Sunday, August 31, 2008

First Chapter Progress

The first chapter is getting close now. But is it too much of a swing to have a character go from 10 years old to 18 in one chapter? Well, I guess it won't be if I do my job right. The backstory is what makes David likable at first because he's such a dry, clinical twit sometimes. Even in his own head. It's also good to know where he's coming from since he has no idea where he's going. Claire's intro will be almost the exact opposite in that her thoughts will center on her hopes for the future (both immediate and long-term goals) and nothing about her past will be revealed...perhaps alluded to in a subtle way, but no expository flash backs are planned for the first few chapters. I have just under two thousand words with another thousand to go before I move on to Claire's intro chapter. I'm at that "am I making a huge mistake with the trading perspectives" phase. Constant self-doubt. But I'll just have to work through it and see if the product is passable.

Highlight from the first chapter:

"It felt as if someone had dropped a stone directly onto my corpus callosum, sending ripples radiating outward to collide with my skull with a nearly audible throb."

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Revised Plan for Saturday Evening

I got some more outlining done in my notebook binder, made a bunch of copies and returned some books, renewed some others. Now I'm going to suffer through Sandra Bullock's acting in Premonition and then dig up the old VCR and pop in Breaking Away which was filmed in Bloomington in the '70s and stars Dennis Quaid. Research is no fun sometimes.

Revised Plan for Saturday

Revised plan for Saturday:

I am packing up my old Coach satchel with essentials and am relocating to the public library for the bulk of tomorrow. Some of my research titles need renewed before the end of the month, and I've promised to pick up Phantom Tollbooth. I may be hijacking my sister's laptop for this expedition. Can't wait to get one of my own so I can take Project Reach on the road! Especially helpful for making the most of my lunch breaks at work. I've packed my research titles, a roll of dimes to make copies of essential pages, Pixie Stix, Mirado Black Warriors, notebook, index card binder, red pens. I'm stoked. I'm hoping a change of scenery will get the words flowing. Tomorrow evening it's back to my regularly scheduled programming, trying to induce a mental flow state and bang out the first two chapters.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Three-Day Weekends are a Blessing!

Plan for the three-day weekend:

  • Get a healthy start on the physical outline by transferring my random notes into my awesome little notecard binder.
  • Completely rough out first two chapters, perhaps start on third and fourth if I get really ambitious.
  • E-mail two more questions to my research partner (perhaps send him link to this blog)
  • Draft invitation for first readers and mail them on Tuesday (IF I have the first two chapters sewn up).
  • Research, research, research.
  • Read through chapters 2 & 3 of my Cog Sci textbook.
  • Read some more Emotional Intelligence.
  • Organize Google Notebook.

I have concluded that watching Wall-E also counts as research. And perhaps Premonition. I've never seen it, but might have to pick it up and give it a watch.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Well, family and social obligations got in the way of my intentions to use my day off this week to write exclusively. Thank God for the three day weekend, though! I did make a few rather important discoveries today, though. MarLo is originally from Chicago. Claire's mother is from Central Barren, Indiana. A place I find funny because the name literally means Middle of Nowhere.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

First Meeting

I was deeply surprised today by David and Claire's first meeting. I hadn't had them meeting in my outline for two more chapters, but they just fell in step with each other on the street today, coincidentally and of their own volition. They didn't speak to each other, but the internal musings of both are (I think) highly entertaining.

And in this chance meeting, I've also solved the problem of when/how Claire should allude to her past experiences. Also, I've solved Dr. Feigner's involvement in their relationship as well as what initially draws David to the cafe.

It's a beautiful thing, writing, when gorgeous coincidences flare up in your mind and all you have to do is record them. Unfortunately, I was at work (my day job) when this little event came upon me, and was consequently not at liberty to explore the interaction. I would have really liked to have just sat down and written it out right then. Bing bang boom. But it couldn't happen, so I settled for sketching out the bones and will be adding the shading tomorrow, which is my day off this week. Well, I'll be diligently writing until I go watch Barack Obama at The New Albanian Brewery, that is! Every writer needs a sympathetic and challenging atmosphere. Some have coffee shops. Some have local bookstores. I have my pub every Thursday night.

Tonight, though, I'm going to finish the first chapter of my new Cog Sci textbook and perhaps read some more in Emotional Intelligence. Tomorrow I'm putting my flow state theory into practice and am excited to learn what results I can manage. On the blog front, I've added a bookshelf to help me keep track of research titles, reference materials and whatnot.

And I may be adding some SeepeopleS to the playlists. I caught them live at a WFPK show on the Waterfront in Louisville, KY tonight and it seemed to be pretty great writing music. Up tempo, easy to ignore, but some lines really jolt you. They're very emo. Very good live. Not my usual acoustic fare, for sure, but good. Good in a Keane kind of way, who I first heard in my pub then went right home and downloaded copious amounts of.

Not that Keane is emo, but I think I rather like emo music, which is good because MarLo likes it, too, and I've yet to give her a playlist. I'll have to explore that preference right after I'm done downloading a bunch of Twi-Rock, which I have just discovered the existence of this very evening. Sigh. How am I ever supposed to get Project Reach written if I can't get my mind off of Twilight? I want my brain back! And as soon as the Twilight movie madness has passed, Grey's Anatomy will be back on the air and then I'll really never get any writing done. I've decided that watching The Big Bang Theory counts toward research, though!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Word Count War! Round 1

Word Count War

Blog vs. Book

Blog = 9278
Book = 2179

Creative Flow

I've been developing a set of procedures to help me easily attain a mental state of flow so that when I sit down to write in earnest (as opposed to blogging about writing) I'll be able to sink into that gorgeously ecstatic, effortless, ego-less rhythm that is my favorite writing mood. During these times, I'm able to forget the outside world and forget my ongoing biological processes. I've been known to spend hours at work on a single project without remembering to eat. But research is key. If I have to stop writing to look up what the exterior of the Student Union looks like, for instance, I'll be dumped right out of my flow state. I have to know what I'm writing, be able to imagine it as clearly as if it were my own memory, before I can translate it into language. That's not to say that the creative dynamo set loose during a flow cycle doesn't sometimes surprise me. I've veered wildly from my outline in such times, always with fantastic results.

But I'm absolutely developing a set of procedures to help get me into flow more reliably than I've been able to achieve it in the past. I'm also trying to find a distinctive scent that I can associate with this set of procedures. Hopefully, with prolonged application, I'll be able to hotwire my mind to recognize the scent and steps and fall directly to writing.

Understanding the neurobiology of flow has been of great importance. Over stimulation kills flow. This has been what's been tripping me up. I've been trying too hard, attempting to force it. Also, I've been expecting results too quickly. My research to date suggests that it takes at least 15 minutes of concentration on a challenging (but not overly difficult) task to achieve the optimum neurobiological conditions for entering a flow state and another 45 minutes to get locked in so that distractions can't reach me.

So I'm working on a procedure.

Today I pushed my mental outline further into the future, into the realm of a second book, possibly a third. I'm still struggling with a few first chapter questions that need to be resolved before I go back to writing on them. For instance, how often should Claire allude to her past experiences? Should she just suspect her abilities or should she have absolute faith in them? How big of a role should Dr. Feigner play? How often should David's mother visit?

But I need to stop asking myself questions and start drafting questions for my generous volunteer!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Playlists instead of Progress

Progress report: Reading, taking notes, attempting to translate thoughts into words and place words onto notecards to organize said thoughts into a real chronology. Sidetracked by Michelle Obama and Ted Kennedy. Painted my nails. Completed character playlists.

Claire's Playlist

David's Playlist

Character Playlists

Not making much headway on my notecards/outline. I just can't seem to get motivated today. But I did order two new research titles. Remote Viewing: The Science and Theory of Nonphysical Perception by Courtney Brown and The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile by Noah Lukeman. It's not a how to write book, it's a how to present your work to a qualified agent book, written by a former agent. I look forward to perusing them at my earliest convenience.

But for tonight, instead of continuing to flog myself into completing the outline, I'm doing a character exercise, making playlists of songs on my characters iPods. It's a very Stephenie Meyer thing to do. I intend to listen to these playlists when I'm stuck in a David or Claire chapter and need a boost. Well, actually, I'm fairly certain David wouldn't listen to the sort of music that I'm putting in his playlist. But I'm going to perhaps put songs on there that describe what he is feeling since he lacks the ability to describe his emotions for himself. I have no idea what MarLo listens to because her taste in music and mine are completely opposite.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Love and Addiction

Wow, so I just experienced a minor epiphany. I had mentioned that David was to be keenly interested in the neurological process of addiction...well, I was researching alexithymia and pondering why David hangs out at the cafe so much. His interest with Claire's physical effect on him would be passing, I'm sure. But what if he became addicted to his lust reactions? It's possible. There is a strong scientific research base for addiction to love. And then it hit me: David's real passion for Cognitive Sciences stems from his struggle to understand love. So he studies the chemical/neurological processes that occur when a person claims to be in love. Perhaps he scours the campus for young couples who can't seem to refrain from touching each other as they walk to class. Anyway, it's a terribly good thing for young adults to know about. They've been warned about drugs and alcohol and nicotine for years, but has anyone ever warned them against the brain-altering effects of erotonin, oxytocin, serotonin, vasopressin and endogenous opioids? I think not.

This may require me to re-write the first chapter wherein David first becomes interested in CogSci at the tender age of 14. Well, perhaps not a complete re-write. Perhaps just one small but vital paragraph.

The genesis of this line of thinking, I recognize, goes back to Steve Martin's fantastic novella Shopgirl and to several sermons I've listened to that outlined the addictive nature of sex for the purpose of discouraging pre-marital sex. Alistair Begg and Kyle Idleman are two preachers that I've heard give this type of sermon. I have added a new topic to my research notes "On Love and the Process of Loving" to keep my various resources organized. It's fascinating stuff.

From Shopgirl:
A woman needs to be held, even, and science has shown this, if its with someone she doesn't care about. Protective hormones are released, and the amount of hormones released depends on the degree to which she is held. The first and best is the complete surround. He wraps you in both arms, whispers how beautiful you are. Second best is the 'arm around.' He is next to you but with one arm around you. Third is he's just next to you on his elbow, but he rests his hand on your stomach and looks at you. Fourth is you snuggling up to him with your head on his chest, while he looks away into space. But when the first best happens, you feel completely, wonderfully like a woman.

And now I shall continue setting my outline down on paper. I've started putting key events onto notecards, an idea I stole from Penny in Stranger than Fiction.

A New Addition

All of my goals for Saturday have been delayed until Sunday. I have taken the day off to visit a neighbor in the hospital and shop with my girlfriends. I was constantly guilted by the presence of my Mirado Black Warrior snagging on everything I pulled over my head in fitting rooms.

But I do have one very important Project Reach development to share. I'm so thrilled to announce that I have recruited a graduate student of Cognitive Sciences at Cornell University to help me critique David's character. My best friend's girlfriend's old college roommate at Bloomington! I love how that friend of a friend thing works. It's beautiful. So I'm going to draft a list of questions for him. If he's not swamped with school work and if he's amenable, then I'll also send him David's chapters to review. I am very excited about this. It'll keep me honest in my portrayal of the CogSci community. It'll help me catch any inconsistencies before they make it into print. And this new relationship may serve to open up still more new relationships with the folks up at Bloomington, who I haven't approached yet as I'm still making my way through a CogSci textbook, listening to podcast lectures, reading trade journals...just basically learning the fundamentals of the subject so I can approach it with some degree of intellect. Hopefully someday soon, though, I'll be able to take trip up to B-town and soak up the atmosphere, perhaps tour some of the campus, maybe even meet up with some of the CogSci peeps....hopefully coordinating all of this to coincide with an opera performance.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Time Out for "Research""

Does taking time out to watch Stranger than Fiction count as research? I think so ;) There's a strong anomalous cognition aspect to it, not to mention the running commentary on 'the process' of writing.

