Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Flying Without a Net

Oh, gosh.  Last night at about 3:30 AM I took a closer look at what I need to bring to my Read and Critique session at the Pennwriters conference Friday night.  And yikes! It's not just a cover page I need, but a half-page, single-spaced synopsis.

Okay . . .  This will be for the work in progress, Singing Lake Farm.  Blessedly, I know exactly how the story will come out.  But distilling it down to a half page?  When I've gotten maybe three hours of sleep the past three nights?

Well, four hours last night.  I overslept.  But the synopsis still has to be written today, or never.

Immer zu! immer zu!  Ohne Rast und Ruh'!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Who Brought the Fleas?

How responsible is an author for the preconceptions and associations the reader might bring to her book?

Certainly, writers ignore shared cultural assumptions at their peril.  The prologue of my first novel begins with the sound of a child knocking at her father’s study door.  I dared not render that as “Knock! Knock!” because it would make readers think of the knock-knock jokes they traded in childhood. They'd guffaw and close the book.

But what of the ideas and tendencies individual readers bring in?

At a yard sale a few years ago I picked up a book called Prize Stories 1993: The O. Henry Awards.  One story, “Newark Job,” by James Van Kirk, is set in the 1950s and begins with a twelve-year-old boy preparing to accompany his father, an apartment building maintenance man, on his rounds for the first time.  Reading this, I immediately tightened up.  I was sure his father would get him down in one of those dark dank basements and molest him sexually.  Why?  Because I’ve internalized certain assumptions of my culture.  Authority figures can’t be trusted.  People who seem good on the outside are inevitably hiding some dark secret.  The sexual urge can’t be controlled and must and will be expressed in the most perverse ways.  I don’t live my daily life thinking that about people, but with literature it’s what I’ve been trained to assume.  I remained apprehensive as I read, continually thinking, “It’s coming.  It’s coming.  Now, pretty soon, he’ll do it.  He’ll attack his son, there’ll be a disgusting scene, and the boy will be traumatized for life.”

It never happened.  Instead, the story turned out to be one of positive enlightenment, where a kid who’d taken his pop for granted learns that Dad really is a principled unsung hero, and begins to aspire to the everyday greatness that will be required of him as the son of such a man.

These days when I think of “Newark Job,” I remember the hope and pride the author meant me to feel.  But I can revive all too easily the gut fear of my initial assumptions.  Who is responsible for them?  In this case, surely not the author.  To repeat the protest of the landlady of a Greater London bed and breakfast, “Oney fleas in ere is wot you brot with you!”*

But even though the Van Kirk story was written fairly recently, in 1992, maybe it’s different now.   Should we contemporary authors assume that in an ambiguous situation our readers will inevitably assume the worst?  If the worst is not what we mean, should we go above and beyond to prevent their thinking it?   Or should we as good readers, despite our personal psychologies, be willing to hold our initial impressions lightly as we follow the clues to the true meaning of the work?

You can probably guess where I come down on it.  Assuming, of course, that the writer doesn’t open with an unintended knock-knock joke.

*From Yacky Dar Moy Bewty: A Phrasebook for the Regions of Britain by Sam Llewellyn

Sunday, May 10, 2015

My Next Big Writing Adventure

Funny how you can find yourself in the middle of something all-consuming, and not remember exactly how you got there.
That describes me in relation to the next big step in my fiction writing life.  Somehow in the past two months I learned there's a writers' group here in Pennsylvania called Pennwriters.  And I learned they're having their annual conference not twenty-five miles down the road from me.
And after thinking and debating and weighing the relative value of networking and exposure vs. new shocks for the car, I elected to join the Pennwriters organization and register for the conference.
It's this coming weekend, and may I say I'm very nervous?  It's not meeting all the new people; I do that constantly in the course of my job.  It's the fact that I've signed up for a pitch session with an agent and I've never done that before!  And is The Single Eye traditionally publishable at all, seeing that a few chapters of it have appeared on this blog?  How do I keep it out of the Christian fiction ghetto?  And what if I just sit there gape-mouthed and babble?
At least I have my logline written:
Two young architects struggle to preserve their practice, their love, and their integrity when a diabolical would-be client refuses to take no for an answer.​
Then there's the Read and Critique session on Friday night.  I'm submitting the first two pages of the second book, Singing Lake Farm.  What if everyone says the beginning stinks but what I have is so tied in with what I've written after it that I'm incapable of changing it?
What if, what if, what if . . .  ?
Nevertheless, off I shall go to Moon (that's where the conference is, in a town called Moon) this coming Friday and act like I know what I'm doing.  Having spent the money on this little get-together, I intend to get the last dime's worth of good out of it I can.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Has It Been That Long?

Just because I haven't posted anything on this blog doesn't mean I haven't been writing. I finished my rewrite of Free Souls in early February, and in the process I scrapped the title and cut out over 65,000 words of the backstory I've already posted on this blog.  It's still part of my main character Sandy's history; I don't at all regret the time I put in writing it, but it held back the action and threw the book out of balance.
It had to go.
Most of the salient points I was able to work in here and there in the remainder of the text.  But there were some important aspects of Sandy's past that wouldn't yield to that treatment, foundational things underlying her motivations that she would not talk to others about, especially not the hero Eric.
So I--- (she looks around, to see if anyone is looking)--- wrote a prologue.  Yeah.  One of those.  I think it works.  I say the book would suffer without it.  In Chekhovian terms, it hangs the gun(s) on the wall so they'll be there to take down and fire later.
The two beta readers who've reported back to me apparently haven't been fazed by it at all.  Neither of them have refused to read the novel because it has a prologue.
But will I get the same reaction from someone in the publishing industry?  And would I be wasting my time pitching The Single Eye to someone in the industry, given that some of the first part of it has been published on this blog?
Yes, the new title is The Single Eye, after Christ's saying in Matthew 6 (King James Version).  It seemed to do the best job summing up the themes of the novel.  And unlike "Free Souls," it relates to the story, and isn't just an ironic reference to the real-life situation that gave me the idea.
As to why it's suddenly important that someone in the industry should be well-disposed towards my first novel . . . I'll save that for another post.