Monday, July 30, 2007

Dear J. K. Rowling

Thank you!

Twists and turns, hints and herrings, seven novels long — how on earth did you put it all together?! At a time when the engine of the plot novel seemed to be running low on gas, you filled the tank right back up to the top, and then you filled the spare tank, and then you kept on filling even a couple of extra cans in the boot for good measure.

Sadly, many writers today look down their Snape-ish noses at the plot novel, so it comes as no surprise that a few of them would decry your work. Yet those of us who have ever tried to write a plot know the truth: that none of those slithering cynics could come within a mile of your accomplishment. Yours was an incredibly tough job, yet you not only made it through to the end, but you did so with panache, with Filibuster Fireworks, and best of all, with integrity. You did what you set out to do some seventeen years ago, and you remained true to your own spirit until the end. Makes you a bit like Harry, doesn't it?

You cast spells over our heads while we stood in line for bookstores to open at midnight; we didn't even notice the rain. You enchanted our eyelids to make them stay open as we read through the night. Like mannequins, we laughed and cried and swooned and shuddered, our hearts beat faster and slower, and our temperatures rose and fell at your imperious command.

If story-telling is magical, then you're one of the rarest, most gifted witches in this world, a world full of muggles.

I could quibble. I won't, at least not here, not today. Instead I say:

Congratulations, Miss Rowling! Unfurl the maroon and gold banners. The cup is yours! Not even Krum could have flown such a thrilling game!

Novel Update

I owe it to my readers to provide some kind of status report about my work, since you've been so patient.

I mentioned the hero of my current novel in this recent post. Well, he's still alive and kicking; I haven't given up on him and he hasn't given up on me. To the contrary, we've become pretty good friends over the last few months and I'm reasonably confident that he's going to have his adventure after all.

If only I could tell you more about him. Unfortunately, writing isn't like painting in the sense that I can't offer tantalizing views of my progress the way Bryan Larsen does over at Rational Art. It would be perilous for me to describe the background of my story or even to mention the theme. Doing so would be like trying to bring a pre-term, unborn child out to look at him; you can't really put him back in the womb. (Besides, most pre-term story ideas sound stupid and unconvincing.)

Here's a safe hint: The story is set partly in an imaginary portion of the PNW. The rest is set, well, somewhere far, far away. And my hero? His name is...a secret. (It happens to be thematic.) I will tell you only that he has a very hot disposition. Beyond that, you'll just have to settle for some comments about my progress.

My goal with this novel has always been to learn how to plot, and that is what I'm doing, though not very efficiently nor even very gracefully, which is perfectly fine with me. I expected this story to present all sorts of trouble along the way. After all, one learns by taking on challenges and overcoming them.

I've been patiently probing the plot and the characters, which has started to pay some dividends. In one sense, the story has grown more complex, and in another sense, stayed rather simple. By complex, I mean that I'm beginning to see a web of actions and circumstances that are at times intriguing, mysterious, and—I hope—suspenseful. By simple, I mean that the overall story remains true to my original idea. Even better, the basic action-line of the story remains straightforward much the way the central plot of Lord of the Rings—getting Frodo Baggins from the Shire to Mordor—runs through all three stories despite the many conflicts and subplots along the way.

The situation hasn't always been this good. I've taken several wrong turns, both with the story and with how I approached the novel-writing process. Novels seem to provide endless opportunities to make wrong turns. Sometimes I wonder how anyone ever figured out how to get from "Once upon a time..." to "...happily ever after." If only someone would invent a compass for novelists, but then again, there aren't very many good maps of the terrain, so what good would a compass be?

And that brings me to the final subject of this update: I'm learning how to better avoid some of the details early on, to get out of the way of the story, and to let my muse have his say. Am I going New Agey? No, I'm just dealing with reality, which means: I'm looking for the right mix of planning-with-a-light-touch coupled with the freedom to let my brain do what it does best. This is how I already write my short stories, and I once read an essay by Edgard Allan Poe in which he asserts that most writers need to work the same way when they write novels, else they'll fail. I can attest to the wisdom in his claim.

My brain is highly visual. This makes me good at rendering scenes but not nearly as good at planning them. I have to be careful not to ignite the visual part of my brain, which is my muse, before it's time, else my muse takes over and the planning process gets trumped. So I skirt around the periphery of my story in a kind of phantom dance with my subconscious, first getting a hint of an idea, then checking it against my overall plan, and quickly backing off when the images start to form too clearly in my mind. Right then I have to say to my muse, "Get back behind the starting line; I haven't fired the gun."

I'm sure that after having written several novels, not only will I know better how to stay out of my muse's way, but also my muse will begin to accept some of my direct mental processes in the early stages—or so I hope. Until that time, your continued patience with my progress is much appreciated.

P.S. I just finished another short story. It's something like high fantasy, which I only now realize I haven't written before. (Tolkien is high fantasy; Rowling, Dinesen, Shelley are not.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Only Martians Need a Synopsis for This Book

The inside flap of the jacket on J.K. Rowling's final book bears only the following few words:
We now present the seventh and final installment in the epic tale of Harry Potter.
What a fine compliment to Miss Rowling. No introduction needed.

