Category Archives: Melodrama

Seven Nation Army

I had a really nice exchange with a book blogger this past week. She’s been kind enough to lend her support to both Reswyt and Nekhet, and it’s a genuine joy to talk to her; she’s all about books, and believes passionately in getting her voice heard by people looking for something new and different to read. “New” automatically applies to both of mine, and “different” does, apparently, too – but she got a little incensed when someone posted on her blog that she just ‘didn’t get’ Reswyt.

“Doesn’t that bother you?” she said. “I think it’s an amazing book. A genre-shattering book. And here’s someone I respect, who likes a lot of the same things I like, who just didn’t get into it.”

No, I told her, it really doesn’t. There’s art for everyone; that’s my mantra. I knock Nickelback a little1, but zillions of people love Nickelback; it’s the art for them. I’ve touched on this subject a little before, imploring people to go find the art that is for them and stop tearing down the art that isn’t; somebody likes it, and it’s the art for them, and you’re just burning cycles and wearing down your stomach lining trying to make people like the art that’s for you. My next question to her was: surely there’s something you don’t get that your friends do, something they rave about that you totally can’t see the point in.

“I’ll think about that,” she said2. “What about you?”

I have the White Stripes. And, to her horror3, I told her all about that.

I confess. I don’t get the White Stripes. I don’t get the intentionally godawful lo-fi recording; I don’t get the stripped-down ‘charm’ of a two-person band; I don’t get the basic (but not the GOOD kind of basic), repetitive song structure; I don’t get the supposedly deep and heartbreaking lyrical content. (And I’m someone who goes looking for deep and heartbreaking; I’ve ascribed deep-and-heartbreaking status to some songs that I later was forced to admit were no more than wading depth, and really, just kinda…moving…a little.) When Rolling Stone listed its greatest guitar songs EVAR, and fucking ‘Seven Nation Army’ got listed, I instantly began sputtering and fuming and listing off double-fistfuls of riff-driven songs vastly superior. When The Edge and Jimmy Page were announced as making a guitar tone/songwriting movie together, I was overjoyed…until I learned that Jack White would be the third participant, Ruprecht waving his trident about on Olympus in earnest imitation of Page’s Poseidon.

Hold that thought. The one forming in the back of your mind; your impassioned plea for sanity, your already-developing list of Songs To Play For People Who Don’t Get The White Stripes, the thick sheaf of impressive and artfully-written reviews that will place me in the decided minority of musical imbeciles, that will condemn me to sit here in my wrongness and be wrong. I don’t care; I don’t give a shit what you’ve got in your bag of tricks. I’ve listened to every White Stripes album, front to back; I’ve listened to Blunderbuss and all of Jack’s side-project bands, waiting, waiting for the moment that the light comes on, and in the end, I’ve decided that I’ve simply wasted hours of my life forcing myself with gritted teeth to desperately try and find joy and enlightenment in something that holds none for me.

Smarter people than I, people with more musicological awareness and greater depth of musical perception, tell me that I’m supposed to like the White Stripes. I’m sure my book-blogger friend went to town listing off Reswyt’s charms, too, and I’m sure they fell on deaf ears. That’s OK. In the great chain of being, there are things that aren’t for me, and if that’s true, I can’t fathom the universe in which something I create isn’t for someone else. It’s all in equilibrium and balance. I’m all right with the idea that I’m somebody’s Jack White; that’s fine.

Because if I’m not somebody’s Jack White, I might just become everybody’s Nickelback.

Oh, sorry. Did I say that out loud?

_________________________________________________

1 Who am I kidding? I bash Nickelback ALL THE FUCKING TIME.

What she eventually came up with, by the way, was ‘Say Yes to the Dress.’ I don’t even know what that is.

Maaaaaaybe not getting invited back onto this blog. Maybe.

Advertisements

Trickster

There’s this sort of avoidance undercurrent running through the email pile lately; a topic that’s hinted at, questioned obliquely, discarded with a winky emoticon. At times, it’s brought to just beneath the conversational surface, then allowed to descend once again into the koi pond of topics, an increasingly blurry shimmering bolt of motion. In some, the subject is phrased in the form of a question; in others, a backhanded compliment (or an outright compliment). A few (thankfully) are confrontational; most are somewhere between vaguely supportive and nervously curious.

