November 10, 2014

New Digs!

Hello, gentle readers. I'm brushing off the (many layers of) dust to let you know that I've got a new online home at Rebecca Wells Writes, and will be posting there from here on out. Much of the content from Elephants on Trapezes will soon be migrated over there, and new blog posts will appear exclusively at the new site.

If you'd like to keep up with all my new goings-on, please consider subscribing to my new blog (which is currently mostly migrated content but will soon have many new words)! Hope to hear from you soon!

December 31, 2013

Start Anyway (Letter to Self)

I've been writing for a long time.

I've been writing seriously for a long time.

I've completed (written, revised) some drafts.

I've completed (written, unrevised) some drafts.

I've started countless drafts.

I still don't feel like I know how to write a novel.

As part of my graduate program last semester, I was paired with an editor to work on a draft of a novel. I learned an incredible amount about the way I write -- but it was mostly learning about the many ways in which I should not write.

I have another one of those happening this coming semester. I have to submit the first fourth of the draft in less than two weeks. In the past two weeks I've brainstormed one novel. Then, last week, I threw it out and started on something entirely new.

I started by outlining. But it's been days of scribbling and brainstorming and still coming out with many questions and very few answers. I know a few things about this new novel. But those small things pale in comparison to what I don't know.

It makes me nervous to start writing without knowing the road ahead. Who was it that said something about writing being like driving at night with your headlights on? (Doctorow?) That's what I'm clinging to right now -- that if I just start, things will eventually fall into place.

I don't know the end of this novel. Or the middle. Or even (if I'm being honest) the beginning. But it's time to start anyway.

I don't know if this is the best advice. I've written a lot, but I still haven't hit on a personal process that gives me a road map for what I'm about to sit down and do.

Maybe that's because there isn't one. Maybe it's different every time you sit down to start something new.

I still don't feel like I know how to write a novel.

Right now, I have to start anyway.

December 19, 2013

What I Would Like to Talk About When I Talk About Running

This is not a complete post, even though I should get to one one of these days.

This is just to say that I've squeaked in a book just under the wire for 2013 that has instantly taken a place on my favorites list for the year.

The book is What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, a memoir by the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. It's a meditation, of sorts, on running. And on writing. And on the intersection of the two, and on aging. And on setting goals. And on perseverence.

But mostly it's about running and writing.

I read the first third and immediately texted my father to tell him to pick it up. I got through the first half and found myself actively laughing in places.

"I never had any ambitions to be a novelist. I just had this strong desire to write a novel. No concrete image of what I wanted to write about, just the conviction that if I wrote it now I could come up with something that I'd find convincing. When I thought about sitting down at my desk at home and setting out to write I realized I didn't even own a decent fountain pen. So I went to the Kinokuniya store in Shinjuku and bought a sheaf of manuscript paper and a five-dollar Sailor fountain pen. A small capital investment on my part" (28).

A small capital investment on my part. If that makes you giggle, pick up this book.

Highly, HIGHLY recommended. If you are searching for a last minute Christmas gift for the writers (or runners) in your family, get this.

June 10, 2013

Boy Nobody (Allen Zadoff)

Boy NobodyBoy Nobody by Allen Zadoff

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

From Goodreads: "They needed the perfect soldier: one who could function in every situation without fear, sympathy or anger; who could assassinate strangers and then walk away emotionally unscathed. So they made Boy Nobody-a teen with no name or history. The perfect soldier. 

Boy Nobody is the perennial new kid in school, the one few notice and nobody thinks much about. He shows up in a new high school, in a new town, under a new name, makes few friends and doesn't stay long. Just long enough for someone in his new friend's family to die -- of "natural causes." Mission accomplished, Boy Nobody disappears, and moves on to the next target. But when he's assigned to the mayor of New York City, things change. The daughter seems so much like him; the mayor smells like his father. And when memories and questions surface, the Program is watching. Because somewhere, deep inside Boy Nobody, is somebody: the kid he once was, the teen who wants normal things like a real home and parents, a young man who wants out. And who just might want those things badly enough to sabotage The Program's mission."

Oh. My. Gosh.

I started reading Boy Nobody in the Charlotte, NC, airport on my way home for the holidays. On page 9, I had to close the book and concentrate on my breathing, trying to get my heart rate down to a manageable level. On page 23, I made a phone call just so that I could say that I was reading this heart-stopping thriller of a book... And that's pretty much how my reading experience continued.

What Allen Zadoff does masterfully is create insane levels of tension and suspense. The chapters are short, the sentences shorter--everything is designed to keep you reading faster, faster, faster until you're out of breath and almost genuinely frightened for yourself. I was immediately pulled into the story and (after the first hiccups of excitement) didn't stop once. It's that engaging.

While I was completely engaged by the tension and the storyline, I wasn't quite as interested in Boy Nobody himself. He seemed a little like a blank slate to me (besides his emerging doubts about The Program)--but I think it's one of the natural hazards of writing about someone whose personality has been suppressed and buried. This is not to say that I didn't sympathize with Boy. I just didn't really connect with him.

I'm generally more of a character person, so the fact that I loved this book even though I wasn't over-the-moon crazy about Boy is a testament to the book's other strengths. The plotting and pacing is tight. The tension is high. The twist (of course there's a twist) is satisfying and unpredictable. This is action at its finest, and I can't wait to see what Zadoff does next.

*I received an ARC of this title from the publisher.

April 10, 2013

Musings on Poetics

As a result of certain events conspiring against me, I wrote a poem on Monday. I had a plot. I had a title. I was intended to write a short story, but when I sat down, a poem is what came out.

I'm still not sure how it happened, but I'm rather pleased with the result. I took multiple poetry workshops in college, but I've always considered myself first and foremost a writer of prose. Poetry has confounded me in the past. I've felt like someone entering a foreign land, a place where words fit together in ways I didn't understand. Three years ago, I was very good at drabbling words onto the page in interesting combinations--lines that rolled enticingly off the tongue, but at the end of the day failed to cohere into a meaningful whole.

Somewhere in the last three years (years when I was emphatically NOT writing poetry), that changed. You're going to laugh when you read this, but this week is the first time that I really felt like writing poetry and writing prose can be complementary activities. Not that I hadn't realized this before, in theory--rather, this week was the first time I really felt its effects. (Maybe this has something to do with graduate school. Or with three years of writing prose. Or three years of just hanging out.) On Monday I wrote my drabbly first draft, sat back, and really thought about the story I was trying to tell. Really thought about the form I wanted it to take. Poetry became not just WORDS! but rather, another avenue of storytelling that requires just as much thought as writing a short story or novel.

Similarly, writing poetry makes me more aware of word choice and phrasing in my prose. One of the things I like most about poetry are the constraints--in meter, in rhythm, in rhyme, in form. They force you to choose your words carefully, and re-choose them, and shuffle them, until they come together in precisely the right way. Almost-right is not right enough. From poetry I learned to concentrate on the internal rhythm of my sentences, to pay careful attention to the endings of things--paragraphs, chapters, novels.

Maybe the biggest reminder I took away from my impromptu poetry session is that poetry, as much as prose, is a process. One of my poetry professors in college used to said something along the lines of, "Poetry is never finished, only abandoned." One can tinker endlessly, adding a word here, dropping a word there, all in search of perfection. Maybe perfection is unachievable. But for someone who used to scribble a first draft and despair, it's heartening to be reminded that poetry is meant to be written and rewritten and refined and re-refined--slowly spiraling in from "well, what I mean to say" toward "This I say."