|I wasn't really cutting like that. This is a pose.|
|The skillet was all I had. We make do.|
Speaking of apple pies, I'm working on a book called The Pagani Project, and I'm continuing to analyze it as a pre-step toward more drastic revisions in the hopes that I'll make a better book. At the moment, I'm dealing with big picture stuff, and I feel like I have to try and articulate the main "life perspective" behind the book, even if my answer will possibly change later.
I don't completely know what I mean by life perspective except that I think it has something to do with whether or not a book is character driven, or plot driven, or chaos driven--which I've talked about before and will talk about again.
There aren't, of course, any clear cut lines between these different types of books. I'm sure it's fairly arbitrary. But, for me, it comes down to the question of what makes a book "work." And, often, a great character can make a book work, just as a great plot can, and just as a broader view of life can. I'll not talk about plot-driven books here, only because I can't think of any that I'm familiar with. For me, I can think of plenty of books that have great characters. Whenever I stumble upon one, I'm so delighted. There's Brod from Everything is Illuminated, Joachim Mahlke from Cat and Mouse, and Patience Quince from The Last Guest. There's all the characters from Anna Karenina! For me, part of what makes these jump-off-the-page characters so impressive is that I've never managed to construct anyone like this. (I'll say I came close with a character called King in my first novel.) Whenever I write a story, rarely do I remember to construct a great character. Maybe that sounds stupid, but!
Then I'm reminded of Jhumpa Lahiri or Cormac McCarthy, both of who have written beautiful books with characters I can't recall for the life of me. I'd argue that, for them, the characters take a back seat to a perspective that's more fixated on what I called before HTU, or How Things Unfold. Lahiri's stories like "Nobody's Perfect" (which, okay, has a decent character) and "Hell-Heaven" and "Only Goodness," for me, don't transfer themselves into brilliant works until near the last paragraph or the last line, when the story I've been reading is suddenly elevated from something singular to something universal. I remember being quite disappointed by "Only Goodness" until I read the very last line. That last line somehow multiplied the story by 6.8 billion for me.
I'm not making a value judgement here. I end up writing more of this HTU stuff instead of character driven stuff, I think, based on how I view the world. Mostly, I see people as the same. We all have similar biochemical components. I don't believe in a soul, so I attribute most emotion of chemistry--which is kind of depressing! So, what makes us individual has a lot to do with the environment, or life, the impact of How Things Unfold all around us. Yes, this is completely simplistic. I'm not saying there's anything right about this; it's just my mindset. And, I wonder if it explains my general shyness. I like to sit off to the side and watch instead of participate. Maybe the participators write plot-drive work, and maybe the people who like to make good friends write character driven work. And, maybe, people look like their dogs. That would explain why I'm so cute.
So, enough about that. All I'm saying is that it rarely occurs to me to write a good character or a good plot. Whenever I try to do that (and I do) it takes force. My more natural tendency is to write about more universal things, somehow. And, to take it one step forward, something I'm realizing, partly as a result of finishing The Pagani Project, is that I believe the world to be completely random. If ever there is a message in my work, I think that message should be that the world is random. I'm not sure I've ever understood that until a few weeks ago. That's where I am now in my life. It's nihilist.
I do see a problem with my nihilist fiction. I think, in general, nihilists aren't that fun to hang out with. So, for me, I need to bring in other components to complicate this attitude. I try to tap into what perplexes me. Because I want to live. Some force is making me want to live. Lonesome George spent a hundred years walking around and eating stuff because of something. That's a fascinating thing to me, and I think if I communicate that clearly it would be fascinating for other people. So, that's probably where I need to get. I need to be clear on this conflict between the nothingness and the driving force to live. That's something that I didn't get until after I finished TPP, and I'm wondering if that's better left for my next book or if I should work to make that clearer in this one.
And how does this affect the end of a book? If things really are random, then the story should be able to end anywhere, right? And, yet, I tell myself that there must be more of a shape, a build up leading to a climax. To me, my most successful endings are those for my short stories "Red Man, Blue Man" and "The Wild Grass." In both of those, somehow, I feel like I hit a balance between stopping anywhere and creating the sense of meaning and completeness.
Okay, I'll stop now, because it's my blog.
What's Peanut eating? The cardboard booties that were protecting our new fan.
*Fool proof pie crust from finecooking.com. It's even easy to memorize!
1 cup butter
2 cups flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt