Monday, September 19, 2011

The Horse Latitudes

In elementary school we saw a film about a man on a boat. For the longest time I couldn’t remember anything about the film except the guy was stuck in the horse latitudes, and there was a wacky animated sequence where he envisioned the world as a donut (wacky animated sequences were popular at the time—remember that bizarre scene in Santa Claus is Coming to Town where Jessica apparently drops acid in the town square? How about the boat ride in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory?). That was about all I could remember of the film, except that I was also pretty sure the name of the film was The Horse Latitudes.

Turns out I was right. The Horse Latitudes was a 1975 TV film about a real-life guy--Phillip Stockton--who entered a race against 8 other men, each attempting to become the first to circumnavigate the globe in a single-person craft. Stockton decided to cheat: he plunked himself in the middle of the Horse Latitudes and sent fictional reports back of passing The Cape of this and the Straits of that, apparently inspiring Rosie Ruiz to try the same approach in the Boston Marathon in 1980. I’m not sure why they showed us this film; I don’t remember the context at all, unless it was to warn us of the dangers of taking shortcuts and cheating. Stockton’s boat was found drifting in the ocean; he wasn’t. He presumably went mad and decided to take a long swim.

What does this have to do with anything? I’m stuck in the Horse Latitudes, and I guess I’m not alone. Lisa Regan is having a hard time. Jennifer is having a hard time. All over Absolute Write, writers are having a hard time. Lisa did an interview with her book, and found it to be a rather argumentative sort. If I interviewed mine, what would it tell me? By Friday last week, I was almost ready to tell IT, “Fuck off.” I was thinking. “Maybe I should just leave it as is, finish tightening up through the end, and ship it out to some readers. Let them tell me what’s wrong. Or even IF it’s wrong.”

That would be the easy way out: turn it over to someone else and see if maybe that will help. Maybe there’s nothing wrong; maybe it’s just my inner critic getting overly-nitpicky, or the doubter trying to sabotage what is perfectly fine. Wow, I’m having doubts about my doubts! There’s a reason I’m stuck, and it’s because there’s something that isn’t just exactly right. And so I circle around and around the problem, like hawks riding a thermal, and I hope to hell I get it just exactly right soon, because I’m getting tired of it, and the dog gets nervous when I start shouting to the empty room.

Anyway, that’s where we all seem to be right now. Stuck in a becalmed sea, except that there is nothing calming about it. In that vein, here's an lovely piece of 'music' that's rather appropriate (WARNING: Not for the squeamish. Also, It takes about ten seconds to become audible: DON'T turn it up!):

But I’m trying to be positive. I’ve been working steadily, because I believe in my story, and because I’m still hoping I can shop it to agents by the end of the year. I feel like some progress is being made, though I still haven’t had one of those glorious Eureka! moments in ages, where it all just comes together so beautifully. Maybe today. Let’s hope so. And so, in an effort to be positive, here's a much more pleasant-sounding song of the sea. Have a good week.

Man, those boys could sing.


  1. Great post. Why are they called Horse Latitudes though? Thanks for the shout-out. I totally feel everything in your post. I have to say though the conversation with my book was a surprise. I thought it would tell me that my plot was stupid or that the reason I was stuck is because my idea was just plain lame but it turned out to be raging insecurity. I'm almost ready to plunge in now that I know what the problem is--must power through and above all, stay positive like you said. Hope you get past your frustrations. Also, I'm always willing to be a beta reader if you're looking for fresh sets of eyes. Just let me know.

  2. Interesting - a conversation with your novel. I never thought about that. It could be scary.

    Your instinct may be right. Perhaps a different perspective is the way to go. It is hard to have distance from your own work, and even harder to expose your baby/novel to the gaze of a reader. But, maybe a reader's opinion is exactly what you need.

    I completely understand how that guy could have gone mad and gone for a "long swim" - but maybe, instead, we should all just go for a stroll and get some fresh air, eh?

    Doubts about your doubts - it is a writer's downward spiral...

  3. Lisa -- AS I always understood it, The Horse Latitudes is an area of calm seas and little wind. The way I'd heard it, ships crossing the Atlantic would get bogged down in it and end up tossing dead or dying horses (that either starved to death or died of dehydration from lack of fresh water) overboard. This is referenced in the Doors' piece linked above.

    But...I've also read that it stems from the sailors' apparent practice of tossing a horse effigy overboard, which was related to working off a debt (I had never heard this before today).

    I will be contacting you directly regarding beta-reading. Probably pretty soon!

    Jennifer--part of why I hesitate is because the section giving me trouble seemed so obviously not right when I reached it in this round of re-read (pledged to be my last before farming it out). It's my instinct that is telling me "Fix this!" A good stroll is indeed a nice thing.

  4. It must be the season, Jeff. I've been having problems with a certain spot in my MS for a while now. It feels "off" somewhere, but I haven't been able to pinpoint it yet. *Sigh* Oh well. At least we're all in this boat together.

  5. Wow. You really do learn something new every day. Thanks. Also, I'm at whenever you're ready.

  6. I've never heard this term before, but it's very fitting. My book has told me that something is just "off" with the beginning since I started writing it. I'm trying to keep giving it new options that might go over better. Good luck in getting to your next breakthrough!

  7. Thanks, as always. Glad I could educate a little bit. I think the phrase stuck with me because of that crazy sequence in the middle of the movie, I don't know, but it's such a mysterious name, too. Good luck Carrie and Robin, I'm sure we'll all get through it. Lisa, I'll be in touch, probably soon.


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