I will try not to breathe

29 12 2013

So I got back from visiting a friend with C. (we decided against a drink at our bar) and went to bed earlier than I usually do on a Saturday night and it took awhile to fall asleep and I woke up at some point in the middle of the night and I couldn’t sleep and I couldn’t sleep and I don’t know if it was the visit or the pancakes or coffee or waffle fries but I couldn’t sleep and somewhere in the midst of the not sleeping I came up with an idea for another novel.

I have the title and everything.

Now, I’ve already been working on another novel (and need to finish off the edits of the second novel and oh yeah send out pitch letters) which has been long in incubation and which I really want to see how it works out but now this not-sleep idea came WHOOSH and I think I could knock out a first draft right quick then let it rest while I work on that other novel (and finish the edits of the second and send out pitch letters) and I don’t know, see if I could write two at the same time (they’re very different ideas) and hm there’s that cyborgology conference I want to write a paper for and, well, goddamn.

January’s going to be a busy month.





You should be dancing, yeah

30 01 2012

Okay, that title has nothing to do with this post, but I’m listening to a WNYC program’s discussion of the Bee Gees, and they played this song, so, y’know, why not.

Anyway.

Classes begin tomorrow, and while I’ve taught all of these courses before and my syllabi are set, I’m always a bit nervous before the curtain rises. Last semester my bioethics course kicked ass and my American government course sucked ass, so I’m hoping to maintain the performance of the former while raising that of the latter.

I’m also teaching a course I haven’t taught for a couple of years, and I’ve rejiggered it somewhat from my last pass. It’s an intro to political theory course (more or less), and the last time out the students never truly engaged the material. I don’t know if it was them or me, but I do know I was rather listless by the end. This time around, I cut back a wee on the reading and reconfigured the written work; we’ll see if it works.

<<Oh, shit, I haven’t yet updated my course website. Dammit. Maybe tomorrow morning.>>

Is this all a way of excuse-making in advance for not posting as much as I should? Why, why would you even think such a thing?

