Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wax on, wax off...

A week is too long between entries, so here's just a quick update:

  • My dad's back in Kenya. He just uploaded a picture of a giant grasshopper perched on his friend's hand; the grasshopper's name, appropriately, is Godzilla.
  • My other brother found a job. Yay!
  • I crossed 55,000 words today... while I'm excited to keep writing and to finish the book and revise it and submit it for publication, I'm a little anxious about what comes next. Try to get back to full-time at the library? Seek a better-paying job closer to where I live? Write another book? It's heart versus head.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Building a House from the Inside Out

One of my favorite books from the past few years has been "The History of Love," by Nicole Krauss. I reviewed it for the library back in 2007, writing that the book
was one of those rare novels that captured me on page one then held me hostage from other activities—namely eating and sleeping—until I reached the final page. And once I was released, all I wanted to do was find someone else who'd read it and shared my experience.
The writing is exquisite, and the characters are fully-drawn. Consider the voice of one of the main characters, Leo Gursky: When they write my obituary. Tomorrow. Or the next day. It will say, “Leo Gursky is survived by an apartment full of shit.”

Both "The History of Love" and her next novel, "Great House," have multiple story lines; as a reader, I was never quite sure how they were (or weren't) going to converge. I had assumed that the plots were as intricately-drawn as her sentences.

So it was wonderful to hear her speak this past Friday night at my favorite local bookstore. Krauss, speaking so softly that everyone in the audience strained their necks forward (she also had to compete with a loud child downstairs), read an excerpt from "Great House." An older man addresses his son whom he had never completely understood. Even in a very short passage, with little context, the writing has an emotional punch. After the reading, she took some questions from the audience, and most were about her writing process.

For her, writing a novel is like building a house from the inside out. She starts by describing the doorknob. Then she needs a door. Then a room, then the rooms to which it is attached, and little by little she builds a house. She never knows exactly what the house is going to look like when it's finished.

In "Great House," she crafted four stories--set in New York, London, Israel, and Chile--without consciously knowing how the stories were related. She explained that because they all came from her mind, they must be connected, if only thematically.

Having my work-in-progress carefully plotted and outlined has freed me from some worry: I know where I'm going, and I know where my characters are going. But as a reader, I tend to prefer books driven more by character than by plot. I'll have to keep that in mind as I revise.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Today, around 6:30pm, I surpassed 50,000 words (note the update on my progress bar!) Homestretch! Calls for a picture of an excited cat!

Illustration from Daily Haha

The Part Where Everything Comes Together

Some days I'm just tickled to be a writer. By "be a writer" I mean, having the opportunity to sit at my computer and make up stories for hours on end. How lucky can a person get?

In class Tuesday, we were asked to do a fast-write about what still needs to be written in our respective projects. I wrote,
The final act, Act III, the part where everything comes together. Mysteries are solved, situations resolved, and loose ends are tied. In other words, everything.
I know what happens in my story. I know what my characters will do. I'm just incredibly psyched to be writing it now. Who knows how good or mediocre my final product will be--I know I have good pieces, good chunks of pages, but I won't know how well everything works together until the end.

* * *

Tuesday I finished reading Paula McLain's "The Paris Wife," about Hemingway's first marriage told from the wife's point of view. I haven't read anything by Hemingway except some of his short stories; McLain's novel made me want to read more of him, including "A Moveable Feast." Wednesday I started Jay Asher's "13 Reasons Why," a novel about what led a teenager to kill herself. Two weeks after her suicide, one of her classmates receives a shoe box full of audiotapes in which the girl describes her reasons for killing herself. It's a haunting young-adult novel, and I'm already two-thirds finished. I highly recommend both books.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ultimate Justice

Two chilling moments in the past two Republican debates:

1. Audience members, last Wednesday, cheer at the mention of the more than two-hundred individuals who been executed in Governor Rick Perry's Texas. Anyone who's followed the Cameron Todd Willingham case knows how flawed the death penalty system is in that state.