The question is a simple one, so allow me to boil down a hundred-odd variants of it into a single portmanteau question combining parts of all: What made you feel as if you would be comfortable writing a teenage girl protagonist – and how is it that you pulled it off?

(Disclaimer: not everyone added any variant of that second part, but I’ll be forthcoming in telling you that the positives are running 50:1 to the negatives on that front – in other words, there’s an order of magnitude more of you that find Sabine eminently believable than do not. So I’ll include the declarative in that portmanteau.)

I suppose my first response is to level-set expectations: no one can possibly inhabit the body of another and know, for certain, what another’s feelings and emotions might be. As a fortysomething suburban father, I can’t really claim to know what a high-school freshman girl is thinking or experiencing. I also can’t tell you anything about what an Afghanistan war veteran is thinking or experiencing. Or an unemployed financial advisor. Or a single mom. Or a five-year-old kid, or a grandmother, or an alien, or a robot, or a duck-billed platypus. No idea what’s going on in there. None.

But my job, as an author, is to make characters believable and organic to you, the reader. So every aspect of motivation, environment, and behavior has to go under the microscope from the first time the character appears on the page. That has to be true of any character I write that isn’t a fortysomething suburban father, candidly. There’s exactly one of those, really, in either book so far, and Tom Britten gets about six seconds of screen time before he’s ushered off. That was my writing comfort zone: six seconds. Beyond that, I’m writing a widow; another, scarred, teenaged girl; a middle-school-aged girl; two high-school guys; and numerous bears, horses wolves, and lupine humanoids. Oh, and a nineteenth-century French soldier interpreted by an Egyptian god as a fictional character.

(Read that last one again. I’m actually surprised more people haven’t asked, what made you think you could write a nineteenth-century French soldier interpreted by an Egyptian god as a fictional character? There’s a challenge.)

Below the question, though, is another, pricklier, more…cultural question. J.K. Rowling went about ten thousand pages writing a male protagonist, along with a male sidekick; Hermione’s her only comfort-zone character, and Rowling was decidedly not a young girl when she began the series, so even that’s at a distance. No one’s ever questioned her qualifications to write Harry and Ron. In fact, look down the roster of most YA fiction and you’ll see a long list of female authors tackling male protagonists (or significant male characters). Yet that’s never questioned. If female authors can write male characters without so much as a sideways glance, can’t male authors write female characters? (Careful, here; to elevate the complexity of one over the other is reductionist and, frankly, sexist, so forgive me if I don’t buy the ‘you couldn’t possibly understand’ argument.)

I suppose, at the basis of this issue, is the concept of whether anyone can write any character not ‘themselves.’ Last I checked, there’s very few actual lycanthropes writing shifter-fic, and a real dearth of undead penning vampire paeans. There’s not a sci-fi writer alone who’s ever been in near-earth orbit, let alone space (fine, some fanboy/fangirl correct me on this with a piece of obscura). No one writing historical fiction was alive in their chosen period in history. Not one of us is an authentic narrator; we are all dopplegangers, shapeshifters, mimics in stolen shoes. We succeed, or fail, based on your personal judgment; we draw courage from your praise, inspiration from your criticism, and both become strengthin the end. If you believe Sabine, if you believe Taryn, if you believe Guillaume in his new and insanity-inducing skin, then I’ve done what I set out to do.

YOU FICKLE, FICKLE MINX

Oh, book market. Must it be this way? All come-hither glances and faint, lingering traces of your maddening perfume? Did you mean to leave those corset hooks unfastened? Are you trying to drive me crazy?

So, a week after Nekhet’s release, it’s selling briskly, and I’m delighted. (Reviews are good, too; thank you!) But it’s being outsold, by a 3:2 margin, by Reswyt. And yes, I did drop Reswyt to $0.99 for a while to celebrate the launch of the next book, but that doesn’t explain the surge in sales that happened before Reswyt went on sale. So while I’m positively giddy about Nekhet’s sales, I’m left with more confusion than confidence in those of Reswyt. It was on sale before Nekhet was released, you know. I mean… (Checks watch, drums fingers. Awkward silence ensues.)

I love you, book market, but we have communication issues at times.

