Posts Tagged ‘novels’

I’m naive, I admit it

March 28, 2010

One of my goals has always been to be published. By a major publishing company. With an editor. And, most importantly, a nice advance that could (maybe) pay my bills for a bit. I also always sorta expect a publishing house to be helpful in pushing me (or any author) in the right direction regarding publicity of said work.

Then I read this blog by Mitzi Szereto.

Then I read this page by Jim Cox at the Midwest Book Review.

Then I talked to a couple of other friends of mine who are knee (well, shoulder) deep in MFA Master/PhD programs.

And I discovered how horribly naive I really am about the whole publishing mess. Any hope that a publisher would help a writer succeed appears blind and destined for failure. Want to do readings? Book’em yourself. Want to get reviewers to read the thing? Send them copies.

Unfortunately, if you’re like me (and you’re probably not, so you’re fine), you don’t really interact well with people. Or maybe you are like me which means that, like me, you have some work to do. for the first time, networking is taking on a clear importance and meaning.  Friends (or at least people who want to remain acquaintances and who may later ask you for a favor) are essential.

But how do you make friends, especially in a world where you are literally a tiny fish in a MASSIVE sea? I come from a small ass town in SE Michigan. I have lately moved to Cleveland.  Not exactly the center of the universe or, especially, the literary universe (Though Dan Chaon lives about 10 minutes away, and I guess Harvey Pekar lives somewhere in this town, so there’s some people whose names are at least noticeable on bookshelves). Given such a situation, it’s easy to look around and wonder how the hell you’re supposed to meet/greet/schmooze anyone.

Well, first, send stuff out. Obvious answer. People like you enough to publish you, on their dime, that’s a great first step in fostering allegiances to call on when needed. Second, use the web. Search for blogs and websites related to your interests/writings/etc. And comment. Say stuff. It’s easy, even if you do look like a naive nit (such as I on Mitzi’s blog). And just know that it’s going to happen. Don’t be an ass. Just be you (unless you are an ass then try to be something less you).

As I crawl, drag, stagger towards finishing the (first) re-write of my first novel I have considered hurling into the world, I’ve started taking these steps. And credit goes to people like Mitzi Szerato and Jim Cox for erecting islands of illumination in the publishing darkness. Eventually, I hope to provide something similar. Until then, I’ll keep plugging away and trying to be a bit less naive.

And I’ll try to shake more hands.

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Apple and Literature: books will be shorter!

January 29, 2010

Alright, there are some things that just astound me. Daniel Akst’s apparent backing of less literacy carried on the back of eliterature is one of them. In an article talking about the future of publishing and how Apple’s Ipad could affect it he has the following quote:

Shorter is always better on screen, and so expect shorter books. Many nonfiction works are too long anyway — think of all those cinder-block-sized biographies — in part because right now there’s no mechanism for bringing to market anything between a magazine article (perhaps 5,000 words) and a short book (perhaps 70,000). Tablets will allow the length of works to be tailored more closely to the need.

More important, an Apple tablet will offer not just text but also sound, images and video — which will all be commonplace in books someday, in a balance we can’t yet foresee. This may undermine the primacy of text, but the text in most books today is far from sacred, and a little multimedia can do a world of good in most genres — in how-to books, for example. Think back to the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages; even when text was sacred, people liked a little multimedia on the side.

Now, it’s entirely fair to point out that Akst is pointedly mentioning nonfiction work but his statement that less text could be viewed as better on a screen is a solid point and could easily be something that bleeds into fiction. But while I disagree that shorter is necessarily better in regards to his “cinder-block-sized biographies” such a move could be a positive thing for what has become a bit of a lost art: the short story.

Anyone who has been in an MFA program for creative writing, or hangs around people in an MFA:Creative Writing program, has likely heard that short stories are not a path to publishing in book form. Collections don’t sell, novels do, despite the fact that many of our most beloved American authors excelled in the form of the short story.

