Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Chapter 2 Status Update

Have all the thrilling and exciting discoveries about my characters and story already been made? I'm starting to wonder if the fun part is over and from here on out it's just going to be hard work. I've had a difficult time getting motivated to do any real work on Claire's chapter, but tonight I've thrown out old ideas, made some major revisions, and am pumping up the internal dialog. It's actually really good stuff that needs to be there. I need to show Claire being preternaturally perceptive of the physical and emotional states of those around her. I had a small flash of inspiration the other day and decided to have MarLo and Decker have an intermittent fling. It's not an on-again-off-again relationship, it's strictly casual physicality. I haven't nailed down how old Decker is, yet, but he's definitely MarLo's senior by a decade at least. Claire, of course, has no idea that this is happening, but it has given me the opportunity to leave MarLo at home with a hangover so Claire can worry about her AND I get to have Decker all hung over trying to come in to work so Claire can show us how she takes charge of the Deli right off the bat. And since she's got her fateful catering gig on the same day, we'll learn how well she handles stress when she's really under the gun.

I should pack it in and go to sleep right about now, but I hate to stop writing when I've got some momentum built up. Just a few hundred more words and a couple of hours worth of revisions and I'll have Claire's chapter finished!!! THEN I can finally invite my first readers to partake. (Not to mention the fact that I have a pact deadline this Monday.)

Monday, September 29, 2008


No new character insights to share. I've been writing quite a bit, but none of it will be salvageable. I'm currently facing the challenge of stretching my first Claire chapter. I've found a great stopping point, but it happens to occur a mere 1500 words into her narrative. Not good. Must flesh out some things and give her internal dialog a richer hue. I've been working on this all week. I'm getting impatient to move on to David's next chapters as I've determined that his mother has come to visit him and will introduce him to her suspicion that he has difficulty relating emotionally to the rest of the world. This will be dialog intensive, which will be a bit of a workout for me, but the research I've put into the exchange is fascinating stuff. I can't wait to have the debate out on the page. But I have to inject Claire's debut with some sort of hook first. Her chapter is dull. I can't keep enough interest in it to continue writing, even! Bad sign.

Oh, I've devised a romantic entanglement for MarLo that should prove interesting.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Fast and Loose

I got a few paragraphs written last night and a lot more reading done in Mind Wide Open. I forced myself to write rough and it wasn't pretty. It drives me nuts to just slop down a sentence just to get from point a to point b. But, by all authorities, that's the way to do it. I know they're called rough drafts for a reason, but I'm not a drafting sort of writer. I prefer to edit on the fly as I'm writing. That way when the re-read when I'm ready to do revisions won't be so painful.

I shall have to read some Henry James. Evidently, he wrote extensively on nonverbal communication and the cognitive realities behind the significance of one look.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Huzzah! A little celebratory blog post. I just got comments back from my pact reader. He offered some criticism of my pacing (I expected this) and made all the right suggestions. He doesn't know it yet, but I am totally setting him up for a big jolt.

He went exactly where I wanted him to go with David. In the first chapter I scoop the child David up and dump him in college in a few short paragraphs. My pact reader was all WTF? and suggested I develop his transition into college and expound on the social and emotional pressures on David. PERFECT! This is exactly the view of David that I was hoping him to have. The aspects of his experience that David chooses to remember tell us so much more about his personality than having him live through those experiences in the narrative. They're extraneous to Claire's story anyway, so I give them a good glossing over. Also, David is, understandably, a little lost in subsequent chapters. If the reader is lost, too, then they're right there on the journey with David. I have created a sympathy between the character and reader.

And nearly every point that my pact reader comments on is asking for insight into what David is feeling. I nearly broke out singing for joy that I have successfully sanitized David's narrative of all feeling, because that is really, really hard for me to do. Basically, all of my character interactions take place inside someone's head, feeling from within, and it's a treat to have the challenge of writing a character who simply doesn't feel. So, good for me.

And there was one comment that wasn't made that I'm really happy about. There was no mention of the inflated (dare I say academic) voice of David. This is good as it means that my reader either, a) noticed the wordiness but it wasn't annoying enough to detract from the scene, or b) didn't notice it at all. Either way is fine with me so long as it's not going to turn people off.

I have made a few minor revisions that are crucial and that I just didn't catch, so I'm going to have a write a big thank you e-mail to my pact reader tonight.

One more thing, and this is the most important: my reader can't wait for more.

So I declare chapter one to be a success.

Storing up the Sunshine

I bought a new notebook and some mechanical pencils today. I don't necessarily like mechanical pencils but I realize that they writing I do with them is more legible. If I'm in a real fury, I dull my Mirado Black Warrior almost immediately, and then have to result to the fat, loopy scrawl that accommodates the heavy line of a dull point. Mechanical pencils keep their sharp, fine point no matter how I abuse them. But I had to find the kind that click on the barrel. My pens all have to click at the top and my pencils all have to click on the barrel. I don't know why, but I like it that way.

And I got some contact lenses. I feel more writerly when I'm wearing my chunky, burgundy plastic frames, but they just don't do for some events and activities. So now I have options.

Right now I'm going to exercise the option to go lay in my front yard in the sunshine and read some more in my latest research title: Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life by Steven Johnson ("Emerging Technology" columnist for Discover magazine). So far, I'm as enthralled with it as I was with Emotional Intelligence.

To quote myself, I shall now go out and begin "laying away stores of sun-warmed hours
for the long months of short days". This is my last day off in my summer work schedule and I will now go back to my usual 40-hrs/wk. This mean that I get to sleep in for a whole hour longer, but I'm going to make a concerted effort to get up early anyway and put in a solid hour of writing every morning (or at least on some mornings) before heading out to work. It's sad but the sun will be down when I get off of work from now on. Really bums me out.

Chapter 2 Progress Report

I feel like I should have MUCH more written with the amount of work I've been putting into Project Reach. But then I have to remind myself that I'm learning an entirely new field (and an abstract one at that) and that the acquisition of knowledge takes time. AND that I had to get to know Claire and David before I could distinguish their voices from my own prose. Not an
easy task.

The second chapter is stalled for the moment due to lack of insight on my part. I've been having a bit of a struggle allowing Claire to find her voice. What I do have written of Claire's chapter is nice and tight. It's great not having to deal with a lot of back story and introducing a character by sharing her hopes and fears instead of where she's been. Finding a way to tell David's back story without the entire chapter turning into a useless information dump was the biggest challenge I had in writing chapter one. The problem I'm having with chapter two is that Claire's life is rather dull. She's at work, thinking about her life...and it's dull. And I can't reveal any of the most interesting things about Claire, yet. I know something will occur to me that will solve the problem, but as yet I'm at a loss. MarLo would be a good ingredient, but I currently have her retching over a toilet bowl after a night out, so she's out of the picture for this chapter. (Poor MarLo. I hate to do that to her, but I needed to show Claire as a caregiver and give her an opportunity to worry through her darkest fears as soon as she's introduced to us.)

