Monday, January 31, 2011

Speaking on myselves

And January had seemed like such an interminably long month... I had told myself I'd start writing in February, and that I'd give myself until the end of summer to finish these next projects. I couldn't remember how long the previous craziness took me, but that seemed feasible. And if not feasible, then necessary. There are whispers of my position becoming full time in the fall, with benefits and responsibilities and that oppressive weight which I've heard that smites writers (hm, I think I just indirectly characterized myself as a writer). But then things got lost in the weekend as I discovered old friends. January 31st. It's the end of February, my calendar shouted at me, and I woke from something like a dream.

Because in my driving to this place and that, pumping gas and putting cheese squares on bread, checking the mail and brushing my teeth, I discovered holes in the narratives I've been trying to build. "Hey, wasn't there some villain I wrote about in the previous book?" I asked myself. "Yeah..." I answered, "hey, they're not in the outline, what gives?" To make myselves feel better, I sat down to more thoroughly outline, sketching for antagonists this time, and ins and outs of police cases and criminal records, online maps of places I've never been and investigation of terms I had planned on using flippantly. But the feeling didn't go away. I realized, or rather I thought to myself that I'd have to do a lot of reading before the writing. And not just of other people's stuff, but specifically my own. "Where were you even going with this?" Reading three novels though would set me back a ways. "Can you even get started when you wanted to? And finished?"

But then, I believe completely in my story being carried along by people I've met on the way. A writer friend gave me a laptop. And a bag and a wall adapter and a tiny mouse and a net card. He even gave me a compliment, saying that it belonged with "a great science fiction writer." Telling this story to a friend, I said that I would be holding onto the device covetously until such a person came to claim the prize. Similarly useful, a different friend told me about one particular author that cares much less about continuity from novel to novel (and by much less I mean not at all). The author, I'm told, argued that verisimilitude mattered less across works, and bridging things so had little effect on telling a good story. My friend added to my ambivalence by saying that he had read the man's first work (of which there are many, popular tomes. I hear he's getting a television show, or a movie or some such, also). I questioned the irresponsibility of that, saying that one ought to make things seamless, or try to; my friend rebutted by asking me would I not go back and attempt to change something already published if it would make that thing better. Silence was my retort to that.

So I'm left clueless again. Is such a thing necessary? Is not doing so, whatever the explanation, simply shoveling rhetoric on crass laziness? Are book sales any real indication of craft? There are roads to follow, but there is also no guarantee that where one person found minor trouble and major riches another will reap equally. Certainly, there are generally helpful techniques for any such traveler choosing to trek at all. Keep your feet dry. Avoid feeding the bears. Don't piss into the wind. But aside from common wisdom, all we have are the meddling voices. I shake my head at the mystery of it all as I go my own way.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Shines like gold, and never squeaks

A good metaphor I came up with recently to explain my brain (good because it was effective) was that there's a little mouse constantly running on a wheel in my mind, which anything could be affixed to and that without even trying, my mind spins on it until I replace the thought with anything else. As such, the last week has been spent recharging my batteries, which I guess amounts to letting the mouse just run with nothing to turn, and spending moments here and there thinking about what I've decided to do next, which involves putting various related ideas on the wheel, but for limited amounts of time. This morning I woke up and found myself ready to write.

It was a good feeling to track down all the notes I had taken, loose sheets of different color, out-dated flyers or color coded documents on one side, scribbled paragraphs on the other, and put them together. Some of them had sprouted like weeds in the midst of my last project, and I had put them away to sift through later. Gathered with the more organized, detailed bits I had invested in, projecting forward to this very point in time, it all amounted to a good sum of pages of things concerning how the various stories are going, in what directions, at what speeds, etc. Lastly, I looked at the last few chapters of each of the books I'm continuing forward. As I suspected, I found things, specific things, which did not appear in my more general notes. I'm very happy to also say that I came away happily impressed with how I had done things. Not everything of course, but ever since going through that editing phase and coming away with a better understanding of how much can be changed and at which points made things less frantic for me. The urge to change those words, those sentences, and then immediately hunt down every version of the file and exact similar pruning was easily held at bay. I dare say I might just be almost maybe getting the hang of this thing, perhaps.

The overall plan concerning the March release continues forward. I mailed off those interview questions, and a similar post for a different site is being prepared at the back of my brain for writing and submitting (which is more like a malfunctioning refrigerator where things mold, not to be confused with my paragon mouse and his triumphant wheel). I put up another story on fictionaut, one that I was actually sort of proud of. Though, it has yet to garner nearly as many views, and zero comments, so that kind of made the party in my brain a little awkward. Looking back and updating stories I wrote a few years ago seems to be fruitful, though, even if no one else agrees. I'm enjoying it, though it may be that's because I also get to see how much clearer my writing has become. The story in question was hacked down by a few hundred words. I had a problem with over explaining back then, or shall I say more of a problem. A great turning point in my maturation was when people began to accuse me of being a minimalist and not asking me "Have you read Ulysses by James Joyce?" when they read my stuff.

So we're rejoicing all around today, despite the cold and the wet. Go away, rain. Or stay. Today, it matters not to me.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

There, yet

On Saturday, the envelope went out. Contained therein were the first three chapters and introduction, which came out to a couple hundred words over 10,000. I felt happy with that because the submission guidelines called for the same amount of words if the book's chapters were very long or very short. Maybe that means my chapters are almost just right? Also in the pack was the requested cover letter, which I drafted once and finished, and the synopsis which took me longer than a chapter would. For some reason I focused on it the most, likely because it was so difficult.

