Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Jawbreakers

A moment of vagueness to protect the innocent: A while ago, I applied for a writer's program that I was hoping would really push me to be a better writer. I didn't get in.

So, here's where I am now. I have a book written, The Pagani Project, and I'm going to try and work through my own program of intense self-investigation in an attempt to make my book as meaningful to me as I can make it. I am going to do my best, but I know that I could learn more from others. So, anyone reading this should feel free to jump in at any time to criticize or to confirm. I want a better book, not a bigger ego.

Step 1: I'm going to stop belittling my book. I always say how random and actionless it is, how incoherent and pointless it is. No more. If I really feel that way by the end of this, then I'm just wasting paper.

Step 2: My starting point - I want to remind myself (and others?) of what the original inspiration of this book is. Why? Well, for two reasons. (A) Quite possibly when I'm done with this investigation I'll be reminded that the starting point was a good one and where I should have stayed. (B) Quite possibly when I'm done with this investigation I'll learn that the starting point was a bad one and I should work to erase all traces of the original intent that aren't actually serving the new intent.

So, where did I start? Well, a big part of my inspiration comes from a book called Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. The book is about a group of kids who are being raised as organ gardens. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I pretty much hated this book as I was reading through it. It annoyed me. Then, months after I finished it, I was walking down the aisle of a book store, and I saw the book there on the shelf. It filled me with this immense sadness as the point of the book, the fragility of life and the meager possessions anyone actually needs to find happiness suddenly hit me. That weight was something I will never forget, and I realized that it came out of a holistic accomplishment that was bigger than the sum of its parts. In writing my book, I wanted to try and do the same thing. I wanted the pieces to add up to a bigger whole. I haven't accomplished that yet. I also wanted to use the mundane components of life to emphasize how magical the world truly is. I think I was more successful at that. The other consideration is that my book explores the "opposite" of Never Let Me Go.  My book is about people who live a long time, people who are able to take their life for granted. I didn't explore that part very well. For now I'm not sure I have to.

The other inspiration for me was my past work. As I was "trying to find myself" as a writer, my first belief was that I needed to depend on my Thai-ness. I thought that was the thing that made me unique. But, really, I was born in East L.A. I'm Thai, but I'm also many things that aren't Thai. So, this book was my attempt to write about my life in a broader sense. One way this came out was through the six main characters, five of whom are intended to be some form of me.

First, I decided to narrate the book from the POV of a woman as an exploration of my sexuality.

Second, I decided to make the narrator's love interest an Asian man to explore my own physical judgments of myself.

Third, I included a kid to explore that fragile time in my life.

Fourth and fifth, I decided to include two scientists representing my analytical view of the world, divided by a transition between classical techniques and new technology.

Sixth, I decided to include another female character loosely based on a friend of mine who I admire and who made me question society's self-abuses.

These six characters are sitting in a circle, and I view this set up as the light of me passing through a prism and refracting into individual components that can be independently examined. Personally, I think this is a wonderful set up. I managed to make it work for me for some of the characters, but not others. I need to strengthen and explore my scientist characters especially, including that division in technology and, thus, the changing world, which I ended up neglecting completely.

So, that's that for day 1.

What's Peanut eating? A Milkbone after he successfully closed both cupboard doors at my command. Go, Peanut!

7 comments:

  1. Each of the characters represents an aspect of you! I hadn't thought of that. Fascinating.

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  2. TJN, Yeah, and given that, one of the hardest sections for me to write was the section where Diana learns to see the beauty of Sonam's face.

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  3. I will have too many comments about these ideas, but not now. Later. Honest.

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  4. For the last couple of days I have thought about your book and what you’re doing during revisions and I realize that I have nothing useful to say, probably. Mostly that’s because I’m in a sort of conundrum myself with the final chapter of my work-in-progress. My conundrum is that I want the last chapter to add to the meaning of the narrative, to sort of set into place for the reader the book they’ve just read, but at the same time I don’t want to actually comment on the book, to tell the reader what I’ve been writing about. Structurally, the chapter reveals the endings of the two main characters’ story arcs, or at least reveals the outcomes of the actions shown in the book so far, and point to what might happen for them past the end of the book. So not really a denouement, more a sort of sequel to the previous scenes. But it’s also the ending of a novel so I want to leave the reader with something emotionally powerful or intellectually stimulating, without talking about theme or meaning. Usually my books end with a strong and violent final page that the last chapter sort of runs up to, gathering speed and momentum. This book won’t end that way, and so I have to figure out how to write this new (for me) type of ending. I’ll have to make it up as I go along because I don’t have any literary model that I can turn to.

    What that has to do with your book is that I think you should try to hold to your original impulse for writing the novel as best as you can, and ask yourself what about that original impulse interests/discomfits you and try to strengthen those aspects of the book. Whatever doesn’t seem to resonate with that original impulse is something I’d be tempted to alter into something that does resonate. A good deal of my initial revisions are of the “yes, this ‘works’ but this doesn’t ‘work’ with this material” variety. Though at the same time, I think it’s a bad idea to deliberately narrow the focus of the book to fit into some idea of “theme.” What I mean by that is that I think the emotional/intellectual first impulse is a good yardstick against which to measure the contents of the narrative, but I at least try to avoid analyzing and simplifying/purifying that impulse down into concrete terms. Simplifying the inspiration means that you’ll maybe start to reject ideas that could be developed in surprising ways.

    So I think you’re on the right track by asking yourself why you wrote the book in the first place, and pursuing that. How can you push your narrative into a shape that gives you the “weight” you’re looking for. In a lot of ways this is an intuitive process, for me at least. I suppose my real message here is that I agree you should try to match your initial impulses/inspiration for the book but I hope you don’t reduce that impulse/inspiration to some kind of simplistic formula.

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  5. Scott,
    I get what you are saying, and I fear it as well. I see in myself a tendency to reduce ideas to such a point that they do become too simplistic. My generalist tendencies. A post that I will put up at some point (if I can figure out how to integrate it with a pie recipe!) is how Cyberlama helped me to gain a new and clearer vision of what I want to do. It wasn't my original intention, but it is a better intention, and I have to deal with whether or not that new intention is best left to the next project. Nothing new here, is there?

    I agree that more and more all of this seems intuitive for me. I think that's why this blog has to be different from Lit Lab. And I will also investigate whether or not this idea of "intuition" is a real one or if it's just a matter of taking more time to come up with words to capture what initially seems intuitive.

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  6. Davin, I try to figure out my novels by going at it from different angles and I am highly aware that many of the characters are bits of me, but I'd never done anything like this to this degree. I think this is where your scientific mind and creative mind intersects beautifully. Is is cliche to say that/ It may be, but still. I haven't been to any blogs for a long time and am only catching up. I look forward to reading the newer posts.

    You've referred to Never let Me Go a number of times but I had never known that it irritated you. I was not a huge fan of the book but don't think I felt irritated. I also didn't feel the sense of loss that you did when you saw it again. Wow, what a great goal to aspire to. You will achieve it. I just know it.

    Feel horrible about you not getting into something because you were too good. It truly sucks. I have to believe that something better lies ahead.

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  7. Hi Yat-Yee! I hope you have been having a fantastic summer! I don't know how much of my response to the program is just my own jealous bitterness. Probably a good deal of it. But it's my blog, right? :) I've been revising my book to be a little more "scientific" or logically organized. I don't necessarily think that's a good thing, but that's where I am now. I like to think (or fool myself?) that the less arbitrary it is, the more concise it becomes.

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