So, to avoid stalling out completely, I'm skipping ahead and am filling in some of the interactions between MarLo and Claire and writing a bit of MarLo's back story. It's interesting that Claire never thinks about where she came from, but she spends a lot of mental energy dissecting MarLo's history and her relationship with her father. And she spends a LOT of time speculating on who David is.

I might even start in on the pivotal Halloween party scene. I've had it running in my head for a few days now and I might as well record what I've imagined before it either gets lost or morphs into something different entirely. I am having trouble deciding what MarLo, Claire and David should be for Halloween, though. Hannah Montana 10 years from now, hooked on Meth for MarLo? David could be George Jetson, perhaps. Or maybe a scientist from the LHC. Claire might just have to be Eleanor Dashwood.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Accomodating Characters

I've spent the day doing some re-writes in Claire's still unfinished chapter. I was hoping to get it finished, but I was too distracted watching Lost in Austen, an amazing miniseries out of the UK in which a thoroughly modern young woman switches places with Elizabeth Bennet...hilarity and heartbreak ensue. Of course, I'm a sucker for all things Austen, so I'm a bit pre-disposed to liking this sort of thing. But I really think the script is incredible. The question, though, is does this count as research for Project Reach? I say yes, though it probably shouldn't.

But to bolster my rather thin claim that I didn't waste the entire day, I have located this fine, scholarly article: Why Jane Austen was Different, and Why We May Need Cognitive Science to See It

My good friend Carly, on whom MarLo is loosely based, turned me on to Lost in Austen when I went to visit her on Saturday. I happened to make an interesting observation about the behavior of a mutual friend and Carly remarked that she loved how I worded it. I said, "I don't know why you're surprised at my command of the English language. I'm a writer now, you know." That was worth a laugh.


I'm a little mad at myself for not completing Claire's chapter this weekend as the few people I've informed are on the short list to be first readers are chomping at the bit to get at the fruits of my labor. I've always had a reputation for being very literary, but I've never had to produce any proof of being so. It's always just been accepted. I'm starting to get a little worried at the reception my characters and story will get when I finally unleash them on the panel (who I have affectionately dubbed the Reach Readers). Re-reading what I've written so far, there's a real danger of the prose being over-styled. I know that a lot of editors would frown on this. It may even be grounds for a rejection. Gasp. But I'm still hopeful that it won't be a turnoff to the casual reader because (and this just smacks of vanity, but I'm going to say it anyway) I'm a master of flow. I have been primarily a poet, after all, and so my sentences are very fluid and natural. They have a certain pace that makes them sound attractive no matter how over-stuffed they may become. Stupid simile time: My sentences are like big, squashy chairs. If you have a really, really overstuffed chair that is upholstered in hard leather, it won't be comfortable to sit in because the leather won't give enough and you'll feel as if you're constantly being propelled out of the seat, and because, well, after awhile you get all sweaty sitting on leather and you start sticking in odd places. But if that same chair were upholstered in stretchy velvet, then you'll sink right into it and remain comfortable for hours. (I warned you it was stupid!)

Luckily, I've designed a character who is a genius and whose vocabulary should reflect his immense IQ, so I'm hoping this will allow me to get away with my propensity for egregious use of bloated metaphors. I may have created characters who accommodate my writing style without having consciously done so. Just one example: my character are unusually taciturn, and I suck at writing dialog. Yay me.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Science and Psi

My trip to the library was very disappointing. I have no new research materials of note, but am waiting on a few things I've ordered to arrive. I should not go to the library when I'm utterly famished, though, because then all I want to do is get out of there and get some food and a coffee.

After I got home, I was reading a rather unflattering review of Dennis Lehane's new book (his first literary attempt) and my thoughts turned to the problem of keeping the science and psi in Project Reach from overwhelming the story. It's tricky. I'll be relying on my first readers pretty heavily to let me know if the science and psi get too overwhelming. I'm fairly good at not letting forcing my characters to stand around and expound on weighty matters. I only worry that I don't write enough dialog into the manuscript. I hate dialog. And I'm not good at writing it. So I just leave it out, which is easier when writing from the first person because internal dialog is sometimes enough to keep reader interest. But your characters can't know everything. Eventually, they have to be told something and then they have to react to that new piece of information.

I think it's rather funny that my two main characters don't have an actual conversation until about chapter 6. By this time, they know each other, they've studied each other's habits, and they have a level of acquaintanceship that brings them into each other's company every day...but they've never spoken to each other. And their first conversation, as I have planned it, is mostly carried out by MarLo speaking for each of them in turn. It's a really comical scene (in my head, at least, who knows how funny it'll be when it gets written?).


I've just submitted my first chapter to a writer friend with whom I've made a pact to adhere to biweekly deadlines. This will be the first external feedback I get. I'm not nervous. I'm rather expecting him to like it, as I know his literary preferences fairly well. But I am anxious to know what areas he finds need the most development and what his initial reaction to David is going to be.


I've also been pondering the problem of Project Reach's identity. It can't stay a project forever. Eventually, I'm going to have to start calling it what it is: a novel. And novels need titles. I'm not too concerned with choosing a title. I assume that the title will eventually choose me. Something that keeps asserting itself in the narrative will eventually just jump out at me and that will be it, the title...or at least the basis of the title. Lux et Veritas, actually has jumped out at me. It's just a little detail on a building that David notices when he visits Yale. It translates from the Latin to "Light and Truth". It's on the Yale Shield and, incidentally, also featured on the Indiana University seal. Light and truth will certainly be major themes in the arch of the story, but I don't want a Latin title. It smacks of 'trying too hard' and pretentiousness. I will keep my title options open for the moment.


I have just explained to a friend of mine why I couldn't get any real writing done yesterday and how useful I am finding my newly acquired knowledge of cognitive and neurological sciences:

I was under an unusual amount of stress at work dealing with a new account and later on I got really pissed off at my oral surgeon's office because I had to wait for a long time. This usually wouldn't phase me a bit as I'm a patient person, and I found it odd that I was feeling so angry at such a stupid (and expected) thing. But then I was like, huh, I must have had a stress-induced surge of catecholamine and cortisol leading to a state of adrenocortical arousal which makes me more prone to get tipped off by stupid things like being forced to watch Ryder Cup coverage while waiting to see my dentist.

Once I identified the neurological processes at work, I was able to better control my mood. And THAT is called metacognition, a concept which is given a brief treatment in the very first chapter of Project Reach.
Unfortunately, my anger and feeling of utter frustration lasted until bedtime and prevented me from getting any writing done last night. Alas, I am a slave to my amygdala.


I had an awful Friday at my day job dealing with a new account, and then getting back late from my lunch break due to an emergency dental visit. Then I took a night off to relax with a girlfriend and soak in her new hot tub, paint toenails and watch a chick flick. But after all that, I'm still in an aggressive, frustrated mood from the bad day at work. I could use this to inform Claire's frustration in her life, but I'm not. I'm going to take some research reading to bed and maybe try meditating. I think I might try going for another run this weekend. Probably on Sunday, as my Saturday will be spent at the library and doing laundry. Not even blogging feels therapeutic tonight.

"Stress of all sorts creates adrenocortical arousal, lowering the threshold for what provokes anger. Thus someone who has had a hard day at work is especially vulnerable to becoming enraged later at home by something that under other circumstances would not be powerful enough to trigger an emotional hijacking. "
From Emotional Intelligence

Damn you amygdala-driven surges of catecholamines!

Friday, September 19, 2008


I love that Louisville hosts IdeaFestival! I have just discovered and consequently formed a bit of a crush on Jonah Lehrer who recently published Proust was a Neuroscientist which I am just now ordering and will read as soon as it arrives at my door. I'm considering taking a vacation day next Friday, driving my giant red truck into town and sitting in on the hour-long $15 discussion Lehrer is giving at the Intl Convention Center. I'll have to think it over. On the one hand, what would be the concrete benefits for me to take an entire day off for a single hour of talk, the entire contents of which I can likely glean from published interviews in a few hours of diligent web research? (Lehrer seems to recycle answers to some common questions, I have already noticed - as do we all.) On the other hand, I freaking LOVE IdeaFest and this is the only session on the agenda that's struck me as a must-attend this year. I'll have to weigh the pros and cons, and see if I can get Friday off at such short notice, of course.

If nothing else, I have gained an awareness of another talented author/scientist to place in my little Pantheon alongside Karl Iagnemma. And there's his The Frontal Cortex blog, to which I have now subscribed and will follow with keen interest.

New Claire Soliloquy

I wrote a gorgeous passage last night lying in bed with my trusty Mirado Black Warrior and notebook. I didn't want to waste time firing up the desktop, fearful of losing the immediacy of the words. I now have two critical Claire soliloquies written that I'll fit in when they're needed. This latest inspiration revolves around Niagara Falls and it came upon me that this location will play a pretty important part in book 3 if I ever get that far. What I wrote last night is a bit of dialog wherein Claire tries to explain how her talent works and how it doesn't. How it doesn't work is how the current research being done in the field of remote viewing describes the process. It's completely contrary to all that, in fact, which is great for me because it frees me up from having to have a rigid procedure and using existing terminology. I get to create my own descriptions of it from scratch. Awesome! Or daunting since I also get to create all my own experiments for David to conduct...and I'm not on David's level of genius by far. And I'm not a scientist. So that's the hard part.

The easy part will be when I get to the point of describing what Claire can do that no one else can, it's going to be so much fun to write. I'm really going to get to stretch out and light up the page. But I'm not there yet, and I have to be extra careful to strip Claire's day-to-day activities to their bare, ordinary essentials with a minimum of color so as to make her extraordinary passages really pop and stand out from the rest of her life. That will take a lot of restraint for me. I'm worried about readers getting bored with Claire's life in the first oh, say, six chapters. Claire isn't all that interesting outside of her talent and her penchant for being a little dreamy and prosy. If I take out the dreaminess and prosy-ness to highlight her talent when it comes into play several chapters in, then won't those introductory chapters get dull? Maybe I'll force David to take the brunt of keeping reader interest. All of his interesting dilemmas manifest early on anyway, then he sort of drops away into his studies and doesn't reassert himself until...book 2, I guess.

One difficulty I'm struggling with is that David being a serious academic in the field of Cognitive Sciences and then going all rogue and delving into psi (however rigidly scientific his interest may be) is going to piss off a lot of cognitive scientists! I brought the subject up to my research partner and he thinks it's touchy. Cog Sci doesn't want to be associated with parapsychology as it's a young science and is still struggle for acceptance and funding and all that. So I'll have to tread lightly when David 'goes there'. Fortunately, it makes sense that his interest is piqued by Claire's talent, so I won't have to go to any extremes to justify it. One of my biggest fears, though, is getting the science all wrong. That would, undeniably, suck! I don't want a real scientist to doubt David's authenticity.

I might have to read some Jung for research. And Karl Iagnemma's new book. My list of research titles keeps growing!

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Chapter Two Quotes

"After weeks of summer drought, the rain sounds alien to me, but welcomed. It puts me in mind of a tender reunion between lovers, as if the sky were bending to kiss the parched earth in apology for staying away too long."

Lean chapters

Hmmm...every time I doubt that there's enough material in my outline to pad out an entire chapter, something wonderful happens in the actual writing that takes my breath away. Details materialize, delicious interactions assert themselves...there is always so much for the characters to say and do that I should only worry about there being too little space to fit it all in! Of course, then I put on my editing hat and it all has to go! I'm left with a lean 2,500 words.

Back to work!

Drunk on Power

Me plus Spiced Chai, plus ELECTRICITY equals a happy writer.

I am so thrilled to have electricity again. I am positively drunk on power. I've got several lights on, unnecessarily, and many appliances whirring away in the background just because I can! The remnants of Hurricane Ike swept through Indiana on Sunday causing a massive wind storm (or, as I like to call it, the Great Bradford Pear Massacre of 2008) that damaged every house and yard in my little town and wreaked havoc on the power grid. My weekend of 'writing and recuperation' was spoiled. All was not lost, though, as I did get a fair bit of research done. No writing, though. I couldn't bear to do it the old fashioned way with a pencil and a notebook. It's a good thing that Claire has a mild personality and hasn't been insisting on being written or it might have been a very frustrating week. I will have to get a lot of work done in the coming days, though, as I have a pact deadline looming on Sunday. So it's double-time for me! No time for blogging. Must write. (And tweak my Fantasy Football lineup.)

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Claire's Chapter begun

I was right about Claire's chapters coming along a bit easier than David's. Her voice is much more natural to me. I got a bit of work on done on her chapter today. It's still unbearably rough, but it's conceivable that I can finish it up tomorrow. There are some larger issues with pacing that I will have to address eventually, but they aren't critical at this point.

I'm all drugged up for the time being and am going to go pop in Dopamine to research.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Chapter One put to bed

I have a lot of nervous energy today about my oral surgery tomorrow. I'm hoping to be able to put this to good use and get some writing done (maybe on Claire's second chapter as I can see how a skittish tone would be perfect) but I attend a political discussion group every Thursday, so that cuts down on my writing time. I didn't get much more than some revisions on David's running transition done last night. I am still unsure if the transition works or not. I'm going to leave it up to my first readers to tell me if it throws them too much or not.

But the first draft of chapter 1 is officially put to bed!!! (Does small happy dance) It's a start.

My little world population is growing, too. The Decade a Day owner is suddenly a much larger presence than I had anticipated. He's very hands on and feels himself to be very lucky to have Claire on staff (and don't we all want to be appreciated by our bosses ;). He trusts her implicitly and may suffer an illness and leave Claire in charge for a bit, which will give her a chance to show us how she shines under pressure. I believe his name will be Mr. Decker, adding further credence to the nickname The Deck.


