Monday, October 8, 2012

Ever Been Hungover? Dysphoric Notions, Part 3

The conversations move the way conversations do, at least that's the way it seems. It could be that the conversations move as they do and I think they're moving more than they are because I've been somewhat delirious during these late weeks. I suppose the real beauty in the delirium is the cause of it. These last few months have been marked with milestones, changes and new life. And of all the things to cause delicious delirium it is Lucian. Having a newborn at home has interrupted the flow of life I once knew, and it has interrupted sleep. So, when I'm out in the world mixing with people, mixing with conversations I'm at once tired and distracted. My thoughts drift to the world at home where Janice and Lucian and I hang around all day and discuss matters of great importance like all those palindromes associated with babies: poop and boob and mom and dad. You get the point. And this is the undercurrent of thought in October in Portland, OR and there are so many things going on outside the walls and membranes and that's that. And the conversation moves on.

In my small Portland circle, I'm often engaged in conversation of family and happenings. In recent weeks, it's been conversations about Dysphoric Notions. Of course, right? One of the biggest conversations around the novel is the setting of Denver, CO. There is no secret about Denver, or my love of the place. It's just so funny that I am here, the book is (set) there and the conversation moves on from there.

As I said last week, I chose Denver when I sat down on the first day of work because I wanted to describe the Sumac trees of the Congress Park neighborhood. Even if these trees and the way they smell all summer was the beginning of the story process, the writing process began some time long before. There is no question about it, I am a very character driven writer. Some may call what I write literary fiction. Some may call it simply fiction. Some may call it trash. What it is really, is a set of characters doing a set of things in a small space.

I suppose I'd consider it like this: I started with a canvas and the canvas is Congress Park, Denver, CO. And then I added characters. If there is anything I can say about what I write, I write character. Some writers can describe a scene in minute detail. Some writers can spin an entire world or universe. I cannot do that, nor do I suspect I'd want to. I like character, and that's that. If there is a conversation to trail off into palindrome, let it be poop and boob and mom and dad. I like to write life.

That said, we know Dysphoric Notions is location centered and character driven, but what else is there? Well, I cannot continue the conversation without a few pieces of background information. First, Dysphoric Notions was the first novel I wrote after leaving graduate school. Much of what I learned at school was still very fresh in my memory. Many of the books I read at school led me to think certain ways. After all That Sheltering Sky, Housewrights, The Easter Parade and Mrs Bridge made me think that location and space is the basic beginning to the confines of the story. And books like The Painted Bird, The Razor's Edge, The Tropic of Cancer and The Exile made me understand that the cast of characters, even the dozens of secondary characters, will progress the plot.


But there was one book in graduate school that really made an impact on me. John Gardner's The Art of Fiction and particularly the Fictean Curve of chapter 7: Plotting was still very fresh in my memory. The Fictean Curve, in a nutshell, is what characters would do offset by what they do during the events of the plot. So, this being on my mind, what were the characters of Dysphoric Notions going to do?

As it unfolded, I tortured the characters. I gave my main characters heartbreak to deal with. I gave them booze too, but to give someone booze is nothing more than giving them a hangover. And when it came down to it I gave them nothing but pain. How does one deal with it? Well, in the chapter “Coffee and Bile” Alan has just left a funeral of a friend and goes to see Aimee the bookstore owner. Aimee wants badly to give Alan poetic advice on how to deal with loss. Her suggest is drugs, do lots and lots of drugs. With the whole Fictean Curve idea here: drugs are one way to deal with the past events of the plot. And the mere suggestion of the drugs adds a whole other conflict to the future events. This is just a small example. What I really did as I wrote this story was this: I gave my characters some tasks to tackle or some obstacles to overcome or some situations to solve at ever turn. That's really what I learned at grad school. It was more fun to write that way, and I hope it is more fun to read that way. 

As far as being hungover, it's great. It's great. A hangover is not a punishment. No, it's a consequence. It's really a blessing. What? Did I just say that a hangover is a blessing? Sure, I did. When hungover the only thought you have is how good it's going to feel when not hungover anymore. When you're hungover you're filled with recollections of the night before, you're open to the idea that things are going to get better, if only you can make it through. After all, if you're are not hungover it means that you did not go on a bender. It also means that you will be forced to think about the world and your place in it.

And who wants that?

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