Friday, August 29, 2008

Who's Telling the Story?

I've been thinking about narrators...the voice of the story teller. I realized something while driving to work this morning. I like conspicuous narrators. The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield's wonderful debut novel, starts out like this:

"All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone, heart, mind and soul, ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won't be the truth. It will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story."

I was instantly hooked. What story will this story teller offer? Can it be trusted?

Memoirs of a Geisha begins: Mine is a story that should never be told.

I find this kind of hook irresistible.

Then there's the frame story...James and Conrad and all the Victorian writers loved frame stories. Some guy in a room with other guys, all in soft, leather chairs, speaks through a cloud of cigar smoke with a brandied tongue and tells a tale so tall, so horrific.

Then there's the collective narrator. Faulkner used this one a lot. A Rose for Emily was narrated by the collective "we." I find myself using this kind of narrator in flash fiction a lot. Not sure why. I like the notion of a story being told by a community or a group. Here's what we saw.

I've been circling around my YA novel for some months now, and the problem is with the narrator. I haven't hit my stride yet because I haven't found a voice for the narrator. I didn't know this until today. I simply knew that I was stuck. But now I know what I'm looking for. I want someone who has a voice like Vida Winter in The Thirteenth Tale. I want someone to begin with something irresistible, like Memoirs of a Geisha. A teen girl, talking to a friend from home, saying, "Sorry I haven't called you back until now. I just didn't know how to tell you everything that's happened here. But, now that I think of it, you're the only friend I have who would ever believe it." Whoopie.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

First Sentence - John Cheever

I was going through John Cheever's short story collection this evening, and I came across this one from O Youth and Beauty:

At the tag end of nearly every long, large Saturday-night party in the suburb of Shady Hill, when almost everybody who was going to play golf or tennis in the morning had gone home hours ago and the ten or twelve people remaining seemed powerless to bring the evening to an end although the gin and whiskey were running low, and here and there a woman who was sitting out her husband would have begun to drink milk; when everybody had lost track of time, and the baby-sitters who were waiting at home for these diehards would have long since stretched out on the sofa and fallen into a deep sleep, to dream about cooking-contest prizes, ocean voyages, and romance; when the bellicose drunk, the crapshooter, the pianist, and the woman faced with the expiration of her hopes had all expressed themselves; when every proposal--to go to the Farquarsons' for breakfast, to go swimming, to go and wake up the Townsends, to go here and go there--died as soon as it was made, then Trace Bearden would begin to chide Cash Bentley about his age and thinning hair.

Whew! Cheever. I wish I'd had you at my elbow in college creative writing classes when that snotty girl with the braces accused me of writing run-on sentences. This story is such a great example of Cheever throwing aside all control. What fun.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Readings and Meeting Other Writers

I like to think about what this online world has done for writers. I suspect I'm not the only writer who spends time alone with relative ease. I don't turn on the radio or TV to have noise in the room or to hear the sound of someone's voice. Alone time is something writers with families crave. It's something that I guard. Sometimes even The Princess is a little too much company.

So, we have our online communities, people we "know" from the internet places we visit. We know slews of people we've never met. I interact with people every day on the internet. It's easier for a socially, er, limited person such as myself. Not that I don't love a good party or enjoy a day out with friends. I'm just saying that it's easier this way, maybe in ways that shouldn't be so easy.

I work with people like myself as well...people who will send an email to someone who sits on the other side of the room. Sue and I sat next to each other and would IM one another to have a private conversation.

So, who are these people I meet online, and how do I know they are who they say they are? People with little internet community experience are often exceedingly skeptical about the friendships formed online. They think of drooling pedophiles and get-rich-quick scammers and ask how I know these people are who they say they are. "They can say anything they want about themselves, and you'd never know if it's true or not."

It's true. The internet is a place where people can be solidly false or unflinchingly honest. They can create a persona and live out a fantasy existence or take a risk and reveal who they really are. What an interesting place.

But writing communities, although we have our share of screwballs, seem to be a place where we can join together and really work on our craft outside the confines of solitude. We can have our work critiqued or reviewed or just read by a variety of people without ever leaving our homes or seeing anyone face-to-face. If we don't like the way someone comes at us, we can simply delete them and move on...except for the brooders, that is.

So, when it comes to physically meeting other writers, it's wonderful and risky and exciting. I've gotten together with Jen, whom I met on an MSN writers forum. We've gotten together several times over the past 3 or 4 years, and I consider her to be a keeper, someone I will hold dear always. Now, when I think of her, I don't just think of her incredible talent as a novelist. I think of her smile, the hours we've spent jabbering about writing, and the pieces of her life she's shared with me.

