Monday, September 20, 2010

Writing in My Sleep

Have I mentioned My Novel? Well, there is one--actually there are four or five--and it has me in its thrall. This book started a decade ago. I distinctly remember its inception because I was in Manhattan on 9-11, and just before that event, I had come up with one of those irresistible What Ifs. I have poked along, put it away, played at it, and generally been a desultory, no, a scared-stiff-I-don't know what I'm doing-novelist. All of this in spite of having two completed and gathering dust, and another two sort of planned and started. But this particular story kept calling me back, and this summer I got serious about finishing it. As of this moment I have over 50,000 words on paper, the first nineteen chapters revised and a fairly clear path to the final scene. I have the final scene drafted, so I can see that famous light at the end.

Here's what's happening: I'm writing in my sleep. Not retrievable prose, nothing so lucky as that. But I woke in the middle of the night last night with the clear feeling that I was narrating something in past tense. I don't dream in past tense. So my question is this: if dreaming in a second language is a mark of fluency, is writing in my dreams also a mark of progress? Is this immersion changing my brain? I think it is. And given that my novel is one of magical realism, I may be in for an interesting ride.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Beetle Wings

About twice a month five Colorado women meet at someone's home, drink tea or coffee, eat a little something and talk at random. Gradually a topic develops, an idea or an experience that gels and becomes the "assignment" for twenty minutes of free writing. These women call themselves Pentangles, for the five pointed star that has been a symbol of many things, for these five the connections among them. By now you have surmised that I am one of these women. And here is part of what came from yesterday's prompt, an appeal for each of us to write something using as much specificity as we could. Here--lightly edited--is my offering for Ellen, Marcia, Dianne and Bonnie (who could not be with us yesterday).

Shining green beetle wings hang from Dianne's ears, match each other and the lush jungle of her blouse, bringing a bit of South America to Ellen's Colorado kitchen. Instead of beetle song, I hear the teakettle rattle and the drone of yet another P3 firefighting plane headed for the Fourmile Canyon wildfire with a load of sticky red slurry. What comfort is there for the people of Boulder County evacuated from their homes, not able to sit at a sturdy table, sip tea sweetened with honey, and write for the pleasure of it? For some, their houses burned, their tables have been shrunk to black ash, stinking and smoldering.

The beetle wings, jeweled and iridescent, are a luxury in a smoky world, a momentary relief from thinking about fire and the fear that any home may one day disappear, that this welcoming house could fall in on itself, taking with it cherished books and paintings. That a bright red and yellow child's lawn chair could melt in fierce heat. There--another plane, fading, until all I hear is the scratch of pen and pencils on paper, the fragile, exquisite safety of this group, four women free to write, one of us wearing beetle-wing earrings.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Your Next Assignment

Write 415 pages about a former CIA agent, wheelchair bound, putting in on the coast of Turkey to deliver 2000 contraband gas masks to civilians. No? Too weird? Not for Tom Robbins, but then I can scarcely think of a plot twist that would be too weird for him. So, you're off the hook. In fact, you cannot use this scene because he already did in Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates. This is not a new book, came out in 2000, but I read as books fall into my hands, and this one fell, really, into my hands when I recently moved my books into a new bookcase. "Hah, didn't know I owned this one."

One of the several things I admire about Robbins is his devotion to his own concept of the novel. We have landfills full of books about spies who lie, steal, torture, and get killed. The pace is fast and the depth--well, you don't need boots to get from here to there in many of them. Robbins, though, goes deep. He not only makes room for big ideas, but embraces them, expands them, sets them free. All the thoughty stuff slows the pace, yes, but the language does a fandango and the thinking stretches the mind. He constructs a novel out of big blocks of idealism. Like Carl Hiaasen, Robbins preaches by example about the rot in our society--ecological, political, moral, and financial. He does it in this novel by having his wacko ex-spy, Switters, live these perils, dive into them, resist them, all the while displaying, no, flaunting, his own weaknesses--sex, drugs, and Broadway show tunes.