Archive for September, 2009

the horse keeps moving

September 29, 2009

every weekend i’m on the road. it seems like every weekend I’m heading home, spending three hours on the road one way then three hours on the road back. It always takes me at least a day to get back into the swing of things here. Trying to keep up some work on my writing is damn near impossible when it keeps getting interrupted for three or four days at a time where I don’t see a word processor at all for the entire time and am then expected to step right back into it when I get back.  Some stability would be a blessing.

You want to go forever…

September 25, 2009

Today has been spent delving into the re-write of the novel. The beginning euphoria of it, something that was roughly equivilant to the feeling of beginning a new novel from scratch -the limitless possibilities, the newness of the story, the curiosity over where you would be going and how you would get there, etc.- has quickly worn off and I just need a break.

The coffee maker has been getting pretty solid use. I’m feeling a little wired and queer. I’m not really thinking of anything but it feels like I am on the cusp of remembering something or thinking of something important. It’s odd.  My fingers feel disconnected.

I was somewhat unprepared for the reality of re-writes. I’ve re-read the thing once, made notes, etc. and now I’m effectively re-reading it again and then deleting/typing/arranging. It’s a continual re-working to get something closer to what I want to say.  It’s looking at something and know it’s not working and trying to figure out why. It’s reverse engineering someone else’s product to figure out how to put it back together with your own spin before realizing you have forgotten you built the thing in the first place.

then there is the re-reading of what has been re-written and realizing that it’s still not right and knowing I’ll have to go back and re-write what’s been re-written and wondering if, even then, it will be closer to what I want or at least closer to being readable.

so now I’m listening to REM and just trying to string myself out for a bit and let everything settle despite having chapter five open across the bar at the bottom ofthe computer screen, waiting to be maximized and finished and knowing that there isn’t even that much left of chapter five to go over and re-work but knowing what is left is what drove me to blog right now in the first place.

Then there was yesterday when I was at the library and noticed a book that looked to be bent along a similar line as mine and wondering if there was any point in going through all of this mess anyway if someone has already done something similar and, quite possibly, better. On the bright side, after checking said novel out of the library and beginning to read it at home last night and this morning found that it’s not overly similar and not even overly enjoyable to read. At least not as enjoyable as I hope my novel is to read, so I feel a bit better again on that angle. One, from knowing the novel isn’t remarkably similar to mine and, two, from being able to convince myself that mine’s better written.

Whether it actually is or not I have no idea but it’s what I’m allowing myself to believe. and now I’m starting to feel up to delving back into chapter five and continuing the march towards completion. there are messier chapters to come, more intensive re-writes to engage and maybe I can get a couple out of the way today.

It got longer

September 23, 2009

alright, I’m still plugging away on the re-write of my novel and I’m noticing something I’m leery of. It’s getting longer. Not only the parts where I’m tweeking but there are entire chapters that I’m adding now.  To be fair, part of it is that I intentionally left stuff out with the first draft thinking it wasn’t needed only to find it severely lacking in these areas through the course of the re-read. that’s where the extra chapters are coming in. but i’m just leery of the other chapters getting longer.

what this really boils down to is a lack of experience. Realistically, stepping back, I see that my first draft is largely an outline in spots. Places where I just kept writing to get down what was in my head but hadn’t fleshed out or communicated properly. So, going back over it, I’m picking those areas out and changing them and putting some meat on the bones.

But this also seems entirely contrary to the idea of “tightening up” a work. Every time I read of someone’s editing efforts, they are only looking for stuff to pare away. As if it is an absolute truth that leaner=better. 

It’s something that I have a passing belief in myself. I don’t like using a lot of -ly words. I try to get to the point of what I’m trying to write and not divert myself into several needless directions or use “flowery” language. An economy of language while not compromising the flow and the story is a goal for me.

