The Unexpected Thing

Prospect Park

I started running last week. I am still running this week, so hopefully I will be running next week as well.

I am 25. I ran as a kid, but only in the context of games. I hated running for running’s sake. Like a lot of bookish kids, I was asthmatic.

I outgrew my asthma. So when a friend asked me to go running with her last week, I shrugged and put on my sneakers.

It’s weird, having a body that is in some ways more functional than the one I had as a child. I still associate running with the feeling of my lungs being squeezed in an enormous fist. This time, though, my legs moved and kept moving. My lungs took in air and sent oxygen to my blood. Everything worked.

I ran for half a mile before I had to stop. I am not good at running. But as I get older, I find that I am more likely to take on activities that I am not good at.

So, a few months ago I began working my way through Learn Python The Hard Way. I’m interested in the internet of/with things. I’m interested in reading and writing electronic text. It’s about time that I actually start learning how to make the things I want to make. I’m hoping to get a practice project or two up here soon.

I think that writing has made me braver and more stubborn. I know that you have to work at something to get better at it. I am used to the idea that valuable things are often difficult.

Right now I am writing and sending things out. I will let you know if anything finds a home.

In the meantime, I’ll keep working.

Clarion West Write-a-thon 2k13

It’s that time again. I’m participating in this year’s Clarion West Write-a-thon. The Write-a-thon runs for six weeks: June 23rd through August 3rd. My goal this year is the same modest goal I had last year: complete and polish a story. Maybe two, if I press my nose to the grindstone. In the spirit of Clarion West, I’m working on something science fictional. My secondary goal is to form some better writing habits. I’m going to try to work for an hour a day, five days a week. By the end of the six weeks, hopefully I’ll have made working on my own projects a solid part of my workweek.

I’ll be posting here about my progress and process.

You can sponsor me, if you like. Proceeds benefit the Clarion Foundation.

1Q84 and the End of the World

I started reading 1Q84 late last evening. I’d been putting it off. After Dark, Murakami’s last novel, was a slender thing that seemed to end too soon. I wanted to read 1Q84 slowly, carefully. I wanted to make it last.

I read the first two chapters last night before bed. Halfway through the second chapter, my fingers were eagerly drumming on the edges of the pages. As soon as I finished, I grabbed a notepad and ballpoint pen and began to write. I didn’t have the patience to go upstairs to get my laptop and wait for it to power up. I needed to immediately scrawl words across a page.

I first encountered Haruki Murakami when I was about 16 or 17. It was in the fiction section at the main branch of the Charleston Public Library. The main branch of that library system was a very good one, and I spent a lot of time there during the five years I lived in South Carolina, and afterwards when I would come down from Connecticut to visit my mother. My memories of that library are very vivid. I remember how it smelled: book glue, new shelving, highly conditioned air.

This was before Goodreads and literary social networking. I read novels voraciously, but with very little guidance. I enjoyed my English classes in school, but those classes usually didn’t put post-modern fiction, or foreign novels, or science fiction on the syllabus. I was on my own. I would discover an author I liked, and then methodically work my way through every single book by that author at my library’s particular branch. I read Philip K. Dick that way, and Kurt Vonnegut, and William Gibson. I had no one to talk to about those books. My friends liked books, but not always the same books that I did. I read in a vacuum. I don’t remember how Murakami’s name was first given to me. I think I read a sentence somewhere that compared him to Philip K. Dick. That was enough.

I went to the “M” section of the library. After reading through the jackets of the various Murakami novels, I picked out Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. I read through the book in under a week. Afterwards, I was completely blasted. I felt like something had written something especially for me, directly to me.

Soon afterwards, I began writing fiction for the first time after years of writing poetry. My entire brain switched gears.

I then proceeded read every Murakami novel ever written. Later, in college, a writing professor introduced me to Murakami’s short fiction. I read all of those collections, too. I’m caught up now, so I have to wait years between new novels. Sometimes I go back and re-read. Every time I encounter Murakami, though, it always triggers a flurry of productivity in regards to my own projects.

Nowadays I have plenty of friends who are happy to talk about Murakami with me, but sometimes I still think about my teenage self wedged into a gap between the stacks at the CPL, reading her first Murakami novel, and feeling like she and he were the only two people left in the world.

