Saturday, July 14, 2012

First Drafts

Before I go and get all excited on my own account, please look to your right and the fabulous cover Stuart Downing has once again provided, this time for Sheep that Stray. I'm so lucky to have him as a cover artist. The first draft of Wooden Weft, the mid book in the Weaver trilogy, is done! This is the book that follows Weaver's Web, the first book I published. First drafts. For me, first comes the research. It is a bad idea to research second in case a foundation of your plot ends up being based on faulty info. For that I went to New Orleans for and got to visit my first really sleazy strip club. I had many other adventures, including dropping half my notes in a full toilet. Everyone has their own way to write a first draft. To write, period. I know those who set aside certain hours of the day. I know those who will not rest till they hit a certain number of pages for the day. I do a lot of back research. I get to know my characters inside out so that when they have to speak, they can do it, not me. I use my gigantic magnet board that takes up one wall of my office to stick up elements and scenes and move them around repeatedly across the entire process of the book. I scene sketch scenes I will never write, but need to know about. By the time I am ready to write, the book is ready to take over. I never thought I'd be a plotter. I used to go by the seat of my pants. Now it is as if I have written a first draft before my first draft. It saves some time and energy and not having quite so many of those scenes that run amok for no good purpose and never get anything I wanted said. Not to say I'm totally adverse to amok. I like amok. It is still my friend. Amok often has better ideas than I do. Hence all the changes in my magnet board. I write as much as I can during the day. I do the things I absolutely have to like take care of the pets and go to doctor appts and yoga classes, and let everything else go to hell. I do not suggest this unbalanced, obsessive manner of writing. Sure, you get good content fast, but when you wake up, as I just did, you realize your kitchen smells funny--probably because everything in it is dirty. There's some black scum in your bath tub, which no longer drains properly, and all your clothes are dirty. It's a harsh reality, especially since at the end of a big project, I always hit a low. Anyone else have that? I've met some other artists and writers who talk about it. You get done with a draft, and your adrenaline finally stops pumping and your mood takes a swoop down the downwards. I feel inertia, not sure what to do with myself. Other than wash the dishes and find that smell. I like to leave time between drafts so that I can see the book in a new light when I return to it. One of my rules of first drafts is never go back. I've known people who never get beyond the first ten pages because that's what an agent and editor will read. For now, fuck the agents and publishers and the sales demo for you craft. Write what comes to you. And never go back. Once the scene is down, it is down. Move on. There's a good chance you'll change it all anyway in the second draft. So don't sweat it. Put down what is important to you. Put down shit you think is awful and never want to see again. If you can't think of a period name for a new character, leave a blank or give her a tag like red haired girl fighter, though that one is long. Just put something down. That's my philosophy. So I am a plotter and not. I'm really excited about how this book came out so far. I'm not a fan of serial books, but it's a challenge, and I thought I'd give it a go. I admit. I was scared shitless. I read over Weaver's Web obsessively in attempts not to make contradictions. I made lists. Of how people were described, down to smell. Hey, I love smell. Smell is important to me. But once I got going, I left my inhibitions behind. Sure, I started the book with the characters emotionally basically in the same place. That wasn't hard. Wooden Weft picks up a matter of days from when Weaver's Web leaves off. From there, I did what I was afraid to do, and let the characters grow rabidly into what they felt they should become. I'm proud of that. I often find the second book in a trilogy is weak. The first book will be a strong introduction to the world, the characters, the problem. The last book is where your author wanted to take you the whole time, so is packed with fun. That middle one can hang there. Some plot needs to be put in and the characters might need to change some, but basically I often find them to be rope bridges from one place to another. And not any rope bridges but the kind of rope bridge Indiana Jones had to cross in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Yeah. You know what I mean. And if you don't you should watch the movies. Temple of Doom, by the way, was the weak second movie. So I