You know you’ve made it as a writer when your career is the subject of one of the questions on the Buzztime Trivia game at Buffalo Wild Wings. We were “dining out” with our oldest grandson at B-Wild at Chandler Fashion Center when I glanced up at the huge screen on the wall connected to the tablet at our table and read a question I could actually answer. In other words, it wasn’t sports related.
The question was, per my recollection, “who writes about the nightmarish side of society?” I’m unsure who the other choices were but I knew immediately that Joyce Carol Oates was the answer. She may not be everyone’s cup of tea but I happen to love her books, as depressing as they tend to be. Wonder what that says about my psychological makeup?
I was fortunate to hear Oates read from her novel “The Accursed” at the Canaan, NH, Meetinghouse Readings on July 11, 2013. (Was it really almost three years ago?)
Anyone living within an hour’s drive, or more, of Canaan, NH, please plan to attend the readings at least once. The Meetinghouse, built in 1793, is worth the trip alone. I don’t know how the moderator convinces such acclaimed authors to make the trek to Canaan but you are certain to find at least one each summer that has you sitting on the edge of your bench, pinching yourself to check that you haven’t ventured into an alternate universe.
If I had to choose between being a question on the Buzztime Trivia game and reading from one of my novels at The Meetinghouse, without a doubt I would choose the latter. On second thought, I’d prefer to follow in Oates’ footsteps and do both.
The royal blue three-ring binder taunts me from its secure spot on the bookshelf. Eighty-one completed pages of “Anne” with additional pages of notes, outlines, and prose tucked here and there. Hidden underneath are two manila folders. One holds “It Takes A Village Store,” 50,065 words of my 2014 NaNoWriMo submission. “Full Circle,” my 2015 submission, 50,212 words total, is ensconced in the other. The main characters of each novel are strong women from the same family, a mother, daughter, and niece/cousin. The setting is the same town for all three novels.
Originally I intended to have the novels comprise a trilogy but now I am reconsidering that. I feel that it makes more sense to combine them into one novel. How did I reach that conclusion? Good question. One issue is that none of the three are long enough in their current state to be a complete novel. Another problem is that they are extensions of each other, their plots and characters interwoven as only a family can be. I could solve the problems by expanding each of them, differentiating the plots so that they stand alone yet remain connected. Or I could stick with my decision to produce a single novel. Flip a coin?
I have looked for novels with more than one main character, and diverse points of view (obviously), for inspiration. I am surprised that the last three random books I’ve read meet those criteria. (“The Valley of Amazement” by Amy Tan; “the speed of light” by Elizabeth Rosner; “Life After Life” by Jill McCorkle.) Each one has taken a different approach, probably none of which will work for me.
A long time ago I heard that first-time authors should stick to a straightforward, one main character, one point of view, story. I can see the wisdom in that advice. Yet I’m in a situation where that won’t work. Unless I write three separate novels. Can you hear my teeth gnashing?
No wonder the binder and the two folders that took up valuable space in my suitcase—at least two pairs of shorts worth–have sat untouched on the bookshelf for two months. (Of course, they also are on my laptop but a hard copy is easier to edit. You’ve got to pick it up to do that.)
My only writing goal for this winter in Arizona was to work on this project. Instead, I have devoted my writing time to my short story, “He’s All She Has” (originally titled “The Intruder”). The last revision of this story garnered the suggestion from John, our facilitator, that I put it aside and move onto something else. And I thought it was one revision away from being completed…I’ll try to put a positive spin on it–guess I’ll have time to work on my novel(s)!
I’m late. I should have posted this yesterday, but now it is today and here I am a day late. If I didn’t use the second sentence to explain the first two words of this paragraph, I wonder if you would know what I meant. Maybe, if you’re a close follower of this blog and missed me yesterday; yeah right, I wish. Otherwise, you might speculate about in what way I am late. Without explanation, you might visualize a madman with a watch and top hat as he rushes about, or maybe a young woman as she broaches a difficult subject with her boyfriend. From a darker palette, you could illustrate a poor soul who realizes they can’t move due to rigor mortis. In the latter situation, the person is often described today as having “passed”.
“Passed”, I really question that portrayal of life cessation when it euphemizes an obviously much more dramatic event. If you peacefully go to sleep and never wake up, then, OK, it’s reasonable to say your soul has “passed” from this life to the next. However, it’s lame and in denial to apply it to someone who was dropkicked into the next world when obliterated by an eighteen wheeler, knifed seventy-two times or separated from their one and only head by … you get the picture. I find it’s easy to digress when writing.
My wife suggested the title of this piece when she recalled a book, Wheels! by Annie Cobb and illustrated by Davy Jones (still widely available), that our children read as toddlers. Our copy was packed away with our kids’ books and Barb was able to put her hands right on it. Part of a Random House series called “Early Step into Reading Books”, it is true to its introductory note of being designed for “…preschoolers and kindergartners who are just getting ready to read.” Self described as being “…packed with rhyme, rhythm, and repetition”, it beautifully bridges visual and verbal.
