Tag: novel writing

Extra Luncheon Meats for ALL!

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You never know when you might need a lot of luncheon “meat”. Especially corned beef. One is always at risk of requiring a shit-ton of corned beef and then not being able to find any. AMIRIGHT?!

Happy Armistice Day

I’ve got a kitten lounging on my shoulder like a tiny leopard in a tree. I’ve got Scrivener open and 179 words laid down so far. No work today and this weekend I get to go pick up an O’Keefe and Merritt stove in working condition. The one we got for free is still not functioning and I realized that not everything needs to be a project in my life. It’s perfectly acceptable to buy something that doesn’t need immediate fixing. So we found my dream stove in good condition. It will probably need some finessing at some point, but what doesn’t?

The only blight on today was my mom bursting into my office to announce that she needs to go to the doctor ASAP because she has a weird skin thing that’s probably cancer. This is not an infrequent conclusion she comes to when anything mysterious is going on with her body. So far (knocking hard on wood here) it has never actually been cancer. Then there are all the times when something really is wrong  but she believes it’s nothing and won’t go to the doctor because it’s too much trouble or she’s convinced that though it’s probably cancer, it will magically resolve itself if she ignores it.

I can make fun of her all I want, but the truth is, I’m pretty much the same way.

Providing my mom doesn’t come home with an awful cancer announcement, life is still good. Remember when I posted a few days ago that it was good and you know how often I post how good things are going and then they all fall apart and the next time you hear from me I’m pretty much a mess of depression and crisis? Yeah, that’s often how it plays out.

I’m listening music all inspired by the Lux Aeterna mass. I’ve also just named the coffee shop/bookstore my fictional character works in “Lux Aeterna”. The person responsible for this inspiration is Thalassa Therese. Thank you! Your bower is ever littered with beautiful objects and music!

I also just had a revelation about my current wip: segments of it will be in letter form. I’m wary of using letters as a way of telling a story just for the novelty of it, it can be so hackneyed and irritating. I’ve always wanted to write a novel based on letters but no story (until now) naturally lent itself to the use of letters. It has to be organic to the story. I just realized that using letters in Suicide for Beginners might be the only way to tell this story naturally. Either that or it will have to be in first person for at least part or most of it.

I realize that those who have read Cricket and Grey would love for me to finish book 2. I believe only a couple of people who’ve read it have not said something about that. With a year and a half of writer’s block under my belt at this point I’m just working on whatever comes to me. Right now book 2 is not where the energy is. It might take another lifetime to get to the rest of the series, or maybe I’ll die before I ever do. OR maybe I’ll simply decide to leave it where it is. I can do that because I’m the decider of the books I write.

Maybe Suicide for Beginners is calling more loudly because it must be written before I die and my time is coming to a close. This is one of those things we can not know for sure. I DO know that if I don’t get another book written before I die I will probably end up sticking around as a disgruntled ghost and ride the minds of other writers spurring them desperately on to write through every night and day until their books are finished even if it ends up being the thing that kills them.

That was darker than I intended it to sound.

It’s time for me to shower and eat. There may be a haircut for me today as well because my hair is making me feeling mega-frumpy with its long straggliness.

I hope you all cease-fire today!

Update: My mom’s skin thingie is NOT cancerous. In case you’re all worried now. Doc says it’s just a thingie.

 

A Minor Epiphany: Remembering to Let Go

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You can’t play music well if you’ve never played it poorly. I don’t care what parents of prodigies say, no one picks up an instrument for the first time and plays no wrong notes.

I was discussing my writing problems the other day with two writing friends and had a mild epiphany: this writer’s “block”, or whatever it is, is the same thing I experienced for so many years that I actually gave up on writing fiction. I have folders full of notes and starts of novels, middles of novels, bits of novels that never came to life. I couldn’t make them catch fire and growing discouraged I abandoned them and decided I’d just stick with writing creative non-fiction. I gave up my life-long dream of writing novels because I believed I didn’t have it in me to write them.

All those novels were alive, vibrant, important, cool, fun, charged, and insistent INSIDE MY HEAD. But I couldn’t get them out in the same condition. What came out of my head were dead versions of my stories. Stagnant, poorly written, boring, nowhere versions of the living stories inside of me.

I realized that what I’ve been experiencing ever since finishing Winter; Cricket and Grey is the same thing as before when I told my friend Kele that it’s like the conduit between what’s in my head and my pen/laptop is broken. That’s how it felt before.

In 2009, when I finally fixed that conduit and wrote the first draft of “Jane Doe” it felt incredible! I was finally doing the thing I’ve always supposed to have been doing and I knew it because – well – how do you know you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing? It’s hard to quantify or describe that feeling and I imagine it’s not the same or all people.

I just felt right in my own skin and in my own head.

So how did I fix that conduit and how can I fix it again?

In the most simplistic terms it was all about letting go. Letting go of expectation, doubt, expectation, pressure, interference from others, expectations of others, and letting go of control. The first time it happened resulted in chaos and a manuscript that, five years later, is still in a state of chaos. Maybe it always will be. That’s not as important as I used to think it was. That release of control let the stuff in my head come out and live on the page. I had to release it in raw form. I had to let the stories and characters come out imperfect because that’s how I got the power to change them and edit them into something better. They had to get to the page pure before I could make them better.

Humans are messy beings. Their stories are also messy. If we lived life like a well edited story we’d die of constriction. We don’t live our lives like that. That’s how others may see us and our lives, but the reality is that in the moment we are messy with mixed emotions and motivations and our paths are littered with junk our psyches drop like old skin.

