriWa—Allen Comforts Adicia

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8 sentences from a book or WIP. Since I’ll be starting my Halloween-themed snippets in just two weeks, I decided to move an older post out of my drafts folder instead of starting the next scene in the WIP I’ve been sharing from. That way, I won’t have to break off the forward momentum for an entire month-plus.

This snippet comes from Little Ragdoll, Chapter 38, “The Sacrifice of Adicia,” set in August 1969. Adicia’s mother, who served a few months in prison for embezzlement in 1962, was recently threatened with more jail time if she failed to pay back the remaining money by the end of August.

Mrs. Troy, true to her black-hearted, anti-maternal nature, coerced Adicia into giving up her virginity for the remaining $3,000. In exchange, Adicia was promised a handsome husband with a good job and the ability to graduate high school instead of being forced to drop out at sixteen. By remaining at home till 18, Adicia will also be able to keep protecting her baby sister Justine.

Big brother Allen has just found out what their evil mother did, and is furious. When he goes to see Adicia at their sister Ernestine’s place, he winds up hugging her for the first time.

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Adicia sits up and puts her arms around her brother, sobbing against his chest.  Allen hugs her back, the first time he’s ever hugged any of his sisters.  He still can’t entirely shake his social conditioning about manly versus unmanly behavior, but he’s hardly acting like a pansy by comforting someone he loves.  He hugs her as tightly as he knows how, to make up for all the years he never did it.  Seeing how she only comes up to the middle of his chest makes him painfully aware of how small she is for her age, how much she still resembles a little ragdoll even at fifteen.  She’s not even five feet tall yet.

“I’m not really sure I believe God exists, but onea the things that makes me think he might exist is that I got the best big brother in the world.  Out of all the families in the world, we were chosen for each other.”

Little Ragdoll Cover

I will be having my cover redesigned, though keeping it based on the same reference picture I worked from, and still using lots of dark blue. I don’t regret the experience of having designed two of my own covers, but I quickly came to understand something more professional will sell more copies.

The Monkees at 50, Part IV (Enduring legacy and popularity)

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Little could anyone have predicted, back when those 437 hopeful young men showed up to audition in September 1965 or when The Monkees débuted in September 1966, what a huge, enduring popularity and legacy was being created. A TV show about a fictional band turned into a cultural icon not only of the Sixties, but of all time.

When Nez let the cat out of the bag about them not being allowed to play (most of) their instruments or write their own music, the powers that be were stunned, but real fans didn’t care. The true-blue Monkeemaniacs weren’t under any illusions about this being a real, organically-created band who lived in that groovy beach house. They knew it was a TV show with actors.

Had The Monkees stayed just a fictional TV band, they never would’ve remained so popular for 50 years. They became a real band, and made some truly wonderful music once they were given the bulk of creative control. Prior to their rebellion, they’d also had a lot of great songwriters, like Neil Diamond and Carole King.

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All bands have an initial shelf life, and it seemed as though Monkeemania had ended by 1969. Head was a flop (both due to how weird it was and how most of their fanbase weren’t old enough to see an R-rated movie); the show was cancelled after two seasons; first Peter and then Nez left; and different types of bands and musicians were rising in popularity while many longtime chart staples were seen as unhip and past their expiration date.

This phenomenon was very similar to many silent stars’ decline in popularity during the early sound era (which I’ll be discussing in much greater detail during next year’s series on The Jazz Singer at 90). It wasn’t that they had horrible voices or couldn’t make the transition well, it was that their shelf life was naturally ending anyway, and a whole new crop of talent was coming up.

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However, Micky and Davy continued making music and touring together for awhile (albeit without much commercial success). The show also ran in reruns Saturdays on CBS, from September 1969–September 1972, and on ABC from September 1972–August 1973. In September 1975, all 58 episodes were sold to local markets, and mostly appeared on indie stations.

On 23 February 1986, MTV (which actually was a music-oriented channel once upon a time) ran a marathon. Within months, a lot of other channels were airing the show too, Nickelodeon among them. This was Nick’s golden age, much as my younger friends who grew up during the Nineties would heartily disagree with me.

This second wave of Monkeemania during their 20th anniversary year was what snared me and my dearest, oldest friend. I can’t believe we’ve now been fans for 30 years!

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The band went on tour during 1986–7, and my best friend and I went to see them when they played in Albany in the summer of ’87. Weird Al was their opening act, and Nez wasn’t with them. As my mother explained to my 7-year-old self, he had a job he felt was more important than The Monkees. Now that I’m an adult, I better understand his reasoning behind not being more involved with the various tours and reunions over the years.

As a kid, I thought he was more boring and adult than the other three, kind of a harbinger of his spotty involvement with the band since 1970. Now, I feel like Nez would’ve been my fave rave had I gotten into them when I was a lot older than just six. Given my personality and interests, he, not Davy, seems the obvious choice, but it feels sacrilegious to switch fave raves when it comes to my first musical love. Of the three surviving Monkees, Nez is my favourite.

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MTV tried a spin-off, The New Monkees, in 1987, but it quickly bombed. The attempted comeback album, Pool It!, also wasn’t exactly their strongest material. Due to personal conflicts, the reunion came to an end.

Micky and Davy reconciled, and began another reunion tour in ’94. For their 30th anniversary in ’96, Micky, Davy, and Peter did a reunion tour, and all four Monkees created the album Justus, on which they did all the songwriting and instrumentation.

