Saturday, August 27, 2011

That's Hadrian, not Adrian, if you please

Another hour before the library closes, and since I'm in an updating mood, I'll spill the latest news on the novel-in-progress. When I posted a couple of weeks ago that I was about halfway through the first draft, something happened, and I couldn't seem to make any forward progress. So I did something long overdue; I did a synopsis of what I had written so far. This entailed skimming the several hundred pages of manuscript and summing up each scene in a line or two, adding notes, and rearranging scenes. Gave me a good idea of what's what and what's missing. It took about a week and a half to do, and by the end I was able to continue pushing the story forward with a better clue as to what I was writing. Am pretty pleased with it too, if I can risk tempting Fate.

A few posts ago I mentioned that one of my main protagonists was still going by the acronym HAD (Hunky Alaskan Dude). I found myself writing HAD so many times that I got to like the sound of it. So I'm auditioning the name Hadrian for this character. A Roman emperor, the name suits him. Hadrian Hudson, maybe, the attempt by his parents for alliteration. There's the bonus twist that everyone keeps wanting to call him Adrian and how he responds to it. Imagine going your entire life having to correct how people pronounce your name. Wait a minute, that's what I have to do. Looking up Hadrian on a baby name site, I find that it's not and "never was" in the top 1000 popular baby boy names in the U.S., whereas, Adrian is in the top 100. So, if this hunky dude character catches on with future readers, it can be a distinctive name.

The photo at the top is from my McCarthy trip of last month. It's the ruins of the mill at the Kennecott copper mine. The ore came down from the mine, another 5000 ft straight up, by tramway. The ore underwent processing by four different methods that extracted 98% of the copper. The mill today is owned by the National Park Service, which is stabilizing and renovating it for future tours. Click on the photo for a larger size.

Ebook Update

The image above is the cover of my upcoming ebook. It has taken me an inordinate amount of time to create it, the cover, that is. The content was quick, a matter of reformatting a word processing file. This ebook contains my three "flash fiction" stories that appeared in the British science journal, Nature, on their "Futures" page. When it's ready to go, I'm going to publish it for the Kindle and Nook, and it will be free. (I'll also offer it for free on this blog.) It will point the reader to my novella, also upcoming, "The Wedding Album." But before I can finish the first, I have to have the cover of the second ready to go, and that's what's holding me up.

I have worked as a graphic designer, not an illustrator, and so I generally need a photo or image to get started. The one above is a photoshop melding of two images in the public domain I found on Wikimedia. The execution was simple, once I had the concept and images, but that took me about six weeks to develop. Too long. Now with "The Wedding Album," which is a more important work, I'm in the same boat. Concept, images, integration, layout--my head hurts.

If any of you have read and liked "TWA" and have ideas or images (plus the rights to use them) to put on the cover, I would most ardently appreciate it if you contacted me. I can't offer you a lot of money, but you'd get an acknowledgement and, if you're a professional artist, an ad at the end of the ebook to advertise your business. In any case, stay tuned for the release of these two ebooks.

Like me, or don't, but just "like" me.

I have just created a "page" on FB, as opposed to a "profile." I've done this because there's a setting that will automatically add whatever post I put here, on my blog, to my page. It's supposed to go to the "notes" area of my page, but I see that there's a default option that adds it to my wall as well (or instead). I don't know; I'll use it for a while and see what happens. I intend to keep this blog as my main vehicle for doing updates and news. If I can write stuff once and have it magically propagate to the world at large, I'd be happy.

I encourage all my "friends," friends, and fans to "like" me on FB if you wish for my weekly postings to appear on your wall. Here's my page address (as best as I can tell).

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Snake Oil in Heaven

Barnes & Noble--You gotta love a bookstore that encourages you to read their magazines and books in a comfortable atmosphere with no pressure to purchase them. They’ll even sell you food and drink to enjoy while you’re reading. Free wifi, and if you have a Nook, you can read anything in the store on it for free as well. I don’t know about their other stores, but the one here in Fairbanks has an open fireplace in which the fire burns all year, even in August (when our nighttime temps are already dipping into the 40s). I sure hope this company survives the Great Recession because I would miss it if it closed.

Anyway, when I visit the store, I sometimes pull two or three bestsellers off the rack, find a comfy armchair in front of the fire, and read the first chapters. I do this to keep up with what’s selling and to try to soak up whatever quality it is that makes a book a bestseller. If I read enough bestselling first chapters--or so goes my thinking--maybe I too can write a bestseller.