I tried explaining the phenomenon to a friend, that I probably don't spend enough time practicing the art of selling my work. Someone told me about the "elevator pitch," wherein the writer has roughly 30 seconds alone with whichever power player with agency and clout to sell them on an idea. And I'm still not sure if it involves compressing the entire work down to 30 seconds or expatiating on the most interesting bits, or both. I can't speak for other authors, but everything I put down I think of as important. Perhaps it's a curse or a boon, but with a few pieces under my belt at this point (drafted at least) I seem incapable of writing the trendy volume that looks like a stone block in hard cover.But still, the synopsis called for 3-10 pages to talk about the main characters, their arcs and development, the ending, and all major plot occurrences. I did it in about 6, then I read it over and over again, took a break, rinse and repeated. Ultimately, the fact that I changed things, a word here or there, every time was the reason I sent it out on Saturday. Friday was spent venturing out, sliding around on the still icy roads, and scurrying home, so it seemed auspicious that my courageous return (read: second attempt) to the world would feature the mailing of that, my first submission of 2011.

And then there set in a great silence. The blizzard pushed work back a week, so it seemed only appropriate that I take that time to write. But then I was done. Saturday came, and I was really done. It was somewhat nice, and somewhat scary to think that I could work on anything at that point. As the week started and the work routine kicked back up, other routines did as well: sneaking moments with scratch paper to sketch out little pieces of story, having strange and jerky epiphanies from overhearing things, or reading things, poking away at my countless, semi-forgotten online documents. Before I even realized it, all those things waiting to be written were there, and I was writing about them, at least in limited fashion. Outlining is really valuable for me. On more than one occasion, it was obvious that I had put the cart before the horse, which warranted a long, sweeping arrow that pointed to tight, angry paragraphs where I wandered through a way out of the hole I had written myself into. After pages of detours, I was on my way again, and happier for it. I can still keenly recall a time when I would get myself into such situations and not understand how to get out, much less what caused the incident in the first place. I'd just sit there with my hazard lights on, lost, watching the idea die like through a window slowly being obscured by pouring rain. 

I spoke with a writer friend recently, and he's starting the year off fresh too, working in the direction of some short stories. A couple ideas have occurred to me, despite my semi-diligent focus on the next novels. It's like I'm not sure what I'm going to do next, but only on the surface. I know that I will start these next books, likely with a goal to finish by Summer, and once I get them rolling under their own power will likely take a break to piddle around in these shorter ideas of mine. It feels good to have a productive way to ignore the stamped envelope a little part of me prays for and all the terribly untimely things that could go wrong for the release in March. It's like the nice version of auto pilot where one doesn't crash into a mountain.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Going to nothing, going to something

Today I am embracing my heritage, birthright even, of blaming the weather. I might have updated this days ago, but the most ready excuse is that I was sick (under the weather, see what I did there?). It was an odd experience, being legitimately ill, feeling too bad to move or eat or think. I haven't been like that in years. I feel much better now, but there is the persistent cough, and the less regular coughing up of things, all of which makes me think of lungers in the old west. I feel like I should be walking with a limp and sporting a scowl. Then there's the pesky blizzard. Right this second, I'm being informed via machine that I'll be out of work again tomorrow. Crazy start to the year, I think qualifies.

But I have been writing. Chapter 23 was drafted today. I was telling a friend about how excited I was about the process, and I even went so far as to describe the different stages, as I know them, of novel writing. The first part is awful. There's no momentum except for the energy whatever planning or outlining one has done up to that point, and no solidity, either. Everything is a buzzing idea and one is never sure about which is more important, what needs to be told and what needs to be left out, and when. And if you've ever planned something out, then tried to initiate that plan, you know of what I mean. The second part is less awful, but still has its negatives. While the story has roots (hopefully), which is to say one has a much better idea of what's going on, why, and where it's all going (again, hopefully), there's no end in sight. No tunnels, no bends, just a huge, flat area. Turning back becomes as likely as pushing forward. And then there's the final phase (of drafting, at least). The end is not only in sight, it's downhill from one's current position. One can see everything that one needs to do to reach it and there are few pitfalls except for the urge to adjust one's pace. It's only right there after all. What makes the last part challenging is the need for restraint. After all, picking along carefully, considering each individual step is what got one that close. Rushing now would only make it all less worthwhile. And that's where I am now.

But I've also given recent thought to where I'm going and not just where I am. A while back I talked with a friend about her novel, specifically about where she'd submit it once it was in a place she was happy about. As I've said, I have two works contracted but with small presses, the sort of places the average person has never heard of, or even a well read person. My friend told me she would be submitting to the larger houses first, let them reject her, then work her way down. Or, work her way into obscurity (yeah, because that sounds better). I did a good bit of writing last year, but all of it was continuances of those contracted novels, so it would be impossible to do anything with those until their predecessors are circulated. But with this novel I'm almost done with, that is not the case. It's new, unattached. And for a while now I've had the goal to do as my friend one day might, and start at the top. The reservation I had before about how long it took (4-6 months wait time, no simultaneous submissions, which means I can do nothing else with it for those months), but now that's of little concern. I've done a lot of writing in preparation for this attempt, and I feel very good about my chances.

I think I'll go for a walk. It'll be nice not to have to visualize how far I've come. I'll be able to look behind me and see my foot steps preserved, for however long, in a packed field of white.