My niece, who is 11 and in 6th grade, has a school friend whose mother recently died, so my niece decided to write her a poem. And she didn't stop there. Her teacher shared a story about her husband dying to help the kids understand their grieving classmate, so my niece wrote her teacher a poem, too. She shared these poems with me last night. I have a reputation in the family for being very literary. I thought, this is just the sort of thing a young Claire might have done. I realize that Claire may share a lot of traits with my niece. Perhaps I even based her personality off of my niece to some extent. It's even possible that Claire is an imagining of my niece as an adult. But not really. Claire is Claire.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Chapter 1 Quotes

"The inside of my head was awash. It felt as if someone had dropped a stone directly onto my corpus callosum, sending ripples radiating outward to collide with my skull with an almost audible throb."

Chapter One Quotes

"I find that physical exertion sometimes allows me to escape my intellect, as if I could outrun the nebulae of thoughts that pollute my cerebellum."

First Readers Forum

I'm getting awfully close to sending out invitations to first readers. I think I would like to have five members of the panel. It seems like a lot of input, but then there will be a built in cushion if someone joins the panel and then later decides they aren't up for the time commitment. I thought about adding a sixth member to allow for an even number of men and women, but sometimes I place too much emphasis on symmetry. I'm very fortunate to have friends with diverse interests and distinct personalities. And they all belong to the right age demographic. Big smiles. I already have my 'dream team' in mind, but we'll see who accepts the invitation. A couple of my dream teamers are in grad school right now and might not have the time to nitpick my prose.

My Reach Readers will operate off of a closed Google Forum and will have exclusive access to a chapter by chapter Google Notebook containing key research data in case they feel the need to fact check me. (Seriously, the folks at Google Labs are geniuses. They make my life SO easy!) The panel will be able to post forum topics to discuss the work with myself and with each other. If they do not wish to have their comments made public, they may e-mail them to me. They will also have the option of downloading each chapter, notating and making corrections with the "Track Changes" function in Microsoft Word, and then uploading their revisions to the Forum. I will then retrieve these revised documents for review.

I will be sending first reader invitations in the near future (which I've been saying for the past few weeks, but this time I mean it.) By the time I've received responses and granted access to the forum, I will have Claire's chapter finished. I was right about her chapters being easier to write than David's, at least so far.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Q and A

Q: Do you want to come over and watch the Colts game?
A: Nope, gotta stay home and write.

Q: Do you wanna go get some coffee after work?
A: Nope, gotta go straight home and write.

Q: Did you see the season premier of such-and-such show?
A: Nope, I was writing.

Q: Can you come over and help me with...
A: Nope, gotta write.

Momentum vs. Burn Out - a delicate balance. How to keep up the momentum without risking Burn Out...this question has weighed on me very heavily lately.

I'm trying not to alienate my friends by dropping off the face of the planet, but I've got a good start on Project Reach, I just need to follow through, get a little work done every day, and keep inching towards the goal. I try to put in two solid hours of research and writing every night, but it's difficult. It's almost like having a second job! I think it'll be easier to manage once I've gotten a laptop, but until then I have to try to remember not to hole myself up at my desk for too long lest I stagnate and run up against a block. Part of my strategy for avoiding the dreaded tandem of writer's block and burn out is this blog. Whenever I'm frustrated, I air my head out a bit right here instead of junking up the manuscript with observations that will end up being edited out in the end. I do worry about putting too much energy into blogging and not enough in writing, but that balance will eventually shift, I'm sure, when I've cleared more of the research phase.

Speaking of research, I'm a little mad at myself for not having read more of my research titles. But I have to remind myself that this is a marathon, not a sprint. I can't absorb everything all at once, and I just have to be patient. If I learn something that informs or negates a passage I've already written, it's never too late to go back and make changes! I have months and months ahead of me to dedicate to reaching my research goals. I have added some fiction titles to the mix, though, to help lighten the mental tax that research papers and textbooks have placed on my brain. "Stranger than Fiction" and "A Beautiful Mind" are on the list. I doubt I'll finish reading the Raymond Chandler book I started. It's served it's purpose for the time being, and I need to move on to something more illuminating.

I'm considering - since I'm switching my operating system to Ubuntu next month, anyway - making the leap from Microsoft Word to Open Office. I am comfortable with Word. I know it's capabilities and it's weaknesses. Learning a new software program might set me back for a few days, but it might be worth it in the end to have the ability to update my thesaurus and have a more dependable word processor. Word has been shafting me with auto-save fails that crash the program lately, and I would have to have to lose a hard-won paragraph because of a software error. I would be very, very unhappy if such a thing were to occur.

My sister told my mother I was writing a novel. She said, "Good. I hope you sell it and make lots of money." I do, too, but I think she's missing the most important point.

A friend of mine who follows the blog observed that:
Claire + David = Will Hunting

Haha! He's right!

Progress at long last

Well, I've gotten three workable paragraphs in at the end of David's chapter. They'll need heavy revision, but they're lightyears better than what I'd had in place as of last night. The real reason I'm reporting in at 3am, though, is that I have begun Claire's chapter. It's not the street scene that I'd envisioned. I'm going to put that off until the next pairing of chapters. First I'm going to allow David to air his academic woes and perhaps have his mother come up for a visit to fill a few pages and give us an outside perspective on David's peculiarities (as only a mother can) since we won't have the benefit of having Claire's view of him until later. That should be good. I had been pondering where to fit her in anyway.

Now I've just got to fill up Claire's opening chapter with some an interaction with MarLo that I dreamed up on my lunch break today. I might steal some dialog that I've outlined for a later scene that I'd meant for David to witness, but it's not crucial, so I might use it up front to establish Claire and MarLo's relationship.

This is all feeling an awful lot like work. And I'm starting to really suffer from the sleep deprivation at my real day job. If I thought I were doing this all for vanity's sake, I don't think I'd deem it worth all the mental energy! If I were "writing solely for my own entertainment" like a lot of authors claim, I wouldn't even consider continuing. My entertainment is just not that high up on my list of priorities. But then again, that's the lack of sleep talking.

Also, the first person narrative choice is working out well. I know that it's absolutely vital to later aspects of Claire's experience, which is why I chose it in the first place, but it's turned out to have several other advantages, too. I'm starting to doubt my decision less, though I still have to evaluate how to differentiate the individual voices of Claire and David. Yesterday's revisions went a long way toward cementing David's voice, though I don't know how an outside reader will react to it, yet. It might be misinterpreted as style on my part. I guess I'll find out when I have my panel of first readers to consult on such sticky issues.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Chapter 1 revisions

Sigh, I undertook another major revision last night instead of putting the chapter (and myself) to bed and giving Claire her say. I realized that I had stupidly stopped the narrative to go off on a tangential description of a completely insignificant character. So I cut all of that except for a few nicely worded images that I managed to sneak into later sentences (that, naturally, are meant to tell us more about David's powers of observation than to illuminate a disposable character). I've also broken the "never name a background character" rule...twice. But people have names. You won't remember them. But they have names all the same. So now the pace of the first chapter is much improved. I'm glad I caught those little gaffes, but wished there were more time last night to write because I just couldn't seem to get anything accomplished on the last few paragraphs. Wording is essential here, and by the time I'd gotten around to working on them, my mind was muddled with exhaustion.

I know I can manage the transition in just a few short sentences, but those sentences have to be tightly-worded and still read weightlessly. (That makes sense to me, I swear!) There's a lot of pressure on those few sentences to be perfect. They're critical.