After finishing the first Cricket and Grey book I think I set myself up for failure with a return of expectation. Now that I finally finished a novel and actually printed it and people have read it – I rebuilt the expectation that I should be able to sit down and write with control. But the control of writing is an exercise in multiple steps. First you get the crappy draft down, but you let it be colorful and melodramatic if that’s how it comes out, you let it come out live and imperfect, then you begin to shape it and perfect it through edits.

Everyone’s process is different so I can’t actually say this is how it is for all writers. What I’m saying is that this is how it is for ME.

Part of the power of my blog writing, the stuff people tend to comment about, the stuff that makes people think I’m a good writer, is that I let stuff come out unfiltered. Some of my best blog writing is late at night after several beers because my walls are down,  my instinct to control everything I say is gone. It comes out raw and living and definitely dramatic. Sometimes I wake up and hate what I wrote because it’s embarrassingly earnest and as melodramatic as a teen experiencing their first passions in life. I hate that shit. HATE IT. But that’s the same well from which my poetry comes, my best words, my most creative and inspiring writing comes from that same place.

It’s also the same well from which my nightmares are drawn.

You could say that the best and the worst all comes from the same well. My psyche.

I can’t draw on that unless I let my defenses down, let go of control, let the living moving magma out of the mountain.

Part of it is about trust too. Trust that I can take the raw material, the wildly stupid messy narratives, and shape them into something worthy the way they play themselves out in my head. Trust that the first draft is not an indication of the worth of the story but merely the lump of material from which a great story is chiseled or molded or built.

Pick the metaphor that works best for you.

The thing I can’t account for, the thing I miss and want and need is that energy that pulls me back into the process every day. The energy that makes everything else in my life feel less urgent than getting back to the page. That sense of excitement, discovery, and purpose is like a drug, I suppose. I have heard nearly every successful writer say that becoming successful is about showing up to the page even when that excitement is on the wane. I believe this, I do. I believe it because a person, no matter what they’re doing, can’t be UP all the time, can’t be EXCITED all the time, can’t be PASSIONATE all the time.

If a person IS up all the time, excited all the time, and passionate all the time, then they are living a life out of balance. Or they’re on recreational drugs.

Everyone needs times of reflection, of inwardness, of aloneness, of quiet.  I’ve known people who are exquisitely uncomfortable being alone with themselves, with down time, with quiet days, with slow work, and with reflection. I’ve known people who think their relationships with others are over the minute passion quiets down or the sex isn’t as exciting or as frequent.

Everyone needs refueling from time to time. That is a fact. Creativity needs refueling. Love needs refueling. Bodies need refueling.

So I know that part of writing is accepting that it’s not going to be exciting every single time you sit down in front of your page. But a year and a half of feeling the words die on the page? This is the kind of thing that makes a writer quit, that made ME quit before.

I won’t quit this time. I just need to get out of my own way and let this first draft be messy and dramatic, rich and overstuffed with adjectives. I just need to let it come out without trying to control every sentence as it gets to the page where it dies from suffocation.

Time to let the magma out.

POV: I Want Your Opinion for this MS

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POINT OF VIEW

Choosing the point of view for my novels is the single most frustrating aspect of writing them. With Cricket and Grey I solved the dilemma by using both. Not a style preferred by all readers but it felt right for that book. It served the story in a way I needed it to. However, I’m working on my Bad Romance manuscript and just like with every novel I have in progress, this is the point that really makes me feel stabby. This particular novel needs to be in one single POV. So I’ve written a short first chapter in 1st and a short first chapter in 3rd.  Here’s what I want to do: show you the first few paragraphs of each version and hear what your preference is. You have to bear in mind that this is merely a first draft which means VERY ROUGH WRITING. So the only thing I want to know is – which version draws you in the most. If neither draws you in at all, don’t comment at all. Ready?

First few paragraphs in 1st person:

The moment our eyes met across the stuffy crowded bar and he grabbed his crotch, licked his lips, and winked at me, I regretted letting my friends drag me to Rick’s place on the night of my homecoming party. I was starting to regret going out at all. The group of friends I’d missed so much while working in Los Angeles seemed different to me now. Maybe because I was thirty two years old and I was getting tired of the bar-hopping lifestyle my friends seemed to be holding onto tightly. By eleven o’clock Kim was barfing into the bathroom trashcan at a bar with the unfortunate name of “Salt Lick”. They all promised me they’d hand Rick’s balls to him if he bothered me, but by the time we reached Frontier, Kim and Suze were licking just about everything that got close enough to their faces for their tongues to reach. Far from protecting me from having to deal with Rick, Suze dragged him to our table as soon as she saw his little performance.

“Look who I found!” she said to him, pointing at me like an exhibit “The little royal highness herself has returned from the south” she tossed back the rest of her drink and burped.

“I knew you’d come crawling back eventually” he said, grinning smugly.

“I’d use those rad psychic skills of yours to save your balls from my knee” I suggested.

“You’re just as hatchet-tongued as ever” he said.

“My works here is dones” Suze said, hiccuping once before wandering off to locate better sport.

“Play your cards right and Suze will lick you without you having to ask for it”

“She’d lick a pile of shit in her condition” he said, looking at Suze’s retreating back.

“That’s what I just said”

He looked down at me with annoyance, opened his mouth to speak, thought better of it, and walked off in the casual way he always did.

I could see Kim trying to swallow another person whole in an epic face-sucking session, and Suze was suggestively licking beer foam off of some girl’s glass while the girl looked on in amazed horror. I was much too sober and suddenly feeling more lonely than I had felt living alone in Los Angeles for the last six years.

I squeezed myself between two people at the bar to order myself a drink.

