Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This Novel Is Just Another Play

This is going to be a shortie but sweetie in honor of the holiday (i.e. in honor of the fact that I'm hosting Thanksgiving tomorrow and must give long, careful thought to important things like how long I should cook my sweet potatoes. Obviously.).

I've posted before about the value of having good friends, not just for life, but for writing. For me, these are the two people in my life who will listen to me fumble my way through a new idea, offer thoughts and encouragement, help me climb out of a self-induced plot hole, and read the towering pile of over-writing that I like to call a first draft.

The particular tidbit I want to talk about today involves one of these amazing women: my good friend who we'll call the Don (which can be interpreted in many different ways. Take your pick.) The other woman, the New Messiah, has made her debut on this blog already.

I've known the Don for a long, long time. We met our freshman year of college, which (just to age myself here) puts our friendship at the ripe old age of 15 years. Funny enough, we didn't like each other at all when we first met, but that's another story for another time. At this point, the Don is more like my sister than my friend. She was there when I wrote my first play, encouraging and helping and calling me out on my copious amounts of writing-related (and, ok, life-related) crap. She starred in that play, actually. She's read so much of my writing over the years that she could probably pick it out of a line-up while blindfolded. She's also one of those people who needs books like she needs air; she never, ever goes anywhere without one. It's a common sight to meet her at a restaurant and find her engrossed in a book while she waits, glasses perched on her nose, trendy scarf tossed artfully around her shoulders as she pores over the pages. She's also funny, honest, and too damn smart for her own good.

All of this makes her an invaluable critic.

Last week, I met the Don at one of our favorite haunts. Sure enough, she was reading while waiting for me, knee-deep in a book, sipping on a cocktail. We did what we usually do when we meet: we ordered a large amount of smoked and/or salted pork, drank a little too much, caught up on our lives, and probably cried. And, we talked about the idea I'm working on. The Don is familiar with this idea, of course. I've been telling her about it, bit by bit, for months now, and already her input and ideas have been priceless.

That night, I confessed my fears and struggles with writing in the first person, much like I did on this blog not too long ago. She let me go on for a while about my new strain of insanity, patiently listening as I laid out my concerns, and then when I was finished she looked me straight in the eye and said, "Why are you worrying about this? You're a playwright."

I stopped, and blinked, and said, "What does that have to do with anything?"

She gave me her patented eyebrow lift, and answered, "You write monologues." The "dumbass" at the end was, of course, inferred.

Well. DUH, right? I felt both very relieved and very, very stupid. The Don had an excellent point: a monologue is nothing if not a long piece of text written in the first person. How had I not realized this?

It's amazing how much this has eased my mind. Instead of being worried about my ability to pull off a first person POV, I've been imagining that this piece of the book is really just one really really long monologue. And that's not even unheard of, for a play: Tony Kushner has done it brilliantly (readers of this blog will already know that he's one of my writing heroes, but seriously, if you've never read or seen Homebody/Kabul, go grab a copy and read the first act. It's a phenomenal, inspiring, daring piece of writing.)

So that's what I'm doing: I'm writing a monologue. This, I know how to do. This is fun. This can even be easy. With one simple sentence, the Don was able to ease my fears, make me feel dumb, and change my perspective. Not bad for one night's work. I'll take it - and her - with a great deal of gratitude.

(As a postscript/side note... did I say this was going to be short??? Why do I even bother pretending??)

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Snapshots From My Brain

I'm doing something I rarely do on this blog: I'm sitting down to post with zero idea of what I want to write about today. I usually have some framework in mind, or at least a theme, but this morning... not so much.

Excited yet???

Me too!!!

So, I think what I'll do is brainstorm right here. You know, just freewrite, like flipping through my brain's current photo album, and see what comes out. It'll be a little experiment. And I'll do it in list form, because lists make me feel happy and safe. So, without further ado...

