Posted tagged ‘fiction’

“The Manuscript” is now online at Mirror Dance

June 2, 2009

My short story “The Manuscript” is now online at Mirror Dance. You can read it here if you care to. And if you are so moved, you can leave a comment at the end. I hope you like it.

I think I need a new narrator

May 2, 2009

My thoughts about my novel-in-progress, The Sleep of Reason, are in a tumult right now. I’ve stumbled upon a new revelation at the very end that will reveal a much larger story behind the literal one in the narrative, and so the creative part of my brain is busy offering me insights on how this could be done and how it would need to be prepared for. (I say I “stumbled upon” this revelation — and I really do think it would be the very last words of the story to be most effective — but I think the story was inevitably going to require this, so I think it’s more the case that I stumbled toward it rather than upon it. I’ve been a little slow in seeing where my story was taking me.)

Anyway, because of the nature of the ending, plotwise, I must have access to the protagonist’s thoughts in order to deliver the full impact of these new final words that give such added meaning to the story. For the last 90,000 words I’ve written, this has not been a problem since my protagonist is the first-person narrator of the story. I have had complete access to his deluded thoughts. But, again, given the nature of the plot at the very end, my protagonist is not going to suddenly be very clever and discerning, and while he could have some intimation of this bigger story, his understanding of it would necessarily be incomplete: thus the reader’s understanding might be as well.

And so, dancing at the dark edge of my consciousness, has been this insistent little idea that I need to change the narration of the story from an unreliable first person to a limited omniscience third person. As the days have passed, the rightness of this change has become more clear (and more insistent), and now I am all but resigned to it. The problem is that I have written 90,000 words in first person narration. Yikes! I have never made a wholesale change in the narrator in any of my writing at such a late stage.

I knew that the rewrite was going to involve some significant reworking to address plot and tone issues, but I never thought it would be a fundamental restructuring such as this.

Nonetheless, this would solve some other issues in the story. I have several instances where the coincidences needed by the plot have seemed too convenient. By having the third person narrator relate them, this unlikely serendipity would be fixed (though I can’t say more without giving away too much). I gave a cursory read to Chapter 13 yesterday, just to see how well it would lend itself to being recast it in third person, and it didn’t seem that difficult. So now my question is should I finish writing the novel in the first person? (I’m inclined that way.) Or should I embark from this point in third person? Given the frame of mind I’ve sustained for the last year of writing, I think I will finish the first draft in the first person. I want to stay consistent with the manifold influences in the story telling so I don’t drop a thread or plot device because I’m in unfamiliar narrative territory. I think it will be easier to redo the whole (rather than parts) later.

This postponement also gives me time to ponder the nature of my new narrator. I’ve long thought that a narrator must have as much substance (at least in the writer’s mind) as any character in the story. My new narrator won’t be a character in the story given that he or she must have access to another character’s thoughts, but I want to know what kind of voice this new person uses, where the story would be told (around a campfire? over drinks at the club? in the witness box?), how intelligent the narrator is, and all of that kind of thing.

Weird, and getting weirder

April 14, 2009

In my novel The Sleep of Reason, my character will have a similar outcome to his adventures as a certain historical (and probably mythical) figure. I had known this from the start and even gave a hint of it in about the third paragraph of the opening page of the story. It’s the kind of historical reference that most people will not get, at least not until it is all laid out, and it was a reference I knew about only in the most general way.

Recently I began doing a bit more research on the historical counterpart of my protagonist so that I could bring their stories into finer alignment as the end of the story approaches. This is where it began to get weird.

I’ve mentioned on this blog once or twice that I sometimes feel as though I am not the creator of this story but merely the typist. It is as though the story exists “out there” and I’ve been given the challenge of hearing it in my head and getting it all written down. This sense was reinforced a bit when I started looking in the historical figure’s own story.

I don’t want to give away too much, but the parallels abound. The characters in my story’s household have counterparts in the mythological story. I can see a sort of resolution for one of my characters who was giving me a bit of trouble not fitting in. I’ve even decided to change the name of of of my characters to match that one a similar character in the mythology. It’s not my intent to rewrite a bit of obscure mythology. I feel as though I have my own story to tell. And it’s only in the ending that the stories are similar, but the similarities are striking.

I don’t ascribe to any supernatural explanations to my situation. It may be that I’m drawing too many inferences from the few similarities I’ve discovered. Or it may be that there are certain archetypical stories in the Western mind and I’ve merely come up with my own variation on one. Whatever the reason, I’m charged up with the serendipity of it all.

A writing experiment

March 31, 2009

I’ve begun a writing experiment, though I don’t know why. I’ve started working on a short story that will be written exclusively on Google Documents. I noted in an earlier post that I had looked at Google Documents as an offsite storage device for my writing, the need of this springing from my hard drive crash of last summer and the loss of two chapters I had written.

