Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Anecdote Part III: Events and Embellishments

Making connections as a writer will prove to be lucrative. Yes, there are all sorts of connections, those within a story or a conversation, and those which we must make with real life events and the fictional landing pad in our work. As elegantly as possible we can take a real life event and connect a few points and add all the fictional elements- character development and plot, back story and exposition to make a piece worth reading.
Today's exercise we will do just that. We're going to take an arbitrary day, or even an extraordinary day and use the associated anecdote to craft a short story.
This exercise came to me today from a normal conversation with a friend of mine.
As I spoke to Katy Rattelmueller today I felt a level of gratitude and humility as she commented on my blog first then compared my work to Pam Houston, a writer who she admires. Katy said: “I've never seen someone so dedicated to their creativity.” Then in the next breath she said: “You're one prolific (censored for younger audiences and parents).”
“Yeah,” I said. “I work everyday.” What else could I say? I thanked her for reading, and I thanked her for the kind words. Then I asked: “Do you write? Are you a writer?”
“Just journals,” she said.
“Yeah? I love journaling.” As many of you know, I hold journal writing in very high regard. I believe everyone should do it. If you don't, you should start, and if you do, you should keep it going. But what about the arbitrary day? The anecdote of an event on an arbitrary day? Well, if you keep a journal like I do, or like Katy does, you might pick a day from that and run with it.
So, why not craft a small piece of autobiography or a small memoir? I suppose you could, but ask yourself: if I extrapolate something from my life, will it be of interest to readers? And after all, when I talk writing, I generally mean fiction. Also, when it comes to non-fiction or memoir, remember a journal entry is just that, a journal entry. If you endeavor in either non-fiction or memoir, remember this: you may like the idea of writing a book about your life, but is it interesting to readers or is it something solely for you?
The anecdote of an ordinary day? Well, let's give it a try.
I'm choosing a day in December. Why not? I've got 31 days to choose from. As far as an event, I could choose any number of them: Pearl Harbor Day, the 7th. Interesting? Yes. Useful? I don't know. I could choose the Solstice, or Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or New Year's Eve. These days have one thing in common: they're days when something should happen and they're days which have milestone significance for many of us. Do you see where I'm going with this? I can think of at least a dozen possible conflicts for most of these days. And that begins the foundation for the process.
Ultimately, I will choose December 24th, Christmas Eve. Further that one more step and I'll give it a year: 1999. Inherently, there were many strange things going on in December 1999. It was not only the end of the decade, it was the end of the century. Many people, I recall, were absolutely terrified that the world as we knew it was going to end at midnight on New Year's 2000. Seems pretty silly now, because, after all, the world is going to end (and we all know it) in 2012. So, back in December of 1999, on my arbitrary day, perhaps a little doom and gloom for the end of days is in order. I may have to dissemble the thought of the time to make the story either funny or tragic, right? Also, I may have to use a more modern concern to make the story more pertinent to readers today. Do you see what I mean about pulling a fact here, and embellishing a point there to make a piece of writing interesting to a reader?
Already, in my model, I've got two elements which are ripe for conflict: Y2K and Christmas Eve.
So, let me tell you the points of my anecdote, the true parts, and the beginnings of the story. At that time of my life, I was 27 years old. I worked for the Boy Scouts of America. I was far away from home, working too much and I spent the holiday alone. Also, I had met a nice girl named Heidi, a happy woman who was the daughter of a dairy farmer. She taught fourth grade. We'd been fixed up about a week prior to this because our mutual friends thought it was a good idea. Interesting yet? No, it's not. But as I tell you the anecdote, you want to hear more, right? Well, I spent much of the day of the 24th with her. It was the second time we saw one another and it was also the last. There was no real reason for that. We liked one another okay. She was sunny and I was gloomy. She still lived with her family and I lived in a dingy downtown neighborhood in a sketchy apartment all alone. Still not very interesting. She was happy, I was not. But on that wet and chilly Christmas Eve it was another woman who broke my heart. Now, we're talking.
From here the process begins. I am the writer and furthermore, I am the narrator. To separate myself from the anecdote I will do a few things here: it'll be written in third person, I'll embellish most points and I'll manufacture the rest. In knowing my process, I can tell you that my main character will live the story in ways I cannot know yet. This will be a work of fiction, there will be a beginning, a middle and an end. I hope it will wise, rather than an emotional recollection of an unhappy time. Ultimately, I hope it's entertaining to read.

