Monday, September 28, 2015

The Gift of Time

Writing needs the gift of time. It requires the potion of reflective idleness. If a book is to live, it must grow. If a book is to grow, it must be nurtured. It must have space and air to expand and contract. Air and space are the equivalent of time.

Two years ago this December, I finished the draft of my second book about Athos of The Three Musketeers, part of my historical romance trilogy. I've written other kinds of fiction, but this series has taken up tons of my head space. When I finished the second book, my idea was to let it sit for about three to six months to "rest." My crit group had read it, and two editors were lined up to review it.

Then my husband died.
Prequel to The Three Musketeers

So much for book two.

Unfinished projects drive me crazy. They morph into little clouds of gray, sitting above my shoulders. Grieving trampled my motivation for just about everything. My good intentions eroded. So did my bad intentions. All my intentions. It's getting better. All the well-meaning people in my life said it would. It does. It won't ever be the same, but the grief is not molasses like it had been. It's still sticky, sometimes, but not thick and dark, like it had been.

The book kept pestering me. I enjoyed writing it, maybe even a little more than the first one because I had less to learn about writing fiction. Not that I know it all. God, no. I just had the basics down. So, I let myself run a little faster, a little looser.

Book Two is better than book one. My opinion.

My two editors read it last year and sent editorial notes. I let them sit, too. I lost one set of notes in my email, then rediscovered it. A year ago, I read one editor's comments and laughed and laughed at his pokes. There was work to be done. It took another year, until a week ago today, for me to decide enough was enough. Time to shape up the manuscript. I thought it would take me several weeks. It took six days.

The work sat idle for almost two years. It annoyed my conscience, but it also worked out the kinks. There are probably still a few, but now that I'm on the other side of revisions, I like the book more. It's angst-y, sexy. Better than it was. I dumped a bunch of purple prose. I recalibrated the logic. It makes more sense. I WANT people to read it.

It'll be out by November. Besides bringing about a sense of elation and relief, it represents a turning point for me. I'm moving forward. Little by little. It reminds me that rest is good, and all can end, if not completely well, at least a little better.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Why We're All Zombies and Nobody Plants Trees Anymore

Somewhere along the continuum of human evolution, inertia burrowed its way into our genes. Advocates of XY&Z movements (environmental, social justice, organic food, you name it) fight against inertia and have systems for it. For example, tree hugging organizations send me free mailing labels. Does this make a lot of sense? How we fight complacency, apathy, call it what you will, sends us down all kinds of incongruent paths.

Jonathan Franzen is on book tour for his new novel, "Purity," which received a decent review in the NYT. In an interview on Fresh Air, he spoke of writing in a journal. This is a practice many writers undertake to keep the words flowing, to flush the mental crap away, to discover, to weep, to just write SOMETHING. I've tried it with fleeting intentions. (Let's not make any comparisons here between my journaling and blogging habits. For public disclosure, I'm a better blogger.)

He was talking about journaling because he's used it through difficult spells of noveling. By writing in the journal, he saw patterns of thoughts, so similiar that sometimes he'd write the exact words, months apart. Where did this take him? Perhaps nowhere mentally, but in the physical act, maybe somewhere, 50 pages. Or flip that, maybe nowhere physically, because he couldn't use the material in a book, but mentally he might have come to a place of ahh, that's what's bugging me. That's my take on his state of arrival or non-arrival.

I often feel myself circling around and around my thoughts and never inching out of the wagon ruts. The inertia is maddening. It's endemic though. I think it's why zombies are popular. We see ourselves in the walking corpses, not advancing, not thinking, not feeling, not really living, just gobbling up fragrant shit placed within whiffing distance (my slam on the media/advertising); and it's why we don't think planting a tree really accomplishes anything. What difference can one damn tree make? Ha, I tell you, ha and ha and ha.

Recently, I had two dead spruces removed from my yard. They were brittle ghosts of themselves, waiting for a good bolt to go out in a blaze. It was the right thing to do, to remove them. But. Now my yard is less two trees. Days after or before the trees left the property, The Arbor Day Foundation sent me a "free gift voucher." If I fill out a Survey Questionnaire (redundant, no?) and send in $10, I'll receive 10 free trees. I'm flabbergasted to think this actually makes the organization any money. A survey and $10 covers the expense of the trees and shipping them to me? How can this be?

Okay, so maybe the info they'll learn about me in the survey is invaluable leverage to use for future solicitations. I get that. However, I'm tempted to see if this really works. Would it move me a little off my inert butt? Make me a committed environmentalist? What if I awake one morning to find 10 tree starts on my front door? Wouldn't that be something? Would it be worth the flood of solicitation mail that would eventually follow and the zero net-gain of planting the trees? How many mailing labels can one tree negate? How many of the 10 will survive?

I'm probably better off recycling the solicitation and buying my own trees. Maybe I'm better off not journaling and wasting the paper. Maybe I'm better off saving the electricity instead of blogging in circular fashion about whether my carbon footprint can be improved. But then? Where would my inertia place me? With the zombies.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Take Criticism at Face-Value, An Opinion

My father didn't come to a reading I gave in my hometown.
Hoorah for Friends.

That's a sentence I'd never thought would show up here, let alone congeal in my own mind.

Let's break this down, for if a blog is worth a cent, it should be for breaking down uncharted territory (at least today it is; at least in the last year it has been for me; you do what you want on your own blog).

Fact one, my father and I have a good, if not arm's length relationship. Fact two, we love one another as finely as any daddy-daughter could love one another. Fact three, people around the small town where I grew up like him. He's a swell guy. Honest, hard-working, appreciates tools and old cars. Fact four, he loves me, loves my kids, generally enjoys retirement and reading. We don't talk by phone every week (mom and I do), but we call when necessary.

He has not read my book. Or, if he has, he has not spoken of it.

What do I make of all this? I've generally lumped it into a category another writer defined for me in 2009, the year I began writing my book -- the Silent Group. She said some people will know of your work, even read it or attempt to read it, and remain mum. Never speak of it, never offer an opinion, never a word of praise or acknowledgment or criticism. Which, in and of itself, is an opinion. It's the opinion, "The work is not for me."

I know the work is not for my dad, chiefly because I've written sex into the book. It's part of the novel. It's not all of the novel, but it is a large enough part of it to be disagreeable to him. I understand this.

One of the lessons I've learned as a writer, particularly in the post-publication phase, is that my work is not for everyone. I didn't set out to please the masses. I set out to please myself. This may or may not, in the eyes of commerical publishing interests, be a good plan for success. Genre fiction evolved for a reason: because it is pleasingly familiar and readers tend to gravitate to formulas. Just take a look at any new movie coming out of Hollywood. They're surprisingly similiar. Familiar. And, in many ways, stale.

I'm not saying my work is a grand slam of fresh ideas or craft. But I didn't stick to a genre romance formula. Partly because I didn't know enough, partly because once I knew, I didn't want to follow the "rules."

Now, I move on. My writing is evolving. It leans toward literary. Yawners, for some people. Pissy sales, most likely. Complicated characters, interior dialogue, and lack of action? Who in the hell reads books without an explosion, death, or bondage any more? I still don't think my father will read my new work. I've cozied up to the fact that he won't. It's okay. It's just another opinion.