Actually, the busier I am, the more likely I am to write, so who know: maybe I’ll be a bloggin’-machine this semester.

~~~

I need to get some real writing done, too. The Unexpected Neighbor is already e-pubbed (link at right), but I stopped in the midst of editing Home Away Home. I really should get back to it, not least because it’s a better manuscript than Neighbor, but also because once I finish that, I’ll have no excuses for not working on my next project. If only I could settle on that next project.

Anyway, here are bits from Home, the first, in honor of the previous post:

Kurt had taken Jamie for a ‘walk-and-talk’ before his son left for Daytona. ‘I know we talked about this before, and I know you’ve been living away from home for awhile now, but I don’t want you to get in any trouble in Florida.’
Jamie tugged on his ponytail, trying to keep a smile off his face.
Kurt noticed. ‘I know, you think this is funny, and your old man is way behind, but James, seriously, a person does things on vacation that, that he wouldn’t do at home.’
‘Dad!’ Jamie looked at his father. ‘What do you think I’m going to do?’
Kurt took a deep breath. ‘Well, Rachel is going to Florida, too, isn’t she?’
Jamie laughed. ‘Jeez, dad. She’s staying in another hotel from us guys.’
‘She’s been staying on another floor from you in the dorm, but that hasn’t stopped you, has it?’ Kurt kicked aside a melting chunk of ice.
Jamie said nothing.
‘Look, Jamie, I know you’re not a stupid kid, and I assume you and Rachel have been. . . smart about. . . your relationship.’ Kurt shuffled around more ice pebbles. ‘But Florida, the beach, the booze, everything—your common sense can fly right out the window.’
Jamie scratched his still-unshaven face. ‘Dad, don’t worry. I can handle it.’
‘And no drugs. All right? No drugs.’ Kurt continued as if he hadn’t heard Jamie. ‘You don’t know what kids can do on those things.’
Jamie paused behind a large ice chunk, retreated a few steps, then ran and kicked it down the path. ‘I’m in college, dad, all right? None of this stuff is new.’ He tapped his boot free of slush. ‘Besides, you’ve met Rachel, right? She’s not exactly Janis Joplin.’
Kurt stopped. ‘Janis Joplin? Kids still listen to her?’
‘They listen to all that sixties crap.’ Jamie walked ahead of his dad. ‘Well, Rachel loves Janis, so I can’t call her crap, but, you know.’
Kurt double-stepped to catch up to Jamie. ‘She’s not, she’s not like Janis, is she?’
‘Dad! I just told you. Jeez.’ Jamie looked at Kurt, shaking his head. ‘She’s a chem major, for crying out loud. That’s super hard.’
Kurt nodded. They ambled along the gravel path in silence. ‘Have you picked a major?’
‘I was thinking math, but, I don’t know.’ Jamie hitched up his back pack. ‘I don’t think so. I got time. Maybe sociology. Journalism.’ He looked sideways at his dad. ‘Those aren’t very hard majors, are they? I mean, compared to chemistry. Or philosophy.’
Jamie was now staring ahead, his cheeks reddening. Kurt rested his hand on Jamie’s nearest shoulder, and leaned into his son. ‘Do what makes you happy, James, and do it well. That’s what matters.’ He moved his hand under Jamie’s ponytail. ‘The rest will take care of itself.’

And the second bit:

Summers in Madison alternated between the glorious and the brutal. There were days Maggie would borrow Laura’s bike and tool along Lakeshore path, cooled by the shade and the breeze from Lake Mendota, and other days when a dip in Lake Wingra felt like taking a warm bath. ‘I get cooler going under and standing up than staying in,’ Maggie said to Laura.
‘I know,’ Laura responded. ‘I’m in the water and I’m sweating. This is ridiculous.’
On those nights they’d set up cots on the back porch for sleep, the humidity making them careless if the neighbors saw them in their underwear. ‘I’d go naked if I thought it’d make a difference,’ Laura declared.
Maggie only smiled. ‘We used to sleep in the basement.’ She handed a beer to Laura, and flipped the tab of her can. ‘It was nice, though. Not like the dungeon here.’
Laura turned the can away from her as she opened it. ‘No shit. I don’t even like going down there in the day.’ She put her mouth over the fulminating beer. ‘Too bad we can’t turn it into a pool.’
‘That’d be nice,’ Maggie agreed. ‘Sleep on air mattresses.’
‘Pfft, those things leak.’ Laura pushed her cot against the wall then slouched against the boards. Her dyed black hair was piled on top of her head, and she held the cold can against her pale neck. ‘So you’d sleep in the basement, huh? You usually don’t talk about your life before here.’
Maggie was wedged in the opposite corner, her beer on the railing next to her. ‘Yeah, well.’
‘So what’s the deal?’
Maggie peered through the stiles at the backyard trees. ‘I don’t, uh, I don’t really have much contact with anyone.’
‘Bad?’
Maggie pulled her beer back to her belly, setting it on the exposed skin between her cut-off t-shirt and underwear. ‘Not really. It’s just, I left, you know, after graduation. Needed time to myself.’ She brushed the condensation into her belly button.
Laura looked over to her. ‘Does your family know you’re here?’
