Monday, April 30, 2012

Edamame and the discarded peels

Last night I decided on the story I want to try and write. I'm focusing on three scientists in a university called the University. Hopefully tonight or sometime soon I will be able to write the first few sentences of the opening scene, which will take place in an auditorium that the students call "The Wedding Cake." There's going to be a chancellor and a weird demo. The prose will be flowery!

We'll see how this goes. If I remember correctly, I usually have to try multiple story ideas before one has legs. Right now I find myself imagining the three main characters, and I'm having a good time. One is the grandson of a Japanese fisherman, and his house is decorated with glass floats and gyotaku. (The image is taken from here.) He doesn't come from an academic family, while the other two scientists do. Ooh, conflict! Don't burn your tongue! I don't know where the story will go yet, but I think this first scene is a good launching point. And I can always revise, of course.

The hard part at the moment is that I am pushing aside my idea of announcing when everyone will die in the first chapter. I really love that idea, and I still want to do it sometime. But I'm not sure it will fit with this story. I hope it can, but I don't see it yet. Alas, I'll have to write another book after this.

What's Peanut eating? So far, just kibbles and treats. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, April 26, 2012


As I'm getting set to write my new book, I'm facing a lot of options--far too many. I had originally wanted to write an internal drama with four characters. We'd know in the beginning when each of those characters died, but we wouldn't know what the impact of those deaths would be. At the same time, so many people died in Cyberlama that I'm curious to try and write a book where nobody dies. I'm also playing with the idea of collage--taking real speech from real people or fusing headlines from news stories into my prose. And, as I've mentioned over the last few days, I'm experimenting with more flowery prose as well.

I'm also thinking of various topics. For example, one of the things I touched on but didn't go in-depth with in Cyberlama was the idea of defining life. Two of the scientists in the book had an on-going debate about what microorganisms were considered to be alive. That debate is interesting to me, so I thought I could make more of it in my new book. But I also wanted to explore social media and the idea of connectedness. That's another scientific project. So, do I now have a group of scientists to work with? Maybe, I wouldn't want all of my characters to be scientists. Or maybe I do?

Sometimes when I get into this sort of situation, waiting is a helpful thing. Ideas can sort themselves out in my head after a good night's sleep. I also feel like the more clarity I get on ideas, the narrower my options become. I realize some ideas weren't really good ones, and I realize other ideas are better or worse fits, etc. I often feel like the "right" answer is out there if I can just clarify my ideas enough. That's what I'm trying to do.

By the way, a really cool UCLA Professor, Deborah Estrin, was selected as one of CNN's 10 most powerful women in tech. I've been working with her over the last couple of months, and she's fantastic. Among her many projects, she's bringing power to the people by designing cell phone apps that allow patients to monitor themselves while also protecting their privacy. Yes, that's her sister on the list too. They seem to be an amazing family. Her parents were both UCLA profs, and her dad worked with John von Neumann on some of very first computers.

Added later: Okay, regarding his comments about temptation, the Dalai Lama really needs to read The Pagani Experiment now. Can any one of my three blog readers make that happen please? Surely one of you must be buddies with him.

What's Peanut eating? The rubber collar of my left iPod earbud.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Collapsed Soufflé

I got good advice from Scott and Michelle over the last few days to let The Pagani Project rest for about a month before I looked at it again. But...well...yesterday, after I finished reading The Great Gatsby, I just had to open the oven and take a peek. I ended up scanning through the entire manuscript to see if the story was working as a whole, and it ended up helping me develop a better ending than I previously had. The new ending feels more emotional to me now--and more in line with what the rest of the story was promising, I think. I also saw some holes that I intend to fill over the next few days. I think I'll definitely need to give the book a long break at some point, but I just can't do it yet.

This weekend I also saw the play Waiting for Godot for the first time. The acting was phenomenal, including James Cromwell as Pozzo. He is particular tall, that guy. The man who played Lucky--Hugo Armstrong--was haunting. He was slouched over for the majority of the play, which seems dreadfully painful.

Reading The Great Gatsby and watching Waiting for Godot reminded me of how big a canvas one can paint with very few characters. In both, the story revolves around just a handful of people, yet Gatsby makes me reflect on larger class differences and Godot made me think about my very existence. In The Pagani Project I felt the need to include over a dozen characters because of how much time passes in that book. Showing flashes of people instead of going in depth with just a few was my way of talking about the world. I'm not sure how many major characters will be in Everybody! yet. I had originally planned to just focus on four people, but the potential cast is quickly growing.

