Friday, December 28, 2012

Whenever I start a new project I invariably have a moment – often a long moment, where I haven’t the foggiest idea how to proceed. Though I’ve written seven novels before, I haven’t the slightest idea how to do another. My lists, notes, pictures, links, resources, phrases are all well and good, but damned if I can see a path through it all, linking it all, making the story out of the ingredients.

At this point in the process I wish I’d written a book detailing how to write a book: First make a list of characters, develop them in outline. Second storyboard at least three acts. Third, type and be done. Alas, I’ve never written that book. Once I begin, the whole thing becomes organic, characters and scenes I never imagined at the beginning become inevitable by the end and I couldn’t tell you how it happened.

It’s a daunting task to lay out in front of anyone, writing a novel. Take an idea, give it life and breath in characters, events and setting, record it all with as much art as you can into 100,000 words, give or take 50,000.

At this stage, before the characters are named I have only an idea, a seed to pour water on to coax out limbs and roots that will support the structure it must eventually have. I can’t rush it, though I want to. I want to write. I want to put black on the white, keep tables of word counts, make triple redundant backups of the day’s work, but I can’t at this stage. I’ve got to be patient and brainstorm when I can, be alert to the moments when something half congeals and scribble it onto whatever is handy, computer, phone, pad, napkin, arm before it slips away. Hope that when I look at it again, I’ll understand what it meant and know how to use it.

I’m writing, but it doesn’t look like it. I’m creating, though I frown. I’m working though it appears I’m reading. I’m writing a book.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

I started working on a new project. I dug into research materials, bought books, read books, scoured the internet, made timelines, began character arcs, scene notes, POV tabulations and then today, I scuttled it.

It was to be a story of Roanoke, the lost Virginia colony set between 1585 and 1592. It would have centered on the themes of freedom and betrayal, survival, religion, old world vs. new world with a strong romantic element. Sounded great – historical drama, romance and swashbuckling. What could be better? Well, one thing. It could be original.

I knew there were already many books on the subject, fiction and non-fiction, but I pressed on thinking I’d have a unique voice and a unique take on the tragedy. I might have, but there was no need. I write what I want to read but I read what I wanted to read. I don’t need to write it again. My unique style would be only a little extra spice in an already rich stew.

Lots of work. Weeks of research. Thousands of words, but I’m putting it aside and going in another direction. Such is writing; you got to know when to fold 'em... know when to walk away... know when to run. I'm outa here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

So as you can tell I’ve moved my blog to blogspot on the advise of an editor. Blogspot is built for blogging. Though I could manage html at for now, eventually the maintenance will become be impossible.

So that’s where I’ve been. Oh, did I tell you, BEATRYSEL is coming out 2013 from Rainstorm Press and ELEANOR is coming from Jolly Fish in 2014! Yeah, it’s been a good month.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

There’re novels that defy genre and so are put into a genre anyway. “Literary fiction" is what I see it called most often. These kinds of books succeed not because of plot or character, they have them and they work, but the book itself is more of a snapshot than a movie. No – they're more like a painting.

Mudbound, by Hillary Jordan is such a book. Jordan immerses the reader into a post World War Two rural Mississippi like an impressionistic painter burdened with a limited palette. Her colors are brown, mud brown, black, white, and grey. It’s a bleak picture, full of longing and injustice, prejudice and mud. Lots of mud. It’s a theme, you see. Mud. You’re caught in it, and it’s sucking at your boots and now you’re up to your knees in it. Mud.

I’m not going to give a whole reading of the book, but I was interested in why Jordan chose 1948 to set her book.

Mudbound is timeless. It could take place any time in the Antebellum South when blacks are “free” but not really. By placing it in 1948, Jordan gains two specific things that wouldn’t have been possible if the book took place, say, after World War One or The Spanish American War. First, it allowed the main African American character, Ronsel, to possess a new kind of self-respect earned as a tank commander during the war. World War Two was the first time African Americans were allowed to serve in the regular military. They were segregated, but they fought. Second, 1948 is near enough to our own time that we can apply our mores of behavior and justice without feeling unfair, at least that’s what I did.

The story is rife with the misogyny, bigotry and racism the South is so often associated with, but Jordan doesn’t try to do more with them than make them part of the picture. Jordan recognizes these as forces, but not as the villains of the story, which I think they are. Jordan paints a picture of inevitable injustice that my liberal heart just couldn't accept. Knowing that those attitudes existed in 1948 as they had in 1848 and might still in 2048 means that Mudbound, however beautiful, was bound to be a tragedy.

I was swept up in the style and narrative of Mudbound. I loved the intimacy of the changing narrative voices, the desperation of the more interesting characters and the strong sense of place. These things alone are worth the cost of admission. It was a great book but it left me feeling, well, muddy at the end. The best is made of a bad situation, but the bad situation is never rectified, identified or challenged as the real enemy. Instead, like the rain that causes the mud, these horrible attitudes are accepted as a facts of life. You just have to get used to them and slog on as best you can.

Charlie Chaplain said "life is tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long shot." Mudbound is an intimate close-up, a bleak painting, brown and muddy. It's so muddy in fact, that I wonder if we could get so far back as to get the long-shot that would make it comedy. If we did, we'd have to laugh at the players for dealing with the symptoms of the disease instead of the cause.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Looking for a good apocalypse movie for December 21st? May I recommend Perfect Sense with Ewan McGregor and Eva Green?

Gather your Mayan friends around and enjoy this amazing piece of cinema. It’s a true piece of art; emotional and important. Intimate and epic. It is thought provoking, passionate and worth your time. Watch it now. It will stay with you for a while, past the 21st. I promise.