Friday, March 25, 2011

A Simple Plan Gone Mad

Innocently enough, I set a goal to write a full length novel as my new year's resolution in 2010.  I love to read, what could be better then writing my own reading material.  Right?  In an effort to be reasonable about my goal, I added the caveat that it did not need to be of publishable quality, only interesting to myself and my family and friends who would - dutifully - lie to me if it wasn't.  It's 2011 and I don't have a novel of any length.

It wasn't for lack of trying.  I tried it on my own and realized I lacked the fortitude and knowledge base to get much past limmerick, let alone a 55,000 word novel.  Undeterred, I resorted to tried-and-true method that lead me to my legal career.  I went to school.  I found a great program at a local University (SMU CAPE Creative Writing Program) and started attending classes.  

I moved past limmerick to flash fiction and then a full 3,000 word short story that I was very proud of.  My wife, dutifully or not, said she was proud of me as well.  I can do this, I thought.  Writing was a lot of fun and a wonderful diversion from my rewarding, but sometimes dull, professional writing assignments (i.e. legal documents). I decided to continue the program on the "Novel Track" and was mentally skipping through fields of tulips on my way to achieving my goal.  This wasn't so hard, I thought. 

Then I took two courses (Story Structure and Plot) that showed me how truly mistaken I was about the difficulty in writing a novel.  I now have a great appreciation for every novel I have ever read.  It seems so simple in theory; I write thousands of words every day at work, I churned out lots of entertaining flash-fiction scenes and a coherent short story without too much trouble.  Not easy, but definitely achievable. 

The problem is that those little pieces are just ingredients in the recipe of a full length novel.  I can no sooner pass a bakery, take a bite of pastry, and then go home and whip up a souffle then I can write a few unrelated scenes and then crank out a 55,000 word, or more, novel.  Like cooking, it takes a lot of preparation and practice before you have anything edible.  You must gather all the information on the different recipes.  You must try the easiest recipe - because deep down you're totally lazy - and have it fail miserably.  You must try the hardest recipe and have that fail miserably, because you were totally unprepared to take on that task and it was just a waste of ingredients.  Then you must try several recipes until you find the one you can handle and make it several times until you have something to inflict on unsuspecting family.  Then you must subject your family to enough taste tests of your "experimental" souffle until they have nightmares of demon dessert spoons chasing them trying to force feed them poison.  After all of that, you will finally have a recipe that is worth trying on someone who won't love you anyway - even if you poison them.  They will eat your hard fought creation and then exclaim, "it's a bid dry and could use some more sugar."

I find myself at the demon dessert spoon stage, on the cusp of recieving reviews from my souffle eaters at a writer's conference I will attend in July to receive crticism on my currently drafted chapters.  The funny thing about the whole experience is that I love it.  It is one of the most painful things I've done, kept going by my stubbornness to not allow this goal to go unfinished.  I will get there, or die trying.

55,000 WORDS OR BUST!!!!

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

My Fictional Life

My life is filled with internal dialog.  When my attention is no longer needed for a specific task my mind wanders and I ask myself questions.  Tonight, while wandering toward my office I asked myself why I love fiction.  I love fiction because it is the way I live my life. 

I grew up in a family where limitations were announced as warning signs for possible failure.  In an effort to prevent me from doing things thought to be beyond my capability, it created a belief that everything was impossible.  As I got older, and was blessed with several successes along the way, I started to believe that anything was possible.  As ridiculously motivational speakery as it sounds, I believe it is true.  The reasons I believe it is true is an entirely different blog post, but let's just start with the fact that I truly believe anything is possible. 

This is why I love fiction; it is a dry run on a possiblity.  Some stories I would prefer not to actually live out, such as one of my favorite stories - Crime and Punishment.  Other's I've filed away as possibilities in a file at the back of my mind labeled "Someday/Maybe."  Some supernatural themes still remain delightfully fictional, but remove or replace the vampires and that could totally happen.   

The only thing more fun than reading an adventure as a possible blueprint for the future is designing the blueprint yourself.  This is why I started taking creative writing classes last summer and have made daily writing a habit.  Like planning a vacation, I select the venue, populate it with people I find interesting, add complications that I know I'm going to solve, and watch gaps fill the story in the most amazing ways. 

