Mad at myself?

Until a couple of days ago, I hadn’t written a word on my novel for two months. What? Yes, I’m mad at myself. I have been busy with work, but that is no excuse.

The good news is that I’ve been doing some reading–some good reading. Here is the fiction and non-fiction I’ve indulged in this summer so far:

  • The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo by Stieg Larsson
    The late Larson reveals Sweden’s issues with violence against women in this murder mystery. Protagonist Mikael Blomkvist witnesses his professional and personal life fall apart due to his integrity. The only way to restore everything is to find out what happened to a teenaged girl who vanished in 1964. The movie is coming out this winter and when I saw the trailor–and also hearing people talk about this book–I decided to try it –on my Kindle.
  • This Importance of Being Ernest by Oscar Wilde
    I’ve heard Wilde was kind of a weirdo, so I couldn’t resist downloading this play to my Kindle and reading it on a lazy Sunday afternoon. Sort of reminds me of Shakespeare’s comedies with all the hijinks of an episode of Three’s Company. Did I just compare Shakespeare to Three’s Company?
  • The Complete Idiot’s Guide to World Religions by Brandon Toropov
    In high school, Mr. Gruen’s Humanities class discussed world religions and it was the first time I learned more about non-Christian belief systems. As a refresher course, I read this book to help me understand friends who are Muslim and Buddhists and such. Kindle read.
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
    Boy with Aspergers tries to find the answer to a key left behind by his father who died in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Some people accuse the writer of manipulating the heart strings in this book, but I say ‘Isn’t that a big part of fiction? Emotions?’ Yes, this is a three-hanky read, but you will endear youself to the protagonist. And by the way, this was not Kindle-read; I borrowed this from the good, old-fashioned library. Thank you.
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
    If Foer uses the bittersweet to entice the reader, Collins uses suspense in this science-fiction/young adult thriller. No, she doesn’t just use suspense, she slathers it all through the story, chapter by chapter, word by word. I mean, you just know Katniss is going to end up in the government-run arena where kids kill kids, but you just. Can’t. Put. Down. This. Book. After hearing more than two socially-unrelated people mention The Hunger Games, I had to check it out. Kindle-read and movie-bound in 2012!

Whores of pop culture

Back in 1975, I bought my first X-men comic. I loved it. All these great superheroes I had never seen before: Nightcrawler–a blue demon who could teleport; Colossus–muscle guy made of steel; Storm– controlled the weather; Banshee–flew around with a sonic scream; Wolverine–claws coming out of his knuckles.  Cyclops was the leader  and he could shoot beams from this visor he wore. Phoenix–not sure what she could do (read minds), but she was one of my first crushes on a fictional character.

I followed X-men comics for a few years after buying that issue. The stories that Chris Claremont wrote and Dave Cockrum and John Byrne drew enticed this middle-school kid. The thing is, I had no one to talk to about the X-men. Everyone  else like The Hulk or Spiderman. Me, I enjoyed the complex interaction of a team of superheroes. But in an era before the internet, reading the X-men served as a lonely pasttime. I always wondered, “Doesn’t anyone else see how great these stories are? Am I the only one?”

Last week I saw the latest X-men movie. Never would I have thought that decades later the X-men would be a household name. When I read the comic as a kid, it was only on sale every other month. Every other month. Now twenty X-men related comics glut the market on a monthly basis–I’m not sure exactly how many because I haven’t bought an X-men comic since the early 80’s.

Even though I don’t read comics any more, I always considered the X-men “my own.” They belonged to me. Yes, I know its ridiculous to feel possessive about it, but when I see how unrecognizable the characters have become over the years, and especially in the movies, I shake my head. Something else of mine, a personal “friend” so to speak, has been whored out to make money.

The same thing happened to Dune, one of the first science fiction books I read–about the same time I was reading X-men comics. It’s still one of my favorite novels. Twice, however, the book has been interpreted on the screen–a 1984 movie and a 2000 mini-series. Naturally both had their strengths and weaknesses, but the personal bond I had with this story felt violated.

I experienced this same emotion when one of my favorite newspaper comics became famous. I still remember the first time I saw “The Far Side” on the comics page of the Courier Journal. A three-eyes monster poked his head into a university classroom and said, “Oops. Wrong room.” I know. Stupid. But the quirkiness of “The Far Side” stood out against the other comic strips. I “got” it and I guess that made me feel superior. My smugness disappeared over time when The Far Side’s wacky humor became popular along with other bizarre comic strips like “Calvin and Hobbs” and “Bloom County.”

I guess when something like The Lord of the Rings  or Harry Potter or the Time Traveler’s Wife becomes “common,” a sadness prevails. It’s like I lost a friend. I take comfort in knowing that I can always go back to the source and read a novel that’s turning tricks on the silver screen and picture the characters as I did before I ever saw them portrayed by actors.