  • NaNoWriMo. I'm not so much doing it as I am finding new and creative ways to work around doing it. You see, I thought at first that I might leap headlong into the fray of NaNo, throwing caution to the wind, and - gasp - write without a plot or an outline or anything but a vague sort of idea-thingy-dingy. You'll be shocked to learn that this lasted about ten minutes, before I looked in dumb dismay at my computer screen, and said (maybe out loud. I'm not telling), "I have no idea what the f*&$ I'm trying to write about." Yes, I confirmed once and for all that I am not a pantser, because no matter how hard I try, my brain just doesn't work that way. I can't write without at least a brief sketch of a road map, it turns out, and I can't make that map without knowing my characters.
  • Not worry! I haven't stopped trying; I've just changed tactics. I may not be able to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, but I might be able to write 50,000 words of character analysis, free-writing, and outlines in a month. That's what I'm doing now. Perhaps some people might call that "cheating"; I call it "changing the goals so I don't get ridiculously frustrated and unnecessarily upset with myself and actually manage to get something done."
  • Guess what? It's working! I don't have anything close to 50,000 words, and I might not hit that target (thank you, life, people, day job, and so on), but I am churning out my brainstorming quite a bit faster than usual. And since I LOVE brainstorming so, so, so much, anything I can do to speed the damn process up is a big fat WIN in my book.
  • For those following this new book of mine, Sam's name is now Taylor. I took a brief and entirely unscientific poll, and people seem to have much fewer immediate gender associations about "Taylor". So that's what I'm going with. 
  • Taylor is, yes, still very keen on getting me to tell their damn story (I'm going with 'they' instead of 'he' or 'she' on the excellent advice of Mr. M.L. Swift. Thanks, Mike!) Thanks in large part to all of your great advice, I'm now enjoying it rather than wondering if I've truly lost my marbles. 
  • I'm also working on a few new sections/lifetimes, involving an old man in ancient Tibet, and a nomad in pre-Columbus South America. The amount of research I'm going to have to do for this thing is starting to get a bit alarming. 
  • No, I haven't forgotten about Cloudland. Editing is truly done. I've queried a few agents and am now waiting, quite calmly and patiently, to hear back on this first round of queries. I do not, of course, refresh my inbox 75,000 times per minute, nor do I do anything foolish like jump out of my skin every time I have a new email notification. Of course not. Ha, ha, ha.... UGH. As a side note, how the hell do people stay sane doing this????? 
  • I also entered Cloudland into some contests. Some results are encouraging, but far from finished. I'll keep quiet about that for now, but will hopefully have news.... later. Things are brewing.

Hey... that wasn't so bad! I guess I can write without an outline, as long as what I'm writing - is an outline! 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Wait, I Changed My Mind

NOTE: I was going to write about NaNoWriMo, but I got distracted. Again. I'll get back to it next week...I think. 

Last week, I wrote at length (of course) about my new idea. You should probably read that post, because otherwise this isn't going to make a whole lot of sense. I titled that post "Let Me Inside Your Head", but I think I might want to take that back.

See, I'm still working on the gender-free first person narrative section of the book (I wasn't joking; go read it). I took the good advice you all gave me to heart, and just went for it. Dove head-first into my character and didn't look back.

Ok, that's not entirely true. Actually, I first tried writing a snippet of a scene (you know, brainstorming), proceeded to have a minor panic attack about my inability to write in the first person, and retreated to the relative safety of my character analysis instead.

Here's the thing, though: I usually write these analyses in the third person, like a psychoanalyst writing up a patient. And I did that for about two paragraphs before I got really fed up with not using any gender pronouns (no 'he', no 'she' - hello, stupid diction gymnastics!), and switched to the first person, anyway.

And then the most amazing thing happened: the words just started pouring out. It felt for all the world like my hands couldn't keep up with the words in my head; the story wanted to be told. Or maybe this character wanted to be heard. Either way, I couldn't stop the story. It was all back-story, all of the details that might never appear in the finished novel but that are essential in crafting a three-dimensional person: how this person grew up, why this person acts the way they do (Oh for God's sake, let's just use the character name - Sam - and dispense with the ridiculous maneuvering), what Sam is afraid of, and all of Elizabeth George's other character attributes.

This was amazing. This was inspiring. It keeps happening, too - every time I sit down to work on Sam, it's a flood of words.

And believe it or not, this is becoming a problem.

Now, this is going to sound crazy. I mean, I know I say that sort of thing a lot on this blog, and maybe it might have the 'boy who cried wolf' effect, but honestly, this is really going to sound crazy.

I can't get out of Sam's head.

I know, I know, you're thinking "Ok Liz, that's cute and dramatic and all, but come on now. Stop snorting the special blue fairy dust and tell us the truth."

This is the truth, though, melodrama and mind-altering substances notwithstanding. I start writing, and when it's time to stop, I can't. It takes me a long time to move out of Sam's headspace. I quite honestly feel dazed, and - call the loony bin, because this is even crazier - I feel submerged in whatever emotion Sam was feeling. Sadness, loss, fear, joy; whatever I was writing about, I'm still feeling it when I get up from the computer. And God forbid I should be interrupted while I'm writing, because then I'm pretty sure there's a non-gender-specified Australian sheep farmer (yes, Sam is an Australian sheep farmer; don't ask) walking around in my body, talking to my wife, giving massages, texting my friends, and sleeping in my bed.

