Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Head Space

One of the things I find interesting (and a little scary) about writing is the way worlds and characters can take over one’s mental space. For several years now, the characters of my post-peak oil fiction have so dominated my consciousness that I’ve had a hard time moving on to new projects. Oh, I’ve been able to turn out a bit of unrelated flash fiction, but my attempts at anything longer came to nothing. My other characters were too dominant, their world too easy to slip into and get lost in. Every time I tried to move on, my old characters would pester me, tug at my sleeve and whisper in my ear, telling me new stories and begging me to stay just a little longer.

But finally I got a new idea that was compelling enough to stick with and I began work on a new novel. I’ve struggled with it, not knowing this new world very well and not able to “hear” my characters. After so many years with Amalia, Will, Diana, and their friends, I was used to being able to get answers to my questions with ease. Not so with my new characters! I was almost to 30K words before the first of my new characters started opening up to me. To my surprise, it was one of my male characters. I had expected my female characters to be more accessible, but they were more cautious and still remain a little wary of me. They've probably heard the rumors of how I like to torture my imaginary friends!

But now as I come upon the 35K mark, I’m reaching a place where getting information isn’t such a struggle. When I ask what happens next or when I request a bit of backstory so I can understand some future action, most of my new characters tell me. Some go on at great length, not willing to shut up even when I point out that I have important spreadsheets to work on or an email to answer. For the last two days they’ve taken over my head space every time I’ve quit thinking about the needful things of daily life like work, food, and not getting run over by a bus as I cross the street. They’ve quietly taken over in the way my old “family” used to do.

This doesn’t mean I’m done with my old characters, only that I’m finally achieving the distance from them that I feel every writer needs at some point. It also means I’m finally on a roll with my new WIP. The nightly writing sessions are less of a struggle. I’m no longer forcing myself to write something, anything, just to make a minimum word count for the evening. My characters now spend all day filling my head with stories of past and future adventures, their thoughts, hopes and dreams. My nightly word counts are getting longer and the writing flows more easily.

I’m not out of the woods yet. Characters can be touchy creatures and they could clam up on me at any moment. I might get bogged down in a plot conundrum and the story could suck when it’s all over. But it’s a relief to have pushed past the most critical barrier to find that yes, I can make new characters that are just as real in my mind as the old ones. I can enjoy the ride as a new group of imaginary friends introduce me to their screwed-up world.

I’m finally having fun on my new journey and it looks like it’s going to be a fine adventure, indeed!

So who is occupying your head space today? Old friends or new? Are they real, and are they trying to take over? Will you let them?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

New Pub Cred!

I just got another flash fiction accepted-- this time to Word Catalyst Magazine. It's a nifty little e-zine that also publishes poetry and art, so check it out!

My story will be in the May issue, so I'll give more info as we get closer to the publication date.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Book Review!

My New-Found Land has gotten a nice review at The Lulu Book Review! This is my first non-friend/non-acquaintance review!

Although I do keep editing and updating the book as I find errors, I've debated whether it was worth my time and money to get a professional edit and ISBN. Such a step would enable me to place my book in libraries and bookstores where I have connections and perhaps branch out from there. It would mean a lot of work and self-promotion and I'm not sure if it's a path I have time for right now. But it could be rewarding and would at the very least be educational.

This little review gives me confidence to start thinking along those lines again. Funny to think that this road trip story with its origins as serial blog fiction could have potential as a "real" book. It came together so organically on a five-month nightly blog posting binge that I've never treated it very seriously. Meanwhile, the novels that I've written with a deadly serious mindset still wait for me to toss them back on the query-go-round while I stress and angst over every comma and conjunction.

Maybe the secret is to not be too serious? I've certainly had more fun with My New-Found Land than with anything else I've ever written. That alone has made the journey worth my while!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Flash Fiction Interlude: Paid in Full

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story features Vince Mott, one of the characters from My New-Found Land. You can read more about Vince by following the tag at the bottom of the post.

Vince pushed his way through the crowds of refugees on the sidewalk. There were more than usual this weekend and he wondered why. El Duque hadn’t done much for city sanitation and now that the weather was turning warmer, it was much more pleasant to camp in the mountains or in the bosque by the river than here on the filthy streets.

He was still puzzling over the matter when a pretty young woman thrust a paper into his hand.

"Jesus loves you."

Vince stopped and assessed. The girl’s white dress fit badly and was dirty and fraying at the hem, but curves like hers weren’t easily hidden and she had the kind of lips that begged to be kissed. “I love you too, babe.”