I’ve done a bit of informal polling of readers on the subject, especially newcomers to the books, and the consensus is this: you’re not a series until you’re a series. That is, for all the good intentions I might have had in writing Reswyt – and making it the first book in a planned trilogy – as a reading audience, you’re just far more comfortable with a second book next to the first on Amazon’s (virtual) shelves. And it’s not a vote of no confidence; it’s simply an acknowledgment that a solitary first book might go somewhere, or it might not, and there’s no point in investing in an unproven commodity. I can understand that; I’ve experienced the same sense of concern, I suppose, in starting new-author series in the past. (I wasn’t counting Tad Williams’ prior work before I took a deep breath and dove into Otherland with him in real-time.)

Also present in the informal conversations I’ve held is the idea that, anymore, you’d rather read a series from beginning to end in quick succession – in other words, while you’re waiting on the second book in a first-book series, you’d rather take note of its existence and read the first two books of a three-book series, or (preferentially) an entire series right now. There’s a certain awareness, or expectation, that the experience of gorging on a series is superior to that of being served courses one at a time. Again, I can see the logic here, because there’s few visceral thrills like leaping into a new series, loving the first few chapters, and knowing that there’s much, much more to come. But it’s also vaguely disturbing, because it seems to suggest a market that places a premium on completion over content, or worse (shudder), speed over substance. Yes, in a perfect world, there would be fantastic series, like Iain Banks’ Culture, brought to market with effortless speed. (And Banks dashes off eminent fiction works I’d labor to even mimic with depressing rapidity.) But I wonder how realistic a goal that would be for many authors. And I wonder what’s more truly entertaining – ‘series gorging’ in a month, or the delicious anticipation of waiting for one of my favorite authors’ new works to come out?

So let me guess: once the third one’s finished, the first two will sell even more? 

All right. I’ll take that. Maybe I’ll run a Facebook poll on the subject. In the meantime, I dub thee a conflicted tease.

You fickle, fickle minx.

Love. Hate. Love.

It’s official.

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook.

More specifically, I’ve come to love the interactions that are possible within Facebook, and hate the interactions that are prevalent within Facebook. It’s become a loud, noisy cocktail party, one in which the drinks have slowly been watered down more with each passing hour, the music has grown worse by the minute, and the body odor has become pronounced. There’s a few fistfuls of people I genuinely love seeing post on Facebook; they’re witty, articulate, fun to listen to, and almost always have something interesting to say. In short, they’re the life of this increasingly sad party. But it’s become a crowded party, too; I looked yesterday and realized I had somehow accumulated well over 400 ‘friends,’ along with over 1,200 ‘Likes,’ and went to see exactly what my social circle and news feed had become. My 400 ‘friends’ were made up of:

My best friends – the ones I’d call at 2AM to help me move a body. (<1%)

My good friends – the ones I’d call at 2PM to help me get unidentified stains out of a carpet (4%)

My old friends – Illinois neighborhood pals, old college friends, former coworkers, etc (10%)

My virtual friends – people I’ve rarely met, but whose posts I genuinely enjoy for their content (2%)

My school circle – the parents I interact with daily (10%)

My musician colleagues (2%)

My writing friends (2%)

Everyone else (69%)

The non-‘everyone else’  list made up the complete census of people whose time I value and whom I interact with frequently, and, in total, they made up fewer than one in three of my ostensible Facebook ‘friends.’  As I surveyed the rest, I realized that they were, predominantly, friends of friends whom I’d met in one setting or another and accepted friend invitations from, and whom I’d likely never seen again; ships passing in the night, although I did notice that most of them had secured some value from our social exchange, as I’d dutifully gone – at their request – to Like their manuscript, their dog’s Facebook page, their kids’ soccer team page, whatever.

That began my examination of my Likes. To my horror, I found that my Likes were even worse, though, and that’s where I got to thinking hard about my Facebook ‘friends.’

Surveying every Like I’d assigned from 2009 on, I discovered something; I’m a Like spear carrier. Friends have hit me up for three-plus years now to Like their stuff – bands, radio station contests, multilevel marketing schemes, animal rescue efforts of every form (I’m a sucker for those, apparently), you name it, I’m probably good for a Like. In the early days of Facebook, that seemed to be the medium of social capital – if we’re friends, shouldn’t I make you aware of something I like, that you might also like (Like)? Sure!

