Life is a journey. If you are a writer--and you know who you are--this is one of the most important pieces of information to keep in the forefront of the chaos in your head. There are no guarantees. Enjoy the journey!
Daniel Tammett is the autistic savant who recited 22,514 numbers of Pi from memory. Impressive yes, but more impressive is the fact that his genius comes with little price to the rest of his abilities and so he can actually explain to scientists (and the rest of us) how his brain works. Most savants can't introspect, so you can imagine how exciting this is. Since he also has a condition called synesthesia, he explains that how he remembers numbers is--he sees them as colorful landscapes. Numbers come in colors, texture and movement to him! Aren't our brains amazing?
I had actually used this "neurological condition" for one of my main characters in The Neural Net (he could see color when he played music) because I found this so fascinating. It's really just their brains interpreting the signals coming in in different ways than our normal perception is programmed to do. They think we are all born synaesthetes due to the unspecialized mess of neurons not being pruned and packages in their respective places yet. But, then when we're all tidied up, we are just plain ol' see-color-hear-music people. Sigh.
With all of his giftedness, the one thing I truly admire about Daniel is that he really just wants to touch the world, give some part of himself to it and make other's lives better. I think this is what makes him a truly special person.
I've just finished going back through what I have done so far and changing the tense from past to present. I realize this isn't the traditional tense for a work of fiction and I swear I'm not trying to follow some trend or be overtly literary. I did it because I want the reader to experience the impact of the events as they happen. It's a near future story, so it just didn't seem to be working as a story that's already over. Here's the difference:
Points of light giggled furiously, winking in and out of existence, twinkling like some mad, colorful acid trip. Safia pulled back a little, using her consciousness like a fine, focusing knob. Patterns emerged, knots of 3-D hexagons and pentagons reflecting electric blues, crystalline yellows. She pulled back more, opening up to a wider, softer landscape of strange fuzzy shapes swimming in random jerking motions amid liquid currents. One more adjustment. Ah, there it was. She moved around it, examining its borders, folding it into her mind to process the new data.
Points of light giggle furiously, winking in and out of existence, twinkling like some mad, colorful acid trip. Safia pulls back a little, using her consciousness like a fine, focusing knob. Patterns emerge, knots of 3-D hexagons and pentagons reflecting electric blues, crystalline yellows. She pulls back more, opening up to a wider, softer landscape of strange fuzzy shapes swimming in random jerking motions amid liquid currents. One more adjustment. Ah, there it is. She moves around it, examining its borders, folding it into her mind to process the new data.
Okay, I had to come here and make a confession. I am an addict. I will never get my own writing done because I can't freakin' stop reading everyone else's writing...uggg. Someone stop me, please.
I've got three books I'm chomping at the bit to read and I've managed to hold off, telling myself I can indulge when I get to page 100 of my own current novel. (kindof sounds like a diet doesn't it? I can have that yummy chocolate cake when I've lost ten pounds.) So, I've been allowing myself brief peeks at blogs. Short reading, enough to get my fix...no harm done, right? Wrong with a capital R.
J.A. Konrath is a thriller writer who I am just getting familiar with and I haven't purchased any of his books yet, but he's got an incredibly helpful blog going http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/ so I will eventually pick up his Jack Daniels books. However, I accidentally read one of his books yesterday.
How do you accidentally read someone's book you ask? Well, you innocently click on the "free ebooks" link on the far right of his page and get sucked into a really good story. ORIGINS is about someone digging up the devil while building the Panama Canal. Is it really the devil? Well, you can go here: http://www.jakonrath.com/ebooks.html and read for yourself. It was a good story, one that he couldn't get published so he decided to let people read it for free. It had humor, which I like, and got my heart pumping more than once, which I really like. The only compliant I had was that there was so much potential in the subject matter, so many questions to delve into that it could have been a lot deeper. Instead, he opted for the blood and guts thriller route. Which was entertaining, even if I was looking for more.
