Monday, February 26, 2007

From Point A to Point B

Technology has changed many things about our lives. The capacity to accomplish four tasks at once has almost become ingrained in our day to day functions. While this is arguably the litmus of our evolving society--from medicine to industry--I believe the greatest impact technology has had on humans is how we experience time.

There are the obvious. Cell phones, emails, blackberries all conspire to keep us organized and in touch with projects we've over committed ourselves to because we're lulled into a sense that somehow these devices will squeeze minutes out of the proverbial turnip. But if you think about how time affects us on a deeper level, it's not hard to see the difference between our modern world and our ancestors of a hundred years ago.

Then, people boarded grand ocean liners, prepared to spend weeks at sea experiencing the rolling of the ocean waves, a celestial feast night after night, and a community that existed within the confines of a steel bubble. Lovers found each other. Lives changed.

When we board an aircraft in New York, bound for London, we're essentially making the same journey the people in the ocean liner made. Point A to Point B. But we're not experiencing it in the same time frame. Instead of foraging relationships with other passengers, we tune into our ipods. Why get to know the man in 28F? In the time it takes to watch a few first-run movies, he'll be a stranger again.

Maybe that's why the allure of the open road still captivates us. Deep inside, we realize it's not the destination, but the journey, that fills us in a way that the fast-forward version never can. It is life--experienced. Not merely endured.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

A String in Time

In the early 1900s, a man named Tony Bassett created a bio-energizer, a machine that induced a state of higher awareness, an astral projection of sorts, by generating a strong static field. He believed time travel was possible within the human mind and people with heightened sensitivity to electromagnetic radiation were prime candidates. Think thunderstorms. Some of us are more sensitized to the ionization in the atmosphere than others. Could explain the number of births, or homicides, that take place in an energy-rich environment.

Test subjects reported tingling in the head, pressure from above them, migraine-like headaches. Nine of ten subjects claimed no reaction, but 10% experienced a thin line stretched out to infinity. A string tied to their bodies that disappeared into a black void.

Do you believe in astral projection? The ability of the human mind to to travel in space and time while the body's shell stays behind?

On the writing desk today::
orange tissue box, green highlighter, bomb of mustard and orange-colored post-its.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

No, It's Not a Coaster Near My Keyboard, But It Could Be

Out of the thirty plus books I have on the craft of writing, one stands out among the others. Between texts about everyday life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony and rah, rah books by Natalie Goldberg and Julia Cameron on how life wouldn't be worth living without the written word, one modest yellow-jacketed book is never relagated back to the shelf. The spine is frayed. Its top left cover is torn to a spot with an unidentifiable cloud of funk across the title. Reminants of a price tag or food, not sure which. The book? A most unlikely text to be chosen as one of my constant companions in writing.

The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray.

I've never heard it referenced in any craft articles. Workshop presenters never spouted it's genius like they have the GMC bible or others we all believed we needed to purchase to gain an instant ticket to ride the trail to publishing success. I picked this one up six years ago, when I thought harnessing time was the answer. More time, more writing. Not necessarily always the case, but that's a topic for another day...

Robert Ray, a college professor of literature and writing, created a dynamic 52 week program to help the writer to produce a finished novel one weekend at a time. Although my left brain craved the structure and promise of such a simple idea, that's not the reason it ultimately stays with me. His capacity for depth, scene building and the ultimate, seemingly random way he attacks creating a story from start to finish, leads you to realize, when you come to the end--made perfect sense all along. Always encouraging the writer to look behind and think ahead in moments writing isn't possible, he is like a personal instructor sitting beside you, his tone firm and knowing. Completely understanding.

Mood::Silently overwhelmed

Music:: Everybody by Keith Urban

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Slippery Slope of the Writer's Mind

On the cusp of awakening thought, where reality faces off with the complete absorption of our senses in dreams, lies a barrier for the writer. Sometimes ideas for future stories slip through the porous wall, leaving traces of a lush setting or an unforgettable character. Sometimes, the shadow or heat on the other side of the barrier is strong, but our conscious mind can't put a shape to it. Can't recall anything but the craving carried around all day to retrieve what we know to have been the perfection of an idea for a story. Human nature is to want back what we can no longer have.

