Sunday, July 30, 2006

fun with dick and jane

As I continue bushwhacking through the murky slough of last pages, I am faced with my usual downfall. Plot and its necessary cameo in an “earned” ending.

Earlier this summer, in the workshop I took from Steve Almond, his assertion that plot is merely the mechanism by which a writer moves her character more deeply into danger is one I’ve carried in my pocket as I try to dream up shit I can throw in the path of Ivy and Daniel, my central characters.

Now I’m faced with the denouement. The aha! whilst tying up loose ends, trying not to be contrived, and taking the reader through one last swerve wherein I ask them to suspend disbelief for a final time. The authority required to pull this off sometimes makes me think: yeah, well, and maybe I can show up in court and pretend I’m a judge or try my hand at brain surgery.

In the Wizard of Oz, the denouement is when Glinda tells Dorothy she’s had the power to go back to Kansas all along. That with a click of her heels, she can return. It’s that final burst of humanity that we all recognize. The stuff that happens in dreams to make sense of snakes that turn into monkeys and so forth.

In Unkiss Me, I’ve set up a “poison apple” metaphor. Forbidden fruit, longing, powerlessness and the sublime being, always, just a bit out of reach. My ending needs to speak to that and there are a zillion clichés from which to pick.

It’s important to me that Ivy and Daniel be redeemed. Both of them. But I can’t lurch them recklessly onto white steeds and send them cantering, hand and hand, into the sunset.

The other thing is, I’ve turned a couple of, if not beloved, then at least likable characters into shitheads in the final pages. This perhaps mirrors, for the reader, the betrayal felt by the central characters.

What I’m getting at is, I’m in the midst of a very delicious conundrum. Preoccupied in a satisfying way. The dream is alive in my head, and I blindly stumble about in the “what if?” of it all. If writing is my drug, I’m close to overdosing. Bliss!

Thursday, July 27, 2006

my hot priest OR lie, lie, lie until you get it right

One of the benefits to being a writer is that when life sucks and people disappoint, you can escape into the head of a character of your invention.

I have done just that today, as I crawl to the finish line of the draft of Unkiss Me. I've invented a character who embodies the spiritual contradiction I'm trying to tease out in the conceit: telling a lie in order to tell the truth, versus, telling the truth, but keeping it to yourself in such a way that it amounts to a lie. And, on a related note, releasing your truth, but honing it for a particular audience--even if, as in the case of my characters, the honing is not always a conscious decision.

This minor character has only a handful of posts, and he goes by the blog name Simple Simon. I'm being very generous with this character, using him sparingly, and giving him the conundrums I wrestle with the most--such as this notion of audience and confession--the meta-theme of the book. I've also made him HOT! And, a priest who grew up jerking off to the sound of the consecration.

As a response to one of the final posts in the novel, Simple Simon has this to say. (Though I realize that it wouldn't appear as a post, since it's a comment to a post that I'll post with the other character, so you get the concept. Damn, these rabbit holes...)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

art imitating life imitating art imitating life

I make my living writing. I write ad copy, Web text, marketing copy, newsletters, etc... and I really try, as much as possible, to compartmentalize THAT writing from THIS writing, but, more and more THIS writing steals from the exercise of producing THAT writing.

The trick with BOTH types of writing is to embrace the audience while forgetting about the audience. It's the razor-thin edge walk of authority, this trick. You must pretend your audience is sitting beside you and you have ten seconds to grab them and tear them away from whatever they're doing to listen to you. You can't allow a pandering tone into the mix, though. You can't be slick and reach for conceptual language at the expense of diving into authentic engagement. I fail at this every day, hour after hour, and what keeps me going is the endless depths to which I plunge while I fail. The way some people get addicted to marathon running? For me, it's wrestling with words and images and emotion, and finding connections that confirm for me that, yes, I actually do exist as a physical being. I fail at writing, therefore I am.

This notion of audience got me thinking about the culture of blogs, the community of bloggers. The intimacies, polemics, confessional invitation and self-definition that becomes part of the mix when you begin sharing your process before it's crystallized. Ergo, my novel-told-in-blog-form: "Unkiss Me and Return Me to the Dwarfs: the Divorce Blog of Mrs. Ivy Cole".