The cliff’s edge that will need to be avoided, however, is where brevity falls into a lack of depth. Hemingway had an economy with words but his works still carried tremendous depth. Toni Morrison often sits in the 250-300 page range and she’s a nobel winner. Nabokov excelled in the form.

This also isn’t to say that a work should have to be shortened to meet an imagined requirement of a form. While many biographies are long, that doesn’t mean their length is not necessary. Personally, I hope that when I die that it most certainly takes more than 500 pages to recount my life and whatever achievements I attain. And for any moderately influential (though not necessarily famous) person, brevity could become an insult to thoroughness. We aren’t talking about the life and times of Nicole Richie but the life and times of presidents, senators, inventors, etc. A recounting  of Nikola Tesla’s life should probably resemble a cinder block.

As for the multimedia aspect, it’s something I’ve pushed myself. but only now am I wondering what the multimedia might entail for the various romance genres.

Chapter Seven

October 7, 2009

I’ve never re-written a novel before. I’ve writtten a couple of novel length pieces that have just sort of vanished over the years and that I’ve lost interest in but I’ve never really seen a project through to it’s true end. So the work I’ve been doing lately is rather new to me.

And dreaded.

The entire concept of editing and re-writing has been largely foreign to me for most of my life.  Reports and essays for school were always just scratched out and handed in with no real revisions and no appreciable proof reading (the fact that I did well in school is something that still amazes family and friends). The same with fiction, poetry and anything else I wrote for fun or entertainment or assignment. I would have an idea, I would put the idea onto paper, it would be done and I would move to the next idea.

This has produced a lot of surprisingly solid work, some of which I even still enjoy reading.

But it has also produced a lot of stuff that I have felt was half-formed.  the problem has always been that I haven’t had the ambition, or plain blue collar fortitude, to sit down and truly re-write any of it.

There was also a bit of artistic arrogance to it that, before, might have been thought of as artistic principle. It was that the first take is usually the most honest and true to a vision and that altering whatever is written is destined to move the piece ever further from its most natural beginnings. And this might be true. After all, there is nothing to definitively say that it isn’t, but it is also something that likely requires an incredible amount of natural ability, of intense training in this form or, most likely, a combination of good helpings of both. I don’t believe I have either of these things, at least to the degree that would be required to pull off such a style.

So I stepped timidly into the world of re-writing with my short fiction, poetry and prose. and I couldn’t help but admit that it made my work better.

I also couldn’t help but admit that I found it all sorts of difficult, time consuming, and physically and mentally taxing. It wore me out. it still does. And it’s gotten twice as difficult with the novel.

Knowing how much time and effort went into the initial conception of the idea, there is a part of me that hates to admit how much work some sections need. And a larger part of me that simply does not desire to sit down and do this work.

luckily, the novel started off easily. The opening chapters required little work and I was able to breeze through and feel pretty good about it. I should get through this in no time, I thought, and then began setting all sorts of entirely unrealistic time lines for myself.

then I hit chapter six and things stumbled a bit. I wanted to change one  aspect of the chapter and this change forced me to re-work roughly the first half of the chapter. It was rough but I got through it and I felt the stronger for it.

And then came chapter seven. Chapter seven is a place where I introduce a new character/story line and it was something that I felt I had botched almost entirely with the first draft. But it was still something that needed to be salvaged in some way for the rest of the novel to work.

Figuring out how to salvage the basic character/store line was the easy part. Coming to chapter seven and actually seeing all of the work laid out before me was the beginning of the difficult part.  the entire chapter needed re-written from the ground up. Even the names were changed to entirely put the past mistakes behind me. Not only was I altering something that I had spent much of the past few years on but i was entirely changing it. I don’t want to say I felt awful doing it, that wouldn’t be true and it would be an overstatement. Closer to what i was feeling was probably a certain deflation. After all, spending so much time on something only to re-read it later and realize I had botched the entire thing  is a pretty big kick in the knee.