work in a way on this trilogy in the only way that makes sense to me. I have no fucking clue what is in the next book. Well, I might have a few core concepts by the end of the book. But basically, I'm driving blind on where the next thing goes. This is the only thing that makes sense to me. My characters drive everything that happens--both their growth and the plot. I can't see at the beginning of the book exactly who my characters will be at the end of the book. Or the plot, for that matter, since they are leading the way. I can't conceptualize plotting all three books at once. For one, if I then stuck to these plots, I would become plot driven instead of character driven and I don't play that game. I was afraid of how it would work, but so far it has worked great. I believe that Wooden Weft and Weaver's Web mesh. I have a few ideas about the final book I'm excited about now that I've gotten to this point. When I was a kid, I use to write 600 page, 1000 page novels. These days they've shrunk, especially the word count. But I realize now what writing a trilogy really is: A chance to write a really complicated and long set of character arcs!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dazed and Confused Teaches Us "lyrical"

First off let me say happy Independence Day to you other Americans. If you are, or if you aren't, go out and take the day down with more than sparklers and watermelon. Do something independent. A wonderful example would to buy an indie book (cough) by a lovable indie writer (cough) whose fab work, such as newly out Sheep that Stray. Click on the lovely illustration by Stuart Downing on the right hand side of your page. As I said in my last post, I'm salivating over this one coming out myself as it is very near and dear to my heart. Today we are tackling some new, yet very familiar vocabulary word. Lyrical Writers want to be it. Readers chose books because of it. The backs of books abound with praise for what a "lyrical" book this is. Can anyone give me a well reasoned shout out telling me exactly what lyrical means? Just give me a solid example. There may be a brand spanking new copy of Sheep the Stray in it for you. The catch is that you may not use the definition or analysis below unless you choose to show me an example instead of define. If you choose to send me an example, please send me a paragraph of text and reasoning in my comments section. I am not digging through abebooks to find your text. Frankly, lyric or lyrical writing is similar to irony or pornography. No one can define it, but we all know it when we see it. The Oxford English Dictionary suggests something musical or having a musical quality. And there we go on a lot of the fantasy books people choose to stick "lyric" in front of. When read, they have a cadence, a rhythm that pulls us in. But is all "lyric" means? I say a resounding no, and take you far from our own genre to prove it. So I will be discussing how the movie Dazed and Confused is lyric. I have to give props to this comparison to a kick ass proff I had. I'd give him that props by name, but I can't remember it. So if he reads this, I hope he forgives me. I do remember a lot. I took his class in Medieval & Renaissance Lyric Poetry. Why did I take it? I had to take something old. However, the prof was on such a level that not only did I understand what we were doing, I really enjoyed it. He originally hypothesized that Dazed and Confused was lyric. I remember everything else about him. He had short, very red hair and a goatee. He wore dress shirts every day, even though we were in a non air conditioned building in up to ninety degree weather and we were at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where no one cared what you wore. Mostly we close read poems, which is how I learned to close read a poem--handy as an MFA. Sometimes he lectured with all the passion of a doomsday preacher. And he had a mysterious wife who he mentioned, and I even saw once, but who most of the female population of his class liked to pretend didn't exist. But I'm bad with names. So apologies and thanks to prof that I really liked. In order to examine a movie about kids coming-of-age in the seventies, aimed at stoners, I am now going medieval on your ass. And renaissance, for that matter. My prof's definition of lyric, and he wrote a dissertation on this stuff, was something that attempted to capture or evoke mood or emotion. Okay, so I'll give you one more hit of clean fantasy before I take you to Richard Linklater. This still fits a lot of what gets called lyric on covers. The beautiful words we already spoke of string together to create a mood for the overall world. Or evoke a tone in a specific mossy glade. Peaceful? Sleepy? This is stuff we all hope we do and hope to read, but some of us do it great. Here, before we dive into how Rich is one of those people, I'll give you a quick run down