Thursday, July 25, 2013

Formats

As I attended college, I read Chuck Palahniuk like he was going out of style. I was mostly inspired by Fight Club the movie, then moved on to his other bodies of work. One thing remained somewhat consistent: he experiments with story forms, often changing the format of his story so that the physical form contributes to the story itself.

He explains it well in Invisible Monsters (my all-time favorite novel) as he describes how the pages are supposed to be like, "flip back to page whatever whatever" to continue with the story. In Diary, the story is...well...a diary. In Survivor, the chapters are numbered backwards, and in Rant, everything is shuffled because it's an oral history (think documentary in book form). I've been fascinated with this idea, of making things more accessible to those who don't read. I work with kids, and they don't like to read because the stories aren't interesting enough for them, or don't catch their attention. They need the fast payoff, and as much as I hate to feed that pattern as a teacher, I see the necessity as a writer.

*sigh*

So, I'm wondering if it's not a bad thing to want to play with story forms, create a different format, and see what different ways there are to weave a story. I have only really experimented once: I wrote a novel in letters to a ghost who was haunting the protagonist. The agent I showed it to hated the idea of letters, but found interest in the story.

Dean Wesley Smith says try to have fun when you write. Chuck Palahniuk had claimed once that we have to be the new creative voices--write like movies--to get people to read and evolve the form.

Just now, I'm thinking of doing an urban legends story and breaking it down into five narrators, Seven Types of Ambiguity style. I hope it works. :)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Noveling Career

I started my novelist "career" shortly before my 32nd birthday. When I peer around at different websites, it seems awfully early in life, though with my impatient Gemini personality it feels like a lifetime.

Did I always know I wanted to write? I knew that I always wanted to live in a fantasy land.

I'm the type of person who could take a line from someone's random conversation in the background and develop a whole story around it. Characters, motivations, an eruption of arguments turned to fisticuffs turned to crying and sobbing apologies. This was my life (still is, to a degree), and from time to time I wanted to start writing things longer than short stories.

When I hit college, I fell in love with movies. I watched everything. Most of this was sparked with my love of American Beauty and Fight Club. Yes, yes, I know, typical male stuff. But it sparked an imagination in me that challenged the way I thought about the world. I realized that the audience didn't have to know everything, just enough to keep them guessing and coming back for more.

After three or so shitty screenplays, I stopped writing them. They were emotional outlets of my existential angst brought upon by the mindstate of my early 20s, a multicultural liberal arts degree, and my budding homosexuality. When that erupted and focused itself, I wrote my first novel.

That piece of garbage shall never be spoken of again, and never will I actually tell you what the name of it was...or who it's published under. I will say it was a learning experience and a painful reminder that I tend to not take my time during my bouts with ADHD. These happen more frequently than I'd prefer, BTW.

So, I wrote. And I wrote again for NaNoWriMo. My students wrote with me, and it was a blast. Then, I started another novel that would never come to fruition. I wrote nearly 200 pages of it and just...stopped. Ideas stopped, it seemed to be going too fast, and I had no idea how to revise something that large, so I let it flounder in a binder somewhere.

I then began another novel based on an idea my friend and I kicked around. Chris was known for having outrageous ideas that he deemed ridiculous, but I was always able to breathe life into them. For kicks, we wrote a few pages of a screenplay about a man who was his own roommate. Sounds too far out at first, but the first few pages turned it into something more realistic than he anticipated. That, too, fell short.

Then, I wrote more novels. I finished two more until kicking around an idea for about two years. I originally started it as a 15 page screenplay. It was fun, with images and ideas that were too fresh in my head to let go. I remember the instant I wrote them down and I swear to you, I was so excited to show it and describe it to EVERYONE. Then time passed and a novel never came out of it. Well, until recently.

I was stuck writing and rewriting for such a long time that I stopped actually making new stuff. That is, until last year when I got so pissed off about not being successful with my first novel that I wrote a new story loosely based on the same premise. And wouldn't you know it, GIFTED was born. This story is still in the editing stage with a very detailed, eagle-eye friend of mine, and I hope to have it finished sometime this year. He's a slow reader and life seems to have given us both the tip of its boot in our asses, so we're moving a little slowly lately.