Which is weird.

This has never happened to me before. Sure, I get engrossed in my stories; sure, it's hard for me to be interrupted; and yes, of course I'm often still thinking about what I was writing when I get up and move about the rest of my day. But I don't usually feel like I'm stuck in another person's brain. A FICTIONAL person's brain, which I myself MADE UP.

I'm telling myself this is a good thing. I'm telling myself that I'm really getting to know my character, that I'm really digging down into my, like, writer's soul, man, and that's, like, deep and stuff.

Needless to say, I'm not sure I believe myself. Maybe this is one of the perils of writing in the first person, or maybe I am snorting special blue fairy dust. The thing is, I don't even know if I really have Sam's voice down yet. I don't think I do. I think I don't have a tone yet, or a set style, or Sam's real, true voice, and I think I'm still having Sam say and think things that aren't accurate. And yet, I can't get out of Sam's head. It's confusing and unnerving and for the first time in my life, I'm having to come up with ways to transition out of writing and into the rest of my day, and put Sam away.

So yes, I think I might change my mind. It's not "Let Me Inside Your Head", it's "Let Me OUT". At least, let me out when it's time to get out. Please?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Insecure Writers: Let Me Inside Your Head!

NOTE: It's the first Wednesday of the month, so it's time for The Insecure Writers! For those who don't remember, it's an online group created by Alex J. Cavanaugh for writers. Most of whom are insecure. So we support each other from the safety and comfort of our desks. 

It's NaNoWriMo (ahem, that's National Novel Writing Month) time, so naturally, this post has a little bit to do with that venerable event. I'm not going to talk about it much, though, or really at all, at least beyond my introductory sentence, so this entire paragraph is a big, fat tease.


Not to worry, though, this is still a post about insecurity.

SOOOO, in honor of the aforementioned event that I will no longer discuss, I'm trying to move waaaaaaaay outside of my comfort zone, and work on my next novel without an outline.

Yeah, it's not going very well. Readers of this blog will know that while this method of writing (also known as 'pantsing') is a valid approach, it makes my head spin round and round in nauseating little circles while elves of anxiety tap dance in my stomach, and I subsequently produce nothing but nonsensical garbage.

None of which is the point of this post, but it's atmospheric. Y'know, setting the scene.

Which is this: See, I have this idea that in one of the stories in this new book, the narrator's gender is never revealed (an idea I am gratefully taking from Jeannette Winterson). The whole book is really a love story between two souls, and while it jumps from lifetime to lifetime, the souls are the same. It's also about love, and fear, and faith. And what better way, what more interesting way, to talk about all of this, and to explore how our souls love, than by taking gender out of the equation? I mean, does a soul have a gender? We as humans are so gender-focused that it's hard for us to think outside of that paradigm, but it's such a fascinating issue and question that I want to raise it.

Which means that I can't write this section in my favorite point of view, third person limited, which is what I used when I wrote Cloudland. I can't write it in third person omniscient, either, because anything in the third person would require serious and absurd diction gymnastics to avoid ever saying "he" or "she". No, if I want the narrator's gender to remain unspecified, I have to write in the first person.

MAN, is that harder than I ever expected. There are a lot of reasons for this, including my own lack of familiarity with this POV. But to write in the first person, you have to find the voice of your character. Not only how he or she speaks, but how this person thinks. And it's so easy, it's in fact way too easy, for that voice to sound insincere or forced or false. Because really, what you're doing is moving outside of your own head, and into someone else's. Not kind of/sort of into someone else's head, like in the third person limited, but really in there.

Add to this mess the fact that this narrator I'm creating is by nature a very private person, and you have a recipe for a lovely and explosive writing disaster. I mean, how can you be inside the head of someone who is intensely private??? Right - you can't. They don't like. They kick you out.

So this is my major insecurity for today. Can I pull this off??? Can I write in the first person? Or am I trying to do something beyond me? And even if I'm capable of it, will this character let me?

Time will tell, I guess. In the meantime, any and all advice, words of encouragement, dire warnings, and other thoughts are much appreciated.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Extra Special Bonus Post: AWARDS!

I know, I know; it's a Tuesday. What on earth am I doing posting???? 

Well, I've been lucky enough to be nominated for a couple of awards recently, so I decided to create a super-special extra bonus fun-time post. (Read: I'm way overdue on responding to these nominations and so I'm trying to make up for it with an extra post. I know, I'm a procrastinator. I'm sorry.) I'll be back with my normal writing-related post tomorrow. 

