Novel snippet

Another short snippet from my novel-in-progress, The Trick.

Small annoyances got under her skin and grew more obnoxious over time. Jake’s voice, once a soothing baritone, developed a scratchy rasp. The way that he ate food, slobbery and loud, started to madden her. His caramel and honey scent turned to bitter licorice, and the hazel of his eyes turned a puke-toned green. Not literally, of course, thought Helen. But that’s how things go over time, don’t they? They acquire qualities one never imagined on first meeting.

What do you think?

 

Pretty-creepy songs

I’m a fan of songs that are pretty to the ear but contain a darker undercurrent in the lyrics. These pretty-creepy songs are nice to listen to, but something dark is going on.

Every Breath You Take

Perhaps the most famous example of a pretty-creepy song is Every Breath you Take by The Police. On first listen you might think it’s a gentle love song. No! The narrator is obsessed. It’s basically an ode to stalking.

Even Sting himself admits it’s not a love song. According to Wikipedia he says “it is about the obsession with a lost lover, and the jealousy and surveillance that follow.” Doesn’t matter what Sting says, however, because the lyrics speak for themselves:

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I’ll be watching you

I’ll be watching you? With every step? That’s definitely not a healthy relationship he’s talking about. I’m always surprised at how many people think it’s a regular love song.

The Nicest Thing

Kate Nash’s The Nicest Thing starts out gentle, with soft guitar, gentle violin (or is that a cello?) and almost self-conscious lyrics. The conversational style reminds me of Elton John’s Your Song. She talks about her crush and how she wants to see if they can make it happen. So far, so good, as far as romantic songs go. But then this happens:

I wish that without me your heart would break
I wish that without me you’d be spending the rest of your nights awake
I wish that without me you couldn’t eat
I wish I was the last thing on your mind before you went to sleep

That’s not love! That’s not romance! That’s terrible. She wants this guy to suffer (really suffer) if she can’t have him. Here’s a hint: if you want someone to suffer, you really don’t love them. It’s a slightly modified version of “If I can’t have you, then no one will!”

The object of her affection/lust/torment is not even an actual lover. She works up all this pain and anguish for someone she barely knows? Gee, that’s not stalkery at all.

Shady Grove

Takenobu’s cello version of traditional Appalachian folk song Shady Grove might be a love song, but there’s a bit that throws me off:

If I can’t have the girl I love
I don’t want none at all

It’s not quite as bad as “If I can’t have you, then no one will”, but it’s in the same ballpark. And this:

I wish I had a needle and thread
The finest that could sew
I’d sew that pretty girl to my side
And down the road I’d go

HE WANTS TO SEW HER TO HIS SIDE! Maybe it’s a metaphor, but I get a definite “it rubs the lotion on its skin” vibe. At minimum it implies a disregard for her feelings.

As with “The Nicest Thing” or “Every Breath You Take,” there’s plenty to suggest that the object of his desire doesn’t return his affection:

I wish I had a banjo string
Made of golden twine
And every tune I played on it
I wish that girl was mine

She’s not even his girl, and he’s already dead set on marrying her:

Some come here to fiddle and dance
Some come here to tarry
Some come here to fiddle and dance
I came here to marry

Note the similarity with earlier ballad Matty Groves, which features a lover’s triangle and murder. Wikipedia observes,

The folk/Bluegrass song “Shady Grove” from the United States also with many variations in wording, some arising in and around the Civil War, has a tune very similar to and possibly arising from the tune of Matty Groves.

But wait, I love these songs

Make no mistake, I love all three of these songs. Their beauty lies in the feeling that what you hear is not what you get. I particularly like how “The Nicest Thing” builds from casual to completely demented.

There are probably tons of pretty-creepy songs out there. Can you name any others?

Novel writing and the elusive third act

I am in the throes of novel writing.

I am working on the third act of The Trick, in which the heroine (Helen) goes a little baby-crazy, and her immortal vampire boyfriend must make a decision: start a family, or live without her.

I’m stuck because I don’t know how to write about baby-craziness. I never felt it myself. I have only witnessed it in others, and I fear turning it into a stereotype. Also, my novel is only at 48,000 words. It’s a wee bit too short.

In essence, I am stuck, with a fairly static third act. How do I make it as dynamic as the first two acts?

Act 1: They fall in love. Falling in love is fun to write about.
Act 2: They travel and enjoy the world. Vincent recalls previous girlfriends. Helen starts to worry about aging, and asks to be turned. They fight about it.
Act 3: Helen’s fear of aging and her desire for a family runs into conflict with Vincent’s non-human nature. Conflict is good but this act feels flat to me.

What do you think?

What kind of magic is this?

A snippet from my in-progress upmarket vampire story, The Trick

For a moment it all stopped and everything was silent. Helen listened for the tweet of a bird, the honk of traffic, or the chatter of a squirrel but heard only the sound of her own breathing. In the absence of external noise, the rhythmic beat of the pulse in her ear grew louder.

Helen marveled at the motionless tableaux. Gold and red autumn leaves were suspended in the air; a moth was caught in mid-flitter; even the feathery clouds, picking up the shine of the moon, had stopped moving. Helen touched a leaf hanging in mid-air and wondered, What kind of magic is this?

