DDsE: Easier Except for Being Harder

Back in 2008 or so, when serialized fiction returned to vogue, I decided it wasn’t for me as a reader or a writer. I mean, I don’t even like Dickens, probably the most famous serial writer of all time.

The latest wave of serial authors seemed to publish with little or no editing. No, thanks! I want to read your best – not your first – writing.

Many writers will tell you that editing is the most important part of writing. I’ve always been in that camp. I edit my own novels heavily. This painful tedious work yields little of the satisfaction of writing but almost always improves my drafts.

And yet.

There’s no denying the power of spontaneous ideas, nor the impacts of intuition. All my best ideas materialize, simply and suddenly. Perhaps I tap the unconscious and they rise up. Perhaps they drop from the wild blue. I include countless spontaneous ideas in my novels but I’ve never let them steer a project – until now.

A few months ago, I was miserable about my writing or lack thereof. I’d been editing the second book in the FRAMES series for what felt like forever. Weird about that. Even in rough draft, I knew Book 2, Nica of the New Yorks, was stronger than Book 1 – and I’m quite proud of Book 1, Nica of Los Angeles. Yet Book 2’s editing was interminable. No wonder, when so many pages went like this:

editing

Edits to a page of Nica of the New Yorks (Frames Book 2)

No matter how many words you change, though, editing doesn’t feel like writing; and as the editing went on, the way I missed writing became as physical as a toothache. But I couldn’t risk starting a new project that might derail or distract me. For the foreseeable future, finishing FRAMES is my main event.

Meanwhile, I became a fan of an amazing improv comedy group, The Improvised Shakespeare Company, which invents 2-hour plays on the fly. Watching those plays inspired me to write more improvisationally. I began writing short bits (about 300 words) daily. For the first time, I wrote without planning or conscious knowledge of the story, characters, themes, format, or genre. Just let it go and see where it takes you.

The writing was joyful and easy at first. But as the installments added up, I realized I liked them. A lot. Then a varied group of beta readers responded with enthusiasm — and the stakes changed. Suddenly the outcome became important. I wanted to stop and plan, I caught myself pausing to ponder. I wasn’t stuck, mind you, but I had begun to fear mis-steps. My conscious mind was trying to regain control, to follow the usual procedures, make a map to a destination.

But I’m not ready to end the experimental wandering. So I’m forcing renewed focus on the journey, not the endpoint. My experiment has become DDsE, a young adult paranormal horror romance. Each installment is a diary entry by Ella, a 16-year-old who despises her life until two mysterious allies enter it: a strange boy with a dangerous family and a feral cat that seems to get inside Ella’s head.

And now I’d better get back to writing DDsE. I’m very concerned about where I left Ella yesterday…

Advertisements

Improv/Stage Review: Improvised Shakespeare Company

I’m not good with live theater. I watch with underlying tension – afraid the actors will commit some bigtime flub that they won’t be able to rescue.

No, I have never witnessed such an event – although I have witnessed actors exchanging meaningful subtle glances — doesn’t that sound terrifying?

No, I don’t know why I care – but I do care, and have for years. It’s like being afraid that someone else will dream he’s back in high school and can’t remember his locker combination.

Perversely and/or because of all this, there is one stage event that I attend as often as I can: performances of The Improvised Shakespeare Company (ISC).

Every ISC show starts the same. Five guys walk onto a bare stage, the audience shouts phrases, the troop’s founder selects one of those phrases and it becomes the play’s title: the five guys make up a 1.5-2 hour play, using the style, themes, locales, situations of Shakespeare. No props, no costumes, no intermissions. And as the founder promises, they make up characters on the spot, they learn no lines, “… and if ever you are wondering where the story is going, so are we.”

During a show, the ISC wordplay and inventiveness are staggering. Also, I love the way the troop enjoys what the other guys come up with. And the ways they extricate from the jams they get into (for example, they each play multiple characters, and sometimes they have to play scenes with themselves). I’m impressed at how convincing their settings and characters can be. They play girls, old coots, servants, nobility, soldiers, merchants; in castles, on rivers, on turrets, in town squares.

They are frequently raunchy, which most in the audience seem to prefer. Sometimes that raunch gets a little easy/obvious, but you never know where they will take an idea. As might have been predicted, “As You Lick It” got pretty dirty, yet “Brothello” had an innocent sweetness, while “Straight Outta Venice” was just plain goofy (beware the suspended pickle jars).

ISC is a stand-up comedy troop from Chicago (although some of their players live and work in Los Angeles). Lucky for me, they perform monthly at Largo-at-the-Coronet, a small wonderful venue where I’m a regular. When I visited Chicago, I saw the Chicago troop perform and – based on that single night – I prefer the Los Angeles troop, but who knows where another night may have led.

ISC tours, and seems to be expanding those tours. They play frequently in New York. Watch for them. Go see them. You can read reviews and you can watch You-Tube videos but none of that will capture the essence of the live show.

If you do get to see them, let me know what you think! You might react like my daughter, who was put off by the audience’s enthusiasm and overall couldn’t get into it: “I can see they’re geniuses and all but – meh.” Or you might react like me, and line up your tickets months in advance.

I am grateful to The Improvised Shakespeare Company. They make me laugh out loud, repeatedly; such laughter is one of the great treats of being alive.

In addition, ISC has inspired me to write improvisationally. I’ve got a new piece of fiction, DDsE, that I am writing by adapting their stage constraints: 300 words per day, don’t plan it, don’t rework it, just write and keep going. I don’t know where it is headed or what eventual format it will be (novella? scripted video? comic book?) but, some 50 segments into it, I am jazzed about the results. More about DDsE soon…

 

 

Shadow Worlds

Which came first, the idea or my belief in it? I’m not sure. I am deep into writing of the second novel in the FRAMES series, in which seemingly inanimate objects like books and buildings are sentient beings. And – guess what? Everywhere I look I see objects that appear to be more than objects.

