Archive for July, 2010

My biggest challenge over the last year or so has been writing my novel.  While the process has been complicated by my fight with depression and the ongoing drama that is unemployment, it has largely been a tedious creep toward finality akin to the restoration of a fine tapestry.  Not to say that my novel has any of the merits of some of the incredible works of weaving history, but that I’m having to carefully piece new to old in such a manner that it appears seamless.

You see, the story has been with me since junior high school.  It first lived on about seven pieces of notebook paper as a skeletal short story and spawned several equally thin sequels.  My currant male protagonist didn’t even show up until the second story.  Then, sometime after film school, it progressed into a screenplay, becoming only marginally more fleshed out in the process, now closer to a badly decomposed zombie than a skeleton.  By necessity, screenplays are little more than short stories while in the written form.  The real flesh and blood comes from the collaborative process of movie making, the director, actors, producers, all adding their own unique contribution, ending up with the whole being greater than the sum of the parts.  (At least, that’s what we writers hope.)

So when I went to begin the process of novelization, there was still a lot missing.  A bare bones story line with one-dimensional characters and little reason for them to all play together.  I began by taking the screenplay scene by scene and transcribing it into prose, managing to add just a tad more to the corpse.  Once done with that, I had about a slim novella.  Then I sat down and took a hard look at what I had and compared it to what I wanted and what I’ve read in other books.  I also pulled out the notes I had from the script doctor I’d sent the screenplay to a few years ago.  One of the few I’ve met that I actually liked, he had some very good questions and comments about what I was trying to do, being constructive in his criticism instead of just bashing my writing.  (Had one many years ago declare that the only reason I wrote strong female characters who carried guns was because I had penis envy.  Yeah, that was constructive.  NOT!!)

And that’s when the hard work started.  When someone picks up a novel, they want to be lost in the world contained within, and so that world has to have all the believability of the one we live in everyday.  The characters have to be real people, with quirks, tempers, desires, idiosyncrasies, just like the rest of us.  There has to be a reason for them to be who they are and where they are.  They have to have life and love and wonder, and the world they inhabit has to have just a rich a history as ours.  Even if the reader never sees it in its entirety on the page, the writer has to figure out all those little pieces.

Now, some writers will spend untold hours answering all those questions before they ever write a word of the actual story.  J.R.R. Tolkien was one of those.  Others, like Stephen King, will start with just a “what if?” situation and see where it takes them.  Either way is equally valid, especially if the final result is something we all want to read.  I tend to fall somewhere in between the two, so when it came to working on the novel, I realized I didn’t have all the pieces I wanted.  I had to retro-engineer a little more flesh to my characters, a little more support to my story, and piece it all into the existing words without so much as a comma out of place.

That’s why it’s like restoring a tapestry.  Each individual thread has to be seamlessly matched and entwined with its neighbor so no one would ever know there was a hole.  As I add character details or fill in the back story, they have to fall into place in the existing framework as if they had been there all along.  Not an easy task under the best of circumstances, and even more challenging when your characters take over the writing, as they inevitably do.

So here I trudge along at about 250 words a day, realizing that, at that pace, I probably have about four months more of work before I can start thinking about who to foist this thing on for review and commentary.  After which I can polish it and start sending out those lovely query letters we writers so despise (it’s tough to be a reclusive creative depressive and then turn around and be an energetic marketing manager).  With luck, spring of next year will bring me good news from a publisher.

Until then, I slowly make my way to the finish line, hoping I’m not leaving a slimy trail, and looking forward to the next project.  It’ll be so much easier starting from scratch.

© 2010   Cheri K. Endsley.  All Rights Reserved.

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There were a number of reasons for doing this blog:  trying to develop discipline as a writer;  sharing my experiences as a middle-aged, unemployed fat woman working on a new career and getting not-so-fat in the hopes of helping/inspiring others; keeping friends and relatives updated without actually having to talk to them.  The usual stuff.

What I ended up with is cathartic expressionism; rage against the political machine; shouting at the devil; and the occasional post that actually makes sense, on a haphazard schedule.  That whole discipline thing is still a work in progress.

In looking back at what I’ve done so far, too much of it radiates my emotional state of mind, namely, depression.  Given what I am, it’s not exactly a surprise, but I was hoping as part of the exercise to try and develop a more neutral tone, and to find humor in my situation.  Something in the vein of Erma Bombeck or Dave Berry.  Sadly, and probably not surprisingly, I’m not coming anywhere close to the five-year-old down the street with his fart jokes, let alone those two stalwarts of humorous commentary.

There are people in this world who just seem to have a knack at seeing the absurd in the ordinary, the funny in the sad or the pratfall in the tragedy.  I grew up listening to life’s observations from Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, George Carlin, Robin Williams and Richard Pryor.  From trips to the dentist, budget airlines, heart attacks, drug abuse and even setting oneself on fire, those guys were able to give us a laugh even in the midst of the most mundane or the most troubling settings.  Their wits are light years ahead of the rest of us, and sometimes I just look at the dust they left me (and most of the rest of us) behind in and can’t help but be awed.

My humor is limited to a handful of musician or lawyers jokes, repeating Monty Python movie lines as if they were religious mantras, and watching the Muppets.  My husband introduced me to Pinky and the Brain so I can claim understanding most of that as well, but it came to me late in life and thus didn’t have any influence on my humor function’s growth.  And, most of today’s comedy just doesn’t work for me.  As the old joke goes, I’d say it’s sophomoric but that would be insulting to sophomores everywhere.  Talking about your “ho” in a sentence filled more with graphic expletives than actual words or making a movie that’s basically just one disgusting bodily-function-gone-awry scene after another is not my idea of humor.  Being rude, insulting, prejudicial or hurtful to other people is not funny.  Making poignant observations about the human condition in such a way that we all see ourselves mirrored in the story, while also showing us the absurdities of how we live, now that’s funny.

So today’s exercise is to try and find the funny in my life.  Not exactly an easy task, given that it seems my life is presently a perfect storm of disaster headed for the brink of a cliff.  But if Richard Pryor can laugh at almost burning himself to death, and get us to laugh with him, then there’s got to be something I can tap into for my own little drink of silliness.

Having animals would make for some easy pickings, if mine ever actually did anything.  The dogs don’t even know how to play fetch, fer cryin’ out loud.  Husbands are usually good for a few laughs, too, but the one thing about mine that really makes me laugh can’t be discussed in a public forum.  The cars work fine, the neighbors are boring, and my friends would probably kill me if I ratted them out on anything.

So that leaves me, and, sorry, but I just ain’t funny.  I can write good stories, play several musical instruments, build things out of wood, weave and sew and embroider, and can  organize the hell out of your office, but making you laugh isn’t in my programming.  The best I can do is try to be less of a depressive while standing on my soapbox beating my chest, raging against the machine.

I am writer:  hear me mew.

© 2010   Cheri K. Endsley.  All Rights Reserved.

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