Last night, I went to a reading of a writer whose work I love. Kathy Fish read some of her flash fiction at the University Bookstore here in Seattle. It was so cool meeting her and seeing what she looks like, hearing the lilt of her voice as she read the words I've read so many times. Now, I have her tone, her smile and that sliver of her personality I was able to feel in the half hour we chatted. Two other people from the same online community were in attendance, and it was wonderful getting to meet and connect with them as well. Both of them are editors of ezines I just adore. I was afraid I'd drool or burst into hysterical laughter or fall to my knees and beg them to publish me. I did none of those things, though, and they suffered me with grace. So, now I'll never be able to read their posts without picturing them and knowing their voices. It surprises me how much that changes things. For better or worse? Well, neither. It's just different. Not only have I seen and heard them, but I've now been seen and heard as well. That's the part I don't like. I'd much rather see and hear them without them ever seeing or hearing me.

In November, I'm going to a conference in San Diego, and I get to meet my dear friend, Marie. She has read and supported me with my writing for a long time now, and she's also been the recipient of many a whining session as I've gone through things over the past few years. We're going to be roomies at this conference, and I'm so excited I'm afraid I won't make it to November without wetting my pants. We actually talked to each other in the flesh over the phone a week ago, and it was amazing. She has a voice other than her great writer's voice... I mean a vocal voice. Wow.

Getting to know people on line is safe, but at some point, I've gotta just crawl out of my cave and join the physical world. So far, it's been a hoot.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What are you working on?

I'm working on figuring out what to work on. I'm stuck. It's not the first or probably the last time. But stuck I am.

So, last month, I participated in that dynamite flash marathon and got a handful of new work out. I felt launched, oiled. But then I skipped a beat and lost it like a pebble falling to the bottom of a well.

I have to cut myself some slack because I just started a new job in June, and I'm going through this huge learning curve. But if I wrote as much as I thought about writing, I'd have a series of novels done by now.

I feel discouraged because I've fallen into self-doubt. I'm losing the reason behind writing. A part of me really wants my novels to be published, but I have to tell myself that the goal of publication is not a good motivator. It's quite the opposite.

For example, I have a plot outlined for the current YA novel I'm writing. I'm having some problems, but the story is solid. The book is already written somewhere just under the surface of my skin, and it's beautiful. But here's the problem. The book is about a teen girl who moves to Monroe, Washington with her flaky mother. She's lost, she's lonely, and she hates it here. Then something paranormal happens and her life clicks into place. Then, last week, I finally got around to reading Twilight, that first book in the blockbuster hit YA series. It's about a teen girl who moves to Forks, Washington to give her flaky mother some distance. She's lost, she's lonely, and she hates it here. Then something paranormal happens, and her life clicks into place. Argh!!!!!!!!!!!! Okay, there are no vampires or werewolves in my story. But, geeze! Can't you already hear the agents and editors? We don't need another book about a teen girl who moves to Washington, has a flaky mother and is lost, lonely...well, you get it. Where else could I place it, given the great first sentence I've come up with? It was a dark and stormy night. Just kidding.

Then there's the hybrid memoir I've started, written about 30,000 words of and have just realized that the place I thought was a crack in the story is just there to let a little light in. Should I work on that? Again? It feels so self-indulgent. But I like the idea of lacing memoir with pure fiction and playing with ways we try to cast ourselves in the best possible light. Memoir is just begging to be messed with. Memoirs remind me of something my mom used to say, that you can't hit yourself hard enough to really hurt yourself. That whole notion that a protagonist needs to be liked and sympathized with pisses me off. I want to exploit it and write a memoir that has the fantasy, the lies we tell ourselves and shows what I hide when I dress for a party.

Then there's my draft of a book about five lesbians friends who are suddenly all single for the first time in their group relationship. I want to tinker with the ways friendships are so fluid and how the ground can so violently shift when women enter times of change. I have plots worked out for three of the five, and the other two are whispering to me daily, wanting equal time. Do I write, though? Noperoonie.

So, so sum it up, with all this going on, I'm working on learning how to administer an IBM cluster, running SuSE Linux and DB2 in an Enterprise Data Warehouse. I'm learning how to manage Samba mounts and how to format and partition disk arrays. And I'm on the 3rd book of Stephanie Meyers's vampire/werewolf series.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Five Things That Piss Me Off Every Time

  1. Arrogance in the name of religion.
  2. Arrogance in the name of gender superiority (coming from either direction).
  3. Arrogance of the young toward the old, or the reverse.
  4. Arrogance from the top down or from the gutter looking up.
  5. Arrogance.