Review: Seize the Day

Seize the Day
Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anymore, I read novels to learn how authors handle narrative structure and pace, characterization, and point of view. Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day is an excellent course of study in these elements of novel writing.

The novel follows a day in the life of Tommy Wilhelm Adler, a middle-aged man who is one of the most down-on-his-luck characters I’ve ever read about in Literature. As a young man, under the spell of a shyster talent agent and against the advice of his parents, he went off to Hollywood with aspirations to be a big star. Several years later he returns home to New York, his biggest claim to fame being an extra on a set. He marries, has two children, and settles into a life as a traveling salesman for a corporation. His initial failure in Hollywood gnaws at him Continue reading “Review: Seize the Day”

Mormon Lit Blitz

Writing Late at Night
Writing Late at Night, iStockPhoto

My three Mormon Lit Blitz entries are in! (And now the post-partum depression and anxiety sets in. Chocolate, Dr. Pepper, and photos of kittens at play welcome!)

The shorts are titled “Riffs on Korihor’s Testimony,” “Singularity,” and “White Roses.”

My silence on my blog here has been largely due to my taking the time to work on getting these three pieces of a 1000 words each written. Believe it or not, it’s hard to write a story that “works” as a whole in that many words. It’s a good training exercise for sure.

Background

I wrote “Riffs” and “White Roses” from scratch. I had written most of “Singularity” before now, but added to it for this contest. “Riffs” and “Singularity” are more “slice-of-life” pieces than coherent stories. “White Roses” was the most difficult to write because there was a lot to compact into 1,000 words.

“Riffs on Korihor’s Testimony” was inspired in part by Lorrie Moore’s “How to Talk to Your Mother” and in part by Boyd J. Petersen’s essay in Sunstone titled “Arriving Where I Started: Disassembling and Reassembling a Testimony.” I think it could stand to be expanded a little, but I worked in what I could for the contest. It’s intended to be a part of a larger work. It’s one of the blog posts written by my main character, Corey Hoar, who identifies himself as “Korihor” in the post. Corey Hoar is going through a “faith crisis” and works through his struggles on his blog.

“Singularity” is also a part of the same larger work. It’s a piece where Corey Hoar contemplates his own mortality. I added a bit at the beginning to contextualize his narrative.

You wouldn’t think so reading it now, since the story has gone way beyond the parable structure that motivated it, but “White Roses” was also inspired by Boyd J. Petersen’s essay mentioned above; in particular, the part about faith being more fidelity as in a marital relationship than it is a belief about a certain set of facts/non-facts. I went through a dozen drafts of this thing, so I hope it makes the finalists at least. I think it’s a strong, resonating short. Writing this story, one written in the realistic vein, and getting it “right,” made me appreciate realistic fiction again. (I’m constantly flirting with, seduced by postmodernist techniques.) There is a real craft in creating a realistic story that resonates with a reader. (Not that I’m saying I have it down pat. I’m only too keenly aware of my weaknesses.)

Final Plug

Still three days left! If you’re interested in throwing something into the mix, then go to the Mormon Lit Blitz Facebook page or the Mormon Artist blog page for instructions.

Read, Write, Execute!

Remember Me?

'Macro:  Pilot Precise v5 - tip' photo (c) 2010, Lisa Brewster - license: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

It’s been a while since I posted last. April was a tough month for writing and blogging. I’m getting back to it now. So here’s an update on what’s been happening in my writing and reading life:

  • Published Cocked in April. It’s my unique Hmong-themed story about a nameless Hmong woman who escapes the roles her culture defines for her to play. Buy it for your Kindle today.
  • I’m working on some pieces for the Mormon Lit Blitz happening this month. One piece well-drafted, which may make it into No Sacred Grove. Another in the works. We’ll see how many I think I can submit. It’s harder than I thought to keep a story to 1,000 words. Writer’s angst!
  • I’m trying to catch up on works by contemporary and past writers of Mormon Literature. You can view what I’m currently reading in my Goodreads list at the bottom-right of this page.

Well, that’s it for now. I’ll try to get back to blogging about some great topics here in the near future.

Read, write, execute!

What To Do When You’ve Hit the Wall

Here I am nearly 10,000 words into my novel, Swallow’s Landing, and I’ve hit a WALL. This wall is made up of boredom, distraction, and self-doubt, each a brick or more in number. All three of these feed into each other, so in what follows, I try to tease out how to break through them individually.

Boredom

We writers have all experienced the moment when the characters and situations appearing on the page just don’t interest us anymore. Yet, at the same time, the overall idea that propelled us to start writing in the first still does.

For me, this usually stems from my getting lost in writing a scene without having an inkling beforehand what I want it to do. I’m just throwing down words at that point, and words without purpose are boring. (Spilling may be all right for a first draft, but one does want to come close to hitting the mark, right?) So what helps me in this situation is to refocus on what I want the scene to accomplish in the overall work.

K.M. Weiland’s Structuring Your Novel points out that Scene with a capital S is made up of two parts with three building blocks each:

  • scene (action)
    • goal
    • conflict
    • disaster (outcome)
  • sequel (reaction)
    • reaction
    • dilemma
    • decision

If my fictional dream is meandering through the poppies and putting me to sleep, then I just need to get back to laying the building blocks of Scene by answering the questions proposed by Stephen Koch in The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction (MLWW):

  • What does the character want?
  • Is he/she going to get it?
  • If yes, how, and if no, why?

Finding and then following the road map through your Scene can help you re-engage with your characters and in turn make them come alive again in your imagination.

Distraction

Boredom often leads to distraction. The symptoms include yielding to the temptation to open the browser, taking one too many breaks during a writing session, or in my case lately, opting to work on short stories instead of the novel. Besides boredom, distraction is fed by impatience. I have all these unfinished writing projects and so I’m impatient to tackle what strikes my fancy at the moment. The problem with that (as I well know) is that you end up with a lot of half-unfinished, half-finished work lying about.

The solution for this is to fight boredom and FOCUS. Stephen Koch in MLWW says that, if possible, you should write out the first draft of a short story in one sitting and the first draft of a novel in a season (three months). Steven King says the same thing in On Writing. You don’t have to adhere to those timelines, but the point is that by focusing, you can get the story down on paper. You can outstrip your boredom (above) and your fears (below). You can get it done.

Self-Doubt

Doubting the vision of what you’re creating is perhaps the most crippling for a writer. Giving in to the doubts convinces you that what you’re writing is boring not only for you but also any potential reader, that you’d better just give up and do something else (distraction), and that you’re not “worthy.” This gets me often. I will ask myself, “Will anyone want to read this? Who are you to write about the Hmong experience? Does anyone care to read Serious Mormon Fiction (SMF)?”

In these moments, I run my fingers across the spines of the books on my shelves and breathe in and draw upon the faith of those who have gone before. Rainer Maria Rilke said:

“Believe that with your feelings and your work you are taking part in the greatest; the more strongly you cultivate this belief, the more will reality and the world go forth from it.”

It’s cliche, but you must believe in yourself. Again, I quote Stephen Koch in MLWW:

“But”—you may say—”I don’t even know my story yet.” My answer is: “Of course you don’t know your story yet.” You are the very first person to tell this story ever, anywhere in the whole world, and you cannot know a story until it has been told. First you tell it; then you know it. It’s not the other way around.

Believing is seeing.

So stay focused, take an interest in the fates of your characters, and believe that what you’re about is an act of creation that when revealed to the world will give you a sense of pride for having acted on your dreams, and your readers an appreciation for having found your works.

Read, Write, Execute!

Photo credit: Brett Jordan, flickr.com