Coming of age

coming of ageI was writing my query/pitch letter to start submitting The Golden to agents, when I realized that part of that particular story was left untold. The pitch (which is essentially a concise retelling of the novel, in a few paragraphs, that is complete enough to make an agent believe in the work, but leaves enough out to make them want to read it) seemed to be missing something. There was still too much of my first draft in the book (when I had little idea of where the story was headed) and an important plot point had yet to be realized.

So now I’m heading back into that dark world to try and breathe some more life into Jamie and Alice, both of whom I love, but who I have always thought needed a little more in the way of narrative arc. This will be my third large-scale revision to this manuscript and I hope to have it ready by the end of summer.

There are a lot of changes in my life right now, all of them hard, none of them fun. As I was re-reading the novel, it hurt to see how much Jamie’s journey has echoed my own–a journey from stability to chaos, from faith to doubt. But the good news is that [spoiler alert] Jamie makes it home in the end. It’s going to be different then what he expected and he’ll be different than he imagined, but that’s what a coming-of-age story is all about.

I once thought that life revolved around a single epiphany moment, where everything became clear and stayed clear. But as my own life has changed, I’ve had to give that idea up. That’s been a struggle for me as a writer: how can we give our characters that moment of grace and truth, move them forward into a better place where they know themselves and understand the world around them, if we know that they will eventually encounter something that will shake them back out of that place and into somewhere new? Are we disingenuous if we give our characters a happy ending when we know that life has no such endings? I’ve worked that ambiguity into my recent stories. You can give your characters a new beginning, but always with the idea that there will be, someday, another new beginning for them at a different stage in their lives. It’s the small stories that I like to tell. They are self-contained with endings of their own, but imbued with enough realism to suggest that the story goes on.

Next!

19624_10153186546703605_7341852190415821644_n I have not been posting, but I have been busy. I composed and recorded some musical soundtracks. I started a Youtube channel on which I perform my songs live, from my attic. My short story “From the road” found a home in upstart digital lit journal “Portage.” Also, I purchased a great notebook to use for long-hand writing since my MacBook is feeling old and tired and sad.

For my next trick, I will write more stories, sing more songs, and tweet with more regularity. Thanks for reading.

s.

Notes on time travel

How do you write a story about time travel? I’ve read quite a few; from the classic H.G. Wells to the modern “The Time Traveler’s Wife.” Everyone does it a little differently. Ray Bradbury is straight-forward in his short story “A Sound of Thunder”: tech + hubris = dinosaurs. In “The Shining Girls,” Lauren Beukes’ Depression-era drifter gets caught in a weird time-loop that he seemingly created himself… by becoming caught in a time-loop. I’ve been experimenting with different techniques and different plots for my own time-travel tale. In an early draft of a short story called “One Night at Hanny’s,” about teens hanging out on a Friday night at a 24-hour diner, different versions of a crazed high school science teacher keep coming back to the same place in an attempt to stop his precocious student from accidentally discovering the secret of time travel. In my work-in-progress story “The Russian Puzzle Box,” an Cold War-era trinket found on ebay just might hold the key changing the future. What’s your favorite time travel story? What interesting techniques have you seen for portraying time travel in literature? If you could travel through time, who would you kill first: Hitler or Hitler’s dad?

Spring back!

ecopicDaylight savings time has started here in Wisconsin. That means, of course, that we all lost an hour of precious sleeping writing time. It also means that spring is on the way! Maybe! The birds are returning (I saw a robin yesterday), the snow is melting, and pretty soon we’ll have to start planting stuff.

Also, Amtrack, the choo-choo train people, have announced a writers-in-residency program. Anyone can apply to the residency. If they choose you, they will give you a sleeping car with “a desk and a window”. What more could you want? Maybe a couple bottles of scotch. Of course I’m going to apply for this. Why not? I love trains, I love travel, I write better in a small, enclosed area with desk and window. Not to mention a key part of my novel “The Golden” takes place on a commuter train between Milwaukee and Chicago. Which reminds me to update you on the progress of my novel:  it’s getting done. I’ve done some massive re-writes in the middle of the book and continue to have a lot of work on the ending. Nothing huge in the way of plot changes, just some things that will tighten up the emotional journey of the main characters. I hope to be finished by the end of the summer, with a fall roll-out of the ebook and printed book. I’ve decided to go the self-publishing route primarily because I want people to read it. If I spend all of my time and energy in getting “signed to a major label” (to borrow a phrase from the music industry), it’s going to take a few years for the book to come out. And I just want people to enjoy the story!