“Want a lift? You can see better from my lap” offered the man to my left. I sized him up and down slowly, to be sure he noticed.

“I get it, clown, I’m short” I said. The bartender, a thin Asian guy, threw a bar towel over his shoulder and leaned in to take my order.

“I’ll try the Garland Special” I shouted into his ear.

“Feeling desperate, are you?” he asked.

“I beg your pardon!”

“You have to be in a desperate mood to appreciate this one. If you’re not feeling desperation of any kind, may I suggest the Coit Tower Fog instead?”

“Desperate and much too dry. I’ll stick with the Garland Special”

It took him a while to get to my order but when he did I watched with fascination as he made my drink with an economy of energy that still managed to communicate a flourish. What he set in front of me did look like despair itself. The liquor was a muddled brownish color near the bottom with floating bits reminding me of flotsam in the bay. A slightly charred dark brown onion stabbed through with a knotted wooden pick drowned itself under the layer of ice. I fished it out and, without thinking about it, popped it in my mouth. It was a revelation. It tasted of balsamic vinegar with the smallest wisp of rosemary and though it had seemed solid enough in my drink it gave itself to me like a prostitute to her last John. Then I laughed out loud at my own thoughts brought on by a goddamn cocktail onion. The bartender looked over his shoulder in my direction and smiled when I raised my drink to him in salute.

First few paragraphs in 3rd person:

The night was clear and hot. The smell of piss on grimy asphalt wafted from the entrances of every alleyway mixing exotically with the heavy perfume of the drunken crowds stumbling down Comumbus and Broadway. This wasn’t the homecoming Geneva had imagined for herself. She watched Suze and Kim chattering with their heads close together just ahead of her. Her best friends through high school were looking old and slatternly in their tiny dresses and five inch knock-off Louboutins. She felt betrayed by time and memory. The friends she left behind were fun and spirited but now they just looked like unprofessional call girls. They’d criticized her look too.

“Chinos, Eva? Really?” Suze said, looking Geneva up and down.

“They’re not chinos, they’re-”

“Are you gay?” Kim broke in.

“You’ve known me for seventeen years and you don’t know I only date men?”

“If you’re not gay, why wear men’s shoes? You didn’t used to wear men’s shoes” Suze looked like a person who knew they’d asked the clincher of a question and practically licked the cream from her paws while Geneva just stared at her with a distinct chill in her expression.

The whole conversation was ridiculous and yet it bothered Geneva. Her friends didn’t used to be so stupid. The fact that she was wearing Dickies and men’s wing tip shoes didn’t make her look the least bit manly. Even her boyishly narrow hips couldn’t do that. She was wearing her signature style, men’s pants and shoes, a fitted scoop necked tee, antique Victorian garnet chandelier earrings, her dense curls pulled into a messy top knot, and her small wrists were weighted with several gold bracelets. Her dark upward slanting eyes were set off with black liner making them appear bigger than they were. In spite of her lashes being straight and not very long, it was her eyes that most people remembered most about her face. More than they remembered her full lips on which she always wore a shade of crimson lipstick that particularly set off her creamy brown skin.

Geneva didn’t regret moving back to San Francisco. The air here had that inimitable blend of city grime and sea fog that was part of her childhood and after six years of living under the heavy hot smog of Los Angeles, it felt wonderful to breath the fresher city air of home. Even on rare steamy summer nights such as this one, the air was so much cleaner. What she was regretting was letting Suze and Kim take her out. They were determined to end the evening drunk in strangers’ beds. Now they were dragging her to Frontier, the bar her ex-boyfriend owned. No amount of objection deterred her two friends. She thought about abandoning them and heading home to the tiny studio apartment she just moved into. Surely unpacking boxes was better than this.

Instead she followed behind them reluctantly telling herself that the sooner she faced Rick, the better. Just as they reached the bar, Kim lunged to the nearest trash can and barfed loudly. When she was finished, she wiped her mouth on the back of her hand,and said “Let’s DO this, bitches!” They entered the crowded bar and looked for a table.

Which version draws you in more? I think doing this exercise convinces me that 1st is the strongest.

The One Trick Pony: I already used up all the words

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(I’m feeling all boxed up)

I have today off. I decided to sit down and work on my new novel project that I’ve been so excited about for a week. I’ve written a few notes and I even wrote 900 words of the first draft. I sat down feeling so happy to finally take a couple of hours to write. I have had no energy and no time for this in much too long. I sit down and –

A half an hour later I’m still staring at my open document and nothing comes to me. I feel daunted by the project. I don’t understand why I’m trying to write a light hearted book. I don’t DO funny or light hearted. So why come up with a premise for a book that has to be taken with a grain of salt because it’s about a woman who wakes up in the middle of a really cheesy romance novel?

I thought it would be funny and interesting. But I’m not a “fun” person and I’m only funny by accident. I’ve never been able to channel humor into writing at will. So what the hell am I doing?

Then I thought, maybe I should just work on one of my other novels? I took a look at my files and nothing sounds good. None of my stories seem worth working on. All of them sound stupid to me.

Meanwhile, most of the writers I know are working on their third or fourth or even seventh novels. Writing book after book after book. Writing whole books in a couple of months. How do they complete whole novels in just a few months? Even when I was writing constantly and through the night, feverishly working on my first novel, it still took me two years to finish it. TWO YEARS. Most of these other writers have day jobs or kids or kids and day jobs, or chronic illnesses that hamper them down – and yet they are all still writing SO MANY BOOKS IN SO LITTLE TIME.

I know. I’m not supposed to compare myself to anyone else. I can’t help it. I want to know how they all write books in so little time. I want to know how everyone is doing this. I want to know why I can’t do it?

