Thursday, August 26, 2010

Exploring the Gray

In thinking about the thematic elements of my recent writing, I find myself ruminating upon the much-maligned color gray. Dull, medicore, in-between, halfway, the color of compromise - that's what we usually associate with gray. But I think it's gotten a bad rap. Gray isn't just some washed-out, plain, monotone. There are a vast collection of grays - asphalt, concrete, charcoal, pewter, nickels, the edging of clouds on a fine summer day or the heavy fullness of a thunderhead about to break.

Black and white are the colors of two dimensions. Gray gives shading, depth and nuance. Without it, things are flat. Gray provides fullness of shape.

In my writing and in my reading, I find I am drawn to stories that explore the gray - that is, the messy, nuanced, complexities of life. Simplistic, black and white answers rarely ring true or make for interesting and meaningful characters or stories.

So here's to gray! Go find some!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Now I Am a Real Boy!"

Like most writers, I want my characters to be real. After I spend enough time with them, they seem real to me. They start making decisions without me and taking the story in new, usually quite interesting, directions. When I share chapters with my critique group, the characters become a little more real. "She wouldn't do that!" they exclaim, as if they were talking about a close friend. That's when the characters move from existing in my head to existing in some forcefield of space created by the energy of the critique group. But in a way, at that point, my characters are still Pinocchio-the-puppet, or the pre-fever Velveteen Rabbit. They aren't truly REAL.

I recently gave the "final" copy of my novel to a bunch of friends to read, most of whom knew little or nothing about the story or the characters. The first reader's comments came in. She talked about the characters like she knew them. She felt things for them, and when one of them died, she cried. As I read her comments, I thought, "Now they are REAL." What a remarkable feeling!

Like Pinocchio or the Velveteen Rabbit, my characters couldn't truly become REAL without experiencing love from the person they were created for - the reader.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Novel-writing Postpartum

So I've revised and rewritten and polished and edited and re-read and tweaked and now I believe my novel is done and ready to be read in full by everyone who matters. Now what? My head says, "Take a little break. Then start on the next one." I know that's my plan. But taking a break from this one is hard. I don't feel like I've let go. I don't feel ready to let go. Am I really planning on sending my characters out into the universe on their own now?

I wonder if completing a novel is like giving birth or is it more like grieving? Maybe it's both. Right now, I think I am experiencing some level of shock or denial. It doesn't entirely feel real. I'm not sure what to do with myself. I want to revisit it and at the same time I don't want to look at it or think about it.

Someone may ask me to go back to it, and when they do, I think I will take it up again gladly, with a sense of purpose. But, for now, the crazy push to finish has ended. I must fill not only my time but my brain with other endeavors.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How Do You Know When You're Finished?

Revise, revise, revise. Polish, polish, polish. Critique, critique, critique. Move this bit here and that bit there. Cut that line. No. Put it back in. Change that word. Find another one. Rearrange some more. Add a scene. Delete a scene. Is my head ready to explode yet? Wait. I think I've got it. Read it again the next day for flow. Nope. Something's still not right. Shave a little here. tweak a little there. And I know after all of this I'll show it to someone and they'll still have suggestions and fixes. Perhaps "finished" is a myth. Perhaps everything is perpetually a work in progress. After all, it's created by a human being.

At what point do you tell yourself your work is finished?

Friday, August 06, 2010

Digital Ruminations

It's been a long, long time since I've made any entries here. But I am going a little more digital this summer. I'm preparing to debut my very own writing website and thought it was time to reconnect with my blog. Blog I must for a better platform!

I'm at the Willamette Writers Conference this week, filling my head with the business stuff of writing. The world is abuzz with discussion of e-readers and other digital media, also a topic of discussion at the Pacific Northwest Children's Book Conference two weeks ago. Sam and I met last night with folks who run the Digital Media program at Washington University in Vancouver. I find myself challenged in a very healthy way by this brave new world. I've always been a little nervous about change, but the older I get the more I am taught, time and again, that change is the constant. And perhaps change is healthy.

There was a time when humanity communicated its written literature through cave paintings. We don't anymore, but we still tell stories. The story remains, no matter what the medium or technology might be. In that there is hope.

I recently visited my parents in Delaware. We were talking about our early memories as readers. My Mom mentioned a book she always loved and remembered, a book she searched for when we were kids, searched for over the years, and could never find. She called it RAFFY, CHAMPION OF THE VELDT. It occurred to me that, in the digital age, I might actually be able to use online searches to find the childhood book my 70 year old mother loved so much. And so, sitting in their guest room, I pulled out my laptop, went online via their wifi, and googled "Raffy, Champion of the Veldt." First, I had the wrong spelling of Raffy. Then, I had the wrong title. Finally, I found a quote, that seemed to be from the book, a quote about something called a "honkebeest." So, I entered "Raffy" and "Honkebeest", and, like "open sesame", it threw wide the doors to the many rare and collectible, and not-so-collectible, copies of RAFFY AND THE HONKEBEEST, by Rita Kissen. I ordered it online, to be shipped to Mom's house. A few days later, it arrived. By then I was back in Portland, Oregon. But Mom emailed me a beautiful description of the experience of rediscovering this favorite childhood book, six and a half decades after her father first read it to her. None of this experience could have happened in quite this way without digital technology.

My point? The digital world and the nostalgic, old-school world sometimes coexist not only successfully, but elegantly, beautifully, poetically. I am hopeful.

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