2. Audience members, last night, cheer and say "Yes!" as Wolf Blitzer asks Ron Paul if society should let an uninsured 30-year-old man in a coma die. (To his credit, Paul responded that charities should step in and cover his costs).

I'm trying to understand this lack of compassion. I hope for President Obama's re-election in 2012, but I know he's vulnerable. If it's not him, I hope for a President Romney or Huntsman, someone who won't fan the flames of blood lust.

Andrew Sullivan (a Reagan conservative) put it best at the end of one of his posts yesterday about the current state of the Republican Party:

If you ask why I remain such a strong Obama supporter, it is because I see him as that rare individual able to withstand the zeal without becoming a zealot in response, and to overcome the recklessness of pure religious ideology with pragmatism, civility and reason. That's why they fear and loathe him. Not because his policies are not theirs'. But because his temperament is their nemesis. If he defeats them next year, they will break, because their beliefs are so brittle, but will then reform, along Huntsman-style lines. If they defeat him, I fear we will no longer be participating in a civil conversation, however fraught, but in a civil war.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

In the Company of Women

The world of my work-in-progress is populated by females. Each has her own story, her own relationships, her own fears. In a lot of ways, it is the interaction and friendship between the female characters that propels the novel's action forward.

When I conceived of the book's idea, I imagined two females, one forty-ish, one a teenager, thrown into a difficult situation. Men are there--husbands and boyfriends, fathers and brothers--but they are most often on the periphery. And they are often selfish and negligent. This wasn't a conscious choice. In fact, I'd written over 30,000 words when I realized that readers of the book will think I hate men!

Of course, readers of this blog know that's not true: I think the world of the men in my life. But as a writer, I wanted to explore the bonds, spoken and not, between women. I wonder sometimes if men really understand how powerful those bonds are.

In my next book (!), I'll try to make my gender treatment more balanced. If I had trouble getting into the head of a fifteen-year-old girl, imagine the fun I'll have trying to see things from a thirty-year-old man's point of view...

Sunday, September 4, 2011

"Oh _________________"

For the third year in a row, I completed the Cheetah Run, a 5k race at the Cincinnati Zoo. While I improved on last year's time, I still didn't meet my goal of finishing in under 40 minutes. But this year, I had an excuse: I fell.

My friend and I had just passed the one mile marker. We rewarded ourselves by slowing to a brisk walk. Before I realized what was happening, I was on the cement, my knee and hands scraped and bloody, and I said, "Oh &#@$" (insert a word I only say while driving, stuck behind a slow driver in the passing lane, while running late). I immediately put my hand to my mouth and said, "I'm sorry!" A lady turned to me: "I'd have said the same thing." A few asked if I was alright.

We continued, disappointed that we'd been slowed and hurrying to make up lost time. Just past the second mile marker a volunteer noticed my bloody knee and offered aid. We paused, again, and tried to sterilize and bandage the scrapes. I'd say we lost at least two minutes.

Three years now I've run this race and said, "I'm going to really start training!" And every year I find myself walking more than I run. I love walking. I love taking my time outside and being able to have a relaxed conversation with my boyfriend, or whomever I'm walking with. I admire those people who train, who get up with the sun and jog most mornings. Sometimes I think I'd like to be one of those people. More often, I relish my extra hour of sleep and my evening strolls. Also, I'm far less likely to trip while walking.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

In My Dreams

I wake up some mornings thinking about my story. How pieces will come together. Clues that I need to drop earlier. Character traits I may have forgotten about. I've laid in bed for over an hour thinking about writing but not mustering up the will to get out of bed and actually do it. Strange, right?

But I've never dreamed about my story. My characters haven't acted independent of the words I've written for them. I wish they would, though. I would love to wake up some morning, having watched my characters play and fight and debate in my sleep. Maybe it would help me get started that day.

Still, I continue to make progress. I crossed 46000 words today (check out my nifty progress bar on the left!), and I've written more than 60% of my word-count goal. I'm incredibly excited about finishing it. I think only at that point, after the first draft is written, will I be able to see some of the holes. Maybe that will be the hardest part: revision, followed by the long and perhaps painful process of trying to get published. Eeee!!!