I feel drained and depressed about my writing. I want to be writing full time. But even when I have a little bit of time, all the words in the world dry up in my mouth like dead moths.

I have written and finished ONE book. One. And I can’t even get the second one in that series written. It should be EASIER than the first one. I already have so many characters written and places established.

I am going to do dishes.

Maybe I’m just a one trick pony.

Beta Reading is Making Me a Better Writer

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(Imagine all the words and redundancies in your novel being tossed into the bin. Yep, that’s how this image is relevant to this post.)

I’m in the middle of beta reading a novel for a writer friend Olivia Foust. It’s my first time doing it and as I’m reading and taking notes I find myself thinking about my own writing and how to make it stronger based on the kind of things I’m telling her about her novel.

The first thing I did when I agreed to beta-read my friend’s novel is to find out what she was looking for with regards to critiquing. Did she primarily want an edit for grammar and typos or did she want me to look for plot holes and/or character issues? With the first beta read of my own novel I definitely wasn’t ready to hear about typos or every little grammatical issue. I was much more concerned with plot issues. My friend said she was interested in knowing about any plot issues or inconsistencies.

I keep laughing at myself as I tell Olivia “I want more physical descriptions” which was something my friend Taj told me when she read an early version of my book. I think my two other early beta readers, Emma and Lucy, said the same things. “I want to know what the landscape they’re in looks like, but without going into a great exposition” and I’m remembering how hard I found it to describe the rooms my characters were inhabiting in a way that was natural and didn’t break up the flow but added richness to the reader’s experience. It’s so easy to say that and so much harder to achieve it. My strength as a writer is in creating atmosphere and writing the emotional lives of characters. Some writers can describe landscape exquisitely (Mary Stewart, for example) but draw characters a little more broadly. Some can write action scenes but have trouble letting readers inside their characters’ heads.

I don’t suck at description but it’s something I have to consciously work on.

I worked hard at adding more physical description to my next major edit and my whole book is so much stronger for it. Now I’m saying the same thing to Olivia because she’s created an interesting world and I’m hungry to know more about the clothes her characters are wearing, the animals they’re hunting, the climate, and the colors around them.

I have pointed out what I think are issues with character motivation and then when I started re-reading my own WIP I found similar issues that I’m seeing more sharply because of seeing it in Olivia’s work. Beta reading for Olivia is sharpening my insight into my own story’s issues. I wasn’t really expecting this benefit.

Beta reading for someone is, I see now, a real privilege. When a writer asks you into their process they are trusting you to behave respectfully like you would in a surgeon’s operating room. You have to be careful not to move the furniture around too much or to clog the toilet. Your level of involvement will vary from writer to writer, I’m sure,  but one thing is for certain, a beta reader is not an editor and it’s not their job to rewrite the material. You’re there to strengthen, to be a fresh pair of eyes, to give perspective.

Olivia assures me (so far) that I haven’t been too harsh or too nit-picky. My constant fear is that, in trying to be helpful, I will go too far and give discouragement where I mean to be giving encouragement. I write copious notes and then try to whittle them down to actionable suggestions or thoughts. I also note things I enjoyed or parts I think are strong.

Having a couple of people read your novel before you send it out to an agent or hit “publish” is the best thing you can do for your work. But if you’re a writer and have never beta-read someone else’s novel, I highly recommend it as a way to see the strengths and weaknesses in your own work more clearly.

Those Old Stacks of Notes

3rd street aleworks

Three great things happened this week:

1.  Max ate a tomato sandwich.  Whole wheat bread with the crust cut off, 1 slice of tomato, yellow mustard on one slice of bread and ketchup on the other.  He ate every last crumb of it.

2.  I finished sewing 5 shirts which you can read about on Stitch if you’re interested.  So I’m feeling productive.

3.  I cleaned the downstairs of my house.  Epic.  My kitchen floor was growing scared of itself, it was so dirty.

I don’t really want to be up right now.  I’ve been awake since just before 5am.  I finally gave up at 5:45.  Here it is, 7am, and I have to commit to staying awake because I am drinking coffee and until Philip wakes up it will not be comfortable to get back into bed with all the breathing going on in there.  I thought I’d write but I don’t have a starting point yet for the new book as I’m still working on the outline.

I just now thought about the stacks of notes and bits I wrote for two different ideas for novels I had almost 15 years ago.  Some people have great ideas that just need time to mature before they can become fully formed.  This is not the case with those earlier efforts of mine.  I worked so hard at them but I couldn’t bring any of my ideas to life because I was stuck in a strange warped place of literal truth.  I knew that fiction is all about making shit up – telling stories and using your imagination to build different versions of the world we live in as seen through the eyes of people who don’t really exist.  At the time I was coming to terms with some of my own truths – with my family and my past and the fact that I really CAN excel at doing math.  I had my saber held against the chin of my worst demon and with my chest full of fire and my head full of TRUTH I knew the living words would follow.

Naturally I was wrong.

I kept trying to tell MY truth because I thought that’s what writers do.  Well, they do, but not in a literal way.  If I was going to tell my truth then I was beholden to the facts surrounding my truth as well.  Basically I was trying to write fiction but kept veering off into autobiographical territory and it didn’t work because I couldn’t tell my story and then make stuff up that wasn’t true.

I made up a girl named Vera who worked in an underwear factory.  I loved the idea of her.  She most definitely didn’t resemble me at all so it was weird how I kept trying to make her life have the same issues as mine.  It turns out I can’t write good fiction by starting with a conclusion and trying to stuff it into the shape of a story.  It turns out that the story has to live for its own sake.  It has to matter outside of myself.  It turns out I have to start with a question and endeavor to answer it.

