Saturday, May 31, 2008

Writing a serial

This is really more of a writing process in general post. At various times when I've been faced with writing something quite different from what I'm used to, I've forced myself to approach the writing itself in a different way. So when I started learning journalistic writing in college I was used to writing everything out longhand and then typing it up (or sometimes typing it up plus the next few paragraphs). To jar my mind into the very different writing mode of journalism classes, I forced myself to write articles entirely at the computer. For a while I maintained that distinction--computer for articles, pen and paper for essays and fiction (and pencil and paper for poems).

I still rarely compose a poem at the computer, but I've moved into most other writing at the computer with occasional exceptions. Sometimes I'll still force myself to use a different font to approximate the same effect.

With the new baby, though, I knew there'd be times when I would want to be able to write things out long-hand (for one thing, it can be done with only one hand free--typing with only one hand is ridiculously slow). At first I was trying to remember to carry a notebook around with me, but that got a bit tedious as well. Then I saw Jeff VanderMeer mention on his blog that he often uses notecards for jotting down ideas and scenes and background, etc. So I grabbed a stack of notecards that my wife had left from medical school and I've been carrying them around.

Mostly I've been putting background info on them--characters, episode ideas, info about the city setting. I wrote one completely unrelated poem on one, so it's been useful for things beyond this particular project, and this morning I was out and came up with a random idea that I might weave into the project (more about that later, perhaps).

Now I'm at the stage of writing out the first episode. I've gone back to my usual fiction mode of late, doing it at the computer...but I am wondering if that's a mistake. Maybe I should stick with long-hand (either on the cards or back in the notebook). I'll have to see after doing a bit more on the episode if that would make more sense. I do have the episode planned out on cards in much more detail than I usually do for short stories. It's going slow, but part of that is simply that I'm still playing around with what kind of voice I want for the project.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Major trip...3 1/2 years ago

Anneke is now 5 weeks old. When Caleb was that age, we were already half a week into a 2-week trip across the country so my wife could apply to various residency programs. We crammed 6 interviews in 3 states (plus Thanksgiving with her family) into those two weeks. Caleb did fine with the driving--he pretty much slept the whole time...which meant nights were his time to be awake. So her interviews were often on very little sleep. It seems amazing now that she got into a program that regularly has 15-20 applicants for every position. And it seems even crazier to imagine trying to do anything like that now with a second child.

That's today's trip down memory lane. Next post should be more about my serial fiction project.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Book Club Report

Last night was our latest book club meeting at the bar, to discuss Wallace Stegner's Big Rock Candy Mountain.

Beer of choice: Horsetooth Stout (plus a sample of one of their new beers, Jezebel Strong Ale, which had a good initial flavor, but a sour aftertaste that I didn't care for).

Overall consensus was that it was too long for what it was trying to do. It's the story of Bo and Elsa Mason and of their two boys from the early 1900s through mid-Depression or so. Over and over (and over) Bo comes up with a scheme to get the family on easy street. He's a hard worker, charming, and amazingly talented, but lacks the patience for anything that might require dedication for modest returns. It's an interesting look at the era...but ends up feeling a bit repetitive. The final 100-150 pages, though, brought things together as Bruce, the younger son (and apparently the book is quite autobiographical in many ways, so the stand-in for Stegner himself) reflects on what home is, on the relative strengths of his parents, and what he has inherited from each. That makes it sound like he's just sitting around thinking for 150 pages, which wouldn't be quite right...but there are shades of that.

One of the guys in the group had read a number of other Stegner books, and he strongly recommended the others. He does a good job of evoking the West and the eras he sets his stories in, and then using those things to really explore who we are. I'm not sure if I'm sold enough to seek others out, but I will be open to it.

Next book, a fitting surprise given my post right before this, is Frank Miller's Batman, the Dark Knight Returns. It'll be interesting not only to read it myself but to see how the others react to a graphic novel/comic book.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Graphic storytelling

One thing I meant to point out in my last post was comic books and other graphic novel-type series. Many of those have certainly found a way to make serial stories work.

Now I wasn't a comic book kid at all. I've often been fascinated by the idea of visual storytelling, but it seemed that when I dipped my toes in (admittedly very randomly), I was often disappointed. The things I found might have good stories, but they often seemed to fail to take full advantage of the unique medium (as well, they seemed to usually fail to engage my mind on anything deeper than the that's-so-cool level). But over the past year or so, I've been more deliberate about finding works that did appeal to me on more levels and that did take full advantage of using their images to draw the reader in to the story, rather than simply speed readers along. The Flight anthology series helped a lot, as did some individual titles that I had recommended to me here and there. Often my favorites of these were the purely visual ones with no words at all--they force the reader (if that's even the right word) to actively engage with what's going on.

So actually, as the idea for doing some kind of serial project grew in my mind, one thought was that it could be a graphic novel/comic series. (I hesitate using the word 'comics' since I think it still has a connotation for many people that wouldn't fit what I'm envisioning...but it's not really a novel either, so graphic novel wouldn't fit either.) Well, when that vague idea ran into my artistic abilities, especially considering that the graphic approaches that tend to appeal to me have quite an accomplished, elaborate style to them...plans changed.

