Thursday, March 11, 2010

Amateur Writer

At Saturday's writing seminar, The Cracker Queen suggested I tie some of my blog's content to my manuscript. While this idea thrills me and makes it all seem so much more real, I'm a bit flummoxed as to where to start. I mean, will it be the fast cars, the loose men or the espionage? There's so much to choose from! Kinky sex, recipes for fabric softener, ritual burnings or the random dream sequence....

You're just dying to know more about this story, aren't you?

To be honest with you, this first book may never have its moment with the printing press. It might be the one I write and put away without ever having issued a single query to potential agents. Okay, I lie. I'm going to query the stink off this thing and then? Well, I have a box to keep it in, if necessary.

One of the story's underlying themes is coincidence. For a skeptic like me, the very idea is a conundrum. To even consider the notion feels hypocritical. That broad cliche that things happen for a reason, the concept of destiny or an invisible guide positioning us to be in the right place at the right time? They all seem absurd. And still....

I finished Chabon's book yesterday and it was that which got me to thinking again about coincidence. In one of his last chapters titled Amateur Family, Chabon, a self-proclaimed sci-fi fan(atic), touches on a segment of cultural geekdom that I know a few of you share. It involves Daleks and Cybermen and the planet Gallifrey. Chabon was writing about Dr. Who! And wouldn't you know it? After not having seen it for a couple of months, I just happened to have watched a couple of episodes on BBC America on Monday evening. Coincidence?

Of course, not, right? Completely random.

Anyway, there I was watching Dr. Who and thinking about character development. While movies, plays and television have the advantage of an actor to bring a character to life, it's my job as a writer to create characters that live multi-dimensionally in the reader's head. The idea of what makes a character "good" has as much to do with the reader as it does with the character development. Whether readers take to your characters has as much to do with their value systems and secret desires as it does with your character's background, habits and human frailties.

Of course there are mechanics to character development and all kinds of webpages and books devoted to telling writers how to do so, but it would be far too much trouble for me to actually google them. Google is for finding things like Dave Grohl's birthday so I can settle a bet with Nathan.

When I think about the Dr. Who characters, it's hard to separate them from the actors who play them, but actually, Dr. Who is a perfect example of a character who has outlasted, by design, the actors in the role. And I love him. I love him when he's Jon Pertwee with his lisp or when he's Tom Baker with his scarf or Peter Davison with his leading actor good looks. I was crazy for Dr. Who as played by Christopher Eccleston. I am crazy mad gaga for him in his David Tennant incarnation. Each actor makes him his own, and yet, there are many qualities to the character that thread through each casting.

I mean, I love The Doctor because he does the right thing because it's the right thing to do. He isn't motivated by reward and punishment. He's a Time Lord, for goodness sake. His planet has been destroyed and there is no one else like him (except The Master) and still he carries on, saving planets and sometimes the universe. I love how The Doctor loves we silly humans, even though we are so terribly unlovable at times. I love his inquisitiveness, his way with words and the fact that he seems to enjoy life, even as he carries the weight of all knowledge on his (currently) skinny shoulders. No matter who plays The Doctor, those traits remain constant.

Notice that I'm not inviting too much debate here. I'm going to stay away from the discussion of The Doctor's companions. I mean I like Martha, adore and still miss Rose Tyler, but I L*O*V*E Donna Noble. And her grandad. But I know that passions can ignite when discussing those companions so I'm moving on.

So the challenge for me is to write people without the help of the David Tennants or the Catherine Tates to make them real. My current manuscript is a bit like cheating. Some of the characters in it will be immediately recognized by anyone who has read this blog or my earlier blogs. There's a challenge there, too, in making sure that I'm giving these characters enough life to make them real. Just because I know them, doesn't mean that anyone else will know them if I don't do a good job with my writing.

Which brings me back to my original thought - this book may or may not ever be published. I'm working on it under the assumption that it will. (I have to assume or else why bother?) But it's important for me to recognize that I had to get through this story before I could write any other. I had to address some of my dreams and nightmares so that I can (hopefully) leave them behind and move on to some of the other stories I'm itching to write.

In fact, it might be safe to say that in writing this story of coincidence or random encounters, I'm writing the story of how I finally learned to call myself a writer. Maybe it wasn't an accident that brought me to this place in my life where I would finally cry uncle and admit that I write not for fun or for release or maybe it's for both those things? But ultimately, I write because I have to. It's what I do.

And as if that wasn't all just enough to twist my knickers into confused knots, I sit down at my computer to check my email and a song from the Rushmore Soundtrack comes up on my itunes shuffle. In one of his last chapters, Chabon mentioned the movie Rushmore.



  1. Writing is a sort of birth and death. As Anne Lamott (or really, her father) said: You take it bird by bird.

    Write on, sister, write on.


    PS: I LOVES me some Rushmore!!

  2. Then again you'll probably wake up tomorrow and find you're a card dealer in Vegas, twice divorced and fond of green drinks sporting small umbrellas. And you only carry a hand gun when ex number one is in town.

    Oh, and in the fine print: Writing is no different than anything else, either you do or you don't.

  3. Is it coincidence that you and I both read the same blog and I was enchanted and amused by your "pee in my pants" funny comments and touched by your wisdom. Then I start reading your blog and today of all days when I'm feeling blue and wondering what the point of it all is and am frustrated with myself for not writing in weeks, I come and read this profoundly wise and moving post where you mention an author (Chabon) that I keep meaning to read, talk about one of my favorite TV shows and mention that we adore the very same Doctor and have the same favorite companion (poor Donna!) and then you mention one of my favorite movies of all time.

    I don't know what it means, but it must mean something.

    I do know are a terrific writer and I'm so glad you're writing your book and I cannot wait to read it!

  4. I have never seen an episode of Dr. Who, so why the hell would I read your book? Oh, that's right, I have to heckle you on your book tour.

  5. I love coincidences and put way too much stock in them. This quality drives my husband crazy . . .

    Just a few things: I ordered Chabon's book. I love the movie Rushmore. Characterization is one of the most important aspects of a book for me. I was appalled by how much I understood of the Dr. Who talk (you pick it up by osmosis in the UK). Dave Grohl and I are both Capricorns. I had to Google his birth date . . . like I don't have hundreds of blogs to read and emails to respond to.

  6. It's what you do; and you do it well!

    I'm so glad that you still write here, but I do want to know when the book comes out. I want a signed copy. :)

  7. Let's hear about the espionage; the loose men can come later, 'cause they're kind of boring.

    Meanwhile, don't lose faith in your writing. As you've seen above, you already have a heckler.

  8. But, if you do submit it, it just might get published... by coincidence of course. ;-)

  9. Writing is what you do and you do it very well. I could see Principal in your post today and recognized a woman who assumes too much. Never assume your first book won't sell but remember to be ready to go with a second. Publishers like to know you're available for a contract :-)


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