It’s All Happening at the Zoo

sea otter  Enhydra lutrisI took my two little nieces to the zoo today. They’re three and five.  If you’ve never taken two little girls to the zoo it consists of a lot of,  “When are we getting to the alligator? When are we getting to the alligator?” followed by arrival at the alligator which involves you standing there while two little girls hide behind your legs, clinging to your jeans, asking you if the alligator is still staring at them and can we go please.

They loved the sea otters though.  Anyone who doesn’t love sea otters should be given a thorough psychological examination.

There were also a lot of hills and strollers and sun and chaos.  Which is nice and restful for me. The thing about writing is that it’s a rather all-invasive procedure. When I’m not at my desk my brain still tends to try to work out plot points or flesh out characters or run dialogue very much against my will. Even while on supposed vacations my brain stupidly refuses to stop thinking about such  stuff.

Children, I’ve found, are a wonderful antidote to this; with them around it’s basically impossible to focus on anything.

Specially at the zoo.

Can I go back to Part Two?

ostrichthumbThere’s a nice sense of…knowledge that comes at the end of a section.  For me, anyway.  My stories tend to break into nice large chunks that make perfect sense to me and provide much needed structure.  And when I’m coming up to the end of one of those chunks the number of things I have to deal with slowly decreases until I’m at those final few scenes which basically write themselves in a trumpet-laden festival of smooth writing.

Then I put in a page break and have to start the next section.  Which is all about figuring out which of the billion possible paths my characters are walking I need to start paying attention to. And that, compared to the trumpet-laden festival, is annoying.  And scary.

Also I have the flu or a cold or the plague or the croup or scarlet fever or some such crap and while the fiction is still progressing I’m not really overflowing with blog ideas.

So here we are.

Part Two Is Finished

Peach-faced LovebirdPart two of Persistent Illusions is done. The rough draft, anyway. When I typed “Part Two” into the site I use to dig up stock photos some weird auto-correcting-search-suggester changed it to “Parrot Two,” which is how I wound up with the  headlining photo.

I opted to keep this photo because those two parrots are quite obviously in love and Persistent Illusions is, at heart, a love story. Which is something that continues to baffle me. Yet there it is.  A love story somehow folded into this strange world where rotted things try to eat trickster angels and samurai workout to Avril Lavigne.

How on earth did I wind up here?

I’m happy with Part Two. There was less of the doubt I had concerning Part One. However I do worry that not enough is happening and here we are already a good 150 pages in.  Granted, during rewrites I’ll probably trim that down so that at this point we’ll only be 100 pages in, but still, it worries me that I’m not further along.

I should mention that when I say that “not enough is happening” I mean that I haven’t yet reached any of the crown jewel scenes that drew me to this story in the first place.  I can assure you plenty is happening (I might throw another bit out for Thursday’s post if I can find a scene that makes a lick of sense on its own). It’s just that the juicy scenes that have come up are not the juicy scenes that I daydream about writing when I think about this book.  They have been fun to write, explore and discover, for sure, but for some reason things longed for reward better than things stumbled upon, and I have a number of scenes that…well that I’m awaiting with a lot of excitement.  And none of those have shown up yet. So while crazy crap is happening part of me still feels a little empty.

But Part Two is finished.  And that is the main point.

It is also a completely useless piece of information as I have no idea how many parts there are total.

So…yes.

Side Project

For the past year I’ve been going into the park every Sunday and standing in the same spot and taking the same shot of the mall.  In theory when the year is over I’ll have a bunch of pictures that I will then assemble into a collage showing the mall as it changes through the seasons.  In reality I’ve come close but I missed a few weeks here and there and sometimes I didn’t make it out to take my picture until later in the week.  But I won’t tell if you won’t.

At any rate, I was going through the photos the other day and I’m a week or so away from being able to start putting things together. Not that I have any idea how I’ll do that.

While looking I found this one which I thought was really nice all on its own. You can click on the photo for a larger size although I think it works better in the smaller view:

The Central Park Mall in the snow

Thoughts From Don Draper

donald draperI was watching Mad Men last night and was struck by a line from Don Draper.  Before the trippy labor scenes, Don was being admonished by the new British owners of the advertising agency he works for.  The new owner was going off on nickel and dime expenditures from Don’s creative department, threatening to crack down on expense reports and frivolous use off office supplies. After his new boss made a joke about his creative department taking afternoon naps an exasperated Don replied:

“You came here because we do this better than you. Part of that is letting our creative be unproductive until they are.”

It was a rather startling line for me.  You don’t often hear that side of the creative process voiced so well or so succinctly, if ever at all, and it was especially surprising for a show set in a spot-on (so I’m told) buttoned-down 1960’s Madison Avenue. You wouldn’t expect the head of any department in that atmosphere to acknowledge that his staff is quite often not being productive.

Yet there it was.

Did the writers of the best show on television just have the greatest creative head in New York (screw you Duck) tell me that it was okay to go take a nap whenever I don’t feel like writing?