I still haven’t done any serious uploading of my stories to Google Documents. It’s a manual process, and despite assurances from the site, I don’t feel confident about the privacy there (or even the longevity). I’ve moved a few things there to see how it works. If I know I’m going to have some computer time when I’m away from my laptop, I have put a story there so that I can access it (from anywhere in the world actually) and maybe do a little work on it. (I haven’t followed through though.)

My experiment is different. I want to try writing an entire short story in unfamiliar locations. I am curious to learn how important the familiar setting (in time and place) of my writing spot at home influences (or even allows) my creativity. If I am at the office, in a hotel, at the library, at a friend’s house, will I be able to call up my creative side and make coherent progress on something that demands concentration and unearthly focus?

I’m not making the experiment easy. I don’t even have a plot for my short story. I hardly have a character. I do have 23 words though. It’s a start. The opening sentence is one that more or less just popped into my head when I was driving one day. It deals with tone and circumstance, and I think it could prove fruitful, but without knowing where it might go, I don’t see how sitting down in some unfamiliar, noisy, interruptive spot is going to allow development. But it’s an experiment, and that’s how these things work.

“Night Train to Kisumu”

March 21, 2009

Allow me to crow a little bit. My short story “Night Train to Kisumu” is up over at Wanderings Magazine. You can go straight to the story here.

I mentioned in an earlier post that this was based on an actual train trip I took in Kenya several years ago. The characters are changed a little bit, but the facts of the narrative are pretty close to my experience.

I’ve always liked this story, liked it enough to keep shopping it around while most of my other short stories just languish. I probably shouldn’t do that, but there are very few that I think are actually ready to go. And then comes the problem of finding a magazine that’s likely to be interested.

I’ve had some luck using Duotrope’s Digest. I’ve placed a couple of stories through here, and it looks as though they get fresh markets regularly.

Happy News

March 10, 2009

I received an email from the editor of Wanderings Magazine thanking me for the submission of my short story “Night Train to Kisumu.” He said he would like to publish my story in his magazine, and after reading the terms he included, I agreed.

You may remember that I posted about making this submission here. As I said in that post, I made the submission almost spontaneously, thinking I ought to have something in circulation, but also thinking I wouldn’t give it another thought once it was on its way.

Then I began checking my email several times a day to see if I’d received a response. The submission page noted that it was unrealistic to expect a response before thirty days had passed, and here it is, one month and one day later and I have a response. A positive response.

The story is what I consider some of my “literary” fiction. The last two stories I’ve had published are probably best defined as “fantasy” though one of them is really social commentary and the other is a sweet love story.

Moments like these are the payoff for all of the early hours at the keyboard, trying to squeeze from my uncooperative brain some semblance of fiction.

Update on March 18, 2009: I received the proof copy of my story today by email and read through it carefully. The editor made no changes to it, but I did suggest one word change (the word “safe” appeared twice in about five words) and I corrected a glaring spelling error: “and” should have been “a.” I understand the story will appear in the magazine soon now.

Word work

January 21, 2009

I’ve had this short story I’ve been fooling with off and on for several years. It’s set in a hospital, though that is only tangential to the plot, and I have one scene where the hospital security guard comes into a sort of waiting room for coffee and donuts. My intent is portray the guard as a benign, grandfatherly sort of cop on the beat.

To do that I wrote the sentence fragment below (part of a lot of other words I wrote, in case you’re wondering), and I’ve been turning the words around a few times to decide which carries my meaning better.

  • “and the man bore his menace solely in the can of pepper spray on his belt.”
  • “and the man bore is sole menace in the can of pepper spray on his belt.”

Each sentence carries a subtle difference in meaning. The former placement of “solely” modifies the verb “bore”; the latter placement modifies the noun “menace.” The former seems to imply that the man might have more menace, but that it is displayed in only one way. The latter suggests the man is really without menace at all, except for the can of spray that has been issued to him.

For my purposes, I think the latter version is the better choice.

Do you obsess over words like this?

The story is still unsatisfying in undefinable ways. The overall point, or goal, or theme, or thesis of the story is supposed to be about the giving of charity and how people are motivated in very different ways to do that, not all of the ways admirable. I’m not sure I’m getting that across, even to myself, which is why the story has been in progress for years.

Continuity

May 15, 2008

I didn’t set out to write the Finnegans novels as continuous stories. Now that I have three novels written, though, I’m beginning to see some effect like that.

I realize that any novel has to stand on its own strengths and story line, and I think I’ve written them to do so, but I have plot ideas for a half dozen more Finnegan novels, and I’ve found that I’ve been slipping little set ups for the other stories into the ones I have already written. I don’t suppose that is bad at all. It gives the characters some long-term integrity. I won’t merely introduce some interest or behavior in a character that I’ll pretend is long standing. I’ll have already established it in another story or two.

