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Or even scandalous love stories!
Hi Everyone. I am reaching out for a little help. I am getting a lot of really good work done on my novel. (Whew. For a while there I was getting really scared. Do you remember when I posted about going on a road trip without your wallet? I feel like I have been looking for my wallet for more than a year now, trashing the apartment, cutting open the sofa cushions, ripping up the carpet, just searching. I’ve found it now– it was in the freezer–and am happily on the road. For this to make any sense, check out this and this.)
Anyway, I have a character who likes to talk about celebrity stories in a way to illustrate some fundamental truth. The character was born in 1948, so she has a lot of pop culture time to work with. I was wondering if anybody out there can remember a pop culture scandal from say 1950-1980. I would prefer something that has sort of been forgotten. I’ve already thought of Al Green and the Grits. I need something like that. Oooh. I just remembered the Teddy Pendergrass incident. Marvin Gaye and his daddy happened a bit too late, 1983. I would especially love to hear about a scandal that was a little bit before my time, but anything, really would be helpful. I’d even like to hear about a great or tragic love story. Leave it in comments and if the comment thing is acting up again, send me an email!
Maybe you remember The Willesden Herald’s annual short story contest. The big drama was that the judges could not find one single story worthy of the prize. (It sounds like the set up for a fairy tale or an opera, doesn’t it?) When the panel– chaired by one Zadie Smith– announced its decision, TWH posted a sort of “what NOT to do” list on its blog.
Like much of the rest of the blogosphere, I posted about the list, even endorsing some of the advice. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help noticing a little, well, racism, in some of the entries. I gently– ever so gently– pointed this out.
Flash forward to yesterday. A representative from the judging committee left a comment indicating that ours was one of the few blogs that he felt was worthy of response. He’s concerned that our observations “contain some damaging aspersions.” This is the part I love: the commenter that was responded to in detail was, Kirk Larsen, one of my genius undergraduates– who called TWH out on its creepy Al Jolson reference.
You can read the whole thing and form your own opinion. (You have to scroll down to comments.) The response kind of falls into the three basic categories of defending yourself against charges of bias: A)It was IRONY. Can’t you people recognize a joke when you see one? B)I am just talking about my individual a-historical experience. and C)I have friends (relatives, what have you) of color! (Somebody call Carmen Van Kerckhove, ASAP!)
In the post below this one, I wrote about all the crazy file names under which I have stored the chapters of this novel I am trying to finish. While perusing “My Documents” I found evidence of many of the discarded names for my novels. Here are the finalists:
Leaving Atlanta, at one point, was called:
The Untelling had a lot of failed titles: My editor’s reasons for vetoing them are in quotes.
Current book has a new title, but I am afraid to unveil it until the book is done. Instead, here is a quick guide to what is it NOT called:
This may be more of a problem to novelists than to other writers, but I am having some serious issues with file names. As I am rounding the corner with this book, I wanted to make a big file with all the chapters in it. This has turned out to be more than a notion.
For one thing, I don’t write in order, so the files are not neatly labeled “chapter one”, “chapter two”, etc. Instead, they are strange summaries like “RaleighMakesHisMove.doc.” This method gets tricky when I changed my mind about Raleigh making a move but forgot to change the file name. There are about twenty such files and I have to figure out what is in there.
The other thing is that I am seeing how hard I have been struggling with this manuscript. These files are stashed in folders that reflect my state of mind. There are at least three folders labeled with discarded titles for this book. The first, OUR MUTUAL SISTER contains a good five chapters when I thought the book was kind of about a sisterly love-triangle. Then, there are the chapters I wrote when it was called THE BIGAMIST’S DAUGHTERS. (I am now saving in a folder called simply, NUMBER THREE.) Inside these folders are the pep-talk folder titles: 2006Baby!, TheHomeStrech, YouCanDoIt, etc. When I decided to do a radical rewrite after some helpful but painful criticism from a reader I called it PostSmackDown.
When I am done with the book, I will save it all in a file with a special name. It’s corny, but I did it with my first two books and it is sort of a cheesy good luck charm. When everything is done, I call the file “enchilada” as in “the whole enchilada.”
As some wise person once said, “Hey, whatever works.”
Yesterday, an essay in the NYT really bashed writers who drop brand names in thier work. I read it in total agreement. After all, it is pretty irritating, for me at least, to read a line like “She closed her Burberry umbrella, grateful that the mud had not marred her Jimmy Choo slingbacks.” When I read something like that, I feel the way I do when people brand-drop in real life.
This morning, I sat down to work on my new novel and I found myself dropping brand names ALL OVER THE PLACE. I mention seven brands in a twenty-page chapter. How can that be? The issue I am facing is that these twenty pages place in a drugstore and a hair salon. I don’t think I can refer to the items in this space without using thier brand names.