“Home for the Holidays”
(dedicated to Katy)

(See the story of the week.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


The first time I drank gin I was in a whore house in Wells, Nevada. But the first time I was in a whore house in Wells, Nevada I drank white Russians. If you need the back story, the first time was during the great truck break down of 1999 and the last time I was on my way from Denver to San Francisco for a funeral.
Why the cat house? Well, there wasn't another place for a drink in Wells at that hour.
I was as cool as cats. I slid the twenty dollar bill across the bar and said: “I want two drinks and the rest is for you. I don't want to be bothered.”
Then I was bothered. She was a pretty girl, but given the circumstances, and the location, I felt uncomfortable talking with her. We spoke about the things two strangers in a bar speak about. Yet, I felt uncomfortable. Why? Well, she asked a number of times if I wanted to tour the place. She was persistent and I held my ground. Then she said something I'll never forget. She said: “Anthony, you can't judge a person by their profession.” True. I looked at her differently. After all, she was working the world's oldest profession. Although she didn't make a sale with me that day, I was immensely grateful for the conversation.
You can't judge a person by the profession. Even to this day I have trouble with that. I don't particularly care for metermaids. I don't care for mindless bureaucrats, I don't care for book burners. What can you do? It takes all types.
As many of you know, I've worked ten years, the last ten years, in the service industry: a coffeehouse, a bar and now a restaurant. Sometimes I feel like it's been a rewarding profession. You learn a lot about yourself when serving others in that capacity. In these ten years I worked only two places. The work afforded me several trips, exotic ones as well as wild road trips through the west. I financed a house, an antique car, a bad and very expensive marriage, and graduate school. These are commendable indeed. Yet, there is a part of me that feels like these last ten years have been a waste. I'm leaving the service industry in the exact same financial position and lifestyle and circumstances as I entered it. And the ten years? The position? I don't know. Sometimes I feel like I've avoided what other people call “real life.” Sometimes I feel like I'm above it all, especially Thoreau's “life of quiet desperation,” which I sometimes see as the life of many of my customers and diners. Sometimes I feel like the life of quiet desperation ain't so bad, after all my desperation is quite loud. I'm irritated often by the noise, because as you know, the noise level in a restaurant is high. I got into the service industry as a young man, and it is a young man's game. I did it then for the money. I stayed this long because I liked the hours, and I liked the people. All three of those things are gone for me now. I felt like the hours I got for my own work, my writing, were more important than anything else. When you're a waiter or a bartender you have the day to yourself. I have never been greedy with anything but my time. In many ways, and especially in retrospect, all I ever wanted was the time to write. I was certainly able to protect my time these last ten years. I believe all artists, whether they are musicians or painters or writers should be greedy with time. When I think about the tremendous amount of work I've done since leaving Goddard College in January of 2009, I'm absolutely baffled. It's more than Umbrella Factory Magazine, or Rockethouse Studios or even this blog. It's the novels, the short stories, the screenplays and above all, the thoughts.
I feel now, way differently about just about everything. Part of me wonders if I have done all these things to compensate for an occupational short coming. After all when someone asks me what I do, I always say writer, then editor, then I say: “I got four jobs and only one of them keeps the lights on.”
I can't doubt that Marlowe's hasn't developed so much of me. After all, the decision to apply for graduate school was made when I began to train new servers. Apparently, I was a good trainer. What I learned as I developed the restaurant's training program I later used in The Tea Room Writers Workshops. I later employed those two experiences in Umbrella Factory Magazine's Workshops.
I have nothing but wonderful things to say about the people I worked with over the years, especially those at Marlowe's. I have a very high regard for those I worked for as well. I met some of the most influential people too. I met Mark Dragotta and Jana Bloomquist at Marlowe's. Together we built Umbrella Factory. And Oren? Well, he came to us through a mutual friend named Szoke Schaeffer who also worked at Marlowe's. Szoke and I worked on a few projects together: “Speer Bridge” and two episodes of “Two Girls One Pint.” We worked as actors on both, although Szoke pulled double detail on the latter working as writer and director. She's now in New York City building her career as an actor. Although I thinks she's a good actor, I think she'll make one great director someday. I met Symphony Tidwell of Jonny Barber and the Rhythm Razors at Marlowe's. She's currently touring Europe with her band. I've watched her develop as a musician and I'm immensely proud of her accomplishments. I'm immensely proud to call these people friends. Thinking about the amount of creative talent at Marlowe's in the time I worked there is really the best part about my whole experience in the service industry. Incidentally, Gio Tonninello of Rockethouse Studios and I have been good friends since our days of working at St. Mark's and the Thinman. It's a social business, I've been told, this service industry.
So, why would I feel like it was a waste? I've done all these things with my time, and met all these people. Perhaps, for me, it's just time for a change. Yet, I can't shake the feeling that I did it all as a way to find time to write. I would rather be remembered as a novelist than a waiter. A person in modern life must think of a way to keep the lights on, right? We all must trade time for money and we all have to work. I can say this: after ten short years filled with incredibly long days I've been grateful to have had work with a decent financial compensation. I've also been grateful these last couple of years to have work to do in my creative endeavors.
So, don't judge a man by his profession. Whether a writer or a waiter, don't judge me either. And for those of you out there with jobs you may or may not like, remember, it isn't the time while on a timeclock that makes up your life. Your creative endeavors will trump all that.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Small Press II: The Blog

