Teri Heyer is a painter as well as a writer. I can't thank her enough for letting me write all over her blog on a subject that is both painter-ish and writer-ish. Some of this post I've written before, and if you're a regular to my blog, it may sound familiar. But I also want to suggest something that's not in that original blog, something that I've been wondering about for a while. Something that is only possible now.
But I digress.
In the world of art (and I'm speaking specifically of painting), the word pentimento (derived from the Italian pentirsi, which means to repent or change your mind) is a change made by the artist during the process of painting. As a painter, I've done this many times, although the discovering of the change or changes will never be apparent to future generations. In one instance, I might paint a tree, then move that tree an inch to the right because a) I hate painting trees (they're not happy) and b) I'm rarely satisfied with initial placements.
Changes made by the masters of old (Picaso, da Vinci, van Gogh, etc.) are typically hidden beneath a subsequent paint layer. As noted by the National Gallery:
In some instances they become visible because the paint layer above has become transparent with time. Pentimenti (the plural) can also be detected using infrared reflectograms and X-rays. They are interesting because they show the development of the artist's design, and sometimes are helpful in attributing paintings to particular artists.What the heck am I going on about again? I'm a writer, not a painter.
I often use the term "art" in reference to the written word, because it is art. What you put down on a piece of paper--in the same way an artist splatters paint across a canvas--is an artist expression. It doesn't matter if it's horror, romance or some literary fiction piece that's hard to digest. Creative expression is artistic expression. So why not apply some of the terms used for the masters of oil to our artwork? You know, like pentimento....
Please understand I'm not talking about drafts. Drafts--to the writer--are semi-finished versions of a story that may need to be fleshed out, rewritten, edited for errors, etc. We have our favorite first draft, our toiled over second draft, our third, fourth and fiftieth draft (if we're obessive-complusive) and advanced reading copies (ARCs) sent off for review purposes. In all of these drafts, however, the general content is the same. There may be minor changes (a character dies earlier, a Chevy Nova becomes a Chrysler LeBaron, etc.), but these aren't what I would call pentimenti.
One of the sketches I wrote for the Sketches from the Spanish Mustang is about a migrant who visits the town of Cripple Creek for the first time. The novella is one that took a lot of research as I mentioned on the blog of Kimberly A. Bettes during Stop 2 of this Sketches from the Spanish Mustang Blog Tour. During the story, bits of history are presented to the reader in tangent with the present.
I have at my disposal next to my bed a Livescribe notebook/pen. I love the thing; it allows me to save out my notes as PDFs and visit them on my computer/phone/tablet if I'm away from my bedside. (Not to be a salesperson, but you really should try it out if you use a journal.) The following image is from my original notes, something I wrote down while thinking about the story (click the image to make it bigger).
This is not what appeared when I reached the end of the novella. Recall that pentimento refers to changes made during the artistic process. This must, therefore, occur before that first draft is complete. What happened with Fulano's story was interesting: I wrote a few chapters following the general structure, and then I made a discovery that changed everything from that point forward. (Again, click the image to make it bigger.)
Note the word "nuhales" (a misspelling, I know) in the second notebook page. Once I fixated on that (nahuales), nothing else mattered. Not the fact "Steve" was racist. Not the offer I scribbled down in the cloud thingy. Nothing.
I had suddenly made a change during the artistic process, and the end result was very different from the original idea. To antiquity, though, it will never be known, will it?
And now for my grand idea: I had a thought that it would be neat if there was a way we could see the pentimenti of authors, to uncover it like we can a painter's work. Of course, without seeing original notes, partial drafts, proposals, etc. we can't look at a book with an infrared camera and see the words that were changed or the ideas that were cut out altogether.
Still, I think it would be neat if a way could be found, like some futuristic look at the brain of the writer. And after thinking about this for months, I believe it's possible, if only (at first) in the electronic versions of an author's work.
For example, if I added my original notes to the end of a book, I would be saying "look at my original notes and try to find where I changed things." But what if I could have that note buried in the page a reader was currently on? They could then click a button on their (name your favorite electronic reader) and the pentimenti would appear . . . sort of like looking into the canvas with an infrared camera.
Of course this may require a change to the software that exists on these readers, but it would be neat to see. In a print version . . . well, my thoughts haven't gone that far.
Benjamin X. Wretlind, the author of Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, has been called "a Pulitzer-caliber writer" with "a unique American voice." Aside from novels, he has been published in many magazines throughout the past 10 years.
SKETCHES FROM THE SPANISH MUSTANG
In Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, a haunting, heart-warming and often brutally direct exploration of the lives of seven people in the mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado, a woman must come to grips with the failings that cost the lives of her husband and child.
Bestselling author Michael K. Rose says: "Mr. Wretlind has penned a tale of such emotional and literary depth it will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned."
With a pencil, a sketchbook and a keen eye for the details of the soul, the woman's lines and smudges, curves and tone reveal the stories behind her subjects. Life emerges on the page — vengeance, salvation, love and death. The artist's subjects fight for survival, only to be saved in the sketches of a woman with a gift . . . and a curse.
International Book Award winner Gregory G. Allen calls the book a "unique journey that rips away the outer layers of people allowing us to stare into their souls where humanity is universal: no matter the genre of writing."
Sketches from the Spanish Mustang will be available at all major online retailers for $14.95 on July 1st, 2012. It will also be presented in an electronic format (e.g. Kindle, nook) for $5.95.
THANK YOU TO BENJAMIN X. WRETLIND
I feel honored to be a part of Benjamin X. Wretlind's Blog Tour for SKETCHES FROM THE SPANISH MUSTANG. He's an incredible author who writes the kind of books where you savor every word. If you haven't already read Benjamin X. Wretlind, then now is the time to discover a great new author.