The Book I’m Not Writing

April 30th, 2014
Apparently attitude also has something to do with elevation gain.

Apparently attitude also has something to do with elevation gain.

I have in the last few months finally gained momentum on my third novel. Normally I’m sufficiently motivated and often disciplined that, even though I have lots else going on (like a full-time job – is this sounding like an excuse?), I manage to find time to write. At least once a week. Which might not sound like a lot but you’d be surprised what can be done in a solid day. But when it came to my third novel, for a bunch of reasons (or perhaps one big reason) I took an almost two year hiatus. So, yes, thrilled that that’s over, but what interests me now is how the novel I thought I was writing then is not the novel I’m writing now. Sure, the basics of the story are the same, as is the protagonist, but I know that directions I’m taking now are not necessarily ones I would have taken back then. In fact, I don’t need a two year break for this to be true. In the week (and sometimes weeks) that passes between writing stints, my changing moods affect not so much plot (which is either pretty firmly set in my head or takes unanticipated turns that seem to emerge from nowhere else but my typing fingertips) but the protagonist’s attitude. And, of course, as is well known, attitude is the difference between comedy and tragedy.

The Unwanted

April 12th, 2014

unwanted book 1unwanted book 3vinny-violet-coverI went to a Rotary book sale yesterday.  Imagine a gymnasium filled with rows upon rows of books of all varieties at very low prices.  Kids’ books were not quite a penny pound but at a $7 a bag stuffed to the gills, it was about as close as you’re going to get in this penny-less world.  Adult books were considerably more but only in relative terms.  In that case, the nice Rotary folk actually bothered to count the number of books in the bag.  It was all rather depressing.  I know, I know I should have been excited at the bargains, encouraged at the queue that formed before the doors were even open, at the number of people buying books by the box.  But I wasn’t.  No matter how many books people bought, the quantity didn’t seem to diminish and all I could see were all those writers’ hard work – no matter how easily dismissed as mere schlock or formulaic – sitting there unwanted.  Not even at $2 a pop.

 

Catch-22 Déjà Vu

April 4th, 2014

Not just mesmeric but POLYmesmeric.

Not just mesmeric but POLYmesmeric.

I don’t normally re-read books because there is already too little time to read new ones.  But my book club recently chose Catch-22 and it being a classic, and remembering feeling thrilled by it when I was twenty, and fearing book club wrath, I decided to make an exception.  I did not regret it.  It gave me an almost constant feeling of déjà vu.  And sure, it was in fact a case of déjà read but I don’t think other re-read books would have left my head spinning with the same degree of recognition.  At times, I could feel myself thinking the same thoughts I had upon the first read or laughing at the same bits.  It astounded me at how little the way I see or think about things seems to have changed.  But there were also encouraging signs that I’ve not been completely set in my ways since a disturbingly early age.  Insights (and, at times, the chapters devoted to them) that at twenty seemed risky, dangerous even, now struck me, as well, juvenile, and Heller definitely is of the school of thought that if a joke worth telling once, it’s worth telling enough times that any comedy gets completely wrung dry.  But in the end, even though I was far more critical and a lot less patient with the book’s repetition, lack of restraint and its astoundingly sexist depiction women, I still found it powerful and (despite the repetition) original.  But read it while you’re still young.

And the Reason I’m Doing This Is…

March 27th, 2014

I'm not going to write and you can't make me.

I’m not going to write and you can’t make me.

I was recently very chuffed to learn that two of my stories had been picked up by New Zealand’s North & South Magazine as part their short, short story contest (less than 300 words) – one as a runner-up and the other as “highly commended”.  It was a totally encouraging boost.  But it also made me realize that I’m not used to people reading my work (apart from a select few and even then, in a very limited way which I control).  Of course, I’m not talking hordes gobbling up the magazine to get at my 600 words of prose, but still any increase from one or two readers is enormous.  This then brought me back to the age old question of why do writers write.  Some say that it’s a “necessity”, that they have “no choice”.  Well, I have a choice.  And there are times it’s a real struggle between writing and eating chips and watching Homeland (or, more likely, curling up with my e-reader).  And clearly I’m not choosing writing because of my readership relentlessly demanding more, so why do it?  Well, it is a lovely feeling when it’s going well, and while it’s not a necessity, I do feel a bit of a compulsion to tell a particular story in my particular way, and an audience, if it ever materializes, is nice, but at the end of the day, buggered if I really know.  Maybe I’ll watch another episode of Homeland

Bittersweet

March 7th, 2014

snoopy-freelance-writerMy book club recently read Stoner by John Williams.  It garnered quite the divided views.  Some, including me, thinking it was a beautifully written depiction of a disappointing, sad life.  Others finding the main character too passive, his life too pointless (mainly due to a lack of depth in his relationships) to bother writing about.  But that’s not what I want to blog about.  What I want to blog about is the fact that the novel was written in 1965, fell out of print a year later, and is now a bestseller.  It was named Waterstones’ 2013 Book of the Year, no less.  How did this happen?  As far as I can tell, it’s because a relatively well-known French novelist (Anna Galvalda) decided to translate it and sales in France took off.  This led the English to pay attention and the likes of Ian MacEwen and Nick Hornby professed to have always loved it.  Then, sigh, Tom Hanks piped up and the New York Times re-reviewed it (48 years after the original review).  Now Williams’ wife is sitting pretty on the royalties because poor Williams himself died in 1994, which for my taste suits the spirit of the novel a little too well.