I cannot quote the source, and I cannot even remember where I read it. It seems it was a news article I read on the internet about a year back. This time last year I worked part-time, and I do mean part-time, as an adjunct at Community College of Denver. I'll spare you the details, but I was terrified when at least 90% of my students turned in their first college paper written in text speak. I was floored. I looked to the internet to try to understand why a group of 60 students would do such a thing. They think in text speak. Instead of trying to change the ways of our young people, this particular article praised them. The part I remember the most was a statement which went like this: "This is the greatest revolution in language and communication since the Greeks." Now, how can we compare The Iliad with the ipad?
This was happening at the same time as I was dreaming of a better world. Admittedly, I am too old to want to change the world. In fact I do think it's silly. I see the signature gathers everyday: the ACLU, Save the Children; grassroots this, grassroots that; save the seals, Greenpeace. They are all young people, young people with apparent affluent upbringings. I say: "What?" They say: "Save the environment." I say: "Forget about it." They say: "Don't you care about the future?" I say: "No, I don't believe in it." They say: "I do." I say: "Go get a job like your father told you to do, or go be an artist, I can respect that." Then, before another word can pass thier lips, they check their cellphone. They say: "Yeah, whatever." And then they start on with their call, or their text, or whatever. Both of us have lost. Then I think, as I watch them operate a texting device, they aren't any different than those students I was just telling you about.
But is it really a revolution of communication and language? Doubtful.
Going back to this time last year, I decided that I wanted to join the technological world and spread my hi fi wings. I spent a few minutes looking at internet options, and when I became discouraged I called Freesia. Some of you may know her. Some of you may know that Freesia and I have been pen pals since 1986. 1986. Thats a long time to have a correspondence with anyone. At any rate, she suggested the blog.
I had heard of this blog stuff but as always I was a little gun shy. I opened an account, picked a scheme, and typed a few things. I left it at that.
The Small Press Festival in Boulder last March gave me new ideas about the world, communication and the importance of the small press. The notion that Umbrella Factory Magazine was created in the proper way was a baffling thought. We had done the right thing and we didn't even know it. At the time of the festival, we had just launched our first issue. Then, like now, we were learning. Between the creation of my blog in October and the Small Press Festival in March, all of my energy was wrapped up in Umbrella Factory.
The AWP conference in Denver last April lead me to new thoughts. At a workshop called "Platform" we were told, almost mandated to create a blog. See, as writers in the modern world, it is absolutely necessary to have a web presence. Okay, I thought, I have a blog. As you look at my postings, I really didn't start building this blog until the AWP. I must admit, it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire career as a writer.
So, the Blog?
It helps to focus thought.
It solicits comments from others, whether they are subscribers, followers, or causal drop-bys.
It creates a presence.
It helps to focus thought. Have I said that already?
It helps with discipline. I've done my best to publish a post every week.
Furthermore, it's fun.
Is it the small press? Yes, I think so. It's the small press as well as it can be. A blogger can do just about anything they want to do. I've seen blogs that cover writing, movies, food, dogs and wow, you can learn from others. Blogs are classrooms, forums, news, ideas and in some situations, comedy shows.
The fact that anyone can create one, and everyone should, is the dangerous part of it. You see, everyone can become a reporter, a critic and an authority. Bloggers will kill the newpaper and print journalism. Perhaps that is a downside. After all, do you think the Nixon-Watergate scandal would have been so impactful on a blog? Who knows?
But as writers, yes, I think a blog is great source of exposure. It is the small press in the smallest form. It blends the technology with the ancient use of written language. We don't need to use text speak here, although I'm sure some do. Has the blog replaced the cave wall as our story telling forum? I doubt it. But it does serve a larger audience. Occasionally, I look at the stats. People are seeing me. Amazing.
I urge all of you out there to try it. Blog. Give us your verison of the small press. At the base of it, if you really think about it, all it all comes down to creation.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Autumn Reading List: Part II Books

