Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Top 20 of the last 10

Over at the literary blog, The Millions, they've counted down a list of the best fiction of the millennium (so far). Out of the 20 books listed, I've only finished Middlesex, Atonement and The Road, all of which were awesome. The top two books on the list, The Known World and The Corrections, I quit reading after about 50 pages. As for the rest of the list, I suppose at some point I'll read The Brief, Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao -- even though I can't stand footnotes -- and I've been dying to read Gilead. But beyond that, nothing jumps out at me.

Leaf Blowerers, have you read any of the books on the list? Any recommendations?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Double-blind Deconstruction

It’s been a while since I’ve updated y’all on my novel, DOUBLE-BLIND. A month ago, I hired a freelance editor to critique my manuscript. I didn’t want a line-by line edit; I needed an exploration of the novel’s major themes: Do the characters work? Is the pacing right? Is the plot compelling enough to hold the reader’s interest? Also, I wanted to know if my writing sucked.

I just got the editor’s comments back. Most of her suggestions are about my characters -- how I can make them stronger and more layered by adding more flaws, deeper motivations, etc. She said that writers tend to protect their protagonist because they want people to like him/her. But in reality, if you add more flaws, people identify with the character even more. Take the book I’m reading now, The Gargoyle: the protagonist has a laundry list of serious flaws, but you root for him just the same. And sometimes we want to read about a flawed character because it makes us feel better about ourselves. We can say, at least I’m not THAT guy.

The best part is the editor said my writing is “just excellent” and that my book could be, with the right tweaks, publishable quality. This is extremely encouraging, because bad writing is hard (if not impossible) to fix. If the writing’s not there, no amount of serpentine plot twists can save you (unless your name happens to be Dan Brown).

The problem with big-ticket issues is, of course, they’re not easy to fix. They involve major character overhauls, or removing characters altogether. They involve exploring characters’ motivation, raising the stakes. They involve substantial re-writing. I have a lot of work to do.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"That was funny," she said.

The only thing harder than writing dialogue is writing funny dialogue. I was perusing some exercises from Write Great Fiction - Dialogue, and I came across a short exercise that The Leaf Blower readers could participate in:

Your female character is walking late at night on a downtown street of a big city. Suddenly she is accosted by three teenage boys who grab her purse. She yells something at them as they run away. What does she yell? Write one line of dialogue for each type of character below. Try to be as original as you can. The goal is to surprise your reader.

  • a mom from the suburbs
  • a prostitute
  • a businesswoman
  • an undercover cop
  • a grandmother
  • a drag queen

Here's my attempt:

Mom:  "I'm calling your mothers!"

Prostitute: "Hold up, boys... maybe we can work out an arrangement."

Businesswoman: "Knock yourselves out, idiots. My Amex card will be cancelled before you can say 'Playstation 3'."

Cop: "You boys ever made a decision, a real bad decision, after which nothing was ever the same? This is one of those times."

Grandmother: "You can have the money, sonny -- just leave my vibrator!"

Drag queen: "Oh no you don't... you are NOT taking my Louis Vuitton!"

Now... LB readers: pick any one of these characters and give it a try.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Honey, I've shrunk my brain

My neocortex is shrinking. My corpus collusum is collapsing.

I've gone two weeks without doing any serious writing, and I'm amazed at how fast those muscles have atrophied. Sitting down to write this blog feels like a mammoth undertaking. My fingers won't move when I tell them to. My eyes deceive me; the blank page is the size of Death Valley. Even my hard-won confidence has eroded; just thinking about sharing words in public roils my stomach like a late-night carne asada burrito.

But there's this wonderful thing called muscle memory. It's what enables bobybuilders to quickly gain back gobs of muscle after taking time off. So, now that the crazy-wonderful wedding period is over, it's time to get back to business. Dust off those dumbbells for some cerbellum curls. Funnel some protein powder into my frontal lobe. With a little hard work, I'll have that washboard gray matter back in no time.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

My Muse

I'm on my honeymoon this week, so I'm not going to write much. I just wanted to thank my amazing new bride, Amy, for putting up with me and lending her unwavering support throughout this whole writing project. She gave me the courage to quit my job and complete a novel, and she encouraged me along the way by pretending everything I wrote was on par with Faulkner. 

Amy, I could not have done this without you!