Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How possible could it impossibly be

Recently, I got about as close to beating a video game as I ever do: the last, gut-wrenching level that requires the player to compress all their long hours of training and resourcefulness into one fifteen minute battle with a nightmarish scenario dreamed up by some designer somewhere with too much time and not enough friends. Which is to say I lost. Repeatedly. And overall, the game wasn't an utter waste of my time and energy. I enjoyed playing it, and even more than that, I enjoyed playing the same company's next offering even more. It was evident that they had learned some things. A friend sitting on the couch next to me commented sagely as we waited for the scenario to load again so we could give it another go: "I would really like to see them remake this game with all the knowledge they've accrued." And I second that, however impossible such things sometimes are.

The decision has more or less been made. The publisher that had one of my novels gave me a contract to print out and sign, along with other instructions. The manuscript still remains to be formatted a certain way, saved a certain way, and submitted a certain way. And the months and months of waiting. But I've become cool with all that, mostly. Because I've abandoned them, I can freely outline my dreams of instant success, money, and celebrity, of my book finding it's way into the right hands, read by the right eyes, and through some strange turns of Fate, ending up on Oprah's book club just long enough for me to repay all my debts and start putting money into a retirement fund. Long enough for me to meet people and tell them that I'm a writer, and have a legitimate answer when they ask me if I have anything published.

The things I can scarcely remember writing back in college, and even before, my mentor would refer to as my "juvenalia" and according to him, one never publishes their juvenalia. And after I had made some strides, I understood why. The stuff was pretty atrocious. More accurately, it served its purpose and that purpose probably wasn't meant to be seen by anyone but my mother. "Oh, this is good, baby," she said. And likewise, I realized recently, the things I'm writing now are serving their purposes as well. I'm getting better, not as quickly or as easily (I believe they refer to this as the gradient of diminishing returns) but I am. And when I'm better, I will have more credentials as well, things I've done that were published that maybe didn't make a lot of money, but things with ISBN numbers and backing and readership. These things will make me worthy of that advance that I'll receive.

In other news, I have completed the first draft of the new sci-fi short. And it is a whale of an ugly baby. It isn't quite so terrible that a new father would cut the camera off before cutting the cord or anything, but it's violated more than a few personal goals I set out for myself when I write a short story, one of which is an economy of language. At the last writers meeting, someone pointed out the fact that anything can be done, if done well, but looking at the page number of my latest monster remains troubling.

So today is another day in the life. One of my most diligent readers (read: friends) has given me a thumbs up on at least the first small segment of the novel I'm also working on. I breathe a sigh of relief, and after I'm done with the sci fi short (Oh yes, it will be short[er]) I'll be diving back into that. These hard years will be the currency with which I barter for a bright future. says I. My high score will be etched in lights.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Testify (got a song, gone sing it, if you know the words, feel free)

I'm not sure when last I posted, so that probably means something. I have been writing though; I'm getting some traction in the novel and it's gaining momentum. Yesterday, I revised my latest short story a bit more and sent it off. The automated email told me it could take up to 10 weeks to get a reply. So, more waiting. And I'm not complaining (much), because you never want the reply to come back too soon. Sending something off on a Monday and getting a rejection by that next Tuesday is an indication of more negative things than positive ones. So, more finger-crossing, which is to say, putting it out of my mind and setting my sights on the next idea to put to paper.

A couple weeks ago, when I set out to start this next novel, I posted on facebook that I was "climbing another mountain." This past week I realized how wrong I was about that. Metaphorically speaking, the act of writing a novel, for me at least, is less like climbing a mountain and more like climbing down from those same peaks. I've always been a little philosophical (okay, maybe more than a little) but to expand on this point I'm going to have to get a little religious.

You remember Moses, right? Okay.

Having an idea for a lot of artist is analogous to something divine. Light shines on the artist's forehead and their eyes light up, maybe get a little watery. And then they have it, and all the struggle and strife comes from trying to give it to other people, their audience as well as any random traveler that may stumble upon it. And it's a treacherous climb, made only that much more difficult because of one's precious cargo. There are snares and pits like context and perspective and timing along the way, and strangers who might be friends, or might not be along the journey. And one of the biggest problems is that we become extremely protective of something that we, ironically, mean to give away.

