Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Stroke of Not-Quite-Genius

This morning, on my drive into work, I was thinking about some of the recent work I've done of my novel-in-progress, and I had what was initially a horrifying realization: I'd accidentally introduced a glaring plot error into my most recent chapter.

What had happened, basically, is that the line between what I knew as the writer and what the characters knew had gotten blurred (this is what I get for having been away from the story for so long). So, I mentally kicked myself, and then started thinking about how I could take those bits out and smooth them over so that the error would be repaired.

And then it hit me: what if I used this to my advantage and actually let the characters deal with this information that they weren't supposed to have?

To make a long (and vague) story short, after even just a few minutes of brainstorming, I realized that I could turn this once-error into what's actually (in my opinion) a pretty awesome plot point, and one that propels this section of the story along in a way that, embarrassingly enough, makes more sense than what I'd originally planned.

I'm not sure what to make of that, if only to just let it reassert my assertion that, as a writer, you very often discover the story more than you actively create it.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Swept Up in the Currents of Creativity

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I thought I'd finally gotten past whatever strange block was preventing meaningful progress on my new novel. Over these last few weeks, I've done a pretty good job of staying focused and I'm actively excited to sit down and write more of it (which was decidedly not the case for several months). Even better, the more I write, the more motivated I get, because I see that I am writing, and that makes me happy and excited and more likely to write more. Honestly, the only reason I haven't written even more than what I have in the past month is that I've been too busy to find more time.

Back when I was working on my first draft of Thousand Leaves, I had a similar experience: I was just over halfway through getting the draft on paper, a process which had taken the better part of a year, and then, one evening while I was sitting waiting for a flight at the Burbank Airport, I was struck with this bizarre epiphany that just made the rest of the book make sense inside my head. I hastily and hurriedly scribbled out a series of notes in my little writer's notebook, and I managed to write the second half of the book over the course of the next month.

With my current project, I don't quite have that level of intensity when it comes to getting it all out, but I do know that I can see the end of the story on the horizon, as well as all the plot landmarks along the way. I'll discover the individual details as I make my way through those, and it's a journey I'm excited about taking. (Of course, once that's done, I've got edits and redrafts and rewrites to worry about, but Key Point One is to get the damn story out of my head and onto paper, first.)

The catch to this (and isn't there always a catch?) is that this is all happening while I'm currently also already committed to two short stories for a pair of anthologies. I don't want to kill the momentum I've got going with my novel, but at the same time, there are still other things I need to write.

In all likelihood, I'll probably finish up the current chapter I'm working on, and then take a break to write at least one of those stories (ideally, the one that has the earlier deadline). Besides, I don't want to burn out on the novel, either, and with the end in at least semi-feasible sight, I'm not as worried about losing my grip on it a second time.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Prescriptive Descriptions

A friend of mine once had a discussion with me about what one can and can't get away with it modern writing. Not in the sense of writing "rules" of style or syntax or that sort of thing, but just in terms of what readers are willing to put up with, as it were.

The example he cited was an eight-page description of a kangaroo. Now, back in the 1800s or so, when people didn't have things like television or photo guides or the Internet, an eight-page description of a kangaroo was probably a fascinating thing.

Nowadays, though, your average person knows what a kangaroo looks like, even if they've never been within a few thousand miles of Australia. We modern day folk have a mental picture in our heads of what a kangaroo looks like, and it's doubtful that any of us would want to read on for eight pages of exacting detail of something we already know.

Describing things can be a tricky thing in writing, anyway; I already know that I tend to err on the side of less description when it comes to my own work. Depending on one's style, the balance between description and narration can, in some cases, be a tricky one to strike.

What can be trickier, though, is when you need to describe something in a way that requires you to not rely on real-world knowledge that the reader already has.

I tend to write in a pretty tight third-person limited point of view, and that's how I'm also writing my current novel(-in-progress). The story doesn't take place in the real world, though, so if (just for example) I wanted to talk about how big a particular city was, I can't just compare it to L.A. or Paris, because with the tightness of the narration, even though the text itself is directed at the reader, the character perspective can't 'think' in those terms. This opens some unique challenges in making sure that you're able to convey something easily to the reader without being able to make use of knowledge even if you know the reader already has it.

In the chapter I'm in the middle of writing, I got to (or is that 'had to'?) spend a few pages describing the details of both an architectural style as well as a type of cuisine that we do actually have in the real world, but which are completely alien to the characters encountering them. Writing about that was actually a whole lot of fun, and I found it to be a gratifying and inspiring challenge. It would have been far easier to just gloss over things, but that wouldn't have been fair to reader and it wouldn't have been as honest to the narration, and in the end, I think I've got a better chapter for it.

So, yes, I'm not writing eight-page descriptions of kangaroos (readers of my books, especially, most assuredly know what kangaroos look like), but I am getting to stretch my literary fingers by showcasing something that might ordinarily be unspectacular in a spectacular light.

Monday, July 07, 2008

My Writing Journal

Back in May, I started keeping a little writing journal. Not a journal that I use for writing, but rather, I journal I keep that keeps track of my writing.

Essentially, on days that I write (or, if I happen to forget to update it, after a couple of days of writing), I just make a short entry that goes over what piece or pieces I might have worked on and how I felt about the project(s) in question. I'll also make notes if there's something I should be working on that I haven't gotten around to (yet or recently).

Mostly, I guess I'm using it to keep track of myself, making sure that I'm writing as much as I might like, and checking to see if the time I do write are productive and/or enjoyable. In a way, I suppose it's like one of those journals that dieters keep in order to keep themselves motivated.

We'll see how it works, in the long term.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Reviews for Thousand Leaves

It's only been a week, but already, I've got my first two actual reviews for Thousand Leaves! For an initial review buzz, they're both quite positive, and that makes me really happy.

Tim Susman has a review on his blog, and there's another review by a fellow on LiveJournal that's been posted over here.

They both offer different insights about the book and the writing itself, which is good (especially for me) in that people aren't all just saying the same thing. Also, they both get into specifics in terms of feedback and critique, which I really appreciate, since it's those specifics that help me learn what I do wrong and what I do right.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Novel Milestones

This past Friday, my debut novel, Thousand Leaves, finally went on sale. The following day, I got to do an actual book signing. From what I heard and from what I saw, the book sold pretty well for its opening weekend, too--I wasn't nearly as concerned about that beforehand (I was just thrilled that the book was out, really), but now that I know that that's how it went down, I won't deny that I'm feeling a certain amount of glee.

So yeah, now I... have a book. It's still kind of weird to think about. I've already seen one review that someone wrote, and I'm wondering if, down the line, people might start sending emails and whatnot telling me what they think.

I'm finally past the crest of a big emotional wave, though, and I think I'm finally starting to settle. This is fait accompli, now; nothing can take this away from me.

What is not yet behind me, of course, is my second novel, the one I'm working on now and the one I mentioned where I felt I might be close to having an epiphany. I think I have. For the first time in the better part of a year, I'm excited to work on it. Something must have "clicked" in my head, because the words are finally flowing, for once.

I really hope I can keep this up. Hell, I did it once before; I should be able to do it again, by that logic.