Treasure trove of revelations

It usually helps me write by reading – somehow the reading gear in your head turns the writing gear — Steven Wright

Last Monday, my research material for the short-story-turned-novel arrived. I can’t remember if there was ever a time I was this excited to do research. Each book, each item I took out of the cardboard box I deemed a treasure trove of revelations waiting to be discovered.

I can tell you my two main characters were excited, too. They’re reading the research along with me. I don’t notice them until I come across an interesting tidbit that intrigues them and one or both of them immediately enact an idea for me. No warning whatsoever. Just — BOOM. It’s so easy for them to tear me away from whatever I’m doing.

Fortunately, any moment/idea they play out for me lasts roughly a minute. And I take another minute to absorb their idea. Then I give them the side-eye and ask if that’s something they want to explore. They give me one of two responses — shrug and say it wouldn’t hurt to see if the idea has merit to the narrative, or they give me an enthusiastic ‘Hell yes!” They know I have final veto on an idea but we hash it out and make sure we’re all in agreement on any given idea/concept.

Since receiving the research material, I have made it a point to set aside a minimum of a hour a day to go through it. It’s kinda nice to purposefully set aside time to read. The book worm in me had missed it. The subject matter is beyond interesting. I admit I haven’t made time to read for the pure pleasure of it. But this is a start. I’m also thinking that reading non-fiction might be the only way for me to make time to read. There are certain genres of fiction I undoubtedly make time to read. But beyond those genres, I’m hard-pressed to make a concerted commitment to read for pleasure’s sake.

There was a time I would read anything. I was much younger back then, had fewer responsibilities and fewer distractions. Maybe I’m picky. Maybe I just have more interests vying for my attention.

All this research is going to be a boon for the short-story-turned-novel. Already there are little details I want to change, include and/or consider. I am genuinely excited about this. There is much that will influence how the story will evolve. This will give my characters a more rounded portrait of who they are at the beginning of the story and where they will end up at its conclusion. I have a couple of different endings in mind for them. But as I go through all the research material, I believe a new idea or two on ways to end the story may reveal themselves to me.

A treasure trove of revelations. I love it.

Too big to contain

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing — Benjamin Franklin 

Turns out the short story I finished a couple of weeks ago is worth turning into a novel. This is what my writing mentor pointed out after reading it last week. He loves the story. Thinks it’s great. He did mention it was a little too long to be short story and probably too much good material to trim down without hurting it. I’m not surprised.

In my previous attempts to write a short story, I tended to write a little too long but the content was such that it couldn’t be edited down to a manageable length without fucking up the story. I had not made a real attempt until now to try again. However, I did write something that gave it a short story feel for my mentor. But, it wasn’t a short story. It was a scene for a future novel. Clearly, that novel is going to have to sit on the back burner again. Or I figure out how to juggle two novels (where the themes are quite different even though there may be shared characteristics) at the same time.

Anyway, because my mentor once thought I had written a short story when it really wasn’t, I figured maybe I could consciously try writing a short story again. So much for that idea. I didn’t quite succeed, again. But it wasn’t wasted effort. Writer Colum McCann described the short story as an imploding universe whereas a novel had shrapnel going all over the place. It seems my long short story has plenty of shrapnel flying off its pages, and I haven’t really spent all the artillery yet. There is plenty sitting in the reserves. So, after a couple of email exchanges with my mentor, I have another novel to work on.

In the grand scheme of things, I did say I wasn’t done playing with the two main characters. Although for some reason, the concept of a novel never popped into my head until the suggestion was made to me. Maybe I was a little too focussed to seriously consider it.

My two characters are pleased as punch that they get to play with a lot more pages. And the sandbox has magically become bigger yet again because I see there is a shack sitting in one corner of the sandbox. There’s a nice little fire pit, too. I’m sure a hammock will make an appearance in the next day or two. Clearly, they’re settling in for the long haul.