Karl Iagnemma on the dreaded process:

For me (and most of the writers I know), writing requires a pretty serious amount of discipline, mainly because writing fiction is not always fun. Having written is great—there's no better feeling then heading into work at 9 a.m. after I've already written 400 words—but writing can be frustrating, discouraging, humbling, boring, confusing, or all of these things at once. It takes discipline to return to the chair every morning, squeezing the fictional rock ever harder with the hope that a trickle will emerge.

As far as applying the structure of mathematical formulae to creating fiction—I wish I had the secret! I'm aware of the use of formulae to generate patterns in music, but good fiction is often irregular and surprising and faintly mysterious, somehow very un-mathematical. So I'm not holding out hope.

Tonight, I'm taking more notes on The Big Sleep and clarifying a few major points in my outline, which is still more of a mental map instead of an actual, physical outline. My goal for tomorrow is to set it down in print up to Christmas Break and play with the chronology. I've already decided what things will happen and in roughly what order, but now I have to come up with valid and interesting reasons for these things to happen. That's the finesse of the plot. I'm still struggling to keep David's narrative sterile of feeling, and I think this will be easier when I've got a better handle on cognitive sciences. Also, I'm going to try to track down the writings of some actual alexithemics tomorrow. That should give me a good inside look at how they process events and situations.

David's Narrative Style

I have decided that I must become a disciple of Raymond Chandler. I have been experimenting with ways to make Claire and David's internal dialog styles divergent enough to be distinct without having to use too many font cues in the book design (think Jacob vs. Bella in Breaking Dawn). When I first dove into The Big Sleep, I thought, "aha, a solution!" The style in which Marlowe tells his story is just what I'd needed for David. It's highly descriptive, with similes and metaphors galore, but Marlowe hardly ever reacts to anything. He has a stoicism that suits David very well. So I'm going to try to let Davis experience things and draw vivid comparisons without indulging in a running commentary of how he feels about any given thing (which is my usual style of writing). It's going to be a challenge for me. And I'll have to read a lot of Chandler for research and perhaps do a few writing exercises to get myself into the habit of writing as David. Claire's narrative, I think, will come more naturally.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Raymond Chandler, descriptive ninja

Google Notebook of research can be found here.

I have taken to wearing a Mirado Black Warrior (my favorite brand of pencil) in my perpetual pony tail at all times. It's mostly symbolic because I generally have enough writing utensils handy not to have to pull one out of my pony tail and brandish is like a sword, but it gives me a ninja feeling to do so, so I do it often and for no reason at all. It's mostly a reminder to myself. I feel it stuck up there and remember that I should write down that last bit of dialog I'd imagined before it leaves my head completely. I lay down at night and it jabs into my pillow. "Ah yes, I think, I should be writing." It's like a wedding ring...that constant visual/tactile reminder of your commitment.

I'm awaiting the delivery of a laptop, so I haven't been writing too much as yet. I have about half of David's first chapter written. There are some holes that need to be patched in the narrative, though. Claire's chapter has four really solid introductory paragraphs and I've also written a major moment for her. It's very exciting. The bits that I've actually written are solid. They're perhaps not as descriptive as I'd like them to be. I started reading some Raymond Chandler last night and was just humbled by his descriptive chops. I mean, DAMN. The man is a descriptive ninja. On the 5th page, I run up against this:
"Then she lowered her lashes until they almost cuddled her cheeks and slowly raised them again, like a theater curtain."
That's some good stuff. I hadn't expected it to be good stuff. I was surprised. I had intended just to skim through the The Big Sleep, but I may end up actually enjoying it for it's own merits, not just reviewing it out of research obligation. It's very MarLo.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

David's Identity Crisis

Today's ruminations on name choices:
A scary thought occurred to me on the way home today. What if David's name is supposed to be Alex. Alex Donovan Noyes, a not so subtle nod to alexithymia. I'm not terribly fond of being so overt, but the more I thought about it, David even seems like an Alex to me. But I like 'David'. I like the sound of it. It's softer, somehow. Perhaps I'll ditch the Donovan, which was really just pulled out of a hat anyway, and use David Alexander Noyes. Yes, I like that. And Katherine Alexander is actually stronger than Kate Donovan and it lacks all the Irish associations. Okay, whew. That made me a little nervous. David was having a full on identity crisis. But no longer. David Alexander Noyes. His mom calls him Alex. I don't know why yet.

Today's ruminations on the theme of Self-Knowledge:
I have considered the thought that David being so caught up in academia and so stymied by his alexithymia is what causes him to have absolutely no self knowledge other than perhaps a strong sense of self-preservation. Claire, on the other hand, has a very clear view of herself (hence the name Claire), and how others perceive her. She is a self-sacrificing, warm, loving person, but is also fully aware of her flaws and consciously tries to compensate for them. She is a model of self knowledge and through the course of their acquaintanceship, she attempts to impart her skills to David out of a worry for his inability to steer his own course.

David, then, will be a highly dynamic character after all. That's a relief because I worried about him stagnating in the plot, about him having insufficient motivation to undergo any significant changes. He's good at taking direction, even if he's not great at directing himself, so he should be receptive to Claire's 'teaching'. I will set up Claire's teaching ability by having her fulfill certain volunteer duties (as yet undetermined, but likely as a Walking Escort on campus or perhaps running a small bible study for young women, though I'm not sure how big a role religion will play in the book yet). Using this model, I don't think I'll have to worry so much about David, which is good because Claire gets herself into all sorts of difficulties, and I can tell I'll need to reserve all my worry for her. Shonda Rhymes, the creator of Grey's Anatomy, lays on the floor of her office for hours and does nothing but worry about her characters. I do much the same thing, but it's more of a deep meditation from my bed (what I call a 'waking nap') instead of a sobfest on the floor.