I am still far from novelist, or even a writer worth more than my own family's admiration.  Regardless, the process of learning how to make my own fictional worlds to play around is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.  With that thought, I have some writing to do . . .

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Simile of the Day

Simile: a figure of speech in which two unlike things are explicitly compared, as in "she is like a rose."

I'm currently reading Man in the Woods by Stuart Spencer on audiobook for my morning and evening commute. This morning Spencer was describing the sometimes jumbled speech of the main character and stated that (paraphrasing because it's an audiobook) "his parenthetical phrases bursting like items carried in a wet paper sack." I will often speak so fast that my included parenthetical explanations also burst out in a jumbled mess just like the contents of a wet paper sack.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Lonely Polygamist

The Lonely PolygamistThe Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was a surprisingly fantastic book. Udall has a wonderful writing style and command of descriptions that are just phenomenal. The story is, as the first lines state, a story about a polygamist who has an affair. The story is told through the eyes of one of the 28 children (Rusty), one of the 4 wives (Trish), and the patriarch (Golden). Through these three lenses you get a glimpse at the common family problems in a family of uncommon size and complexity.

I heard about this book on several occasions but was reluctant to read it.  Why?  The only explanation is that I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (The Mormon Church).  Although my church has a history of polygamy, it was discontinued many years ago and anyone currently practicing polygamy is excommuncated.  The modern practice of polygamy is usually portrayed on the Jerry Springer show and with various raids on compounds of people accused of horrible practices against women and children.  The fear of being associated with a practice that we don't believe in and the wrongdoing associated with the compounds forces many, myself included, to avoid any association with polygamy.  I worried about the reaction if anyone found out what I was reading or saw the title and made an assumption.  My fears, in retrospect, were ridiculous.  I'm glad that they did not keep me from finally reading this book because it was an excellent read.
Golden's struggles to provide for his family's physical, spiritual, and emotional needs leads him to lust after a woman representing a life outside the one he has chosen. Golden remains sympathetic, despite his indiscretions, because his backstory contains unhappiness, compromises, and sacrifices made along the way that make his personal failings seem forgivable.  As a reader, I felt that his heart was in the right place even when his actions indicated otherwise.  The author cleary shows that Golden loves his family and never doubts his beliefs; even if he has difficulties in its practice.  As and husband and father, I can relate to the challenge of meeting your responsibilities despite limited resources, time, ability, and enthusiasim.

Trish grew up in a polygamist compound and when she leaves with her mother for the "normal" world finds that life on the outside can be just as miserable when you have an abusive husband.  Trish returns to polygamy as Golden's fourth wife but feels forgotten among the crowd and longs for the days when boys competed for her attention rather than her begging for Golden's attention. I'm sure that many women feel, or have felt, forgotten by busy husbands despite not having "sister wives" to commiserate with.

Rusty is a troublemaker child seeking attention among the 28 other children and never seems comfortable or suited for the life he was born into.  The normal struggles of an awkward young boy are amplified by his unusal family situation.  As the oldest of eight children, I remember the frustration of competing for attention among a crowded arena of other siblings.   

All the characters are well developed and feel like real people.  The family dynamic presented is so common that the fact that they are polygamist can sometimes fade into the background.  The story moves at a comfortable pace, especially given that there is very little action built into the family drama storyline. The everyday life descriptions are compelling because the struggles of each character keeps you wondering if one of the faltering peices of this family will destroy the whole unit.  Also, as Golden gets closer to the line that would tear his faith and family apart, his 4 wives and 28 children are put in jeopardy.  Despite the seemingly dysfunctional nature of the family, you believe that the family would suffer from losing the complicated life they have learned to love.  This raises the stakes for the reader throughout the story.   

Udall has a true gift for describing characters and events with details and similes that are dead-on accurate.  One of my favorites was describing men singing hymns in church as rolling the words around in their mouths like an old piece of gum they are trying to dispose of.  I have both sung and heard hymns sung exactly in that manner.  This is one of the most interesting, and well written, books I have read in a long time.