Thursday, July 31, 2008

Novel spasms

I know, I know. Whine, whine, despair. Everytime I finish a novel, I look at it in wonder and I forget how hard it was to write. (I know the metaphore is childbirth, but since I had a spectacularly magical pregnancy and a wonderful birthing experience with only one strange Jurassic Park labor moment, and I remember all of it, that doesn't hold for me.)Then I anguish over the new novel I've started, wondering why ONE. I can't just rewrite the novel I've completed that I now love and TWO. I can't just write the new novel as easily and fluidly as I am CERTAIN was my process for every other novel I've ever written. All evidence to the contrary somehow doesn't count.

I despaired about all of this to a lifeline, an incredibly talented writer friend and she said: Don't despair, sugar, these are swings. Remember that. You need to just realize the novel's in process and it's all pains and spasms for a while and lots of anguish and unclarity. But that DOES NOT mean it's not going to be great or working.

I think that is advice so good I should tattoo it on the inside of my eyelids so everytime I blink I see it and remember. Or at the very least, it needs to be a voice loop in my head.

I like that, though. Swings.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Cape Fear

Warner Brothers is planning to make a movie of Marvin The Martian. This doesn't fill me with joy. When I was a little girl, Marvin terrified me. I had nightmares! Then again, I also am perhaps the only person in the world who doesn't like clowns and finds them chilling, as well.

Sometimes I find writing helps phobia. I'm anxious about driving so I wrote about it in Breathe. But besides normal fears (politics, war, terrorism, global warming) I'm also anxious about:
1. shark attacks
2. giant squid attacks
3. serial killers
4. choking
5. asthma (wrote about it)
6. planes

Anybody got a stranger list?

The boy is twelve

The photo is of FRED, not my son MAX. Fred is the YouTube hero of my son, though, and for Max's 12th birthday, coming up tomorrow, and celebrated this weekend, we really want to try and get him a Happy Birthday email from Fred, this YouTube character, but I've tried every email for Fred I can find and I even scoured Facebook and MySpace and wrote to him, there--alas, no luck, no response, no nada. Fred, in case, you don't know, is this 15 (I think) year old kid from Nebraska who puts the voice of a hyperactive six-year-old in his mouth. He's some sort of sensation and has been on CNN because of the millions of hits on his videos. And if you find a way to get to him and there is a response, the prize is 4 (count 'em) watercolors.

We haven't done this since Max was 7 and was addicted to Who Wants to Be A Millionaire. We managed to get a hold of Regis and he sent Max an autographed photograph that said, "Max, Someday YOU will be a millionaire! Happy Birthday!"

Sigh. If anyone knows Fred....

Sunday, July 27, 2008

I Shall Scream (with apologies to Oliver)

I seem to have some sort of acid in my fingers which destroys the letters of my keyboards in three months' time. I've tried different keyboards, putting clear nail polish on (messy and didn't work), and even bought one of those odd key condoms--a rubber sheet which tightly fits over the keys, which collected dust and drove me crazy. I tried press on letters (they faded.) I finally found a company that insists its press on-letters (see photo above) won't fade. Other than that, there is the (pictured above) Japanese keyboards in soft leather AND NO LETTERS AT ALL.

I also heard that laser etched keyboards might work.

Sigh...If anyone has a workable solution, you can get a watercolor of a ladder flying in the sky.

Friday, July 25, 2008

In the Zone

You know how runners reach a runner's high after a certain amount of time? I truly believe writers do, too. It always takes me a while to get into my work. I hit the desk at nine every morning (except weekends), I spend about a half hour fighting the urge to alphabetize my books ro dust the 75 snowdomes I have or rearrange my files, then I usually walk up and down the stairs a few times of mindless and unnecessary errands, like checking to see if the stray cat came back to our porch (not that I could take him in--I'm violently allergic), then I sit down. It takes me about an hour, and then something happens, and I swear it feels like an altered state of consciousness. It's like God's reward for you actually sitting down and opening up veins so you can write.

It isn't that the prose is great or the story flowing. It's simply that I am int his whole other world and I don't want to be anywhere else.

I just wish there was a way to jumpstart it so it could happen instantly.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Let Hear it for the boy!

I adore my son Max and here he is in the theater company's production of The Music Man! He's rocking that long hair!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The novel veers

I know it's hard to see this (blame a cell phone photo and a shakey hand) but this is a photograph of the amazing Falls that are under the Brooklyn Bridge. I love the Brooklyn Bridge with a passion, and I also love Brooklyn. We just happened to be at the Seaport listening to live music, getting ice cream, when we noticed them in the distance--one of the things we had been meaning to see but kept forgetting. It truly was strange--you don't expect waterfalls from the Brooklyn Bridge!