And for me, at least, it's most difficult at the beginning: learning to walk with the added weight, around and over and under things with the cumbersome items I'm carrying. But once I know not only where to step but how, it's almost as if that knowledge makes the land flatten out and the temperature become hospitable. I can see farther and travel faster, and I typically find myself comfortable enough to smile about it.

So, the principle, I guess, is looking at the same things in different ways. I learned that it applies to just about everything, even food. In the past week, I had Ethiopian and Greek food, and even finished my second guest blog, . Some of these items were better than others, but the key, I was told by an artist friend, is that I was trying new things at all. In any event, I'm in a better place, and am thankful for that.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The teachings: from Mario and Egon

I think it's always funny when the hero says "I don't believe in prophecy," in reply to someone that just told him or her what will or won't happen because of predestination. Because the character is a construct, a grouping of ideas, a made thing. They don't believe in anything, not really. Whether they're right or wrong, whether prophecy, in their context, functions or not, has already been predetermined in and of itself. I think to myself: "you poor foolish idiot. Don't you realize the princess is already in another castle?"

The writing group went well last night. My gut's confidence is restored. The group liked my story, fairly unanimously, using words like "tight" to describe the condition of the story having very few and minuscule places where the body bends strangely or gears where the transmission catches. It does everything I wanted it to do, and does it well enough to start thinking of the next draft as the final draft (and the next draft after that). Which is what I thought, so go me. I even have some emails to make in regards to marketing and such; maybe I'll explain that later.

In other news, the novel is not going so well. I have yet to conquer the laconic urges that consternate its being put to paper, and during my thinking times, other stories are crowding in and sapping energies that would be best used on the project I've "committed" myself to. I wonder at my plan, and if it's a good one. After all, what would it hurt to just stop one project and go to work on another? Does the current story have enough momentum to come back to? I think of it as a bit of a circus: one performer is riding several bicycles at the same time by pedaling on one and then dexterously jumping to the next. My fear is that if I jump from this story, when I come back to it, it won't still be in motion. It'll be back behind me, sideways against the ground and no longer part of the show.

I believe the sagely advice was "don't cross the streams." And I take it seriously. I can see the disaster almost before it happens, feel the calamity with the hairs on my forearm standing on end. Yet, I think to myself: "maybe it wouldn't be as bad as predicted." I wonder if I could be different, if I could defy the careful strictures I have applied to myself because of experiences in the past, frayed bits of nameless stories and strands of plot, unrecognizable even to the mind that conceived them. 

So, this is a jumble I'm going to have to unravel, I think, before I take any significant steps forward. Last night I told the group about my sci-fi novel idea, its details and trappings as I had thought of them. Many, many more are required to create what I have in mind to make. It isn't a complete idea, and yet it dominates my wondering. This morning I whispered the prologue. My hands walked themselves to my keyboard, and for a brief moment, I wondered if maybe I was that hero. And if I could succeed where so many others had failed.

Ironically it's a much more, seldom-told story where the old man in the tavern, gray beard and wrinkled face rasps, "I was a hero once. I didn't believe in prophecy."

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Trying to get one more cookie

On Thursday, some wily cameraman got some really good footage at the 2010 NBA Finals Game 1 in LA. Chris Rock, plugging his upcoming movie, was at the game with co-star David Spade, and as comedians do, they were cracking jokes while the game was still in jeopardy of being lost by the home team. Then, the shot expanded to not only include Rock, and Spade, but Kobe Bryant (yeah, they had really good seats). He was sweating, and breathing hard, and most definitely in ear shot of Rock's antics. Actually (or at least that's what people said later) he was actually talking to Kobe. And the hall-of-famer didn't laugh, or even smile. A clever commentator used the NBA star's expression to make a point about being focused, keeping one's mind on the task. I think wow is what my contribution to the conversation was.

