Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Appalachian Blues

The other day, I posted about my frustration with that story I was working on, so I walked away from it for a few days. In those few days, I revisited a story I wrote the first draft of a few months ago, and I went through the whole thing with a red pen and emerged with what I think is a really strong second draft. I'm especially excited because the first draft was really rough and was lacking something, and I think I figured out where and how to bring it the punch it needed.

Lately I've been reading "Mystery and Manners," which is a book of Flannery O'Connor's lectures and essays about writing fiction, Catholicism, and peacocks, and it has really inspired me to work harder on my stories, be a little meaner to them in editing, and continue to take chances with my characters. She talks a lot about the moment of violence in her work, and what that means, and how the moment is really a chance for the characters to interact in a meaningful way with the notion of Grace, whether to accept or refuse this "divine gift". I think I understand what she's getting at, even if most people talk about it in terms of a revelatory moment for characters in a story. If there's any hope for something to profoundly affect the character, a boundary needs to be crossed. In this story, "Appalachian Blues," the protagonist Rachel has two moments where she surpasses her personal "line," and that's where she is able to accept Grace or the moment of revelation or whatever you'd like to call it.

Here's the beginning, before the first moment occurs:

Rachel and her mother were standing in the kitchen, talking about an upcoming concert at the recently reopened Downtown Theatre. Bea handed her a flyer highlighting every event held there for the summer, but none of them had much appeal for Rachel, who thought she might need to leave the area to hear the sort of act she had any interest in. She handed the flyer back to her mother.
“I don’t know,” Rachel said. “I have a hard time going to a concert at the same venue as the Pink Floyd laser spectacular.”
“The laser show is just so they can afford to show other things. They need some time to build up an audience before they can show the kinds of things you’d rather see.”
There was the sound of footsteps coming from the basement, and Rachel and her mother watched the door, waiting.
Harold came upstairs from his basement workshop after two days—a full forty-eight hours, from Friday evening until well after sunset on Sunday—and it was clear to everyone in the kitchen that he could barely contain his excitement. Rachel and her mother exchanged mirror-image glances across the island in the kitchen, Rachel’s left eyebrow arched to match her mother’s right: a call-and-answer in facial expression, or just the stereo version on a mono look. Rachel wondered if her mother would ask first, or whether she should speak to her father.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Pooka

I've been working on this short story for awhile now, and I have restarted it a few times. It's about a young man who gets dragged along from one place to another by a man he wants to work for. The "boss" character has kind of a terrible day ahead of him when this kid shows up, including a doctor's appointment, a wake, and dealing with a wife who wants a divorce. It's an idea I've had for awhile, and I've got the big points figured out, but for some reason it's just not doing it for me yet. Here's the beginning:

The driver pulled the car up to a funeral home, and when Isaac saw the building, with its Corinthian columns and its name, “Famularo’s” written in gold script on the sign outside, he decided that this was the kind of place he would not like to end up when he died. The truth was, he didn’t have much interest in going inside even while he was alive, but he saw Anthony opening the door, gesturing for him to get out.
“What’s going on?” Isaac asked.
“A wake. Don’t Jews have wakes? It’s where you—you sit around a dead body and cry a little, and you visit with family.” Anthony gestured toward the ground, indicating that Isaac should be getting out of the car. Isaac obliged, because even now, six hours into their day together, Anthony Colucci still terrified him as much as he had when they first met.
As he followed Anthony inside, Isaac tried to explain how Jewish funerals work, getting confused looks when he mentioned the rending of clothing. Anthony silenced him when they came to the door. He turned toward him, his hand on the brass handle, and said, “Well, the way Catholics bury their dead is this: you have a wake, you have a funeral, you bury the body, and you go eat. That’s it.”
This, Isaac had come to realize over the course of the day, was the philosophy of Anthony Colucci: anything could be survived, as long as there would be food afterward.

I don't know, maybe I just need to write it until the end and then see what's working and what's not. Or maybe I need to ditch it altogether.

Monday, February 16, 2009

"The Savage Detectives" and Winter's End

I think we've almost survived the winter. They're saying it's going to snow this week, but it's been warm in the afternoons, so work is bearable. On the downside of the nice weather is the fact that more and more of the crazies are out. There are a bunch of new vagrants in the neighborhood, and although most of them are nice enough, there is at least one who is clearly unstable and thus vaguely frightening. He has two dogs that walk around unleashed, named Spam and Raleigh, and he told me he lives in a "two-door apartment," which he clarified by saying, "a Chevy." This morning, and this is unrelated, I'm sure, I walked out to my car to find that someone had taken my license plate. When I called the local police, they asked me if I had sold it. Now why the hell would I do that?

Anyway, I'm currently reading the book "The Savage Detectives" by Roberto Belano, and I have to say it's one of the most challenging novels I've ever read. I'm liking it more and more as I go on, but it took a little while to figure out. Why? Because it lacks a protagonist, or rather, it lacks two protagonists. The entire book is about their lack, and the narrative seeks to assemble the story of two lost poets through a minor character's diary and hundreds of pages of eyewitness accounts, which are often digressive and at times seem to have little to do with the missing poets. I haven't finished the book yet, but so far it reminds me of "Citizen Kane" or "Rashomon," where the story can only be found in pieces delivered by the unreliable narrators, who each have their own motives for presenting the events the way they do. I like it because it is the kind of story I would never write, but I can really admire the structure and experimentation in it.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Why I Worry About "Lost."

Anyone who knows me knows that I spend just about every Thursday thinking about "LOST." It's become the kind of show that only has fans like me: those of us who theorize, wonder about the layered literary references, and debate the nature of the whispers. And this kind of worry is a real relief every Wednesday night and Thursday, because it doesn't matter.

And I love that it doesn't matter, because frankly, real life is too much to worry about all of the time.

God Bless Fiction.

Springtime Sneak Preview

It's a beautiful day here in East Stroudsburg: the sun is shining, and some of the ice is melting. I know it can't last, and we'll probably have another snow storm before spring really comes, but it seems like nature has tossed us this weekend as a reminder that this misery will break soon. I'm trying to work on a short story for the Kenyon Review fiction contest for writers under 30. There's a 1200-word limit, which is tough, but the other night I came up with an idea that would only work in a shorter format. It's a story in the future-tense and second-person, which I think would get really old fast if it was a longer story. It also personifies states of emotion as the protagonist's companions as he goes through his day. At the end, it's going to be about a break-up and how that ends a person's sense of being pluralized, if that makes any sense. I'll post it here when it's done.

In the meantime, I've been working on articles for my writing job. My March article is due tomorrow, so it should be a busy day. I will probably take a half-day tomorrow to finish it up.

I'm hoping I start hearing from graduate schools soon. The suspense is killing me.