Thursday, November 27, 2008

Chapter 4 Begun

I haven't sewn up David's chapter 3, yet, but I had a sudden burst of inspiration last night and had to begin Claire's Chapter 4 right then and there. So I wrote the intro to Chap 4 by hand with pencil and paper last night from my bed as I didn't feel like booting the computer again. I hate writing by hand as I type much faster; and half the time my handwriting is so illegible that when I go to transcribe it, I spend most of my time deciphering instead of typing. Tomorrow, though, my new Netbook will arrive and I opted for a sleek Acer Aspire One running a light Linux operating system that will boot from power on in under 30 seconds. So when those sudden bursts of writerly inspiration hit me, I've got just enough computing power at my command nearly instantly. I'm really excited about this new tool!

So tonight I'm going to type out and edit Claire's chapter 4 and dovetail it with some material I wrote awhile back for inclusion at the end of Claire's Chapter 2 but ended up cutting to aid the perspective switch. The new order of things will gel nicely, I think, and I was really excited about what I wrote last night because it parallels with David's narrative in fresh and subtle ways. They both have a reason to tool around on a chalkboard, for instance, which is interesting as most of us do not find occasion to ever write with real chalk anymore since the rise of the hypoallergenic dry erase marker. One of my favorite aspects of alternating first person narrative is the opportunity to find disparities in perception of a single event and parallels in divergent experiences. I often surprise myself by the clever tricks I come up with to tie stories together, and I've been enjoying this aspect of my POV choice even though it's incredibly challenging in many other ways.

Having Elizabeth (David's mother) come for a visit was beginning to feel like a mistake and I was just about to despair of Chapter 3 ever 'working' and toss it in favor of a sans Elizabeth re-write, but when she connected up with Claire last night, things started falling into place. David just doesn't interact with people very well, and this causes me to dread having to write him in company with others. I was also finding it hard to allow Elizabeth to express herself properly because David is incapable of true insight into another human being. But I did find a concrete way for her to show her concern for David, I just haven't written it yet.

Also, I thought up (but did not write) my ending last night. I've had an image in my mind for about a month now that I've come to internally identify as the cover art for Project Reach. I never expected it to be anything more than metaphoric, but it suddenly became real and worked its way into the story. It's a very strong visual and nicely ties David and Claire's unique stories together in one simple image.

Also, I've been pondering heavily what David should eventually settle on for his dissertation research. I know that Dr. Feigner, David's main adviser, did his dissertation on the effects of different stress reduction tools on the human brain (hence his impressive collection of stress balls) and it would only seem natural for David to build on this. And it would fit seamlessly with David's interest in neurochemistry as well as his fascination with Claire, whose life is spent among foods of the comforting variety. Studying the effects of so-called comfort foods on stressed individuals is a worthy line of study that would have possible implications in obesity research as well. It would also give me the perfect excuse to use the above-mentioned cover image and one of my contender titles, The Comfort Foods Cure (which is, incidentally, a line I stole from one of my favorite poetic works). But I am highly averse to allowing a title to inform the story, as opposed to the reverse. I had originally wanted David to study the neurochemistry of love, but I now think I may have been trying to force David into a study of love, a choice I doubt he would have made on his own. Additionally, David, as a grad student, is certainly no stranger to stress. The study of comfort foods is much more natural for David than a study of the chemical processes of romantic love.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chapter 3 Quotes

"Even the infinitesimal weight of a key in the small pocket on the inside waistband of my running tights makes me feel unbalanced. After calculating the probability of someone attempting to enter my home during its half hour vacancy in the early morning hours, I have concluded that the annoyance of carrying a key outweighs the risk of burglary based on currently available crime statistics."

Things I Should Know

David is such an alien creature to me that I find myself Googling the most ridiculous things. Things I'm certain I should know already, like "Do running shorts have pockets?" and "How long does it take an avid runner to cover three miles?"

I was explaining to a friend why Chapter 3 has had such a long gestation period, and she asked if I could just skip it and come back to it. I thought about that, actually. I could skip laying the groundwork and get right to the fun parts where MarLo, Claire, and David are already acquainted and I am free to write their interesting and often humorous interactions, but I'm not going to do it. I have recorded some dialog exchanges just so I won't forget them later, so those will eventually be integrated into the narrative, but those will be the easy writes, the reward for having gotten past all of the hard stuff. Besides, if I write a lot of material to fit into the later chapters before I figure some key elements out (like what I'm struggling with right now, working through where David is in his academic career and what his relationship with his mother is) and some things surprise me (like how David and his mother are on much easier terms than I'd originally thought, owing mainly to Elizabeth's sheer generosity of spirit) then I'll either have a continuity error that will confuse the tone of the book, or I'll have wasted a lot of time and effort on what will end up being an outtake that gets dumped from the final manuscript, and as I'm not a professional writer, I do not have the luxury of writing dross. So in answer to my friend, I simply said, "No, I can't skip ahead and come back to this later. These are things I have to know." The groundwork I'm laying now informs David's character to such a degree that omitting it would inevitably cause major confusion. It is central to David's dilemma. I am trying to relate that an astronomically high IQ, excellent grades and steady income do not guarantee academic success. So much depends on emotional intelligence, work ethic and self-motivation.

