Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Positive Phantasmagoria

Deep forests tower over gnarled terrain, the groundcover of moss and ferns subject to the shade provided by massive old growth Ponderosa pine and Doug fir; whatever rain is allowed to penetrate whittled down to mist, fog, wisps of cloud. Something about rain speaks wordlessly of these things, speaks deep to the writer within and I come crawling out of my shell to behold it. I soak it in; soak up the mists of potential that fall from bough to bough, filtered fresh and delivered directly to the place of my being.

A trailhead stands protected by a gateway of brambles that bar the way in. Still, the light behind the barrier beckons me the writer come. Be. It’s a race not bowed or cowed to the swift; rather joined to its antithesis in mutual reality, conjoined in covenanted appetites for activity that benefits the both, the whole.

Rains wildly tossed by winds wash treetops with wave upon wave, a flood rinsing out branches and falling, running, splashing, dripping down to the ground where it becomes rivulets that twist and wend, gathering the wet, collecting the dust, washing away, growing, trickling, splashing, running, falling, becoming a flood, washing into rivers, to the wildly tossed sea.

I the writer see the cycles and understand awe; at least in part. Further understanding becomes wisdom as I part the veil to the path of participation and see the sun breaking in, setting alight millions of drops in the whole pantheon of color, these not gods but witness to One who Is, He who made the whole with Open Hand that remains extended to I; the participant.

Rain washes down from the atmosphere to where I dwell, the writer awakened and entranced and spellbound by its action that drives toward revelation. The pen and the page, figures born upon it that speak in echoes of Truth, pointing, participating.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thoughts on LOST at the end of season 4

Thoughts on LOST at the end of season 4

I’d never seen LOST until this year, when I got Netflix. I’m convinced it’s the only way to take in a lengthy series: commercial free and without waiting. Permit me to regale you on my ignorant thoughts about it as it unfolds.

Obfuscation. Boy oh boy. Boy howdy. I feel like a dunce at the end of almost every episode, because I end up saying, “WHAT?!” But we all love that; it's one reason why we love stories.

I’m not really sure what’s going on here. All I can think to say is that the island seems to be some sort of gateway to the underworld. It’s “special” to be sure—and I’m guessing Mr. Whitmore is interested in it for some as-yet undisclosed dark secret.

I’m still amazed at the interwovenness of the characters. They’re either distantly related to each other, called to the island mysteriously, or at one time unwittingly traipsed into and out of each other’s lives before the crash. It’s good writing. I’m guessing JJ Abrams had to outline this sucker in detail as he and the other writers were brainstorming the plotlines, and there were significant go-back-and-revise-that sessions.

Isn’t it interesting that Kahana, the name of the freighter that shows up off the coast of the island, means “turning point”? I find that to be very interesting, especially since it fits into the story as its namesake.

And by the way, one of my favorite characters, whom I had begun to loathe, is now back in my good graces: John Locke. He’s a man who answers to no one, and isn’t afraid to be caught without a plan. Benjamin Linus, however, seems to always have one, and even says as much. Again, these characters are named for famous philosophers, including Locke's alias, Jeremy Bentham. I've mined some old stuff for good names before, and this is a great example of just that. I just don't yet know if all of it has some greater purpose outside of itself.

And I suppose I should have seen it coming (another phrase muttered often as I watch the show) that Michael makes his reappearance as the penitent suffering martyr-yet-to-come. Walt, I’m sure, has a major part to play as things come to a head in the coming seasons. It was telling that Michael was told just as the C4 was about to blow that he could “go now.”

Which brings up another point: the significance of Jack’s father. I’m guessing he plays the role of Dark Overlord in the story; he’s the father of two main characters, and his coffin crashed onto the island as well—having been found empty by Jack. For what reason and purpose was he drawn to the island? I’m sure it’s yet to be revealed. But I suppose I should steel myself for disappointment on that and other notes.

Those flash-forward episodes are an interesting way to tell bits of the story. In a fool’s hand they would take the fizzle out of the plot, but these writers are deftly able to tell just enough to keep us guessing. It’s a method I have been planning to use in K, albeit in a different way.

