Friday, April 3, 2009

Inkblot Panorama 5, Plus Some Writing Thoughts

Selections made and a bit of initial color.

Well, last night's writer's group meeting was really good for me. The solutions to two big problems have possibly come to light.

The first had to do with my story God's Tourists. It's already been published in the small press magazine Monday Night but I've been reworking it for reasons explained here. The story is more or less about my relationship with my grandma Jean Bishop. I used a bunch of aliens to help turns my memories into a story -- briefly, they're a bunch of New Age types who wind up making knockoff versions of my Christian Scientist grandma for sale. The end scene is the strongest emotional moment in the story but it has none of the SF components that drive the narrative.

Rob suggested that I might have the statements made by my grandma in the last scene made by one of the knockoff versions of her instead and the idea clicked. I'm going to have to give up some of my favorite moments in the story to make it work -- stuff Allison told me to keep -- but it's the old story. We call it killing your darlings...

Speaking of Allison, reading her work has really lit a fire under my ass. I mentioned in a previous post that I was disappointed by my novel.

It's lacking the guts I intended it to have. The most common and most frustrating criticism I've received about the novel has been that the protagonist's motivation/problems have been unclear.

"Why is he so down on himself?" "Why doesn't he just get laid?" "Why does he do that for those people -- it's not like they did anything for him."

Well, as I've mentioned before the protagonist is a stand-in for me in my twenties. When I was really, really nuts. I tried to address this in the novel by showing my thoughts and emotional stated honestly. It hasn't worked out.

But Allison's work has finally made me realize that the problem is that I need to just lay some of this right out. Her stuff has the kind of emotional intensity that I've been aiming for and missing. And she does it by just saying exactly what she means to say. By unapologetically airing what some might see as dirty laundry.

I've realized that for all my attempts to be honest I've been holding back. I need to spill my guts here if I'm going to write the book I intend to write. It's not going to take all that much in the way of actual words -- it'll probably come out to five or ten pages of manuscript -- but it will make that crucial difference, I hope.

I can't get away with just saying things like, "There were already too many people for me to handle so when the doorbell rang again I went to my room. I was mulling over the fact that no one cared enough to check on poor me when there was a knock on the door."

Plain and simple, that fails to give the emotional impact of deep-rooted social anxiety, the whole tangled knot of misery that lies behind that kind of alienation. It's weak sauce. I need to bring the real thing.

I hope I can pull it off.


Allison Landa said...

Wow, dude, thanks. It meant so much to me to hear you speak of my work this way, and then to read this today.

It's a honor working with you, m'friend. And as to the question of whether you can pull it off -- I think you damn well know where I stand on that one.

Sean Craven said...

Thank you, Allison. I'm going to try a two-pronged attack. First, I'm going to go through the manuscript and flag all the places where I make a subtle reference to my condition and then go back and de-subtle them.

I'm also going to figure out exactly what it is I want to say on this subject in this book and see how much of that I can fit into the places where it already makes an appearance.

Man, this shit is HARD. I really feel like the novel is my favorite form but that might be just because I'm such an enthusiastic fan of self-torture.

robp said...

As many times as I've read God's Tourists, it took sitting in a group with ideas bouncing around before I made the suggestion you're crediting me for. It's an ideal environment for ideas to build from dialogue; we all like each other and have no problem with criticism (giving or getting), and our writing is on similar enough levels that we critique each other well.

When I was first in the Monday Night writers group, which was a great group through various incarnations, my ego sometimes took a hit when something I thought was great got smacked around. I think the differences in this group start with the amount of confidence each of us has in not only his or her own writing, but in the ability of the other people in the group to critique in an effort to make the writing better. When you know what you want from your writing and don't care what anyone says about it so long as it helps you get there you're free to expose yourself, take all the kicks to the head and groin, get up and fix the damn thing.

Now it appears that something you don't do in the writers' group - protect yourself - you have done for your alter ego protagonist in your novel. Shit, Sean, you don't have to protect yourself on the page, just treat the fictionalized you like you treat all your other protagonists: fuck him with a spike and twist it. That's the self-torture that will make your novel what you want it to be.

Sean Craven said...

Heh, heh. I don't think it's so much a matter of being mean to the character -- you commented on what a miserable time he was having in this volume and the end of volume two is one of the most emotionally brutal things I've done thus far.

It's more a matter of being mean to the reader. What's held me back is my feeling that mental illness is a really painful subject and I've been concerned about putting the reader off. I'm just starting to realize that I've already done plenty for the reader by giving them a nice slam-bang adventure story and now it's time to try and fuck them up.

I'm also thinking that some clinical detail is important. When I tried to incorporate the (disastrous) therapeutic experience in early drafts, it sucked. I'm considering shifting that to backstory -- Matt underwent counseling at school before he dropped out, so he can bring in the clinical shit as memory.

At least this is all just a matter of adding material rather than gutting the book and starting from scratch...

Sean Craven said...

Oh -- and you're dead right about the way the group is working right now. It's gonna take Warren a little while to get his confidence up to speed, but I think we've got a functional unit here. I just hope we can keep things going once I've got music again -- which won't be happening for a few months, damnit.