Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Our Thinking Caps

Now that I'm getting used to the heat, I suppose it will get cold. Just as when I got used to having allergies assail my sinuses, and knew what to do about it, they start assailing my lungs so I always feel like I'm short of breath. Just as I got used to my depression coming in August and March, and started getting good at handling it, now it comes whenever it fucking well feels like it. No sooner do I get used to one set of conditions than they change to something else. But they never change for the better. Or maybe they do, and I am so averse to change that I can't see any change as good.

Be that as it may... to return to my previous kvetch on the dreadfully bad mystery novel Going Down for the Count, I managed to finish it on Saturday evening without having an aneurysm. The lapses in verisimilitude fell to a dull roar after a while, but the sentences never got any longer and the characters never became believable, or even likeable. I figured out the solution of the mystery in the chapter immediately succeeding the murder itself, the clues were unbelievably obvious, and most of the action that took place between the murder and the unmasking of the killer was gratuitous and not very funny.

I could pull a better story out of my ASS! was my response as I finished the book, slammed its bright-yellow covers together for the last time, and threw the offending volume on the pile beside the bed. Well, why don't you, then? came the inevitable follow-up question (the voices in my head are always interrogating each-other's statements, and answering questions with questions). And as usually happens in these circumstances, I feel all fired up to write some good fiction.

Perhaps that is the purpose of bad literature: to goad the rest of us into production.

Of course, I didn't just sit down and start writing a novel of my own. Instead I started reading my other new Amazon purchase, The Concrete Sky, which was much much much better. It was so good, in fact, so enthralling and interesting, that I read it all in one day (it wasn't exactly a mystery, not quite a thriller, not entirely a romance, not just a psychological study... it was all of the above, and then some). And just as I put down that very satisfying read, another book came in the mail from A Different Light: Death Comes Easy; the Gay Times Book of Murder Stories, in which I am now engrossed.

However, I have started to think about my novel again, trying to compile a list of problems I need to solve and research I need to do. The first problem is, First Person or Third Person? I am inclined toward third-person simply because I have never written in that form, but it relieves me of having to get so far into the head of only one character. When I asked my coworker JB about it, she suggested alternating between first and third, a format she's encountered in a number of novels she's read lately (which she is going to lend me, so I can study the technique).

Another problem I want to work on is how do I give backstory for my characters without taking too much time about it? I don't want to simplify the characters into cartoons, and complex characters need a lot of explication; so how do you do that without getting all involved in backstory to the detriment of the story you're trying to tell?

Then there's research to do, information I'm not sure how to go about compiling. Most importantly, I need to find out what the process is when someone is arrested for murder in San Francisco: what do the interrogation rooms look like, what do the jail cells look like, what do the rooms where attorneys meet with their clients look like? I can attend public arraignments and trials at the courthouse in order to collect details on how such things are really conducted; but short of getting arrested myself, how am I going to find out what the inner workings of the building are like?

When I read a book, I want very clear portraits painted of the people and the settings, and so when I write one I will have to have that information. And you can't just make it up, the way you can with a place or a person that doesn't really exist, because of the likelihood of the book being read by someone who has actually been through the San Francisco City Jail system, who will spot all my errors and hate the rest of the book because of them (in the same way I hated Stukas for the whole von Schmidt thing).

And then of course there is the final and stickiest problem: where to find the time? I mean, I have written enough in this blog over the last two and a half years to fill three or four good-sized novels (453,792 words, according to my Blogger profile); but, aside from a few thought-provoked essays, these blog entries come off the top of my head and don't have to be edited more than ten or fifteen times, and certainly never need revising. I can take the time that I usually spend reading and spend it writing instead; I can take a lot of the time I spend watching television and videos; and then there's the time I spend clicking obsessively on blogs and surfing for beefcake on the computer, which could easily be channeled into the project.

But writing a novel is infinitely time-consuming. I have found, in the past, that it takes me so long to reenter the world of the novel that I have to have at least six uninterrupted hours in which to get anything done. And I simply haven't got time in that large of chunks. Perhaps the solution to that is to learn to write in shorter segments. I can but try.

Hey, maybe I can do it in a blog... though the revision process would be sticky in that format. It's something to think about, though. In the meantime, think about this:

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