I've been thinking about books this fall. It's 2010, and whether books still mean anything to rest of the world or not, they still mean something to me. Clearly. I mean without books, what do we really have? I suppose we still have the internet and the television and all the gadgets—cellphones and ipods and the Wii. I remember in my youth, by which I mean just a short time ago, I felt like everyone, everywhere you looked at held a book. I'm a bus taker, I'm a let everyone else do the driving kind of guy. I bring it up now because I'm thinking about books. When I worked for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment back in the early 1990s, I not only read books but I took the bus to work, then to school, then home. I took five separate buses everyday. I read books. I cannot remember all the books I read, but I do recall this was in my John Steinbeck and Mark Twain phase. What's important here is that I was using my time on public transit to read. And? And I was not alone. I can tell you this: everyone, or many of my fellow passengers were doing the same thing.
Hopping ahead to the present day, I'm still riding the bus. In recent weeks I've been enjoying the literary stylings of Gogol and Trumbo.
So, the other day I picked up the #6 bus on the corner of Lincoln Ave and 9th. I only had to take this bus for about 10 blocks. Yes, I know, how lazy. In my defense, I still work at Marlowe's and I'm an aging waiter, and well, it was a hot day. What does this have to do with books? Well, I took Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo out of my bag and prepared to read. Dalton Trumbo's book is on the fall reading list, incidentally. I bought this particular copy in Dillon, Montana at Gracie's New and Used, paid fifty cents for it. I was attracted to the book because of a recent reading of All Quiet on the Western Front.
Johnny Got His Gun has proved to be a difficult read. It isn't difficult to read because of the subject matter as you may think. World War I was awful and it is awful to read about it. And much like All Quiet on the Western Front, Dalton Trumbo has penned a wonderful anti-war novel in Johnny Got His Gun. I do love the anti-war aspect of the novel. And as beautiful as it may seem to pass the warm fall afternoons reading such stuff it has been difficult because Dalton Trumbo has elected to write a very powerful novel without the benefit of a comma. So, it's difficult only due to a lack of punctuation. It ends up that I truly like punctuation. I'm enjoying the process of the read despite it being so cumbersome. Incidentally, I found The Road by Cormac McCarthy to be a compelling story of a father and son, but I was frustrated by the writing because of the lack of punctuation.
This is a point for style and has very little to do with the bus and my ride on it one beautiful afternoon in a September clad Denver day.
So, the book didn't leave my lap. I opted to daydream and at the very least check out my fellow passengers. There were a few people doing exactly what I was doing, daydreaming, and I can respect that.
There was also a lady talking to a cellphone. She was explaining some recent trouble to the other end about the law, a philandering schlep who she was breaking up with, and the ills of police interactions. Instantly I thought very bad thoughts, I was judgmental and I looked down on her; not because of what she was saying, but because of the volume of her voice. Then, I noticed the kid across from her who had a very audible volume of electronic music overflowing from the headphones. He was, no doubt, trying to drown out the cellphone lady. Then, I noted something odd. Everyone was engaged, like the two aforementioned, in some electronic gadget or other: video games, the ipod, the cellphone. I was alone with my book, and a book was alone with me. No one was reading. I felt something similar in a coffeehouse a few years back when I counted eleven people and ten laptops. For some reason, the laptops were somewhat less offensive. I'd remembered that coffeehouse from ten years prior as being a rowdy place where we were discussing important things like politics and social issues and sex. The laptop people were, in all likelihood, using the wi-fi and doing exactly what we used to do only now it gets done through a digital middleman.
Times change. I know this. But back on the bus, why was I the only one endeavoring to read a book? I mean, come on, the bus is a very literary place. The Lighthouse Writers and the Poetry Society have “Poetry in Motion” posters stuck between ads and RTD propaganda.
In ten blocks, my idea of the world changed. Have people really changed from the tactile and intellectual appeal of a book to be replaced with cheap electronic diversions from China? It's awful.
And things change.
By the time I get this post published here, this will probably be public knowledge: Janice and I are moving from sunny Denver, Colorado to green and rainy Portland, Oregon.