(I’m guessing this hearkens back to my mix-tape exchange days of yore, when one miscreant or another of my acquaintance would drop by a battered C-90 he’d received from his brother’s roomate’s uncle, who’d bootlegged Blue Oyster Cult at the Rosemont Horizon seven months ago. I, in turn, would offer up my treasured copy of Motorhead playing Hammersmith, with a stern warning that it must be copied and returned IMMEDIATELY, because it was one of those weird metal oxide tapes that were thinner than March frost and half as durable. A week later, you’d both be back together, jabbering about track seven or the rideout, and I liked yours and you liked mine, and we were better friends as a result. Thus was born the Facebook Like; we just didn’t know it at the time.)

Here’s the problem. I’ve almost certainly Liked one or two things per friend on Facebook; as I reviewed the Likes, Facebook was kind enough to light up who else in my network Liked the same page, and it became apparent where said Likes had originated from. And yet, when I sat back in the rosy glow of 3,000 Facebook Likes for Reswyt, I realized something odd; only 51 of those Likes were from my friends.

I’m suffering from Facebook Asymmetric Idiopathic Like Syndrome (FAILS).

I can post a funny picture and get 27 Likes in the space of two hours. Or do a Seinfeldian ‘what’s the deal with airline peanuts’ post about some common gripe of everyday life and get another 30 Likes and 24 comments. But post something about something creative I’m doing, and it’s a FAILS vacuum. Apparently, I’m not alone. My friend Eliza posted something similar on Facebook the other day – that she’d seen fewer than 20 Likes for the launch of her new musical project, total, but 25 almost instantly for posting one of Facebook’s meme-of-the-moment 50s clipart housewives holding a cup of coffee and ranting about something. I messaged her and said, ‘I’m seeing the same thing. This is turning into a public-access minstrel show. If you’re not an entertainer, you’re going to be passed by for more immediate gratification in the next post.’ Yet I was careful to Like whatever the hell it was you said merited Liking; that’s how I have Indianapolis radio station contests and Texas dog show pages and West Virginia U10 soccer team fundraising thermometers on my Likes page. Don’t I deserve the same respect?

Nope. FAILS.

So…I’m weeding. I’ve devoted the first five minutes of every day to what I’m calling Facebook Whack-a-Mole. As friends and Likes go by, I’m asking myself: do I still care about receiving this feed? Is this person still relevant in my life? When’s the last time we shared an afternoon, or a laugh, or our favorite beverage? Or am I just carrying a spear for them, dutifully Liking their posts and pages and radio station contests? Because to be honest, this feels a little tired. A little over. A little…done. So while I’m still going to be active on the Reswyt page, I’m dialing back my Facebook involvement on my personal page; I’ve got too much else to do in this life to be part of the minstrel show.

But while I’m weeding, I’m also planting.

And that involves grabbing a few good friends at this particular cocktail party and whispering, “This blows. Want to go down the block to someplace quiet and get a glass of wine and talk?”

Not on Facebook.

Face-to-face.

So?

What do you think?

Want to come?

Bruce Jenner makes boogety-boogety noises at me from under my bed.

I avoided this one, even though I got several thoughtful emails (and one FB message – thanks, EH) suggesting I tackle it. I’ve ducked it for days, occupying myself with working on the next book, translating Facebook ads into Italian (really), re-rendering a bunch of the trailers in HD now that Barnes & Noble has finally put Reswyt up on its Nook Store proper. I played my daughter some improvised Irish Christmas carols on the violin. I’ve wrapped presents. I’ve put in a skillion hours at my regular job.

Anything to avoid writing this post.

But it’s time.

The question, on the heels of the last post, was – and I’m summarizing – “fine, that was a lovely laundry list of the ways you’ll know if you’re a success at this. How will you know if you’re a failure?

I could sugar-coat that one, or try for some hand-wavy comment about there’s no failure if your creation brings you joy, or another selection from the Happy Horseshit tray, but the reality is that there’s a very real definition of failure for me

Short preface. I tend to divide writers into premise writers, people writers, and prose writers. Premise writers do concepts well, and huff and puff to develop characters and write attractive prose. People writers flesh out characters so real, we feel like we know them, but struggle to put them into engaging and well-rounded stories. Prose writers craft the language beautifully, but wrestle with concepts and characters. Some (and I hate you) are all three. Some are two; some are really just one. (And some, I’d argue, are none).

