Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Public Service Announcement

Read King Dork. Seriously. Right now, if possible.

That is all. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go and start a band. I'm thinking The Fiona Deal, me on guitar and prestidigitation, Kat on bass and notarizing, and Maggie and Binkley on drums, percussion, percussive drums, and string-chasing.

Oh, those last two might be cats. Man, I need more friends.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

So here's the deal...

...and the deal is this:

I've been going back and forth on that last post for two days now, wondering whether or not I should take it down. It's not that I don't agree with the central thesis. I do, mostly. I'm just not sure the tone is entirely right for this blog.

The point of this blog as I see it (apart from being a shameless ploy to establish a fledgling author's web-presence) is to provide insight into the process of becoming a working author. That's insight I don't yet have. But Sunday's post came perilously (and unintentionally) close to instructive, which presupposes I know what the hell I'm talking about. Maybe I do, and maybe I don't, but I can't think of a single reason why you should assume I do.

I've decided not to take down the post, though I offer this caveat. When it comes to sites dedicated to the business and the craft of writing, read critically. It amazes me how many people want to tell you how to write the perfect mystery, the perfect romance, the perfect whatever, and how few of them I've ever actually heard of. I had an Economics teacher in high school who often professed a profound understanding of the stock market. I always wondered if that were so, why he drove a beat-up Chevette.

Don't assume either that someone who is published and well-recieved has any earthly idea how they managed it. There's more than one path to take, and though there is plenty of valuable advice out there, nobody's going to draw you a map. Beware the ones who claim they can.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Resonance

It's funny, really. In all my years of writing, the question I'm asked most frequently is the one I have the toughest time answering. What, you may wonder, is the question that so flummoxes me, sending me into fits of stammering, backtracking, and other assorted idiocy?

"What's it about?"

Sure, it seems benign enough. Hell, I imagine most of the time the person asking is just trying to be polite. After all, if I can't manage a couple of coherent sentences describing my book/short story/manifesto, how good could said book/short story/manifesto really be? But I've botched the answer so many times now that I've come up with a brief, descriptive sentence that does the job but bears little resemblance to what I think the work in question is actually about, just to have something to say that doesn't make whoever asked hide the paste and take away my big-boy scissors. In the case of my novel, that faux-descriptive sentence is as follows:

It's about the murder of a lower-class girl in an affluent small-town community on the coast of Maine.

Every time I say it, though, I'm thinking, "You idiot! That's not at all what it's about! It's about classism and corruption in small-town America! It's about exorcising the demons of your past and reconciling who you are with who you thought you'd be! It's about greed and ambition and the price we pay for timidity and apathy in the face of it! It's about pie!" Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the point. The thing is, though, you can't say any of that, because when you do, whoever you're talking to glazes over and you can practically hear them thinking, "Oh, it's one of those books."

It's not, though. I have neither illusions nor ambitions about writing an Important Novel. I rarely read Important Novels, and when I do, they're typically genre fiction that, by virtue of quality and age, has been retroactively dubbed Important.

I do believe, though, that the best genre fiction has resonance. Romero's Dead cycle is about zombies, sure, but it's also about racism, classism, and consumerism. Hammett's Red Harvest rails against the corrupting force of power. Tolkien's Rings was about found family and finding humanity in the smaller moments, amongst other things.

I'm not talking highfalutin-"Ahab's pursuit of the great white whale represents Man's doomed devotion to monomaniacal monotheism"-type symbolism, here. I'm talking about that certain something that makes you relate to a survivor in a post-apocalyptic zombie wasteland, an honest man in a corrupt, mob-run burg, or a short, hairy-footed wanderer headed for Mordor. Often, it just happens, which for me is how it ought to be. I think that if you focus too much on theme, the story tends to get lost along the way. But once a story is finished, it's often more about those moments that really resonate than it is about connecting the dots of the plot.

Yesterday, I finished a story that's been plaguing me for weeks. It's called The World Behind, and it's about a boy who befriends a homeless man in Richmond in the summer of 1986. It's also about the lies we tell, and the consequences that befall us when those lies are cast aside. Of course, I didn't know that when I started it -- it just kind of ended up that way. And really, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Illusive Details

Two posts in two days? Madness, I say!

Actually, I just wanted to call attention to this hilarious post over at Making Light. If you're not reading them every damn day, you should be.

And before you go commenting that my title is techically incorrect, maybe you should follow the link...

Monday, May 01, 2006

Don't worry, it's benign.

There's a short story I've been obsessing about of late. I can't seem to get it out of my head, literally or figuratively. So today, I brought it to work, figuring I'd do a little editing over lunch.

The story is nearly finished, and I think it's mostly pretty good, but there was a section about half a page long that was giving me a hell of a time. It was tonally off, and it killed the momentum of the story. I've been agonizing for days over how to fix it, and today it hit me. I snatched my red pen from behind my ear, drew a box around the offending prose, and crossed it out.

Oftentimes, this sort of whole-cloth approach doesn't quite cut it (ouch, an accidental-pun/mixed-metaphor double whammy!) The section in question might introduce a character or a concept integral to the story, and cutting it completely will cause a cascade of panicked rewrites. Today, though, the section I cut was a discrete quantum of awful, and cutting it didn't hurt a thing.

I've decided such helpfully self-contained bits of bad writing are heretofore dubbed benign. The more invasive bits, obviously, would be malignant. Write it down -- all the cool kids will be saying it in no time. Unless, of course, all the cool kids are already saying it, in which case I'm just the last kid in school to stop tight-rolling his pants.