So now I’ve added roughly a few thousand words while barely scratching the surface of the re-write. Looking at other novels, though, I’m wondering where the idea of Leaner=Better got its foothold, though. A look at the fantasy shelves in your local borders shows a litany of 500+ page novels, often a number of them stringing together to make up a 5+ book series. Roberto Bolano’s posthumous work 2666 is hailed, in part, for its daring breadth and scope. David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest is hailed, in part, for the undertaking that its girth represents while Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow is regarded as a minor deity with its considerable heft. Don Delillo’s best book is, also, arguably his largest, Underworld.  Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 is a sizable paperweight, also.

Then, of course, there are the heavies of literature’s past. Dicken’s wasn’t exactly short of words. Neither were Tolstoi, Dostoevsky, Austen, or Melville. Books have never seemed to have been hurt by their having too many words.

Is the mantra of editing to a smaller size our tacit acknowledgement that writing has gotten worse and we simply want to read less of it?  I don’t know but I’m going to continue to worry as I re-write and enlarge my novel.

You Should Write About Storms

September 21, 2009

it’s funny what can jog your memory. I was sitting on the front steps of our building with my g/f and the neighbor’s kid, waiting for the school bus, when he asks me if I write books. I joke back that I write books badly and chuckle when the conversation quickly shifts to the ever worsening weather. I mention in passing that I like thunderstorms, the darker, louder, windier the better. Then the kid says I should write about storms.

I’m not sure if the kid was joking or not. It was flat in tone and, with the right inflection, I could easily see it being a weird little jab at my “being a writer.” But it got me thinking about maybe writing about storms. What they could symbolize, how they could be worked into a story, etc. etc. etc. when I realized that I had already written about storms!

It was just a short story, with kids and an apocalyptic storm that fell disaster upon them – a real Stephen King Special – but it was something that I had really enjoyed when I had finished with it but which had been lost in the shuffle since I wrote it. It also made me think of the another little horror story I wrote for a fiction course I took a couple of years ago when I was pursuing my PhD. It was a little vampire tale with all sorts of sexual allusions and innuendo but it, too, had been lost to time and to the refuse of my harddrive.

While I enjoy both stories, it makes me think of the fight between being a REAL Writer and being a Genre Writer.  As a young child, I had been a big reader and writer. An only child, living in the middle of nowhere, it was really the only option before the proliferation of the internet and cable/satallite television. Unfortunately, it was a habit that elementary school fairly drummed out of me. What really drew me back into the fold was genre writers; it was Stephen King and Michael Cricton. Enjoying reading again was something they jointly gave back to me.

But, despite my debt to them and the great amount of joy I got and get from their work, why don’t I take my genre works more seriously? The two little horror stories I wrote I enjoy immensely but they haven’t been something I have given the sort of importance I give other works – despite the fact that they may be two of my better crafted works.

So what does this mean that I have sort of, maybe, kinda turned my back on a type of fiction I enjoy? I may have slipped into snobbish elitism, the inevitable result of too many lit courses and too many encounters with other would be Serious Writers. Or maybe my tastes since my re-introduction to the writing world have gradually widened to the point where I simply write what I want now and try to ignore having my work split into categories while also being aware that to be published within a genre has a definite risk of pigion holing me in that genre for eternity. After all, I still find copies of Motherless Brooklyn tucked away next to Amnesia Moon in the sci/fi section.

And I’m still thinking about writing about a storm.


September 17, 2009

well, i went with the g/f to a reading today. Apparently it was supposed to be more of a talk about making literary journals but the woman had books to sell and appeared more than willing to hawk them. I’m just happy my g/f didn’t walk away with an armload as she has a custom of doing at concerts where CDs are splayed across a table at the enterance.

there was a lot of talk about the “mainstream,” which left me to wonder where this wealthy, exclusionary mainstream is in the poetry world, and her work being slapped with a sticker as “difficult.” And how she kicked off her independent journal with readings, featuring writers she knew, that hauled in four thousand bucks a pop – which seems like an entirely unlikely way for Joe Blow to start their own literary journal.