An example: My characters are in a store (for the ATLiens in the house, it’s the SupeRx that used to be in Greenbriar). Dana and Chaurisse are nearly caught by the shoplifting. The manager almost tipples a display of Sea Breeze. (Should I have said “astringent?”) Chaurisse girl has stolen a can of Slim Fast. (Should I have said liquid diet meal?) What about S-Curl? That is just so much more specific than “hair texturizer.” (You must visit the S-curl website.) Dana is stealing “Dexatrim and Trojans.” Doesn’t that have more kick that “diet pills” and “condoms”?
Thoughts? Can I get a pass if the brand names are not fabulous, just informative?
I’ve been taking good care of myself for the last couple of weeks. I can’t decide if I am taking care of myself because the writing is going well or vice versa. Did I tidy up my writing area to get myself to write, or did I do it because I was ready to write? Can’t decide, but here are some of my rituals that have me waking up each morning really ready to do my thing.
Right now, all the drama in my life is on the page. Lame as this may sound, it’s working for me.
One of my writing “rules” is turning out to be just a guideline. I have always thought that writing is best when you don’t know where the story “is going.” I go on and on to my poor students about how when you know the end, you aim for it and the reader can see it coming.
Well, I am about two thirds of the way through with my novel and I felt that I can’t go any farther without knowing how things are going to work out. (I could make a really annoying analogy regarding romance, but I’ll restrain myself.) Anyway, I did something I have never done. I called my friend, Joy, and bounced around possible endings. We talked it through and I came up with an conclusion that feels both interesting and true.(That’s the tricky part. Many interesting endings just seem false and real-seeming endings are often just lame.)
The point is that I am writing a story while under the impression that I know “where it’s going”. Weirdly enough, I feel okay about it.
When I wrote Leaving Atlanta, I didn’t know how the book would end. (I did get an inkling about Rodney’s fate about a month before it happened.) I wrote The Untelling feeling as worried as Aria herself about the way things were going to work out.
So what does this mean? I’m not sure. I’ll keep you posted.
Well, the votes are in. Everyone seems to think that I should move forward with the manuscript rather that look back through the pages I have already written. I tried, but I got all jammed up. I revisited the paged, added some paragraphs, fixed a little something here and there. I feel better about the chapters. I reordered them. But I haven’t moved forward. Well, that’s not exactly true. I took a couple of baby steps. (5 pages or thereabouts.)
I am not sure what this is all about. Maybe am just refilling the well. I wrote those 53 pages like I was on fire. The words came pouring out and maybe I have just run out, a temporary condition, I’m sure.) Or It could be about the fact that I am ready to get back home to my own bed. (And my own phone. This cell phone ban is freaking me out. Phone Friends, I MISS YOU!) I also miss my life. I miss my friends. I have already set up lunch dates, happy hour gatherings, and even a spa day for the moment I get back. I guess it’s good that at the end of a residency–4 more days–I am just ready to go home.
But back to the writing. I am ready take inventory for the time spent Blue Mountain. Although sixty or so pages isn’t the 100 I’d hoped for, it’s been a good run. I accomplished more in these four weeks than I did all last school year. When I get home, I am going to dedicate myself to fixing up my writing room and getting into a rhythm. It doesn’t make sense that I have to leave home to get my work done. I have to learn how to get inspired wherever I am.
(Photo on the left is of a water lily. I snapped it on an 11-mile canoe adventure.)
As you all know, I have been plugging away at my new novel here at Blue Mountain Center. Progress has been good. I am happy and very grateful. I had been feeling stalled on the novel and being here has allowed me to dive back into that realm.
I sent my three chapters to a friend, just to show her what I was up to. She’s a terrific reader and pointed out some serious issues with the work I have done. Mainly that the voice is sort of off. This is a pretty significant problem. (She also gave praise. I don’t want you to think she’s a hater. She’s not. She rocks.)
It’s not so surprising since I am writing the second half of the novel in a different character’s voice and it takes a while to sort of hit my stride. The question is this: Should I rewrite the first 50 pages in an attempt to solidify the voice now, or should I just keep going and let the voice firm up as I go along? I usually learn toward the second option as my thinking is that I don’t know enough about the character to know her voice yet. But then, there is a part of me that wants to do it right and that part of me wants it right, RIGHT NOW.
(I generally advise students to just KEEP GOING. It is easy to get stuck revising the first chapter for all eternity. I know this, I know this.)
Truth be told, I am hyper aware of my page count. (I was so proud of myself last week!) I have this fantasy of leaving here with 100 pages. But should I let this crazy compulsion to make “progress” motivate me to do rack up pages at any cost?
Oh, I just don’t know what to do. So what I have done for the last two days? I have eaten cookies, taken a hike, photographed a deer, given advice, eaten more cookies.. But written NOTHING.
Well, this is officially half-way through my residency at Blue Mountain Center. Two weeks down, two to go. I am happy to report that I am making some good progress here on my novel. I am trying to figure out the best way to report. There is always word count, but that doesn’t really get to the heart of the effort. But I guess we have to work with what can be measured. So here goes:
Not bad at all.