sigh

Did not win the lottery after all. I’d probably be in the Caribbean if I had. No, I’d still be here trying to figure out where I’m going in the current novel. I entered the first 8K words in Narrative’s Story contest – mostly to force me to finish the thing. Did I resolve to write 3 pages a day? How foolish. No, there’s a lot of writing, deleting, writing, rewriting, adding a few words to a sentence, sometimes taking them out and general staring out the window. Right now it’s sunny and there are 2 small clouds to the left. A slight breeze ruffles the trees, well, the trees that are left. There are a lot of hacked off branches since the tree trimmers showed up a couple weeks ago. I like the light though, so no complaints. Gave up complaining for Lent anyway. Finished ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG and what a disappointment at the end. Come on, do the hard work and write a decent ending. Endings have been pissing me off lately, like the end of the profile on David Foster Wallace in the New Yorker. Really, a choice? You go right ahead perpetrate media stereotypes on depression and mental illness, New Yorker. No heavy lifting required.

Here’s a letter that was published in Salon about the poor use of language around suicide:

Suicide and ‘choice’

Discussing causality in suicide is a tricky business, both both in psychological and existential terms. Suggesting that David Foster Wallace “chose” to kill himself presumes that his choice-making faculties were intact, that he was David Foster Wallace as those who knew him had always known him. I didn’t know DFW and am only glancingly familiar with his work, but for those of us who study suicide and treat people who are tormented (and sometimes, killed) by suicidal despair, it’s clear that the emotional agony sufficient to lead to the suicidal impulse is also extreme enough to have, in the same process, undone that person’s ordinary problem-solving and choice-making processes. The person who engages in the suicidal act is not the person we have known in other contexts. They person who dies by suicide is, in over 90% of cases studied by retrospective ‘psychological autopsy’, someone suffering from a particularly virulent form of mood disorder or other suicidality-engendering mental illness. It is not “Bob (or David, or Jane) choosing to kill himself”, but rather, “Bob, unraveled by the agony of illness, blindly seeking relief from pain”. The act, perceived from outside that agony, seems without reason, or even, as some of the other letters have suggested, intentionally malignant; from inside the seemingly endless and intolerable subjective pain and hopelessness of the suicidal individual, it is, in the moment of unendurable suffering, the only exit visible. Those left behind to mourn in the wake of a suicide often struggle greatly to come to terms with what seems to be a heartless or sadistic ‘choice’. Their suffering, which can go on and on, is made just a bit lighter if our discourse can acknowledge that what looks like a ‘choice’ was, in fact, a person killed being by their illness. —

— drjonrichard

busy week

Writing took a backseat to real life, but I’m getting back on track. Worked on material for my senior lecture today, including a draft of the handout. 7 pages seems a bit long, but we’ll see.

Finished Carl Hiaasen’s LUCKY YOU. I played the lotto numbers that open the book today for laughs. Now that would be a great story if they hit. Next up is THE ELEGANCE OF THE HEDGEHOG by Muriel Barbery and LEFT TO TELL by Imaculee Ilibagiza about the Rwandan Holocaust.

Time to get back on track with the novel and 3 pages a day.

strange stories

It’s been a week for strange stories. Robert McKee, screenwriting guru, said that people do bizarre or awful things more often and worse than you can imagine. They also have things happen to them that would challenge the most vivid imagination. Add in accidents, mistakes and catastrophes, and real life usually outdoes fiction. The crash of Continental Flt 3407 took the life of a 9/11 widow. She died in a fiery crash – her late husband died on the 98th floor of the south tower. Would you add such a twist to a fictional story? A woman was allegedly beheaded by her TV exec husband. A chimpanzee tore the face off the friend of its owner. Bizarre twists, tragic stories. McKee was hardly the first to note that life is stranger than fiction.

The chimp story did remind me of elements for the novel I’m working on now. Keeping exotic pets is very dangerous and we have developed a naive hubris about them. They are not just like us. There’s some exotic pet-keeping in my book and I need to address the danger. The book’s tone is darkly comic. If you’re writing something lighter, then you have to pull back in some way from the danger or explicit violence – either not showing it or showing it in an absurd way. However, that doesn’t mean that the danger is not present.

Cinematic

Been catching up on movies this week. A friend is having an Oscar party so I may as well be prepared. Started the week with THE WRESTLER – good film, hard to watch for a few reasons. Yesterday, saw DOUBT and THE READER, both written by playwrights so it was interesting to see them on the same day. You could see the play in DOUBT. Both good, well acted. Today, REVOLUTIONARY ROAD (book was better, which is usually the case). Once I catch up, I’m hitting the art museums to hopefully fill up enough to propel me to finish the novel (my 4th!). I have been waking up with ideas, better ways to tie elements together – so grateful when that happens.

Haven’t had the time to finish Carl Hiassen’s novel, LUCKY YOU, but he’s teaching me to push the envelope. He makes unlikely situations believable.

Rec’d chapters back from my mentor with comments. Never fails to amaze me that I can overuse a word in two paragraphs and not see it. For me, editing fiction is much like learning to listen to different instruments in a piece of music. I have to go over it and look at different elements each time.

the tea did it

…kept me up all night, that is. But mystery solved – same reason my shoulder has been going into spasm off and on for a few months. Back on this morning. It’s the caffeine. Now the search begins for an excellent decaffeinated Darjeeling. Art of Tea makes an amazing caramelized pear tea that I have every day. Chado in Pasadena has some very nice teas and I will stop in after the chiropractor unties my shoulder.

It’s been difficult to write lately. Even my walks have been less productive than usual. After Chado, it may be time to stop in at the Norton Simon. Paintings inspire my writing more than anything else.

getting back to the blog

Enrolled in the MFA Creative Writing program at Antioch University, Los Angeles about a year and a half ago. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. I love the program which finishes up in June. I finally finished rewriting GROWING CHOCOLATE and entered it in the Amazon/Penguin contest.

I don’t know whether to be optimistic or not. I have learned that what I feel at any given moment about my work has little to do with how it’s received. Emotions give us information, but shouldn’t be an exclusive guide. Anyway, quarterfinals will be announced in March. In the meantime, I’m working on my fourth novel, WRESTLING ALLIGATORS. About halfway through. Back to it.