As this project developed (I'm at the very end of draft one), I discovered other online devices, and appropriated them as tools to develop character, provide tension, build an unreliable narrator, and flesh out an arc. I've been monkeying around with POV and, what Tom Spanbauer calls "underneath the conversation," in other words, stuff the reader figures out that the character hasn't spelled out, or has offered inadvertently.

Which got me thinking, why not use the tool of "blogging" to find out more about the characters? Why not give your characters blogs? (And, yes, I am also thinking about cool marketing possibilities therein).

So, think of these profiles as the character cards of the new millennium, or something like that. Here they are:
ivy cole fulfillment
greater voices than yours
ripped and torn
last laugh
penelope's blog
basic v-rod

Friday, July 21, 2006

finding lyricism and truth

Throughout the process of blogging, writing about blogging, constructing a website that features the vagaries and intersections of nonfiction, fiction, and the dance of truth with fantasy, I have slipped down a few rabbit holes, I must admit.

If fiction is the lie that tells the ultimate truth, and the lyric register is the moment that lingers in the hearts and minds of an audience due to its emotional particularity and resonance, and creative nonfiction is a form of truth-telling which borrows from literary craft: point of view, dialogue, lyricism, arc, and the like, I’ve found examples of work out there that blurs the edges of all of this in interesting and surprising ways.

I’ve noticed, too, that the idea of appropriation can take many forms: physical, lyrical, thematic, and what makes a given piece shine is the unique, quirky melodic interpretation of the particular author.

Take Judith Kitchen, for instance, in her book, “The House on Eccles Road.” Kitchen appropriated certain aspects of Joyce’s “Ulysses”: the death of a young child, Dublin as a setting (although Kitchen’s is Dublin, OH), and having the entire book take place in a day, she then filters the tale through the point of view of the female character (Joyce’s Molly doesn’t get a POV), and thrusts the book forward into present-day suburbia, finding within it a mirror that fully reflects the human condition from a place of timelessness.

Kitchen borrows from her own life, too. There is fear-of-drowning imagery throughout the book, rooted in Kitchen’s experience surviving a flood as a five-year-old. As writers, leveraging our deepest resonant backstory, and using it to get access to a character’s inner life, but then taking that leap, and allowing the character to repurpose it, form a fictional story around it, can lead to the moment that sings.

IMHO, Kitchen hits the lyric register with: The afternoon that had stretched so sensuously before her was shrunken now, reduced to the steady minute-by-minute turnover of the car's digital clock and the wavery sense of fumes on the rise, tailpipe after tailpipe spewing its colorless gases into the atmosphere. The highway ahead was a haze of exhaust, of sun glinting on metal, ricocheting off metal in fitful sparks and harsh streams of light…. She'd learned one thing in her lifetime; people died. People died of a number of causes and in a variety of ways and at every imaginable age, but they died. She couldn't see spending her time reading labels for the least amount of salt or refusing to eat a steak or driving all the way across town for the latest herbal tea when, really, there was more to be doing with her time, which was running out like everyone else's.

Anyone out there have a favorite lyric moment passage that reaches into the authentic and pulls and pulls at it, stopping time, hitting on the universal, and arriving, breathlessly, on a heart-stopping truth?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

extreme makeover blog edition

Well hi there folks. Hopefully you're seeing this blog surrounded by a new look and feel, one that corresponds to my new (drum roll and self-promoting music, please) Web site! (If you're not, then it's not Wednesday afternoon yet.)

For you who have found me via my old, and now dead (I pulled the plug last night in a very unceremonious, hastily executed mouse click) blog, birdnesting, check out the link below.

Hopefully this blog will outlive the other one--as the subject matter is much less solipsistic. Speaking of solipsism, however, guess the name of my new Web site? (Most of you will have come via the back door, so hush, don't tell those who are here because they've been dutifully nosing around for the past six months.) Three guesses. Okay, more obvious than I thought. I am happy to report, has just hatched! Please crawl around some, check out the nooks and crannies. I promise my next post won't be so obviously self-referential. Let me know if you like the little hermit crab, too.

Oh, and those of you who hung out with birdnesting, please check out the work section of the site, open up an excerpt of "Unkiss Me..." and poke around.