Monday, February 23, 2009

reconstructive surgery

A few weeks ago, as prelude to reading the pages I'd ponied up for workshop, I realized that I'd reached that point where the information I now have about my characters needs to be woven into the earlier chapters.

Typically, we wait until completing an entire first draft before attempting this, lest we act out of premature assumption. I get this, truly I do. But for me, it's like reaching a plateau on a climb up a steep mountain. You know all about false summits, but still, you stop and admire the landscape beneath and retool for the rest of the climb. Perspectives shift, periodically, and imho it's never a bad time to align oneself with this dynamic, shifting perspective.

Not everyone can or should honor this process, I understand, but I know enough about the peaks and valleys of my own creative sensibilities to listen to this whisper in my ear. I'm at the print-out and rewrite stage, and so my forward progress will come from the center, rather than the end for this next little while. As for the word count? It may shrink. But then again, maybe not.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

leftovers, anyone?

Disgusting, right? Far more easier to tolerate when the noodles you throw at the wall haven't been steeped in sauce.

In the world of selling writing, strategizing a home for your pages, then following that up with cover letters and evidence and sparkling opening paragraphs is a bit more complex than hurling pasta against the wall, but the outcome is the same. If it's done, it sticks; if it's not, it slides to the floor.

But the "doneness," well, the criteria for that involves many more factors than the level of durum saturation. First and foremost is a keen sense of who your audience is...what they're reading, what they can't put down. You have to play to that. If everyone's on the South Beach Diet, your pasta's going to wind up in your basement, under your Rubbermaid tub of teenage diaries and art projects. Hypothetically speaking.

The market is fickle. More fickle than ever. Tastes have changed, but the impulse to get lost in story has not. The same themes that have always tantalize, continue to do so.

I wrote a novel several years ago. The character was wrestling with mortality, and the decision whether or not to bear a child. It was birth:death, death:birth, side-by-each, with other Maslow's hierarchy considerations sprinkled about for good measure.

The novel remains unpublished, but recently, whilst cleaning the funnel webs from my basement, there it was! A dampened, mildew-infested manuscript daring me to open it up and re-engage. Oddly, upon reading, I wasn't disgusted. It was relatively serviceable spaghetti, there on the page. Ingestible, even.

I've decided to throw it against a few more walls before tossing it into the dumpster entirely. As a timeless, nourishing read, it deserves at least that.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

virally we roll along

A short and rather marginally informative piece appeared in publisher's weekly today about social networking and selling books. The article skimmed the relationship between sites like facebook with POD companies like lulu and Scribd.

The upshot? Book peddlers of the old school, beware! You want to create a buzz, you're going to have to embrace the new way of getting the word out. Whether by twitter, by writing on virtual "walls" or by befriending the entire state of Arkansas via a revved up Internet connection, reaching your audience involves more than just writing a damn good book.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

the hospital

The other day, as dusk fell on an unexpectedly mild and sunny day in the Pacific Northwest, I felt eager to get back to work, to sink my teeth into something transformative. I wanted to find out what happened to Frances, and her sister, who I've just left in the ICU, in a coma. I was itching to return to Messmeier clan and all of their conundrums and escapades. Alas, I've been buried with work and a few real-life wrinkles, so Frances is frozen on my hard drive. Her poor sister, still in the coma.

As far as the nature of the aforementioned "wrinkles," in an odd art-and-life coincidence, this past week two people in my circle have been or are in the hospital. One good friend had a hip replacement, and now she's recovering at home, looking forward to increased mobility and lessening pain. The other real person in the hospital is my elderly mother-in-law. LOLFDGB is how irreverent doctors refer to her: Little Old Lady Fall Down Go Boom. Luckily, her children have been by her side every waking minute to advocate in her behalf.

Hospitals have largely become warehouses in situations like this. People, reduced to cruel acronyms and sporadic notes on charts. My mother-in-law's clinical profile has rendered her medication-dependent, and her meds have been given late or not at all. Her assessment by a physical therapist was delayed, and her food also delivered haphazardly.

My hip replacement friend had a similar experience. A candy striper answered her call to use the bathroom after 45 minutes, and then proceeded to assist her while conversing on her cell phone, and in the process ignored the fact that she was an orthopedic patient and swung my friend's leg off of the bed as though it was a door she was slamming.

The system, in a word, sucks. Nurses and doctors as individuals can be amazing, caring people, but the economics of our medical system are so grossly unbalanced and dictated by insurance companies, that "care" has been reduced to insurance codes, billing statements and pressure to free up beds for the next LOLFDGB.

Since TSTL has more than a few hospital scenes, and my main character is a med-student-turned-research-scientist who's husband is the senior cost analyst for a major teaching hospital, this ever-saddening reality of acute treatment is something I need to embrace, penetrate and make issue of within the novel.

It's heavy stuff, and universal. I am very eager to sink into the fictionalization of it all, for it is there, as it always is, that the undercurrent of humanity will begin to bubble up for me.

Monday, February 02, 2009

the Internet Sabbath

Amongst the modern, creative, super-busy folk of my acquaintance, the Sabbath has gone the way of fish on Fridays and cloth scapulars. The separation of life and work for a freelancer is particularly vexing. I turn on my machine, and, voila, my inbox cometh.

A week or so ago I made a decision to mitigate the constant flow of incoming by leaving my laptop off on Sundays. Not just turned off, but off of the dining room table, where it is normally stationed, back-to-back with my husband's laptop.

Today, Monday, I'm happy to report that I resisted the "on" button for the most part. I did sneak a peek at the details of a Super Bowl Party evite (I'd forgotten what we were supposed to bring), but turned the machine off right after that. Put the sucker back in its little black tote.

A few times during the day, and a bunch of times during the evening, I had occasion to be bowled over by the familiar craving: the Facebook posts, the blogs I follow, the fat and sassy inbox! But the day felt, well, saner. Much saner, actually. I've resisted the iPhone, BlackBerry thing for good reason. With my obsessive tendencies, I need built-in respite. Constantly communicating, posting, twittering without boundary, for me, is a ticket to psychic mayhem.

In the interest of reportage, here are the things I did instead of being online:
Wrote a thank you note (on old fashioned notepaper)
Sat with my son while he wrote thank you notes
Took a bath
Took my son to the skate park
Went to the book store
Went to a birthday party
Went to a wedding reception
Went to a Super Bowl party until half time and was mesmerized by Bruce's bouncy joints and energy
Came home for the second half and watched, in disappointment, as the underdogs lost in the last minute
Hung out with Kirk and Carson all evening
Read Carson a really cool book on the French Revolution
Ate a lot of food (too much, truth be told)
Snuggled on the couch with Kirk after Carson went to bed
Went to bed before 10 p.m.

In between, of course, I had to quell the pangs of my addiction, but, on the whole, my day was calmer and more centered than any other that week. I guess that's the point. I'll let you know after I answer or corral the eighty emails in my box.