Last week I picked up a worthy exemplar of the genre, Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. There are over 4 million copies in print, Sony is developing the movie, and the book is being translated into 30 languages. So this is no slouch of a bestseller. In the corner of the cover is a cute little boy in a funky yellow sweater vest smiling at the viewer. As well he should--he’s one little boy who’ll be able to go to any Bible college he chooses.

The book is by a Protestant pastor in Nebraska who’s son suffered acute appendicitis shortly before his fourth birthday and underwent emergency surgery. During the next few years, the boy described to his father a heavenly journey he made while under anesthesia, strictly uncoached, of course. He described Jesus, the saints and angels, dead relatives (including a miscarried elder sister no one had ever told him about and a great grandfather who died 30 years before the boy was born). I found all of this so convincing, so utterly believable, that I have dropped my long-held atheism in favor of Christianity. Yes, I accepted Jesus as my personal Savior at Barnes & Noble. How could I not? Only truth can come from the mouth of a babe (and his totally genuine garage-door selling, pastor father), right?

Things I have always wondered about are now clear. For instance, everyone in Heaven (excepting Jesus and God) has wings! (Because obviously, divine beings need wings to stay afloat up there.) And they all wear white robes just like they did in the olden days, even Jesus, with colored sashes. Jesus is the only one with a purple sash, and Jesus has a beard, just like he does in the pictures. Plus he’s white and has blue eyes! I am so glad that the Bible storybooks have gotten this stuff right. Plus God is really big and sits on a throne. As I said, utterly convincing.

As you may be able to tell, I read more than just the first chapter of this book, but how can you blame me? What price salvation? And here’s the most astounding information in this whole astounding story--unbaptised, unsaved babies do go to heaven. As you may know, we Christians have debated this issue for centuries. Since the Bible clearly states that only the saved go to heaven, and to be saved one needs to confess one’s sins and accept Jesus as one’s Savior, pre-verbal babies are pretty much screwed, not to mention unborn fetuses. (If you don’t believe me on this point, ask your pastor.)

Where do all these dead, unsaved souls go? We’re not sure, especially since the Catholics (who are kinda like Christians) refudiated the teaching of Limbo last year. But real Christians know, and it takes a lot of pastoral sand to say it out loud, that babies, including the 40 million aborted ones, spend eternity in Hell! Kinda harsh, I agree, but our God is a just God.

Now, thanks to this book, we can be assured that unsaved babies do go to heaven after all. This kid met his miscarried sister in heaven. So that clinches it. Case closed.

I should have stopped reading right there and left the store floating on angel wings like four million other lucky readers. But no, I had to turn to the back to read about the author’s ghostwriter (or “collaborator” as they’re called now). Her name is Lynn Vincent, and it turns out that she was Sarah Palin’s ghostwriter for Going Rouge: An American Life. Now, I’ve read that book, also childlike in its innocence, also a multi-million-copy bestseller, but patently fiction. It makes me wonder, could this book be fiction too? Oh, damn, when everything was becoming so clear.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Speak, Memory

One of my favorite authors is Vladimir Nabokov. His Lolita remains in my top ten fave books of all time. It's about a truly horrific man, a child molester. But starting with his name, Humbert Humbert, the protagonist/narrator presents himself as a captive of his own abusive proclivities in a most engaging, humorous, and literary stylistic way. It's a testament to Nabokov's skill to pull this off, not exactly creating sympathy for the monster but allowing the reader to enter his headspace at all.

Anyway, I'm currently reading his incomplete final novel, The Original of Laura: Dying is Fun. It's less a novel draft than a look at his writing "process." The process of writing seems to be of perennial interest to aspiring writers. At every writing event I attend someone invariably asks the guest authors about it, as though following the proper process will guarantee literary success. Do you outline? Do you use one of the novel-writing computer applications? Do you have a daily word quota or work for a set number of hours? I love these questions because they are so easy to answer. Also because I, too, am curious about how other authors work. And I've always been curious about Nabokov's method because he was famous for writing his first drafts on 3 x 5 index cards. Moreover, he would shuffle the cards to change the order of the narration. A neat and difficult trick.

