Saturday, December 29, 2007

Journal of a "Novel"-Entry 41

The List is Life

The above has nothing to do with the novel I am writing, but that's kind of on hiatus at the moment (see below). Since I know Duke's the only one who's gonna read this anyway, I thought I would make a few quick overdue observations about his Top Ten Books list this year. Notice how drastically different it is from mine, which I always find very interesting about these lists when we post them annually. They really reflect the differences in our reading, while at the same time many of the books on his list could have been books I would have enjoyed as much or nearly as much, and vice versa. I lean heavily on fiction titles, always have; but Duke reads more widely than I do, in poetry, general nonfiction, and religion, so his list frequently reflects those interests. I am interested to some extent in all of those things, and probably should read more of them, but I don't always seem to prioritize them over the fiction I am (at times) irrepressibly interested in checking out. There's one exception for me, which is my annual Spiritual Reading challenge during the 40-day period of Lent, when I generally try to read exclusively religious titles. It's my way of taking time to focus on those concepts and realities, which I think is helpful in some ways. But anyway, I just wanted to comment on how much I can appreciate the diversity of Duke's list, with a poetry collection, two short-story volumes, a 19th century classic, a spiritual classic, a pair of memoirs, a play, and three contemporary novels. Now THAT'S a diverse best-of list. Furthermore, I defy anyone who sees this to find a single other person who, if they would even make a best books of the year list, include a Papal encyclical on that list. Only a Duke Altum list would contain that, which is why they're so enjoyable to check out every year.

Holiday Hiatus

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to make any progress on starting into Chapter V of my novel. After finishing the draft of Chapter IV back on November 6, I thought for sure I would be able to start Chapter V before the end of 2007, but it hasn't happened. I guess you can chalk that up to a lot of things, not the least of which is the holiday madness around Christmas and visiting relatives, which makes getting anything done difficult. But the real problem is that I have a concept of how I want to open up the chapter but don't have a sufficient amount of research information to start writing, and I have not had time to go to a library and try to track down what I need. Unfortunately what I do need is not going to be easy to find so it may take some time. Time to spend at a library doing research is not something I can usually attain unless I do a certain amount of prior planning and make arrangements. Not so easy during this time of year. Not to mention the fact that I'm not really sure how to go about getting what I need in the first place. So I guess it's natural that I might fall behind this time of year but I don't much like it, it gives me concerns about whether I will be able to sustain overall momentum on the project. It occurs to me that I have had concerns of a similar nature before during the writing of this novel, and have been able to overcome them. Overcoming past obstacles doesn't guarantee you will be able to overcome future ones, but it does give you some confidence that you might not have had before. At least I do have a general idea of what I want to do in the chapter, with plenty of open spaces to fill in as well, but filling in those spaces is the least of my concerns, because I know that happens when you get into the actual writing. What I need to worry about for now is finding time to gather information and actually get started on the chapter. But I think it will still be a little while before I can get to it; we're still in the holiday season. In the meantime, I get really antsy if i am not writing at all, so I have taken a couple steps to try to stay active in the middle of this break in the novel action. Hope it doesn't derail me permanently......

Two New Writings

As I mentioned, even when I am having problems in the novel, I don't like to be completely inert when it comes to writing. I like to keep working. This was borne out last year when I was having so much trouble writing Chapter III in the middle of my family's house hunting and move to Pennsylvania. I was really stuck in the middle of the chapter, but I wanted to keep working, so I took some time to write a short story (the only one I wrote last year) called "In the Throes". Now, during this hiatus, I wanted to do the same thing, so the first thing I took on was a short essay on a topic I've been meaning to write on for about 4-5 years, and it's a departure for me. The subject is the Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre, and the essay is called "Sling It: Brett Favre as Literary Inspiration". As I said, I wanted to write a piece on Favre for some time, but I could never find the angle on it that I wanted. I even started several different Favre-related essays but they all fizzled out. This time I ran into a contest run by a magazine called Sport Literate that asked for "Football Essays" and hopes to run a winning piece by the start of the '08 football season. Since the magazine seemed to aspire to bridge the gap between literature and sports (who knew that gap needed to be bridged?), I thought I would take a literary sort of angle on my being a fan of Favre, and the essay is what I came up with. I think it turned out pretty well and that I said most of what I have been wanting to say in writing about this great player, and I plan to ship it in for the contest after this football season is over (how far Favre goes in the post-season may have some bearing on the essay!). Stay tuned here to see what happens with the piece. The odds are long but that never stopped a champion like Favre so I don't see why it should stop me.

The second piece during this break is the one I am working on now - a new short story tentatively titled "I Will Be Out of the Office". I just started working on it and I am not sure if it's going to fly, but we'll see. I have never had any publishing success with stories so I always go into a new story hoping that 'this will be the one'. At the same time I enter into a new story with some trepidation because I don't feel very adept at the form, never seem to be able to keep my stories as short as they probably need to be (I need a kind of Gordon Lish, not that I'm any Ray Carver), and usually feel that they don't quite reach my original ambition. These are the same qualities that keep me trying on stories, though; I feel like I want to stick at it until I get one right. I don't want to say too much now about the one I am working on, because I don't know if it will make it past the sputtering stage, but I can reveal that it is about grief, something that I don't have a lot of first hand experience with. This, in an odd way, is why I wanted to write the story now, since it relates to losing a direct family member. I haven't lost one myself, aside from a grandparent, and in a strange way I kind of feel like for me to write a story on the subject after this inevitably occurs would just be a way for me to channel my own grief, and would end up being a kind of memoir-disguised-as-a-story. It would be therapy, and I don't want to write this particular story that way. Doing it now for me is an exercise in trying to enter into the emotions of someone else, which I think is a valuable enterprise. I can't rely on my own experience because I haven't had it yet. So the literary challenge for me is to make it a believable story in spite of the fact that I haven't experienced it myself yet. That to me is what a fiction writer has to be able to do and I may very well bungle it, but the challenge itself is a motivator to me. We'll see if I get this one done.

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