Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Birthday Eve

The boys love to celebrate “Birthday Eve,” especially since it carries with it the same privilege as Christmas Eve: one present early. Just as Daniel did the day before his birthday, Alex is setting up a table with imaginary cake and ice cream surrounded by all his friends. These are mostly stuffed animals with makeshift party hats, including a rare appearance by Alex’s friend “the invisible man.” He adhered a party hat to the upright part of his chair to simulate invisible-man wearing a party hat, too. These boys crack me up. We’re still awaiting our pay so we can celebrate a little with them today. Which means this blog will run silent run deep (mostly silent) tomorrow on Alex’s actual birthday. No work on the book will be possible.

Mom just shut off “The Biography of Sergei Eisenstein,” a famous Russian filmmaker, to put some more appropriate birthday fare for the boys: Looney Tunes (the Road Runner disc). Yesterday I “did some research” (a.k.a. putzing around on the Internet googling everything even indirectly related to something in my book in lieu of actual writing and revision) and read up on the San Jose Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) where the funeral for Robbie’s mother is going to take place when I edit that rather long and complex two-scene set today. It’s a beautiful-looking building; I just wish there were some online interior photos so I could accurately write about a few details on the place. Instead I have to google other temples and fake it. It’s also awfully hard to pull two different and distinctive eulogy-style soliloquies out of my butt – one for a mentally disabled 23-year-old Sikh man and the other for his enraged, drunken, widowed father. I want something significant said, but I have to make them realistic and neither one uncharacteristically eloquent.

I rearranged a lot of the scenes of my book yesterday after I printed out a scene list. I think the narrative rhythm will be enhanced. I’ve read before that if you are able to rearrange the scenes in your book without too much trouble, it might not be a good thing (although I can’t recall precisely what they said the problem was). It concerns me a bit, but it’s not as if I don’t have to significantly alter each scene in its new position in the tale’s timeline. It further seems to me that Robbie’s story is rather episodic by nature; he sort of drifts to and from work and isn’t very assertive and things happen TO him rather than him doing a whole lot. By the end of the book his personality has become much more independent and self-reliant so those scenes likely wouldn’t be relocated so easily. Plus, I’ve been through this book so many times that no matter which scene I pick up to work on, my mind has a pretty good handle of where Robbie is on his in-story developmental arc (from very dependent in the beginning to damn close to an typical adult at the very end).

DING! Ten minutes. See you in the literary trenches, soldier.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Alex approaches SE7EN years old

Okay, the ten-minute timer's going. It may be the same date, but I'm trying to do some writing earlier in the day rather than wait until the wee hours of the morning, post-midnight. Most of the (half-million) books on writing I’ve read recommend working early, as close to waking up as possible, but I've always been a "night writer" myself. I'm determined to make the most of my 10-day break (which is now down to a week flat) by working for two hours, then a one-hour break with my wife and boys, then two on one off again, etc. Hopefully I can get in something close to a full workday that way and not feel so guilty for sitting at the computer in front of my boys for so long at a time. They understand I'm pursuing a noble career goal here, something I even call my "second job" (full-time school is my first these days), but it's still hard to ask a 6- and 5-year-old to not bother their dad when he's sitting on the living room sofa in clear view most of the day with earbuds in. Thus the breaks. Alex seems to understand the concept of "Papa has to work" better than Dan, but both occasionally can't help interrupting. I try to be as patient as I can.

Speaking of Alex and 6-year-olds, today is June 29 and his seventh birthday is in two days on July 1. We're going to invite Greg and Angie and Zach over if we can, although we understand they're busy and can't necessarily just run over in the middle of the week. We saw Greg back on the 18th when he and Angie came and saw Irina's summer ballet/pointe performance (and in fact we saw Greg at the Save-Mart across the street two days ago, decked out in his sharp Polo clothes and grabbing something before a Christian singles dance nearby). Luckily we get paid tomorrow so Alex gets more than just a rock on his big day.