The move is important in the discussion of books only because we had to deal with not one, but two, tremendous collections of books. My collection alone was well over 500 and hers was even larger. In a desire to lighten our load on our own personal Oregon Trail, we elected to downsize the book collections along with everything else. Of course it goes with saying this: furniture is heavy, material things whether they are useless trinkets or emotional anchors (I just learned that phrase) can be cumbersome as well as heavy. We've been giving away things for years. We've been selling anything of even nominal value for months. We've gone from 2 mortgages to one to none from an apartment to a bedroom. We've gone from two cars, one motorcycle and two bicycles to a car and a two bus passes. Our Oregon Trail wagon is a bluish-green 1994 Saturn. With that, it comes down to fitting all that is important into the confines of that 1994 Saturn's trunk and backseat. Books? Well, yes, we're each keeping a prized few: hardbacks, first editions, out-of-prints, and for me, the ones I often reference and the ones I'm yet to read. All others? Gone.
I carried nine full boxes of books, big heavy boxes too, down eight floors. It took nine trips yesterday to do it, and today, I'm very sore. It really is a great deal of weight.
Our plan? We were going to sell as many as we could to Black and Read Books to get a few extra bucks for the move. Black and Read is one of two used bookstores in Denver who still pay cash for books rather than trade credits which are the norm nowadays. An easy plan? Sure, and anything we couldn't sell we were just going to drop off at the Goodwill thrift store. I bought many of my books there anyway.
So? Well, Black and Read no longer buys books. We were told that we, and our books I suspect, are not unique. Apparently, dozens of people have been selling books too. Perhaps they're doing it like Janice and I are doing it--we just can't carry them. Perhaps, as we consider the economic times, people are selling books for income. And then the thought occurred to me that maybe people no longer need to collect books. Maybe it is simply easier to have a collection of electronic books on the e-reader, a Kindle or Nook. Who knows? Or perhaps people no longer need books because on the bus, it's better to have the company of a voice on the other end of cellular airwaves or the tunes in the headphones.
Admittedly, I felt defeated from the lack of a sale, but we quickly moved on. There was no way we were going to carry all nine boxes back. We'd already parted with these volumes on an emotional level.
We went to the thrift store donation center. I had packed all these books neatly, taking the utmost care to keep the spines and covers intact. Even if we were emotionally separated from them, they had been loved, they had been lovers, they had been friends and they deserve that.
The awful man who received us was so curt, half-witted and non-caring that I only wish I had the presence of mind to do the right thing. Rather, I did what I was told. In the hot September sun in a suburban parking lot, I was told to remove the books from the boxes and dump them in a big plastic rolling bin. Dump them. This breaks the spines, bends the covers, compromises the pages. This is a lack of respect. This was a difficult thing for me to do. It was like smashing the heads of kittens or old grandmothers or stepping on babies. And the entire ordeal left me sick. It would have been easier to step on the heads of kittens than to dump the volumes and tomes of life into a plastic bin.
Back in the car, we both felt sick and we were both quiet. Eventually, I said: “I'm sorry.”
“It's done,” Janice said. I readily admit that Janice is smarter than me. I admit she's a better writer too (except on the days I've written a clever paragraph, then I claim to be able to match her caliber). Yet in those two words, it's done, I felt her anger, her frustration and her remorse. I also felt her process. In those two words, she became stronger than me. I was feeling like I could kick out the windows at Goodwill, scold them, and explain the importance of caring for a book. I would do it because it needed to be done. “Please take care of these books,” I'd say. “Even if no one else cares, I do.”
I apologized to Janice again.
Then she asked: “How many hours do you think were in those books?”
I instantly thought about the money. These days we think about money a great deal. We trade our time for work and work gives us money and money buys us books that we have little time for because we work. “I don't know,” I said. “A lot.”
“How many hours did we spend reading those books?”
“I don't know,” I said. What could I have said to her? We all know she's smarter than me.
“We should have...” she began. I'll spare you that. She was right. We should have...

