Transition Girl

Why transition girl?... Best answered by a quote from the Iliad....."The soul was not made to dwell in a thing; and when forced to it, there is no part of that soul but suffers violence."

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

a writer's eye

I am awake with the sunrise looking out of my window at a perfect summer's morning in Melbourne, so I thought I would write my last blog entry for 2011. I am a little tired as I am still having the uber-epic dreams at the moment - literally a nuclear war dream last night (expect the short story based on that dream will be called something like "the Fall Out").

I want to spend some time reflecting about the writing year that was, particulary two things I learned about the triggers to my own creative process over the last twelve months working with some semblance of discipline writing the second novel.

First, I (re)discovered how effective short breaks were in unblocking any temporary lulls in the development of creative ideas. The short breaks for me included going for an hour long walk around Princes Park in Carlton North or sometimes just sitting in front of the computer looking at xcxd comic strips. The latter option has also been an unexpectedly good way of opening my mind to produce left field ideas in both my fiction and non-fiction writing.

I managed to come up with a lauded solution to a complex policy problem that had stumped everyone around me for months after only one morning of such 'mindless' activity. It seems clearing the head or engaging other parts of your brain removes the clutter to allow your mind's eye to see things previously hidden. Pretty cool really.

Secondly, I discovered I cannot watch television shows or movies or read books now without (a) noticing the script structure and how I might write it differently to improve the delivery of the story's main themes and/or (b) take the story beyond the immediate story told to determine endings for tangents not explored in what I am actually viewing or reading at the time.

By way of example, I watched for a second time (and admittedly a third time with my mater because I liked the scripting that much) the Terminator - Sarah Connor Chronicles (TSCC) television show (that screened originally in 2008-09) and found my mind was making the links between characters, their individual stories, and the overarching story with a degree of sophistication that surprised me.

I am sure my mater found it a little peculiar that I spend some of the time that we sat on the couch, viewing the show, talking to her about character development and motivations and what it might mean for the third series of TSCC if a smart producer ever decided to make it. I had a million ideas on where I would take the story beyond the season two finale (and final show). I am quite sure I could write an entire third season such was the flow of plot development pouring out of my mind.

This was not the only show (or movie or book) where I found my writer's eye unpicking what I was viewing/reading. The jury is still out on whether having this skill is a good thing or a bad thing.

On the plus side, I found that the process of exploring where I could take a story that was not originally my own actually helped me with the development of my own work. When I sat down to write the second novel, I was able to pull threads together and define plot links with greater clarity, and establish and develop character motivations more easily. The characters and story in my second novel live and breathe with such life and breath now, much more so that my first novel.

On the minus side, I can spot the 'manipulation' that occurs in books, movies and television too easily now. All writers want to engage a reader/viewer at an emotional level but it is better when that occurs seamlessly and at an unconscious level. If I feel like I am being taken for a ride, I feel less inclined to 'connect' to the characters or with the story (and therefore do not enjoy the product). I think one of my goals for 2011 will need to be improving my own writing so that it mesmeries rather than alienates my readers. Something every writer aspires to achieve!

No cathartic deeply personal reflections on the year that was in this last blog I'm afraid. It doesn't feel quite right to share that stuff today, especially given the most challenging thing my brain wants to think about right now is who has the longest eyelashes of the actors I have watched in the last week. The selection on offer in that choice is Justin Chatwin (Weeds, episode 1, series 1), Thomas Dekker (TSCC), and Jake Gyllenhall (Love and Other Drugs). I just cannot choose...

I think I will go for a walk to clear my head. One more sleep and the new year will be here.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

festive food fodder

One of my key sources of creative inspiration, my dreamscape, has been in overdrive the last two weeks. And I think it might have something to do with the food I've been consuming in the lead up to Christmas, perhaps even the time of the year itself.

Truth is I have vivid dreams most nights that have the coherency of an epic movie (and not of the B-grade variety where the cash has been spent on bigger explosions rather than a good script). Being able to dream lucidly whole stories is definitely a bonus (and partly explains why sleeping is one of my favourite past times). This probably also explains why I prefer writing in the fantasy and science fiction genres - they are after all the most obvious genres in which to 'translate' from dreams what would otherwise be alternative realities that are not logical when compared to the 'real' world. (Aside: I can hear all the realists cringing now, the sort of people who like documentaries and character driven movies set in their own backyard - is it wrong for me to believe that such folk lack some imagination?)

The last two weeks though have delivered not only epic dreams that have gone nuclear in terms of the action, but also the re-emergence of a recurring dream and a first time (erotic) dream about a fellow who works in my building who I occasionally see in the elevator. (Aside: the last of these dreams doesn't really need much explanation regarding its trigger - the fellow who inspired it is very easy on the eye and my sub-conscious mind decided to come to the party! Just have to deal with the likelihood that I will blush when I next see him around the building...)

The recurring dream perplexes me. In this dream, I am basically walking along a coastline (beaches and national forest), up an escarpment to a village at the top of the hill, along the streets where there are houses recently built, then across a large field (very moor-like), which is enclosed by a fence, to a large old white house that sits at its centre. Isolated. On the other occasions when I have had this dream, sometimes I manage to find myself inside the house and it is full of partially furnished empty rooms, the floorboards covered in dust.

This route and these houses do not exist in the real world - they are pure constructs of my mind. I like the way my mind can create new things and places to tell itself a story. Granted, these places are probably some Leggo amalgam of actual places where I have been (particularly given I grew up by the sea and spent much of my childhood summer months around Christmas at the beach), though it is still incredible how my mind's electrical impulses can generate an entirely different dreamscape from disparate pieces of the past.

