Thursday, July 22, 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Monday, July 19, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Sunday, July 11, 2010
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Part 1: Lost Love
My first novel was deeply personal, an Opra-esque tale of two women, sisters, coping with death, loss and guilt in the small town South. It was like a first love; I spent breathless months mooning over words and paragraphs. I adored it and didn’t and adored it again as it grew to a monstrous 480 pages and consumed my world.
But, no matter. This was meant to be, people!
When things got serious -- and I’d revised as much as I thought possible-- I prepared it to meet the ‘rents (well, the agents). And in the course of my research, I discovered that my beloved was much too long. (How does a person miss such an easily-discovered fact? You ask. Well... but, his was love. Practical, schmactical.)
After the requisite despair, I halved the thing, worked that manuscript down to an almost reasonable 120,000 words. And in the process, the relationship moved into a different, more critical stage. I learned a lot about tough love. (No I didn’t need the three chapters detailing the antagonist’s back story. I loved it, still giggle through the robbing the convenience store in Wyoming scene, but—um-- no.)
Then I prepared my query and sent my first novel out into the world, even introduced it to my family. It didn't crash and burn completely. I got quite a few requests for the full manuscript—some really nice detailed letters telling me how I might revise, and an amazing half-hour call from a well known agent who was kind enough to review the manuscript, tell me where and how I might revise, and ask to see it again.
I made the revisions—honing a critical eye and further tightening the once wildly passionate and out of control beast it had been. But in the end, she passed.
Yes, this was the point in the relationship when I went out and had myself a thoroughly self indulgent Frappaccino and a Cadbury Bar, a bag of Kettle Buffalo Bleu Potato Chips, etc.
I had to face facts. It just wasn’t working and mucking with it had not made it better enough. It wasn’t the manuscript, it was the hook-driven world of publishing, the muddle I’d made of the plot, me.
The relationship was over. Painful as it was, I dumped that first novel. But I still have the good times, memories of hanging at Panera with it and my orange scone, as in-love as a human and a manuscript could be.
What does any of this have to do with the gibbon, you ask? Well, I’ll continue the story in the next few days.
Thursday, July 8, 2010
This is the advice each and every fiction writer has heard perhaps hundreds of times. And it’s solid, right?
How lame is it to say “Joe Bob was sad” when you can instead tell us “Joe Bob stared at the frayed lace of his shoe, winced, squinted, allowed a tear or wept in the bald bright light of day, the uncut grass around him thrumming with heat and insects. That he sighed or brayed or let escape an embarrassing sob, pressed a Kleenex to his face. Etc. etc. etc.
But an interesting discussion on Agent Nathan Bransford’s excellent blog got me thinking about this particular writerly rule. I suspect that many well-respected authors break it willy-nilly when the story or style or needs of the plot call for maverick acts of authorial daring.
I pulled a couple of random books from my shelves to demonstrate.
“She was one of those children possessed by a desire to have the world just so.”
And “Her wish for a harmonious, organized world denied her the reckless possibilities of wrongdoing. Mayhem and destruction were too chaotic for her tastes and she did not have it in her to be cruel.”
And this from the beginning chapter of Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters:
“Where you’re supposed to be is some big West Hills wedding reception in a big manor house with flower arrangements and stuffed mushrooms all over the house. This is called scene setting: where everybody is, who’s alive, who’s dead.”
Some telling serves a purpose. In McEwan’s, perhaps, it’s to establish a certain authority and tone. With Palahniuk, the details (I know the details are actually “showing”) and telling are to establish a certain voice.
Does it matter? Or do we readers slip under the fictive dream (Think John Gardner coined this phrase) and let slip our concern with rules?
I’ve noticed that a lot of published writers have maverick tendencies. Rules broken left and right, POV switches and sentences sans subjects and so much telling, hell even exposition—10 pages about the history of whaling to use an extreme example-- when the text seems to call for it.
And we readers take it. Hell, we love it.
A long, long time ago, I spent a few misguided years in the world of fine art, sketching from
I suspect that the reader can as well, and that we have an instinctive feel for competence, can tell when a writer could provide us a damn good portrait if she wanted to and once a clear competence is established, we are eager to see where a little experimentation will take us.
What do you think?
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Sunday, July 4, 2010
I spent a while trying to come up with some sort of gonzo inaugural post-- the trials and tribulations of my writer self, the balance, or in my case lack of balance with which I manage the various cubbies of my life (mother, teacher, farmer, wife, etc) the origin of my novel, Family, Genius, Species, the revision process that is wearing a Buick-sized hole in my writerly confidence, etc but no, not yet.