Friday, February 19, 2010

Places My Novel Has Taken Me

In February to kick-start BLACKHEART revision 4.0 I decided to clean off my writing desk. Not an easy feat considering there were 24 chapters (more or less) of feedback, plus copious notes, diagrams, journals and research books all heaped together. My solution was to dump everything onto the hideous red carpeting that covers my subterranean office floor, then sort out everything salvageable and toss/recycle the rest.

Seeing everything spread out on the floor together (see pic above) made me realize something: writing a novel has really been a journey.

Here are some of the places that monster known as novel has taken me over the past few years:

1. Workshops and classes at The Loft Literary Center (http://www.loft.org/) to hone my craft while meeting many fabulous instructors and writers—including the astounding Scribblerati (my writing group).

2. Bi-monthly critique group meetings to have my work examined and held up to the bright light of constructive criticism and where I likewise return the favor.

3. At least two Writers Conferences—one in Madison, WI (http://www.dcs.wisc.edu/lsa/writing/) and another in Maui (http://www.mauiwriters.com/conference.php), one of which put me at a table with both a New York agent who loved my (at the time) half-completed manuscript and an editor who made me realize how badly I needed to practice pitching my work.

4. Numerous book stores and library visits resulting in finds like: Star Wars, The Magic of Myth (Henderson); Zen and the Art of Writing (Bradbury); Writing Down the Bones (Goldberg); How to Write a Movie in 21 Days (V. King); On Writing (King) and many, many more.

5. The halls of religion. You can’t write a book full of devils and angels without occasionally going to church.

6. A casino at 3AM; a truck stop at midnight (both to write scenes that appear in my book).

7. A visit to an abandoned granary in St. Paul (since demolished).

8. An obscure art show titled “Hell.”

9. Lunch time DVD viewings on the craft of writing screen plays.

10. Frequent visits to art/office supply stores for notebooks, pens, toner and laser paper.

11. Caf├ęs, coffee shops and restaurants for lunch time writing sessions.

12. Book readings/signings featuring Stephen King, Ray Bradbury, Neil Gaiman, Brian Lumley, Anne Rice and many others. If you want to learn something look to the masters.

13. Scads of little towns in MN and WI to meet up with my friend and fellow novelist, Peter (note: never go to Hastings on a Sunday. Who knew that entire towns close for the weekend?)

14. The Internet. Thank God for Google, the writer’s best research assistant.

15. Late nights, early mornings and sometimes entire Mondays spent at my writing desk staring at Microsoft Word and/or filling up another notebook with words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, scenes and chapters to what now equals the 400 pages that are my book.

Now that I’m heading into what I hope is my final revision of BLACKHEART I will miss some of these rest stops and familiar haunts that have marked the way in my journey to come up with a finished novel. But—once it’s finally finished I’m also looking forward to the new places and adventures my next book will take me to.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Serendipity


I recently got back from a trip to New Orleans, and as most trips to New Orleans go, I need a vacation to recover from my vacation. I need to lose the weight I gained (fried shrimp poboys!), gain the sleep I lost (late night jazz clubs!), and regain the liver function I abused (bourbon!).

That said: I have no regrets. The trip was full of magic. Yeah, you heard me right. Call it stars aligning, mere coincidence, or that voodoo that Louisiana do so well, but weird stuff was going down. Chill-inducing stuff.

Stuff you probably wouldn’t buy if you read it in a novel.

Which got me thinking, but more on that later. For now, back to the coinkidinkies.

Firstly, the Super Bowl. We (my husband Tony and our friends Jayson and M.E.) had originally planned our trip for a week earlier, but things didn’t work out, so due to our schedule rearrangement, the second-to-last day of our vacation happened to fall on Super Bowl Sunday. We’d purchased our tickets and reserved our rental condo (half a block off of Bourbon Street, in the French Quarter) well before the playoffs began.

So there we were, in the craziest of party towns, a town that had never been to a Super Bowl let alone won one, a town whose recent tragedy made a thing like a football team victory more important to it than possibly any other town in the US – there we were, poised to jump out onto Bourbon Street, king of all party streets, a mere minute after the Saints won.

I have never been in such a large crowd where every single person was elated, and for the exact same reason. It was beautiful. It was insane.

Case and point:

(Rock on indeed, sweet viking girl, rock on.)

But what are the chances? It was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and we happened to be there.

Next, there was the Minnesota connection. Our whole time in NOLA, we just kept on running into Minnesota wherever we went. This shopkeeper was born in Fergus Falls, that barista’s husband was from Minneapolis, this artist, that street musician… it went on and on. Tony even ended up second-lining in a parade that was being filmed for the HBO series Treme (another cool happenstance), and since it was cold out, he put on his MN Twins ski cap, which caused the actor Steve Zahn to approach him and chat with him, because Mr. Zahn is from, you guessed it, Minnesota.

And throughout the trip there were a bunch of little pleasant moments of that sort. For instance, Tony is a jazz clarinetist, and we ended up at a club where the clarinetist had called in sick, and he got to play with the band the whole night. Seats in very crowded bars happened to open up for us right as we arrived, cabs were readily available, etc.

But my favorite bit of weirdness, that would-be-really-trite-in-a novel moment was the following:

Jayson and I were walking down the street, and stopped to looking in an antique store window, which featured large rusty keys.

Jayson said, “I love those; I love worn old stuff like that.”

We continued walking.