But is it really gone? A thought is never wasted. In ways science can't begin to measure or explain, our brain is storing those ideas, cataloging them for future searches of our conscious mind. The impression of the dream, no more than a shadowy mood the writer is dumbfounded to tie to words, will resurface again. In five weeks, when the thread of a subplot is in danger of breaking off in the broken wind of a plot twist. In seven years when an editor wants a series idea to follow up a bestseller.

Then, as it was in the writer's dream, the idea will come back, not as something fresh, in danger of sliding out of the slippery slope of the mind, but as an old friend. Warm. Completely right because it's been waiting for the dreamer to embrace it. Not as a nebulous shape, but in a form the writer was meant to see it all along.

The shadow whose return I'm awaiting:: a woman on a staircase. a photograph during the Civil War.

Friday, February 9, 2007

A Novel's Soundtrack

Some writers build collages or paint canvas to capture thoughts and images about their work-in-progress. A medium that gives the writer a deeper, more sensory connection to the piece, whether it be poetry or an epic novel. For me, that connection has always been music.

Because novels, from conception to finished product can take months--even years--to craft, the mood and attitude and context of what I'm listening to influence the project. An eclectic blend of songs tied to the personal struggles and pain of the characters.

When edits of a distant manuscript become necessary, a project no longer felt in the core of idle moments or on the cusp of waking thought, music can be an instant bridge to the world the author created. No matter the time that has transpired, no matter the distance the writer feels from the characters he thought he'd left behind like a friendship meant only for a season of life, music has the power to reconnect author to story. Notes to character.

Soundtrack for Chasing Midnight::

Toadies::Possum Kingdom:: inspired the boathouse scene near the book's climax
T. McGraw:: Please, Remember Me:: the emotional black moment for Beck
Crossfade:: Cold:: Beck's inner conflict
Foreigner:: Beck's final journey
Fuel:: Hemorrhage:: This song defined the book for me. I imagined Beck a less smacked-out, less bleached version of Brett Scallions. Mole and all. The inspiration at the book's conception. Watch the video. Maybe not what the reader had in mind for Beck, but he's there. Trust me.

What tracks are on the soundtrack to your WIP?

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Obsessed with Time Travel? Me neither.

Last fall, while trying to focus dozens of ideas for stories in my head into something cohesive and meaty enough for a single-title work, I stumbled across this list of time travel movies. Basically, it's my list of what not to do, as it's been done before, but I like that its creator is obsessed enough about this subgenre to break it down into different types of time travel using a coded system.

If that list isn't complete enough for you, Aetherco's Time Travel Guide lists over 650 Television episodes and movies along with links to IMDb and networks to learn more.

My favorite time travel movies::

Somewhere in Time
The Love Letter
The Butterfly Effect
12 Monkeys
Donnie Darko

What's your favorite time travel movie and why?

Friday, February 2, 2007

The Writer's Jackhammer

Stephen King believes stories are found things, "like fossils in the ground...part of an undiscovered pre-existing world. The writer's job is to use the tools in his or her toolbox to get as much of each one out of the ground intact as possible." He equates plot to a writer's jackhammer, a heavy-handed tool that's "clumsy, mechanical, anticreative." ~On Writing

Many things in his memoir I identify with. For all that I love about his books--his fantastic characters, his appreciation for the macabre, his ability to capture life in an honest, sometimes in-your-face way, this is one point I disagree with. If you picked up those writer's tools--description, dialogue, metaphor, symbolism--each with their own place and purpose, and didn't know the scope, didn't have any idea the parameters beneath, a writer could spend years unearthing the body of a sabre-tooth--a monster of a story--with the equivalent of a toothbrush.

The flesh of a story cannot hang without structure, the bones on which the remainder of the life force of the novel depends. There is a delicate balance between unearthing the fossil and digging a never ending tunnel to China--one I believe Stephen King walks without conscious thought. Would that we all, as writers, have that tool in our toolbox.

Last unearthed fossil for book two: A sharply pointed rib bone