So many books, so little time

One of the maddening ironies of writing books is that it leaves so little time for reading others’. My bedside is piled with books, but it’s duty reading: books for book research, books for reviews. The ones I pine for are off on a shelf downstairs — Mary Roach

Since I was little, I have loved and enjoyed reading. Reading was never a chore especially when what you were reading was something interesting. Reading only became a chore when you had to read something for school or university and all you could see were words strung together to make a sentence but still couldn’t parse the meaning.

It was also during that time, you figured out what you liked and didn’t like to read. There have been a handful of books I couldn’t finish because they would literally put me to sleep or I would forced myself to read it but nothing stuck in my head.

I remember taking three university literature courses — 20th Century American literature, British literature and Canadian literature. Of the three, I enjoyed American literature the most. British literature was my most befuddling course. Maybe it had something to do with the professor’s delivery of the course materials. Maybe my brain wasn’t wired for the classics at the time. I still don’t think my brain is wired for the British classics. I loved Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (I read that book in junior high) but it isn’t enough to get a solid foothold on understanding and dissecting British literature.

And while I loved my 20th Century American literature course, the one book I couldn’t get into was John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. I’ve mentioned in a previous blog the high degree of distaste I have for that book. Couldn’t get past page 11. That was it. Threw the book away. Still passed the course, though.

So, to cleanse the sour taste of being unable to read something that is considered a classic, I would go off and read something more grounded and slightly feral. That meant reading Michel Foucault and erotica. Not together. You know what I mean. Yes, I know… odd combination. That’s how I roll.

But I was pretty picky about the erotica, too. You get that way after you read enough of them. As in any genre, not all writers are the same. You click with some writers. And the ones you don’t click with… well… you don’t have to like everyone. You just have to like a few. Some stories I favoured more than others because of their ability to hook me into the scene (notice how I didn’t say ‘story’?That’s because I don’t remember any storylines) or there was some sort of shared sensibility I had with author that shone through the writing.

Post-university, I found myself not making enough time to read, just for the share pleasure of reading. I read newspapers and magazines… easily consumable copy that didn’t require more than maybe 20 minutes out of the day. But a 150-page, 200-page or 300-page book? Nah, didn’t make much time for those despite the fact I still had a habit of walking into a bookstore and buying novels that caught my eye, thinking I would read them ‘soon’. I know… pretty funny, eh?

I’m not ashamed to say that some of those books have never had their pages experience late-night maulings from me. I still have them. Not sure when I’m going to maul them. But they’re there when I want them.

However, I’m afraid they have a bit of a wait still because I have some (what I really mean is, a lot of) books that I need to read in the name of research for my writing project. Then there are two separate piles of ‘research’ books for two separate story ideas I’d like to explore after the current writing project. THEN, there is another pile I want to read just for the shear pleasure of reading. That pile is located at my bedside. You don’t want to know where my research piles are located.

It’s all organized chaos. Although something tells me I need to do some culling of the herd. I guess that means some books may never be mauled by me. But they’ll get a chance to be mauled by someone else. And that is always a good thing for a book.

So now, I have piles of books waiting to be ravished and I have a writing project that demands my attention. Throw in life and you’ve got an interesting juggling act. I suppose this is where I apply my time management skills but I think that more for the office than for life. I manage my time but it’s not rigid. Everything is fluid. For some people, that sounds like a horrible idea. For me, I don’t think so. I prioritize. Prioritizing works with fluidity. Rigid adherence to a schedule… not so much.

Can’t really complain, though. I’m surrounded by things that want my attention, and they are things I want to give my attention to. I’ll work my way through the piles of books and still have time for my writing projects. It’s not quite bliss.

But it’s damn close.

Tugging at my bindings

When I get an idea for a book, something appeals to me, it’s usually a character. I’ll see a picture of a female marshal in front of the courthouse in Miami and she’s got a shotgun on her hip and it goes up on an angle. And she’s good-looking. And I say, ‘I’ve got to use her’ — Elmore Leonard

When it comes to starting a new writing project, it always revolves around, not one, but two characters born out of an interesting idea. That is how it was with my first book. That is how it is with the modest pile of story ideas currently sitting in my figurative keepsake box, waiting for me to revisit them or explore them beyond the one sentence description.

And clearly, that is how it is with my current writing project. Two characters who barreled their way into my imagination, disrupting the development of another story idea, forcing me to temporarily set aside that story idea for these two bundles of energy who have made it their mission to never allow me to ignore them for any extended period of time.