I’m not sure if you can tell that I’m thrilled to be turning the short story into a novel. Just to reiterate… I am thrilled. I always knew they were too big to contain within the parameters of a short story. I don’t even know why I tried. Now that the game has changed, there is research to do. There are four books to read and two films to watch. I’m sure the research list could become longer or more specific. One would not regard the four books as summer reading material. I anticipate that even though the subject matter is intense, going through the material shouldn’t be nightmarish.

I’m chomping at the bit to getting going with the reading since the material won’t be arriving at my door until later this week. For now, I’ll be determining what additional scenes I will need for the novel based on what I’ve written so far. Most of the scenes I’ve already written will be given the chance to ‘breathe’ and come into their own. There are other ‘bigger picture’ themes and concepts I have to write down on paper and formalize in my mind. Let’s call it my mission statement for this novel. They’re sitting in my head already so it should be painless putting it into words. Just like the second ‘work-in-progress’ novel, the writing process for this novel is completely different compared to The Raven Sonata. It’s evolving again. And it feels right.

I always thought turning one story idea into a novel you could hold in your hands was one hell of an achievement. And it was. It is. But coming up with a second story idea for a novel seems to be a nerve-wracking prospect until your brain cells rub up against each other and come up with something interesting. Quite honestly, I was excited I came up with a second idea for a novel. But the short story idea elbowed its way into my head giving me no other choice to follow it. I figured I would return to the second novel after writing the short story.

That was the intention until my two boys proved to be too hot to handle in a short story format. Working on a third novel wasn’t something I had imagined I would be doing. It was an accident. I just wanted to put my focus back on book #2. Oh well. This is starting to look like book #2 and book #3 will be swapping places in terms of which one becomes the next published novel. Right now, the hot hand goes to the boys. I gotta stick with them because they won’t leave me alone and I can’t stop thinking about them or their story.

We’re obsessed with each other. But in a good way.

Not letting go yet

The short story is an imploding universe. It has all the boil of energy inside it. A novel has shrapnel going all over the place. You can have a mistake in a novel. A short story has to be perfect — Colum McCann

Last week, I finished writing the first draft of my short story. But it’s still untitled. I always have this problem. I suck at story titles. Regardless, it will be my submission for the anthology the writing group I participate in is planning to put together and publish later this year.

Well, I hope it will be published later this year. Within the group, there are still stories to be written and logistics to be formally ironed out because everybody needs to be on a the same page when it comes to executing this project. Otherwise, we’ll end up in a quagmire of shit that will bog down the process.

Anyway, the normal reaction to completing something you’ve put your creative blood and energy into, is to be excited. Am I excited the first draft is done? Yes, but I’m not jumping up and down for joy. There is still more work to do. It’s only the first draft. I’m more relieved than excited. I was more excited during the writing process. It’s always about the journey, not the destination.

When I finished the first draft of The Raven Sonata, I knew I was done with the characters. There was nothing more to add to their story beyond the pages of the book. It was easy to let them go and have no regrets.

But I don’t think I’m done with the two main characters from the short story. When these two crash-landed into my writing sandbox, I instinctively knew they weren’t planning on leaving after the short story was written. It seems they have other stories they might want me to tell on their behalf. It doesn’t hurt that the three of us had a ton of intense fun together in the sandbox. I think I can do more with them. They like being around me and I like being around them. I can’t say goodbye to them yet.

While we make for a hair-raising threesome, I need them to wander off for a bit and make their own trouble while I return to the characters from the second novel I want to write. Maybe the only time I’ll hear from the two clowns will be the phone call they make asking me to bail them out of jail. Yep, they’re that kind of trouble.

Right now, I don’t know where they’ve wandered off to but I can still feel them. They can’t be too far away.

It’s going to be interesting switching gears and settling in with working on the second novel again while still dealing with whatever editing the short story might require. Nothing like a nimble workout for the mind considering how different the two writing projects are.

I’ll find out soon enough just how nimble my brain really is. This could be scary.