I could see where I kept getting hung up but I didn’t know how to work past it.  I remember the reams of paper I wasted trying to work through it, trying to force life onto the page and it was just like trying to light a cigarette with a packet of soggy matches.

I remember giving up.  I remember telling myself that I can’t write fiction, that I’m a poet not a novelist.*

In a nod to the character Vera, who never came to life, I made Jane Bauer (from that first novel I started writing “Jane Doe”) work in an underwear factory.  I’m realizing now, as I write this post, that this is not right for Jane, it doesn’t work.  To change this I’ll have to adjust some of what I’ve already got written but that’s what novel writing is like.  It’s not rigid work, it’s fluid.  You can write out the most detailed outline and you’ll still discover that something you planned for your story doesn’t work and if you try to flog a story with details that don’t work – it will stagnate.  If not for you, then for the reader.  I am becoming better at recognizing when something I’m trying in a story isn’t working.

In those earlier efforts at novel writing I was full of ideas, ideals, and huge life lessons and THINGS I NEEDED TO SAY but I didn’t really have a story to tell yet.

I wonder what I’m going to think about my first novels once I’ve written many?

*One can be both, obviously, but when you’re super busy tying yourself to the whipping post you don’t consider such things, all you want is to get on with lashing yourself and crushing your own dreams before someone else has the chance to.

Authors’ Pet Themes and Characteristics: when they repeat too often

I have noticed that many career novelists have certain themes that they explore over and over again and sometimes it becomes irritating.  Martha Grimes was the first author I really noticed this with and got annoyed with.  Philip pointed it out to me and once I saw it I couldn’t unsee it and after reading her 84th mystery novel I became exhausted.  She loves her characters to be orphans.  Orphan characters (both main and supporting characters) are everywhere in her books.

Either she was an orphan herself and this was a defining factor in her life OR she had issues with her parents that has made her fantasize about what that might be like.

Mary Stewart is obsessed with grey colored eyes.  This is not a usual color of eye being not really blue.  Every single suspense book she’s written features, at minimum, one character with grey eyes.  I gave them to Cricket in homage to her.  It’s so unusual that it becomes ridiculous for her books to be littered with grey-eyed people.

Those are just two examples off the top of my head.  I’m thinking about this because I have had Jane Doe haunting my head relentlessly lately (probably exacerbated by my recent trips to San Francisco where her story takes place) and trying to sort out how to move forward with that story and comparing it to Cricket and Grey I have noticed some themes of my own.  It concerns me.  I’m not going to say what they are.  Not to be coy or anything – but if you end up reading my work and if I continue to produce novels and you follow my “career” I don’t want to point anything out to you that might annoy you.  That would be stupid.  If you notice them – then you do.  If you don’t – much better.

More important to me is to AVOID that whole pitfall.  Inevitably, if you write a few novels then your characters are going to have same eye colors -there are only so many to choose from before you get ridiculous in making up things like “opal” and “tourmaline” colored eyes.  “Topaz” got excessive play in the Twilight series.  You can’t avoid reusing elements and certain themes that are common – you have to have common things in a story to make it believable so that the extraordinary details stand out.

So I was just thinking about some similar elements shared between my two stories and considering what I can change and what I can’t.  By the same token – you can’t obsess about stuff like this.   I’m aiming for consciousness of the potential to become repetitive with the need to tell stories that are natural for me to tell.

I wish Jane Doe would get out of my head.  I finally got a solid rough outline for the plot for the next Cricket and Grey book and I’d like to develop it but the other story is loud in my head too.  The problem is that I just can’t seem to make order out of it.  So it’s there – being a big noise – trying to draw me into the tangle so that I can give it better shape.

On another note – it’s becoming clear that I won’t be able to get Cricket and Grey available for actual sale until after the holidays.  That always happens – I miss the holiday potential because I got unfocused for too long and then suddenly woke up when it was too late. It’s okay though.  It is better to have a good cover and a good copy than to rush it.

Here’s the other thing I’m worrying about.  It’s not new.  If I publish Cricket and Grey myself but want to shop Jane Doe to agents – will they not even consider Jane Doe because I’ve already self published?  I know I’ve seen agents say they won’t take query letters from self published authors – I just can’t remember if I’ve seen that once or quite a few times.

Time for me to get back to the paid job.  I just want to jot these kinds of thoughts down more often in my writing journal rather than let them stay in my head.  No editing either.  Consider this a post you would jot down in your notebook and then bring up with your friends in a casual way.

Drives to Sonoma and Thoughts on Creative Pursuits

(I wish I had taken a picture of the fall landscape I described below – instead this was taken at my dad’s Sonoma place – still pretty I think!)

Favorite word of the day: trousseau.

I have always loved this word and not because it’s French.  I love it because it’s so hopeful (which is distinctly un-French).  A girl collects (often makes) bridal clothes and household linens and other treasures she will need as a new bride.  Trousseaus  were often kept in trunks or chests made of cedar – which makes it like treasure.  Who doesn’t like treasure?

Worst word of the day: glean.

I hate this word.  It’s useful and I’m not saying I wouldn’t use it in my writing but it sounds mean and glinty.  It sounds sneaky and greasy.  It also always brings to mind this quote “Shall we glean some nuts from the hedgerow?”  If you know where that comes from then you’re a genius because I am 99% sure I haven’t quoted it properly.

Gleaning nuts is something I actually do but I prefer to call it “collecting nuts” and I don’t have access to hedgerows so I just collect them from the pavement.

