Getting it done

When I return to the writing process after being away from it for awhile, the first part of it always is being honest with myself: What am I into right now? Is it rock bands and guitars, is it noise, is it dance beats and electronics? Is it space, is it clutter? — Trent Reznor

When I finished writing my first novel, I never asked myself what interested me at that moment in terms of what could be my next novel. I wondered what I could write for a next novel but I never purposefully connected it to my interests. And I guess I assumed they would come out of whatever interested me at the time.

I can’t even remember specifically when the characters for the second novel charged into my life. I remember working on one idea when my boys burst in and demanded my attention. Who am I to say no with the kind of entrance they gave me?

Anyway, I never did a self-evaluation, as it were, to see what interested me or obsessed me. It just happened. That’s about as much as an explanation as I can provide.

As a writer, I haven’t asked myself what authors have I read whose work intrigues me. To be honest, I don’t read books these days. I read, but not books. Too much on the go. The times I have tried to make time to read a book I find interesting, I have failed to finish in a timely manner. You don’t want to know how many books I have not finished reading. Some folks would call the number of unread books shameful.

The things that do interest me are music and films. Most of my ideas are born out of that combination. But I do have non-sequiter moments. These are things I’ve touched on in previous posts.

The bulk of the music I listen to, isn’t what most folks would consider to be Top 40 stuff. I hardly listen to that at all. Doesn’t interest me. It may have something to do with my age but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. I don’t care for a majority of what’s considered current.

I prefer contemporary instrumental, classical or orchestral. Although, I have to admit I have been listening Smashing Pumpkins’ Ava Adore and The Glitch Mob remix of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army. The White Stripes tune is conjuring up imagery and ideas for a third novel.

I figure if I’m actually toying with an idea for a third novel, then I must be close to finishing the first draft of the second novel. You know what that means… I’d better get my ass in gear and finish the first draft so I can figure out the third novel.

I’m approaching the final leg of the draft. I’m pretty chuffed yet mildly disbelieving that I might actually be this close to completing the first draft. It is frighteningly exciting. And I’ll be more excited when I’m actually finished. Although my definition of finished might be a little different than most folks. We’ll see how it goes.

Gotta double down and get ‘er done.

Emotive space

I think it’s almost a law of nature that there are only certain things that hit an emotive space, and that’s what was always special for me about music: it made me feel something — Kate Bush

If you were to ask me who is my favourite female singer, I would automatically respond with Debbie Harry of Blondie.

But if you were to ask me which female singer has been a strong creative influence on me, I would have to say Kate Bush.

For those who like to keep track of shit like this, most of my creative influences are men. Ramin Djawadi. Ludovico Einaudi. Luca Guadagnino. Guillermo del Toro. Francis Lee.

They have influenced and still influence how I want to tell stories. For those who are not familiar with Djawadi and Einaudi, they are music composers. Yes, they influence how I see and tell stories. On a number of occasions, their music has evoked imagery and feelings that have informed the way past and present fictional characters behave and why they behave a in a particular manner.

There are a few ways for me to access the emotive space Bush talks about. But none have been as profound as music.

Music conjures imagery and feelings that pop into my head and give me something that is an equivalent to an epiphany. Canadian jazz musician Michael Kaeshammer’s version of St. James Infirmary was a catalyst in the creation of the my first novel.

My current playlist is always in a state of fluidity but Djawadi’s and Einaudi’s works are mainstays as I work to finish the first draft of the second novel. Other artists have a presence in my writing process, like UK singer/songwriter Jono McCleery.

I suppose I should mention the names of the pieces of music that make up part of my playlist. But I won’t do that simply because the music might give away the relationships between my characters. They are not so much spoilers as they could reveal the tone of the story I’m telling. I may share the playlist when the book is ready for public consumption.

But there is one piece that has landed on my current playlist I am willing to talk about beyond two sentences. That piece is Bush’s Running Up That Hill. Arguably that song may be the most used piece of music in television shows. C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation and Warehouse 13 are two shows that I know of, who have used the song. However, it’s not the original version by Bush that was used. Placebo’s cover was used by C.S.I. and a band called Track and Field did their own version of it for Warehouse 13.

As a side note, there is a band called Track and Field, based out of the UK. But they don’t seem to be the ones who covered the song. There is speculation the band was created just to record the song for Warehouse 13. I think the word used to describe this band was that they were a “project.”

I only discovered the Track and Field cover last week while I was wandering through YouTube trying to satiate my latest obsession. I’m not going to say what or who that would be. But I will say there is a theme linking my latest obsession to the characters in my second novel. I’m just going to leave it at that. I may talk about the theme but I will not name my obsession here.

Anyway, I heard the cover, figured out who performed it and wanted to buy the song. But, of course, the damn song is only available on the U.S. iTunes. What the fuck, folks? But I did find it on Soundcloud and I have no idea how many times I’ve listened to it.