First up: the Sunshine Award!

I should preface this by saying that I'm going to follow my nominator, the lovely Ashley Nixon's, lead here, and copy what she did...because I don't actually know what the rules are. Ahem.

Fave color: Purple
Fave animal: Just one??? I love animals. Seriously. I'm a nature TV show nerd. I can't think of a better night than curling up to watch the Blue Planet for the 37th time. As I said, I'm a nerd.
Fave number: 6
Fave non-alcoholic drink: apple cider
Fave alcoholic drink: Good Irish whiskey or red wine
Facebook or Twitter: Is it a bad idea to admit via my blog that I think they're necessary evils? 
Passions: Writing! Also various politically dangerous topics like guns, the environment, feminism, gay marriage, and so on. (See how I mentioned those without saying what I think about them? Nice and avoidant.)
Prefer giving or getting presents? Giving. Would anyone admit to liking to get them better? That's like saying. "Hi, I'm kind of selfish!"
Fave city? Oh this is too hard to answer. I love my home - Boston - but I also have a love/hate relationship with NYC, and I fell in love a little bit with London, Sienna, and various tiny cities in Vermont, too. 
Fave TV Shows: Sherlock (BBC), Elementary (more Sherlock on CBS), Six Feet Under, NATURE SHOWS!

As for nominations, well I'm going to break some rules and combine my noms below. Sorry, artistic privilege.

On to the Liebster Award! Thank you, Adrienne Reiter, for nominating me!

So I'm going to obey Adrienne, here, and follow her rules. 

First, 11 random facts about ME:
  1. I sleep with my feet sticking out of the covers because they get really hot at night. 
  2. Conversely (perversely?), my hands and feet are freezing at all other times.
  3. I am a huge baseball and football fan, in direct contrast to the fact that I'm also a tree-hugging yogi. 
  4. I was once pick-pocketed while in Rome, but I chased the perps down and got my wallet back. True story.
  5. I'll try almost any food once, but bugs, amphibians, and invertebrates gross me out. As food items, anyway.
  6. I was a musical theatre major in college for about a month, until I woke out of my daze and switched to acting. I still secretly love musicals, though.
  7. I'm afraid of ice. Not the substance itself, but of slipping and falling on it. 
  8. I play guitar.
  9. I have three tattoos. No, they're not naughty, nor are they Chinese or Japanese characters. 
  10. I have terrible, awful, no-good very bad vision.
  11. I love all things chocolate and peanut butter.
Ok, now the questions for my nominees:
  1. What’s the meaning of life? What’s the point?
  2. What are you best at?
  3. If you were captured by aliens and put into an arena and they used their power of divination to determine your greatest fear or the one creature/animal/monster fake or real—what would appear out of the shadows to face you?
  4. Favorite gig of all time?
  5. How do you boil an egg?
  6. If you could magic your mind into the body of any living human being on planet Earth, who would it be? (Keep in mind there’s no going back.)
  7. If a clown jumped out of a van in the street while you were minding your own business and handed you a big pot of pink paint and a big crush, and said, “You mush paint that house over there pink, if you do then you’ll get this,” he shows you the biggest diamond you’ve ever seen in your life, what would you do?
  8. Favorite food?
  9. If you were suddenly transformed or transmogrified into a great bowl along with your equivalent selves from every country in the world, and you were asked by God to compete against each other in a variety of sports and test, what self from what country would win and why?
  10. The best thing you’ve done for another human being?
  11. What are your long term life goals?
And my answers:
  1. 42. Obviously. You can also consult this post.
  2. Effort. I dive into everything I do with everything I have. I can't stand doing things halfway.
  3. That monster from Pan's Labyrinth. Honestly, when it appeared onscreen I thought someone had ripped it from my subconscious mind. Terrifying. 
  4. Writing full-time. That would be amazing.
  5. With the power of my mind. Duh.
  6. Erm, I think I'd rather stay where I am. 
  7. Give me a break. This is SO fake. Since when do clowns have access to gigantic diamonds?
  8. Bacon, chocolate, peanut butter, sweet potatoes, roasted butternut squash, garlic, olives - oh, was I supposed to choose just one?
  9. Again, I'll go with 42.
  10. I can't reveal it, or I'll ruin it.
  11. Writing. Full-time. Successfully.
And finally, my nominees!!

Sunshine Award:

Liebster Award:

Check out their blogs!!