And before all of that she read poorly read her poetry after complaining that, essentially, she (“young poets of the early 90s, into which she grouped herself) had a hard time fitting in with the poetry being written because it was largely personal, self enclosed, etc. etc. etc. which sounded like another way of simply saying that none of them had had any sort of living up to that point and had nothing interesting to say.

I’ve posted before about missing academic life. The regularity of it. The “known-ness” of it. I like hanging around English departments. And then I go to functions like this. My time was wasted. I’d have been better off by just staying home and, well, writing!

That was the overriding experience of my day. An experience I have now vowed to never repeat. But, so the journey wasn’t a complete waste, I did walk away with two things. One, I did the LA Times crossword. I’ve never actually completed one before. The other, ironically, is from the reading. It’s to not be boring. Whatever you do, don’t bore people. If you’re going to write and if you are then going to read that writing to other people, learn to read well. Do away with continually looking down at your own work, remove your hands from the podium, learn when and how to gesticulate, how to use your voice and don’t bore your audience.

Because they are like me. We will turn on you in an instant. And you won’t get us back.

How To Be Alone – Review

September 16, 2009

Finished over the weekend, Jonathan Franzen’s “How to be Alone” was a quick, enjoyable read that worked to drive enthusiasm for other Franzen works and has encouraged me to attempt non-fiction myself.  Now the conditions for my reading what was roughly half the collection may not have been the best. I was back “home” in the best quotied sense of the word, I wasn’t sleeping well, I was overworked taking care of two yards and trying to see as many family and friends as possible, and I was starting to come down with some sort of respiratory problem that I had been attempting to kick to the curb throughout the week leading up to my journey “home.”

So is it fair to say that I may have been slightly out of it? Perhaps. 

But the collection of essays certainly left it’s impression on me. Franzen breezes through the stories, ranging from the emotions and impressions of his departed father after recieving a copy of his brain autopsy from his mother to his discomfort being near his recently sold childhood home when back in St. Louis to do a brief video shoot for the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Few of the essays will change the world.  What they do accomplish is baring particular insights into the condition of one individual, allowing us to find commonality in fears, in isolation, in the shackles of our own minds and the nature of our lives being an individual experience rather than a shared account.

The essays that consistently rung truest for me were the ones dealing with Franzen’s parents and his childhood home. The opening essay beginning with recieving the autopsy report on his dead father’s brain, a “perk” of having taken part in a study a number of years before,  and the essay about returning home and having to do a shoot for Oprah while being confronted with the specter of his childhood home resonated with me. Perhaps it is because I am from the midwest, have lost a number of family members recently and have been in the process of cleaning out my grandmother’s house (granted, while she’s still living in it). Returning home has been a return to a cemetary, in a literal sense, and then returns to homes where I no longer entirely fit and where thoughts of mortality have had a habit of lingering over my own sleeepless head.

In other words, I just get what Franzen’s saying or I am able to take what he is saying and twist it to apply to myself enough to think I get what he is saying. It is something that great spewer of words, Thomas Wolfe, so succinctly summed  in five words, “You can’t go home, Again.”  Franzen says the collection is united by the title, all essays coming back to central theme of being alone, but I think the backbone of the stories isn’t so much as how to be alone as our struggle to overcome it.

It’s harder than it seems

September 15, 2009

over the weekend I finished reading Jonathan Franzen’s “How to Be Alone;” a collection of essays spanning, roughly the mid90s to late 2001. Franzen is a writer I’ve ben curious about for awhile, always seeing “The Corrections” on the shelf at Borders and getting the impression that he is a current writer that should be read. But that is a perception that is pushed onto nearly any major literature writer and I’ve come to take praise on bookjackets with a health dose of salt. But after reading “How to Be Alone” I am sure of two things. The first is that I will be reading “The Corrections.” The second is that I want to give the whole essay writing thing a shot.

so I’ve started trying to piece together a little essay about recent trips home and the feelings it entails since moving to cleveland coupled with recent deaths in the family. And this is where Franzen proves how truly skilled he is at writing the essays from “How to be Alone.” Attempting to write an essay myself is far more difficult than how Franzen makes it appear.