Today's ruminations on outlining:
The above-mentioned are all things that I have to work out in outline (and blog) form before I start writing. Otherwise, I'll have David saying something that David wouldn't say, or I'll have Claire doing something that Claire wouldn't do. Orson Scott Card ran into that problem when he started writing the Shadow books. Once he got to know Bean a little better, he realized he'd had Bean doing and saying things to Ender that Bean would never say or do. So I try to get to get to fully know my characters before I start writing from their perspectives. Of course, I always leave the door open for surprise.

I have decided to outline up to Christmas break in the story (about the halfway point) and then start writing in earnest. I'm considering a "novel in two semesters" format a la Chip Kidd, but don't want to box myself in at the onset. Anyway, after having outlined up to Christmas Break, and having written at least two chapters, I will turn over two chapters at a time (one from David's perspective and one from Claire's) to a select panel of first readers who will be chosen from amongst my personal friends. I will then continue the outline, taking into account the input from my first readers. The individuals who are to compose my panel of first readers will be formally invited to take part (like, no joke, I'm printing invitations on some pretty snazzy card stock). Out of those who accept the invitation, three will be chosen to join the panel. I'm very excited about this as I have some very, very interesting and intelligent friends from fairly diverse backgrounds, and I'm positively itching for their input.

I've just learned that Carl Iagnemma doesn't outline. He says:
I believe that the depth and richness of a story usually emerge during the writing process, and so if I begin with a clear idea of where the story is going, I risk rushing to the end too quickly and overlooking what the story is truly about.

The same logic explains why I don't write from an outline. I usually have a general idea of where the story is going, but I try to avoid planning in too much detail. The best endings are those that emerge only after I've thought long and hard about the various ways the story might end. Then I choose the ending that seems surprising yet somehow inevitable. If the ending is surprising to me, there's a pretty good chance it will be surprising to the reader.

More ruminations:

Claire has always lived in Bloomington.

Claire only ever panics over one thing. (Sorry, can't tell you what, though.)

I worry there is not enough racial diversity amongst my characters. I don't want to force race upon my little population of imaginary friends, but it would be nice if a character would declare himself as something other than Caucasian. There is a pretty huge spectrum of socio-economic backgrounds to explore, though, and that's always interested me more than racial distinctions anyway.

Claire may very well share many characteristic with Jasper Hale of the Twilight series, though her scars are not surface scars and she doesn't harbor the same resentment as Jasper. She has chosen a healthier route. She's let go of the past and focuses on her hopes for the future. She is unusually emotionally cognitive, though, and so has a tendency to help those around her feel at ease and comfortable.

I had worried about who exactly would be the second party in Claire's heart-wrenching catalyst moment, but having determined that Claire has always lived in a college town has cemented the image in my mind. And it works. (Sorry so cryptic, I'm just not prepared to reveal exactly what I'm on about at the moment. I don't even like thinking about it, but it's already written and it fits so perfectly. Wish I could share it here, but I don't intend to write the novel on the blog, so some information will have to remain off limits.)

Another worry I'd had that was solved by Claire's Bloomington upbringing was that I'd wondered where Claire's mother came up with the middle name of Lucasta. But perhaps Claire's absentee father was an undergrad hookup studying English Lit or poetry and contributed the name Lucasta. That solves that mystery.

Yet another worry. I don't know what to do about David's father. He's nonexistent, of course. But should he have died? I can't decide. I do know that I briefly thought about killing him off in a car accident during David's childhood, perhaps leaving David with some subtle brain damage to have caused the alexithymia, but now I've decided that I don't even want the word alexithymia in the book anywhere. I don't want to have to name it and give the clinical details. I just want it to be so. It's a part of his personality, and it's even more appropriate that he not be aware of his 'condition' than it would be for him to have a knowledge of it. So that's really two worries: what to do about David's father, and to what extent to reveal an obscure cognitive disorder. I think I'll purposely avoid them both. That seems the most simple. I don't foresee there being any reason to break from the narrative to expostulate on either one. It's just the way things are.

Katherine Alexander lives in a loft-style apartment in downtown Louisville with a killer view of the river. She gets in by 6 every night and stays in. She is very, very good at the NY Times crossword puzzle. David and Claire spend the Christmas Break with her.

I've gotten enough outlined to fill out perhaps six chapters without needing too detailed an understanding of the lab-side of cognitive sciences. I may jump right into writing tomorrow.

Tomorrow I intend to publish the Google Notebook containing snippets of research I've been doing this week. It occurs to me that this project is only one week old today! Wow. I hope progress continues at this pace. Though only about a dozen paragraphs have been written, the amount of thought and research I've already put into this project is encouraging. I hope I can stay this motivated and dedicated because Claire, David and MarLo deserve a chance to tell their stories.

And the Google Labs folks are going to get a giant shout out in the Acknowledgments if this thing ever gets published!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Names and Meanings

I have just read the bulk of To Lucasta, a book of poetry by 17th Century Cavalier Richard Lovelace. I had decided that Claire's middle name should be Lucasta. Claire translates from the French as 'clear' or 'famous'. Lucasta is a compounding of lux and casta which in the Latin mean 'pure light'. So there we have Claire Lucasta Plummer. I chose Plummer for its association with the more common Plumber. Claire will plumb the depths of human consciousness.

Marlowe Ann Shovlin, I have already explained, ignores her middle name completely and has invented her own spelling of MarLo. Shovlin is a surname I have swiped from a customer at my day job. I liked it. It sounds pushy and demanding, just how I imagine MarLo to be. Oh, and I should mention that the spelling of MarLo was taken from a rather funny note left to me by my mother. My church's secretary Marlow had called to tell me choir practice had been canceled. My mother is not a great speller and ended up writing that MarLo had called for me. Just like that. With a capitol M and a capitol L. I found it hilarious, but have since thrown out that note. I still intend to read some of the Philip Marlowe adventures to further my understanding of MarLo's headspace. I may start on those tonight.