The Spaces They Inhabit

Was it overly ambitious for me to set the goal of writing, finishing, and editing a science fictional yarn for the Clarion West Write-a-thon this year?

Probably. I’m spending July 3 – July 15 travelling across the country, and before that I packed my entire house into a relocation cube and shipped it off the rural Massachusetts, where I’ll be spending the next few months. Despite all this, or perhaps because of all this, I’ve actually been doing a quite a bit of writing. I have a 6,782 word skeletal draft of “Man of War”. It will probably get longer before it’s done, and then shorter as I edit it down.

I’ve never had much of an interest in writing hard science fiction, though I recently read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy and loved it to pieces. Usually, though, I like it when things get weird.

I like the Kirby sort of cosmic. As I visualize the people and places and things in this story I’m writing, I’m finding myself drawn repeatedly to animation and comics. Kirby, yes, but I’ve also been really enjoying the contemporary Prophet and Saga. I’m revisiting shows about sad kids in giant robots and machine ladies.

The nice thing about immersing myself in other mediums, as opposed to focusing on prose fiction, is that I don’t have to worry so much about voice creep. I also find that studying the visual language of comics is very helpful to me as a writer of prose. Good comics are lessons in economy: a single issue can convey reams of information in 20-30 pages. They build worlds, fantastic or otherwise, with incredible efficiency. Comics also remind me to think about physicality more often. What are people doing as they spit dialogue back and forth? Where are they in the spaces they inhabit? What are their bodies communicating that their words aren’t?

Comics are also great about zooming in about mundanities of the fantastic in a way that completely knocks my socks off. X-men has always been as much about interpersonal drama as it is about punching bad guys. Chadwick’s Concrete is certainly the most realistic story about an invulnerable rock man ever written. It always impresses me when a story manages to balance space aliens  and ray guns with unrequited crushes and empty afternoons. I like big ideas, but I like my big ideas mixed with small moments that tell me who these people are and why I’m supposed to care about them.

Anyway, I should really get back to working on this thing. Maybe I’ll just read a few issues of Before the Incal first?

Clarion West Write-a-thon

Thanks to the power of peer pressure, I’ve signed up for the Clarion West Write-a-thon. You can find my terrible author page here. If you like, you can donate some money to Clarion West and help keep this very wonderful workshop alive and kicking.

The Write-a-thon runs from June 18th to July 27th. My modest goal for the ‘thon is to finish and polish my current short fiction project, a story based on this short from my February Flash Fiction Fight to the Death. It’s my attempt at writing more tightly plotted science fiction, because that’s what the editors I’ve been in contact with lately have been asking for.

I’ll try to post updates, and perhaps excerpts, here. Maybe even some drafts, once I have one of those.

I hope you like squid ships, because you’re going to be hearing a lot about them over the next six weeks.

Notebook: Man of War

Once in a while a story grabs hold of me and doesn’t let go. I’ve been writing stories that are more explicitly science fictional this year, finally shrugging off the “genre fiction can’t be serious fiction” complex battered into me during my 16 years of schooling. It’s been nice. I’m writing a lot more than I used to, because I’m no longer worrying about whether or not I’m writing the right kind of thing. I’m just writing.

I’ve been trying for a while to figure out how to work this pilot and her absurd spacefaring vessel into a story. Originally developed during my frantic Flash Fiction Fight to the Death, this concept has been pulling at me. What is it like to be a ship? How can this character be part of a functional story embryo? How do you force a ship out of its comfort zone?

A few days ago I figured it out, wrote for a heady five hours after getting home from work, and now I have a skeletal rough draft. This is one of the longer things I’ve tried recently, and it’s also the most plot-heavy. The story propels itself. It’s been an interesting piece to work with.

In the tradition of the process posts I wrote while thesising, I thought it might be interesting to post a list of the disparate things I’m absorbing and thinking about as I write this.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go write some gratuitous space battles.

Working, Working

Is This The End?

I’ve been unusually together lately.  In addition to writing, writing, writing, I’ve been sleeping, cooking, reading, and skiing in place at the gym.  Occasionally I go out and about and get lost.  Getting lost is good for the writing, I think.   I even updated my long neglected  cooking blog, Knives Out.