Yesterday I had an actual conversation in which I asked my almost twelve year old kid to imagine what it might feel like if he had balls the size of grapefruits.

Yesterday my friend Sharon and I drove up to Sonoma to go olive picking at my dad’s rental property.  My dad planted a small orchard of olives for pressing into oil.  I had hoped he planted some olives that are both good for eating and pressing but it turned out they’re all very small.  It’s a sweet little orchard anyway and I’m going to help harvest the olives for oil with my dad in a couple of weeks because I enjoy that kind of thing.  Anyway – so we ended up finding a couple of trees in town with some good fat ripe olives on them and got permission to pick them.  Just as we were heading home it started raining which was so pretty.  If you haven’t seen Sonoma county in the fall – with the vineyards turning red and purple and the hills painted in gentle yellows and oranges and sage greens – put it on your agenda.  When the rains come down it’s soft and gorgeous.

We stopped off at Whole Foods to get some salt for the olives and I brought up my usual writing dilemma: do I start writing the next Cricket and Grey book or do I work on Jane Doe?  Do I keep writing fiction or do I give it up for another 10 years while I work on non-fiction which has higher career potential?  If only a handful of people are interested in my fiction is it a good place to – same old same old.  All the questions I always struggle with.  I am such a decisive person with regards to almost everything in my life it’s extremely irritating to be incapable of KNOWING the answers to these questions about my writing “career”.  The one I wish I had.  The one I keep trying to build.  It just so happens that Sharon has read Cricket and Grey and her response is “I want to read the next Cricket and Grey book!” so I launched into the difficulty I’ve been having settling on the next book’s main story arc which I need to decide on before I can flesh out the rest of the plot.  I shared with her the ideas I’ve been having while we bought sea salt by the pound.

She shared her own similar questions regarding her art career.  She’s an extraordinary artist – I happen to be a huge fan of her work and have 2 pieces of it and am negotiating a trade for a third exquisite piece.  She has received some unwanted career advice from someone who means well but who has caused her to question (again) the nature of her work and whether she should be painting to please the tastes of the public or continue to paint just what she’s moved to paint.  This particular person said something about her work being too dark – saying that people just want to be happy.

I think many artists and writers have similar doubts and conversations as we had.  I may not have a lot of answers but talking this out with Sharon did bring clarity back about the nature of both mine and her creative pursuits: and artist should paint what they want to see in the world or paint what they are moved to paint by that inner drive that urged them to take up the brush or pencil or charcoal in the first place.  A novelist should write the books they really want to be reading – not the books they think others want to be reading.  I don’t like reading heavy literature that appeals to intellectuals and academics.  I did read a lot of heavy literature when I was young and I’m glad I did.  It enriched my vocabulary and gave me such a broad understanding of what different people can do with language and how many different ways the basic human experience can be expressed in stories.

But I don’t read heavy literature now.  I don’t want to read depressing stories where every character is so flawed you can’t like them.  I want to read compelling stories with enough suspense to keep me glued to the page and interesting characters who I want to know more about – characters to love and characters to hate and just enough ambiguity of ethics to keep from being predictable.  I need someone to root for and I need endings that are hopeful.

Talking to Sharon reminded me that I wrote Cricket and Grey because it’s the kind of book I wish I could find more of.  I am going to have to write Jane Doe because it’s personally important to me and that one is darker than I like to read usually.  But I want to write more Cricket and Grey books (there are meant to be 4 CandG books) and I want to write more books in that style.

Fiction versus Nonfiction?  No author has to really choose between them.  I’m embarking on the nonfiction project with my friend Emma so I’ll be doing that.  But I know that I never felt more like I was doing what I was always meant to be doing than when I was writing my novels.  That should be all the answer I need to move forward.  Will I ever be a commercial success – maybe not.  I need to commit to the knowledge that I may just write novels on the side for the rest of my life but I can’t ever let that get in the way of doing what I know I need to be doing.

This all reminds me how important it is for creative people to talk to each other – to share these doubts and these questions with each other because we need frequent encouragement from others on similar paths.  It’s sometimes easier for me to see what Sharon should be doing or who she shouldn’t be listening to than it is for me to see what I should be doing and who I shouldn’t be listening to.

I have a small handful of people reading my novel here on my blog and I have heard from a couple of them that they look forward to the new chapter every week – this is deeply gratifying and between them and Sharon I have a renewed determination to shake the writer’s block and plot uncertainty and get moving on book 2 of Cricket and Grey (Spring).

But today I have to work for a living all day.  Tonight I will write some notes.  Maybe I’ll share some ideas here tomorrow.

Hush: Still on the Other Side

The process of writing this book has been clamorous, boisterous, euphoric, suicidal, and almost the exact length of the gestational period of an elephant.  It has grown a little more quiet.  the wheels turn with less grease now, with less head pounding against my pitifully pet-dirty window pane that looks down on poison-man and smoking-man who only ever see me in my down-trodden pyjamas and ragged sweaters.  They see me make strange gesticulations to the air and make peculiar mad poses as I forget I’m not alone in the world or in my window and pretend to go into my forms positions.  I am as exotic as a plucked pheasant.

Still, I am making something better than myself.  This must be worth something.  I keep thinking of hands.  I see hands everywhere I go.  The same as I see noses and teeth.  The same as I look at the quality of eyes in the light and see what tries to hide from the blind intrusion to the pupil, shrinking, revealing, begging to be let down easy.  I keep seeing hands saying more than mouths, more than eyes, more than voices.  A silent opera of hands unfolds all around me, bleeding baritone velvet and gold frogging.

Hands whose natural tension has been relieved at the wrist with razor precision.  Hands that touch truth and shiver in the cold with loneliness.

