Friday, June 22, 2012

Tin roof sundae ice cream

Last time I talked about how I think my writing lately has been all about trying to set up a situation and then watching How Things Unfold. I used a dice metaphor, but today it occurred to me more like this: supposing you had a artist's canvas and it was leanin' against a wall. Then, supposing you formed a little dam at the top of the canvas with your hands and asked your assistant to fill your dam hands with paint. The assistant pours while you keep the paint from a-drippin' down onto the canvas, and when you can't hold it anymore, you finally release your hands and the paint just pours down the canvas in some random way that's only partially affected by where the dam was and how long you held the paint. That's what I'm trying to do. That's HTU.

And I've been thinking that a large reason for why I write this can be traced back to my Buddhist upbringing. I'm not religious anymore, but when I was younger I spent a lot of time meditating and trying to understand the concept of enlightenment. For a long time, I thought it was associated with not caring about anything. But, over time, I came to see it as having enough trust in nature to let things take its course.

There is part of the picture that's very hard for me to work with. That has to do with detachment. Did you know that the orange color of a Buddhist monk's robe is symbolic of autumn leaves? The idea is that the monk detaches from the world the way these leaves detach from the trees. It's very calming to be this way. But, here's the hard part for me personally. I feel like I carry this sense of nature and detachment into my stories in the beginning. Then, later on, I start to get all freaked out because my characters don't want anything. There's no compelling mechanism underlying what I write. So, I start to generate one. I come up with things my characters desperately want. Sometimes it makes for an engaging story, but really it's hardly ever sincere, and so I always feel like there's a major element in my stories that isn't really a true reflection of me. It's frustrating because I feel like I need it, but I'm not at all excited by it. (I also think this often ruins the end of my books as I try to make sure that artificial desire is felt.)

With Cyberlama, that character motivation is there, but I'd say it's light. I didn't feel as insecure about it, even if it wasn't a sincere construct on my part. I let myself fill much of the book with more of the detached things I wanted to fill it with. In the end, it's a bit of a hybrid like everything else I've done, but it has brought me closer to what I think I want to write, and that is fantastic. My idea for my next book, the tea kettle inventing god idea, is a result of what I learned from Cyberlama, and I think it's a step closer to (A) being compelling while (B) being that detached observer of nature. This is the combination I've been looking for, and I think maybe I've figured how to approach it.

P.S. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, well, it's just like Scott trying to explain what the hell he's trying to do with his "everything is story" discussions. I feel like I'm on a good track!

And, look:

What's Peanut eating? I don't know, because I was hanging out with Nevets! He's such a good guy, y'all. (And I'm talking like this because of Tess Hilmo's book. )


  1. Still jealous of you and Nevets! One day ... one day we will all meet in some pub and laugh and drink (except I'll have soda or water or something, but yeah) and share good times. Sigh. And I want fish and chips.

    And about your detachment ... I think you've explained it in a good way I can understand better. I think the problem for you is you keep letting the idea of what people expect get in the way of what YOU expect. I let that happen all the time, and I often end up rewriting so many things to get the story back to where I first imagined it - whether people will like that or not, whether that means it will sell or not, whether that means it will even get published. The Breakaway, happily, has some sort of element that really appeals to readers, but I will always feel like that book remained exactly how I wanted it. A lot of readers really, really, really hate that ending, but I'm happy in a way, about that, because that means I never catered to what I thought people would expect. I wrote it how I damn well wanted it written.

    Not sure if this is even going around what you are talking about, but hey, it's helping me see some good points!

    I love the meaning of orange with the monk's robes. That is something I will never forget!

  2. Michelle, that's definitely a problem I'm dealing with. I absolutely agree with you. I need to believe that what I'm writing is interesting, and I think that involves figuring how to make what I want to write interesting.

    That's really funny that you picked a pub and fish and chips! In my head it's a conference room with a table full of junk food for some reason.

  3. I knew Nevets was in California from his facebook posts, but I had no idea you two would be meeting up. Like Michelle, I am envious!

    The nagging brought on by imagined readers is something we all have to fight against, I think. The Breakaway is very brave because Michelle ignored convention and wrote a sort of unfinished indeterminate ending. People wanted a romance and she wrote a psychological study instead!

    Go Home, Miss America is probably the most free I've ever been with a novel, and I have no idea if anyone will like it. I'm just going with the sense of correctness for each move in the narrative. Maybe it won't add up, but adding up is an illusion, isn't it? I keep revising my definition of "story," and my books get weirder. Cocke & Bull might be the last straightforward narrative I write. The Last Guest began the envelope pushing and I don't see an end to it.

    So be brave, my friend Davin Malasarn! Write what feels like something you want to read, etc. Pagani is a beautiful book. Rooster was a beautiful book (up to the ending). Bread and The Whole Wide Open are amazing novellas. You are working in a good, valid, important direction. Keep it up.

    A conference room with a table full of junk food is the sort of meeting one has in the academic world! I go to too many of those meetings! I vote for a pub, and fish and chips. There's a pub on the beach here called the Celtic Swell that has excellent fish and chips (and pints of Guinness(tm)--or pints of Coke(tm) if one prefers). We should set a date. There are also some good pubs along the Oregon coast.

  4. I told Adam about the whole pub and fish and chips thing and he's all over it. I think we want to come out there, really. Sadly, Adam doesn't have much time off, but October is a possibility, probably the first or second week. Is that a possibility for both of you, maybe?

  5. October? On the coast? Maybe. Maybe indeed. We used up a lot of our vacation time already this year, but we'll be going crazy for the ocean by the Fall, certainly. That could be cool. Newport has a good pub (Rogue Ales Public House), down by the docks and the fishing terminal. They have a couple of good lighthouses in Newport, too. If you like lighthouses. Even if you don't.

  6. Oh, my, that sounds fine, indeed. Would we all want to stay at the same place? That could be fun. I want a relaxing vacation where nothing is planned except talking and eating. Maybe I'll leave Darcy with my mom... Adam and I need some time together. A vacation with just us and friends and no kid? I cannot even imagine... but it is doable! What says Davin?

  7. Scott, I will be brave! I do feel like I'm moving in the right direction. It's just a matter of...getting there?

    Are you both saying we'd be going to the lighthouse? Because I'm all for that? Such a weekend would be really amazing. I have no idea yet if I can do it. I was actually thinking of a vacation in October, but I had Paris in mind (which is also a cool place to meet up). Really, I think it will be a matter of finances, and Oregon would be cheaper than Paris.