Last year around this time, I was writing a novel. It's so foggy now, like a dream. I can remember what happened, but the more I try to decipher the details of it, the more vague they become. Because of fortuitous events following, I know that I completed the feat in a month. Thirty chapters in thirty days. I recall that I was partially inspired by my car being totalled, and being out of work, so I had nothing to do and nowhere to go (as well as nowhere to get there). And as you might remember, lately I've been working on another novel. It's in the exact same series, as a point of fact. I figured that summer would be the time for that, sort of write in the same world during the same time of year when the same sorts of things are going on around me, etc. Well, that was the plan.

I came home yesterday thinking how hot it was outside and how hungry I was. I considered playing a video game, or maybe going grocery shopping. I turned on the television and lamented at nothing being on. Then, instead of turning it off, I went trolling for something that was at least mildly entertaining. Then I got on facebook. It was, as you might expect, a wild departure from the production I had going last year. I'm not sure what changed. My only saving grace was, acknowledging all of these failures of mine, I took a hard look at what I've been writing and what I plan on writing, and recognized the need for some more outlining. Specifically, a character's religious philosophy can't be written about yet because I haven't invented the religion (little shot-before-the-pass action). So, I felt better about that oversight. 

And I did work yesterday, technically. I read half a book and plowed through some analysis of a manuscript. I engaged the muscle in question for about a hundred pages (okay, it was half a play, and one chapter of a novel). But I realize that I'm making excuses. Chris Rock is as funny as distractions are distracting. And don't I want to be a champion? At least, to the extent that writing can be championed. 

And so, a week later, with woefully little to show for all of the momentum I had going, I am dusting myself off and getting back on the horse. Again. This week the writing group is going to be tearing through my short story. I am a little ambivalent as to whether I want their consensus to demand a rewrite (which, generally, makes things better) or if I want them to give me the green light on sending it out (which would affirm my own gut impression that it's fine the way it is). I have some other challenges ahead of me as well, and in certain lights, at specific times of day, they look really daunting. I wonder what it was that Kobe was staring at. Even moreso, I wonder who he'd be without his own mountains to climb. 

Friday, June 4, 2010

The acme wheel

I'm learning again. Growing, too.Which also means I'm sort of failing. It's the first of a new month, at least it was earlier this week. Naturally, I thought it was a good time to pull the trigger on this new novel. I had my outlines, character synopses, motivations, sketches. I knew who was who, who was where, where was what, all that jazz.  And *counts fingers* four days later I'm more or less where I was when I began. I even started the day with a facebook status message before spitting in my hands and rubbing them together (that's how it's done, right?). Then I jumped. And now, I'm doing my impression of Wile. E. Coyote at the drawing board, tapping my foot in consternation. 

More specifically, my explanation to a friend was "the problem is that it's a fantastical situation, so [certain] things get thrown out the window, but in the vacuum I've created, the assertions [that I'm trying to put forth] don't have legs." That, also didn't make sense, so I went through a conversation about stories and their internal logic and the foundational principles that anything (that's intended to make sense) needs to "make sense." I examined a wooden board on the side of this thing I've built and realize it's wrong, along with the nail I used, and the support beam the nail was hammered into, etc. 

Something I knew about myself already was that I start slow. Maybe in life (isn't that proving to be true) and certainly in something like this. Once I've established a rhythm, become comfortable with a pace, I can live in it, and stay there until I'm done. But the beginning is like the first night in a strange setting: I spend restless hours rolling around with not a lot getting accomplished. And during the next day, I gripe about it all being a waste of time. 

In other news, I have shameless self-promotion in the form of a link. I belong to 'groups' which allow for 'networking' which have produced 'opportunities.' Guest blogging is what it's called, and I embraced embracing new experiences and tried it. I wanted to know what the details were, why people did it, and how it worked. As you might imagine, there's somewhat of a demand of staying within the lines. I've done it twice, and in the second instance when I asked what sort of stuff the person was looking for, I was cautioned to stay away from provocative things like race, politics and religion. If I have a haughty tone, it is purely hypocritical. When I myself had words that touched on such things, I passed the words onto a friend for his blog, in an effort not to offend others.