In the end, writing’s a decathlon of these disparate parts, premise and people and prose; no matter how good a runner you are, or how high you can pole-vault, you’re going to have to throw the discus at some point, even if you’re awful at throwing heavy objects. It’s part of the decathlon. And you try to do your best at it; you hope to keep pace with the leaders while you wait for your strong events. Oh, and you practice throwing a discus like you’re possessed…because you need to get better at it.

Me? I’m a premise writer, meaning that 99% of the ideas I come up with fall squarely into the what-if category. What if your alternate-reality self arrived via a wormhole one day and tried to take over your life? What if the Norden bombsight had been stolen by the Nazis? What if the Anasazi moved deep underground using alien technology? (Have I started books at one point or another with these as premise points? I have.) The point being, I’m not going to write four friends reunite for a weekend on the Outer Banks, but one has a terrible secret. I’m going to write four friends reunite for a weekend on the Outer Banks…but one’s an alien, one’s a transsexual, one’s secretly been a zombie for months but is using heavy foundation to hide it, and one’s a komodo dragon in disguise. That’s just who I am. I’m more Outer Limits than Outer Banks.

I work hard on my people and my prose (and my plots and my pacing, the other two of my five P’s). But premises? They come thick and fast. They’re my strong event. I have no problem generating book concepts – and when one strikes me (as the concept behind Reswyt did) I get writing. But in the back of my head is a nagging fear that I’m a sprinter, not a decathlete; that I’ve got ideas and little in the way of the craft necessary to build them into working books. I fear that I’m underserving the premise – in other words, that I’ve hiked to some remote and heretofore unreachable point in the wild, paints and canvas in hand, and rendered a heartbreaking scene of beauty in primary colors with kindergarten brushstrokes.

I’ll know I’ve failed at this if the concept could have been better executed by someone else…if I’ve wasted a beautiful premise because I could not control it.

Do I think I have? I don’t know. I pushed myself as hard as I was capable of to execute the premise with well-rounded characters and in a manner that’s pleasing to read, but I’m aware of my shortcomings. There are sections I’d love to redo, but there’s no end to my desire to sharpen and resharpen a scene, so I’m not sure where that process would end. There’s no limit to how much better any page of a given book can be made, so without infinite time to craft, I have to put a stop to the process when I feel like I’ve reached the ceiling of my abilities in a given area. How close that asymptotic line approaches my desired state for any particular scene varies from scene to scene; the ones most closely related to the premise are, by and large, where I’d like them to be, but others make me wish I simply had a more evolved skillset in that particular area of writing. I see all the same challenges as I’m working on the second book, and it’s caused me to rethink how I approach some things, but in the end, I have to write with the skillset I have – and work daily to improve it.

Ultimately, I’ll be told, at some point, whether I’ve failed or not; if enough reviews pile up suggesting that I’ve underserved the premise, then I’ll know it’s time to consider another venue for creative expression. Until then, I’ll keep trying my best to throw the fucking discus.

Thanks for listening.

Noodles. Don’t Noodles.

 

So I rarely touch the third rail that is the cultural obsession with sparkly vampires, for several reasons. One, I live in a house with two, sometimes three females who have more than a passing fancy for the series. Two, I realize that – although I approached the genre from a very different perspective (namely, I began with an idea, and that idea fit best with a younger protagonist) – I am, right/wrong/indifferent, In The Genre now. And I will be, until I get one of my other book ideas out of the formative stage. So, by and large, I leave Bella and company at a respectful distance.

But I did run across a post I liked today, entitled It’s Time to Stop Being Angry at Twilight, and I read and agreed with many of its points. The most salient of which is that it’s an obsession like any other; some people play fantasy football (ahem), some people are far too into cosplay, some people collect fucking ceramic cats. And some people – a great many people, actually – like Stephanie Meyer’s vampire series. Odds are fairly high you’ve got an obsession of your own, and I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but your obsession is not organically superior to anyone else’s.  Regardless of whether you’re meticulously restoring a ’68 Camaro or tweaking your Kasumi costume for the next big ‘con, you’re just one of the many obsessed. 