Speaking of strange connections...One of the most amazing things about writing a novel is the surprise of it. I've been writing this scene for what seems like weeks, and suddenly, something new turned up. It took a whole different and dramatic direction and almost seems in danger of becoming a whole new idea for a novel itself. Is that good or bad, I wonder? How does any writer stay on track when the muse veers away from the outline you had intended?

Friday, July 18, 2008

In which Caroline is nominated for something!

In the midst of all my novel angst and worry, (And I liked Jeff Lyon's previous comment to have a book about the novelist's struggle with the work, by the way), I find that the short story, The Neighborhood Watch, that jumpstarted the novel I'm working on now has been nominated by Backspace into the very prestigious Best New American Voices 2010 anthology!

The story has been published before, selected by Alice Hoffman for a Four Points edition.

I'm dumbfounded. And honored. And thrilled. And relieved. And some of it is still anxiety, because, why after all my novels am I still a new voice? I will say, the other nominee, A.S. King, wrote a fabulous story called Monica Never Shuts Up .

Ok, well, a nomination is a nomination and a wonderful thing, in any case, and now back to the novel at hand, because a novelist is a novelist, too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Writer round robin

A bunch of my writer friends are all starting novels at the same time as I am. It's fascinating to me (and incredibly helpful) because we all talk about how hard the process is. We gripe, swap pages, and exhult when things go right. We talk about how it can take an hour just to get to that magic state when the words start to unlock. How the premise can be slippery as quicksilver, leaving you to stare in despair at your pages. A friend sent me her first chapter, which wasn't working, at least ten times, and each time, I kept saying, no, no, no, nope, and then suddenly she sent me a first chapter that was perfection, and I don't know who was happier or more excited about it. I reminded her of all the times she had helped me--which included a couple of teary phone calls, let me tell you.

Another friend has brilliant pages that she was worried about and all she needed was a little bit to show the point she was making. A clear case of being so into the work, you can't tell what works or what doesn't.

Why isn't it easier?

And of course the better question is Why do we all love it so much? And the answer is How could we not? What is a luckier life than this one?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Leavitt talks!

Please check out my interview about the novel I just sold!

How many ways can you tell a story?

Illya Szilak wrote this novel, Reconstructing Mayakovsky that I read in manuscript and thought was unlike anything I had ever read before. Not content to just have a terrific manuscript, she's transformed the novel and made it into a multimedia event. I found it so startling and haunting that I wanted to ask Illya some questions.

1. Tell me the origins of Reconstructing Mayakovsk? How did you come to write it?
I was working as an HIV physician in New York City. 9/11 happened. A few months later, I happened upon an article in The New Yorker about Vladimir Mayakovsky, the Russian Futurist poet who killed himself in 1930 at the age of thirty-six. The poetry—raging, lyrical love poetry—was like nothing I had ever read. I became obsessed. I ordered every book in English that I could find. I hired a tutor to teach me Russian. It’s cliché, to say, but I had to write this story. I had no choice. It was only much later that I understood that the urgency had arisen from my need to find answers to questions I’d asked since 9/11: what role does tragedy play in human life, if we could get rid of it, should we, what price would we pay?

2. What made you decide to structure the novel like this in this form?
I realized early on that I had to tell the story in the context of my own desire for it. If I told it like conventional historical fiction, it would be utterly false. I remembered a Philip K. Dick novel called Time Out of Joint, which is about a man who thinks he is living in the 1950’s but who is really living in the future made to look like the 1950’s. Of course, Dick was writing this in the actual 1950’s. I am not an avid reader of science fiction, but I realized that I had to tell the story of Mayakovsky’s life in the framework of my present-day fears and fantasies about the future. Interestingly, many of Mayakovsky’s own works were set in the future, and, in his poem “About That,” he actually asks to be resurrected.

3. You've said that you wanted to tell the story of Mayakovsky in a radically different way--which I think this video does beautifully. Where do you go from here? Literature is the last stronghold for the modernist ideal of “originality.” (as if any artist creates tablula rasa.) I think the Internet is changing this. The amount of content available and the way we process information—hypertext, multiple layers of image, text, and sound, even font choice and “cut and paste” editing is changing how we write and read. In the future, the novel will exist in multiple iterations. The written work will function both as stand-alone art and entertainment and as an engine that drives the creation of work in other media. For this novel, I’ve been collaborating with a wonderful artist named Pelin Kirca, who, believe or not, I found through Craig’s list. Together, we created the animation, and a graphic version of my manifesto. We’re also collaborating on a modular multimedia space for book readings. And, I have a plan for curating a gallery exhibition around the text of my novel.