I mean, he’s right.  A huge part of this process is me sitting here at my desk doing nothing that even remotely resembles writing so that when, and if, the juice does start to flow I’ll be ready and waiting. But it’s just too easy to go sliding off in that direction and convince yourself that you’re being productive when you’re not and then it’s next summer and you’re still on chapter one of your book.

No, sadly I have to take Don’s words as those of a good boss, not as personal advice to me as a creative type.  Maybe giving his creative team a long leash turns out well at Sterling Cooper, but I’m sure they also have strict deadlines in place and I doubt letting one of those slide is allowed.

When you’re on your own you have to be boss and worker, creative and management and unfortunately more often than not that means forcing more words out than you’re comfortable with and to hell with the nap.

It’s still a great line though.

This Internet Thing Proves Useful

paris2thumbI’m pretty sure I’m not breaking any new ground with this notion, but I was struck across the face with how useful the internet is the other day.

I wanted to set a scene in Paris. Now, writing a city that you’ve never really been to can result in a number of outcomes. You can wind up writing the romanticized version of the city, the one based on all the art and photos and books the city has produced. This can be tricky as cities aren’t monuments, they grow and change, and you can wind up writing some weird version of the city that doesn’t actually exist. And this can be fine if you use a light touch, but can backfire if you write a ludicrously outdated scene.

A second result when writing an unfamiliar city can be to go too far in your acceptance of change and develop an extreme sense of how hip you are and put in all sorts of modern touches. Unless this city is your only setting, in which case what you’re doing is kind of adding an update to the cache that already exists, this can backfire even more easily than the first route because you can wind up with a sort of, “Well who cares?” response. Which is to say that if you overload with your research you can reach a point where you might as well set your story anywhere. You know, like if you just say it’s Paris in the opening line but then have your scene play out in front of a Chinese restaurant and a little boutique dress shop. Could be anywhere. Might as well be Cincinatti.

Regardless though, when I decided to pop in on Paris for a bit in the new book I very much needed a refresher course. The internet has been extremely helpful in providing visuals for a number of things, from the view atop Everest (that site still makes my heart race) to what early sushi may have looked like (blech!). The visuals provided on the web always help get the juices going.

In the two years or so since I’ve really dug around for writing help, though, Google maps has gone completely bonkers.

So, when trying to get the feel of a Paris street, I was able to go to Google maps, zoom in and actually walk around the streets of Paris.

Eventually I wound up here:


View Larger Map

Are you freaking kidding me?

I’m not sure I can begin to explain how useful this is.

That’s a street.

In Paris.

With a Chinese restaurant.

And a little boutique dress shop.

The only thing keeping it from being Cincinnati is the Pharmacie in the middle.

No?

Oui.

Whoops…

Iron dumbbells set solated on whiteI decided, back when it turned into September, that it was time to roll up my sleeves.  August, and its bizarre oatmeal like consistency, will dominate my mindset no more for it is fall and it is time to start knocking this book out. Time to get in gear. Time to kick some ass.

No more fooling around.

That being said, I totally forgot what day of the week it was and didn’t realize I had to put a post up until super late so instead here is a montage of scenes from the Rocky movies.

Moving Day

pianothumbI helped a friend move earlier this week. My body continues to signal to me, from fresh areas everyday, that it still hurts. It was up there with some of the worst moves I’ve ever done. Not the absolute worst, mind you, that honor goes to a move that involved two states, three locations, four flights of stairs and a fold-out couch.  However this move was pretty bad. The television was roughly the size of a Buick and there was true horror on our faces when we realized that the dollies we were carrying stuff on wouldn’t fit up the staircase at the second location. From there on out it was basically a game of “Don’t Let the 200 Pound Television Crush You.” Or the preposterously heavy wooden desk.  That thing was sitting on my knee at one point while those around me wept.

I’m still amazed at how many odd muscles came into play and are now sore. Making fists hurts. Wiggling my toes feels odd.  I find it strange that the exercise I’ve started performing with my body prepared me in absolutely no way for this real world task…although maybe it would have been that much worse without my daily cardio.

It was the kind of day that you shrug off and smile about when it’s over but secretly you think you’ll wind up writing a short story about it where a piano stuck in a stairway represents someone’s crumbling marriage and there’s a crazy uncle with a gambling problem.

You know.

It was the kind of day that makes you want to write Russian literature.

We Have a Winner

dartsthumbAugust’s contest is over and the winner, coming within 1400 words of the mark, is Angeline.

Very well done.  It was going to be close there but then an injury plagued late August caused me to fall off my schedule and kept the numbers low, out of the real meaty areas where people were guessing.

This was an odd contest with almost no point and all sorts of silliness…we’ll see if we can’t come back in October with something nice and challenging.   Maybe a Probability Angels quiz. Lord knows I could use a refresher.

Congrats to Angeline.