This happened when I read SECOND GENESIS by Jeffrey Anderson, also. The subject matter--genetically altered chimps--excited me beyond belief. I loved the opening chapters which took place in a secret lab in the Amazon. Then, as all thrillers must, I suppose...the story took a turn into the jungles where a long chase scene ensued. Disappointment over the issues I wanted to see brought to light not being touched made me write to him. I told him how I was both moved by the first part of the book and disappointed in the second part (longer explanation that I'll spare you.) Being the really nice guy that he is, he wrote back and we had a great exchange of emails discussing how it's hard to please all the readers. (Some wrote to him saying they hated the opening chapters and loved the jungle chase.) He actually introduced me to the wonderful writing community of Backspace which I will always be indebted to him for.
What'cha gonna do? Can't please all the readers all the time. I'll have to remember that. But, since you can't have readers until you're done writing...off I go.
In order to reach my goal of five pages a day on my new WIP, I'll apologize in advance for any neglect this little experiment will suffer in the following months. The good news is I'm up to 36 pages already, which would have taken me (in my normal perfectionist writing time) about a month to write. I'm liking this "just get the story out" advice. But, a theme has come to my attention recently, so I'd like to talk about it. That is: Honesty in fiction writing.
For the characters in fiction I have come to the conclusion that honesty means flaws. For example, my main character is a pretty stand up, morally adept gal who tries to do the right thing. Now, if she were to do the right thing all the time, this would make her a cardboard cutout character. That's not real life. She needs mistakes, flaws. In this new novel, she will have to deal with larger issues like what it really means to be human, or to be human but to be different. There will be underlying racial issues of a sort, and she will believe she is free from prejudice but to really let her be honest with herself, she will have to have some conflict between her actions (the person she wants to be) and her feelings (the person she currently is). She will have to acknowledge this conflict (be honest with herself) and try to resolve it. The funny thing about us humans is we are capable of not recognizing that conflict, of deluding ourselves about our true nature, of walking around believing we are our ideal self. Letting the characters be honest about their flaws gives the writer all kinds of new dilemmas to work with. Bonus.
But isn't that what fiction is, making stuff up? Yes, but I still feel that people reading science fiction are looking to the writer to show them what they should be concerned about or looking forward to in the future. Sort of a "weed out all the crap and give me a rundown on what could really happen" scenario.
So, it's an official decision now for me...letting go of THE MOTHERCODE. I've learned a bunch about myself as a writer lately--my strengths and my weaknesses. I was definitely building this novel on my weaknesses.
BUT...no time to mourn! I've got a new story that's been solidifying over the past few days that I'm very excited about. More character driven, less technically messy. I've been thinking about what I can salvage from THE M. and decided I can keep my two main female characters, which makes me very happy because they are the daughters of the MC in my last novel. I'd like to keep that tie-in. I worked hard on making them real in my mind and I had to laugh because I thought it's sort of like playing god isn't it? What if he (she, it, they) didn't like the way the plot in our life was going so we were just plucked out of our existing story and dropped into a new set of circumstances?! We wouldn't even know it...hmmm, maybe that's all ready happened. Sometimes I feel like a stranger in my own life!
Anyway, there is one character I just can't keep. I wanted to, I've grown really fond of him, and I couldn't wait to see how he was going to handle the dilemma I created for him. But, when I try to plug him into the new plot, it doesn't work. His personality is set in stone, and he just wouldn't do the things that I need the new love interest to do. I find this weird, but I'm going with it. Have to create a new male lead.
I'm going to write this one differently, too. In King's book, he suggests just writing...getting the story out before you lose momentum or emerge from it into reality. Usually, I agonize over each page, editing as I go...this time I'm just getting the thing out! Then I'll go back and fill in or take out, scream, pull my hair out as needed.
I don't usually look back, though I am giving THE MOTHERCODE a furtive glance of reverence. Sure, I've got other novels stuffed in the drawer, but they are at least finished. This is my first unfinished one. I've learned from it though, so I find it hard to consider it a failure. Maybe its job was to show me I was on the wrong path and give me the freedom to--not walk tentatively--but run down the right one.
So far this year, I've read two thrillers: THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK by Mark Terry & DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER by Jeff Lindsay.