David Donovan Noyes is a good name, I think. I chose Noyes first, also stealing the name from a client at work. I found it interesting. It's a combination of No and Yes which lends itself well to David's indecision and when pronounced it comes out as Noise, which is an apt surname for a cognitive scientist, I think. David I chose simply because it was common and sounded well with Noyes. Donovan just came to me, but I intend to explain that it was David's mother's maiden name. I think I shall name her Katherine Donovan. That sounds like a good, solid journalists name. I have since learned that David Noyes Wines ships all over the country. If I should ever get this novel written and published, I should like to toast with some David Noyes wine.

Emotional Intelligence

I had the opportunity to enjoy some infrequent down time today at work while a computer glitch was worked out and took the opportunity to continue my research.

The are my notes from Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More than IQ by Daniel Goleman. (Tagline: "The Ground-breaking Book that Redefines what it Means to be Smart")

I picked up this book at the library in the psychology section more or less on a whim since they didn't have the parapsychology resources I thought I'd need. I was hoping it would perhaps give me some insight as to why Claire is so much smarter than my genius David. I had thought at first that Claire's IQ was higher than David's, but that seems stupid because he is such a meteoric genius and she's a bit of a chronic underachiever. Also, I couldn't think of any reason why Claire's IQ should be tested, and she is not nearly self-interested enough to want to test it herself. But this Emotional Intelligence book has turned out to be immensely helpful. Almost as soon as I cracked it open, I had solved the problem of Claire being smarter but less intelligent than David. She simply has a very high emotional intelligence. Several studies are outlined in the book that support my thinking on the matter, and I was reminded of a study done with small children involving gummy bears and delayed gratification. The children who were able to put off eating the gummy bear the longest were inexplicably more successful later in life, specifically having scored higher on their SATs despite having median IQ's. Subsequent reading in Emotional Intelligence identifies the study's earliest incarnation to be the "Marshmallow Test".

But the real surprise of Emotional Intelligence has been how it has assisted me in understanding more about David. I had mentioned that he was to be cold and clinical, emotionally stunted by his mental brilliance and accelerated academic education, but I hadn't mentioned that he is absolutely in love with Claire. Before we even meet Claire we know that he's in love with her. I had been having a hard time reconciling this aspect of David's character, though. Despite his teenage hormones, how can he be so infatuated without there being an emotional base for his attachment? It didn't seem to make sense. But I did know that David hates a mystery, which
is perhaps why he was so drawn to the study of the mind in the first place.

Ruminating on this seeming dichotomy, I found two extremely helpful passages in Emotional Intelligence. One describes the characteristics of high IQ males as being:
"typified - no surprise - by a wide range of intellectual interests and abilities. He is ambitious and productive,predictable and dogged, and untroubled by concerns about himself. He also tends to be critical and condescending, fastidious and inhibited, uneasy with sexuality and sensual experience, unexpressive and detached, and emotionally bland and cold."
This passage seems to describe David fairly accurately. Having it laid out in black and white brings him into sharper focus for me. But the real 'wow moment' came a few pages later when the psychological condition of alexithymia was defined. Alexithymics lack words to quantify and categorize their emotions. They cannot easily express emotion because they cannot recognize it. They do not lack the emotional responses themselves, and can easily identify the bodily sensations associated with emotional responses, though they are unable to identify the cause as being an emotional one. When asked, David could likely describe the symptoms of his infatuation (fluttering in his stomach, increased pulse and respiration, sweaty palms, etc.) without being able to identify it as lust or anxiety stemming from physical attraction. He is bewildered by his response to Claire, and is so drawn to her because of this mystery. I have a vision of him sitting in the café where Claire works, watching her roll silverware into napkins. The sun catches her hair; he draws in a sharp breath and starts counting his heartbeats, noting the slight acceleration with complete dispassion. Perhaps he somaticizes this physical response and considers making an appointment with a cardiologist. To somaticize something is roughly the opposite as romanticizing it. It is the process of mistaking an emotional ache for a physical one.

Along with trying to reconcile the fact that David was to be emotionally flat but also inexplicably in love with Claire, I had decided that despite his strong ambition, he was having a hard time deciding what to do with his life, with his intellectual gifts and abilities, now that he was of an age to make his own decisions instead of having them dictated to him. Alexithymia covers this as well as alexithymics seem to have trouble assigning values to their options. Every option remains neutral in their eyes. They are devoid of personal preference and can argue for and against every possibility. David is an excellent debater, but cannot so much as choose a favorite sandwich from the menu, hence his habit of picking the next item down on the menu every day. See? I had given David all of these attributes without having a name for his unique condition or even an understanding of it. I must be smarter than I think I am. Though I'm beginning to have more sympathy with Orson Scott Card, he having created a cast of undeniably brilliant children to populate his Ender Series and Shadow Series. It's hard not being smarter than your protagonist, having to constantly struggle to out-think him and fill his head with genuine brilliance!

But now the problem is to somehow integrate this knowledge of the inner workings of my characters' brains into the narrative. Since this is to be first person narration, is it wise for both David and Claire to have so much insight into their own minds? Self-awareness is an excellent attribute, but will it be believable to a reader? I know that I wanted to impart some sort
of valuable life lesson throughout the story, but have been unsure what that lesson should be. I was hoping it would assert itself in some way in the narrative. Could it be, now, that I'm being led to present self-knowledge as a virtue and to teach my reader (through the disclosure of various developmental and cognitive studies that aren't normally encountered in
fiction) strategies to foster such self-awareness and what courses to avoid? This deserves some serious thought. It would certainly be a provocative subject for the reader making the high school to college transition, and that is, after all, my target audience.

Meanwhile, I am rethinking the POV. I might try reading through what I've written already in a third person omniscient to see how I like it. I doubt I will. I may break out my "Character and Viewpoint" textbook by Orson Scott Card and peruse it for inspiration.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A productive nap

Well, I've spent the day reading various articles pertaining to the experiences I'm hoping to share through Claire. I've not gotten too much done on my outline this weekend, though I have made several heartbreaking decisions. Poor Claire bears the brunt of these developments.

I've decided that Claire's favorite book is to be Jane Eyre. MarLo's favorite book will likely be Cheese Monkeys. David doesn't have much a very high opinion of literature, though he probably likes David Copperfield pretty well or perhaps Nikolas Nickelby. I've began writing Claire's introductory chapter!!! But then I ran up against a wall because I hadn't adequately outlined before beginning to write.

So I decided to take a nap midday. The most productive portion of my day was spent napping, actually. Rather it's a state of near-sleep in which I imagine my characters in specific situations and watch how they deal with challenges and interact with each other. Some very useful dialog occurred to me today in just such a state. I have written it down and will incorporate it in the second or fourth chapters. I also decided while 'napping' to re-order some of what I'd hoped to fit into two small chapters. These events and revelations are now going to occur in four chapters instead of two. I found that I may have been trying to jump too quickly into the breach, as it were. I've now decided to put off introducing Claire to David formally until about the fifth of sixth chapter. I've also added a minor event in order to include a scene I'd originally sketched out for my abandoned short story last winter. It's based on an experiment undertaken by Eileen Garrett, whose autobiography I have just ordered and will likely find immensely useful in my research. I've also decided that Dr. Feigner's collection of stress toys are merely leftovers from a long-ago study he did while working towards his doctorate. His collection has been augmented by colleagues and students. He spends time each day remembering where he acquired each of the objects and what significance they have for him. This information will likely show up in either the first or third chapters. He is currently working to determine the cognitive abilities of cuttlefish. David finds this project interesting and occasionally assists in the daily round of experiments, but is much more interested in understanding the creation of mind from the material brain in humans. He intends to specialize in the cognitive processes of chemical addictions.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Research Book List

Titles I'm currently scanning for research purposes:

Indiana University: Off the Record College Prowler
Anger is a Choice Tim LaHaye & Bob Phillips (for insight into MarLo)
Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe: A Centennial Celebration as read by Elliott Gould
Psychics: Fact or Fiction Opposing Viewpoints Series
You Can Be Happy No Matter What: Five Principles for Keeping Life in Perspective Richard Carlson (struck me as something Claire would have read)
Modern Prophet (including On Prophecy, On Religion and Psychic Experience, On Mysteries of the Mind, and On Reincarnation) by Edgar Cayce
The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler
Farewell, My Lovely Raymond Chandler
The High Window Raymond Chandler
Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ Daniel Goleman

I've also perused several articles about Eileen Garrett, but am anxiously awaiting her autobiography in the mail. Times like this, I wish I had a Kindle.

Writer's Outfitting Excursion

I spent longer in town than I'd expected. My trip to the library was mostly unfruitful. I will have to order the books I'll really be needing. But I did go on a "writer's outfitting" excursion to several stores. I have now safely cocooned myself at my desk with everything I'll need. A variety of herbal tea? Check. Pixie Stix? Check. Red pen? Check. Orange soda, empty notebooks, scented candle? All checked. But my three most important writing tools (excluding the computer) are comfortable pants, a stress ball, and my downtime slinky!

A day for research

Ahh, the pure luxury of a Saturday in which I have hours and hours of uninterrupted time to write. I'll start out blogging, like a runner stretching before a race. Also, I think it would be beneficial to blog what I intend to accomplish today and check back in this evening to report what I actually accomplished.

Today is dedicated to research. My plan is to hit up my local library with my list of research keywords and see what I turn up. Then I'll head back home and scan Amazon and eBay and AbeBooks until I've got the material I think I need, though I'm sure there will always be more I want or am curious about. Then perhaps I'll watch a few podcast lectures from IU's CogSci dept and attempt to read some online materials I've bookmarked. If I'm very, very productive, I'll start laying my outline notes out in a Google Notebook and arranging sequences. The outline is really the heart of any of my fiction writing. I am an obsessive outliner. If I don't outline, I run into major trouble. And once my outline is sketched out, the actual writing of a given scene/chapter is like filling in the shading of a drawing.

I've chosen tentative chapter titles for the first two chapters. David's chapter is called "All Downhill from Here" and Claire's introductory chapter is to be called "The Uphill Battle". David introduces himself in a whirlwind narrative that whisks you through his life from the age of 9 to the present in which he finds himself at 18 as a Cognitive Sciences student at IU Bloomington, completely bemused with how his life has blown past him and unsure of what his future holds. We erupt into Claire's head in the middle of her daily shift at a small deli/bakery and spend just a few short hours with her. We learn nothing about her past, but everything about her hopes for the future. I'm really excited to get the outlining done so I can lay down these two chapters. I've spent a few days meditating on them and I think they're very close to being fully realized. The next few chapters will be the biggest challenge for me, though, because that's where I'll have to get descriptive about the world of graduate school and cognitive sciences, of which I know nothing. But that's the fun part, the learning.

Keyword search list:
  • Eileen Garrett
  • Edgar Cayce
  • Star Gate
  • Cognitive Sciences
  • Raymond Chandler
  • Remote Viewing

Red Rabbit Evolves into Silver Fish

I didn't quite get two full pages of notes today, which has been my goal since Tuesday when I embarked on Project Reach. The notes I did make have pushed my outline out to a final conflict, though, and beyond into the realm of sequels. I have a set time frame in which to step the plot, as well. We begin in the middle of a fall semester at college, have a major event over Christmas break and conclude at or near the end of the school year, perhaps just during spring break. All in all, we're dealing with about 8 months in the lives of these characters. Let's just hope I can write it as fast.