The article makes a fantastic secondary point, which is that Twilight is less a tale of vampires and werewolves than a story of young relationships with vampires and werewolves as convenient story scaffolding. That doesn’t make it any more egregious of a literary sin, in that light, than any other young adult relationship book. We’re not really getting down on Judy Blume for failing to develop a deep and resonating plot in many of her books. We don’t beat Bram Stoker to a pulp for failing to capture the essence of teenage female emo ennui. But put the two together and suddenly the series is a lightning rod. And yes, I’ve read the Stephen King quote, just for reference, and what I find is that, oddly, it seems to try and pit two things against each other, as if books go into some sort of Roman coliseum to decide which is greater. Tonight, George R.R. Martin takes on Iain Banks in a spectacle for all ages! 

But beyond the article points, I’ve got at least one of my own, and it’s become substantially more important to me in the past few months. Namely, if you don’t like it, read something else. I owe this gestalt to (a) a significant amount of dumb-it-down-or-it-will-never-sell correspondence from Traditional Publishing on the subject of Reswyt, (b) grateful emails I’ve received from people thanking me for not dumbing it down, and (c) the experience I’ve had being interviewed and having much nervous shuffling of feet regarding the subject of Sabine’s intellect. What I’ve realized is that I don’t want to be marginalized for writing a smart character, and I can respect another author’s desire not to be denigrated for writing an average one. (Not that Stephanie Meyer needs a great deal of emotional balming; I imagine her rolling up great sheaves of shitty reviews and cheerfully ordering a minion to set them ablaze in her great stone fireplace with a thick wad of blazing $100 bills.) She wrote what she wanted to write, and stuck it out there. It took hold of the public imagination. So did a lot of other arguably better books, by the way – The Passage and Drood and Perdido Street Station. And I wrote what I wanted to write. Candidly, I want what she wants; that if people don’t care for the style, character, plot, setting, or prose, that they go read something else. 

Is Twilight well-written? Is Bella an engaging protagonist? Does it matter? There are objective answers to those questions, much like there’s an answer to if a tree falls in the forest. But they’re all  irrelevant. Nobody’s around to hear the tree, and no one is adjudicating Twilight on its mastery of the Oxford comma or Bella’s backbone (or lack thereof). You’re missing the point. You’re trying to measure velocity with a kitchen scale. It’s a cultural phenomenon. It’s having its moment. Step aside. It may be joining Clara Peller and All Your Base Are Belong To Us in time. Or it may become a fixture in fantasy literary canon. Who knows? Either way, the train has long since left the station. A metric shit-ton of people bought and enjoyed the Twilight series. It’s a fact.

What we seem to want, especially my intelligentsia associates, is a state in which we retroactively un-want Twilight. I can sort of appreciate that. There are a hundred authors who I wish had received the accolades and mega-mega-moneyhat that Ms. Meyer has been the beneficiary of; see the Twenty-Six Point Two post for three of them. But that’s not happening. As a nation, we apparently want Twilight, in much the same way as we want other puzzling things, like Lady Gaga and tuner Accords with pounding subwoofers and fucking KFC bowls. Wanting the populace to unwant what they want so they can want what you want them to want is a vainglorious exercise in windmill-tilting, never to be achieved, and the more you obsess over that, the more of yourself you’ve given over to irrational hatred. Walk the fuck on by. Skip the Lady Gaga track, buy a regular car, and eat food that – as Patton Oswalt famously said – doesn’t looks like “a failure pile in a sadness bowl.”

Noodles…don’t noodles, as Master Oogway said. Twilight. Don’t Twilight.

But move on. 

Namaste.

Four weeks have passed since I took a deep breath and put Reswyt ‘out there,’ as it were. In that time, I have learned what it is to be humble, to be grateful, to be simultaneously challenged and  accepted. I’ve heard from you; questions, comments, endorsements, all seeking more, wanting to understand a certain truth of your own design, your own making, beyond the printed page.

For those exchanges, I offer you namaste. Thank you. I am overwhelmed – to the point of writing this alternating between the keyboard and silent moments, hand to my mouth, willing tears back.

You see, the literary welcome you have given me has been exceptional. The emails and Facebook messages and Amazon reviews I’ve read have left me speechless.

