Saturday, June 20, 2009
In addition to the radical revision (switch to one narrative voice from multiple, switch from present tense to past tense), I've been working off this amazing list of "Ten Mistakes Writers Don’t See (But Can Easily Fix When They Do)" that I got off Twitter. Talk about really tightening the manuscript! It's a must for any writer who hasn't become aware of those writing habits/quirks that can make a manuscript annoying to read (I have an affinity for the word "just" for some reason. In my search of the first half of the book--98 pages--I used the word 153 times!). It's been a very enlightening process.
So, that's why I haven't had time to blog, but I'll get something else here this weekend. Until then, back to the editing board!
Saturday, June 13, 2009
So, I went back in. Just as I was wrestling with the rewrite, someone (the wonderful Sarah Cypher, as a matter of fact) offered an amazing bit of advice that she learned/heard from the author, Tom Spanbauer, he of the "dangerous writing" school of writing, which includes such notables as Amy Hempel and Chuck Palahniuk, and espouses the act of writing "dangerously": "writing what personally scares or embarrasses you in order to explore and artistically express those fears honestly."
Now, what Tom Spanbauer said, via Sarah Cypher, is "we should write as if we're telling our story to a person on his deathbed." At first I balked at this bit of "writerly" advice. Yes, actually balked! But then, when the revision I was working on was still churning out huge buckets of boring, I thought I might as well give it a try.
I sat down next to this dying person (in my head he's old and frail, not so much on his immediate death bed, but he's not getting up any time soon) and started telling him the story. It didn't take long to realize that it wasn't me speaking, but Brian, one of my main characters. He is the one that had to tell the story (he always was the one, but I had forgotten that after too many years of reapproaches and revisions). And he is the only one who could tell the story, because he's the one that lived it, not me. So, I let him talk and, my God, he's a good storyteller! His is the voice I've been hearing all this time but kept filtering it through me (with the safety on). His voice is so much clearer and stronger and braver than mine ever was, so I'm letting him tell what he needs to tell. And he's doing an amazing job. I'm grateful to hand over the reins.
And the revision is going well. Better than well, it's going great. I'm excited and energized and so is the story again. I get up each day looking forward to re-entering the world of my novel to find out what I'm going to learn next, and that's a great feeling.
So I thank that nameless agent. I thank Sarah. I thank Tom. But most of all, I thank Brian. Keep telling your tale and they will follow.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
My favorite poetry is the poetry that is daring, strong, and even harsh in its subject matter and execution. I've always been the most raw and honest in my poetry, something that doesn't come through in my prose, but I can't figure out why. I still deal with hard subjects (rape, child molestation, HIV) but there's a timidity to it in my prose that I seem to kick right through when I tackle these subjects in my poetry. For some reason, I can get right to the heart of it in my poetry. It's like poetry is a handgun and prose is a bazooka: I can hold and control a handgun easier than I can a bazooka, which is too heavy and too general in its aim. I've got to learn how to us a handgun when I write prose. So, it's back to poetry to reset my mind, my energy, my honesty, my aggression, my aim.
Here's a couple of my favorite poems:
when you bust your nose on the kitchen table tonight—
drunk and falling asleep as you do in the evenings while we watch
television in the den—
I leave my body, after days and weeks of practicing,
my hand on the back of your head—see how it feels—
just before impact.
for argument sake I liked the things you did and still think of you
at night half-drunk, half-dead, half you, half me, half lonely.
maybe I own up to my loving you—but I don’t want you
to get the wrong idea, whichever one that might be.
I only thought of killing you a few times—knives mostly
because I wanted to see the blood, my blood—but by then you were already dead.
I eat the gun, the one you keep stashed in your sock drawer…eat it
like I did your cock, shove it as far down as it can go, really work
for the bullet this time because I want to feel the heat inside me, the metal
burning in my belly like coal in a stove, glowing in there so everyone can see it,
warm themselves to the idea, not just suspect.
the virus is your love, that’s what’s taking me down,
that’s what’s coursing through my veins altering my genetic make-up, reinventing
my cells to unrecognizable. Let’s say I take this fistful of drugs,
approved on a two-year fast-track by the FDA,
to ward off the death you planted in me. Let’s say, just between you and me,
that sometimes I neglect to swallow them all, just because.