Sigh. I wish that transition were already written. Claire wants to talk now. I can feel her voice getting clearer in my head. I'm going to spend my lunch break capturing at least a snapshot of her first chapter, then I'll plug away at David's transition later.

I'm also attempting to gather contact information for former military remote viewers to see if I can set up a phone interview with someone. I might just have to settle for reading their books. Sigh. The ones I've sampled so far are awful writers!

Oh, and a salient point: Claire thinks she's way more messed up that she actually is. She doesn't recognize her good qualities. David, on the other hand, never even guesses at how dysfunctional he is because academia tends to reward his particular brand of dysfunction. I have a feeling this may be key.

Oh, and I've re-envisioned the No Name Cafe. It will now be the Decade a Day Cafe (known locally as The Deck). They play a compilation of music from a specific decade every day. It's a casual theme. There are no costumes or elaborate decor. It's just the music. The owner had a vision of "educating" his young student patrons by exposing them to music they may never have heard. Claire likes to call out pop quizzes to diners: "Free coffee to whoever can name this band!"

Entertainment as Research

I have decided that renting Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls is considered research. Evidently, the Sterling Memorial Library at Yale is featured in a chase scene!

Other movies I've watched recently for "research" purposes:
Breaking Away
Stranger than Fiction
Jane Eyre

Next up:
A Beautiful Mind
The Cell
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
The Long Kiss Goodnight
Minority Report

The Cognitive Sciences Movie List might just be my new favorite resource!

**=really excited about this title as it seems fairly pertinent to what I'm trying to accomplish.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Subtlety just smacked me upside the head!

I want to make David into the kind of character you fall in love with because you want to fix him, to teach him how to feel, like Stephen Maturin in O'Brian's sweeping naval chronicles who is equal parts brilliance and dysfunction. Or rather David IS that kind of character, but I'm hoping to have the skill to write him as such. I don't know if I'm up to the task, though. There's a level of subtlety required that I'm not sure I possess.

Case in point: Most of what I wrote yesterday will be cut out of the manuscript immediately. I went on a run with David, and it's too much. It'll have to go. I had detailed the entirety of his daily route through campus. He pretty much took us on a tour, and THEN he went home and ate breakfast. UGH. It was awful! WHO CARES what David eats for breakfast?! (Actually, it's rather funny, and I will add it back in to the story if David starts taking himself too seriously and we all just need to laugh at him and shake our heads.) I realize that it's vital for ME to know all of these minute details about David, but it's completely useless to the narrative at this point, and really just an excuse for me to indulge in a glut of description. I had a DUH moment today and realized that I have an ENTIRE NOVEL to showcase my descriptive chops, so I shouldn't be in too much a hurry to exhaust my options.

That being said, the gods of subtlety and ambiguity must have smiled on me today, because an alternate close to chapter 1 occurred to me, and I think it will be far superior. I will just let David have his run...without stalking him every stop of the way. David needs his space, and I have learned to respect that need. He doesn't have to explain to me (or a reader) what he wants out of life, or where he's going, or how he ended up where he is. I will not force David to ponder the mysteries of his being as he runs. One thing I learned from my research run yesterday is that outside of the simple act of keeping my feet moving and my arms pumping and my lungs from exploding, which is all more or less automatic, I wasn't thinking anything. I was just running. It's a completely different animal than taking a walk. I didn't know that before. But now I do. (Yay for me and my hair-brained research ideas paying off!) So I will let David run. I will let him be free from thinking for a few moments of his day. It's a little like the "No games. Just sports" Nike ad in the movie What Women Want.

And part of this new approach to the end of chapter 1 is to test out how vague I can be without it being off-putting. I want to see if it's too confusing to an outside reader to leave David's present situation in the realm of possibility for a few pages. So I'm going to transition to Claire's chapter before revealing that we're now in Bloomington, and then lead the reader to infer that David is there with us. But I won't delve into David's academic status until a later chapter, perhaps before he runs into Claire on the street in the second/third chapter.

And I have only just realized that I haven't given a physical description of David. I myself don't even have a concrete vision of him yet. He has been so young and so changeable up until this point that it wouldn't make sense to waste energy describing the child David and then have to repeat the effort to envision the man David. His dominant feature is simply his youth. And of course he's an avid runner, so he has a runner's lean body, but that pretty much goes without saying. I think I'll just leave David's physical appearance up to interpretation, at least until Claire has a reason to take notice.

I've also determined that I've either inadvertently or instinctively chosen a good starting place for the story. We'll all have a chance to settle into the science and settings without jumping too quickly into any major conflict, but will some small relationship tension be enough to keep us occupied until we get to the conflict? I don't know yet. This is all very hard.

My writer's pact, I've decided, will give me a week to write a paragraph and then a week to tweak it. I'm hoping I can push myself to just get it all out in a week. That would be awesome. But then again, I'm worried about rushing myself.

Writer's Pact

I did actually go on a run today. It sucked only slightly less than I expected it to. I nearly passed out twice, but it would have been somewhat enjoyable had my lungs not threatened to explode. I can almost see why some people like running so much, but not quite. Perhaps if my body were up to the task, I wouldn't view it as such a negative experience!

Today I made a pact with a writer friend of mine to keep a to a cycle of two week deadlines. He will submit 7-10 pages to me for critique and I, in turn, will submit a rough chapter to him. Hehe, I don't think he knows what he's gotten himself into, because I am a cruel editor. But then again, I've read his work before and he's not a bad writer, some minor style issues, perhaps, and there are always some things that need more development, so perhaps he won't have to have the nightmares about red ink that our mutual friend reported having after he'd allowed me to edit one of his works! Two weeks seams like a really, really short span of time, though! I'm going to try not to stress out about the deadlines and rush my writing, but I'm doubting my ability to keep up the output. This is probably a really positive pressure, though, so I'm going to give it my all! I would absolutely HATE to put all of this thought into Project Reach and then get lazy this winter and let it get stale to the point that I get bored with it and abandon the project altogether.

I would feel like I were letting Claire and David down if I didn't finish this tale. They deserve to have their stories told! Okay, so it's really Claire's story. I've determined that much. David doesn't have much of a story to tell beyond his interactions with Claire. So he will be helping me tell Claire's story from an outside, scientific perspective. His own story will be minor and will pretty much only serve to illuminate Claire's personality as she is the catalyst for all of David's growth as a character.

Another major development. I've finally nailed down my chronology!!! I'm essentially working within the confines of having a novel told in one semester, at this point. I will almost certainly extend the story to cover a second semester, but this story deserves it's own arch. There will be new characters and larger conflicts and the reader there will be additional requirements on the reader. The first book of Project Reach will have a lot of latitude in regards to reader skepticism. The second book will require some suspense of disbelief. The third (yep) will require a total suspension of disbelief. IF I write it correctly, that is. Now, I have no idea what kind of word counts I'll be dealing with, here, as I haven't been in the trenches writing the story for long enough to judge how many words will be required. These 'books' could be large enough to stand on their own, or they could be internal books in a larger volume. There's no way for me to know, yet. But the book 1 chronology is secured at long last. I knew it would come if I didn't force it, and I'm quite pleased with the layout as it stands. It seems natural, but stays compact.

