Thursday, March 27, 2008

It occurred to me a few days ago that the son of one of my main characters should have died about seventy pages ago.


That's not a bad thing to realize at this point in the process, and one benefit from having tried this novel-writing thing once before (for my MFA thesis) is that I know to sit on the idea, and keep writing the story as it stands (without killing him, and even including him in new material), until I'm utterly convinced such a thing is required or until the first major revision.

You can't stop working until you make up your mind, or write from this point forward as if what you're imagining has already happened. Even going back seventy pages and weaving the new event into the draft from that point doesn't seem like a productive course. Best to let it stew, get second and third opinions (by finishing the draft as conceived), in order to discover all the implications. I guess my primary change in approach is to avoid beginning any new, significant plot turns around this potentially doomed figure. But none were planned anyway; in fact he rather fades from view, probably because he was supposed to have died.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

As I suspected, providing content for a writer's blog is challenging. What do people talk about in these spaces? The process? The "biz"? I don't know anything about the biz and only enough about the process to recognize it makes for boring Internet content. (but riveting classroom fodder, the unemployed workshop instructor said)

How about numbers? Numbers I can do. At this moment I have 63,000 words in the rewrite of the novel I wrote for my MFA thesis. If I'm smart, I'll land the thing around 90k since anything more makes a debut novel hard to sell. Over 100k and many agents won't read the first sentence. That might not be true in genre fiction, but for the sort of "upmarket" literary drek I trade, it's mostly the case. Until it isn't, that is. If you wrote a stunning debut novel to follow your torrid run as a short story wunderkind, you could bang out any word count you liked.

My idea is to make my book not a single word longer than necessary. I don't think the story requires more than 100k, no matter what the market prefers. I'm shooting for 90.

As a rewrite of a novel I'd already revised, I don't consider the material in 'first-draft' condition. What I mean is that it's somewhat better than awful, benefiting from what I learned about the characters, their motivations and conflicts, and all the list slippers worn by their favorite clerks, etc, in the first book. You don't know until you write them. You may think you do. I also know their El stops, how many gigs you can buy in a "saddle," and how the sun peeks over Lake Michigan April mornings in Grant Park.

Remedy Wheel interweaves the lives of four Chicagoans in 1934: Candace Harris, a young woman working for Chicago Telephone, her father, Thomas, who owns a candy store in Bronzeville; Oscar Candelero, a teenaged son of Italian immigrants who leaves home in Upstate New York to see the World's Fair and have sex with the fan-dancer Sally Rand; and Haley Carter, a young woman from Sandusky, Ohio, running numbers to save enough money to bring her terminally-ill father to Dr. Frederic Bartlett, an English neurologist visiting New York that spring.

The characters run headlong into the competing faiths of the day: science and technology, trumpeted by the World's Fair as 'mankind's' salvation, the vibrant South Side storefront church scene, replete with hucksters and faith healers like the enigmatic Elder Lucy Smith, pastor of Langley Avenue All Nations Pentecostal Church, and plain old vice: the lucrative "Policy" games which generate so much economic activity, jobs, and violence.

It's pointless to say much more. I hope I finish it soon and sell it soon after.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Nine Ideas for a Happier Whole

This story, "The Nine Ideas for a Happier Whole,"(PDF) appeared in in Southwestern American Literature in Fall 2003 and then in an anthology of previously published fiction from graduates and then-current students of the Indiana University MFA program. The anthology was called The Habit of Art: Best Stories from the Indiana Fiction Workshop.

I wrote the first draft in a single sitting, and worked with Lee Martin, then a professor at the University of North Texas, on revisions. I can't remember how many times I sent it out, but not too often. I didn't think it was so great. This is back when I thought making people laugh in fiction signaled a lack of serious intent.

The narrator is a fusion of people I knew, including myself, and people on television. He's creepy but in a likeable sort of way. The girl in the story is based on someone I dated a long time ago. She never drove a car like that, but another friend of mine did. Sneaking into Oklahoma for beer is a rite of passage in Fannin County. It's what passes for high drama when you attend Bonham High School.

Once, on one of our "red barn" beer runs, a friend of mine leaned over and popped his glove box door to reveal a 9 mm handgun. Presumably he intended to show this to the TABC officer who made his living trying to nab Texas teenagers hauling watery beer back across the state line. Luckily for all of us, we didn't get caught.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Most fiction and nonfiction writers have blogs and websites. Websites are labor intensive and blogs are easy, so here's my blog.

I've listed forthcoming articles and stories below and I'll make periodic notes about current projects in this space.

These days I'm working on my novel, Remedy Wheel; also a piece of nonfiction intended for Isotope's special issue on Planetary Engineering; and a short story, "An Inside Joke Among the Damned," which I hope might land in Glimmer Train, a place I've long tried to publish.