At any rate, I have two more seasons to go until I’m finished. Like any good book, one can only experience it for the first time once, so this is momentous. I am loving the way good work stimulates good work.

Weak Sauce

I just realized this morning that I have a new (for me) insight into why I groan inwardly for the deplorable state of our American pop culture. We are a culture of imitation rather than creation.

If you disagree with me, think back to the last time you had a lengthy “conversation” with someone that was pretty much composed entirely of movie quotes. And while I participate willfully in these things, and even enjoy them, it still irritates me that quite a bit of my discourse when amongst friends can be summed up with this phrase: “that’s what she said.” Even though I find it to be freaking hilarious, it qualifies as the antithesis of uplift. Besides, I’m pretty sure that’s not what she said.

This might seem a bit off-topic for a blog on writing, but to me it’s relevant.

I think we amuse ourselves far too much, from time to time, and it’s detrimental to our culture and society as a whole. In other words, are we writers fully “in the harness,” as Harry Truman would have said? If I was perfect, every word I write would have some kind of positive impact on whoever reads it. My work would cause people to think about their positions on [name that topic], urge them to not take things for granted, stimulate thinking and debate.

So many times, and I’m speaking mainly as an editor here, I run across Weak Sauce. It’s usually one of two things. 1) Someone fancies themself a writer when in reality they’re a physicist or politician or worse. 2) An actual writer has phoned it in. The result: may I quote my platoon sergeant of yore? “Ten pounds of $#!* in a five pound bag.” Or, “a bag of smashed donuts,” for those averse to even the mention of the profane.

This is my call to the writers of the world to step it up and be as excellent as possible. More often than not, it’s the thinkers who man the rudder of society, and that’s us, among a select group of others. Therefore, if society at large has been reduced to movie quotes and inane innuendo it is at least obliquely our fault.

My hope and prayer is that K will be one example of a work that lives up to the higher standards of creativity amongst the great cloud of witnesses that has preceded this generation.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Subtitles and the Three-Volume-Novel

“Do not speak slightingly of the three volume novel, Cecily!” Yes, Miss Prism.

I must confess that I hate the idea of being like anyone else, even if it is good business. Something about the way I have been knit together just cringes at the idea. I was made, I think, to resist the vicissitudes of society. Whatever they may be. If for some reason everybody I know suddenly takes a liking toward Eminem, as they did when Dr. Dre first swept him onto the scene in the late 90’s, I tend to move in an opposite direction. If everybody liked some polar opposite version of that music, probably something written by Phillip Glass, then I would decidedly become a fan of Eminem. At least in theory.

So while all my writer friends are out there doing what makes sense from just about every business-related perspective and writing their three volume series of novels, I’m sitting here at home looking into the mirror saying, “Luke…you must resist the dark side.” And I have tried. But since a certain event happened to me, I’ve had a change of heart.

I’m jumping on the three volume bandwagon.

“But whyeeeee,” you may ask. Hang in there, Theophilus. We’re getting to it.

It has to do with a little book I picked up the other day, and this is the topic of another post. Actually, it’ll be a rant. But I picked up an old dictionary the other day, and as I was thumbing its ambrosia-scented seventy-year old pages, I ran across a word I haven’t seen used in a while: phantasmagoria. That word is like some impossible mix of Ferrari and stretch limo. It’s excessive. But I found that it described what happens in K quite well, actually, and right there, I knew I had a three volume novel on my hands, dammit.

Follow the logic: I can’t rename my novel “Phantasmagoria,” because, well, because it just doesn’t seem right. Instead, I decided on the spot to use phantasmagoria as a subtitle to the already established one-letter title, “K,” which I like very much. The problem then arises that “K: phantasmagoria” sure rolls off the tongue like it’s part of some kind of series. Dammit! So there you have it: destiny strikes again. Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.


I have to ask you a question: is there some rule that states all stories must be told in the past tense? There’s a few who have dabbled in the present tense, to my knowledge; and not that I’m all that well-read, but Dean Koontz did it in “Intensity,” as did Hemingway occasionally. So why do the vast majority of stories play out in the has-been tense?

