Thursday, June 14, 2012

A couple of things

First, my column for this week, which is about the passing of Ray Bradbury and incorporates some thoughts from my earlier blog about the man.

Second, I'm now at the 45,000-word point in my current novel project, which includes a chapter I wrote last night titled "Schrodinger's Girlfriend." If you know anything about the physics reference, maybe you'll understand why the guy keeps his girlfriend locked in a closet.


Friday, June 08, 2012

Some links on the death of Ray B

Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)
"Death doesn't exist. It never did, it never will. But we've drawn so many pictures of it, so many years, trying to pin it down, comprehend it, we've got to thinking of it as an entity, strangely alive and greedy. All it is, however, is a stopped watch, a loss, an end, a darkness. Nothing."
— Ray Bradbury, from "Something Wicked This Way Comes" 

I am still processing the things I need to write about the death of Ray Bradbury. Whether anybody reads them or not. I believe he would understand that.

Meanwhile, please check these links, which say some of the things I am feeling or show some of the reasons I feel them:

Ray Bradbury's obituary.

My favorite living author, Neil Gaiman, reads aloud his story, "The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury." This made me cry, which one should not do at work.

A tumblr post with video embedded in which RB talks about the reasons to write -- and not to write.

Gaiman quotes Bradbury: "Looking back over a lifetime, you see that love was the answer to everything." 

An introduction to a Bradbury collection, written by Gaiman a couple of years ago. 

Take Me Home, an essay by Bradbury in The New Yorker, published June 4. 

"B is for Bradbury," the 6/29/2010 entry from this blog, in which I write about finding the book that cemented my love of writing (and reading), Bradbury's "S is for Space."

That's all I have for right now. I'll gather my emotions and thoughts and return before too long with more for the 10 or so people who sometimes read this. It's how I deal with things. I appreciate you "listening."


Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Is Life Like This?

(The last of my notes from the Rosemary Beach Conference for Writers. I think.)

JD leads a discussion on "How to Write a Novel in Six Months." He starts by quoting Somerset Maugham: "There are three secrets to writing a novel, and nobody knows what they are."

But here's the only secret to writing a novel in six months: 1) Sit your ass in the chair. 2) Write every day.

Carry and use a notebook. It announces to the world that you are a writer, and it reminds you of the same thing.

JD: "Fiction is gossip about made-up people."

Here's a few more parts of the secret:
1) Don't expect too much from a first draft.
2) Don't stop until you finish.
3) Don't be afraid of the inevitable failure.
4) Digress, chase rabbits, allow accidents.
5) Try again. Fail better next time.

Use material from your life. Write about yourself for the first two weeks. Don't even think about the novel. Not facts, just emotions. Fond memories. Regrets. Trace themes that run through your life. Ask, "Why?"

Next two weeks, write about characters. Who are they? What do they want? Need? What were they like as teenagers?

Notice things. Take photos. Collect news articles. Eavesdrop.

What was the last lie they told? Childhood trauma? Your own obsessions? How do they spend a Sunday? What's missing? What do they want to do before they die?

You character(s) has to want something intensely enough to do something to overcome any obstacles to achieving it.

Write your way through any block or problem.

If you don't surprise yourself, then you aren't going to surprise the reader.

Spend two weeks writing about the places. Be a city planner. Tell legends of the place. Foods eaten there. Annual rituals. Local tales. Who founded it? What is the climate? What kind of trees grow there?

You want to convey a taste of the soil. Somewhereness. Where it came from. Place is destiny. This story could not have happened anywhere else.

Spend a week on themes. Loss. Grief. First love. Marriage. Family. Divorce. Death.

Plot: The longer the work is, the more important plot becomes. But let theme guide the plot. How do actions and characters enrich or enhance the theme?

Hemingway's theme: A man faces death with courage. (Note the irony of his death.)

Point of view. Voice. — Try different approaches to who tells the story.

Don't generalize. Don't be universal; it comes off pompous. Be personal. Tell the story an inch at a time.

Process: Wonder what they will do next. Write that down.

Do the best you can, full in the knowledge that it's not good enough.

In the later drafts, you'll deal with subplots and tie up loose ends.
(Some loose notes from the panel discussion on Day 3:)

- You don't write from discipline. You have to love it.
- Get your best fountain pen and use it to shoot Bambi's mother.
- In a memoir, establish the theme early on. With a memoir, remember that they pay you for the pain.
- (Miles DeMott is wearing a T-shirt that says: "Careful or you'll end up in my novel.")

Friday, June 01, 2012

Writing is Not Difficult*

(More notes from the Rosemary Beach Conference for Writers. Please note that the students had very little time on the writing exercises, so none of the stories are complete and all of them are first drafts.)