What I learned from THE DEVIL'S PITCHFORK is how important structure is in a thriller. I love stories about killer viruses in the wrong hands, but what really kept me turning the pages was the pace of the narration. Everytime I finished a chapter I thought "Geez, that was really well written--packaged in a sleek, tight little box with all the right trimmings." Then, even though I recognized the hook at the end for what it was, it still made me sneek into the next chapter. I couldn't stop myself, then I couldn't stop in the middle of the next chapter, so...let's just say I got in more reading time than sleep. One thing Mark is really good at is putting his characters in even more danger just when you think they've had enough and want to rescue them. It seems to me the hard thing about putting them in mortal danger is getting them back out. "So, how are you going to get him out of this one?" was a question frequently on my mind. And then "Ohhhhh, clever. I would have never thought of that," was frequently the answer.
My conclusion, now that I'm looking at thrillers as structural beings, is that I am trying to write in the wrong genre. I love to read thrillers but I don't think I'm cut out for writing them. I'm not being defeatist here, just realistic. I keep talking about how much I love to get in my character's heads and in thrillers, this is neither neccessary nor beneficial. It would actually slow the pace of the story. Not at all a good tool to pull from the toolbox when building suspense. Since it's my sharpest tool, I guess the smart thing to do is change what I'm building.
DARKLY DREAMING DEXTER is a dark and sometimes humorous novel about a serial killer working in the Miami Police Department. They've actually made a Showtime series out of the books, but reading is much more fun. What I learned from this book is that I take both death and writing way too seriously. If Jeff Lindsay can write a book about a serial killer chopping up bad guys in between chasing bad guys chopping up people that makes you giggle out loud as you're reading it...surely less dark subjects deserve a little lightness of being sometimes.
Today is one of those days for me that begins with a "B" and ends with a "day."
Now that I'm an official adult with a family, bills, dreams, dishes and dogs I don't find the appeal in celebrating being a year older. Especially after the New Year begins and there's all this pressure to examine your life, to make resolutions, to be a better version of yourself. Three days later I'm reminded that I better get a move on cuz the clock is counting down.
Actually, in the past few years...after the shock of thirty...I decided that I would try to remember today as a day to celebrate--not being older--but being alive. So, I'm alive, which is a great feeling really when you concentrate on it.
I will have chocolate cake, kiss my kids and my dog, take a moment to let the sun warm my face, read and be thankful that I am still part of the pattern that makes up this crazy universe.
...oh, and of course, hope that this year some of my writing will see the light of day!
1) People just want to read a good story. Something that will keep them turning the pages.
2) If you want to be a writer, you don't need a formal education. You do need to read a lot and write a lot. A quote: "Reading is the creative center of a writer's life."
3) Reading a lot may be more than you think it is. He says he reads 70+ novels a year and considers himself a slow reader.
4) Don't write for the money. (yeah, I think we got this one!)
5) Adverbs are not your friend, especially in dialog attribution. "He said." "She said." These are all you need when tagging dialog.
6) Well written dialog will tell the reader much more about your character than straight narration. The trick is to be honest about the way your character would speak. If you think cussing will give you a one-way ticket to the fire house, but your character Billy Bob has been chewing tabacco and using the F-word since he was two, you better damn well let him speak his mind.
7) Write behind closed doors and have a goal in mind. (Daily word count, chapter, etc.)
8) If you hit Stephen King with your van and almost kill him, you may just die alone in your trailer from unknown causes. Wierd!
Some things about me. I’m addicted to words. I’m more about quality than quantity. I am a gypsy at heart. I want a Wu Li tattoo but can’t even commit to a bumper sticker. I believe in both evolution and the power of love. My children are the only things I am sure about in this world. My favorite wine at the moment is Tilia Merlot. When I’m upset I hit the bookstore or the shower. I am an earth sign, but I feel most at home near the ocean. I have a white golden retriever who owns my heart. I can’t commit to a belief system because that means I’ll stop searching. I’ll freely admit I always have more questions than answers. I love physics and hate math. Florida is my adopted home state. I believe in the power of yoga, meditation and our own thoughts. I love storms but have a tornado phobia. My life dream is to travel and live in hotels. I am afraid to fly. I am a walking contradiction. Welcome to my humble space.