At least I was able to write 2 novels this last month. The first one, Savior, is out now via Kindle, and was the original story I kicked around for about 2 years ago. A much spirited reading of Robert Heinlein's Rules on Dean Wesley Smith's blog tempted me to just sit down and write the damn thing. I discovered that my "pantser" books are really short, only about 60k words long. When I plan, I easily hit the 80k mark.

The second just entered the hands of my beta readers, and is a ridiculous story about a fast-food dominatrix. I was going to name it with a certain prefix of a famous fast food restaurant, but I was too afraid I'd be slapped by a lawsuit. Good for selling copies, I'm sure, but bad for the pocket book. *Sigh* That would have been an excellent marketing plan, really.

I'll let you know when it comes out.

Until then, if you'd love to read any of these stories, or review them, please let me know. Free copies can be made available to those interested in reviewing them on book blogs. Just let me know what your blogs are (links are helpful, so I can follow you, too) and let me know if you want an e version or paper version. E-version are preferable (costs and all), but paper can be made if necessary. :)

Here are the books: Savior , Mr. White , and my fantasy short story (to be linked into the world of my first fantasy trilogy, hopefully out later this year) Just a Taste.

As always, thanks for reading.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Fun Flash Fiction Challenge: Thanks for Looking

I only just recently began following Chuck Wendig's hilarious blog. His last post today contained a challenge: a plot scenario generator. It was one that I was somewhat  familiar with before, but never paid serious attention to until today, when I accepted his flash fiction challenge and wrote my own story.

Well, here it is. The prompt: The story starts when your protagonist finds a mysterious object in the mailbox. Another character is a homeless person who has photos of your protagonist.

 
Thanks For Looking

                The pink lace bra that Sara pulled out of her mailbox at 1407 East Wallaby Lane did not look familiar. She mumbled something about the damned teenagers down the street and their damned screamo band practice at all hours of the night. Her husband Alex denied having ever seen the bra before. She held up the pink lace bra for her husband to see, staples and protruding metal wires sticking out from all sides. Bra or medieval torture device, she wasn’t quite sure.  

                “Care to explain?” she asked.

                “Honey, when I’m not at work in my office upstairs, I’m in the kitchen making a sandwich.” Alex changed the channel on the television and gave himself to the courtroom drama TV show.

                No ideas came to Sara about the bra, so she threw it away.

<*>

The next day, it came back, this time in purple--the kind of purple on Easter Eggs and ribbons on stuffed rabbits. Twice the staples. Half the metal wires.

               “Where the hell does this keep coming from?” As Sara pulled the bra out from the mailbox on the end of her street, she examined the edges and looked for tags or signs of ownership. Finding nothing, she crumpled it up into a ball and folded it into her pants pocket. This soft bulge on her left side had to have been visible to everyone on the street, even from their windows. Sara felt the eyes of all of her neighbors, burning shame and scorn deep into the recesses of her skull as she power-walked to the front door.

                “Honey! We got another bra!”

                “But you only have two tits, right?”

                Sara would smack him tonight when they packed for their annual hotel stay in Phoenix for their honeymoon. What use punishing him now for something he didn’t realize he was doing? For now, she tossed the pastel purple bra into the trash.

                Between picking up from the children her body wouldn’t allow her to have and the one child she married six years ago, Sara fondly remembered to go back to the mailbox in the same manner a young girl remembers today is her birthday. This game, she loved the idea of what it might be next. Sara envisioned a baby blue, maybe white with orange polka dots. She sang a song about a teenie weenie bikini to herself when she walked to the metal mailbox at the end of the street. To reduce the clutter on the sidewalks, the housing association determined that everyone must meet at the end of their streets to check their mail. This fostered community and familiarity with your neighbors, they determined. It was their pride and joy as their first action in the new community. All it meant to Sara was seven p.m. trips to the mailbox when everyone else was watching sitcoms on cable television, and she could avoid the creepy guys who stood around watching her.

                Sara closed her eyes and hadn’t remembered feeling this giddiness and childlike excitement since Christmas morning when she was eight. She turned the key and examined her mailbox. Bill. Bill. Bill. Advertisements. No bra.

                With a heavy head, Sara returned back home.
           
<*>

She had nothing to buy, really, and no money to buy it with, but Sara stayed at the mall long enough to visit each of the stores and get her mind off last night’s disappointment.