On the one hand, it’s pretty solid praise for Franzen. He wrote a collection of essays that are entirely enjoyable to read and made it look insanely easy to do in the process. On the other hand, I’m having a difficult time structuring and saying what I want to structure and say.

I’m also hoping to punch up some reviews in the next couple of days, so I’ll try to keep the updates flowing.

Terra Nostra and The Sickness

September 11, 2009

it’s been a pretty sparse week for updates. First, I just grew overly tired and frustratedwith  Carlos Fuentes’ Terra Nostra. It’s over 800 pages long, starts slow and keeps going slow. While reading it (I got a little over 200 pages in) I knew there were things that could have been researched to provide more richness to the story, and it would have probably helped to have known a bit of Latin, but engaging in a novel as research project was simply something I didn’t have in me. If given a different temperment, I might have kept going. But, right now, I just don’t have it in me.

And this week I haven’t felt capable of much of anything. After “camping” with my g/f’s family for all of one night, I got sick. A drainage/sinus/throat thing that has made me feel like crap all week. It’s drained me of energy, it’s made me feel miserable, I’ve been running a fever, etc. And because I may or may not be overmedicating myself at night with night time cold medicine, I have had an increasingly difficult time getting out of bed in the morning.  I don’t tend to read directions but to just fill to the top line whatever little plastic shotglass is next to the medicine bottle. I should check to see if the top line on the glass corresponds to the correct dosage listed on the bottle.

Oh, and I screwed up my back over the weekend and it’s still not feeling right, either.  As you can see, it’s been a lovely week.

Warning:politics ahead

September 8, 2009

I’m beginning to feel bad for Obama.  From reading the news stories, he seems more and more like the right person at the right time with entirely the wrong party behind him. It’s like he’s Dorothy trying to get through Oz and return to home but instead of just having three lousy travelling companions who lack heart, brains and courage, everyone he runs into is a total gutless idiot.  This is a party that controls the house, the senate and the presidency and still can’t find a way to pass the single largest item on their agenda. 

The Democratic Party deserves to fail after this. For right or wrong, agree or disagree with them, when the GOP was in power, they at least made sure to pass the majority of what they wanted passed. They stood as a united front and they Got Things Done. The democrats, though, have tried catering to everyone, have broken off into ridiculous factions and are looking more incompetant by the day.

And in the public sphere, who do I see being the biggest pain in the Democrats’ ass? Yes, Rush, of course. But, more than that, a litany of old codgers who gimp into town halls and try to base their misguided thoughts on less than truthful recollections of the past and an inability to put said past with today’s present.  the babyboomers are going to screw us for a long time as there are just too many of them and medical science is keeping them alive too long.

If Obama had beena  Republican and the GOP had controlled the senate and house, a health care bill would have been passed a couple of months ago.

Not Much of Anything

September 3, 2009

this has just been one of those weeks where I can’t get into much of anything. I’ve tried writing but it’s mostly just staring at the screen with some words trickling out here and there. I’ve tried reading but I can’t find the patience for it.

The problem is I can’t really afford these dry spells but I’m not sure how to work out of it without beginning something new. Though, part of the problem might be that I’m too close to finishing too many things. The one novel really doesn’t have a ton of work to do (though it has enough) and I’ve been closing in on finishing out a couple of notebooks of poetry/prose. Ending things has always been a problem for me. I don’t necessarily like wrapping them up and putting them behind me. Part of it feels good, of course. Something accomplished, etc. But it’s also something I know I can’t have back.

I think another part of it is getting accostumed to g/f’s new school schedule. She started last week and I think the whole thing is just setting in now how she isn’t around and how I need to stop worry about her riding the bus/train at night and having to drive to different schools.

I’ll try again today and maybe I’ll get something written down.