Thursday, October 30, 2008

T-Minus 24 Hours to NaNo...

In 24 hours it begins: National Novel Writing Month, 2008. I'm geared up. I've been mentally playing out scenes, wondering what types characteristics make up the people in this story, much of which will take place in Antarctica. What are her siblings like? Where is she when she hears about her parents' tragic death?...

I attended a kick-off event tonight. I chatted with a woman who's planning to write an office murder mystery. It sounds like a lot of fun, actually. I wondered who I might want to kill in my office. What would be my motivation? Money? Anger? Trying to get ahead? Trying to frame someone else? Maybe in 2009, I'll write something with a murder or two in it. I'll kill a couple characters in my new novel, but it's not quite the same.

So, to all you fellow NaNos, I bid you good luck. And if you must kill, make sure you do it on paper first.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Haruki Murakami, Cal, and Obsessive Lonely Men

Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite short story writers (and an accomplished novelist), recently received the inaugural Berkeley Japan Prize — that's Berkeley as in University of California at... (a.k.a. 'Cal' for those who wonder if people wearing a Cal hat are actually named Cal.)

I don't read enough of his work, but wherever I find something about him, I enjoy learning about a man who is either a natural writer or the most unlikely writer you'd ever meet. To my mind, that obvious contradiction is an example of why he's so interesting a writer. For example, he decided while attending a baseball game that he was going to become a writer. No training. According to the Cal press release: "When asked about the revelation that led him to writing at age 29, the author described watching his favorite baseball team, the Yakult Swallows, in 1978. An American player on the team, Dave Hilton, hit a double, and as Murakami cryptically explained it, 'On that sunny day drinking beer, I just knew I could write.' Soon thereafter he submitted his first short novel, Hear the Wind Sing, to a publisher, and saw it win the Gunzou Literature Prize for promising young writers in 1979."

I wasn't aware that his nonfiction book Underground was based on interviews with people who survived the 1995 Sarin gas attack in the Japanese subway system. The victims — mostly commuting workers — told boring stories, he said. But, he added, “if you try hard to listen, to like them, to love them, then their stories become interesting. Everyone has his own story.”

I couldn't agree more.

My boring/interesting story is this: In 1994, I attempted to become a teacher of English in Japan through the YMCA. I was working in a Y at the time and a colleague who knew I was unsatisfied with my job encouraged me to try the teaching program in Japan. He was Japanese and said he thought I would fit in well there, unlike many Americans (I'm not entirely sure I understand why, but I took it as a compliment.) I studied and prepared and I thought I did well in my interview. For reasons I've forgotten now, I'd felt that I would probably end up in an area near Kobe. But I never made it to another round of interviews. The number of available spots was severely cut back (I'd been among 32 people interviewed for 16 spots, but then the number was cut to either eight or four, I don't recall which now.) I left the job and, as fate would have it, ended up meeting the woman who is now my wife. Kobe, Japan, experienced a devastating earthquake. And I was left that classic writer's question: What if?

It was more than ten years before I read Haruki Murakami again. Perhaps none of this is related.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

There's a Word for People Like That

One of the things I love about newspapers (and their websites) is that there's always something interesting to read, regardless of where it's placed. For example, I went into the science section of today's New York Times looking to see what might be new in that fascinating world. What did I find there? News on the science of words.

Interesting stuff, indeed! While I don't know whether I'd go through the difficult rigamarole to analyze what my characters say in a novel or how they say it, perhaps it would be time well spent. It could offer a level of characterization that readers and teachers study for years. I remember English classes in college when we'd ponder what the author intended in various scenes. Sometimes I thought such analysis was daft, but now that I've completed a novel and begun imagining new characters for my next one, I realize that an author does — and should — consider things like how a reader may interpret a character.

I didn't realize, for instance, that men tend to use more articles (a, the) than women, who are more likely to use pronouns (I, she, they). For the novel I'm imagining now (I won't start writing till November, when National Novel Writing Month begins), the protagonist is a woman in her 30s who works as a research scientist in Antarctica. Now that I've read the Times article, I may ponder even more about how she thinks and speaks. Perhaps her mannerisms alter slightly as change occurs in her life. Or maybe she's so frozen in her mannerisms that she can't break out.

This is one of the many reasons why I love writing!

Monday, October 06, 2008

Don't You Wish You Were on This List?

Forbes magazine recently released its list of the top ten "best paid" authors. The names of at least the top four or five probably won’t surprise you, especially the woman who topped the list, J.K. Rowling. She earned around $300 million and she'll presumably take in even more as the follow-up Harry Potter movies are released.

I don't know about you, but to me it's kinda nice to not see Dan Brown's name in there. But he's young and no doubt there'll eventually be another in the Robert Langdon series of thrillers.

Of course, most authors don’t earn anywhere near these types of paydays — in a lifetime, much less for a year. Still, it’s nice to dream.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

This Was Surprising

There's less than a day left in my poll on the Elephant's Bookshelf, and I must say I'm a bit surprised. Not by the "record" number of responses — seven in my second-ever poll on a blog that is lucky to get 50-60 visitors per day — but rather that the answer I threw in almost as a joke has received three of those votes.

I love math. I even started off college as a math major (tried to do the whole Renaissance man thing, but it never quite impressed the girls as much as I'd hoped). But on a blog that's basically about reading and writing, I didn't expect to see so much interest there.

Perhaps it's the Danica McKellar influence.