But, overall, the message I take away from this is perseverance. Talking with another writing friend, I asked him how he gets from idea to a draft he's happy with. He gave me a really eloquent and metaphorical description that wasn't really helpful. I told him my method was to beat my face against it until it looked right. Which of course could either be my improving it, or using the resulting delirium to reconsider the genius of my words. When considering a whimsical title for this latest entry, I thought to conflate snowballing and a snowball's chance in hell, but instead (since I'm growing) I thought to go with something more optimistic. 

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ricardo Montalban will beat you up

Two weeks ago, I was given a DVD to watch at the behest of my writer's group. I say it that way because it was less of an assignment, and more of a social obligation in that it was put into my hands along with the burden of their expectation that I would watch it then we could discuss it. So of course I didn't. When it came back around, an up and coming screen writer in the group somewhat excitedly said "I think one of us had a movie to watch," and I was given the terrible duty of disappointing all of them. However, that sick feeling in my stomach was just enough to get me to pop it into the player and view Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn.

There was only the one down side, where something like a scratch made the DVD slow, stop, and skip, forcing me to work my techno-craft and fix the problem. With only a ten-minute break in activities, I managed to watch the entire film. I say film because it was good. Shatner didn't sound (to me) like the Priceline guy; he sounded like someone who had become so famous in his earlier career that he could be the Priceline guy, be ridiculous, and it would work. Because he earned it. I came to understand why Spock is Spock and Scotty is Scotty and all the rest of them were as such. And I came away liking it more than the franchise's newest renovation. A friend I was talking about all this with pointed out the necessity that existed back then in regards to strong story and writing. Everything else had better be spot on. I even got a little weepy when Spock died.

I took a similar trip back in time musically (I've yet to get that CD player for my car). I found a box in the garage filled with tapes from my youth (rather, tapes adults played in my presence when I was much younger) and carried several of them, almost reverently, to my car and took a drive. I shuddered at the musical tools they had during the era a decade before the 90s and several years after people stopped using real instruments (you know the little black machine that spit it out robot noises and weird distortions). Then I listened, and I hit the button labeled FF and held it down (because you have to). Every tape I listened to was about 10-12 songs. On each, one or two tracks were religious in nature, one was a remixed version of a radio hit, and the rest were romantic. Either the girl had left, or come back, or died, or cheated on the singer(s), or they hadn't met yet and he was trying to get her number (or get her to dance, go home with him, stay the night, etc.).

And undoubtedly, these singers' predecessors are considered among the greats, classics even, your elemental Earth, Wind, and Fire, your heart-tugging Temptations, your Spinners (one of my favorites so it makes the list). But these were also the crooners, the love singers, that sweat behind lights and made women scream.

So why do romantic books get slammed so hard? I reference a comment a co-worker made about my writing during one of my depressed times: "You write really well. You're thoughtful and elegant. Who cares if it doesn't really seem to fit anywhere? What I'm saying is, you're not writing romance." And I understood what she meant. There is a stigma associated with romantic books that they're a waste of time, uselessly derivative, and a misuse of printing resources. The obvious argument reminds me of what went down during the Harlem Renaissance, the schism that occurred between people who thought art was just art and the people who thought that art should be used as a political vehicle. And to the former arguers' point, if art is just art, if writing is just writing, then to what extent can one work of fiction be toted higher than another?

But that's not really the quandary I was putting forth (there are still things such as craft). The question I wanted to ask is a little simpler, and a little more complex: what's the difference between music and literature? Are not they both instruments to make a receiver feel? Can not they both be used to implore a mind to think? Searching my memories, I want to say that they have different standards, but no, there's a lot of smut produced in both mediums (for every profession or hobby, there are people who are proficient and people who aren't). So I come away a little stumped.

Sometimes, I wish I was a genetically engineered super genius.