4. What I really admire is that after being told by a huge agent that your novel was ambitious and well written, but too far out, you refused to compromise, and instead, stretched the boundaries of what is possible even further. Can you talk a little about that?
I’m a forty-year-old physician and mother of two small children. I have never taken a creative writing class. Up until now, the only thing I’ve published are scientific papers. For my first novel, I chose to write about the resurrection of an obscure Russian poet in the post-apocalyptic American future. Clearly, I forgot to read the “Publish Your Novel” rulebook. Given the reality of my situation, I decided that I ought to be brave and follow my own vision. With these projects finished, I’ve resumed my search for an agent.

5. Will you write another novel?
I’ve already started. It's about a gay man who gets caught up in an act of violence and in that context must examine the nature of love. The protagonist may or may not be a saint. I wanted to examine the idea that saints are perverse in the way that divine love is. I have always loved that chapter in The Brothers Karamazov where Ivan rejects God because he cannot accept that he is supposed to love the murderers of little children.

6. What question didn't I ask that I should have?
Why did you begin a work of fiction with the quote from Plato “This story isn’t true?” That seems obvious.
Yes and no. As you can see from the website, the novel can be read in many different ways: both horizontally and vertically. I wanted to put the reader into a position where, like the characters in the novel, she can decide how she wants to read information. Readers can go deep or stick with plot and character. For the deep answer, they can go to the archive, click on the hyperlink to Plato’s Phaedrus and read the text themselves.

Friday, July 11, 2008

So what does your character look like, again?

In my office, I have pictures, photographs and drawings of what I imagine my characters to look like, so that every time I look up, I imprint them in my mind. In this case, looks are everything! (So, of course is internal nature, but that's another story...)

Anyway, someone sent me a link to this fabulous site, called You Didn't Get The Part. It's jarring and fascinating to see what your fave films would look like if say, Sean Penn, instead of Brad Pitt, starred in Fight Club.

Go take a look.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Contract Joy

I just received the contract from blessed Algonquin for my novel BREATHE. This is momentous because it means that all those snakelike worries (Will they change their mind? Is this really happening? Will something go wrong?) are now burrowing back in the grass where they belong. I know I've written and published a lot, but each time is brand new. Each time has its own perils and anxieties, and I have never reached a point where I take it all for granted. (Actually, I hope I never do.)

I admit it. This makes it really real for me. I am staring at the contract with pure and unabashed joy.


A little blasphemy in the morning after a sleepless night...This is what I tried at four in the morning to get back to sleep.
1. Reading. Didn't work, made me more involved.
2. Watching TV. Just got irritated and also was more awake.
3. Writing. Got more anxious because I still have no real idea where I am going with this novel.
4. Took a sleep vitamin a writing client gave me which almost always works and which I should have thought of first. Guess what. Didn't work this time.
5. I finally fell asleep around 5:30 and got up at 8 to see Max off to theater camp and say hello to Jeff and now I am at my desk and though my body is completely exhausted my mind is racing.

Sigh. Any hypnotists out there who can get me to sleep for a few hours?

By the way, this is the church sign link if you are so inclined to have some fun.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Reason Ten Thousand to Love Ann Patchett

Patchett says, "My standard line is that writing is like taking a car trip. If I don't know where I'm going and I don't have a map, I don't get there. I understand a lot of writers say if they knew where they were going, there would be no point in writing, that a book is the process of figuring out where it is going. But I need to know how it's going to end before I start."

I don't always know my endings, and I don't think she means that everything is written in stone (or maybe she does, but I'm not taking it that way), but I do need to have some vague idea. Of course, it changes as I write, but after feeling so browbeaten by the "follow your pen" crew of writers, I find this quote really inspirational.

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Read this twice and call me in the morning

This is a wonderful interview about writing. Ann Patchett and Elizabeth McCracken talk about the writing process, success, friendship between writers, and all the etcs. It made me feel really terrific to read it because they address, answer and joke about every single worry that is sharking around me these days as I dunk into my newest novel.

But, I didn't really mean to read it twice OR to call me in the morning. At least not until after nine.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Happy 4th, see you Tuesday

Above is the brazen squirrel who is feasting on our peach tree in the back yard. Obviously he doesn't care that we want the peaches for pie. The weird thing is he takes a few bites and then flings the half eaten peaches into our neighbor's yards, so we've had to tell them, "It isn't us!"

Happy 4th, we're off to Philadelphia and I'm going to try not to think about my novel for a few days. (Yeah. Right.)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What was that novel about again, part two

I think it's really important to talk about how (*&^% hard the writing process really is. (Forget the writers who say they "follow their pen" and if writing isn't a pleasure all the time, why do it? We don't need to concern ourselves with the likes of them.)

Keeping me afloat these past days are other writer friends. We all seem to be struggling with new novels, and talking about the struggle, the angst, the messiness of the process really helps me realize that I've been in these treacherous waters before, and sooner or later, I'll start to swim. Sometimes you just need to hear that yes, it's hard, yes, it's awful, yes, you start thinking you should have gone to dental school, but this is what it is.

So back I go into the river, against the currents, with the sharks.