Listening to Track and Field’s cover of Running Up That Hill took me to another part of the emotive space I regularly inhabit. I only access that area when the song/piece, characters and where I’m at with the writing, collide to give me a eureka moment. I don’t access it all the time and I have no way of knowing when it will happen. It just does. It has produced a collage of imagery and moments for the novel that I will be adding as I get closer to finishing the first draft.

I have always loved Kate Bush and her music. And I appreciate any well-executed cover of Running Up That Hill. Placebo’s cover of the tune was the first to blow me away. It just spoke volumes to me. But it’s funny that that cover wasn’t the one to give me my epiphanous moment last week. Hearing the simple combination of vocals, piano and drums in the Track and Field cover did it for me. It quietly opened another door in that emotive space and I was stunned.

Listening to it had me falling in love with the song all over again. Its lyrics and lietmotif evoke a myriad of intense emotions. It speaks to, or better yet, encapsulates the dynamic that exists between my three main characters. It asked me a question and I answered it. That answer is the key to finishing the novel.

It thrills me to no end that my writing process works no matter how far along I am in the story. No need for warming up. No faltering. Just rolling along with the scattered moments of genius. My genius is low level genius, but it’ll do. Happy to have any kind of genius. Period.

Now, back to that emotive space, my happy place. Back to feeling something.

Just being me

I find that labels are the worst thing in the world for artistic expression – Ornette Coleman

Underground. This is a word my writing mentor used to describe the second novel I’m working on. Initially, he thought I was writing in the crime genre. After reading the last excerpt I sent him (he’s essentially read 80% of the draft), he has removed the crime genre moniker and replaced it with ‘underground.’

I could not be fucking happier. If you have to label my work as a fiction writer, label it underground. I don’t care to put labels on what I do, but apparently, society demands labels on people, places and things in order to bring forth the appropriate reaction to what’s in front of them. So, if I must label my work, then I will label it ‘underground’ just to shut everyone up.

For those who need a little clarity on the definition of underground in this context, here it is courtesy of Urban Dictionary. I had to correct the grammar. I have no idea who submits stuff to Urban Dictionary but I really like this person’s take on ‘underground’:

Underground is about passion. Of course, the word is misused and abused. A true underground artist will create music/art from the heart as opposed to something tailored to a commercial market… Underground artists can have a long career out of the often destructive gaze of mainstream media…

There are people who are good, even great, at following the rules. I’m very competent at being a good citizen. I’m a decent photographer. I’m a decent CrossFitter. I’m a decent dressage rider. I’m decent at a lot of things.

But when it comes to writing — fiction, in particular — I want to be the best I can be. There is still lots of room to grow and develop to do in that regard. Being the best isn’t measured in the number of books I sell — although it would be nice to sell a boatload of books. But that’s not the brass ring for me. It’s about being able to tell the best story I capable of telling. It’s about becoming a really good, and hopefully great, storyteller.

For me, being a storyteller isn’t about understanding the various genres that inhabit the literary world and adhering to their individual conventions. I see conventions as rules. Are they rules? Guidelines, maybe. But they feel like rules to me. While I’m pretty competent at following the rules. It’s been hard to abide by any of the literary genre conventions that have popped up in front of me.

Why should creativity and artistic expression operate within a box of rules or conventions? I’ve proven to myself and to my writing mentor time and again that following my gut instincts has served me well in my development as a writer. My instincts couldn’t give a shit about conventions. When I dive into the art of storytelling, the last thing I give a shit about is genre conventions or genre, for that matter.

The sign says ‘Go right.’ I spray paint the words ‘fuck you’ on the sign and go elsewhere. It’s not a blatant show of rebellion on my part. It’s just I can’t abide by it. My instincts won’t let me. There are people who thrive under conventions/rules. I’m not one of them. I know whatever I create by following conventions will be subpar. It won’t be the best I can do. I’ve tried. It hasn’t happened.

But leave me alone to focus on storytelling with the barest of rules — i.e. make sure the story has a beginning, a middle and an end and loaded with complex, interesting characters — and I will to explore, experiment and discover to me heart’s content. Free to create something I would be proud to have my name attached to.

It seems labels are necessary. For better or for worse. Labelling creativity shouldn’t be necessary. In fact, it’s harmful.

I was talking to a friend yesterday evening. I keep nagging him about going out for coffee and catching up since we seem to see each other every six weeks or so. A little more frequency would be nice. We talked about the label of ‘underground.’ He gets where I’m coming from as an artist, as a writer. In the important ways, we’re very much alike. He likes ‘underground’ as a label applied to me and my writing and the way I look at life. I like to it, too. A lot.

So, if you feel compelled to label me because you don’t know what to make of me or my work, label me underground. I won’t bite your head off for calling me that. I’ll thank you if I’m in a good mood.

Ultimately, underground just means I am being me.