Apparently, they’re done being quiet and allowing me to go about my business during this extended time period that I am in. My two boys don’t come up to me and tell me point blank that they need playtime with me. This time, they sneak up on me ninja-style, which is pretty hilarious given how loud and energetic they are. Even when they’re quiet, the air ripples around them.

To be honest, it’s my own bloody fault. I’m starting to tug at the bindings that have me bound to the commitments I have outside from my boys. Then I started thinking about a particular plot point that popped into my head as I was driving yesterday afternoon. I’m seriously considering adding this plot point to my boys’ story. It would also expand a third character’s role in the story and would make the dynamic more than interesting between the three characters. This has the potential to play out in new, exciting and thrilling ways for everyone involved.

Of course, as soon as this plot point popped up, one of the boys fired off a grenade launcher and the other ran around banging two trash can lids together, both yelling “Hell ya!!!!!!” Yes, I know that’s a lot of exclamation marks. That’s how bloody excited they are.

They’re incorrigible.

That means the new plot point goes in. When your characters whole-heartedly want (it’s actually more like, demand) you to add this twist into the story, you can’t say ‘no.’ I do like the twist. It might offend some people’s sensibilities but I really couldn’t give a fuck about that, right now.

As for the reaction of the third character whose role has become much more intriguing (and possibly a little more frightening), she’s pretty pleased. She doesn’t jump around like those two hotheads. She’s ready to sink her teeth into what I’ve come up with for her.

I’m happy to be developing her beyond being a prop. I’ve always wanted her to be more than that and it has niggled at me since she came to life. I’ve always believed she was meant to do more, be more than whatever archetypal conventions could cast upon her. I needed her to deviate, even if it’s just a little. And this twist is what she has been waiting for. The glint in her eyes when she realizes I have more in store for her, tells me this is the right thing to do.

Now when I think of her, Fleetwood Mac’s Gold Dust Woman comes to mind. But the version of the song that plays in my head is performed by Halestorm. It’s a great cover, by the way.

After my non-writing commitments have been met, it’s back to my characters. I’m still tugging at my bindings. But I know my boys will cut me loose.

Probably sooner than I expect.

The truth for me

Mostly, research is much more fun than the actual writing — Michelle Paver

Last week, I had another opportunity to do some field research. The second for my writing project.

It was a short outing. Way shorter than the 10 days I spent in another country back in October. But, fuck, it was a blast. I could have spent the whole day doing what I was doing. Learning and figuring things out. Increasing my proficiency at the activity. Yes, I’m being vague again. I’m terrible at word teasers. But I do have a visual teaser on my Instagram account. I’ll just leave it at that.

As a result, I now have a technical advisor for the project and that is seriously cool. He’ll also be one of the first people to read the first draft once I’m happy with it. I need him to make sure I haven’t mixed up my vernacular and terminology. Plus, he’s expressed interest in reading the first draft. It might have something to do with a certain car chase scene I needed his opinion on. It was clear to me that it piqued his interest.

I have no idea when I’ll finish it. I don’t believe in forcing things because forcing it usually ends up not what the story needed and you have no choice but to start cutting and re-writing. I believe great strides will be made again after I’m free of my commitments at the end of April.

But I have to admit the pull of the writing project is pretty strong. I should be paying more attention to my commitments but everything seems to be under control right now. Yes, I know… famous last words. Anyway, it seems my characters are finding ample opportunity to try to aggressively suck me back into their world, or at least remind me that the minute I fall into something monotonous and boringly eye-rolling, they’re going to swoop in and run off with my imagination like professional thieves in the middle of a high-stakes robbery.

I told you these guys are a persistent and possessive lot. That’s okay. I’m pretty persistent and possessive about them, too.

I don’t know if doing research is more fun than the actual writing because writing can be fun. Yeah, I’ll admit to being a masochist. Granted, not all research is fun, but it is engaging and, depending on what the subject is, most definitely necessary.

The research (and that includes the non-field research variety) I’ve done so far for the writing project has been, first and foremost, an education. It has been engaging, thought-provoking and yes, fun. There is always something worth examining. There is always something worth learning. I’ve done far more research for this project than I had for the first novel. That was due to the fact I was already familiar with the elements in the first book.

I’m not done with the research. I don’t think you’re ever really done with the research until the story becomes a tangible entity, like a book. Even then, what you learn from the research will always be with you. It will colour the way you see the world. And it will colour the way I approach and handle the next writing project. This is the truth for me.

It is a beautiful truth and one I fully embrace.