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I’m not a punctuation nerd

2018-01-19T16:29:55+00:00 December 19th, 2017|

I’m not a punctuation nerd going on and on about the interrobang‽,, but I’m still looking for a solution to this need for digressions. The {fancy brackets} are too fancy. They remind me of 1950s illustrations of the Gay Nineties (the Mary Poppins/Music Man aesthetic). I don’t like those. I have a memory of staring at a sign for the Giant Food (a supermarket chain in Baltimore, where I’m from) done in those turquoise stripes and florid script and feeling a crawling sensation in my stomach. Not as bad as Mock Tudor (I hate Mock Tudor! For no discernible reason), but still there, cold and remote.

So more about my NaNoWriMo project: The guiding ethos of NaNoWriMo is that you’re committed to slightly less than 2,000 words a day, and if you stick to that, even if you do it Atlanta Nights-style, you’ll have something by the end of the month. And once you’ve faced down the terror of completing a novel, the next one will go more quickly. So I plunged in. It’s hard to write 2,000 a day. My limit on a pre-plotted, lay-the-bricks genre book (like a romance – yes, I have written romances) is 1,000 a day. My limit on something personal and avant-garde, at a pace where I’m happy to massage each sentence into something I really like, is 500. Stephen King I ain’t. (Or Corín Tellado, who wrote over 4000 published novellas and short stories. Doing my CV this year I was chuffed to discover I’d published 32 short stories but I got nothing on Señora Tellado.)

A word about Atlanta Nights – it’s a farce novel put together by the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America, which, even if you’re not a SF or fantasy writer, they should be on your radar because they do tremendous advocacy for all writers, including on-line templates for correct manuscript formats and Writers Beware, an ongoing database for unethical publishers, agents, and contests to avoid. To prove that vanity press PublishAmerica (since reborn as America Star Books) was not a legitimate publisher, they submitted an exquisite corpse of a novel, with each chapter written by authors and non-authors, to see if it would pass the publisher’s self-stated exacting standards. The full PDF is available online at the Writer Beware site, and I do have to say, it is not appallingly written – it sounds like good writers trying to write poorly – but there is chapter 34, which was put together from an algorithm and includes deathless, Joyce-ian prose like “Once she got reason to talk with the big toe with him.” and “He paused for two weeks, how it felt to actually harm the saris sometimes had once dated the fridge.” Maybe it will be rediscovered as a Dadaist masterpiece, in the same way William S. Burroughs was inspired by the last words of Dutch Schultz.

Here’s the thing: I’m actually a novelist. I’ve written several novels, and if I’m going to write another one, I’m going to make it a “real” one. I’ve only got so many novels in me before I keel over and I’m not going to waste a month of writing on a “whatever” one. But the valuable thing about doing NaNoWriMo, with its emphasis on go, go, go, is that I saw the merit of writing to find the answer. My previous way of  working was to lay on the floor and stare at the ceiling and talk out loud, sometimes in my character’s voices, to find the next way out that I could bridge the beginning I loved, with all its excitement, and the ending I already saw coming. (It’s like that episode of South Park, with the elves stealing everyone’s underwear. That’s how I plot my novels: Step one, steal underwear, step two, ????, step three: profit!) But writing can do that. You will surprise yourself, and not just in the way lazy creative writing teachers make everyone take out paper and pencil and say “Just write non-stop for two minutes.” After you’ve done this in a few different classes as a get-to-know-you, you end up writing “I’m not doing this fucking exercise ever again.” But choosing a parameter for writing is incredibly freeing. I never finished that novel but I’m going to share another chapter from it because I’m proud of the way trusting the way my fingers went – something I’ve never done before — actually turned into something I’m proud of. One more chapter:

NINE OF CUPS          1989

Frederick’s closes at nine. She hooks the gate with the tall stick, pulls it down tr-rr-rr-rr-rr-rr halfway until she can grab the lip in her manicured hands. The scars are still tight and the pain is bright in her armpit. She winces, and favors her left. She’s still leaning down Crenshaw, leaning until she sees her reflection in empty storefront windows and straightens up. I don’t look half bad, she thinks, and her frosted lip twists at the wit. The right breast is still numb and solid in her chest. It won’t ever feel real but she’s at peace. Cars are content on the road. They don’t speed in LA. They’re cud-chewers, happy cows. If she’s never inside one of them, never steering with her knees again, that might be okay. No matter what the doctor says. No matter what the judge says. No matter. There’s no matter in space, she thinks, no matter between the stars. The bus stop is at <street1> and <street2>. It’s still light in September. Empty space between her and the road, her and the cars. Empty space between the white WALK men on each side of the street. They’ll never meet, never marry. Empty space between her and the persimmon tree. She touches the bark. There is empty space between them, but neither she nor the tree are empty space. She bends at the foot of the persimmon tree, growing and growing and plopping its sweet fruit the color of McDonald’s booths down on the ground, hitting hard on concrete, still spilling fructose until the package it’s in rots. She puts one hand on her reconstructed breast and one into the roots. There’s a persimmon there, sticky and fragrant. LA is her home. She’s plastic and fructose, she’s alive, she’s okay. She squeezes.