                By her estimate, the mailman wouldn’t arrive for another two hours. She could risk going to the mail early to check her mail. If anyone asked, it was hers. She was saving it for a special occasion. It was none of their business anyway, who was sending her bras. These fictitious women just needed to mind their own goddamned business anyway.

                Sara smiled with anticipation and bought herself a chilly mocha to drink on the way home.

                But the men in orange vests and yellow hard hats, they didn’t want Sara to go home. It seemed no one did. Delay after delay. She turned at every arrow and detour sign and swore at three-fourths of them. At a full-blown stop at an inconvenient red light, someone tapped on her window.

                “No, no thanks. I don’t need my windows washed.”

                The scruff of his beard darkened his face, exasperating the aging of his dirty skin and making the wrinkles appear as deep as the Marianas Trench. Looking at Sara, his face scrunched together. It confused Sara. Was he angry or blinded from the mid-day sun?

                “No, no thank you,” she assured him. She opened her fists to reveal empty palms. “No money. Thank you.”

                The man watched with the same look of quizzical intensity as the cars in front of Sara pulled away. Then, before Sara could shift into gear, he slammed pictures of her--half-naked pictures of her from her bedroom window--against the window. “This you?” he asked.

                Sara squinted and recoiled in horror. “Where did you get those?” she asked. Her eyes traced the silhouette of her curves as she appeared mid pose, either putting on a shirt or taking it off. She vaguely remembered that evening. “Why do you have those?”

                The man slammed the pictures up against the window, his knuckles rapping against the glass. “Is this you?”

                Sara withdrew and nodded.

                The man pulled his hand back into his pockets, took a step backwards. His face twisted into disgust and said, “Put a damn bra on, lady, those are disgusting,” and walked away.

 
 
<*>

 
That evening, Sara drew the blinds open extra wide and released a button on her shirt. She took a slow survey of the street’s crevices and dark cul-de-sac and opened two buttons. A large grin took over her face, and she released three buttons. She allowed for her shirt to accidentally fall off her shoulders and onto the floor as she faced the window and shimmied her shoulders from side to side. “Thanks for looking,” she whispered.

                Sara put on a loose fitting t-shirt and walked downstairs to watch television with her husband.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pantsing or Planning?

My first novel, an evil of Voldemort proportions and also shall not be named--was completed by the seat of my pants. I had read extensively of Stephen King's philosophy on writing and thought emulation would be the best way to start.

Turns out, I was only half right.

My second and third completed novels were plotted completely, using a bunch of systems that I modified and made my own. I was impressed at the degree in which I took my second novel's different plot lines and attempted to layer them one after another, weaving them the way one braids a little girl's hair. I liked the act of plotting in this regard: it kept me from wondering what I'm talking about and gave me the bird's eye view of my story's overall theme and content. Did they turn out better? I think so.

This summer, during my little hiatus, I decided to write a few books without plotting anything. I had one particular story idea (Savior, available now) that I muddled with for years before I finally decided to just down and write the damned thing. I stressed about not knowing where it was going to go, how it would end. I freaked out on a daily basis (my boyfriend will attest) whenever I hit another speedbump in the story. How could I get over this? Why am I doing this without knowing where I'm going? Who's crazy idea was this?

Turns out, I loved the ending. It had a certain sensitivity and conclusion that made even me feel it was well-deserved. I hope you guys like it, too.

My next story, just completed a few weeks ago, was also unplotted. Again, freak outs ensued and issues came up. I cycled through the story on a daily basis, looking for hints that my subconscious set into the story, clues that my inner storyteller was on the ball the whole time. Turns out, I was right. These stories are shorter than my normal novels (little more than 200 pages versus my typical 300 pagers), so it makes me wonder if I need the extra planning to thoroughly process ideas.

I'm pretty sure Dean Wesley Smith would disagree, but it was under his blog posts about writing myths that prompted me to just sit down and write. It made me nervous, but I did it.

Which is better? I guess I really liked the pantsing, but I need the safety net to ensure I don't freak out too much. Turns out, I need a particular thematic element to write a novel. If I don't have it, the story just wanders about like a blind man without his seeing-eye dog.

For now, I want to attempt to meld the two into an organized chaos that helps me be spontaneous with a loose road map.

How does everyone else handle this? Have any of you found a system that puts the two together well?