I have two half-completed drafts that I’m working on right now.  Both are in the first person and involve male protagonists.  Both are linked closely to the other stories I’ve written this semester.  This allows me to continue working with characters and locations I’m fond of while branching out in voice.  It’s fun.  I’m so excited about things that I scribble longhand in a notebook while I’m away from my computer.  My wrist cramps up.  It’s pretty terrible.

One draft is titled “Satellites”.  It’s a road story that finally allows me to explore the St. Christopher / Laika connection I’ve thought about for a while.  You’ll have to trust me when I say it makes sense in context.

The other story is tentatively titled “Gainful Employment”.  It’s another unreal crime story that brings back the dynamic duo of Serhiy/Serge Klychko and Rivka Balshemennikov.  It involves a lot of language tension and language humor and the pitfalls of communication.  I hope it will be as funny to other people as it is to me.

I should have a draft of one or the other done by Monday.  I’m not quite sure which one to focus on, though.  So if you have a preference about which one you’d like to see first, dear reader, let me know and I’ll try to oblige you.

Also, Happy Halloween!  Don’t forget to go out and get in trouble.

Feedback And Other Forms Of Static

I’ve been getting a lot of responses to the “Goodbye, Invisible Man” draft I posted last weekend.  A lot.  On this site, via e-mail, and in person.  They’ve been overwhelmingly positive.  I’ve actually been quite touched by the intensity of people’s reaction to the piece.  If the feedback I’ve gotten is any indication, this may be the strongest thing I’ve ever written.

I know who’s to thank.  You were a muse and a half, boy-o.

This semester will consist of much more writing than editing.  So the polished forms of most of these drafts won’t be done until the spring.  In the meantime, though, I’m producing a lot of new material.

I’m working on “Win”, a nasty little story that’s a sister to “Goodbye, Invisible Man”.  It also involves love, failure, sex, and killing the past, but it treats these subjects very differently.  There is nothing fantastic in “Win”, there are only people.  I won’t have a new draft ready by this weekend, but I will probably post an older story that hasn’t seen the light of the internet yet.  It’s called “Knock Down Drag Out”.

Here’s some homework for you if you have any interest in writing and/or Dostoevsky.  Go get a book called The Cambridge Companion to Dostoevskii.  Skip to the last chapter.  Read Gary Saul Morson’s “Reading Dostoevskii”.  Start with the discussion of presentness versus structure, stick around for the stuff about process writing and intentionality.  Brilliant.  It hit on all the fiction/non-fiction tension I’ve been feeling lately.

Thank you, you’ve been a lovely audience.  Here, have a functional index.

There Is A Thing Called A Process

Actually, it's because David Lynch told me to.

Actually, it's because David Lynch told me to.

Pete Rock asked me to take notes on my process.  So that’s what I’m doing.

I’ve been meeting with Whitney Otto once a week, turning in drafts and batting around ideas.  Yesterday I talked about how I wanted to be funny.  Or, at least, funnier.  She recommended Lorrie Moore, which brought me back to “How To Be A Writer” for the first time in years.  It’s still good.  I’m also reading the David Foster Wallace collection Girl with Curious Hair.  It gives me the creeps and I love it.

We’ve been talking about structure.  Even when I try to write discrete stories, I end up leaving little trails of breadcrumbs between them.  Familiar phrases and faces turn up again whether I want them to or not.  The overall collection will be loosely threaded together, but certain stories will hang together in particular little clusters.  The theoretical little clusters have the following working titles: “The Desperate Man Appreciation Society”, “Low Country”, and “Satellites”.

I’ve been a good little worker, pounding out a few pages a week.  Soon I’ll have my first complete story draft. I feel almost hyper-productive, driven by bottomless cups of coffee and the pursuit of impossible objects.  These sorts of muses probably aren’t great for me in the long run, but they’re sure making me write.  I like to think that they build character.

I’m working mostly on “Goodbye, Invisible Man” and a little on its sister story, “Win”.  They are both about love and the lack of it.  Some of the characters are a little monstrous.  (The female of the species is more dangerous than the male.)  “Goodbye, Invisible Man” started out horribly true and then became more and more fictitious as I continued to write it.  “Win” started out entirely fictional and later came true.

Life is strange like that.