The internet is a lovely thing sometimes. I did a Google search this morning to find a copy of my first book (sadly, out of print) to give as a gift, and I found a girl on Zaadz who listed it as her favorite book. Her favorite book. To this bibliophiliac, that is weighty indeed.
My initial reaction to this was, "Sweetie, have you read To Kill a Mockingbird or Gone With the Wind? Or A Wrinkle in Time or The Diamond in the Window?"
But my initial reactions are often exactly this ungracious, a habit of mind I have resolved to reprogram. I am therefore now trying to convince myself to be enormously complimented that something I wrote resonated with this person more than anything else she's encountered thus far in her admittedly short life. So, Sara, thank you. You lifted my spirits on this monsoony morning.
Much more on my own writing. This week I've had some good breakthroughs working on one of my novels-in-progress, ZF-360. In the process, I've discovered a quirky thing about the way I write. (Many of you might wish to stop reading here to avoid utter boredom; click on to your next favorite blog. What follows will be the electronic equivalent of thinking out loud.)
I started writing ZF more than a year ago. I used the first chapter as part of my application to Readercon's Writing Workshop, then found out that the workshop's leader required a synopsis to be turned in as well. I cranked one out and proceeded to have a marvelous time at said workshop.
ZF progressed a bit more when I got home, but felt my interest in the story slipping away like sand from yesterday's castle. No matter, I thought; I've got a million ideas where that one came from; I'll work on something else for a while. I turned to a ripping ghost story-in-embryo called The Holly Place, about which I could get obsessed to the degree required for me to have decent writing momentum. I worked on THP for a while, but then Patrick begged me to go back to ZF.
"I'm in a good groove right now with THP," I protested.
"But I want to know what happens in ZF," he persisted. (He had read the first two chapters, but refused to read the synopsis.) "Please?"
Well, he is my patron, as it were, if you will. I went back to ZF, but it has been a chore lo these many months, I tell you. I couldn't understand this for a long time. I mean, it's a good story.
I have finally figured out why. I don't like knowing how my books are going to end. Or really, even how the middle is going to go before I get there. In the ZF world inside my brain, the story has already happened; therefore it is much less interesting to me.
It's like the way I read. It's also the way I see a movie. I want to know as little as possible about it before I go. I usually don't read movie reviews, and I usually only read non-fiction book reviews. I want surprise and delight. I write for the same reasons. Partly for the sheer sensual joy of bathing in language. But mostly for pure escape, more of that yummy agony as I race to find out what happens next.
I will often re-read favorite books, but nothing compares with falling in love with great characters for the first time and then watching how Scout/Scarlett/Frodo/Christian handles what's been thrown at her/her/him/him. It's a delicious suspense, far more addictive for me than chocolate. Which is a lot.
A genius blogger recently polled his readers, asking whether there would be any takers for an opportunity to travel 500 years into the future: one-way, solo flight. I replied off-handedly, "No thanks; I'd rather read about it." I realized later how true that was.
I do love my actual, real, day-to-day life; it's pretty near perfect. But the worlds in books and inside my head are sometimes so much more interesting and appealing--and I can walk away from them if they get too intense--I know those of you still reading know what I'm talking about.
This synopsis-killing-the-story thing has happened to me once before. My Senior Project in college was to do all the background research for a fantasy novel, including character sketches, a lengthy world-building exercise, and a very detailed plot synopsis. My Project sits bound in leather on a shelf, its gold-stamped title winking at me as I work. As much as I love the world, characters, and story I created therein, I don't know that I'll ever actually write that book. (Oh, calm down, honey. I probably will at some point.)
Shannon's Mirror, the above-mentioned favorite book of Arkansas's own Sara, was almost entirely unplotted when I started it. I began it by asking, "What if...," which is how all of my good ideas get rolling. I vaguely suspected it would end one way, but one of the most thrilling writerly moments of my life was jolting awake one night and realizing something else entirely was going to happen.
I wrote that book in three weeks. Of course, it's very short. And it's YA. And I only had one three-month old child at the time, and a husband who worked 18 hours a day, six days a week. And it was a bitter cold February in which no sane Manhattanite ventured outside (except my husband). In other words, the distractions were minimal. But still. Three weeks.
I have the same sense of urgency with The Holly Place, which keeps pushing its way onto the stage in my brain even as I plug away on ZF. How is Cathy going to help Blake? What will happen to Richard? What about Cathy's mom--how will she react when she finds out the truth about her new husband? It's calling to me. But I think I'm nearly done with ZF. And I do think it's going to be good, even though I'm turning up my nose at it right this minute.
I also know that I work very well with deadlines, so here's what I'm doing, web-friends. I'm telling you all right now that 30 days from today--May 15th--I'll be ready to send that puppy out the door. Or at least let my patron read it. Hold me to it; knowing that you are keeping accounts will get me through the doldrums.
Caveat to would-be writers: Nearly everyone in a position of authority says you should write synopses. So don't go by what works for me. Do your own thing.