The first two paragraphs

I will be sharing snippets from my novel Washing off the Glue in the hopes of getting some constructive feedback.

The first two paragraphs:

Marie came to Burning Man to let go of a memory.

Ten long years of searching for Dad, and she had nothing to show for it. What if he’s sick? What if he’s dead? She had no way of knowing. That’s the part that killed her. Rachel, her best friend and roommate, was probably right: She should give up the search and start living in the present.

I am told “absent or missing fathers” are a cliche in novels, but I’d like to think I have a novel (so to speak) approach. It’s not about the father; it’s about the main character, Marie, who embarks on an obsessive search for him, and encounters all sorts of problems of her own.

What do you think?

Critical

Mini-story – Final Exam

The mini-story below, about a final exam, is an outtake from a novel I am working on.

That fall, Marie had boldly and confidently signed up for Math 201a: Multivariable Calculus. The topic had a visual component that appealed to Marie. Hyperbolic paraboloids reminded her of Pringles chips.

During the first exam, the pressure of finishing within an hour—the tyranny of the clock—jangled Marie’s nerves, and time got away from her. The clock loomed overhead and mocked her with each nervous glance. An hour was a minute; a minute was a second. Her mind was a wall of worry. The hour marched to its end, and she had answered no questions.

The professor, Maciej Zaborowski, paced around during the exams. He had a habit of holding a piece of chalk on his chin and accidentally creating a chalk soul patch. He tripped backwards when looking at the board and not noticing an umbrella beneath his feet. They called him “Magic Z.”

There were four exams in this course: three hourly exams, and a long multi-hour final. Failing an exam meant that the remaining exams were weighted more heavily. Marie was embarrassed but not horribly worried. She had several chances to redeem herself.

During the second hourly exam, time played the same cruel tricks as before. She could practically hear the tick, tock.

These two exams didn’t bode well. She had never gotten a poor grade in a class. However, she still had a bit of hope, and a plan. She joined study groups. She crammed. Studying would solve the problem; studying always solved her problems.

The day of the third exam, sweat trickled down the small of her back. She wasn’t prone to palpitations but she could feel her heart pounding. She knew before even submitting the booklet that she had failed a third time. She felt like crying. This was completely absurd and unacceptable.

The night of the third exam, she dreamt that she sat naked in the front row of an empty class. Incomprehensible Math 201a assignments crackled loudly out of the intercom system. Compute the surface area of the sphere above the xy plane. Locate and classify all the local maxima, minima and saddle points of the function. Find the parametric equation of the line of intersection of the tangent planes. She woke up in a sweat.

The final was now the biggest single contributor to her grade for the class. She took drastic measures. She reallocated all resources to Math 201a. Her mind swam with wave equations, flux integrals, and arc lengths. Nights and weekends were entirely dominated by Stokes’ Theorem and Green’s Theorem. Helical curves and one-sheeted hyperboloids danced before her eyes.

The day of the final exam was bright and sunny. Spring was coming and that day seemed the first hint of warm weather to come. The final exam was a leisurely, multi-hour event. There was a clock, but it was far less potent. One question after another, she answered, confident she understood the question. The parametrized surface is everywhere perpendicular to the vector field. False! The vector field has zero curl and zero divergence everywhere. True!

A few days later Marie went to the class to check on her grade. They weren’t posted yet, dammit. A day later, on a terribly rainy Wednesday, she came back to check again. She saw a flyer for a vegan support group and an advertisement for used textbooks, but no grades. On the third day she came back and saw the fateful sheet with a half dozen students clustered around it. She shoved her way to the front with a few Excuse me’s and looked for her name: Anderson… Ebert… Gibson. There was her score, but could that be right? She did a double-take. She got an A on the exam.

All at once the relief washed over her. She couldn’t believe it. She looked around for a chair; she had to sit down. Finding a metal fold-up chair in the same hallway, Marie plopped down, put her hand through her hair, and worried about her future. Would it be like this for every science class going forward: weeks of stress followed by an unbelievable day of relief? She couldn’t take another Math 201a. Shit, she thought. Maybe she shouldn’t be a scientist.


The mushroom image above is the best representative I have for hyperbolic paraboloids 🙂

What is your attitude towards the word Final? Does it feel you with unease like it does me? Do you hate endings as much as I do?

On revising

I started this blog in order to write about my novel & the novel-writing process, and maybe to even get a little feedback, but when I sit down to put together a post I feel very exposed. I don’t like working in a vacuum, but I’m also frequently averse to sharing my work outside a select subset of people. So much of my identity is wrapped up in my creative projects that I fear criticism of the project as though it were criticism of me. I know in my head this is not the case, but emotion is ruled by the heart and the stomach.

My novel is deep in the revisions stage. I work on it in fits and starts. When I get feedback from friends or editor-types I tend to go on a rampage of editing. When I feel good about the writing, I go on a rampage of editing. When I feel like my writing is dumb, I avoid it. Right now I’m avoiding it.

It’s a bit of a a vicious circle, either in the positive or negative sense.

Do you have a source of feedback for your writing? How do you avoid that scary exposed feeling? What do you do when you feel like your writing is dumb? How long do you spend on a post before hitting that publish button? Do you revise posts after you publish them?