Monday, March 13, 2006

The Epiphany

I learned something very important yesterday (I should say it was today -- it would be more dramatic since it's my birthday). It's maybe the most important thing I've ever realized. I'll try to keep it short so as to not make everyone's eyes glaze over.

I realized that if I don't try to make a serious attempt at being successful with my writing -- and by serious I mean doing it every day, finishing what I start, and beginning to submit some of my stuff -- then I will never be happy. Maybe it should've been obvious and I should have acknowledged it before my 34th birthday (for goodness' sake!), but it only hit me clearly yesterday.

The fact is that I'm in the Air Force, and I have my annual promotion test on Mar 30. I only just learned I qualify for it this year, so I will really have to cram and work hard to test well. Except that for the past few days, I haven't been. At all. When I sensed that it wasn't just my usual procrastinating nature, I thought it over, and it hit me clear as day. This definitely falls under the category of "epiphany," and I don't think I've ever had one before. I saw in my head a fork in the road: down the first path lay that test, my remaining seven years in the military before I can retire, and one potential future for me. Down the second, I saw a novel completed, years of work, submissions, and rejections, and a different potential future for me. And I understood that it's not just a choice on which short-term task to complete (study, or write), because I could make time for both, but which of those paths I prefer.

And the decision was so easy. Off I go down that second path, for better or worse.

I really can't overstate what a revelation it was to realize this thing out of the blue yesterday while driving down the road with my wife and boys in the car. Amazing...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

"Robbie Singh" update

Like I said, I started the "Robbie Singh" novel back Feb 25-ish, and the time has come: the time for conflict. (Haha, I typed "conflicht" just now, which sounded German enough and funny enough for me to annotate here.) I am about 7,500 words into the story, and I've established the main character and most of what I think will be the primary supporting characters (Mm? Oxymoron alert!). In any case, it's enough setup, and the time for real story has come. We need conflict, and we need it post-haste.

On one hand, the best fit for this tale, which seems to be a low-key character drama, would be to just mildly complicate his life with something. I mean, his voice is unique enough and naive enough to be quite compelling; every review and input I've gotten -- whether from family/friends or from strangers -- has been that he's a great and memorable character and very difficult to not empathize with and take a strong interest in. I can feel that, too, and when I say something positive about my work it must be true, because I'm savagely honest with myself. So, to wander back to my original point, I don't think it would take anything huge to make this story interesting; perhaps the budding romantic relationship with his female friend Julian.

On the other hand, I would sort of like to make something big happen. Something stronger. My first impulse was to have Julian die and Robbie deal with it, and my second was to have her kidnapped. Then I reconsidered; I mean, this girl is Robbie's sole shelter in his lonely and abused existence. Well, his Mom, too, but I can't hurt Julian up front. I felt relief when he met her in the story, since almost everyone else had treated Robbie shitty up until then. So I can feel how vital she is for a reader's sanity. No one wants to read about a guy who just gets shit on by the non-tards all the time. I sure don't.

On this topic, and as a side note, I have experienced something unique with this story so far. This is the first time -- the VERY first time -- that I've ever felt like the character I'm writing about is a real guy. I mean, when he got panicked on his way home from work in the Monterey fog, I panicked too! As I typed, my pulse got faster, and when Robbie started crying and then couldn't find his dropped glasses, I realized that my expression was definitely one of pain. How extraordinary. If this novel comes to something, I will remember this moment as the one where I knew it was something better and different than my usual.

In another part, Robbie's gone to sleep in his room in the basement and, when he wakes up, his alcoholic father is standing by him, looking down and wavering from the booze. The way I saw the scene, with very little light and the stink of Papa's cigarettes and black rum, made me petrified for Robbie. I honestly felt fear! I didn't want him to get hit by his asshole Dad, and -- here's the wacky part -- I was worried because I didn't know if he would be or not! Extraordinary, I say.

So, back to conflict. I need some. Dad is a drunk, and a mean one, but his propensity for smacking Robbie once in a while should be a side detail, not the focus of it. Robbie avoids him, anyway, of course, as anyone would. We need to keep it tight on Robbie. Well, we have to really, as it's first-person, and present-tense. A very limiting style, I'll admit, and a bit reliant on overheard conversations and a precarious balance of leading the reader to the conclusion I want them to draw while still making the narrator seem incapable of drawing that same conclusion himself.

Conflict. Focus, Nate. What can happen? Well, what can't, really, but how do we gradually ratchet up the tension? What tension? So far the only tension was whether Papa would smack him or not. Also, there's some feeling of tension from Robbie being in the world at large. He doesn't fit in well, he's mocked and taken advantage of quite a bit due to his obvious physical handicaps, he scared a lot of the time. He's heavily reliant on Mama, and Julian is his closest friend and a possible love interest. What if Julian started hanging out with someone else? Ouch, even as I typed that line, it seemed painful. Like I said, Robbie needs that tether to something good or else reading this thing will be like someone touching your eye every few seconds for hours on end: unenjoyable. It can't be all pain; after a while you can't feel anything.

A natural disaster of some kind? In the original short story, Robbie said he could sense things sometimes. He said he could feel when "the earthquake" was coming before it hit, like he had to poop real bad. I only stuck that in there so that later, when Lowell Christopher Jacob was making threatening implications to him, that he would understand them, albeit only on an instinctual level. I've not yet included this "gift," as his Mama called it in the short story, into the novel. I'm not sure it has a place. I mean, he's not psychic.

Ugh, I'm spinning my wheels here. I'm going to take this self-talk into my private file and continue there. I'll update sometime again soon.

Over and out.