What's Peanut eating? I think it was a little chunk of bell pepper, a casualty of me trying to get him away from a stack of pizza boxes.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Roast Beast Two Ways

I still don't have a story or a set cast of characters for my new book, but I've started to experiment with prose styles. In the past I've opted for spare and straight forward prose. For this project, I want to see if I will like something more intricate...even flowery. I'm realizing that I can write with two separate tones at the same time if I pay more attention to the prose. One tone is represented by the subject matter, and one is represented by the language. For example, I could write about a toppled dumpster in an alley using "ugly" language, which would be consistent, or I could write about the same dumpster using "pretty" language to create a different effect--to be able to write about something ugly while still keeping the reader in a zone of beauty. That's an interesting idea for me.

Here's one paragraph I wrote describing a view out of a window without paying attention to the tone of the language. I was just trying to be more intricate:

The loft overlooked a truck wash, from where, on the rare afternoons when Alan stayed home, he could hear the low rumble of engines, the shouts of the Mexican attendants, the spray of hoses, the quick and angry blasts of lug wrenches below his window. Trucks entered from the south, on Mateo Street, where the pavement was coated with smears of grease so thick your shoes sank into it and felt slippery for the rest of the morning if you were too lazy to cross the street on your way home from the bus stop. Beyond the wash was a warehouse displaying in bold black letters SOUTHWESTERN BAG CO.--Alan had lived in the loft for three months before realizing the place wasn’t abandoned. In the mornings, a bearded man in smudged overalls parked with two wheels on the curb while he unlocked the chain link fence surrounding the warehouse before pulling inside. A staff of two or three worked in the back, occasionally climbing into their truck to smoke a cigarette and listen to the radio with their feet propped on the door hinge.

Here's the same view written in a way that is more "beautiful" to me:

Framed and subdivided by the multi-pane window at one end of the loft was a view of the Los Angeles hills, where, on Friday evenings, fireworks popped behind an arc of evenly spaced palm trees that surrounded the baseball stadium. Moving closer, garment factories stood with their racks of bright materials and industrial spools of thread, the pale and bright fluorescent lights visible in suspended rows beneath concrete ceilings and water pipes. There was a smaller warehouse displaying in crisp black letters a sign that read SOUTHWESTERN BAG CO., and immediately below the window, a truck wash, which reflected the bright sun up into the loft, and with it the volleying sounds of lug wrenches and shouts.

What's Peanut eating? A fruit cup.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Humble Pie

Last night I finished reading Evan S. Connell's novel, Mrs. Bridge, a beautifully-crafted book from 1959 that had me smiling on the bus--even once when I was standing across from a guy in a half-zipped hoodie sporting a full-chest tattoo that included tombstones, a skull, and bleeding hearts. (Really, I shouldn't judge people by appearances, which is an important message in the book.)

The writing in Mrs. Bridge is a beautiful cross between Virginia Woolf's work and Ernest Hemingway's. It was incredibly concise while still being packed with heart-wrenching internal thoughts and trappings.

The book is made up of little vignettes, a similar structure to Elizabeth Strout's 2008 novel Olive Kitteridge (which did manage to win one of those elusive Pulitzers!), but with even better my opinion.

India Bridge and her son Douglas were wonderful characters, and some other family members and friends were also strong. The story got more and more emotional as it progressed, dealing with World War II, racism, and ending on a wonderfully tense scene that made me so jealous of Connell's talent and mad at my own inadequacy. (Within minutes of finishing the book I started to reread The Great Gatsby, which only frustrated and excited me that much more.) Luckily, the timing is right, because it's making me antsy to revise my WIP, The Pagani Project (formerly Cyberlama).

It's been so long since I've discovered a new book that I would include in my list of favorites, but Mrs. Bridge does it for me. It sends me. It had been recommended years ago by one of my favorite writing teachers, Mary Yukari Waters--whose stance on bulimia is surprisingly tolerant. Ten years after it was published, Connell also published Mr. Bridge, which I will probably be reading soon.

What's Peanut eating? Raw eggs and french fries.