And now I can see the cards themselves in holograph. The book (pictured above; click to enlarge) by Knopf reproduces the 132 cards Nabokov was working on when he died. In fact, they are printed on card stock--both sides of the cards--making a very thick book. The preface says the cards are perforated so that you can tear them out and shuffle them yourself, but the edition I checked out from the library have the dashed line guides but no perforation. (Perhaps they printed a special library edition.) Why Nabokov wrote this way makes no sense to me. You can get only a paragraph or two on each card. And there must be other ways to shuffle scenes.

I get a lot of grief from fellow writers when they learn that I write my first few drafts in longhand. I've been told that that's why I write so slowly. Of course that's absurd. I write so slow because I think so slow. Duh. Over the years I've tried to come up with reasonable sounding arguments why writing in longhand is superior to using a word processor. The strongest of which, IMO, is that drafting on a word processor tends to "lock in" the text prematurely. The art of writing is in the rewriting, and the whole point of word processing is to free the author from rewriting. You can massage text with a word processor, auto-correct (purported) typos, and cut and paste whole strings of text, but that isn't rewriting. I don't know any author who keystrokes their entire books from scratch for each draft (as some authors did in the days of typewriters).

My argument may sound unconvincing, but that's OK. Now I can simply point to Nabokov and say that he not only wrote in longhand but he wrote on index cards.

I say "purported" typos above because auto-correct tools are maddeningly conventional, and I know Nabokov would have hated them. (He died in 1977, a year after the first software-based word processor, Electric Pencil, was released.) You can't play with words when your computer keeps changing them back to accepted usage. In the first paragraph of this post, I wrote "fave books," and this word processor changed it to "face books." One processor I used kept changing "windows" to "Windows™." Need I say more? I can just see Nabokov keystroking "Humbert Humbert" and his computer deleting the redundancy. (And, yes, I know you can turn the auto features off.)

I never knew the circumstances of Nabokov's death. In the preface to this book, his son, Dmitri, wrote about it. Nabokov was chasing butterflies, his lifelong passion, on a steep slope in Davos in 1975, when he fell and wasn't able to get up by himself. Dmitri identifies this event as the beginning of a series of illnesses that ended with congestive bronchitis and three final gasps in 1977. While I dare not dispute his son's reckoning, the timeline conflicts with my own memory. In 1974 (not 1975) I read a newspaper article about Nabokov's ill health. In those days I worked as an orderly at Bartlett Memorial Hospital in Juneau, AK. It was the graveyard shift in the intensive care unit, and mortality was on my mind. I was afraid my face author (oops, fave author) would shuffle off before I could express my appreciation. So I dashed off my first fan letter (in longhand) thanking him for so many hours of reading enjoyment.

One last observation about the index cards. I notice that when he crosses out a word or phrase, he obliterates it, making it impossible to know what it had been. I guess when a word is wrong, it deserves capital punishment with no chance of parole.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Voices in my head

I saw an article that fascinates me and has a direct impact on writing fiction. Scientists at the University of Glasgow have found that when reading direct quotations, the brain "hears" the voice of the speaker. This is something that you may have known intuitively, but now there's data to back it up. I know for myself that when I read, the voice I hear conforms to any hint the author has given about the character's voice: accent, tone, phrasing. On the other hand, if I happen to know the author, I hear their voice when their characters speak. Some more than others. Whenever I read Pat Cadigan's work, it's almost as though she's reading out loud to me.

When I read Nick Hornby's novel, Juliet, Naked, I somehow got it into my head that the book's narrator was Hugh Grant, and I heard him throughout the book. It was hard not to.

Knowing about this phenomena, an author could take steps to fix a particular voice in the reader's "inner ear." Maybe when a new character is introduced, the writer could describe it in an evocative way and reinforce it a few times.

An even more interesting device might be to recruit a well-known voice, such as that of a popular actor, to serve as a character's voice. It wouldn't be hard. "Joe Entwurst, despite his slight build, had a deep, rich, resonating voice, like the actor James Earl Jones. 'My children,' he crooned. "All of you are my precious children.'" Hmm, you'd probably have to phrase it properly and use appropriate diction. But it could be done. I think I will try it out in the current novel. I wonder if there are persona/trademark issues. Can you copyright the voices in our heads?

The photo above is of me standing inside the frame of the teepee we built during our recent trip to the Park taken by my niece Jenn.