For example, Greg Finnegan haunts used bookstores. In an event that pre-dates the chronology of my novels, he came upon a novel written by someone he’d never heard of but who wrote a proto-feminist story set in an actual Missouri River town. One of the reasons he visits used bookstores is with the hope that he will find another novel by this author. His quest comes up in some casual way in each of the three novels that I’ve written, but it will be the core of the plot for a novel I am yet to write (probably the next one, which I plan to title Finnegans Deciphered).

One wouldn’t have to read the earlier novels to appreciate the plot of Finnegans Deciphered, but if one had, one would have a better sense of Greg’s character in this aspect. (We really need an epicene pronoun in this language!)

In the novel I just finished, Finnegans Afoot, Ann resolves a long-standing personal relationship problem. I started establishing this problem in the other two novels, but I had no intent at the time to set up the resolution. I was just doing it to give her character some depth. But then Afoot came along and the resolution, which is a subplot that doesn’t drive the central narrative, found a nice fit. Once again, one wouldn’t have to read the other novels to appreciate it, but the set up is there. (Oddly, though, if one read Afoot first and then went to the other novels, the unresolved issue would be there though the reader would know it was addressed.)

Mystery novelist Susan Wittig Albert has used continuous character development in her China Bayles stories. I seem to remember her saying that this hadn’t been her intent originally but that her characters more or less called out for the continuity. I understand that she introduces a pregnant character in one of her novels, but in the next novel the character is no longer pregnant and there is no discussion of the new baby. I haven’t read that far into her series yet, but I’m told it’s true.

Update: I received an email from Susan Wittig Albert correcting my misunderstanding about her series of novels. Although I could swear that I heard her say that she had never intended to write a continuous story across her novels, she says that she had from the beginning. Also, she says she had not forgotten that one of her characters had a baby. Rather, she says, she forgot that the baby’s mother had chosen one name in an earlier novel and gave it a different name in the subsequent novel.

In my defense, I do say above that “I seem to remember,” so I wasn’t really asserting anything. Nonetheless, I’m pleased to know that she had intended continuity from the start.

Short story stuff

May 10, 2008

With the first draft of Finnegans Afoot completed, I allowed myself to get started on a short story. Although unrelated to Finnegans Afoot in terms of character and plot, I have set it in the same community and even made use of one of the core motifs of that novel. It really could stand alone, though.

I’m enjoying the buzz I get from the early stages of creativity. I am immersed in a whole new story with different characters and a different (and a bit more comic) resolution. Plus I don’t feel the weight of 70,000 words ahead of me. This story will come in at under 4,000 words, and I’ll probably trim it considerably from that. In fact, when I sit down and write two hundred words, I’ll have deleted two hundred and fifty from what I’ve already written. So as the story progresses, it gets shorter. (There’s a philosophical conundrum. I wonder what I could do with that as an idea.)

This isn’t a story of a crime so much as one of those impossible scenarios. A criminal is eluding the authorities, and his means of escape is baffling. The resolution of the story is finding out how he did it. I’m having fun fooling around with that.

I expect to have a first draft finished in a week or so, then I’ll let it cool and revisit it later. I’ll also complete the read through of Finnegans Afoot (which I continue to appreciate more as I go). Then I really must get going on Sleep of Reason, which I desire and dread in equal portions.

Writing is rewriting

May 3, 2008

I’ve begun the read through of Finnegans Afoot. I’ve been making lots of notes about things to add or emphasize and things to review for continuity problems (are they hiking up the mountain or down it? is the scene set on a Wednesday or a Thursday?). Plus I want to smooth the areas where I had earlier added ideas long after finishing a given chapter and such. The total word count of the first draft was a little low as well, so I’ve been looking for opportunities to slip in more substantive writing (rather than just fluff). I’m confident that it will all come together. As I noted earlier, I grew to like this story much more as it grew closer to completion.

Even so, after reviewing five chapters (not quite one third of the novel as currently written) I’ve only netted a gain of 147 words. Could it be that the novel is so perfectly written that it requires no significant work? (Of course not! Don’t think I’m being vain.) I suspect that it is the nature of earlier chapters to be better polished simply because they have been around longer and have had regular work done to them during the process of writing the whole novel.

Writing is rewriting. I learned that lesson long ago. Every bit of writing benefits from a cooling off period followed by heartless review and reworking. One ancient Greek philosopher recommended letting a piece of writing sit for something like eight years before coming back to it to revise it. I don’t think I want to wait that long, but I only finished the last chapter a week or so ago, and I suspect that I’ll need to give it yet another heartless review after a few months.