With a 1500 word sprint today, though, I got it done. Chapter seven is behind me and I’m now feeling pretty good about it. Not just the chapter itself, which I think is vastly improved over what it had been before, but about finishing the chapter at all.  I know I will have future chapters that will require similar work but, having gotten through this one, the chapters to come seem less daunting. Now it is a case of having been there and done that and knowing I will get it done again.

All writers likely go through something similar, most probably at a much earlier stage than I, but it still feels good. It feels as if I have cleared a hurdle placed before me and the track is now opening up a bit allowing me to just run instead of maneuvering over, around and through obstacles. Now for Chapter Eight.

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.

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.

Baby Steps. Baby Steps. Baby Steps.

August 1, 2009

Lately I’ve been working on re-reading and editing my novel. This is before I start re-writing it.  the re-write process is something I’ve never been overly familiar with. My main process for writing has always been to sit down, open the wordprocesser adn start writing and whatever comes out, comes out, to hell with whether or not it makes any sort of sense.

As I’ve gotten older, though, I’ve been hit by a need to perfect what I’m doing and have recognized the need for re-writnig and the effort that really needs to go into it. What also goes into it, for me, is a lot of note taking. I’ve gotten into the habit of keeping note books for my novels. In them I keep track of things like character names, character traits, plot points, thoughts/ideas on the story, themes/motifs explored in the stories, etc. Tonight, while writing this blog, my printer is busily at work spewing out its own work to be taped into one of these notebooks. It’s just a way I have found to lend organization to my work while keeping a certain chaos to it.

While going back over my novel, I have found myself working over it chapter by chapter. I read a chapter, make notes in the text and along the margins, and then I take a 3×5 notecard, title it with the chapter I’ve read, and jot some more thoughts onto it before paperclipping it to the chapter and then moving on to the next chapter.  I’m not exactly sure how this will work with my re-writing, but I’m expecting it to work well, and I’m expecting it to work in conjunctin with the notebook I’ve got going. Between the two, the multiple paperclipped chapters and the book of rambling thoughts and notes, I’m thinking I should be able to tear the original work down a bit more constructively that I would have otherwise.

Now am I advocating this specific practice for everyone? of course not. It has got to be specific for each individual. But finding an effective method for approaching re-writing your material is a necessity.

Innovation brees ‘What are you thinking?’ moments and the Death of the Novel (again)

February 19, 2009

MSNBC has an interview up with Helen Popkin interviewing a bookloving Kindle user. I want to preface all that I am about to say with the fact that I have no problem with EBook or any sort of digital reading material.  If my abilities with HTML, flash, etc. were worth a damn, I’d be exploring that media a helluva lot more myself. It’s not so I just write normal every day stuff that is basically just words on a page. But I don’t have a problem with it.

What I have a problem with are these specialty readers. The kindle is the most famous, but I think either Sony or Philips has one of their own (I forget which but it was advertised as a more “affordable alternative to kindle – $300 instead of $400) and they all seem like vastly underpowered and ill-equipped laptops. Laptops are slightly larger but they are also far far more functional. In the interview the kindle user laments that the screen isn’t in color…well, a laptop usually has a very nice screen.

And if size is very important (though here I am guessing smaller is better), they have been making tablet PCs for years, which you can pick up fairly cheap from places like Tiger Direct or even EBay. Or you can take that $400 you’re throwing down on a kindle and buy one of the very nice convertible laptops on the market (these are laptops which can function as either a traditional laptop or as a tablet).

The kindle seems like one of those things taking advantage of the fact that it seems “new” and looks sharp. Save your money folks. Buy a laptop. It can do a lot of the same stuff. And if you’re having trouble finding a novel, try torrents. If you can get a doc/pdf file of it, there’s a good chance the audio version is up somewhere.

And yet again someone is asking the immortal question: is the novel dead?  I’ve posted my thoughts on this in another blog so I’ll just leave it at the blog and I basically agree.  I think this is a question that’s going to come up more and more, though, so we’ll probably see a bunch of articles about the fate of the written word as technology continues to advance. It’s always good to keep an eye on the frontlines.