Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Canned Peaches

Here's where I am: I spent a few days brainstorming about the big picture concepts behind Cyberlama. The end result was something like: 6 people stuck together for a really long time. In other words, my understanding is still evolving.

I'm trying to write the book in chronological order just to see if that will work for me. I'm also cutting out the telling, which was a lot of the book. So, potentially, that will be a big transformation. I may not like it at all, in which case I will go back to an older draft.

I'm also reading Kent Haruf's Plainsong right now. Have you folks heard of it? When I started it, I kept comparing it to Cormac McCarthy, mainly due to the technical approach (all straightforward showing, no quotations marks, stuff like that). But now that I'm about 200 pages into it I'm really enjoying it. Some moments make me laugh. Some make me cheer. Some make me almost tear up. It's a sweet little book, and one of the few that I feel reflects what I'm also trying to do with my stories. It's a very quiet book, like Mrs. Bridge or like Yasunari Kawabata's books. These are my peeps!

I often think about literary lineages--how an author is influenced by the books that came before her or him. My lineage includes Homer and Tolstoy and Faulkner and Woolf and Delillo and the books I mentioned above. My lineage has not so far included writers like Philip Roth and Dostoevsky and Dickens--writers who I keep trying to like but don't ever fully connect with (even if I respect them). Haruf feels like someone I should include in this lineage.

What's Peanut eating? A manilla folder and lemon juice. 


  1. I'm going to think about Cyberlama and your big-picture while I go for a run tonight. I promise to say something useful after that.

    I don't know your Mr Haruf. I haven't read any Roth and every bit of critical praise for him that I read pushes me farther away from wanting to read him. I haven't read any Delillo except for one nonfiction essay about 15 years ago.

  2. I read Plainsong when it came out and liked it. I wasn't a huge fan of the technical stuff, but often I like books that are quiet and about community and about good people being good people despite their weakness and baggage and whatnot, and Plainsong fit very well into that tradition. In that sense it reminded me of Jim the Boy, a short book by Tony Earley which I read about that same time, even though they are set in different time periods and different parts of the country.

  3. I have not read Plainsong either. But, as usual, you make me think I want to.

    Re: Cyberlama, I admire your willingness to rethink the narrative, even though I quite enjoyed the existing one. (Okay. I cried. There, I said it. I am not ashamed!!)

    Is Peanut trying to whiten his teeth? Because there are probably better ways.

    Also, are you really eating canned peaches? I like the ones in the jar, with the syrupy water. I don't actually like "real" peaches. I'm sure this is a character flaw on the order of the pie.

  4. After my five-mile run, I have come to the conclusion that even though I run for my health to maintain my aging body, running is trying to destroy my aging body. I am limping on both sides today like an old, old man. But that's got nothing to do with Cyberlama, you say.

    Or does it? I was thinking about the idea of six people living with each other in the same room for hundreds or thousands of years, and the idea that each of the six characters is an aspect of your personality, so that got me thinking about how one has to just sort of live with one's self and negotiate continually with one's conflicting impulses. There's a lot of stuff that can be explored there. One possible weakness of the book is that there isn't a lot of meaningful disagreement between the project members: it's all The Six versus The World, which is one good form of conflict, but it would be more interesting and possibly more revealing if The Six were strongly divided over a couple of issues, but the lines of division changed with the issues. And it might be interesting if some of The Six just didn't like some of the other project members, based on little prejudices or on big legitimate reasons, etc. So plenty of room to move in those areas, if you like.

    It also might be interesting if one of the project members fell really hard in love with one of the scientists and had to watch their loved one age and die, and deal with the possible resentment of the mortal person. Hmm, hmm. Etc.

    I like the monkey, whose name I forget, so I'd keep him and his disease subplot.

  5. Scott A. F. Bailey - Other than the other books I have been promoting, I'll also promote Delillo's White Noise, which is fascinating and strange and stays with me.

    Jabez - You describe Plainsong very well, and I'm glad to know that you read it. One thing I'm noticing about the book, which you mention, is that they are all good people. There isn't really a villain in the book, yet there is tension. I'd like to do that.

    Jennifer - Thanks for what you say. As I work out various angles for the book, I'm getting the feeling the structure will stay more or less the way it is, with the 1st person POV and the jumps in time, but I still think I'll learn something from this exploration. I'd also like to interview you whenever you are free. I'm curious about what you're eating.

    Scott B. F. Bailey - Wow, these are some fantastic ideas. Thank you! I think in my earlier draft I avoided the internal divides because it just seemed crazy to have to live with someone you don't get along with for so long. But, as you know, I'm dealing with a family issue on that order, and maybe that is not such a bad thing to explore after all. It will be painful. Pain is good in this case. I also plan to do a little more with Diana's French journalist friend Olivier that, I think, will fit in with what you are saying about the love affair with a doctor. Olivier won't be as agreeable as he was earlier, and he'll contribute to exposing them and so on. The monkey's name is Volker. I'm going to keep that idea, and I'll likely keep Volker, but at the moment I was toying with the idea of making him non-monkey.

  6. Oh, Jennifer, I also meant to say that I would recommend Mrs. Bridge over Plainsong, if you were choosing. Mrs. Bridge is really an exquisite book.

  7. I think you'd lose some of the emotional intensity if Volker wasn't a monkey. I think the similarity of monkeys to people is a strong link between fear for Volker's health and the fear the project members would have for their own lives. Plus, we've all seen images of primates in labs and I think that's a strong visual. But maybe some non-monkey Volker would be fine too. Who the hell am I, anyway?

    There are eleven dogs in the chapter I just wrote of "Mona." Eleven. Dogs. Seven of them are big cowards. I'm at about 46K words now. I think the next chapter will open with a philosophy discussion. What do you know about Wittgenstein's hats?

  8. Scott, I was toying around with the idea of making Volker a person. But these are all just ideas floating around, and I'm not committing to anything.

    I'm glad you have almost a dozen dogs in your book! Is one an adorable little jack russell mutt?? And I think I know very little about Wittgenstein's hats. I've never donned one.

  9. One of the dogs might be a Jack Russell, but most of them are larger dogs. I'll think about giving Peanut a cameo in a later chapter, though. Perhaps he'll show up in Albuquerque. I might like that.

    Today I'm reading Wittgenstein and Pascal and working up a long dialogue between them, which will result in one character sharing a secret with another character, and then they'll go out for a beer. The characters in the novel will go for beers, that is, not Wittgenstein and Pascal, who were separated in time by about 300 years.

    Wittgenstein, I'm thinking, wore a homburg.

  10. I might have to pick up Plainsong! You've always been bothered by the telling in Cyberlama, so I'm glad you're switching stuff up to see if another approach works better for you. I am definitely influenced by certain authors, but I'm too tired to list them here at the moment. I'd go for a run, like Scott, but I'm too tired for that too. I'm going to go read. :)

    1. Michelle, "read" and "bed" sound awfully close to each other sometimes. :)