I have also added yet another character to the Pantheon. Major Dr. Devlin, who is to be a bit of a villain. I'm not very well acquainted with him yet, but I know his function. Also, I think it would be fun for MarLo's 1984 VW Rabbit to be a character all its own in sort of a Little Miss Sunshine sort of way. It will evolve. MarLo always intended to turn it into an art car, so she works on it little by little, epoxying CD scales over the body as time/availability of trash CDs permits. One day only the left quarter panel is shining in the sun, the next day the infection has spread over the driver's side door. By the end of the book, the humble, faded red beater has been reborn as a shining silver fish. This will be symbolic of Claire and/or David's journey.

Things I learned about my characters today:
  • MarLo has a coffee table book about prison tattoos.
  • Claire only writes with click pens and never uses pens with caps, which she fears will get lost from their pen bodies.
  • Claire always smells like fresh baked bread.
  • Claire's IQ is higher than David's. This stuns him.
  • Dr. Feigner convinces Claire to take drawing lessons.
  • David orders a different sandwich every day, choosing the next item down on the menu from the one he had the previous day and cycles through the entire menu every 12 days.
  • David wears khakis and polos/button ups exclusively. He does not own jeans.
  • Dr. Feigner has a rather impressive collection of stress toys for 'research purposes'. Squeaks occasionally emanate from his office.
I'm still working on differentiating the tone of each narrator. Claire and David have a lot of similarities, reticence being one of them, but their mental dialog must be variant to some degree. I haven't figure it out yet. David may end up sounding very clinical and dry. I know that Claire is observant to a very fine degree, which is wonderful, and colors her narrative with delicious description. She is also highly speculative. David is less observant and never speculates, but is highly analytical. I haven't written anything but a few lines of dialog from Claire's perspective yet, so maybe the solution will come to me when I actually get to pounding the keyboard as Claire.

About the Author

A little about my history as a writer:

I was first a poet. My 'career' as a poet began in 1997 (when I started writing for my own pleasure and not in response to an assigned writing exercise) and runs through the present. I have two complete collections of poetry ready for publication. My unpublished catalog contains over 400 completed works. I won the June 2004 Spyder's Empire Workshop for "On a Class Reunion Cocktail Napkin". "Salvation: a Screenplay" also won this distinction, though the month is unknown. I also recall having won the workshoppe on four other occasions, though I can't know this for sure as the site is now dead. I have thrice won the distinction of "Poem of the Day" given by the Pathetic Poets Society. (will look up the dates and titles soon).

My official bio:

Lacy resides in Southern Indiana where she has been involved in Bean Street Café’s Thursday Night Reading Series. Her creative non-fiction piece “Getaway Anyway” appeared in Bean Street’s best of anthology entitled Where Handstands Surprise Us (Pitchfork Battalion, 2004) In 2002, a collection of Lacy’s poetry, including the title work “Poetry Has Had Its Way With Me,” was published by iUniverse. She also designed the cover art for the book. Her works "Nothing Epic in the Epicenter" and "Will you read me for my beauty?" appeared in the Winter 2003 edition of WordsDance. "On High Where I am Not Welcomed" was published in deComosition Magazine in August 2006. She was also a major contributor of editorials to The NH Underground between the years of 1997 and 2000.

Lacy is an Empire Poet and a member patron of The Pathetic Poets Society. She has been sponsored by the Harrison County Friends of the Public Library and has served as a contract developmental editor for American Book Publishing.

Her works have been used in the writing curriculum at Indiana University Southeast.

I have twice attempted to write a novel, once coming off of my Orson Scott Card obsession, and once coming off of a suicidal bout of depression. The first is a half-finished science fiction novel that still has promise. The second was just too dark for me to want to explore deeper now that I'm well on my way to having a healthier outlook on life. This time, though, I want to at least finish the damned thing, even if it never gets published.

The story I have in mind at the present moment is one part The Historian and one part Twilight
with maybe a little bit of Xenocide/Children of the Mind thrown in. I've decided I'm aiming at a target audience slightly older than the standard young adult crowd. It helps me to keep these things in mind. Some writers will tell you that they write for their own pleasure and not for an audience, and of course I DO write for my own pleasure, but I also try to keep a potential audience in my sights. It keeps me focused on just that: the POTENTIAL of the story to reach out beyond the world I've created and into the hearts and minds of a people starved for literary stimulation. In my world, this is one of the most noble goals a man or woman can have. I've been so blessed by the authors who have chosen to share their talent, it seems small repayment to attempt to duplicate the feat. Besides any type of writing, even this silly blog, is a pleasure to me, such is my consuming passion for language. I also find it helpful to have a target in my head when I write to prevent digression, tangential observations and a general waste of words and time. So, having a college age to adult to precocious teen range in mind will help unfetter some aspects of my prose at the same time as reigning in some of my preachier tendencies. I always enjoy fiction that can teach me something (i.e. Historical fictions that help me learn about eras I know little about, characters having careers I find interesting, environments that I haven't experienced before) and so I am hopeful that my writing can education a reader in some small fashion. I also intend to maintain a rather strong theme of morality in my writing. This is a dangerous tendency of mine, as I'm fully aware that my aforementioned target reader will likely be turned off by my views, or rather the views I give my characters. I can only hope my characters are engaging enough to overcome this.

Stephenie Meyer is totally my writer role model for the moment. I am just amazed at how quickly she wrote Twilight and how quickly it was published. She is just a juggernaut of creativity. The personal stories of Stephenie Meyer and J.K. Rowling are just such an inspiration. I am also impressed by Elizabeth Kostova's decade-long struggle to write The Historian. I haven't read much about her life, but I intend to look into it further as I continue my own journey to write this novel. Also Karl Iagnemma's work ethic and unparalleled research are a model for me. I watched a television interview with him once in which he stated that half of the battle of the writing process for him was just getting his ass in the chair in front of the computer for several hours a day. Sometimes the result was crap that he would delete and sometimes inspiration would hit. Whether it come in the form of a dream as it did for Meyer, a series of remembered childhood stories as for Kostova, or as an outlet for undue stress as it is for Iagnemma...inspiration is an alchemical, mysterious, precious thing that is not to be wasted.

