Monday, September 7, 2009

The Semester Gets Underway, the Perils of Caffeine and Other Tales

A New Semester Begins
So, the fall 2009 semester has started. I really love the first weeks of a new semester at school because so much hits deeply and my classes seem to resonate with each other - I find something someone said in one class coming up in another (references to the same book, a similar idea or the clarification of an idea, conversations that seem to be continuations of those from a previous class even though I'm with a different group of people, etc). It is exciting and exhilarating. For the first couple of weeks. And then the crush of the work takes over and I find myself getting into the "just plow through it" mode. Last semester was the worst - with the four classes and the residency I was in JPTI mode for most of the time. Read to get through the reading, forget about letting ideas sink deeply or leaving their mark on me. Each semester I have the same goal - hold off on JPTI-mode for as long as I can, use the newness of the semester to make me pay attention to the small details and try to keep that beginner's mind fresh.

I won't have much longer to have this experience, though. This semester is my last true semester in school. After these classes, I am through with the course requirements for my MFA and will only have to complete my thesis, which is my novel and, theoretically, going to get completed anyway and should not be a BIG DEAL. And then I get to graduate in the spring. I am excited. I did not go to my undergrad graduation because, by that time, I was so fed up with my undergrad school, I wanted out as quickly as possible, and the idea of going to graduation and not being able to sit with my friends (we were seated according to major) just seemed stupid and an exercise in several hours of boredom. This time, I want my cap and gown. I want a graduation portrait. And I want the graduation ceremony. I've worked my butt off for this degree, I want to celebrate my achievement. But...focus...get through this semester first, get the novel finished, and then PARTY!

The Perils of Caffeine
I think I wrote about the problems I was having with migraines over the summer - if not, brief recap...I was getting hit with migraines every two or three days all through the summer. I finally located the culprit. Caffeine. A lot of caffeine. I completely cut myself off from caffeine on August 17th and that seems to have solved the problem. The oddest thing to me is that I haven't had problems with feeling tired - like I thought I needed the caffeine to keep me awake for my nocturnal writing, but that has not proved to be the case at all. Which is strange and makes me wonder how many other things I think are necessary and really aren't, that are really more detrimental than beneficial. I'll have to start noticing that.

Other Tales
The rewrite of Choice is now underway. I think I've made the correct decision to do a rewrite and continue to keep pushing into the story. The difference in the first pages is enough to convince me that my intuition is right: it may have been good enough to be accepted by an agent and possibly for publication, but it's not the novel I want to publish. Yet. I read the first page and a half in one of my classes last week and the silence after I was done was that good silence of people experiencing something wonderful. The opening page is still the same - starting with Denny and Ray in the car and then Denny's death - but the next section, which is narrative summary is new. I was very happy with the reception it all got.

One of my challenges with the rewrite is to make full use of my narrative tools - exposition, summary, backstory, flashbacks - as well as my ability to create vivid scenes. It's like, now that I've told myself the story, now I'm telling the story. I know what happens, so I can create the dynamic juxtaposition of information and scenes that connect the dots in a more meaningful manner than just A, B, C, D. I'm killer with showing, with being in scene, but it doesn't give the novel the resonance and compression it needs to really explore the questions it poses.

For instance, in the first draft, I walk through the entire scene of Matt meeting Monica, the awkward dialogue of two people who don't know each other. In the rewrite, I say right up front, opening pages, this person is going to be important to Matt, he doesn't know her yet, but when she appears, she's going to be important. So when I get to her later, I won't have to show them becoming friends, I'll be able to move into them being friends. (this is actually something I realized over the summer while reading Terry Pratchett - sometimes it's enough for me to tell you someone is a certain thing, I don't have to pile up details to show you they are. The novel I was reading, Going Postal, has this master criminal/con man as its main character. Pratchett does not spend pages and pages showing you why Moist is a master criminal by demonstrating that he is - he just tells you and then Moist goes on to do things in the way of a master criminal, but Pratchett doesn't have to show how he does every little thing - he scales a wall, but I don't have to read about every hand hold and foot hold to know that he knows how to climb a wall).

My current scene is Matt in the limo on the way to the cemetery - I decided to get Matt and his mom and Alan into a confined space early on (this is page 8) so I can lay out the dynamics of the relationships. I've actually got no idea what's going to happen. I'll probably have to write about ten pages in order to get the two paragraphs I need, but, I'll know they're the right two paragraphs by the time I get to them.

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