There have been various other reunion tours over the years, most recently this year, to mark their 50th anniversary. Their new album, Good Times!, is their best work in years.

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The TV show is such a quintessential cultural icon of the Sixties, really showcasing the music, fashion, attitudes, and culture of 1966–8. Many future musicians grew up watching the show, both in its original run and in reruns, and it had a huge impact on them.

Artists who’ve done Monkees’ covers, or songs written by Nez, include The Sex Pistols, Minor Threat, Linda Ronstadt, Run-D.M.C., Smash Mouth, George Benson, and The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Other artists who cite the band as an influence include The Beach Boys, Nirvana, U2, R.E.M., and Glen Campbell.

The show is now available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and Head has been given the master treatment by the prestigious Criterion Collection.

Many Monkees’ songs have been used in movies and other TV shows over the years, and the band, their music, and the TV show have been referenced in a number of other shows and movies.

Not bad for a band that started out as fictitious.

The Monkees at 50, Part II (Discography)

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Left to right: Walls and Bridges (John Lennon, 1975); 1962–1966, a.k.a. The Red Album (The Beatles); Headquarters (1967); Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones Ltd. (1967); The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees (1968); The Monkees (1966); More of The Monkees (1966); Quadrophenia (The Who, 1973).

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Their eponymous début released 10 October 1966, and spent 13 weeks at #1 on the U.S. Billboard 200. It’s mostly bubblegum pop, meant as a cash cow for the producers and a way of pimping the show to the huge teenybopper fanbase. As fun as these songs are, they’re not the kind of classics or strong material serious fans have in mind when we talk about how awesome The Monkees are.

I also love how they’re all smiling on the cover except Nez. Reportedly, he was getting really frustrated at how many takes they’d done, and didn’t notice the camera snapping.

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More of The Monkees released 9 January 1967, much to the band’s shock. They had no idea this album was being put together until they saw it in stores. If I weren’t such a longtime Monkeemaniac, I doubt I’d like this album nearly so much. Again, it’s mostly lightweight bubblegum pop, and Davy sings not one, not two, but three incredibly schmaltzy, sappy, saccharine songs. “The Day We Fall in Love” isn’t even a song, just a sappy monologue set to music!

However, it does have the classics “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone,” “She,” and “I’m a Believer” (overplayed though it might be). There’s also the gorgeous, underrated “Sometime in the Morning.”

It spent 18 weeks at #1 on the Top 200, the longest-reigning #1 of any Monkees’ album.

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Headquarters released 22 May 1967, and shot to #1 in the U.S., #2 in the U.K. The most overrated album of all time unseated it from #1 in the U.S. HQ was their first album as a real band, with very little outside songwriting and instrumentation. On the back cover, The Monkees credited these session musicians instead of pretending they did it all by themselves.

Every single track is perfect! I also love most of the bonus tracks on the modern reissue.

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PAC&J released 6 November 1967, and was the band’s fourth consecutive #1 album. It takes its names from the boys’ sun signs. Micky is Pisces, Peter is Aquarius, and Davy and Nez are both Capricorns. Davy and Nez also have the same birthday, 30 December.

This is an excellent album, with somewhat more outside musicians, but still with a big amount of creative control. It’s an ideal starting-place for a new fan.

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The Birds, The Bees, and The Monkees released 22 April 1968. Their show’s final episode aired on 25 March 1968, though the boys were still sustained by their established popularity. However, BB&M was their first album which didn’t reach #1. It attained a respectable #3 in the U.S., and didn’t chart at all in the U.K.

This has been called The Monkees’ White Album, with each Monkee demonstrating his own musical style and personality in his respective songs. As much as I adore this album, though, I wouldn’t particularly recommend it to a brand-new fan. One’s fandom should be a bit more established and secure before diving into this type of album.

Many people hate the Nez song “Writing Wrongs,” though I typically love it. This song has been compared to The Beatles’ “Revolution No. 9,” which I also predictably love. I love “Revolution No. 9” so much, I’ve often listened to it on repeat.

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The Head soundtrack released 1 December 1968, and was Peter’s final album with the group till 1986’s attempted comeback Pool It! It was also the last Monkees’ album to feature all four until 1996’s Justus. This trippy album only went to #45, and the film famously bombed. Like most bombs, however, it’s developed a cult following.

The highly underrated Instant Replay released 15 February 1969, and went to #32 in the U.S. Though it was released after the first wave of popularity had begun bursting, there are lots of awesome songs. I’d rate it 4.5 stars, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in the later Monkees.

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The Monkees Present released 1 October 1969, and only went to #100 in the U.S. This is another highly underrated album worth a listen by the serious fan. It contains lots of deep, serious, complex songs, as well as “Listen to the Band,” a Nez song which has become an anthem of sorts for the band.

If you want a good laugh, check out this old version of the Wikipedia page on the album! There’s so much POV all over it, as well as overly casual language.

Changes released in June 1970, by which time only Davy and Micky were left, and failed to chart. This album is only for completists, and definitely not something I’d recommend a new fan listen to first or even fifth. It’s best saved for last. With the exception of a few songs, this is pure elevator muzak.

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Over the years, there have been many compilation albums, the 3-volume Missing Links rarities series, some live albums, and three latter-day albums—Pool It! (1986), Justus (1996), and Good Times! (2016) The lattermost released to wild success this May, and is their best album in years, even considering Davy’s absence.