I interpret the recurring dream to have some significance in terms of it representing a spiritual journey. (It reminds me of a recurring dream I had as a child/teenager where I found myself sitting at the centre of an otherwise empty floating white room with open windows along all four of its walls and sheer curtains dancing with the breeze flowing through the space.) It may be a symbolic representation of the meeting between my two states of mind - the rational and the irrational. (Alternatively, the dream may be a metaphor of how I am 'coasting'). The colour white is significant. The themes of being alone and emptiness more generally pervading the dream are significant also. I believe this is the story my mind is trying to tell me.

I made reference at the start of this blog to food and the time of the year. Context is important in making sense of anything. Really. It is the time of the year when I spend a couple of weeks with mater, who prepares traditional European provincial food and I eat healthy fine meals (this coincidently provides me with a perfect excuse to avoid the excesses of social functions that are pervasive at this time of the year because I can escape to home). It is the time of the year when I spend more time reflecting about my year that was, where I am in my life right now, and where I want to be. In regards to the latter, I am by no means unique undertaking such reflection if the evidence of a higher number of relationship break-ups and suicides during the festive season is any guide! (Aside: do not worry, neither of these events are likely to apply to me any time in the near future given my current relationship status and I remain well and truely anchored to this world.) So it should not be a surprise that my dreams have a more philosophical flavour to them.

And I translate the dreamscape stories into words in fiction that are mindful of their contextual origins. Every writer needs their compass. If we could write cliff notes in the margin in our books that writer compass might be more obvious to our readers though I take some pleasure in knowing that some time in the future some one will read my work in a way that bears no resemblance to how I expected my words to be interpreted. This is fine by me. Because how the words are perceived are as unique as how they were written.

I say let the overdrive take me to far away places in the dusty recesses of my mind.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

time for think music

The title of this week's blog comes from a sports commentator (who's name I cannot even remember) of the grand game of australian rules football, who used to call the Saturday afternoon games covered with religious fervour on the local television station. The phrase "time for think music" was coined to describe when a player had no one on the paddock in front of him, no one bearing down on him to land a tackle and knock him hard to the ground, could bounce the ball not once not twice but perhaps even three times as he moved closer towards the goal, and the rarified luxury of being able to think (rather than just instinctively react) about what to do next.

I rarely have time for think music. I rarely have "free time" (the other phrase I tend to use when I am sitting waiting for someone to show up and use the few spare minutes to contemplate the world). The lead up to Christmas has only added to the juggling act that is trying to manage a full time (sometimes well beyond that) demanding professional career as an adviser with a part time fiction writing passion.

One extra demand is entertaining mater, who is in town for two weeks and (even though she is low maintenance relatively speaking) needs at least some of my attention. Other extra demands are the social functions that, in theory, could occupy every single evening of December. One December just before I left Canberra was just like that. Twenty four parties in thirty days. It took me two months to recover. My body was very unimpressed by the over-indulgence. I now limit the functions to the 'core' stuff (one work function only and functions involving closet friends) and am not drinking at the moment to manage the exhaustion.

I did have one positive distraction late last week. Made contact with a prospective agent, who specialises in fantasy fiction, and the agent showed some enthusiasm to read my manuscript come the end of the silly season. It is only a foot in the door but it is a start. I guess it is one of the downsides of changing genres from the first novel to the second - I have to shop my product around all over again. Another thing to add to the mix of stuff keeping me busy, burning the candle at both ends with a bunsen burner flaming away at the centre.

I'd rather be a hermit. I just want to write. I want time for think music.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

dawn of time

I started writing the third novel in earnest last weekend. Aptly, the timeline for this third novel (which is the prequel to the second drafted novel that is currently with the editor) starts at the dawn of time. Starting a new novel feels like time is starting all over again.

I know that opening sentence to this week's blog raises a few questions.

First, why did I start with the second story of a trilogy first? At the time I wrote the second story, I did not have the idea for a trilogy in my head. The more I wrote, the more I realised that there was a bigger story to tell and that I was fascinated with the back story on a few of the characters I was writing about (as well as what might happen to them beyond the self-contained story arc of the second story).

Sure I could write a single book of 1000 pages and, truth be known, there are plenty of fantasy novels where the author offers up such door stops. I hate books that long. Books like that have pages and pages of superfluous descriptions of people and places that are not even worthy of being described as periferal to the plot. I will read a book of 350 pages. Anything more starts to test my patience. As a writer, it sometimes surprises me that I have the attention span of a knat when it comes to reading.

A fantasy reader friend of mine also said that the typical reader in the genre likes the possibility of at least a trilogy. These readers are (apparently) more likely to 'attach' to novel characters and good authors in the genre need to be able to feed the desire of these readers to explore the character and their world in multiple novels. This seems consistent with my writing of the story - the more I write the more I want to write AND I have become emotionally attached to particular characters.

Second, I am starting at the dawn of time - what came before that? This was actually a question another friend of mine asked over lunch yesterday. I responded that it was my fantasy novel and I could make stuff up so there did not need to be a definitive answer to that most philosophical question of all - creation versus evolution? Pretty sure my brain came close to exploding as we contemplated the meaning of life over a sopressa salami, capsicum and mozzarella pizza.

Third, why am I starting to write the third novel when the second one is not finished? Editorial takes time. Shopping the novel around to agents and publishers takes time. I need to find a new agent because I have switched genres (my first novel was a philosophical piece) and finding one that accepts fantasy manuscripts will take time. Last time around this process took over 12 months. That's a lot of time to be twiddling my thumbs waiting around. Maintaining the discipline is important to maintaining the creative flow so I will not stop writing. Besides I have a bigger story in a trilogy I am itching to tell.

Novel number 3 is now 2 scenes written. Only 46 to go.