I'm still tweaking the end of David's chapter, though. NFL Week 1 turned out to be too much of a distraction to get much writing done. But perhaps I'll sacrifice a few hours of sleep and stay up to finish.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Chapter One

Is it possible to take a character from birth to 18 years of age in the first chapter without it turning into one massive information dump? I like to think so, but it takes a considerable amount of finesse. I've been hard at work, and three weeks and several hundred google searches later, I've got a single chapter from David's perspective.

In chapter one we travel with David from elementary school to the campus of Yale in four short years. And here's the shocking part, the chapter is only 2,212 words! I had projected 3,000 at least. But then again, I've gone in and tightened a lot of the narrative already. Oh, and here's another shocker: David speaks a grand total of only seven lines of dialog! It's perfect. He's just as reticent as I'd imagined him. He just never needs to say anything. And I was very careful not to have him feel anything, either. He isn't annoyed or confused or thoughtful...at least he doesn't name any of these emotions. He simply shows us how he's feeling by what he does. It's fantastic. I was really doubtful that I'd get this comfortable writing David, but in the last two sessions, I've made a real connection with him. Though, I have to admit, the last two sessions have only yielded a grand total of four paragraphs and a sweeping edit. At least they were critical paragraphs! But honestly, I should keep track of the time I spend writing, because I did nothing today but write and research and spent several hours last night writing and I've only got FOUR stinking paragraphs to show for it? That seems like poor output to me. But at least it's output that isn't going anywhere. I'd rather have four polished, critical paragraphs than two pages of discard-able drivel.

I'm really flying high. I just got done reading the chapter aloud to myself several times, and it's sounding really good. David sounds appropriately young, and yet appropriately brilliant. He's sufficiently unemotional and taciturn. In terms of style, I think I've gotten the tone right.

Now I'm struggling with the question of whether I should extend the chapter or not. I don't want to jump directly into Claire's head yet. I think I should stick with David and make the jump from Yale to IU with him. We're going to be skipping his entire undergraduate career. He'll go from 14 to 18 instantly, which might or might not work. I haven't written it yet, so I can't tell for sure. I have come up with a really ingenious transition, though, so I'm hopeful. The plan is to have the tail end of David's introductory chapter overlap Claire's introductory chapter, perhaps by only two to four paragraphs. I don't want the reader to have to relive the entire scene. I just want to get David and Claire's contradictory first impressions of each other in right at the onset because they're so wildly divergent from the truth that it's humorous.

But I'm not ready for IU yet. I've got a lot of research to do before I am comfortable with the IU campus. I have to figure out where David's house/apartment is, where the deli is, where the Cog Sci dept is, and the relationship between all of these locations before I can place my characters there with any confidence.

So that's the plan for tomorrow: to form a mental map of my little world at IU so I can write the tail end of David's chapter and start in on Claire's. I'd hoped to have two chapters done by this time, but if I'm very, very diligent tomorrow, perhaps I can still meet my goal and be sending out first reader invitations this week after all. But then again, it's NFL week one, and I'm not sure how well listening to the game and writing will co-exist in my brain. I can't really listen to music and write like most people can. It interrupts my flow and keeps me from finding the right word.

I'm having major dental surgery next Friday, so I don't know how much writing I'll be able to get done next weekend. Maybe I'll find the pain to be a motivator. Maybe I'll find the Vicodin to be a motivator. Who knows?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Happy Birthday, David!

David was born on June 2nd, 1990 - the day 37 tornadoes struck Indiana, killing 8 people. I'm trying to nail down some pertinent dates like character's specific birthdays so I'll know their ages and all that detail can inform the narrative. I've decided Claire should be 23 or 24, perhaps as old as 25. MarLo will be 23, one of those fifth year senior types. David is 18, of course. I'm not sure how old Dr Feigner is going to turn out to be, but he's got a soft spot for David's mother who visits campus regularly to check in on David and because she misses him. Now that he's 18 and no longer living in the dorms, though, she visits less often, trying to give him his space.

David Made Me Do It

Tomorrow, I plan to go for a run as part of my getting to know David research. David is an alien being to me. He's my exact opposite in almost everything, except our shared fascination with architecture. David is an early riser, waking at 5:30 every morning and leisurely performing a set routine; I wake up at the last possible second and rush through my daily preparations. David is a bit of a mathematician; I can barely do long division. David dislikes music; I adore it. David is a graduate student; I got an associates, tried to go back for a bachelor's and gave up. David never learned to drive; I commute for nearly an hour every day. David is an only child; I have an older sister. David is inexpressive; I'm, obviously, keen on personal expression. David can write computer programs; I can't, but would like to learn so long as it doesn't involve too much math. David is an excellent debater; I'm more into conflict avoidance. David is a runner; I. Hate. Running.

Now, in my quest for authenticity, I have been trying to get to know David. I'm learning all sorts of things about Cognitive Sciences. I've got an apt textbook and have listened through a couple of podcast lectures. I'm asking questions of actual graduate students about their general headspace, time commitments and so on. I added the numbers carved into the Women's Table sculpture at Yale, for the love of Pete! And tomorrow...I am going for a run. Because David is a runner.

Davis is a runner because he likes the rhythm. He doesn't listen to music as music has a tendency to bring out emotions and David is utterly baffled by his emotions, so he forgoes music altogether. Instead, he runs. So part of getting to know David involves going for a run. (Cursing under my breath, here.) I have always been baffled by people who love running. Are their brains addicted to endorphins? I just don't understand it. Running sucks. But I'm going to do it. Because I'm dedicated.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Confessions #1 & #2

I'm getting awfully close to having the first chapter sewn up, which means I'll be sending out invitations to first readers soon, I hope! Progress has been much, much slower than I'd anticipated. I'm just now creeping up on five pages (single-spaced) and my normal pace is about that in a single session. I've sat down to write David's debut chapter several times now and spent hours and hours on it. I should probably keep track, come to think of it.

I realize that I definitely need to get better at just writing and worrying about editing later. But I just happen to be a pretty darned good editor, so it's hard for me to write below my own high standards for the purpose of just getting it out on the page. I need to work on this. Sometimes it's worth writing poorly on purpose to allow an idea to flow naturally onto the page in one seamless bolus of thought. I can always add color and fix weaknesses in a later session.

Confession #1: my favorite part of writing is actually the editing. I will usually jump the gun on an edit, starting to tweak a paragraph as soon as I pound it out. This is such a bad, bad way to do things. I'll add a colorful metaphor into the paragraph I'm focusing on, only to realize later that the page as a whole is entirely too colorful. Then I have the frustrating task of removing gorgeous sentences I spent perhaps 20 minutes dreaming up (or pilfering from one of my poetic works ;) Another drawback of this method is that it'll take me three weeks to finish a single chapter. Granted, that chapter is usually in pretty good shape, needing only minimal
revisions. I wouldn't feel embarrassed to show a friend an un-edited, finished chapter because I know that I've already scrutinized the whole of it during my writing process. There wouldn't be any major gaffes, just minor style issues and kinks in flow.

