Archive for January, 2015

Attention world: please arrange for this to be performed either at my coronation (as King of the World) or at my funeral.

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UPDATE: I see I wrote about the notebooks earlier, in 2010 (without picture). Sorry, faithful readers.

What’s up with the notebooks?  Paul Spector, the seriously creepy serial killer at the heart of BBC series The Fall, keeps notebooks, hides notebooks, loses notebooks and ultimately destroys notebooks.  John Doe, the character behind all the horrible murders in SE7EN, also does a lot of journaling.  The paranoid radical narrator of Talking Heads’ Life During Wartime burns his notebooks, wondering, “What good are notebooks?  They won’t help me survive.”

What good are they?  I’ve been doing virtually the same notebook exercise for the last several years, as follows: opening the latest Muji notebook (pictured) to the next blank page and filling it with . . . whatever. Emptying my brain onto the page, whatever thoughts are flying around, put them down.  One page, sometimes two.  I used to use a larger size Muji, but then I ordered a pack of a smaller size by accident, so now I use those (indicating that this is a very serious and scientific thing I’m doing).  Sometimes it’s what’s on my mind, sometimes I’m telling myself how great or terrible I am, sometimes recording my worries about the future. But it’s all illegible garbage, not a record of anything. I don’t go back and read it, because if I start doing that, I am afraid I will censor myself on the front end.  It’s deliberately stupid.

What’s the point? I ask myself the same question.  I often write it down in the notebook: “Why am I doing this? I don’t know why I am doing this.” My writing time is limited (and only going to get more limited), and the notebook exercise takes up a substantial fraction of it.  Many nights, if I’m tired or delayed, it’s all that I will do, and I won’t even open Microsoft Word to do any fiction writing. Of course, there are days when I don’t do anything at all, not even the page, and I go through stretches when I am completely unproductive.

I started with the notion that, if I want to write, I should write; i.e., just produce volume of prose without regard to quality.  It does clear my mind, and in periods when I’m not doing the notebook, I miss it.  Supposedly, writing by hand helps your brain — even my infantile scrawl. So here are some possible benefits (or as a certain college instructor of mine would have said, positive benefits): 1) it keeps my gray matter from rotting; 2) it’s therapuetic, in an emotional/anxiety sense; 3) it’s a writing warmup, and while it doesn’t produce anything in itself, it helps the process.

But it’s garbage. Page upon page of nothing, thousands of words that are of no value to anyone.  Hundreds of hours of my life to create something that not even I can use.

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As some know and few care, I’ve been tapping away at some books in a series I’m calling THE MISSISSIPPIANS.  The original idea was to write about a boy (Billy Green) who was not me, but who was about my age and who grew up in my hometown of Hattiesburg, Mississippi.  Easy, right? (I have notes and a few thousand words towards that book.)

On the way to getting that started, I sketched out some information about Billy’s family situation —  as a teenager, he lives with his mother, Nadine, and … what’s happened to his father?  And what’s the deal with his uncle?  These questions were important to understand Billy and his story, so I wrote a few summary pages to explain them, which I intended to throw into the book somewhere.  Then I gave up, in about the year 2000, and put it all away.  But when I started my writing class in 2008, I was rummaging through my files for the odds and ends of half-completed projects to show the group.  The class (mostly but not exclusively a group of older women) gave my science fiction a decidedly cool reaction, and they gave my sad-and-lonely-twentysomething fiction a negative reaction.  So I pulled out these pages and read them to the class.

Not to overstate it, but the group loved those pages. Maybe it was a relative thing, but compared to the tepid earlier reaction, this was warm.  They had questions — the same ones I was trying to answer and other ones: Who was this character sleeping with?  How did those two know each other? He did WHAT? The questions told me that there was more here than I originally thought, and answering them would require a story of its own. The Billy story, set in 1985 (or thereabouts) was nowhere, so I started on the story of his parents, Nadine and George. THIS story was set in 1970-71, which is just before Billy was born — and just before I was born as well.  (This is a weird and difficult time to set a story, by the way.  I don’t actually know anything about that time, and my own earliest memories are confused and misleading.)