Still, that genesis of imagining it as a graphic series is influencing how I continue to imagine it. I'm still a writer, in love with words for themselves, so it isn't a matter of me writing it in prose only because I can't draw it (or lack the funds to turn it into a TV series). But I find it helpful to keep both the comics model and the TV show model in my mind as a framework as I develop this thing.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Serial fiction

I've been thinking about serial fiction recently. Can it still work in a prose format? It works for TV, of course, and for internet shows that use basically a low-budget TV approach. I don't know of any audio shows that take a similar approach (radio or podcast), though I know that some writers have had success essentially serializing their novels as podcasts. But I wonder if serial fiction that isn't simply a novel or novella chopped up would work too, something more open-ended, even if it has a definite overall arc to the story, like some TV series do.

To be clear--I'm not asking this from the standpoint of "let's bring back the wonderful old pulp days when short story writers were rolling in the dough with serial characters." Partly because I think that's mostly a wishful, imagined past rather than the reality, but mostly because I actually like the type of short fiction that gets published today. Places like Strange Horizons, Clarkesworld, Fantasy, and others frequently have good stories, and I'm not trying to change that. But I am curious about serial fiction as well.

Michael Chabon last year published a novel in serial form, and I have the (now complete) book checked out from the library, so it will be interesting to see how he handles it...but that again brings it back to the question of a chopped up longer work vs. an open-ended approach.

Mostly I'm doing this because I like to shake up my own approach to writing at times, just to see what happens. So I'll be posting more entries about the process as it goes along. But I'd be interested in any other thoughts on the idea of serial fiction, whether in written form or podcast form since I'm leaving that possibility open for now as I work on the project.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Tornadoes

I was out with my son this morning and didn't even find out we were under a tornado warning until after the very powerful (class EF 3) tornado had torn through nearby Windsor. We were at the library as our last stop of the morning when my wife called to say, "Umm, so did you know about the tornado?" She hadn't heard about it until then either. Googlemaps gives the distance from the library to the center of Windsor as 10.5 miles. A bit of hail had fallen as we were approaching the library, but nothing like the golf-ball- and baseball-sized hail elsewhere.

So we're fine. Windsor is where my wife will be working starting in July, and we have friends who live out there as well. The pictures and video on local news stations make it look pretty bad in there. It's pretty amazing that there were apparently no fatalities among all that damage, though one person was killed in a campground in an earlier part of the tornado's path.

PS It's sort of strange to me to see Windsor described as a farm town--I'm sure that's its heritage and a part of its nature today, but coming at it from the Fort Collins direction, what you see is a ritzy bedroom community for people who want the larger houses without paying for what they'd cost here in Fort Collins. I suspect that many of those neighborhoods on the west side of the town aren't included in the population account. My wife's soon-to-be office is right in the area where it switches from those neighborhoods to the older parts of town that probably show much more of its history...which means that when I've gone over there, I've often only come as far as the office. The office is also directly in the middle of where they're saying some of the worst damage is--don't know yet what damage it might have sustained. They're asking any non-residents to stay out of Windsor until things are more cleaned up.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Review up at The Fix

My review of Catherynne Valente's A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects is up at The Fix. If you're thinking, "How (and why) the **** did you find time now to read for and write a review," the answer is that I actually wrote this back in March, but it seems the publication of the collection was delayed, so Eugie waited to post the review until it came out. It's a collection of primarily poetry with some nice little flash prose pieces breaking things up periodically.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Blogging takes surprising concentration

You know, you'd think throwing up a random blog post now and then should be easy, certainly requiring much less focus than, say, writing a story. But over the past few years, I've trained myself to be able to jump in and out of a story at a moment's notice, and even if I only manage to get a paragraph or a word or a punctuation mark down, it still progresses my story. Blog posts, though, I'm used to doing at a single shot, whether they're long or short. And it seems the times when I have enough time for that are not the times when I'm able to devote two hands to typing (or else I just don't feel motivated to blog...or write an email for that matter, so I know there are several people I really ought to have written a while ago, and I hope to get to you soon...).

So in the nearly half a month since my last post, I have managed to finish the story I mentioned then. It was pretty slow going, but I feel good about it. I hope to tweak it a bit today or tomorrow and then let it lie for a while, since the submission window for the antho is a little ways off. I have no idea if it's good enough to make it in, as it's going to be a pretty exclusive thing, but it was fun to write regardless, and good to exercise my writing.

When away from the computer, I'm working on a fun project that could easily go no where. I haven't really talked about it with any writer friends yet, but maybe I'll mention some more about that later.

Over the next few weeks I expect one poem and one short story to go live, so at the least you should be seeing new posts about those when they happen. And I imagine that as we get more into a predictable schedule, things will fall into place better.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Back into writing

I'm easing back into the idea of fiction writing at the moment. I did a bit of jotting down the start to a story by pencil already several days ago, but it's such an experimental approach to a story that I need time to think things through more than I normally might. And that means that it's been hard to judge how it's going compared to before. But then the other day I saw a call for submissions on a topic that I thought might be fun to attempt--the story is still quite different from what I tend to write, but how I'm approaching it is more like how I've gotten used to approaching a new story over the past few years. This one is set in Spain, and I've been reacquainting myself with certain aspects of Spanish history and with the Leyendas of Bécquer, which is a lot of fun. In terms of his short fiction he could easily be considered the Poe of Spanish literature, though the number of stories he wrote is very few (and his poems are also highly revered, but very different from Poe's poetry).