I cannot preach to you. If you made it this far in the story, you probably get it. You probably have books too. You probably love them. You may even be digital, you may read online or electronically. You may not read at all, but rather find your solace in the headphones.
I hope you do read.
I hope you collect like I once did and like I will do again.
Once our Oregon odyssey becomes fulfilled I have every intention of continuing with the books. Books I will collect: banned books, romances; classics, books yet to be written. Where I'll read these books: the bookstore, the coffeehouse; the bus, under a tree. And when faced with the downsizing of books again? I'll gladly smash kittens' heads before dumping even a single book.
Keep reading. Read on the bus. Read on the bed. And let the proud spines of books collect on the shelves in your house.

Breaking the Ritual

Some call it ritual. Some call it compulsion. I call it a schedule. I wake up. I pee. I start the coffee. Then I start writing. This happens everyday and in this exact way. I never stray. Both Janice and Mark have said, or rather, they have both predicted my last day on Earth (something in the distant future, I hope) to be exactly the schedule I have described.
So, that's the schedule. I have a few more aspects to it. I generally begin my working day on a second draft of whatever I'm working on. That generally means a novel. I try not to get disheartened when I think about it. I mean in the last two years I've written seven novels using this schedule. So, ask me: are they any good? Who cares? I go to work everyday and I do it because I feel like I have to. Some mornings the second draft might be a short story, a blog post, and in the case of much of 2009, a screenplay. At any rate, this is where I begin the day: the second draft.
Once that's done, I look at the internet for a while. I look at all the email, and Facebook, in short the social stuff I felt so compelled to use in the beginning but now I just stare at for a few minutes. I do this before moving on to the next part of my day.
I remember, years ago when I was just figuring out that I wanted to be a writer in the olden days of analog, that we were so much more tactile. In those days I even had a very impressive collection of manual typewriters. Correspondence in those days were via the USPS. Incidentally, I don't even know how much a first class stamp costs anymore. In those days when I wrote I did it in a cell. I didn't realize that there were others like me. I see these writers now via the internet and I've developed rewarding correspondences with many of them. Although I know the “efficient” ways of technology now, I still hold onto most of my low-fi, analog roots.
After a few minutes of answering email and even requests on Facebook, I take flight and leave the house. I go to the park or a bar, or someplace else appealing. I usually avoid the library or the coffeehouse because there are too many distractions. Then, work begins.
For those of you who are on with the latest technology, let me tell you about the app I use. It is the greatest app I know in my work.
This is called a “pen and paper” app.
I use the old fashion composition notebook, the 100 leaves, 200 pages, wide rules and sewn pages composition notebook. It's very durable. Very cool. I've been using these since 1996. I use a Phileas fountain pen, a Waterman product. I recommend it for anyone who wants to try a fountain pen. It's inexpensive, easy to use and well, it's sexy. The current ink I use is a Namiki product. I like the ink, and I chose it because I thought the bottle was sexy.
The pen and ink app is the process for the first draft. Compulsion? Ritual? The routine? Yeah, all of them.
Occasionally, I'll write something fresh right on the computer. I have to be in a rather specific mood for that. Otherwise, it is just the way I've developed it; the same thing day after day and I doubt that'll change.