I got all hyped up and worked until six on my book, including printing up a summarized scene list so I can analyze the overall flow of my book and where it gets bogged down, repetitive, or otherwise "choppy." Sol Stein, in one of his brilliant books on writing, recommends a "triage" method where you work on your novel's biggest problems first (such as scene arrangement and flow) before you rewrite material and worry about other potential problems like continuity, character motivation, dialogue, description, etc. I love the theory, but I obviously haven't followed it. Hell, by the time I read his advice – even if I intended to follow it to the letter – I was on my third draft at least. Anyway, it's good for me to learn by doing, and I think I've made every conceivable error in the construction of my first novel by now. It's been a 3 ½-year journey so far, but I have faith that the outcome will be good. I had a sort of "insight" as I went to bed last night, and that was – after all the work I've put into crafting this thing – I can't imagine I'll just get nothing but flat-out refusals from agents and publishers. I think it's good enough that they'll suggest rewrites and see enough potential in the piece that they'll want to work with me on it. Of course, I could be completely wrong, as I'm sure many first-time writers have had the same thought, even as they collected polite rejection after rejection.

That's ten! (I have to admit that after my ten is up I give myself another ten to correct, proofread and rewrite for readability.) Thanks for hanging with me, and I’m off to work!

A TIme of Peace

This 10-day break between classes is a time of peace. Days are too hot to go outside so Irina and the boys and I hit the pool later, at 8 or 9 or so. My stopwatch is set for ten minutes, but don't expect me to be as prolific as I was yesterday. Partly because I actually typed a few minutes before starting the timer, and also because I don't anticipate having much to say today. But that's not the point, is it? The point is to type and not worry about editing until I'm done and ready to publish the post. And to "warm up" for tonight's revision.

I read a few posts in the blog of a guy I used to play Halo 2 with on Xbox Live. It seems his life is moving in a good, positive direction. He seems to be very physically active with his hobby of ultimate Frisbee, has gotten what seems to be a promotion and is relocating to the Bay Area (much nicer than Sacramento), and is expecting his first child soon. I, on the other hand, am still taking classes on the Montgomery G.I. Bill and trying to stave off my inevitable re-entry into the work world, and as of late February of 2009 am entering my FOURTH year of working on my novel. It's paycheck to paycheck for us (and oftentimes hand to mouth near the end of the month), and I can't very well sell a novel that I can't stop modifying and christen "completed." So Godspeed to me over these 10 days. No booze, no procrastination, no bullshit. I need to haul ass and complete this bastard so that I can worry about getting an agent and becoming published. That is the dream, and it is the reason I accept this rather Spartan lifestyle for the time being. When I have to start working on a resume and going to interviews, my morale's going to plummet. Having a novel on bookstore shelves (even one that doesn't earn out its paltry advance) would help me maintain a degree of sanity when I re-enter the hellish life of cubicle separation and inter-office sniping.

I'm depressing myself.

It's past midnight now, and I swore I'd work on my book when I first woke up. Naturally, and as always, it didn't happen. That's okay; I'm a night worker mostly anyway. I'm starting final revision on scene 22 of 84 tonight, which is a dream flashback of Robbie's trip to the San Francisco Zoo with his parents for his tenth birthday in 1996. Papa's cruel, Mama doesn't protect her boy much, and Robbie wakes up wondering why his mind is filled with bad memories of Mama following her death.

My God, Alex is so whiny tonight he's driving me insane! I'd put my iPod on a high volume right now, but it's in the pawn shop for the moment. Ugh, that shames me. If I'm ever able to live on writing income I'm going to rent an office; Irina and I agree on this point. Anyway, so I'll just plug my the headphones into my new laptop here and go to a Launchcast/Yahoo! music station and turn the volume up high. Actually my new laptop is a "netbook," some kind of relatively new term meaning a stripped-down laptop with limited memory, functions, and features -- including no CD-rom drive! Even it's screen is tiny: 9.5"! But it only cost $300 from the Circuit City website during it's "Going Out of Business" sale, and it serves my purpose. My faithful ($1800) HP laptop that I bought in 2003 finally flamed out so I had to replace it. Call it a business expense, of which I can afford damn few. This one's an HP, too.