I said, “I used to wear a tarnished key around my neck all through college. Funny, now Tiffany’s sells fancy, expensive diamond-encrusted keys…”

I looked to my left. Just then we passed a window that was filled with, you guessed it: diamond encrusted keys.

“Huh,” said Jayson. “So it’s going to be one of those days. Quick, say something else you want to come true.”

I said, “…and then they found a million dollars in the gutter.”

We laughed.

The next day, on a walking voodoo tour, Jayson found 200 dollars. In the gutter. I kid you not.

Okay, so it wasn’t a million (a million would fill a lot of gutter), but… come on. Manifestation City, right?

In real life, we freaked out a little. It was wild, cool, funny, strange. All the stuff that good scenes in good books are made of. Put that in a novel, unless the book is full of magical realism, or just plan magic, it would be… too pat.

But our brains love patterns, love to find connections between events, love to believe that the world functions with a sort of higher order - so all these things are definitely worth exploring as a writer.

But where the world needs to bop us over the head with a pretty strong connection to elicit that feeling of wonder, I believe the best stories do it with subtlety. Parallel scenes. Symbolism. Foreshadowing.

So, moving forward with the second draft of my book, I’m going to think about how to evoke that magical feeling we get from sensing connections with places, events, images, sounds, and people.

But you know, subtly.

And now: boobies.

(Check out the look on the woman's face standing next to her)


Friday, February 5, 2010

More on Time - or rather the lack of it

Indeed, I'm still pondering time.
Although really, in this post I'll be discussing a peculiar lack of it.
No, not that I lack the kind of time that I want to devote to writing, (tho' that is true).
Nope, in this little post, I'll be considering a curious lack of the actual word "Time" in my novel.

To try to create a distinctive voice for my main character, (remember she's a bear, no a girl, no a beargirl,) I've played a little trick on myself. I figured that animals in general, and bears in particular, don't have the same understanding of time that humans do. To help myself try to write like a bear, well, like a half-girl, half-bear, I gave myself some taboo words. Words that Beryl will not use. Ever.

Time.
Day.
Month.
Year...

Yesterday becomes Yestersun.
"I'm twelve years old" becomes "I'm in my thirteenth seasoncircle"

I'm constantly catching myself using the taboo words. Especially time. I use it all the time. (See). And sometimes (ha!) it's really hard to figure out another way to say what I want to say, without that little word, time. And certainly just as often, I don't catch myself, because I can't seem to fully embody my characters. That's where editing comes in--and thank the stars and the moon (as Beryl would say) that there's this nifty thing called a word search.

But for all the trouble this rule has given me, in the end, it's been a helpful structure to impose on myself, kind of like a boundary within which I can sculpt a fuller character. It's the empty void that's the necessary compliment to the stuff of life. The lack that allows for a presence. Just not being able to use a half dozen or so words has shaped the metaphors Beryl uses, her insights into the quirkiness of us full-humans, and by all means, what she says when she gets really angry.

And, oh my dirt clod, has it been fun figuring out how a preteen beargirl would swear.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Shame on You, Amazon.com

Up until recently, like last week, I was a huge fan of Amazon.com. I've been shopping there for years. Literally. I don't know exactly how long (well, I could figure that out if I wasn't too lazy to open Quicken) but it was back when most people were still afraid to enter their credit card number into a computer.

I am, or rather was what one could call and Amazon.com fanboy. I've bought all kinds of crazy stuff there. Everything from toothbrushes to comics, and hard drives to electric mixers. I loved most everything about Amazon.com. I loved the product reviews (which have never steered me wrong), the fact that they always had a copy of the book I wanted on their virtual shelf, and the fact that I could do all my shopping while in my pajamas, scratching my – never mind.

I fell even more in love with Amazon.com when they went toe to toe with Apple iTunes and began to sell DRM free MP3’s. I was ecstatic. I knew that Amazon.com wasn't being entirely altruistic, but it felt good to be able to buy music legitimately, and electronically, the way I wanted. And it didn't hurt that by doing so I was sticking it to the music companies that were forcing DRM done all our throats (and making a market for pirated music that hurt both themselves and the artists they presumably were acting in the best interests of).

Fast forward to this last weekend. I won't go into all the gory details, because it's been blogged about incessantly, but here's my summary in Shawn Speak. Amazon.com has somewhere around a 70% market share in the electronic book market. They were selling e-books at the unsustainable price of $9.99, taking a loss on every purchase in order to subsidize the Kindle.  (Let me point out that Amazon.com's e-books are chock full of DRM – irony anyone?).  Publishers didn't like the $9.99 price, but given the fact that Amazon.com had no real competition, there wasn't anything they could do about it.  Enter the Apple iPad. Real competition. MacMillan publishing went to Amazon.com and wanted to renegotiate the $9.99 price. Amazon.com said “frak off” and pulled all of MacMillan’s books from their store.

If I were a published author, and if I was published underneath one of MacMillan's many labels, I would be pissed as hell. Actually, I would have been pissed before that because I wouldn't want my book being distributed with DRM, but that's another story.

I'm not published, yet, but I'm still pissed. I feel betrayed. Maybe it's silly, but I always thought of Amazon.com as a “good” company. They didn't have a “don't be evil” motto like Google, but then I never saw them do anything bad either. Until now.

So shame on you, Amazon.com.

And shame on me, for thinking you were anything more than another evil megacorp.