‘Not really. I mean, maybe they figured it out.’ Maggie yawned. ‘I was born here, and I wanted to come to school here, so maybe they know.’
‘But you haven’t called them or anything?’ Laura was staring at Maggie.
Maggie avoided her gaze. ‘Nope.’
‘Wow. You just left?’
‘Yep.’
Laura took a long drink, then let out a long belch. ‘Wake up, everybody!’ she laughed. Then she frowned. ‘I don’t know if I could do that. My dad and I fight all the time—you’ve heard me, on the phone—but, jeez, not talking to him? And it would kill my mom.’ Laura’s family lived about nearby, just on the other side of Sun Prairie; she was the second of three children. ‘Do you have brothers or sisters?’
Maggie continued to squeegee the water off the can. ‘Yeah.’
‘And they don’t know where you are, either?’
Maggie shrugged. ‘Well, my older brother, you know, he was at school last year, and he’s never around, so I bet he doesn’t really notice. And my younger brother and sister, they’re really young.’
‘So nobody knows you’re here?’ Laura was now sitting cross-legged on her cot, looking directly at Maggie.
Maggie sipped her beer. ‘Not really. I called my friend Colleen the other day—which reminds me, I gotta write down the number—but I didn’t tell her I was here.’ She peered up at Laura. ‘It’s just easier that way, you know?’
Laura was shaking her head. ‘I don’t know, Mags. I think they must be going a little crazy.’ She peered down into her can. ‘What if they think you’re dead or something?’
Maggie waved her off. ‘Oh, I left them a note. Told them I was leaving, I was fine. Had money saved, the whole thing.’ She paused, drinking her beer. ‘Just wanted to be on my own for awhile.’
‘I don’t know.’ Laura squinted at her. ‘That’s pretty rough.’
Maggie raised her eyebrows. ‘They’re fine. We weren’t getting along. They’re probably relieved I’m out of their hair.’
‘I don’t know,’ Laura repeated. ‘I think maybe you’re making a mistake.’ She swirled her beer. ‘But hey, it’s your life.’ She took a drink, and grimaced. ‘Shit. Even the beer can’t stay cold.’
Maggie raised her can and laughed. ‘Just gotta drink it faster.’ She chugged the rest of it down, paused, then burped. ‘Then you can taste it, twice.’
‘Gross.’ But Laura finished off her beer as well. She stood up, and held out her hand for Maggie’s can. ‘Want another?’
Maggie shook her head. ‘Nah. It just makes me sweat.’
Laura stood at the door. ‘You ever going to go back?’
‘I don’t know.’ Maggie turned and looked up at Laura. ‘Maybe. I don’t know.’
Laura held up her hands. ‘Like I said, it’s your life.’

I’m not giving anything away in these excerpts: You figure out very quickly that someone—Maggie—who was long gone has now been found, and then are sent back for the story leading up to that point; the narrative catches up to the first page by the middle of the book, and goes from there.

A friend who read the earlier draft wasn’t convinced that someone would just leave home and never look back, but oh, haven’t there been times when you wanted to keep going, just (to steal a line from Neighbor) to see how far you could go?





Home away home

24 08 2011

That’s my current title for my second novel: Home Away Home. It may change—it’s changed many times before—but I think it fits the tale. And a quick check on B&N and Amazon didn’t reveal any other novels with that name.

Unlike The Unexpected Neighbor, I edited the shit out of Home Away Home (back when it was called Split Lives) and thought, at the end of the process, that I was finished.

Oh no. No no no.

Now, it is in better shape than was The Unexpected Neighbor before I got out the hatchet, but this baby still needs a sharp blade slicing through it, to wit:

    It was Amy’s turn to breathe deeply. ‘You’ve been thinking?’ she enunciated. ‘Really? And when did all this deep thought occur? While you were doodling in your notebook? Out drinking with your friends?’ Her lips flatlined. ‘For chrissakes, Maggie, how can you say you’ve been thinking about this if you haven’t spoken to your dad or me about it?’ Amy watched as her daughter swung her leg against the side of the chair, carefully avoiding her mother’s face. ‘A wonderful education, and you want to throw it away, because you’ve been ‘thinking’. Jesus.’

Dixie wandered into the room, sniffing Maggie’s backpack before jutting her nose beneath Maggie’s overhanging hand. Her tail whisked the floor as Maggie stretched to scratch the long ridge. Dixie shook off her fingers, padding around to the front of the chair and climbing halfway in it. Maggie responded with a full embrace, bending over to rake her fingers through Dixie’s fur. ‘Dix. Gotta get the full treatment, don’t you?’ she mumbled into the dog’s ear.

‘What, you’ll talk to the dog, but not your parents.’ Amy leaned into the corner of the couch. ‘Good thinking.’

Maggie continued scratching Dixie, looking over the dog’s shoulder at her mom. ‘Just because I didn’t say anything to you doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about it. I can think for myself, you know.’

‘Oh, really? Like the time you got so drunk your friends had to pour you out of the car on to the lawn? Or when you puked all over the neighbor’s driveway? Or when your dad caught you and Tom half-naked in the car?’