of Dazed and Confused so that you can finish reading this in case you want buy the physical copy on Amazon instead of the digital and therefore cannot immediately watch it so often that you see not just a kick ass movie, but the underlying why of the kick ass in the script and (ahem) lyric direction. Don't worry. Being stoned is not a prereq for enjoying the movie and you may understand the film's genius better when sober. It will merely make you think you are stoned. The last day of school. You are in 1976 and are going on to your glory as a senior or surviving hazing into being a peon freshman. In one day and one night, every clique in school will interface, change, rearrange or stay the same. In one day and one night, a core ensemble cast of friends will experience more than John Hughes ever had in his, yes, also brilliant skull. The triumphs are smaller, but all the more real for it. The let downs are less epic, and so on point it can get uncomfortable to watch. Now, Randell "Pink" Floyd (Jason London) and Mitch Kramer (Wiley Wiggins) on one, and more prominent side, and Sabrina (Christin Hinojosa) and Jodi Kramer (Michelle Burke) on the other side, are the four sets of character arcs that keep this movie alive. Linklater crammed almost every coming-of-age movie into one, and it should have been a gibbering mess. Thanks to careful throughlines and character arcs, it is an almost amazing dance. Let's examine a scene of driving around, getting high and drinking. Mitch, a freshman Pink has taken under his wing, has never been high before, but agrees to the journey. Kevin Pickford (Shawn Andrews), the res drug dealer, drives while the ride rounds out with Don Dawson ( Directly after Mitch's decision, we jump directly into the car and into rotation while "Tush" by Nazareth plays with the rhythm. We aren't moving at quite speed. Not being a film student, I cannot tell you for sure, but I think they did something to the color to brighten it. At the beginning of the scene, the soundtrack and laid back pace take over for the conversation we can't hear. Mitch gets high for the first time, and we feel it. Linklater stoned his audience. By the time they are having a beer bust out at the moon tower, Mitch has been both drinking and smoking pot for the first time. He's keeping up with the big boys, but in a marvelous piece of "I'm messed up" cinema (and perhaps if you haven't ever been this scene is not so evocative), Mitch wanders through the party alone. Dr. John's "Right Place Wrong Time" has all but eclipsed a faint sound of the party. Most of the time, the other people in the shot are slightly out of focus, but if Mitch turns his head to focus on people, they pop into definition. At times the camera moves as if it, itself, is Mitch. We are inside Mitch. Then Julie (Catherine Avril Morris) grabs him by the shoulders, and bam! Everything is back to normal speed. The background is in the background where it belongs. The soundtrack has receded so that Julie and Mitch talking is brought to the fore. Mitch behaves in an intoxicated, but conversational way. We now watch Mitch, instead of be Mitch. Until Julie touches him, we see Mitch's world lyrically. We have the actual experience of Mitch's mind and emotions. As soon as Julie touches him, we are drawn out of Mitch's world, and instead see the world as the world would see Mitch. So. Besides thinking my prof was awesome all those years ago, why did I choose Linklater over De Lint. Easy. When a book is called lyric in the fantasy world, it most often isn't lyric. I'll base my opinion of De Lint on the one book of his that I read that was very well written but stark cold of emotion and not much fun. De Lint writes atmospheres. De Lint writes the mood of a world, a forest, a novel. And he does it well. In my own private experience, I have found that fantasy books that are called lyric a) have very pretty descriptions and word choices but it isn't meant, or at least doesn't accomplish, creating a mood or emotion. b) is lyric, but all of the lyric is based on establishing the mood of a place. Wait, you are saying, people are lyric with characters all the time, it is called P.O.V. You are in the character's head. Yes, supposedly, you are. But, "God, I'm drunk," informs the reader yes, the character is drunk. Lyric (as I pull this out of my ass) requires more of: "Stomach turned inside out. Hand in pink margarita vomit. Arms holding me up. Andy holds me up. Flop head. No. No Andy. Tony and Robby. At door now." Thank you, thank you for the writing exercise for today. We don't do that as much as we should anymore. We don't read that as much as we should anymore. We may have plenty of lyric atmospheres, places, worlds, but rarely do we see a character written lyrically. So, staying the character girl as always, I'm calling for some lyric characters out there. If you wish to share, put it in my comments.