Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Tea of the gods

What happened is that I was overwhelmed with ideas to talk about and didn't have time to do any of it. Then, somehow, the thoughts abandoned me and all I had was a recipe for potatoes*.

I'm currently reading With a Name Like Love by Tess Hilmo. Tess' book is blowing me away, not just because I know her. It's truly good. Good enough to have me sitting on a bus reading a book with that title and font that's incredibly big. Tess has somehow reminded me of what is was like when I was a thirteen-year-old girl living out of a trailer.

Here's where I am in my writing. I've gotten a couple of reviews in on Cyberlama, including from the incomparable Scott G.F. Bailey, and I'm doing some reorganization as a result. It's reorganization I thought I might want to do, and the reviews are confirming it. I'm going to take pages 200-230 and sprinkle them throughout pages 1-100. It will be fun, and I will probably pull my hair out.

Mostly, I have been spending my time reflecting on things like, "Hey, what am I actually writing about?" After much thinking, mostly as I fall asleep, I realize I'm not trying to capture an exciting plot or exciting people. My intellectual and emotional makeup is simply not pushing me in that direction. Instead, I seem to be trying to record How Things Unfold, or HTU. HTU brings me back to me waiting for my dogs to die and me staring up at the sky at a stupid balloon floating up and up. I think HTU probably relates to me trying to understand how a new born baby can grow up to be a wife- and son-beating alcoholic (the subject of my first novel Rooster) and how I will die. (Yes, I think about that a lot, not so much because I'm afraid, but because I'm just curious how one goes from thinking "I'm alive! I'm alive!" to "     "!

The problem with writing HTU is that I end up with a book that I'd say is neither character driven or plot driven. It ends up being a bit random, which is only because randomness jives with my view of the world. So, when one writes about randomness, the unfolding of life in an arbitrary way, is that compelling fiction? Really, what the hell is it? My feeling about Cyberlama is that it ends up being a collection of interesting pieces that don't necessarily add up to anything more compelling on the large scale. Is that okay? Well, yeah, I suppose anything is okay. And, I suppose to other people who are as obsessed with HTU as I am, it will be okay to them too.

I am likely going to junk the fragments of Everybody! I have posted up here. I've decided to take the story away from the university and put it in a desert. And instead of it being about science, it's going to be about religion. And instead of me basing the story on these really interesting scientists I've been thinking about for the last few years, I'm playing with the idea of basing the characters somehow on inanimate objects like tea kettles and chairs. The sum would be something like, "How would a tea kettle create her own god?" Or something like that. It makes more sense in my head.

What's Peanut eating? A to-do list.

"Now all you have to do is snooze with me."

*You take golf ball-size potatoes and peel them and boil them. Then, you drain the water and let them get fairly dry (wait 45 minutes or so). Then, you toss them around so that their surfaces get all scratched up--this is called "chuffing" them. Then, you put them in a baking pan with salt, pepper, rosemary, and garlic and oil and bake them at 375 ˚F for about 45 minutes. The outside will be crispy and delicious and the inside will be soft and fluffy!


  1. 1. HTU is a fine way to write. Pagani reminded me, sort of, of Olive Kitteridge; it's a long-form story but it's contained in these sort of overlapping bubbles, like a stretched out Venn diagram, maybe. Recurring themes but no big "story question" to be answered. HTU is a fine way to write.

    2. More recipes! Recipes are cool.

  2. Scott, I sometimes start to think about each new story as a rolling of dice, and sometimes the result will be something interesting and sometimes it will just be something forgettable, like life. It's sort of fun to think about it that way, but then I also start to think about all the boring stories that will come out of it.

    And I'm definitely up for more recipes!

  3. I like to have a lot of ideas for what might be stories. There have been a couple of novels I've begun to write that went nowhere after the first chapter and had to be abandoned. I'm afraid of finding out after 80,000 words that the story is going nowhere, which is why I won't start anything before I know the ending. Go Home, Miss America has been interesting in that regard, because I was taking you as my model and challenging myself to write a novel without an outline, without any idea what would happen. Eventually I did outline it, but the ending I came up with was based on what I'd already written. So that's interesting. It's also good for me to know that I can begin a novel-length project without knowing much at all about my material. So my confidence in my ability to imagine things as I go along is higher than it was. I don't know if I've managed to surprise myself with ideas the way your fiction surprises me, which was the original point of the "outline-free novel" project. I'll have a better idea when I finish the draft and read it through.

    I like the tea kettle idea. I also think we shouldn't be afraid of trying things that might end up to be boring or forgettable.

  4. As we're talking I'm really seeing the connection between life philosophy and the way I write. I'm curious about how things unfold, so it makes sense that I would write story without knowing how it will end. That's a direct way to answer my question (even though, in the end, I'm still in control of my fictional universe whether I admit to it or not). I wonder how your process fits in with your view of the world, or the question you are trying to answer if you think you're answering any question.

  5. Yes, I see what you mean. I'm not a control freak, but I worry about the future. I wish for certainty, for clarity, for absolute knowledge. Maybe I focus too much on the destination rather than the journey. Though I try to make the journey a destination as well, if you know what I mean. I will think about this more.

  6. I think the HTU thing about your writing is what I love most, Davin. I'm always fascinated with how a person can change ... or not change. Right now, in the selkie book, I'm exploring some interesting stuff about shells and what the stuff inside of us really means and how that might change the shell ... or how the shell might change us and how freaking awesome and frightening that is at the same time. Anyway, I say do what you want with your book and move boldly forward. I have just finished beta reading the book I was beta reading, and I kind of want to put everything else aside so I can read Pagani. Can I read Pagani? Pretty pretty pretty please?

    I miss you guys. I think the only reason I regret taking comments off my blog is so that we could talk about the posts I put up. But maybe my posts aren't that fascinating anyway. Maybe I should start another private blog. Maybe not.

  7. Michelle, That stuff about shells sounds really fascinating. I recently reread The Scarlet Letter, and what you're describing here, made me think of that book. I don't remember liking it when I read it in high school, but it has been haunting me ever since this last reading. It's got people's insides forming shells and people's shells affecting their insides. Then, there's the freakish little Pearl.

    Pagani will be ready and waiting for you whenever you have a break in your schedule! And, like fine wine, it will get better the longer you wait, since I'm still revising it!