Saturday, May 5, 2012

An old slice of toast

Today, for the first time, I'm handing out The Pagani Project to two writer's group friends to read. I've been keeping the book fairly private, but these women have already read some of it during our meetings, so it's not as much of a reveal to them.

I waited until the last minute to print it out. And, as I was scrambling to find 3-hole punch paper and binders, I accidentally discovered drafts of two of my previous novels, Rooster and The Mourning of Satellites. Seeing the second book was particularly surprising, as I wrote it back in 2001 or 2002 and haven't really thought about it since. I flipped through some pages and saw some hand written notes. The material was still familiar.

A wave of disappointment went through me. In at least twelve years I've only finished these three novels, and I'm not sure any of them are good. I tried to get an agent to represent Rooster, but I gave up after 20 or so tries. I felt mortal. I felt like I would never finish my climb up the mountain. My sadness was a calm one. In some ways, I felt like I was at the end of my life looking back and realizing all the dreams I never got around to accomplishing. It was overly dramatic, yes, but that's what I felt as I stacked up the old drafts and put them away.

Handing out The Pagani Project is helping me to move forward again. In the shower last night I got excited about my next work in progress. My friends will have at least a month to read the book. This is the third of a three-way exchange we've been doing. (I volunteered to go last to get more time.) I worry that PP is too elementary, too thin. I worry that the protagonist is dimensionless and that her motivations are unconvincing. I worry that my attempt to capture something that feels real resulted in the capture of something that feels boring.

But forward we go.

What's Peanut eating? A raisin.

19 comments:

  1. "I worry that my attempt to capture something that feels real resulted in the capture of something that feels boring."

    I know just how you feel. Go Home, Miss America is about unspectacular men and women living unspectacular lives. It feels real to me, but I keep thinking that the book is about absolutely nothing. Yet I keep writing it.

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  2. Scott, I keep thinking about how readers know that Jay Gatsby is great because the title tells us so. I'm planning to change my book titles to The Great Cyberlama and Everybody's Special. Those titles aren't boring. Seriously, though, with my current book I'm asking myself about what makes it special/important/worth reading. I want to know these things before I start to write. This is all sounding dangerously close to an outline, isn't it?

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  3. It's a slippery slope, Davin. A slippery slope.

    I keep asking myself what it is about books I love that I love, and I keep not knowing. I also keep asking myself why there are some writers who produce perfectly lovely prose but I'm not moved to read more of their books than I already have. I just don't know why I like what I like, or if what I write is something I'd like as a reader. I have even less idea if anyone else will like what I'm doing, and why or why not that might be. It's all so mysterious.

    But the very idea of fiction should make us laugh! We pretend things happened and then write them down!

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  4. I'm calling my next novel This Book Loves You. I think people will buy it for the title alone.

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  5. Scott, one thing you should know is that This Blog Love You.

    I'm also a victim of the mystery. I think I'm able to pick out things in other books that I like. But I wonder if what I write is something I'd like as a reader. I think I'm getting closer to figuring that out over time, and unfortunately the answer has been no for much of my work, which has been informing my future decisions. With each new project, I am able to begin with more of the elements I like. And someday maybe I'll write a decent book as a result.

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  6. Good luck to both of us. I assume this sort of self-doubt is common to most artists. Though I'll bet big money that Picasso rarely hesitated to start something new and always loved his own pieces. I would be really happy to learn, however, that someone with as massive an ego as Picasso asked himself these same questions. I am too lazy to research the question.

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  7. Oh, wow, yeah, I always feel my stuff is boring. And, amazingly, people in reviews have said my stuff is boring. But even more amazing are the people who say it kept them up until 4 in the morning. So, yeah, subjectivity. There you go. If it interests YOU and you are passionate about it, it won't be boring to its intended audience.

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    1. Michelle, I'm trying to focus on what interests me. Sometimes even that feels hard! :)

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  8. Davin: I feel as if you were describing my life. I keep telling myself to live with no regrets, to do things that I think I must without worrying about the outcome, and to accept that what I want to produce and what I do produce are not the same. And yet, I come often to that place of wondering.

    Keep moving forward. That's really all we can do. And feed Peanut. Well, you feed Peanut and I feed my kids.

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    1. It's critically important that everyone eat nutritious food every day. If people take nothing else from my writing, I want them to know that.

      I think what's frustrating for me is that I seem to go blind to what I want to read when I start to write. A wiser version of me would be able to step back at that moment of inspiration and say something clever like, "Tut, tut. Remember now."

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    2. I don't know. Wiser version of me? Or kill-inspiration version of you? Creativity seems to be anti-wise so often that I never know which version of me to listen to.

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    3. Good point. In an ideal world, the best parts of me would come together to form something even better like Voltron whenever I wrote. :)

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    4. I had to google Voltron. Powerful looking dude.


      Don't know why I wrote "me" for one version and "you" for the other version.

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    5. I was trying to figure out the "me" and "you"! And, if you can't tell from the pictures, Voltron is actually a super robot made from five smaller lion robots coming together. Really, it was a very logical simile, even if it revealed far to much of my 80's upbringing!

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    6. Well, I shouldn't talk about Astro Boy and Ultraman and the Hardy boys on TV...

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  9. I keep asking myself what it is about books I love that I love, and I keep not knowing. I also keep asking myself why there are some writers who produce perfectly lovely prose but I'm not moved to read more of their books than I already have. I just don't know why I like what I like, or if what I write is something I'd like as a reader. I have even less idea if anyone else will like what I'm doing, and why or why not that might be. It's all so mysterious.

    Scott: Me too, me too.

    I feel like that's all I'm doing here. Read, find things that resonates, and agree.

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  11. Oops! Too many typos, so deleted above comment. Here's the edited version:

    "My sadness was a calm one. In some ways, I felt like I was at the end of my life looking back and realizing all the dreams I never got around to accomplishing"

    The calm sadness of an ending, yes. But the ending of a lifetime dream - no! Merely the ending of a cycle. As your expectations for your writing shift and change, you may be surprised to find that -by some curious alchemy - and by letting go your old expectations around your novels and your writing, you actually write deeper.

    Very glad that sending out TPP to your readers has helped you become enthusiastic again!

    And Peanut is clearly not Garfield...who (like me) hates raisins!

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    1. Hi Judy,

      You found this silly blog! Thanks for stopping by. Thanks for your encouraging words too! I do try to remind myself that it's never too late to write something good. I'm looking forward to my next project. Right now it's still stewing in my head. And, I should say that dogs aren't supposed to eat grapes and raisins. Several vet websites say they can get pretty sick from it. So I have to be more careful. Luckily, the one raisin didn't seem to affect him at all.

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