My own inspiration came from an old Time Life book from the Mysteries of the Unknown series. It's horribly outdated, but it did introduce me to some intriguing concepts that I hadn't been exposed to previously and would never have guessed even existed. My mother, I think picked up the old book from a Goodwill store for 50 cents. I was impressed by the quality of the printing, there being an ample number of pages printed in metallic spot ink. Once I got to reading the book, though, I was intrigued. There was one small passage in particular on an experiment undertaken by Eileen Garrett that, for some reason, sparked my imagination. I imagined a short scene and quickly wrote it down in a notebook. I thought through the scene several times in the next few days, re-imagining and extending it, but never actually crafted it into a proper story. But there that scene was, in the back of my head, dormant, waiting for me to discover Cognitive Sciences. A mental bridge was formed and the characters, conflicts and even the settings have all sprang into being rather suddenly.

Now all I've got to do is to write it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

First Good Look at Claire

Lots more outlining done today. I have enough plotted out to carry me through about six chapters now, and I've settled on alternating first person narratives. That should be interesting. I couldn't get a thing done at work today on account of being too absorbed in my new project, which I'm just going to call Reach for the time being. So Project Reach is underway. I have some serious research to do, which may require a trip up to B-town to hang with the CogSci peeps for a day or so. I'm still hoping to hook up with someone this fall/winter to give me a tour of the labs so I can get the 'feel' of what I'll be narrating.

I'm learning more about Claire. I wanted her to be dark and substantial in appearance (much like myself) but she isn't. I got a good look at her today and she's rather slight, has thin-ish titian hair that falls in waves when she lets it be, which she doesn't. She prefers to keep it braided and pins the braids up in a coil. She's got green eyes and a healthy sense of shame owing to her voyeuristic tendencies. I wanted her to be more deeply flawed than she is. I wanted her to be more passive. But she's not. And I can't make her be who she's not. She exists now and I've got to let her act on her own behalf though she's ostensibly my creation. I've also decided that Claire and MarLo should be roommates. And I've birthed a new character, a catalyst of sorts, who is to draw off of Carlisle Cullen and perhaps a bit of Dr. Maturin. I haven't settle on a name for him yet, but he will likely be a Shockey or a Feigner. I'm leaning towards Feigner at the moment. I've also determined that David's mother is a journalist who enjoys a quiet life in the city center (which city is to be determined) having moved downtown from the suburbs after sending her only son off to college to stave off loneliness. She rarely enters the social scene, but likes observing it from her perch and takes comfort from the lively nightlife enveloping her.

This Saturday, I'm planning on holing myself up at my desk to formally set down my outline. I used to do this in PowerPoint, but I think I'll format it in a Google Notebook.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Meet MarLo Shovlin

I didn't get much actual writing done today, just tweaked some things from yesterday's pages of notes. But I did put a significant amount of thought into the plot and character dynamics. I'm getting close to having an actual outline. I've already settled on first person narrative, but I may choose to write from two perspectives and switch between them as the plot dictates. I'm rather good at seeing a given scene from two opposing perspectives and have written half a science fiction novel using the same device.

I also picked out character names today and started lists of attributes. I'm not ready to reveal Claire or David, yet, but I'm really excited about MarLo as an ancillary because she's just declared herself on the page and can't be denied, which is good because I intend to keep my David fairly emotionally remote and my Claire may come off as a little stiff at times, so MarLo will be a good foil.

Meet MarLo Shovlin. MarLo works in a copy shop on a college campus, attends some classes for graphic design, but may never get through all of her core classes. MarLo is mildly obsessed with product packaging, has a major thing for Pixie Stix and chewing gum and dyed parts of her hair purple trying to match it to her aura. MarLo has a love/hate relationship with popular culture. She likes to create SitCom moments for her own amusement. MarLo drives a 1984 Volkswagen Rabbit. She considered covering it in CD scales or perhaps bottle caps. One day she'll turn it into a proper art car. MarLo is discreetly promiscuous, believes romance is dead and draws from Himillsy Dodd from Cheese Monkeys and Cayce Pollard from Pattern Recognition. MarLo is the type of person who would wear an "I hope Bella likes popsicles" t-shirt proudly. She secretly loves Kelly Clarkson. MarLo's given name was Marlowe Ann Shovlin, after Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler's fictional detective from the 30's and 40's. She has a roaring 20's feel about her with a hard edge. MarLo invented her own spelling of her name upon entering art school and completely ignores her middle name. She intended to re-invent herself, but never got around to it.

Now I have to read some Raymond Chandler.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Genesis

So, I have ideas. Lots of strange and wonderful ideas. My latest idea centers on the study of Cognitive Sciences and is a re-imagining of a short story I outlined last winter. I'm thinking now that I could stretch it into a novel with the right amount of imagination and outlining. So I'm off and researching. I rarely get anything past the research stage. But this time I may make a more concerted effort to actually write a novel. The concept is good, I think. The actual writing of things (dialog, description, pacing and so on) are actually rather easy for me. But, you see, I always tend to get a little ambitious with my subjects. In this case, I've created a cognitive sciences graduate student. He's brilliant, withdrawn, studious...boring. Let's not go anywhere near the fact that I know absolutely nothing about cognitive sciences or graduate school! But I'm hoping that the CogSci dept at IU Bloomington will be willing to assist me with key accuracy concerns and I'm fervently wishing to connect with a real grad student who's willing to proof some things for me...once I get past my initial stages of research and can hold a conversation about the topic without sounding like a complete idiot, that is. As for ancillary characters, I might throw in a graphic arts student sidekick, because there's a need for her in the story, to help design specific experiments and print a set of Zener cards and perhaps act as a control. But I don't want to get ahead of myself. Right now I think I'll just pop over to Amazon and buy some books to kick start my research.