Category Archives: Ian McEwan

Spastic Conversations of the Writerly Mind

Let me tell you what happened to me the other night, after many crazy days and hours editing my MS. I realized my characters were spazzing all over the pages. Yes, you heard me correctly. They were dialogue-tagging themselves into epileptic fits of nodding, shrugging, and head-cocking. Their eyebrows had taken on bestial lives of their own–furrowing and rising and falling all over my characters’ faces in alarming ways. And their hands–don’t get me started–their hands rubbed, chafed, caressed, and squeezed themselves and others into frenzied desires, while their legs shuffled in embarrassment.

“This is ridiculous!” I told myself, rubbing my aching eyes, furrowing my caterpillar brows. I stormed over to my bookcase (because, you see, my characters were in fits of overly-active verbs, as well, Poor Dears), and like a tornado, I swept my favorite books off the shelves, whirling them around to the beat of eighties-era heavy metal, for the purpose of discovering one truth: Did the characters in my favorite novels act in the same violent, spastic ways as my characters were acting?

It happened that, amongst other hardier novels, I had blown an Ian McEwan book off the shelf and onto the table where I had been pounding anxiously like so much driven rain on my keyboard all day. I opened McEwan’s book. I paged through it, searching for dialogue and action. And then I kept thumbing. And then I thumbed some more. By the end, I thumbed my nose at my favorite author, for there was no dialogue until, oh, about page fifty. When I saw the quotation marks, I realized the characters were finally talking to each other, rather than thinking deeply about the world, the times, and their respective situations. I sighed in relief, the storm spent.

And what do you think I discovered? McEwan’s characters did not go into spastic fits, even though they were finally talking! They whispered to each other quietly, and then they stopped talking for another fifty or so pages–as they pondered those few whispered lines and what they meant–what the hidden meaning of the words could be. Would she really go to bed with him? he ruminated. Would she? Could she, damn it?! 

This writer banged her head against the table and muttered, “Writing is all just words. It’s all just words on the page.” And then she began to nod and cock her head and shrug her shoulders in the worst way. Her hands caressed her face, the table, the McEwan novel. Her fingers pointed and lurched into crude gestures she didn’t know the meaning of (um, actually she did, I’m sorry to say). And then she, in the throes of her fever, whispered quietly to herself, “Will I go to bed now? Will I? Can I, damn it?!”

And her answer was yes. Oh, what a relief. Good night.

p.s. The image is a visual representation of my ravaged mind.

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Let’s Have a Conversation About Places of the Imagination

The title to this post is my poem for today.  I would actually prefer to have a conversation with you that doesn’t involve verse.

Here’s a question for you: Do you write on location, or do you rely on memory and imagination?  I’ve been thinking about this because I am currently writing my serious, to-be-published-someday novels in the middle of the desert, even though they are set at the Oregon coast.  Even though I used to live in North Bend, OR, the coast in my novels is a place of the imagination, and I like it that way.

I don’t think I could write a story that was set in my little town in the desert.  As it is, I’m pushing my own limits by writing a New Mexico Noir here on this blog.  If I hadn’t chosen Albuquerque as a backdrop, I might already be bored with it.  Albuquerque, you see, is a place of the imagination for me, since I don’t live there.  The city has retained its mysteries and magical elements, despite the fact that rarely a month passes that I don’t drive up there.

The key, I think, is for me to be familiar enough with the setting in order to capture its essence, without viewing the local color, the flora and fauna, through my humdrum day-to-day filter that blocks out important details. 

Here’s another one: Do you appreciate books that take you far away from your own world?  Many of my readers either write or read historical fiction.  Some enjoy fantasy.  I will read almost any genre of book, but I have a special place in my heart for travel memoir.  Through this genre, I have traveled all over the world, and my wanderings have caused me no heartache or heartburn, no language barriers, nor any fuss at all.  Yet, the magic of fascinating places has filled my imagination.  Currently, I’m reading Julia Child’s My Life in France and Daphne Phelps’s A House in Sicily.  For fiction, I’m reading Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, which transports me to England in the 1960s and Colm Toibin’s The Heather Blazing, which is a narrative that is primarily set in modern-day Ireland.

I also enjoy ditching Europe and traveling to India and China and Mexico.

What books are you currently reading, or have read, that spark your imagination?

Finally, what are you writing right now, and what is the status of your book?  Personally, I have one book–set in North Bend Oregon–that has been with an agent for nearly three months.  I’m writing another book that is set against the backdrop of this same rainy, weather-beaten place.  I’d like to tell a story of more exotic areas of the world, but the truth is I’ve never actually been off the North American continent–except in my imagination.  Sigh.

Someday, I’ll become an actual world traveler.  I’m almost positive the heartburn will be worth it.  Meanwhile, time for bed and dreams of an imaginary Sicily.

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Summer is Over and School is Starting . . .

I have been in a black mood for days. There doesn’t seem to be a reason for it, except that I feel lost. I’m in between projects, and I’m still trying to summon the courage to send out those queries. My excuse is that I haven’t written the perfect query, not yet, but when I do . . .

I’m also waiting for a box of books and school materials to arrive via the big, brown jolly truck. There’s something exciting and even satisfying about a package, even if I know exactly what’s inside it.

I know; I know. I’m supposed to work on my new book while marketing the last. It’s not that I haven’t started a new book; I haven’t started marketing. After 11 pages into the new manuscript, I stopped working on it and thought about marketing Franklin’s Ladder. Why am I always so afraid? Why can’t I just do it?

Meanwhile, I’m reading Atonement and wishing I could write as well as Ian McEwan.

An hour and a half later, I’m adding that the New Mexico sky is capable of dissipating any feelings of frustration, black moods, etc. Throughout the first three days of this week, clouds and drizzly rain dominated the desert. On the fourth day, what felt like a coastal wind washed over the cactus and mesquite, and then, the sun and heat took control once again.

The sky, here, is enormous. The blue is so intense, and I can’t imagine any sky being as blue, though I haven’t traveled many places. The usual desert wind, dry and hot, is blowing my tomato plants and rippling the carrot tops, and the drooping sunflower heads are so heavy that they simply nod.

I love feeling the sun burn my skin, and I love to look up at the sky. A housewife’s (as well as a writer’s) life has cyclical phases of extreme busy-ness, and then it will slow to almost nothing except daily activities such as feeding children. I should learn to appreciate the laziness, rather than allowing it to aggravate me.

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