Last December my cousin Deana came to visit. Deana is just about the coolest person I know. So, despite her professional training and her work in physical therapy, she is an artist at her core. She's developed a knack for photography. Talk about the analog, she's got the digital camera but has made the move to using film too. I love it. While visiting Denver, I took her to Meininger Art Supply. Not only is Meininger's very cool, but my friend Richard Duggan of Modpress works there. So, while Richard and I we're catching up on new times, Deana looked over the racks of artists' stuff. She bought a brick of notebooks. There were six or eight of them, all different colors and all measuring 3” x 5” and they were shrink wrapped together. Later in the car, she opened the package, looked at all of them, then offered me one. I refused. What the hell do I need a 3' x 5' notebook? We all know I use the composition notebook which measures 9 ¾ x 7 ½.
“But you like yellow,” she said.
“Yes, I do,” I said.
At her insistence, I accepted the little notebook.
That was December, 2009.
It's October 2010 now.
I found the little notebook just last week. Where it had been hiding out, I don't know. I'd written some random Umbrella Factory Memorandum on the first page months ago than abandoned the it entirely so many months ago. A few days ago, I cut that page out, and shoved the thing into my back pocket.
A few days later, I was stumbling the internet. If you don't know, please check it out, what a cool thing it is. So, I stumbled a blog called Art of Manliness which gave me a great example of how to make a Moleskine PDA. Tongue in cheek or not, I got it.
Then I remembered the yellow 3” x 5” notebook in my back pocket. It is not a Moleskine. Rather it is a Writersblok. I then knew what I had to do.
I took the little notebook to work with me last Sunday. As many of you know, I'm winding down ten years of the service industry, and five years at Marlowe's this month. So, as you can probably guess, I'm getting somewhat separated from it already. Plus, Sunday nights are generally slow anyway.
Using a ball point pen and the yellow 3” x 5”, I wrote a story.


The story is not unusual. It is not special in any real noticeable sort of way. It does not vary in style or in voice. It is not different from any other story I've written in recent months. I just wrote it during working hours and in a small notebook using a different pen. Fun? Yeah it was.

Try it. Write a story using a different process. If you work with a pen and paper app, try using a computer. If you use a computer, try your cellphone and text yourself the story. And if you really want a task—fill an entire notebook with one story. I used all forty-one leaves, 84 pages of the Writersblok to write mine. What do you come to? What was it like to break the routine? Perhaps it was difficult. There are some of you out there who write anytime and anywhere and there is no real routine for you. Was this exercise useful to you?
For me, writing is not an act of divine inspiration, although I think there many be a little of that involved. I believe that writing is a task, a noble task, which needs execution. Just write. It gets easier, and it gets better, and so do you.

Friday, October 1, 2010

From Life to Fiction: Part III The Daydream

During this series of Life to Fiction we've discussed a few springboards: generations and geography. It seems only fitting that we should moved into the imagined. Daydreams. On those rare occasions when I've got the total free time, it is the absolute idle time I love to let my mind wander. Sometimes when I'm at work, I let the daydreams crank up and go too. Sometimes I'm in a bright red Saturn Sky with the top down, the rock 'n roll booming at ear bleed volume, and the views roll right on by. In my daydreams I am millionaire, a beach comber; Baudelaire, Bowie; a jet pilot, a submarine bomber; a movie star, a gypsy-pirate. I can be anything. With this strange change of perspective I can buy anything, see anything, be anyone. It's a nice diversion from the modern life I sometimes I wish were somehow different. Of course, as writers, we like to think of life in different terms. In the words of Primo Levi: “It's human nature to think a neighbor's problems are lesser than our own, that our neighbor's wife is more alluring.”

