Tuesday, October 18, 2011
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Thursday, September 8, 2011
Thursday, September 1, 2011
Saturday, August 27, 2011
Monday, August 8, 2011
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Thursday, July 21, 2011
I have a somewhat obsessive personality, at least where writing is concerned. I’d like to say I’m that way about housework too, but for the last week or so, I’ve been kvetching about how my kitchen floor—all of them really—needing mopping in the worst way. But have I mopped? Um, nope. Do I plan to? Maybe today. We’ll see.
One of the obsessive writerly things I’m been doing is reading interviews from agents and writers. And there’s a lot of contrasting advice there, especially when it concerns the possible conflict between the “art” part of writing and the business part.
People say to write what you love, regardless of “market forces”, that if for example, you write a teenaged vampire story, you might find the trend has moved on to say, historical thrillers or something.
But then they also say that serious writers must know the markets and how their work fits into it, that they must consider this brand from the very first sentence.
Some lucky writers find their tastes dovetail nicely with the trends market. They love YA paranormal, write YA paranormal and look here, the market for YA paranormal is ginormous!
But my own reading tastes are all over the map. I like some fantasy (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell is one of my all-time favorites) and literary (Ditto with The Corrections, White Teeth, Lolita and Middlesex). I like some sci fi (The Sparrow rocked!) and some women’s fic, and historical too.
As a writer, I am all over the map too. When something—a character, a scene, an idea—grabs me, I go with it… whether it takes me to lit fic or sci fi or Toledo. I follow that aimless little muse (My actual muse is Julius Caesar, but that is a story best saved for some other time) and I don’t ever regret it.
But as a consequence, I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire (Wow! In this heat wave, this analogy feels more literal than planned!)
I’ve been struggling to settle down and focus on one of the projects on my back and front burners, my oven, toaster oven and campstove. So I thought, I’d list the projects for you and perhaps get a few nods in one direction or another. (Also, if you are a newer reader and wonder why the heck I have a gibbon on my header, a picture of a live oak draped in Spanish moss and keep posting all these durn One-Hit Wonders , now you know.)
So, kind readers, what do you think? Which of these projects seems a good place to put all this summer energy? Comments of any kind are soooo appreciated.
ORANGE LAKE (Literary Fiction) As children, Claudette and Leanne Taskett built houses of palmetto fronds and played at being “swamp girls” in the sulfur-smelling muck of North Florida’s Orange Lake, but as young adults they can’t hold a civil conversation. Twenty-one year old Claudette careens from one redneck boy to another. Leanne, determined to be her misfit family’s one success story is headed for college. After their father drowns and Claudette—despite all evidence to the contrary— claims responsibility and then disappears down the highway, Leanne must track down her sister, untangle the facts behind her father’s death and salvage what’s left of her tattered family. A southern sister story with a mystery at its heart.
STATUS: Complete with constant, slight tweaks
FAMILY, GENIUS, SPECIES (Quirky Literary Fiction) After a near-death experience in a motel bathtub, Rocker Roger "Zorro" Weitz, author of 1976's most forgettable One-Hit Wonder, stopped aging. Eternally 22, he’s slummed through almost three decades before a second brush with death prompts him to dedicate himself (and his prodigious, though now decades-old cool) to helping his girlfriend’s lonely, zoology-obsessed eleven year old find her own way in the world. Cool is beyond her, but the kid, a certified genius, has no trouble mastering the art of blackmail. Her quest to find and rescue a long-lost gibbon drags Zorro into theft, kidnapping, an actual car chase, and another, possibly permanent, brush with death. A rock-n-roll Peter Pan story with a touch of Pygmalion
STATUS: Complete. 3rd draft, undergoing substantial revision
FACE MOUNTAIN (Dystopian) Less than three generations into the collapse of civilization, people live in terror of The Bloom, a deadly fungus, and other new diseases. Mercenary "doctors" travel the remaining roads dispensing vaccines to those who can pay for them. Thompson Winter, a doctor, is on a mission to restore the last good place, the Face Mountain compound lost in a coup 10 years before. But Edward Whitingham, a mysteriously old man who remembers the long sunken cities of the east coast and doubts the power of The Bloom, is stranded with his family at the most tactical location. While trying to ascertain Whitingham’s questionable allegiances, Winter falls in love with the old man’s desperate young wife, Mary. With his life’s work in jeopardy, Winter must choose between love and honor in a world without much of either. FM is a bit of a sci-fi western, though based on an obscure Joseph Conrad novel.
STATUS: Working on first draft with—rare thing for this pantser-- a detailed outline!
ROADSIDE MEMORIALS (Literary Fiction/Magical Realism) Hillary Cohn, middle aged, between jobs and in the midst of an unwelcome divorce, witnesses the kidnapping of a strange baby with almost translucent skin and a touch that causes objects to briefly glow. What’s stranger, the woman Hillary assumes to be the child’s mother, denies it is hers. When Hill tracks the child, he is drawn into a strange world of religious zealots, shady detectives… and actual shades.
STATUS: Begun first draft, but still in planning stage.
FEINLAND (Literary Fiction/maybe Literary YA) Teenaged Ruth and her two brothers have grown up in isolation within the bounds of “Feinland”, their father Harry Fein’s “Jewish Amish” attempt at utopia in remote Northern New Hampshire. But when a troubled boy moves into a trailer in the field next door, stirring unexpected feelings in all three Fein children, Harry’s dictum to “protect and defend the family territory” turns deadly as Adam, the favorite and virtually non-verbal autistic eldest, takes this to the most literal end. FEINLAND is loosely based on the Yiddish story of “The Golem”
STATUS: Begun first draft, but still in planning stage.