I showed it to my son, now in his early twenties, and he remembered immediately, “Yeah, it’s like my favorite book.” He thumbed through it, saying “You can tell we liked it, look how ratty (he meant worn) it is.” and stopped at a two page spread showing cars and trucks, all sans wheels, stranded right where they were on an interstate interchange, and declared it was his favorite picture. The words accompanying that scene are “What if there were NO wheels? How would people go?” which made me think of a simile “What if there were NO words? How would people write, read, speak or KNOW?”
I’ve moved from the bed of the dim, cozy casita to the patio adorned with blue sky and sunshine. Little birds chatter in the palo verde trees. The water fountain bubbling in the background competes with the wind chimes in the tree. Helicopters and Canada geese fly overhead while the thrum of a hummingbird draws my attention to the feeder. A ruby glitter signals this is a male. My muse, perhaps?
I have decided to read outside rather than write inside—the comfort of the bed was about to lure me to sleep at eleven in the morning. Or was it the pressure to write that caused my eyes to glaze over, my lids to droop? Yet here I am, outside, surprised to find pen and paper, rather than my Kindle, in hand. How is it that the distractions of a glorious winter morning in Arizona are allowing me to focus on my writing when I was convinced that I needed quiet and seclusion, and especially darkness, to get words, action, characters, plot, onto paper?
Excuses. I have plenty of them. The environment isn’t conducive to writing (see above), I have too many other things to do (aren’t I retired?), I don’t have the energy (it’s the medicine), my Words with Friends and Trivia Crack opponents are waiting for my next move (life or death situation to some).….you get the drift.
I can’t write on demand–the forces of the universe must be perfectly aligned before I can put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard,
with words leading to paragraphs to chapters to a book. A completed book. Yet I have won NaNoWriMo two times—a “complete” novel, 50,000 words written in the month of November! How do I reconcile this?
NaNoWriMo frees me. No inner critic sits on my shoulder or on the page. No time for self-doubt, perfection, or the fear of failure that normally trigger my procrastination. No concern over what my writing group will think. And then there’s that deadline. All I need for the other eleven months of the year is to find a way to replicate NaNoWriMo, to accept that my first draft will be a shitty first draft, and my creative juices will flow. Miraculously, I will become a published author. Though I have heard that it also takes hard work, writing every day, perseverance. Oh, and I can’t forget a dash of talent. Desire isn’t enough. And desire is all that I seem to be able to muster.
A few nights ago I was up until one in the morning reading a novel, anxious, as usual, to find out how it would end. Although it was my own 2014 NaNoWriMo submission, I had already forgotten. Now I remember how as midnight on November 30 approached those last few sentences seemingly leapt from the keyboard onto the page, surprising even me. Funny how that happens.
WordPress has my number. No sooner had I obeyed its command to “Create Your Web Site,” than it was tempting me to explore everybody else’s blog instead of writing my own. It waved a dozen links to blogs on writing under my nose, even more to book lovers’ blogs, and one called (truth in advertising) Longreads that can mess you up for days.
Then there’s Freshly Pressed, WordPress’s links to individual posts that “you might like.” How does it know? Yeah, Google tells it. The trouble is, Google is so often right. I told myself I was looking for good writing, for ideas on using WordPress well, for designing the page, blah, blah. And I did find ideas I could use.
But if I read all this stuff, when do I write?
All the wonderful How to Write books pose this same problem. Ideas about writing exist in a different universe from writing itself. Books show you nice clear roads to success: if you are writing X kind of book, and arrange your chapter in Y way, the result for your book will be Z. Those are the basic books. The tone of the more advanced comes closer to celebrity cooking shows: “you’ll be amazed how just a touch of coriander (humor/specifics/pornography) will transform your recipe!”
The actual experience of writing is more like forcing yourself to jump off a cliff, having been told by, say, an angel that you will not in fact be smashed to jam, because you can fly – as long as you think you can. Some days, just the icon for your writing program is enough to send you to Longreads.
When you do make the jump, you can fly or you can’t. You start where you left off or somewhere else in the text where you need to be. Your characters need to limber up over a few (dozen) pages. Then they stop making the kind of remark you make at dinner parties to people you don’t know why you’re talking to. And then, from somewhere behind your left ear, an earlier prop or an embedded quarrel or a potential love affair hooks around and snatches your plot. Suddenly, the conversation is making sense, but only if we assume that… and the story is writing itself. If you can keep the scene pulled up around you, and refrain from insisting that it “work out right,” you’re golden. For the time being.
And some days, you’re smashed to jam.
There is no way to avoid either the jump or the jam. I read a bit, here and there, in my pile of how-to books, and like the blogs, they add to my little store of technique. I may even recall their tips to my great profit, if I ever get to the third draft. As soon as your nose emerges from the book, you are going to have to walk back to that cliff face. So get over it, close the book, close the writing blog and jump.
That’s all for today. I gotta go write my post.