Is this a new perspective? Or did I always see things this way but have no reason to think twice about it? Certainly, I’ve always been fascinated by shadows and reflections and silhouettes – their ability to reproduce while distorting, maintaining the familiar within the strange.

Case in point. Below is a staircase banister at the Egyptian Theater, a deco movie palace in Hollywood, CA. In silhouette, the banister’s reptilian underpinnings become apparent. I see a head in profile, facing right. The iris bisects an eye that narrows to a point, into an elongated snout that slopes down and to the right, out of frame…

EgyptianStairsphoto

You see that too, right?

Right?

How about this one? The ocean has carved creatures in this eroded beach wall. You see this furry guy with the long nose, right?:

2013-11-03 15.17.43

In this post-apocalyptic sunset, the creatures line up looking frail:

EerieSeawall

You see them, right?

This WP Weekly Photo Challenge was Silhouettes.

Java Joints in Space

Today’s WordPress prompt says: NASA is building a new Voyager spacecraft that will carry the best of modern human culture. What belongs onboard?

That spacecraft must have onboard a small independent coffee house.  In this coffee house, the menu should be handwritten, few of the wooden chairs and tables can match, and the room must be oddly shaped, with  unexpected nooks and cubbies. There should be local art on the walls (photographs by astronauts?). There may sometimes be live music or other performances.

Interior of the Espresso Bar, Pasadena, CA. Photo by Maury Cohen.

Interior of the Espresso Bar, Pasadena, CA. This wonderful photo by Maury Cohen really captures some of the essence of that place.

Certain tables will be consistently occupied by regulars: an assortment of neighborhood oddballs, artists, teens, activists, and seekers. It will be easy to join the conversations of strangers, and even easier to dissolve into the woodwork if that is what you prefer. The music will be obscure, worth hearing, and too loud. At least one of the workers will become your instant sibling; however, another must be haughty enough to make you rethink a tip.

In some ways, this java joint will be like thousands of others, and yet deeply distinctive.  In fact, I can easily picture all the coffee houses I’ve loved over the years. Despite so many features in common, each is unique, with its own culture, look, and attitude.

Motto at the Unurban, Santa Monica, CA.

Motto at the Unurban, Santa Monica, CA. They did, in fact, serve me decaf, and quite graciously, too.

In coffee houses I’ve written and rewritten novels, fallen in and out of love, dreamed my biggest dreams, escaped my worst problems. I’ve changed my attitude about many a town based on the quality or absence of its coffee houses. Where I live and work nowadays, I’m sorry to report I’ve got nothing but Starbucks and Peet’s. Hey, I like those places – and Starbucks has more than once been an oasis while traveling – but they aren’t coffee houses. They’re predictable, staged, repetitive. Not coffee houses.

Entrance to the Espresso Bar, Pasadena. Brilliant photo by Ted Soqui.

Entrance to the Espresso Bar, Pasadena. Brilliant photo by Ted Soqui.

Let me know if you’ve got a coffee house in your neck of the woods. If I’m ever in the neighborhood, I will want to stop by!

Images from:

Tapping My Inner Hermit

The view from my cave.

The current internal view from my cave.

I have always liked being alone, and I am good at it. The one aspect of being a parent that was tough on me was all those years with so little alone time. These last few weeks, recuperating from surgery, with nowhere to go and nothing required of me except laying around, I have had more alone time than I have had in decades. I went through a bad patch at the start of the second week – OMG this is interminable –  but then I settled in. I’m reading a lot, writing a lot, and just — hanging out: petting the cats, patting the dog, pondering the hummingbirds in the garden, walking at sunrise and sunset. Now it’s jarring when the phone rings or a text arrives or a friend visits, as I spiral ever deeper into solitude.

Somehow I’ve managed to avoid most of my usual worrying and planning, which has allowed me to feel downright peaceful. I probably have to credit post-op lassitude for much of this accomplishment (and initially, heavy meds), although I have occasionally practiced some of the techniques I’ve recently learned at Al-Anon.

Having no required thoughts or agenda has been fertile as well as productive for my new novel. The ideas are flowing from all directions, at all times. I’d forgotten what that was like!

All in all, my post-op phase has been the ultimate in staycations. Tune in next week, when I phase back into work, set the alarm clock, and resume driving, to see how long the peace lasts.

Image courtesy of …

The Daily Prompt: The Normal – Pack Response

images

Do wolves get bored? Read on to find out.

I’m not much interested in normal. To me, normal is

  • average
  • typical
  • commonplace
  • predictable
  • unimaginative.

However, normal is also

  • fitting in.

On dark days, I feel like everybody else knows the rules but nobody thought to let me know. Even then, though, I don’t want to go normal, I just want to be better informed.

This reminds me of one of my favorite pieces of writing – ever! – composed by my sister in 2nd grade:

One day the wolf was strolling along with the pack
I am not satisfied he said will I have to run around with this pack all my life
So he left he came to a forest he got to a desert
He lay down in the middle he was dying of thirst
Oh he thought if only I had stayed

(This post topic comes from The Daily Prompt.)

Writer’s Block: The Freedom of Chains

I’ve been reading what a great variety of writers have said about how they approach writer’s block, everyone from Norman Mailer to Maya Angelou. The sentiment seems pretty evenly divided between chain your butt to the chair and get the damn job done and when I can’t write it is my subconscious sending me a message.

Many writers have a hybrid perspective and that is the one that resonates with me. I need discipline to get beyond rote results: chain your butt to the chair so that your subconscious can soar free.