I wrote two books about Nadine, A Perfect Wife and The Widow’s Mite, in which Billy appears as a minor character.  Over the course of these two, I grew more interested in Nadine’s mother, Vivette.  I introduced her originally to be a superficial, meddlesome character, but as she appeared again and again, she grew on me. I had more of those questions: Where did she come from?  How did she get like this? Once again, I made notes.  I had thrown in some explanation of her origins in the APW, but that was literally just a paragraph.  Some of my readers for APW pointed to that paragraph.  What is this?  Will we ever learn more about this?

Sure we can.  So I made some notes, made some decisions about what would be interesting and fit with what I had already written. I’m not very good with titles, but some research suggested a good one: The Tomato Queen of Crystal Springs.  I started writing a first draft, which is always terrible, but I have some ideas.  This story takes place in 1943 or thereabouts, when Vivette is a young teenager, and I have family stories and other information that can incorporate.

But more questions arise.  I have an interesting idea about Vivette’s family, and their unusual living situation — but how did this come about?  More specifically, Vivette’s mother, a character currently named Geraldine — how did she end up in this place, with this husband and these children? THAT story would be interesting, and set even earlier — in the 1920s?

Tumbling backwards in time.  Where will it end?  When will poor Billy ever get his story told?

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Minas Tirith


It’s late for a 2014 lookback post, and this probably won’t be much of one, but here goes. These are in no particular order.

In 2014, I:

  • Knocked up my wife again.  [Hi Molly!]  It’s a boy due in May.  Current placeholder name is Fartnoise (or an actual fart noise).
  • Read 8 books, according to Goodreads (which is too low, but not by much).  The best of them that I can remember was probably The Dispossessed by le Guin, although the winner in category “Book that I vaguely remember from childhood that cost $.25 on Amazon plus $4.00 shipping” was Breed to Come, by Norton.  If it sounds like I read only science fiction written by women this year: no, though I did read a lot of fiction by women.  My reading was done almost entirely standing on a train.
  • Started the year by writing about 30,000 words of a fantasy novel — which I like, but honestly cannot evaluate as to its objective quality.  If anyone out there wants to take a look, hit me up.
  • Hired an actual editor to help me with a final draft of A Perfect Wife (first book in projected series The Mississippians).  I have been thinking I will self-publish it (maybe in 2015?), but right now I’m just trying to get it in as good a state as it can be.  I am currently going through her revisions and deciding which are genius and which are complete rubbish.
  • Reached the 20,000-word mark on the third Mississippians book, tentatively titled The Tomato Queen of Crystal Springs, Mississippi.  It’s meant to be about 75,000 words, so that may mean that I’m more than 25% finished with a first draft — or any such measure could be completely valueless, and I’ll never finish it, and the whole endeavor is doomed.  In any case, the first draft of anything is a nightmare quest through a dark forest filled with monsters, and this is no exception.
  • Had something like four Tax Court trials (three in Boston and one in Mobile, Alabama).  I don’t normally write about my job on this page, but this is significant if only that I am now doing work that I never expected to do, and it’s OK.
  • Managed to miscommunicate with an old friend regarding the day she would be in Boston doing a reading from her new novel, so that I missed seeing her and she probably thought that I flaked. And I had read the book!  And liked it!

Meaningless resolutions for 2015:

  • Welcome Fartnoise into the world. Take plenty of time off from my job.
  • Support my wife in all things.
  • Perhaps to self-publish a novel/e-book (A Perfect Wife, see above), or perhaps not.  Steps after finishing the draft include 1) having a cover done, 2) getting it formatted, 3) sorting out the ISBN nonsense, 4) getting permission to do so from my work, and 5) actually doing it without shitting my pants (or maybe shitting them — will the reader know the difference?).
  • Putting more on this page. You are supposed to do that, I’m told, but I also have a couple of ideas for posts that I should write in order to discover whether or not they were actually good ideas.
  • All the normal stuff: diet/exercise, etc. By December, I will be a god cast in bronze.
  • Resist hopelessness about all this creative stuff.  Despite what Yoda may have told you, it’s not a question of accomplishing anything from moment to moment or even week to week, but of continuing to try.  So much of what I produce is so terrible, but somewhere in there is something worthwhile.

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