Pick a place, a daydreamed place. Next pick an outlandish character, and then see through that character's eyes. Next pick a conflict, any conflict, and start your writing day there. For successful fiction there needs to be some sort of conflict. You cannot just pick a recent lotto winner and then let that millionaire fade into a sunset painted with Ben Franklins. Something must happen.

Daydreams are free. They wander the road of imagination through the trees and then to the beach only to wander back, upstream, and end at the lunch counter of a nearly abandoned diner reserved for the factory workers who build Somnia Terra.

In point, I often manufacture characters who are aspects of who I might want to be. In a recent story, I build a set of circumstances around a few characters who represent some aspect of a desired life. I began with a juggler, yes a juggler, for some strange reason I would love to be able to juggle. I'm clumsy and lacking the patience to learn such a skill. I added a welder. If my life were different, I might like to be a welder like my artist friend Mathias. I then added a violinist. Can you imagine the years of learning and discipline a violinist endures for success. A laborer-bum who starts his day with a tumbler of gin rounds out the cast. Yes, I wish I could start the day with gin. The last character, and the one who truly makes the cast of characters complete is a shut in comic book artist who escapes his room only once a month. Now, I must admit that each one of these characters are flat when superficially described. But each one comes from their own daydream. They stayed in daydream only long enough for me to consider them more fully: what are their wants and desires, what is the back story, and lastly why are bound together? These are the questions they must answer as I write them.

The conflict? Well, there are so many. I have them living together in an old abandoned factory in a nasty part of town. Those of you familiar with Denver, Colorado will know this nasty part of town as the no-mans-land near the rail heads up north where all the factories have become home for rats, spray paint taggers and children who like to throw rocks through old windows. The place is ripe for conflict. The place represents outsourced labor, free trade and the death of industrialism. Then in its state of disrepair we have the kinds of people who might moved into it: vagrants, crooks on the lam, artists, in short people living marginally.

What does all this have to do with the daydream? Well, nothing, I guess. Nothing other than these elements came to me while wandering a daydream. I daydreamed these things because no one else made it for me whether in a novel or a movie. So, there it is.

Our imaginations need constant honing, constant maintenance. As children we are free to think about just about anything our intellects can conjure. I've heard about the child's imaginations from some of my teacher friends. The reason they stay in their jobs is the young people they work with. I'm not around any children, nor do I plan to ever be around any. Therefore, should I want that child's imagination as inspiration, I must do it for myself. I think the exercise of honing the imagination is key when it comes to developing the daydream. Further it once more to the writer's imagination.

I mentioned “The Cinnamon Shops” in Bruno Schulz's The Street of Crocodiles in the “Geography” post, and I think it needs a mention here too. The narrator in the entire novel is a child. I think Schulz makes his narrator do his biding, and the narrator stays true to a child's voice. Jerzy Kosinski does the same thing in The Painted Bird. If you haven't read The Painted Bird, please do and please read it during a sunny day. A great contrast between the two novels is simply that one has the imagination of a child who has yet to lose innocence, and the other has his innocence taken from him because of war. Interesting thoughts, and interesting imaginings, and the writing is good too.

But back to the daydream. Spend some idle time in the next few days and let your mind wander. You may or may not be able to just click your daily thought off and jump right in, but try it. As your daydreams develop and unfold in your mind, the process will be easier. As you let the dream develop, take note of the narrator. I'd bet the narrator of your daydream is an aspect of you, the imagineer. As you develop it more, take note of the elements or the landscapes of the dream. Then, remember to relax and enjoy it, take it in, live it. Where do you get the right to sit around and think and dream all day? You must have this sometimes for your development.

After the dream plays itself out somewhat, remember you must have fiction lens working before you can craft a story. Fiction has a beginning, a middle and an end. Fiction relies on conflict, and the resolution your characters find. And lastly, many times in fiction, literary fiction specifically, your piece is probably going to be character driven.

Good luck in the daydream. Good luck in the imagination development. Good luck with the child's eye. Good luck in all of it. And when you sit down to write, be disciplined, be clear, and have fun.