In the thick of chapter 12, 3rd draft revision, I am carefully forcing Cricket to unfold her prejudice and arrogance.  I am trying to find that sublime balance between enough evolution and maintaining that reservation we all have to learn at our own pace.  The book takes place over about a month and half period of time, a life can change irrevocably in that time but it may not right itself as easily as summer melted butter.

Tonight I am full of time.  A flooding of memory both sweet and uncomfortable.  What I remember most fondly, that I can share, is this funny little antique shop from which I extracted such treasures as unworn nylon stockings from the 1940’s and 50’s, old screen magazines from the 50’s and 60’s, and a wonderful peach and white gingham waitress dress from the 60’s or 70’s with a silly Peter pan collar, small pockets, cut with an A-line skirt.  I loved that thing.  Loved it’s Laverne charm better than I could ever love a hair locket, something else I found in this shop but didn’t buy.  I wanted light.  Like I always do.  I was hungry for trust, for something solid, for promises in cotton, for the mutual recognition of art, of design, of brotherhood.  I wanted a fireside story of romance to end with old ladies and old men, shriveled with time, but happy.  I didn’t want Romeo and Juliet.  I didn’t want Ophelia or Sylvia Plath.  I wanted something real, but something full of light.  That dress… that dress was full of fucking light and made me laugh every time I put it on.

Hush.

I’ve never wanted anything different.  I’m feeling the years and the hours and the decades and the seconds in a complete happy jumble of affectionate expressions of time.  Everything I write reflects my desire.  My view.  My search for the same light.  The same dress.  The same corner full of thread and lace, hammers and nails, tea and bourbon.

Arteries still pump themselves down the same limbs and all these years later the razor isn’t much farther than it was before from perfection, from resolution, from expression.  The spread of joy is unequivocal.  It infects where it bleeds.

I was always so separate feeling, outside looking in.  I know now that this was merely how I perceived myself and it lacks corroboration from those around me in the past.  I was touching cold hands to warm light and standing fast to my side of the window because I didn’t know how to come in.  Not even with twenty hands all unlatching the windows to pull me through; I held to my side because I didn’t know how to shut the window behind me.

Hush.

The past climbs through now.  It speaks in the bright patois of youth, it kisses the dark away and covers pin cratored fingers with the finest beeswax, sops the blood from tight stitches and says to hell with it all!  The pale ghost of fear doesn’t stand a chance against this light of memory.

It colors my work.  It colors the chapters so that each closes with almost the same broken cry I used to let out in my sleep in the dark house full of olive sized spiders and weeping naked Juliettes.  Everything then is useful to me now, tonight.  The feel of yards of cartridge pleated velveteen to the limit of my soul, the candlelight that hid lovers I disapproved of, disastrous assignations, while I took candle to the stars and watched everyone else more happy than myself fall apart in agony.

Hush.

Cricket will find her way.

 

The Importance of Readers

I have written a book.

Two people have read the book.

I have received their notes and the assessment has begun.

Both of my readers liked the book but their questions, the strengths they perceived, the weaknesses they detected, and the things that resonated were different, except where they met.

One thing is certain:  everyone LOVES Shockey Robbins.  Though no one could possibly love him more than I do.  Only two people have read the entire book but quite a few people have read through the first three chapters.  It is gratifying to me that everyone loves Shockey.  He came to me as one of those complete fictional and necessary beings, not comfortable, but real and with a backwards charm that comes from god knows where.

I knew I couldn’t approach the third draft without outside perspective.  Everyone kept telling me it was me who needed to back off and take some time to let the story breath.  Get some distance.  Take a break.  What I really felt was that there was no way for me to see the problems at this point because I have become so damn close, so enmeshed that I fill in all the details as I proof that maybe other people need but I don’t notice they’re still only in my head and not on the page.  I knew I needed other eyes.

Emma and Lucy did this honor and I will try to express how much it means to me that they were willing to take on the first readings.  This, I realized after I got both of their notes, can’t be easy.  Writers are known to be a pretty sensitive lot.  Who wants to  be the person to say “Hey, this isn’t bad, but how come your head is up your ass?” and be the cause of a whiskey bender of mythic proportions?  When I gave them the book I was confident that I could take whatever they had to dish.  I think you just know when it’s time to set a work free to other eyes.  It was time.

Still, I was unprepared to feel as stripped as I did.  Some of this feeling is for reasons too personal to even say out loud.  I got both their notes the same day.  That night I felt weirdly naked even though neither of them said anything alarming or unhelpfully critical.  My two friends were both incredibly thoughtful and diplomatic.  I realized that this is just one more part of the process of writing a book.  I have always cringed when writers talk about a book as a baby but I understand the analogy now.  It’s a creation, it’s something you spend an inordinate amount of hours working on, labouring over, investing everything of yourself in (hopefully), and then you let it go.

You let it go and suddenly it is a thing.  A thing that exists outside yourself.  It’s a thing that isn’t just an excited conversation you have with your friends about what you’re up to.  It has a life of its own when it leaves you and enters someone else’s head.

If you’ve never written a book before this will be new to you.  This was new to me.  The work of over a year, largely done in private, always in my head.  It’s just weird.  Having readers give you notes on it is like getting a report card for your kid.  It doesn’t really matter what the grades are, it’s a little unnerving to know your kid has to live his or her own life and have complicated relationships you won’t be part of.

Maybe this part of the process won’t interest others but I record it here because it interests me and I wish that I could dig into the intimate process of writing a book as other writers experience it.

I think it’s really important that you choose readers who you trust as people.  Whose opinions you already know you respect.