She blushed and gestured at the flyer she had given him. “Jesus. He died for your sins.”

Vince scanned the flyer with a frown. It was an announcement of Easter services at someplace called God’s Holy Temple of the Glorious Second Coming. He tried to give the paper back. “That was nice of him, but it was a dumb thing to do. I’m just going to sin again.”

She refused to take the flyer and looked up at him with earnest eyes. “Jesus died for all your sins. Even the ones you haven’t committed yet.”

He read the paper again with renewed interest. “So it’s like when I pay in advance for guns or marijuana, and the guys bring it when they’ve got it and I don’t have to pay upon delivery?”

“Uh, sort of.”

With a nod of approval, Vince folded the paper. “Very cool.” He grinned at her as she tucked a stray lock of hair behind an ear. “So since we’re all paid up on our sins, you doing anything tonight? I’ve got a run of pharmaceuticals to move, but after that, I know a hotel where the beds are clean and folks don’t ask questions.”

The girl blinked and drew herself tall. “It doesn’t work that way.”

“But you just said—”

“You have to be sorry for your sins.”

“I am. Some of them. At least until I’ve had a little hair of the dog.”

“You also have to ask Jesus for forgiveness.”

“Are you sure?” Vince unfolded the paper and read it again. “I don’t see any fine print.”

“It’s assumed.”

“But if he already died for my sins, what’s with the extra collection racket?” He balled up the paper and threw it into the street where a spotted mutt lunged at it, yapping.

She tried to hand him another one. “Come to the service tomorrow morning. Or to my workshop this afternoon. I’m going to be talking about—”

“No,” Vince said. “You’ve explained enough already. Are we on for tonight, or not?” He took a new flyer and asked for a pen.

She handed him a pencil stub. “You’re crazy, you know that? Jesus says—”

“Yeah, I know some of the things Jesus said. Hate the sin but love the sinner, right?” He scrawled an address on the flyer. “This is where to meet me tonight. Wear something sexy.”

“Jesus isn’t forgiving you!” she shouted as he moved off into the crowd.

“Sure he is,” Vince chuckled to himself. “He's already paid my debt in full.”

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Book Meme

My friend Thomma tagged me for a book meme. I remember this one going around a year or two ago, but nothing wrong with playing again.

Here are the rules:

1. Grab the nearest book of 123 pages or more.

2. Open it to page 123.

3. Find the first 5 sentences and write them down.

4. Then invite 5 friends to do the same.

Here at my desk in my study, the nearest book happens to be in the bookcase reserved for my antique books. The one nearest to hand, which I could grab from my chair if the book weren’t so delicate, is the following:

Our First Century:
Being a Popular Descriptive Portraiture
of the
One Hundred Great and Memorable Events of Perpetual Interest
in the
History of Our Country,
Political, Military, Mechanical, Social, Scientific and Commercial:
Embracing Also Delineations of All the Great Historic Characters
Celebrated in the Annals of the Republic;
Men of Heroism, Statesmanship, Genius, Oratory, Adventure and Philanthropy.

Whew! Those Victorians loved long titles, didn’t they?

This book is by R.M. Devens. Publication Date: 1876.

I found this book in the attic of my great-aunt’s barn on Cape Cod when I was visiting my grandmother the summer I was seventeen. My great-aunt sold antiques out of the barn of her Federal-era home. What was in the attic was mostly junk, but I had never been exploring up there on any of my other visits and my cousin Julie from Quincy was game, so off we went. I acquired an early edition of Sinclair Lewis’ Arrowsmith from the same place, as well as a player-piano scroll which is now missing.

Anyway, here is what I found on page 123. Sadly, it’s part of a rather dull little speech by John Adams, himself a rather dull little man. This is from Chapter VIII: Appointment of the First Minister Plenipotentiary, from the New Republic to the English Court— 1785.

“Sire: The United States have appointed me minister plenipotentiary to your majesty, and have directed me to deliver to your majesty this letter, which contains the evidence of it.”

The book has two columns per page, which is why five lines in the book came out to three on the blog. Wherever I’ve copied titles and quotes from the book, I’ve kept the original punctuation, in case anyone is wondering.

Considering that this book also has chapters on sea monsters and a "wonderful dark day" when the sun supposedly never came up, I was very disappointed in the results of this meme. We need to change the page number the next time this one makes the rounds!

Since this meme seems to be spreading rapidly among the blogs on my list, I’m going to leave this tag open-ended. If you haven’t played yet, you’re it!