Writing is an act of disrobing in public, in a way that few artistic media can replicate. Paintings are interpreted, the positioning of this hand, lascivious or virginal as it might be, betraying a wealth of the artist’s motivations; the sun here or there in the sky betraying an autumnal fervor of action, or a springlike joy. Music, as I know, is interpreted, too; it reveals volumes of its creator’s being; go listen to Rakim by Dead Can Dance and tell me more about a parent’s hope and fear and loss and courage and nobility than you will hear therein. Go and listen to Spiegel Im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt and tell me more about faith in the enduring depth of love than Pärt tells you – I defy you.

But it is still interpretation.

Whereas writing…is removing your clothes. Few more direct lines exist between one’s soul-essence and the medium of exchange. I know that; I have stopped in the writing of Reswyt to go outside and scream, to curl my fists against the injustice of being, to bitterly contemplate the gaping holes that loss and fear create in our lives and mutely acknowledge the inability of anything to balm the very edges of those holes, let alone fill them. Its creation brought forth things I have often beaten back into the abyssal voids they live in, virtually inviting them out to participate in the strange, otherworldly process of creation.

And only one of two things is going to happen when that process becomes available to the public. The one, you fear; the other, you hope for, but being too much to hope for, it exists in a realm of otherworldly endorsement no one dares hope for, for the fear of being undermined or negated in the act. Hoping for it, in short,  sets up too long and potentially fatal of a fall.

It is simply too much to ask of the world we live in, you and I; and yet, I have tasted of it.

That’s why I offer you a namaste, and not just a mere thank you;  the divine in me, whatever there was that provided the creation of this work, bows to the divine in you. And you know who you are. What many of you have offered to me in your emails and messages goes well beyond acknowledgment. It mirrors the divine in you, the best of yourself. I am honored to have received even a sliver of that into my being. It has been, without qualification or exception, a truly divine experience to share this work with you.

Namaste.

Eating with the Wrong Fork

In working on the next book, I’m looking over what amounts to the Unedited Cut of Reswyt, and it’s a weird sensation.

The UC is a 440-page book (Reswyt ended up around 380), roughly 25 pages of which are getting repurposed into the second book – thus, the literary cave expedition. The other 35 pages? Unnecessary. While some ideas just needed to be moved into the next stage of the story, others wandered into twisty little plot passages [ALL ALIKE] and required creative euthanization. But above and beyond what ended up as usable, there’s the merely interesting; subplots that vanished from the final, scenes that need to be ‘reshot’ for the second book,  a minor character or two that exited, all in order to get down to around 115,000 words. They weren’t vital, but they were engaging.

DELETE is a serious key, even with the existence of Ctrl-Z. So I saved every cut scene; I couldn’t fathom writing them but not keeping them, so they live on in a Word file merely entitled RESWYT DELETED SCENE INVENTORY. And, apparently, as I’ve shared that concept with Serious Literary Authors, I’ve learned that something like the RDSI is simply not done in writing circles; I have been caught eating with the wrong fork. Specifically, I’ve been told that what I’m doing is not editing, because I should cut what’s extraneous and keep only what’s meaningful. Anything that does not serve the almighty plot should be disintegrated utterly, leaving no trace of its aberrant, teratoid existence.

Define ‘extraneous’ in a literary sense. Were those scenes necessary? Mostly, no, to be honest. They didn’t advance the plot, the crucial anvil on which all prose is tested, and as a result, they got removed from the finished product. The universal New York Times objective of ‘taut, muscular prose’ got served, at some level. Job done, from a strict editorial perspective; those scenes were removed. But do they merit deletion? In reading over them, I miss them a little. Sabine tried out for the Cameron swim team in the UC; there’s a version that ended well for her, and, in brackets, a version that didn’t. There’s another exchange with her mom on this page, and on that one, a long phone call with Marcus. Josh began differently; the Queen had a mwahahaha scene or two that underserved the storyline, but are great fun to re-read.  There’s a subplot surrounding dark energy that was pulling the book a little too far in the Stargate direction, so it got cut, but it’s amusing to see Brummbar and Sabine discussing astrophysics for a few pages. That led directly to a mystery-resolution scene that got eliminated, too; Reswyt ended very differently when it was still there.

In a strange, metaphysical way, I’m glad I wrote some of those scenes; because of them, I know Sabine fractionally better than anyone else does. She’s confided secrets to me in the RDSI that will never be known. They’re not important secrets, but they’re secrets nonetheless. How many of the secrets we know about our friends are truly important? How many are just colorful? During what proportion of our own days do we truly Advance The Plots of our own lives?