The good news is that I made a lot of progress yesterday. I fixed a minor continuity error, filled in a key transition and shocked myself with a really nice observation - so much so that I will no longer feel guilty about 'wasting time' doing Google map and image searches on every little thing when I'm at a loss for prose because it demonstrably pays off! Sometimes I hit upon a visual that sparkles in the narrative. David is on the campus of Yale:
"We followed her one block north on High Street and turned east on Grove at a tidy cemetery in possession of an imposing Egyptian Revival gate which bore the inscription “The Dead Shall Be Raised.” I felt like I had been dead for most of the day, buried in thought, and was now being resurrected to the present with each step. There was a distinct possibility I was marching toward my future. The urge to run came on me so fast that my legs actually twitched."

I am now really itching to take a trip out to Bloomington and just hang out on campus, get a feel for the architecture and the look of the place, who knows what just seeing will inspire! But I think I'll wait for the autumn. I have a suspicion that the campus is breathtaking when the leaves are changing.

You may have noticed from the excerpt above that David has developed an interest in architecture that I never consciously instilled in him. But it makes sense. It all stems from his love of structure. If he's feeling overwhelmed by his emotions, he'll look outside himself until he hits on some man-made thing or other upon which to fixate. He'll stare at a fountain, observing it's construction to calm his thought, and he'll just brush his feeling aside. It's too disturbing to him that he doesn't know what to make of his emotions. But the physical world, that he can understand. It is solid and quantifiable. Funny enough, though, this tendency could have led him to a love of nature, but it didn't. I haven't figured that one out, but it might just be because I have a thing for architecture and so that's what I gravitate toward in my description. I'll have to ponder this. But it's a good setup for my alternating first-person narrative scheme (that I'm still nervous about) because David will note all the environmental aspects of a given scene and Claire, being so in tune with the human element of any given equation, will be keen to observe the people who populate the scene. It's a nice balance. In theory. I've not yet put it into practice,though that's the plan for the weekend. Nail down David's chapter, move on to Claire's.

Confession #2: I have been researching agents. I know I'm way ahead of myself by prepping for the querying process, but keeping the ideal end product in sight helps me stay motivated. Besides, there is no such thing as being over-prepared, or over-educated about the industry. In all my research so far, I've discovered something rather remarkable: I'm not worried about writing queries and such. I'm actually very comfortable with it. Part of my comfort level may come from having been an editor before, albeit only for a short while. During my stint as an editor, I developed some skills that will be extremely useful to me as I prepare to shop the finished manuscript around. I'm quite good at distilling complex plots into compelling summaries, for one thing. And I have a courteous, professional tone. So I'm not worried at all about my outgoing queries. What comes back, though, will keep me up nights.

I fully realize that Project Reach may not sell. And that's okay. My original goal was to finish a novel before I turn thirty. Finish, not publish. I am coming up on my 27th birthday. An idea worthy of further development came to me, and I'm fortunate to have the time and the means to dedicate to writing. And so I am. If it gets no farther than my computer desktop, that's okay so long as I learn and grow from the experience.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Character economics

I'm performing a re-write of my first David chapter. I've had to change a few things. One of the major changes I made is that I put David and his mother in the air instead of making them drive cross-country. This was strictly an economic decision. I have decided that David's dad is dead, through some accident that resulted in a large monetary settlement. David and Elizabeth don't have to worry about money for David's education. I'm not going to explore the accident just yet. I'd like to leave it open-ended.

MarLo, likewise, is well-off. Her father has a very high-paying job in Chicago. Perhaps I'll make him an architect. Once I decided that MarLo has money, it informed a lot of other things, like what kind of car she drives. I've changed MarLo's ride from a little red late '80s VW Rabbit to a late-model Rabbit. Perhaps a 2007. Still red.

Claire is of a completely different socio-economic class than David and MarLo. She's barely getting by.

I'm still working my way to the end of David's first chapter. There was an extensive amount of research to do to get his back story well-grounded. I'm hoping that the next two chapters at least are just narrative, uncomplicated by academics that I'm unfamiliar with and that would require hours of digging around on the Internet and in textbooks. I'm also hoping that Claire's chapters come along much quicker. There won't be any research to do on Claire, as I've lived most of her experiences. And when I get into the extrasensory descriptions, I'm just going to be making up my own brand of nonphysical perception so that won't require anything more than an active imagination, though I will be reading a lot of research done on the field of remote viewing.

The Case for 1st Person Narrative

Well, I'm awake. Having gone to sleep early under the influence of cold medicine, I am now fully awake at 4am owing to the pain of an achy flu-riddled body. I have dosed myself again and am hoping to get to sleep before I get up at my customary time to decide if I'm well enough to try going in to work at my day job or if I'm going to put a call in to my doctor. The latter is sounding more likely as I seem to be an incubator for some malady or other and don't want to risk infecting my coworkers. But while I'm up, I wanted to get some work done, so I cracked open Remote Viewing: The Science and Theory of Nonphysical Perception by Courtney Brown. While ostensibly a scholarly work, the introduction has so far seemed...self-indulgent. I ran up against this line, though, which stopped me in my tracks and set me to thinking over some aspects of Project Reach that have been troubling me:
"Western science has never been able to place a stamp of approval on the notion that consciousness is not limited to the physical brain."
In context, this sentence occurs in a discussion that presumes the existence of the human soul. This resonated with a quote I had discovered only earlier today (on a piece of Facebook flair, no less) from one C.S. Lewis:
"You don't have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body."
These two quotes in tandem helped me pin down a key difference between David and Claire. David operates on the assumption that human perception is limited to physical input received from our bodies and relayed to our brains. Claire, on the other hand, has experienced nonphysical perception and is convinced of the existence of the soul. This seems a trivial thing. I interact with people who disbelieve the existence of the human soul and/or a divine entity or God on a daily basis, and this does not seem to have any bearing on my interactions with them. This small, fundamental mismatch in ideologies will have profound implications on the relationship between David and Claire, though. I'm sure of it.

It should be noted that I have, at least preliminarily, made a decision on the role that religion will play in Project Reach. I have given Claire the responsibility of leading a Bible study group comprised of freshman girls with the intent that this will allow her to develop to an outside observer her views of religion, the human soul, morality, femininity and whatever else the narrative may require without having to force her to just sit and ponder for the benefit of revelation. I have chosen not to have Claire 'live through' such a study session in the actual narrative (partially because I have little talent for writing teenage dialog - one has to know her strengths and weaknesses ;). Instead, we will join Claire on the walk home and listen in on her thoughts as she mentally reviews the evening's events (an interesting cognitive process in and of itself) or she will mull over her next lesson plan in her head while going about her daily routine at the deli in which she works. Having been a waitress and in possession of an active mind, I know how much leftover mental processing power can be spared for serious consideration of abstract spiritual concepts while still functioning in a given food service capacity. Claire will often seem dreamy and distracted. David considers the notion that she's a narcoleptic.