All aboard for spring!

NaNoWriMo!

I’ve been quiet on this site for a while–first I was working on editing my novel “The Golden, Book 1: Junction.” I also started plotting book 2. Since November started, I’ve been participating in NaNoWriMo, which I first discovered online waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back in 2006. I’ve started projects for NaNo in years past and the two novels that I have finished, “The Golden” and “All Creation Groans,” have come from NaNo books. Two other novels that I have started “The Book of Practical Magic” and “Numinous” are also past NaNo attempts, although they are both works in progress.

Book 2 of the Golden, subtitled “Greenfield,” is about halfway finished. I’ve trying to get it done by the end of the month, so don’t expect many posts here until December.

Happy writing!

In praise of zines

Zines are incredible things–in this era of constant access, split-second google image searching, and free tumblrs, there are still people out there who take the time and energy and LOVE to create hand-made books. Out of paper.

“Little magazines” have been around since before the Civil War, as part of the avant-garde European literary and art movements (more here). Zines today are mostly political, always personal, and fit right into the post-post-modern ethos of “hand made.” Although they have a pedigree that goes back 100 years and more, popular zines of today nearly always owe their aesthetic to the DIY punk scene. Collaged, hand-written, typewriter-bled, stapled and folded, then traded, given away, or sold for change, zines are the antithesis of the corporate publishing houses.

I’ve written for a couple of zines (Basements and Living Rooms and I Wanna Believe) and created my own zine. It’s a publishing venue that is just as immediate as the web, but with more urgency. When you get a zine in your hand, you need to read it right away. You can put it down, pick it up, put in on your shelf to read later, re-read it–everything that makes physical objects better than virtual objects.

More zine stuff:

Milwaukee Zine Fest
Microcosm Press
Torn Quilts
Arbor Vitae
Anthills
Beautiful Resistance Distro

Heroes of the written word (3)

I first read Flannery O’Connor when I was in college. It’s hard not too; you can’t throw a short-story anthology against a wall without having “A Good Man is Hard to Find” fly out of the binding. I don’t remember my initial reaction to her, except that I liked that she was a person of deep, committed faith as well as a great prose stylist. In fact, reading her letters later in life, I realized that she viewed herself as a person of faith first, then a writer second. She was a Catholic writer, but her stories and novels have less to do with the particulars of the Catholic liturgy than the with ideas of original sin, suffering, doubt, theodicy, and other more generically Christian doctrines.

Apart from the religious aspects of her work, O’Connor knew how to write people into being. Hazel Motes, the protagonist from her novel “Wise Blood,” is as strange and real as anyone in modern literature and her lean, biting, intelligent characterizations of rural people prefigures writers as different as Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, Robert Goolrick, and Stewart O’Nan. Flannery O’Connor portrays the poor, the ignorant, the grotesque, as real people with real feelings and thoughts. She is sympathetic to their (mostly wrong-headed) ideas because they are deserving of love despite being un-lovely. When The Misfit says “Jesus was the only one that raised the dead, and He shouldn’t have done it,” it gives you chills not because it’s the raving of a crazy man, but because it’s a sensible statement. You can’t help but answer like the grandmother does, “Maybe He didn’t really raise the dead…” Why else would there be someone out on the dirt country roads shooting families?

The characters in my story “The Epiphany,” about a little girl and her father who come face to face with the divine, are my attempt at loving the un-lovely. Although the story is not yet ready for public reading, I hope to make it available as a download this winter. I won’t say that anything I write comes close to Flannery O’Connor’s level of greatness, but her work gives me an ideal to strive toward.