There are millions of feet of film sitting in chilly, darkened Hollywood studio vaults, remnants of movies shot and left out of the final product. Han stepped on Jabba’s tail in one of those reels; it was brought back to life, Harrison Ford simply dropping in from another era to perform once again. In another length of never-seen footage, Halloran undergoes a much more gruesome death in The Shining; that one remains comfortably ensconced in its vault, and Scatman Crothers gets his quick, merciful death in every viewing. What separates the two? There are millions of hours of audio tape and DATs sitting in record company vaults, outtakes and unreleased B-sides, orchestras tuning up and musicians noodling riffs. The Hendrix estate has forged itself a cottage industry from remixing half-finished tracks of Jimi’s, spackling musical cracks where appropriate, and putting forth ‘new‘ Hendrix.

But writers, for some reason, are expected to lose their underperforming draft elements completely; I have never once seen, posted in a freeware PDF, the Lost Scenes of ___________.  It’s simply not done. It’s strange. I don’t have any commercial aspirations for the deleted scenes in Reswyt; as I said, many were dead ends in the plot, or needlessly embroidered a point, or simply didn’t punch their weight on the page. But I did create them, and their long-term storage in a Word file is cheap and reliable.

It’s chilly down there in the RDSI, and I hope the secrets are sleeping well. Meanwhile, I’ll be in the dining room, eating shrimp with my trident.

Introretrospection

Reading over an interview transcript I’ve kindly been given the opportunity to clean up, removing my dizzying array of um’s and errrrrs and making myself sound significantly more put-together. What’s interesting for me is revisiting the genesis of the book, a core component of interview requests so far; how did the idea come to you?

Sleep’s a weird thing. Nobody remembers falling asleep; it’s one of the few acts we perform that is successfully done by thinking about, and doing, nothing. Kathy has the otherworldly gift of simply falling asleep. She’s like a baby, in some very charming ways; she turns the light off, reclines, and is out within minutes.

I envy her at what could charitably be described as an unhealthy level. I would, ideally, station a Pygmy with a blowgun at the foot of my bed to shoot me in the neck around 9:50 every night with an anesthetic-tipped dart. Sleep comes to me like broccoli enters a kid’s mouth: slowly, painfully, and with a great deal of grousing involved. But I have clinical-grade insomnia to thank for a book, at least, because at some point during the mid-2000s, when all seemed lost, I decided that if I was going to be awake, I was damn well going to do something with the time. And thus began Reswyt. I sleep better now, but as I’m responding to this interview question, I’m mentally transported back to some very tossturntastic nights, and that’s not fun.

More fun: revisiting the genesis of some of the characters, especially the Queen and Moravin. There was a certain joy in discovering each of them, and the old amygdala goes strongly into the ‘plus’ when I stop to consider their creation. Especially now that I’m well into writing the second book, looking back on how characters originated in the first feels like examining something from a very long time ago indeed.  My writing notes make it clear that, at the time, I felt a powerful need to provide motivation and agency for these two characters, and I hope that ended up being the case.

Now, I’m off to find a Pygmy with a blowgun.

Live-Fire Scenario

So…the book’s live. And instantly, I’ve got mixed feelings. Pride, shock, fear, regret; these four seem to take turns coming in waves. The general talking-down process I’ve adopted goes as follows:

1) It’s nowhere near as bad as ________ (and I’ve inserted a lot of authors and works into that blank; decorum prevents me from naming them); and

2) It probably won’t sell anyway, so what does it matter; and

3) I’ve checked some sort of bucket-list box by pushing the PUBLISH button on AKDP; and

4) If the book makes a difference in the life of one person, for one day, then perhaps I’ve done something.

What’s strange is that I have none of the same feelings connected to Dogs of Prague work. Mike and I will dash off something like ‘Whiskey King’ or ‘The Lost Carnival’ or ‘Metaphor,’ and I have zero fear regarding either the song’s content or its performance.  And yes, I can certainly rationalize that as time invested; Reswyt took well over a year to write, whereas I think the creative process for any given Dogs song might run a few days, a week at most.

Strange. Is it because I have different expectations of one than the other? Or because writing is so much more personal?