The Elusive Rosetta Stone

Owing to a weekend more full of social interaction with my peers than I'd anticipated, I haven't gotten anything written which is slightly tragic as I stumbled across the Rosetta Stone for Chapter 3 while at work on Friday evening. I was thrilled about it, of course, and couldn't wait to get home and start transferring my pages of notes into narrative, but I made impromptu plans to go to the movies with a girlfriend, instead. I didn't think one quick trip to the theater would disrupt my writing too much, but I ended up running out to town on Saturday to drop off a birthday present at my friend's gallery, bought a new winter coat, and then got a call from a friend who was only in town for a very short time and wanted to get people together for a dinner, so directly after I got home I was out again and that turned into a late night of netbook shopping and meeting my other friend's fiance...all impromptu plans, of course. When I got home, I cracked open Twilight for the fifth or sixth time and hit the highlights before drifting off to sleep.

So today I'm hard at it! No football for me until I've at least sketched my ideas into what I already have written for Chapter 3.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Facing the Giants

Well, I feel like I've accomplished something, even if it is just a few minor tweaks to Chapter 2! Chapter 3 is still stalled. I've really got to put some hard thought into the short transitions it's missing. I need to nail down the chronology of David's college career, first, I think, as every time I think about it, it shifts a little in my mind. Is it completely ridiculous to assume that he can complete all of his undergraduate and graduate class work between the ages of 14 and 18? He's a freaking genius with absolutely no interest in social affairs, so it's conceivable that with a full course load and summer classes he could have done it. I'm also assuming he was able to test out of some of the 100 level courses. I'll just have to put a lot more thought into it. Where I'm at right now, though, I have him having completed all of his coursework and a research assistanceship working with cuttlefish and has now been turned loose to work exclusively on his dissertation. He's turned 18 and received the trust that was put away for him after his father's death (which reminds me, I have a few points to add to Chapter 1 about David's father's profession) so he doesn't have to hold a job or worry about money. He is free to focus entirely on that hulking monster of a dissertation. Yeah. That's where I'm at with David. It's daunting. I totally get David's perspective as I sit here, facing down an entire novel. I'll have to keep reminding myself of that over the next few days, to write how I'm feeling about this project, only sanitized of emotion as only David can.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Reach Readers update

I also think I should note that I guilted my first readers into giving me some feedback by including a section on my personal blog which I will excerpt here:

I haven't heard back from (my pact reader) yet. I'm not sure if this is because it was such a bad fragment of writing that he couldn't think of any constructive comments or if he's just madly busy as I have been myself. Regardless, I'm starting to give up on wringing any feedback out of people. I was fully prepared for negative feedback, but the lack of interest, the complete apathy, has me wondering. It's quite discouraging. If I were getting a lot of negative feedback, then I'd likely be much more motivated to make improvements. I'd be incensed, I'm sure. If I were getting positive feedback, I'd maybe build up some good momentum, being then freed from the self-doubt adherent to my style, story and characters. But nothing? I've been a little adrift. But I'm coming out of it. I'm beginning to pick up steerage way again after my first flush of enthusiasm died out. Now I'm settling into it.
Three of my five first readers contacted me within the day to make their excuses for not posting to the Google Group or otherwise commenting on the work I allowed them to read. I didn't intend the passage in my personal blog to be an appeal to them; it was merely a record of my personal feelings on the subject. I simply forget that my friends keep up with my blog. But I'm glad that it did end up jarring some commentary out of them. I have been privileged to have been asked by my friends to be a part of some of their major life events. I've been in their weddings, helped them edit academic papers, driven them to the airport, supported them as they launched businesses or new careers or relationships. I have considered it an honor to be entrusted with my friends' confidences and to lend them my meager talents to aid in their personal and professional advancement. When I decided to undertake writing a novel, I deemed it only fair reciprocity to invite my trusted friends along for the ride. I have enjoyed being a part of their journeys, and it was my hope that they would enjoy being part of mine. I firmly believe that it is not a huge time commitment as it generally takes only about a half an hour to read a piece, formulate an opinion of it, and record those opinions. As I'm interested in gut reactions, if it takes any longer than a half an hour to perform the function of a first reader, then someone's doing something horribly wrong!