Speaking of Launchcast, I heard an amazing piece of music yesterday when I clicked on the "Opera" station as a joke. It was called "Mi Mancherai" and it was performed by two prodigies. One is Josh Groban, who has an awesome voice and who was only 22 when he performed in this clip in 2004. He's a little off on some of the notes, but just a hair, and I didn't even notice until multiple listens. Very talented guy. The other prodigy is an Asian or Pacific Islander-looking woman who looks just as young and plays the violin beautifully. Cut and paste the link below and try it yourself (sorry I don't know how to make a clickable link because I'm lame):


DING! Time's up! Thanks for your patience with my rambling.

- Nate

P.S. EDIT: You sure hear some interesting new stuff on Launchcast. This one was under category "Classical Crossover." (I can't listen to music with lyrics when writing; I sing along. Alternately, all music must have foreign language lyrics, thus my occasional experimentation with the "Opera" channel). Listen to this clip at least to the point where Robert Plant would normally begin singing:


Sunday, June 28, 2009

Traveler in the Dark

The title of this post is what I've re-christened my novel as of September of 2007. I stole a page from the John Steinbeck idea book and used a phrase from the verse of a well-known song. (He did it with "The Grapes of Wrath," which is a line from "Battle Hymn of the Republic." I actually hear his wife Elaine came up with the title, though.) Being a slightly less talented writer than Steinbeck, I aimed a bit lower and used a phrase from a later verse of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star:"

Then the traveler in the dark
Thanks you for your tiny spark;
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.
Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are

I'll try to be a bit more regular of a contributor on my own blog here. I've said that before, of course, but I think maybe setting a timer of say 10 minutes to "warm up" the typing fingers might help me with my productivity on the novel for the night. I'll do that now.

I've been "closing" scenes off, meaning that they are in a condition that I can safely say I'm no longer embarrassed about them. I'm on my fifth draft of my novel and I can sense it finally, FINALLY coming together during this final draft. It's a little late to be altering vital story elements and rearranging scenes, but I'm doing it anyway, and just about every change I make seems to be the right one. I've been going to college full-time since late 2007, and I'm just now stepping off a six-month break from my novel, which is really helping me see the story through fresh eyes.

I'm very proud of my story and I think it will sell. It will likely follow the route of every book in existence and first be turned down by every agent and publisher on planet Earth, but I'll keep the faith and keep plugging away (and even move on to a second novel if I can't seem to get this one sold).

My main focus now is figuring out a way to keep the final act from seeming too rushed and forced. I need to get Robbie's dad calling him from jail and trying to coerce his son to help in his release earlier on. I need to pump up Wendell's appearances a bit more and make the dialogue more meaningful (maybe even have those two do something fun or significant together). Sometimes I feel that Wendell is only around to provide a dramatic departure later in the story. Why are they friends? Why do they click when so many other people pick on or don't like Robbie?

By the way, I'm changing Wendell's race to black. Despite all the times I've mentioned his blond hair and that Robbie can see his veins through his pale skin due to his sickness, people can't seem to understand that he's supposed to be white. Maybe because I gave him realistic teen dialogue, which I suppose resembles the rhythm of urban black talk. Readers, particularly older ones, don't seem to understand that ALL teenagers these days, not just black ones, talk sort of hip-hoppy. And I swear if one more person tells me they thought Wendell is black because he speaks "jive talk," I'm going to rend my hair from my head. God, these preconceptions are just locked in!

I'm 8 1/2 minutes on my timer, so I better wind this up. I've closed 20 of the novel's 84 scenes, and I have to get to work. I'm feeling inspired and good, and I have a 10-day break before my classes for the second half of the summer semester start. Expect me to check in for a 10-minute warm-up like this every day during that break.

Nine and a half! Deep breath. Relax. And PLUNGE into the world of the story, man!