A very strong influence in my decision to go for first-person narrative is that it would allow me to present my personal views on matters such as the ones listed above without having to claim them as my own. I can simply instill these values in one of my characters and have him/her carry the weight of them. If a given reader is turned off by these views, perhaps this will translate merely into the reader's dislike of the character and not extend to a dislike of the story itself. My hope in having two main narrators is that if a reader dislikes the views of one character, their affection for the other character will be enough compensation to keep them reading. I am aware of the monumental difficulties this places upon me, the writer. I always did like a challenge, but I fear my confidence in my own abilities may trap me into an unworkable formula and force a later re-write.

I will present another argument for my decision to write in first person narrative (and do forgive me if my thoughts are disconnected at this point. I'm feeling the effects of cold medication). Charles Dickens. I always did dislike Dickens. My first experience of him was during my freshman year in high school when I was forced to slog through Great Expectations. I disliked it immensely, and learned enough about the story by skimming the text and discussing key plot points with my classmates to pass the quizzes we were given without having completely read the assigned reading. Years later, I again attempted to read Dickens, this time picking up Oliver Twist. It was better this time. I was older, a more tolerant reader by far, not nearly so concerned with being entertained by a text. I had also learned that Dickens was paid by the word, and this understanding made me a more forgiving reader. The man was just trying to make a living, after all. I never finished the book, however, and was deeply dismayed that I was still unable to like such a classic.

And then I received a 1918 edition of David Copperfield for my birthday. It was a beautiful old book. I was tempted into cracking the cover by the gorgeous leather binding. I'm a sucker for old books! To my utter astonishment, I actually liked what I read. I liked everything about it. I liked David, himself. I liked the story. I loved the settings and the description, though I took issue with the idea that such a young narrator would be so observant of human nature and his surroundings. My point being, though, is that first person narrative made all the difference. The style suited Dickens very well.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Colds not conducive to progress

The First Five Pages came in the mail yesterday. I started reviewing it last night and continued on my lunch break today. It is not helping shore up my resolve to go with alternating first person narrative. I have a whole lot to say on that, mostly resolving around Charles Dickens, but I've come down with some sort of bug and am all hopped up on cold meds and am distracted by Sarah Palin.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Coach Bag Chronicle

Today was spent jotting small, random notes (mostly snippets of dialog between Claire and MarLo), transferring other random notes into my binder, and reading about Finite State Automata in my Cog Sci text book. I really need to take a trip up to B-Town to research, but Big Red, my older-than-me truck, may not be up to the task. I shall wait until the weather cools in the fall and maybe make a weekend jaunt and try to catch an opera one evening. This plan may be deferred by the state of my finances. There's always wiggle room in the budget for couch-surfing, though. And I might even camp out in a nearby park, if need be, make my excursion into an urban hike, just walk the length and breadth of the campus and soak in the feel. That's what I'm needing now. Later, I'll make my approaches to some official university types and see if I can instill enough confidence in the Project to warrant cooperation if not collaboration. Or I might go all out and rent a car, book a hotel room, write official letters to department heads to see if I can beg a guided tour.

I keep expecting that one of these days I'll just fall into it and get some incredible amount of writing accomplished. Like an entire bolus of tandem chapters will spring from my head like Athena emerging fully-armed and fully-formed from the head of Zeus. (Did I just draw a comparison between myself and Zeus? The ego needs a check, clearly.) Perhaps I'm trying to force too much productivity. My best writing always occurs in its own good time. I've been working on one poem for over two years now! It's brilliant (if I do say so myself) but it may never get finished at this rate. I've decided to let it percolate indefinitely. I'm worried that if I hold myself up to too high a standard, that I'll get discouraged. I have two models in mind when I debate this topic internally. Kostova and Meyers. Meyers wrote Twilight in 3 months, reportedly. Kostove wrote The Historian in no less than a decade. Interesting that these are both vampire books and that I don't necessarily have any undue fascinating with fantasy.

And now, the Coach Bag Chronicle:

It should be noted that I've dug up my old Coach satchel from where I stashed it years ago under my bed, an inglorious refuge for such a fine specimen of American craftsmanship. I retired it sometime in 2003 when I gave up on trying to take college courses and work full time and hid it away lest it guilt me by its presence. But I have a new dream now, one worthy of the solid partnership of my trusty old tote. So I've resurrected my magnificent satchel and filled it with my research materials and writing tools. It's a gorgeous thing, my satchel. It's old. I haven't been able to find out how old, but I discovered it in about 2001 under a rack of beaten-up backpacks at the Unique Thrift Store in the West End of Louisville. It looked roughed up, like a prize fighter ten rounds into a fight; but it was sturdy, being made entirely out of leather. I decided to buy it as I needed a more professional-looking tote to serve me at college in Minnesota. At the register I was informed it was priced at a whopping $12 when all the other backpacks were around $5. I almost didn't buy it. It was missing its shoulder strap, after all, and looked like it had already had a full life. I was such a poor college kid! But I thought, well, a new backpack would cost a little more than that, and I didn't care to browse through the whole rack of backpacks again. Besides, this bag 'spoke to me' on a level having little or nothing to do with retail. So I shelled out the cash and have never regretted it.

I promptly replaced the missing shoulder strap with a broken leather belt that almost, but not quite, matches the tanning. Somehow, at some point in time, I became aware of the Coach brand and discovered the registration number stamped into an inside pocket of my satchel. The fact that I had a valuable item was illuminated. Once, at a house party, a rather vogue young woman offered to trade me her brand new Coach bag (that she had recently bought for upwards of $300) for my old bag. Even though it has none of the desirable Coach emblems on its exterior, she said it had "street cred". I declined, but she was right on. The two aforementioned characteristics are nearly my favorite things about my bag. I don't care much about it's intrinsic material value, though. I love my bag for it's substance, for what it means to me and how well it has served me during my most difficult challenges. It's scuffed and soft in all the right places without loosing any of its rugged durability. It's all COW and BRASS and those two things are somehow very solid and American. It smells like a saddle, and when you rub your fingertips on the unlined suede inside, it feels almost like stroking a kitten ears. When I sling it over my shoulder, I feel empowered and look, well...writerly. It's exactly the sort of thing any professor on the planet would be proud to lug to class every day. I feel an attachment to it that is likely akin to the love a musician has for his battered sax case.

So I'm relying on my old stalwart bag to help me through this new project. I owe it this much for stuffing it unceremoniously under my bed for so many years!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Labor Day

Labor Day! No work on Project Reach today. Made no notes. Wrote no words. Completed no sentences ;)

But there is this:

Bear in mind, this is an ACTUAL screen cap I took just a few minutes ago (at 12:08 am on Tuesday, technically). I googled Labor Day for a 'history of' article and of course went straight for the Wikipedia hit. This is what I found. I hit my 'print screen' button instinctively and then clicked to log in to Wikipedia to flag the page. By the time I'd logged in and navigated back to the page, the original article was already back up. I'm so glad I captured this little gem, though. I guess the moderators on Wikipedia don't take Labor Day off!