I understand convention. And tradition. And sensibility. Okay, well, I understand them in a limited way. If I said otherwise I would be in trouble with my wife. But just because we have those things doesn’t mean they’re not to be used by default. After all, and human history will bear me out on this, the rules were made to be broken.

So the obvious conclusion I have reached here is this, and it too shall be phrased as a question: why not write a novel in the present tense?

I’m not an idiot. Even if the idiot “doth protest too much.” Just hear me out. Imagine a story told wherein the plot takes on an immediacy the simple past tense is unable to muster. Imagine a story told where the present tense takes center stage, thus allowing the writer—and the reader—to engage time and tense in whole new ways.

My story features time as a central, well, character, almost. It makes sense for me to fiddlefart around with the tenses in such a story. I have other very good reasons for messing with convention and tradition and sensibility, but they are top secret. Mwah-haha.

I’m finding, as I rewrite the opening to my novel in the present tense (initially as an experiment) that it opens up all kinds of subtle doors, especially in dialogue. It does take some getting used to, both as reader and writer. But it’s addictive. And I love it, because it allows for so much more depth and flexibility in the writing and story. I love it so much that, in spite of myself, my new opening has become about 20,000 words.

Granted, right off the bat, present tense is not for every writer, reader, or story. Besides, like I said, I have some aces up my sleeve. But in this case, for this story and this writer, it was an epiphany.

Getting Started

This is somewhat impulsive, but it’s right to start this blog off with something that speaks powerfully.

Two things first: I’m halfway through LOST. I’m watching it on Netflix just a few years late because that’s just how I am; I swim against the tide. Second thing, I’m reading Christopher Booker’s brilliant work on story entitled, “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories.” Just so we’re clear, those two things are affecting me deeply as I grapple internally with my own novel concept.

I say it’s a concept because it’s not yet a coherent story. For this, I’m very glad. Even though I’ve already produced close to 120,000 words on it, if I didn’t work hard to smith them thoroughly into something of greater value than they now represent, I would be cheating the gift I possess for writing. That’s something I think we all can agree is intolerable.

On to the meat of this first post. I’ve been wrestling with my novel, my first novel and therefore probably my magnum opus (at least at this point), for what feels like forever. It first began to hit the page as something substantive a couple of years ago. It started out fairly, but I don’t want to publish something simply fair. I want to publish something that adds to our culture and our society in a net positive; a gross positive. So much that has been artistically wrought in all kids of media since the mid 20th century has not benefitted us as the human race, and I aim to be a part of the solution as opposed to the opposite, if I at all can. I therefore find it very interesting that I’m finding such inspiration in a television show. And I don’t know how LOST ends—so don’t tell me—but so far, I find it to be a masterpiece of storytelling.

One of the main threads or plotlines in it is especially touching to me. Desmond David Hume (named for a famous philosopher, David Hume) plays the part of Odysseus to his girlfriend Penelope, whose namesake in the Homerian epic had to endure the increasingly antagonistic wooings of 108 suitors in her hero’s absence. The clock in the Hatch, where Desmond had to push the button every 108 minutes, clued me in on all of this. I love stories that have codes to crack. And I love real manly romance—which seems to have died alongside true masculinity, at least here in the west.

All this to say that I’m becoming inspired to begin to organize my story. LOST is serving as the mindbending inspiration, and Christopher Booker’s primer on the art of the story is the toolbox.

The last episode of LOST I watched was called The Constant, in season 4. It has within it something that I knew was not original, but something I came up with independently nevertheless: it’s the idea of becoming unpinned from one’s proper place in time. I plan on using it in a much different way in my novel, but it remains one of the central leitmotifs, if you will. Thanks to the German genius Richard Wagner for inventing that, by the way. The leitmotif is a recurring element of a story or song that represents part of a character or even part of the story that needs simple representation as the larger narrative unfolds.

I’ll blog more in the coming weeks about where I’m going with all of this, so stay tuned. Now that I’ve committed to blogging about my novel, it has all at once become more real, less daunting, and possible. I’m glad we’re on this journey, whatever it might be, together. Thanks for following.