Tuesday, March 30, 2010

In the Beginning

A few of you have heard or read my descriptions of the inspiration of my current work in progress, which is set "in part" in Antarctica. For those who don't know, the idea came from a press release that crossed my desk. I read about a strange salt deposit that doesn't happen anywhere else in the world. From what they've learned there, scientists and researchers are exploring all sorts of things such as whether the existence of life in that environment might suggest how life might exist in extreme cold on other planets and moons.

At least so far, my story doesn't explore the questions of life on other planets. Rather, it explores whether there might be love for one scientist in particular. Or is she locked in a cold, barren wasteland in which an occasional, potentially devastating warm wind blows? I've never been a love story writer, so in some ways this is uncharted territory for me, too.

Still, when I first saw that press release lo these many years ago, I had an almost immediate image of characters and how the novel would start. But this past weekend, in between cooking scrambled eggs and driving to Home Depot, I pondered a change. What if the story doesn't begin where I thought it did? Or, another way of looking at it: Why do I start a novel that I always describe as "taking place in Antarctica" on a road in California, where the scene culminates in a fatal car accident? Why does a reader care? And at 40,000 words written, is it too late to change?

A fellow writer who helped me think about my previous novel called on Friday. He writes science fiction — a genre I like very much though I've not written much of it lately — and we chatted about our current WIPs. He remarked about how our pieces had one fundamental similarity: world building. That phrase and all it implies lingered with me even as I worked on the novel as I had before we spoke.

Recently, I returned to some research notes and rediscovered the incredible variety in the landscape surrounding my setting in Antarctica. And I realized my friend was right: readers need to know what this place looks like. Of course, I don't want to load my first pages up with icebergs of backstory, but I've begun rewriting my opening chapter — and probably several early chapters will need to be changed.

What I've written previously remains viable. After all, those people must die. But I think I've made a significant shift. I hope it will be a fruitful change. If nothing else, I will get to use more of what I've learned researching Antarctica. California simply is nowhere near as fascinating to me.

How about you? Have you realized in the midst of writing a novel that you've got some fundamental flaws? What did you do about it?

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Best Laid Plans

This was going to be a special week. I was going revise my "complete" manuscript while also writing more of my work-in-progress. But then there was a torrential rain storm. With the sounds of a crash and a splash, my vacation writing plans shifted like the now-warped tabletop that fell to the floor of my basement. (The table was on the way out anyway, which is why it wasn't attached to its legs.)

These few words here are the only bits of quasi-creativity I've written all week. Dozens of diapers later, I've cleaned most of the basement and gotten the clothes dryer to work again. But it's Friday and my vacation is almost over.

There's a saying I've shared before that seems appropos here: How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans for tomorrow.

So here goes:

Are you there, God? It's me, Matt.

First, thanks for the sunshine. It's a fair sight better than the frigging ark weather you laid down on us last week, but I don't want to sound ungrateful. Now, I need to do a couple errands before the whole shebang collapses around me — milk for the wife, diapers for me, maybe some scotch for the cats... And then I'd like to actually put some writing time in. But if that's not to be, as Kurt Vonnegut said, "So it goes."

I've still got a great family and this sun of yours is supposed to keep burning brightly in the sky for most of the weekend. And as long as my guardian angel hasn't been downsized due to the economic doldrums that seem to be affecting everything, can you remind him or her that I need to avoid the spring bloom of potholes in the road if I actually get a chance to jog.

Thanks again, God.

Oh yeah, Live long and prosper.


What, you didn't know God was a Vulcan?

Monday, March 08, 2010

Salman Rushdie on Love, Sex, Writing, Friendship. What Else Is There?

Emory University posted a video of writer-in-residence Salman Rushdie talking with Chris Hitchens about various subjects. If nothing else, I want to have this somewhere I won't lose it so I can view it when I get a chance. In the meantime, check it out. Feel free to share what you think.