ORCAS: (Literary/Women’s Fiction) Left alone with two young children during her biologist husband’s 4 month fieldwork, Joan grows desperate and heads across the east coast to surprise him. But along with his two specially trained moose turd-sniffing dogs, David has a hip young (female) research partner and no time for her. Stranded at his motel research base in the northwest tip of Newfoundland, Joan develops a dangerous obsession with the pod of Orcas sighted during a family whale watch and….?
Um, no clear plot yet, I’m still working out the details. This is a short story (at present), in early draft stage.
Whew! Now I'll get down to that mopping.
What do you think? Where should I invest my few writing hours?
What do you think? Where should I invest my few writing hours?
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Friday, July 8, 2011
John Henry is a folk character, the larger then life railroad man who challenged a steam drill to a race and won
... only to die of exhaustion in his moment of victory.
There are many ways to look at this story: John Henry is a low-skilled worker, fighting against automation on the job. John Henry (along with Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan) is one of the last larger-than life American heroes lost in the age of “progress”. You can look at his story through the prism of race, class, masculinity, history.
Leadbelly sang about him
and Woody Guthrie
Here's Mississippi Fred McDowell:
and Bruce Springsteen:
You can also look at John Henry from the writer's perspective. Here is a man who kept at it, who discovered what he loved, what he was born to do (heck, he was born with a hammer in his hand, after all) and he engaged to the fullest. He didn't just drive steel he WAS a steel driving man.
Did he succeed? Not exactly.
Even in the most hopeful of versions, it's understood that in the future, steam drills will supplant spike drivers. So, then, is John Henry's life an example of futility?
I don't think so.
John Henry died satisfied. He died doing what he loved. Here's one version of his death scene:
"They took his hammer and wrapped it in gold
And gave it to Julia Ann;
And the last word John Hardy said to her was
Julia, do the best you can."
"If I die a railroad man,
Go bury me under the tie,
So I can hear old Number Four,
As she goes rolling by."
As I slog through one revision after another, I find myself thinking about John Henry. And though I don't always succeed, I try to approach my work with this sort of despite-everything joy.
Here's a lovely song-- one of my true favorites (and not even a one hit wonder!) about John Henry.... well actually about Elvis, who as Gillian Welch implies is sort of a sad counter point, a man who lost his love for his work and died "in long decline."
It's about John Henry, too, if tangentially.
When it comes to work-- both the paid and the aspiring variety—I would rather go out like John Henry, a hammer in my hand, satisfaction rather than success as my life's measure.
What about you?
Saturday, July 2, 2011
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
I came across this novel my accident. I'd seen Eleanor Lippman on an author panel at The "Muse and Marketplace" Conference and had it in mind to read at least something from every author that presented there. So when I saw this audiobook on the library’s scant shelves, I snatched it right up.
But I got the wrong Lippman.
This turned out to be a happy mistake as "What the Dead Know" is crime fiction, a genre I rarely, well-- never-- read and one my plot-challenged little self could learn quite a bit from.
Here's the novel's back of the book blurb:
"Thirty years ago two sisters disappeared from a shopping mall. Their bodies were never found and those familiar with the case have always been tortured by these questions: How do you kidnap two girls? Who—or what—could have lured the two sisters away from a busy mall on a Saturday afternoon without leaving behind a single clue or witness?
Now a clearly disoriented woman involved in a rush-hour hit-and-run claims to be the younger of the long-gone Bethany sisters. But her involuntary admission and subsequent attempt to stonewall investigators only deepens the mystery. Where has she been? Why has she waited so long to come forward? Could her abductor truly be a beloved Baltimore cop? There isn't a shred of evidence to support her story, and every lead she gives the police seems to be another dead end—a dying, incoherent man, a razed house, a missing grave, and a family that disintegrated long ago, torn apart not only by the crime but by the fissures the tragedy revealed in what appeared to be the perfect household.
In a story that moves back and forth across the decades, there is only one person who dares to be skeptical of a woman who wants to claim the identity of one Bethany sister without revealing the fate of the other. Will he be able to discover the truth?"
Even after I realized I had the wrong Lippman, I wanted to read this book.
And I wasn't disappointed. The writing is lovely, clear and detailed. Though not "literary" in its exploration of character, motivation and memory, it did exactly what it needed to do …and with beauty and elegance.
Even more, this novel is a lesson in plot design. There are few details that aren't purposeful. Scenes are constructed; they don't just happen or grow organically in every which way. I was conveyed forward from one point to another with scarcely time to stop and reflect.
I mean, I wanted to KNOW who that darn woman was, what happened to those girls.
Also the setting was marvelous. Lippman’s Baltimore-- in the present and in the 1970's-- is loaded with authentic detail. No doubt she has a strong connection here. To me, Baltimore is the faceless megalopolis we drive through on our way to Florida each winter. But the city, with its quirks and every-changing storefronts is like a another character here.
That said, I didn't care much for most of the actual characters. The handsome male "lead" annoyed the heck out of me. The meek goody-two-shoes social worker and barracuda lawyer where pretty much how you'd expect them. The mystery woman (I won't reveal anything about her) was not particularly likable. But this hardly mattered.
The novel did just what it set out to-- build an intriguing mystery, force the reader to turn pages (or, in my case, drive extra slow to get to the end before I pulled into the driveway at the end of the day.)
Check this one out.
(Please excuse all these crazy font changes. I just can't seem to get Blogger to cooperate!)