JD: "Writing is not difficult. Writing well is."

Assignment: He gives us a character to start with: She's an exterminator for a pest control firm; single mom; two kids; dating a community college teacher; and something happened last night that's bothering her.
Give her a name. What does she want? Why? What's stopping her.

I name her Maggie. She's 32.

I write:

He set Gillian on his knee.
Maggie couldn't get the image out of her head. She tried to clear her thoughts — needed to focus on the task at hand, mixing chemicals and water in polished steel tanks. She wore goggles and gloves and a breathing mask, all of which made it more difficult to read the measurements and handle the equipment, but without which she would be exposed to toxins.
Was she seeing things clearly? Was she protecting herself and her children well enough? What sort of guy was Jeremy, really?
The motto of her company, Marine Pest Control, was "Kill'em all. Let God sort'em out."
Jeremy seemed like a good guy. Community college professor. Psychologist. But what was it she always heard about psyche majors — they were all crazy? She wondered what a psyche major really thought of a single mom who killed bugs and rodents for a living.
She'd been dating Jeremy for a few weeks. Dinner, a concert, a movie. He had met her kids twice. Last night, her 6-year-old, Gillian, was still awake when Jeremy had brought Maggie home. The babysitter left, and Jeremy sat to talk to Gillian.He lifted her and set her on his knee —
And Maggie felt her skin crawl, like the first time she'd cracked open a termite infestation.

JD: All characters have jobs (even those who don't) and the job they do informs how they see the world.

Assignment: Explore a person at work. How dull life has become. How can you change it? He or she loves their spouse and kids, but is dying inside. Had such potential once. Never will get another chance. Must do something now.

I write (and you'll just have to forgive me if it's too autobiographical):

I don't smoke. Any more, at least, though I never really did much of it. But I still go out to the picnic table at the back corner of the office building where the smokers take their breaks. If I didn't visit the table a couple of times a week, I wouldn't take many breaks at all. The work would just go on.
It does anyway. If I don't do it, maybe things wouldn't get done for a while, but somebody else would eventually step in, fill that hole, turn that gear, and the machine would keep rolling along. No one stops the presses.
But I sit out there and look at the trees, listen to the traffic, watch a homeless guy walking with his life in a ratty backpack. And I wonder if I couldn't just walk away too? Who would miss me?
Don't get me wrong. My life isn't so terrible. I don't dig ditches. I don't eat at the Rescue Mission or sleep under a trolley bench. I have a great wife and kids. They love me and I love them. We have a decent home. A new car. Health insurance.
And sometimes it feels like I'm losing my damn mind. I'm 47 years old, or nearly 48, and where am I going? What have I done? What difference have I made?
I talked to a friend last week who I only ever "see" on Facebook. My first friend. Grew up together. First guy I ever got drunk with. His dad just died. He was devastated. And I'm not feeling that great myself, all of a sudden. 

Assignment: JD asks us to pick a number between 1 and 26; we do this three times and write them down. Then he hands out a piece of paper that has three columns: A list of 26 jobs, 26 things a character wants, and 26 opening scenes. Each of your numbers match one of the columns, in that order. My numbers were 23, 17, and 11. That means I will be writing about a TV Anchorperson who wants to talk about his or her child's death, and the opening scene is digging a shallow grave.

(I find this completely random choice interesting in light of what I wrote on the first day about my greatest fear.)

I write:

"This is a good spot," she said.
The drive into the country was pleasant. The woods were thick here and would be due for a prescribed burn soon, which would further cover her tracks and destroy any evidence she might leave behind. She traveled a mile in, down a sandy road maintained by the forestry service, then got the basket out of the back of the SUV and walked along a narrow fire break into the rows of pines.
"You'll like it here," she said.
The sun was low when she turned off the break and into the line of trees marching off in unnaturally even spaces. She found a spot in the open, where scrub ferns and sticker vines had grown thick, and she put down the basket.
"Don't be afraid," she said.
She took a garden trowel out of her jacket pocket and uprooted the brush. She set it aside, root and all, and continued digging in the sandy earth.
"It's not your fault," she said. "I want you to understand that."
The ground was soft. She was surprised by how soft it was., how it surrendered to her tool. Even so, she would need to have her nails done again before tomorrow's 5 p.m. show.

That's as far as I got. I believe the last image would have been her placing the basket into the hole she dug and saying, "This just in." Either that, or getting back to work, reading the teleprompter and describing the abandoned corpse of a baby discovered by a hunter and his dogs out on a forestry lease. "This just in," she said.

Next: How to write a novel in six months.