At home, I keep my birth certificate in the top drawer
of my night stand along with other important documents:
passport, apartment rental agreement, car payment booklet,
and my HIV diagnosis, its onion skin paper
thirteen years thinner from too much finger oil,
thin as my skin peeling after a bad sunburn because
I used baby oil instead of tanning lotion.
That’s what we used in Oklahoma, my sister and I
laying out in her backyard, the radio on, her kids playing
in the kiddie pool I helped blow up.
I’d spend the evening in front of the box fan
in my room cooling the heat rising from my skin
red and angry with me. I’d press my forefinger
into the meat of my chest, watch it change from white to pink to burnt.
Later the skin would come off in tears
and sheets complete with the indents of the blemishes I never knew my skin held.
Afterwards I sterilize the knife,
the jack-knife from childhood
I keep in my nightstand drawer
in case of an intruder,
and make eight incisions in my flesh
at eight different sites on my body,
on my arms, my thighs, my chest and back.
I apply a leech to each site. They are looking for you in there.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
But now I'm sitting here wondering: is it worth it to keep working on this project, which I've been working on for more than 5 years and diligently for the past 3? While I knew there would be more editing to do on the novel, I figured that would occur once I'd secured representation. Now that doesn't seem a likely scenario as the agent suggests there's more wrong than just some comma usage. Granted, this is one agent's opinion, but, if I'm being honest with myself, most of her evaluation (the book moves too slowly, not enough tension in the beginning) is spot on (though she also suggested that some of the characters are stereotypical which I don't exactly agree with. I'm not one to create quirky characters just to create quirky characters. No Jonathan Safran Foer am I.).
The beginning of the book does indeed move too slowly, which was intentional as I was creating the idea of the town, a small farming community in Northwest Oklahoma. It's not an exciting place to live and I wanted to convey that, though I think I did too good of a job and bored my reader, which was not my goal. Even in Literary Fiction, where the author is given some allowance to indulge, the writing still has to be interesting and purposeful. The scenes, no matter how skillfully rendered, must ultimately move the story forward or else they're unnecessary. So, I'm faced with cutting chapters that, while they add to the ambiance of the story, the setting, they don't exactly advance the action.
At the Backspace Conference last weekend, we writers learned a rather violent, yet vital, piece of advice: "sometimes you have to kill your babies." We create them, birth them, nurture them, but sometimes we have to take out our trusty red pens and slaughter them for the sake of the greater good. It's a tough situation to find yourself in, but it's all part of the process of producing the best book possible.
So, here I am being asked to ready my little lambs for the sausage mill. And I shall do what needs to be done. So, come my pretties. This is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you.
Friday, June 5, 2009
While I know it's the best thing for me to do right now, it's also a hard thing for me to do. The act of moving on means I have to stop thinking about my novel, On the Edge of Someplace Else. I have to stop thinking about these characters that I've lived with for more than three years (in some cases over eight years). I have to stop thinking about this town that I've created, that exists merely because I wrote it into existence. I have to stop worrying about their future: will they be seen and understood by others, will their story be told? I have to stop because it's time to move on to new characters, new towns, new stories.
The process by which I write starts with one character first. With the first novel, it actually began with Brian, though initially he was much younger. The rape of Jenny Wade was always the catalyst but originally she wasn't even going to be in the book, it was all about Brian and his observations about the town in which he lived as they dealt with the events created by this act of violence. As I, via Brian, began to move through the town, I began to meet the people and hear their stories. Most often, I meet my characters at night, after I've gone to bed but before I've fallen asleep. They sit and tell me their life stories and I listen. I don't write anything down because I don't want to hinder them and somehow I retain what they've told me until the next morning, until I can get to the laptop and record what I've learned. Each character has revealed themselves to me in this way. And this is how the book was written, one character at a time who reveals how they intersect with the other characters.
But since their stories have been told, they don't come to me anymore. They've told all they needed to tell me. I've recorded all they've wanted to say.
But now there are new people coming into my bedroom at night, strangers with whom I've yet to feel comfortable, though I'm warming to them. They have their stories and lives that they need to unburden, which they're doing, slowly but surely. Stories that are vastly different than the ones that came from the residents of Ashmoore, Oklahoma. These people come from far away places like Prague and Brazil and New York, and from far away times that I know little about. And, while their stories are fascinating to me, I'm not sure I'm the right person to relate them, yet. There is so much for me to learn about them. And I'm trying to listen carefully, trying to focus my attention on them and not look backward at the other, more comfortable characters. But it's hard.