‘What does college have to do with cars?’

‘Don’t get smart with me!’ Amy propelled her body forward. ‘These past few years are not replete with shining examples of your analytical abilities.’ Dixie dropped down on all fours, and looked over to Amy. ‘What about the accident? You didn’t even think—that’s right, there’s that word again—you didn’t even think to wake us up to tell us.’ Amy’s lips again disappeared. ‘And you still have headaches, don’t you?’ Maggie raised her eyebrows and lowered her eyelids, saying nothing. ‘If it weren’t for all the bad decisions you made before that, I’d think that knock on your head was responsible for your faulty reasoning. But no, that’s just another result.’

That ain’t right.

One issue I’ve had in both novels is making my characters too knowing, such that any conversations are a kind of smooth and clear representation of any position one might hold. But that’s now how we are with one another. We hem and haw and circle around and get things wrong and don’t always have the words for our thoughts or feelings and don’t always even know what are out thoughts and feelings. We don’t always represent ourselves well or truly, and to offer dialogue which indicates that we do is to make the characters mouthpieces rather than people.

Did you ever read BF Skinner’s Walden II? Or Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland? Or, goddess forbid, any Ayn Rand? There’s always a “point” to these stories, and the point matters more than anything else.

I’m not opposed to points, but it’s really fucking hard to make a novel with a point. Even Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 suffers from this, but the main set-up, of fire-fighters tasked with burning rather than saving from burning, is marvelous, and the action moves swiftly to its logical conclusion. As a short (very good bad) book it works, but stretched out to a Galtian thousand pages? Unbearable.

Anyway, I’m not interested in making points so much as offering a glimpse into the lives of these people for awhile. Yeah, I guess one possible takeaway is that even after a great rupture in one’s life, life still goes on. People may be changed by events (such as the aforementioned Maggie leaving home for good, and having no contact with her family), but they don’t have to be stopped by them.

That’s a pretty basic point, however, and pretty damned muted. I’d hope that readers could take any number of meanings from this novel—there are any number of dynamics to consider—and that I’d give them enough to find their own relationship to these people.

Yeah, I like control, and want to control my presentation of my characters, but I don’t want to cram myself into my readers’ heads and force them to see these folks through my own eyes. I want to use my control to make the characters separate from me, to make them their own people, with their own stories.

But that ain’t happening with the kind of dialogue I use, above.

Gotta sharpen that blade. . . .





Unexpected smashing

27 07 2011

So I learned a couple of things:

1. Smashwords doesn’t like smart quotes. It was easy enough to fix—deactivate smart quotes conversion, copy each version of smart quote, then find-and-replace on the version.

2. It also doesn’t like converted m-dashes. Which is truly unfortunate, given how much I like m-dashes. The fix for this was considerably pickier: because the symbol for the m-dash is “C”, I couldn’t run a find-and-replace without turning every “c” into “- – -”.

3. And it’s not a fan of the converted [small] 1/2 fraction. Not a huge problem—this was a novel, not a math test—but still.

4. If you follow the directions in the free guide, you’ll make it through the AutoVetter. Again, it didn’t catch the problems, above, but I hate to think of the problems I’d have had had I not gone by the book.

Learning curve, I guess.

Oh, and now that it’s fixed, I can recommend that you check it out on Smashwords (it’ll be a week or so before it’s available at Amazon or B&N): The Unexpected Neighbor.





The Unexpected Neighbor

27 07 2011

So I finally did it.

I finally dragged my first novel into Smashwords, where it is being uploaded as we speak.

Not the exact cover, but darned close!

Converting it into their style was a pain in the ass, especially since I had to work in the hated Word rather than my preferred WordPerfect, but their free style guide was easy to follow.

It’s still waiting to be approved and vetted and ISBN’d and all that, but, hell, at least it’s a start.

Now, I just have to convert the second novel, and get off my ass on the third one. Oh, and try to find work. And a life.

Whatever.

*Update* Oh, hey, there it is, temporarily on the home page of Smashwords! I guess the wait is for inclusion in the premium catalog (Amazon, B&N, etc.), but if you wanna, you can read it right now!

*UpdateUpdate* Here’s the link to The Unexpected Neighbor‘s Smashwords page; I’ll put up links once it gets into other catalogs.

*UpdateUpdateUpdate* But wait a moment. Something’s weird with the formatting—doesn’t like the single quote mark. Waiting to hear how to fix it.








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