But hopefully, I'll be getting more feedback from the Reach Readers soon. And if not, then I'll move down my list of potential readers and invite some fresh eyes into the group. I had previously chosen not to extend invitations to some individuals who had asked to be included, and I may reconsider their petitions if, after posting the next pair of chapters, my current panel does not begin discussing the material.

Learning Persistence

Every day while I'm at work, I think of David and his Chapter 3 dilemma and how to get him from point a to point b in so many words while maintaining forward momentum and a reasonable amount of interest. I sometimes have flashes of insight, which I scribble onto a memo pad during my free moments. At the end of the day, I pull the sheet off of my memo pad and stuff it into my purse (which is bursting with them) and drive home, eager to sit at my desk in my home 'office' and commute my scanty handwritten notations into actual plot. Instead, I get distracted or discouraged and end up wasting time on Facebook or adjusting my Netflix queue. I haven't gotten much real work done on the chapter all week. I've sat at my computer with the working document open, staring at a blinking cursor and maybe adjusting two or three sentences before giving up.

I'm using the excuse that I got a flu shot and have had a mild but persistent reaction that makes me feel just unwell enough to be a little cranky, but not so unwell that I can't function normally.

I think a lot of the real problem stems from the fact that I have gotten to know the child David fairly well, but the man David is still so unformed that I find it difficult to imagine his reactions in the situations I have placed him in. This, in turn, makes it nearly impossible to write him. I'm not saying that David is an unformed character, because he most certainly is extremely multi-dimensional. I simply mean that he, himself, is in the midst of a very dynamic period of personal growth. It's difficult to introduce someone who doesn't quite have a handle on who they are. He is at a crossroads in his life and until he meets Claire, he has no clear direction. It would help if I had some insight into what the pressure cooker of graduate school feels like. I have found some rather helpful blogs, though, and will just have to keep at it until I break through. In every narrative that I've ever written in which I run up against a wall, there is always a single sentence that acts as the Rosetta Stone to unlock the rest of the story. Once that single sentence is in place, every subsequent passage falls neatly onto the page. But getting to that keystone is the problem. It takes a great deal of hard work to figure out what's missing and where and then to fabricate a linguistic fulcrum. I actually say aloud to myself, "There's always a Rosetta Stone." when writing or solving a Sudoku puzzle. It's my equivalent of Cayce Pollard's mantra "He took a duck in the face at 250 knots."

Oddly enough, I've found the "Luminous Fish Effect" episode of Big Bang Theory to be a bit of an insight into how David must be feeling. In the episode, genius theoretical physicist Sheldon gets fired and subsequently loses all focus and spirals into a sort of frenzied tail-chasing. It's an incredibly comedic account of what I think must be going on in David's head during this juncture.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Research Titles

I have two new research titles of note to share. One is a delight to read and is highly creatively inspirational. It is A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman. Very nice bedtime reading. I've also picked up a copy of How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker, but I find it to be poorly organized and difficult to read without becoming bored.

Chapter 3 Quotes

"I believe the usual advice in this situation is to ‘write what you know.’"

"I do not find that at all helpful as it applies only to those who, frankly, don’t know very much. If I were to ‘write what I know’, as you suggest, the product wouldn’t be a dissertation, it’d be an encyclopedia. Or at least something on the scale of Carl Sandburg’s six volume biography of Lincoln."

Chapter 3 progress report

I've finally made some progress on Chapter 3. In this chapter, I've been exploring the rather unconventional relationship between David and his mother Katharine. She is visiting him, ostensibly in town on business interviewing a professor of political science for a feature article, but really she wants to make sure he's getting settled into his house well and isn't missing the dorms too much. She's surprised by his adaptability, as he's usually averse to any sort of change in his daily routine.

I knew this chapter was going to be very dialog intensive, and I'm petrified to write no work was done on this chapter for the longest time. I got scared off by my perception of my own weaknesses. But once I got David and his mother in the same room and started them to talking (actually talking out my own frustrations) things started to come a lot more easily. It's a shame I'm so exhausted now and have to get to sleep so I'll be fit to work tomorrow, because I'd like to continue and build on the two pages I've output this evening. So now that I have a handle on how David and his mother interact, now I have to work through David's internal dilemmas doubting for the first time his ability to succeed in academia as he struggles to come up with a dissertation topic. He's at loose ends now. He excels in classes and as a research assistant because there is a set curriculum or procedure. When David is left to make his own choices, though, he drops into paralysis. Much like me faced with the prospect of writing large chunks of dialog!

So I'm hoping to keep up the pace and get two more pages written tomorrow. I think I was helped greatly by my pact partner who sent me three very short plays to read over for him. Plays are completely outside my area of expertise, but it was interesting reading them out and pinpointing their weaknesses and brilliant moments of clarity and comedy. I think it helped put me in a good headspace to write some serious dialog.