Texts Away

February 26th, 2014

A friend’s nephew recently had his mobile phone taken away after his mother could no longer stand its constancy in every facet of her son’s life.  His mobile phoneleaving it on the bathtub’s edge while he showered was the final straw.  It turned out he was sending about 20,000 texts per month.  That’s about 667 texts PER DAY!  Even if I or my friend or his mother have it wrong by on order of ten, that’s would still be an impressive, although not as mind-blowing, 67 texts per day (but I am assured that it is indeed 20,000).  Closer examination of the texts reveal that a great many consist of “K” and “LOL” (the longevity of this latter abbreviation is baffling to me).  All this puts me in mind of the Mark Twain quote, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a longer one instead.”  Clearly this 17 year-old has all the time in the world.  No wonder his mom took his phone away.

The Duomo of Novels

February 12th, 2014

DuomoDuomoDuomoOne of my favourite churches is the Duomo in Florence.  This has nothing to do with its aesthetic quality.  Although, I do like its rustic, red brick look.  Rather it has everything to do with the construction of its dome.  The dome is 52 meters high and 44 meters wide.  Construction of the church commenced in 1296 and wasn’t completed until a 140 years later in 1436. These facts by themselves suggest a marvel but what I really love about it is that when the church was commenced, Arnoldo di Cambio, the architect had no idea how the dome would ever be self-supporting.  He advocated it anyway, feeling certain that, well, somebody along the way would sort it out. (Alternatively a cynic would argue that he knew he wouldn’t be around for its completion a hundred or so years down the track, so why stress about it.)  Aided by the fact that the use of support buttresses were forbidden (something do with awful foreigners to the north using such ugly supports), di Cambio’s original vision prevailed and a 124 years later a solution to the roof not falling down on parishoners’ heads was found (by Fillippo Brunelleschi).  What does all this have to with writing?  Sometimes – for those of us who write without outlines – writing a novel can feel like dome construction.  Characters say and do all sorts of unanticipated things, which lead in all sorts of unanticipated directions. One just hopes that it will somehow, somewhere down the track all come together.  And in far less time than 124 years.

Meryl Streep Envy

February 3rd, 2014

And for the '90s and the '00s and the '10s and...

And for the ’90s and the ’00s and the ’10s and…

I am far from being an actor and even as an amateur, the last time I was in a play was 1997.  (I am not including here my role as “Jimmy the Skull” in a murder-mystery night over the holidays.)  Nonetheless, I have Meryl Streep envy.  She has got to rate as one of the luckiest actors ever, scoring more meaty roles per year of being in the business than any other actor that I can think of (which means Hollywood types.  Perhaps there are equally lucky theatre types but the mere fact that their careers are restricted to theatre suggests otherwise.).  And age does not seem to have diminished her access to parts of substance.  Sure there were some forgettable comedies in the 1980s, but while her (talented) counterparts embarrass themselves in movies like Last Vegas (seeing this flick is unnecessary to knowing that De Niro has done better work; Michael Douglas I’m not as sure about), Streep gets to sink her teeth into spiteful, prescription drug-addled Violet in August: Osage County.  The Academy Award nomination was predetermined.  If I can in anyway fault her performance as Violet is to note that there were times when Streep seemed to be having too much fun.  Was it Violet enjoying a bit of self-satisfied vindication or was it Streep enjoying a bit of self-satisfied longevity?

Tell Me More

January 23rd, 2014

et-tu-bruteThere’s a line right at the beginning of August: Osage County (which I absolutely loved) that put me in mind of how a line of dialogue (mainly in theatre/movies) can reveal so much about a character.  The line I have in mind is spoken by the patriarch of the house: “simple pleasures, like finding wild onions by the side of the road, or requited love.”  Perhaps I say this only with the hindsight of what follows, but ‘requited’ love has a portentous undertone. Unrequited love may be sad but one worries how requited love is actually to be repaid (and, as an aside, when was love ever simple?). Another one-liner that stands out for me in this way is when Blanche in Tennessee Williams’ Street Car Named Desire says, “when we’d run away and come back.” Anyone can talk of running away but who in the very same breath comes back?

Grammar Rant

January 13th, 2014

I am far from a tyrant when it comes to grammar.  I am ready to let slip the odd “less” instead of “fewer” if only because I struggle to decide at times whether something can be counted (because if you can, it’s fewer, folks).  I am even reconciling myself to the demise of the adverb (it’s she ran quickly, people).  But I cannot get past the use of “I” when it should be “me”.  Perhaps this is because the most ardent mis-users are so convinced they are speaking properly.  Since I don’t expect mis-users to believe me, here’s elearnenglishlanguage.com on the topic:

“This confusion usually occurs when you have I/me connected to another pronoun or name with “and” or “or.” I believe that the blackboardconfusion begins when someone says something like “John and me are ready” and that is corrected to “John and I are ready.” The speaker then thinks, “Oh, the word ‘and’ means that I should always use I.” This is not the case. “And” has nothing to do with it; the reason you say “John and I” in that sentence is that “John and I” are the subject. If they were the object, you’d use me: “He told John and me to get ready.”

If you are not good with grammar concepts like subject and objects, there is still a very easy way to decide whether to use I or me: try out the sentence with just I or me (or if you need a plural, we or us – “we” is equivalent to “I” and “us” is equivalent to “me.”):

He told Tom and (I or me?) to get ready.
He told I to get ready? NO
He told me to get ready? YES
Therefore, He told Tom and me to get ready.