It's hard to move on, but I have to in order to keep progressing as a writer, a storyteller. While the creative process of a new story, and the characters that inhabit that story, is one of the most exciting periods in writing, it's also the scariest because the writer must enter unknown territory and encounter unknown people. But it has to be done, so that's what I'm doing, if only slightly reluctantly. I am moving on to new worlds and hope that one day soon it will be a world in which I feel comfortable and eager to tell you about.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Well, who among us has a platform? I sure as heck don't (and apparently family and friends don't constitute a big enough platform...sorry, kids). So, that's what this blog, as a whole endeavor, is about: generating my "online presence," building my platform. It's all part of the marketing process of my book, but it seems more like I'm marketing myself, something I'm not entirely comfortable with.
As a writer, a fiction writer at that, I like to hide behind my stories and especially my characters (well, actually, I hide IN my characters, but don't tell anybody). I'm not a fan of doing the song and dance, especially for myself. It's a strange mindset that fiction writers don't like to get into because it shines the light on them and not where it should be shining: on their words, their work. But apparently, it's all part and parcel of the beast known as publishing, especially in today's saturated market. One's book has to be able to "jump off the crowded shelf" and the best way to do that is with name recognition. So here I am on Blogger blogging away. I'm twittering like an absolute fool. And researching the purchase of jeffreylrichards.com to launch my website. All the while sitting here saying: "All I want to do is write."
But "just writing" isn't enough anymore. The Harper Lees of the world have to take tap and voice and HTML classes now. None of this creating one of the most amazing works of literature ever and then hiding yourself away. You gotta get out there Missy and sell it with skin! A little nip-slip will peddle a few more of those Mockingbirds.
Yes, it feels that absurd to me. And who the hell wants to see my nips? But I guess if that's what it's going to take for people to read my work: the show will start at 8pm with a two drink minimum (you're gonna need them).
Monday, June 1, 2009
Okay, I was feeling creative, so thought I'd do a mock-up of the cover of my book as I see it. I'm loving the starkness of this picture, which parallels the starkness of my novel, and the barbwire cutting through the image just adds that touch of the sinister (also lurking in the novel). If I saw this cover on a table at Barnes & Noble, I'd definitely pick up the book (even if it didn't have my name on it).
PS: I snagged the image from a website via google image search. It's the work of photographer John Hames (http://www.johnhames.com/HolgaWork.html).
Basic Daily Itinerary:
5:10am - Wake with Carlos
6:05am - Drive Carlos to Hoboken so he can catch the Path
6:58am - Arrive home
7:20am - 12:30pm - Turn off the TV and write...
12:30pm - 2:00pm - Research and Query agents
2:00pm - Law & Order starts on USA Network
To sit and write, uninterrupted, for 5 hours straight is heaven. Granted some days, complete and utter shite makes it to the computer screen, but that's better than nothing at all. And it's a hell of a lot better than not having the chance to do it, either.
Time, that's all writers ever want (well, fame and fortune, too, but you gotta have the time first). But, in the "careful what you wish for" vein of existence, more often than not, when we get the time, we tend to freeze-up from the pressure of having to produce actual writing. "I have only this amount of time to get something/anything written...ugh!" and we sit there paralized. It's like the insomnia-circle of thought: "if I fall asleep now, I'll get this much sleep," but of course you don't so in about an hour you start the whole mathematical process over again, which is just more pressure. It's all just great fun!
But 4 months is more than enough time to relieve the pressure. You know that you have time today, tomorrow, the next day...so you're able to write, and write something other than shite, you are able to write your book, the novel that's been trapped inside of you for all these years and for some unknown reason (which you loath to speculate upon) the stars have aligned for you:
- January 2008, your company's portfolio is purchased by a new company, who instills their personal choice for a new CEO
- new CEO hates your boss and, consequently, you
- July 2008, your boss resigns
- new CEO bides her time until the market/economy takes its toll on your company and the portfolio
- January 2009, the powers-that-be decide a cut needs to be made, which gives the CEO the opportunity she's been waiting for
- January 30th: you get your walking papers (with 3 months serverence)
- January 31st you wake up with buckets of time sitting next to your bed
It all just falls into place, as it should be (one of my most oft repeated phrases). It's good to be a fatalist, as well as the King. you know it all happens for a reason and that reason is to be a writer, in the truest sense of the word: you sit and write.The past 4 months have been a taste of a life that I will/do strive for on a daily basis. And it shall come to fruition. I too shall be the King!