After reading both sets of notes the fact that I had them to compare to each other was a big help.  They each had a different take, a different perspective.  The thing I most wanted and needed to know was what needs the most revision in the whole book.  Which chapter, or aspect, is the roughest.  It was immediately obvious to me that anything my readers mutually agreed on as needing work is not to be ignored.

Both Emma and Lucy agreed on this:

They want the story to go DEEPER.

With regards to both plot and character motivations/characterizations.  This is something I felt I needed to do as I was writing but was so focused on getting a complete working plot and decent dialog that I didn’t feel I could go too deep yet.  When I finished the last chapter I felt it was too short.  I knew from word count I had plenty of room to develop the plot and characters better.  So everyone agrees.

That’s my biggest broadest goal for the third draft, to go deeper.

Next I used their diverging opinions to come up with a blueprint for the tackling of smaller, but not less important details.  Lucy thought Cricket was unlikable and unrealistic because I show her to be really pragmatic but then have her acting in obstinate irrational ways.  Emma loved Cricket and understood her character and motivations really well.  Lucy’s questions about her character have got me doing some really good thinking.  For two days now I’ve been considering Cricket’s nature and her actions and asking myself why – why does she refuse to listen to any of her friends who are trying to help her?

The answer I came up with was instinctual.  Cricket, in spite of a pragmatic nature, won’t let her friends help her pay off her big financial tax debt because then she’d be in their debt too much.  She would feel beholden to them in an untenable way.  Why?

I will take food, temporary shelter, clothes, and pin money from friends in times of great need.  A year ago when we kept getting to the point of no money in the bank on a Friday, not particularly desperate by desperate standards, more than one friend gave me beer money.  I accepted it as the warm and thoughtful offering it was.

I wouldn’t allow any of my friends to discharge any large amount of money on my behalf.  No matter what my trouble was.  I’ll take the necessities but I will not let any friend pay my mortgage, I wouldn’t let any friend pay a chunk of money down on my house to lower my mortgage.  This is essentially what Cricket’s friends are offering.  It is, to her, unethical to take large sums of money from anyone but closely related family.  Cricket’s close family are all dead.

These are important things to know.  To be able to explain.  It might not be likable and I can understand Cricket being hard for some people to sympathize with.  Part of the issue, and something Lucy pointed out, is that I don’t take full advantage of the potential for internal dialog to explain why Cricket makes the choices she does.  This is a fact.  I am not actually all that much like Cricket myself, she is who I wish I was, but we do have some things in common and those things I take for granted are obvious.

They are not.

So I am taking both Lucy and Emma’s thoughts on Cricket and her motivations (Emma had a lot more questions about the nature of Cricket’s relationship with her parents) and I’m coming to some point in the center because readers at large are a whole lot of individuals who are going to all have their own perspectives but I want to aim for the most amount of people to understand Cricket and what drives her because I love her so much and wish I had half her spirit.


Another point that it’s clear I need to work harder on is: A Sense of Place and Time.

Again, Lucy and Emma had very different reactions to the question of when this story takes place.  What’s clear to me is that there needs to be a little better anchoring in time and place sooner than I establish it in the second draft.  I refuse to declare a specific year that my story takes place.  It’s in the future between 60 to 100 years from now.  There is no catastrophic event that leads to the end of oil supplies.  I don’t believe we’re going to have an Apocalypse.  I believe we’ll just slowly drain our resources until there just is none left for the average person.  This is speculative fiction so it’s how I imagine it’s going to go down.  This is how I imagine my community is going to be when we don’t have access to gasoline anymore.

I don’t intend this book to be a heavy political commentary.  I don’t intend it to be a big speech about what our wicked ways will reap.  It’s a fictional story about how I imagine my community will be down the road when there’s no money for the consumption we’re used to now.  When manufacturing isn’t completely over but everything is really costly so you have to make hard choices about what you’re going to buy.  This is about what happens when there’s no middle class anymore.

Place and Time.  Every novel needs to anchor the reader in place and time.  I have missed my mark a little.  While I don’t want to write a heavy handed cautionary tale for fat capitalist consumers, I want readers to understand that this slow demise has transformed the simplest of activities into more strategically difficult ones.  Between Emma and Lucy’s take on Place and Time (I capitalize that for emphasis) I see where I need to fall and I’m not sure how to achieve it.  But I will.

My first chapter really needs some radical change.

A lot more needs to be accomplished with it and I am starting to see, now, how I might achieve it.  I need to let this all percolate a little longer.  My head is swimming with the notes, digesting them, putting them in context, considering them against the immutable aspects of my story.

I am motivated to make Cricket and Grey a piece of great writing.  I am not so concerned about writing the great American novel, nor do I expect to write a Pulitzer winner, but what I do expect of myself is that anyone can pick up my book, read it, and regardless of whether they really like my style or not, recognize a piece of well written fiction.

The way I feel about Bukowski and Steinbeck, both of whose style I LOATH but whom I respect deeply for their skill and brilliance.

The best thing about having these valuable notes is that some of my worst fears have been laid to rest.  Neither of my readers seemed to think the dialog was reprehensible and neither thought this story a paltry embarrassing romance.  Things I didn’t to believe I’d created but which I deeply feared.  Maybe I should trust myself a little more not to create a bodice ripper out of a genuine story of growth out of grief and partnership with friendship.

I’ve got a lot of ground to cover with the third draft and I wouldn’t even know where to begin if it weren’t for Lucy and Emma.

Ladies: It’s such a privilege to have your help with my first novel.  I promise not to go on a whiskey-sodden bender.  I’m encouraged, energized, and percolating my next move madly!