Except for Sean Astin in Lord of the Rings. He’s a great Sam Gamgee.

In praise of bad space opera

Hey, I can’t pass up free ebooks.

Speaking of free ebooks, I downloaded a science fiction book called Awakening: Dead Forever by William Campbell. It’s pretty much space opera–my guilty pleasure. I’m only about a fourth of the way through, and I can tell that I’m going to both like and hate it.

Campbell is pretty good about fast-paced action both with people fighting and vessels battling it out. Fun stuff. Clear writing makes even complex battles understandable. Think the Joss Whedon series, Firefly.

What bothers me about the story so far is the adolescent descriptions and actions of the female characters. The author goes into great detail on the physical attributes of Maddie, the story’s lead female. Adam, the protagonist, is about to be thrown into a pit of hellfire when Maddie rescues him:

Wow look at that! She is totally hot. What am I thinking? I’m about to die . . . But I can’t help it, she looks that good. Tight muscular thighs all the way up, blending perfectly into shapely hips that sway with her marvelous backside as she hurries down the ladder. Gadgets surround her trim waist . . . her tight sleeveless top reveals the rest of her feminine features, not particularly abundant, yet incredibly arousing, most notable the tantalizing treats the sheer  garment fails to conceal.

Okay, seriously? He’s about to face eternal damnation and he notices her muscular thighs? Sorry, I couldn’t help but laugh when I read this paragraph. Come on. Is Adam 16 years old? If not he sure sounds like it.

The other characters, crew members of a futuristic spacecraft, have responsibilities that are clearly presented. Matt is the techie weapons guy; Dave is the pilot; Adam is the captain. I’m not sure what Maddie is doing on the ship. I think she’s the mechanic, but all she’s managed to do is fall on top of the protagonist when the ship swerves sharply and say things like,

“My favorite position, on top of things.” She winks.

I remember what my well-read friend Laura always says when we are discussing books: “I can tell this book was written by a man. That’s not how a woman would behave in real life.” I try and remember this in my writing, because, even though Laura wouldn’t say it to my face, I wouldn’t want her to think that about my characters.

I’ll give the book a second chance and finish Awakening: Dead Forever because it’s a fun read even with its horny teenage perspective.

Keeping the distance

Scott Nicholson says in Write Good or Die:

Newer writers tend to rely on “He saw,” “He felt,” “He smelled,” “He tasted,” or “He heard” instead of just letting the actions or sensations occur. It shows a lack of confidence. If you have done a good job of securing your character viewpoint, then when that stack of dishes clatters to the ground, the reader knows who hears the smash.

So of course I looked through my novel’s current draft and it didn’t take long to see how I had violated this advice.

Before

Quinn and Esh walked along the beach for several minutes, following the bend and curve of the beach. In the distance, Quinn could see various buildings, most of them dark red and orange, sprinkled with dots of light as the evening approached. Quinn stopped in his tracks. He could see movement around the dwellings.

“Aliens.”

After

Quinn and Esh walked along the beach for several minutes, following the bend and curve of the beach. In the distance, buildings, most of them dark red and orange, sat in a cove and formed a town. Dots of lights sprinkled them as evening approached. Quinn stopped in his tracks. Dark figures moved around the dwellings like ants on their hill.

“Aliens.”

Rationalizing, episode two million and one

No, I did not write today. I spent all morning reading on my Kindle. Then I met Phyllis at church and then we went to Skyline and discussed how each of us is surely the only normal person in each of our respective families (not true).

No, I did not write today, but reading and conversation are fodder for prose.

Slightly repulsive

I now live in the post-Oprah show era. I bring up Oprah because I remember one time she said it’s a good idea to write down everything you eat so you can see what a gluttonous pig you are. I have heard that the same principle can be applied to keep track of one’s discipline in writing. That is why I created this blog. I want to keep track of the experience of writing my novel.

What is the current state of my novel? Well, I wrote the first draft during the 2010 NaNoWriMo. Of course that draft was dreck, but I’m currently rewriting it and my novel has graduated to slightly repulsive. But it’s okay. I’m having fun. I took my first draft and made a list of the scenes. I ended up with exactly one hundred scenes.

Having one hundred scenes makes it easy to figure out what percentage I have done. Let’s just say I am twenty-one percent done with the current draft. I was hoping to be further along by now, so I created this blog so I can capture my thoughts on the writing experience. I also hope it will keep me more consistent.

I have posted my novel in another blog. As soon as I am brave enough, I will provide a link to it. At the moment, it is just too offensive to let anyone see right now. Maybe later.

Can you guess for what “sly twin tiger” is an anagram?