Monday, July 16, 2007

My Hero

I have discovered a most fascinating byproduct of being a writer, and a romantic one in particular.

I ride bikes with a group of triathletes and Masters athletes two to three times per week, although I only participate for the health benefits, not to compete.

I manage to keep up. To the extent that my body has enough fuel to keep moving, the most critical effort seems to be in my head. Like they say in those old fantasy stories, you've got to believe in your own power otherwise the magic won't happen.

Even so, there are times when I think that I'm going to die. It's usually when the coach has been driving us at, say, 80 - 90% max heart rate for forty minutes and through ten killer sets, then he says that we're going to kick it up a notch to 90 - 100%. "Not to worry," he says, "we only have five more sets to go." That's five more sets. Not one. Not two. But five. Okay, maybe I can handle four more sets out of sheer determination, but god help me on that last set.

But of course, god can't help me, because "he" is just a polyp in someone's imagination. I'm on my own. Well, not exactly. I recently discovered that I have a secret power. It's called My Hero, and he is the protagonist of my current novel.

When I reach that point of imminent death (figuratively speaking), beyond where most others would quit, past the point where I've already spent my own quite substantial reserves of determination and where my body starts to tell me that there's simply nothing left to give, then all I ever have to do is ask myself, "What would My Hero do?" Never fail, like some kind of gift of strength or a magic power, I find a will, not merely to survive and limp through those last few minutes, but to actually speed up and break through at one hundred percent.

My coach watches me. He compliments the way I finish sets. I appreciate his compliments, because they speak well of My Hero.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

2008 Arts Cruise

May I recommend, the 2008 Arts Cruise put on by the illustrious Quent Cordair Art Gallery.

Let's see: You work out first thing in the morning in a gorgeous promenade-like space overlooking the bow of the ship, then you take breakfast and coffee on your private balcony, then you meander over to your first lecture around mid-morning after which you enjoy an extraordinary lunch with friends and fellow art aficionados, then you take in a few more hours of (hopefully fascinating) lectures. After that, you have some time to stroll the decks, swim, have a drink with new acquaintances before you enjoy a lovely evening of social dining followed by entertainment designed specially for the Arts Cruise. Phew! Of course, the ship never sleeps, so if you're a night owl, then you will have even more time to chat over some academic aspects of, say, Rembrandt's "Night Watch" or Beethoven's Seventh.

This cruise isn't as expensive as you might think, considering the travel involved, the food, the venue, and the entertainment. Besides, this is the only way you'd ever get me onto one of those enormous floating barges called cruise ships, since I don't gamble, I'm not one to over-eat, and I grow tired of pool decks and mixed drinks. By filling the travel days attending lectures and the off-times socializing with other fans of art, the trip ought to be great fun.

And now there's even more reason to sign on. Linda Cordair, our host and cruise coordinator, just announced that "the inimitable Robin Field" will be joining the cruise as guest entertainer. Linda goes on to list his impressive acting and singing credentials: "ROBIN FIELD is an award-winning entertainer whose career has spanned six decades. As a singer-pianist his appearances have taken him from cabarets to Carnegie Hall. As an actor he won leading roles Off-Broadway in Your Own Thing, Look Me Up, Speed Gets the Poppys and the revival of Rodgers & Hart's Babes in Arms..." and that's only the beginning. (You can read more about Mr. Field by following the link to Linda's announcement.)

Hope to see you there!

Oh, and I just remembered one of the best reasons to attend the cruise: Bryan Larsen will be lecturing. Now there's a man who deserves to be heard. Bryan could just stand up and offer a few anecdotes about his work life, and I'd be thrilled to hear him speak. Sure he's got loads of talent, but he's also got at least as much chutzpah and determination. I can't wait.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

More Thoughts on Poetry

By the bye, that bumper sticker about poetry that I mentioned the other day got me thinking about the influence of poetry even in today's not-so-romantic world.

I've concluded that while it's obviously not the glory days of poetry, the stuff is unavoidable ne'ertheless.

If it weren't for poetry, we wouldn't have memorable jingles from TV and radio ads, sappy but helpful Hallmark cards, pop music, nursery rhymes, Christmas carols, hopscotch and jump-rope jingles, lovely onomatopoeia inscribed on sentimental paintings, and on and on. Poetry — and perhaps more to the point, poetical prose and music — truly is necessary, for without it — or at the very least, without its influence — language would be limited to utility.

So thank man for poetry!

And while I'm on the subject, let me just extol the wonders of having Objectivist friends. During one of our recent socials, we spent a few minutes revelling in a favorite poem or two. Mind you, these readings were not scripted or planned. Someone just said, "Oh, you've got to hear this poem! It's my all-time favorite!" And then to sit at the feet of someone reading Tennyson tearfully! That's the kind of treatment poetry deserves.

Monday, July 2, 2007

New Feed

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