Friday, July 25, 2008

Posting My Imagined Cover

Surely if my novel is published the cover will be designed by somebody who hasn't even read the thing, but here's what I have in mind.

I won't explain it away, but I do want to say that the red bordering was, in a way, a joyous accident, because in Photoshop I was using the gradient tool (fading the crimson into the flesh color) and to blend the segments together I mistakenly used the smudge tool instead of the blur tool, giving the red this very smokey appearance that I love. It's harder to appreciate when the image is this small, but it looks to me like some ancient, bloody scrap of parchment.

Hell yeah.

And I'm back to chapter 1, revising. Very interesting experience. More later!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Progress Not Perfection

A few months ago I acquired a new neighbor at work --- an impossibly cordial faculty member who moved into the office down the hall upon his return from Ethiopia, where he spent twelve years completing a multi-million dollar project in public financial management. Thanks in part to the water cooler in my office, we've become friendly, and after learning about my exploits as a novelist, he astonished and humbled me with a gift: a copy of the book he was reading called Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer by Roy Peter Clark.

I require no tools or strategies, of course, having finished a novel (and that's if I ever required them). But I started reading, mostly out of politeness, and found that Clark himself writes with a fun yet practical zest that holds my interest. Also, the "tools" in question are very digestible, no more than 4-5 pages each. So I read one every few days.

Much to my surprise, I've already found ample use for all six of the tools I've read about thus far. Right now, for instance, I'm giving my last chapter a quick clean up so that I can read it to my therapist later this week (I have to read it to somebody). Within seconds of opening the document I found a paragraph that seemed poised for revision according to the "Fear not the Long Sentence" tool I had just finished reading about minutes before.

I have an aversion to long sentences. Nothing drives my flaky attention battier than some pompous author lacing his critically renowned and dry as hell novel with sentences that linger for dozens of words before approaching their point, leaving me stumbling through all their intellectual or subtly sarcastic asides, which seem intended to build some kind of micro-, sentence-level anticipation, but serve only to send me back to the beginning again and again, desperate to wrap my short-term memory around the whole of the blasted thing.

Thus, I'm only too happy to break up my prose into little candy bits. Probably to a fault. One of my friends and trusted editors politely observed that my writing was a bit "punchy," which at the time I took as a clear cut compliment.

Looking now at this paragraph in my last chapter, which consists of three blunt sentences screaming in chorus their desire to exist as one, I am reminded, yet again, that perfection in writing --- even perfection of your own subjective style --- is unobtainable. And isn't it a frustrating gift? Sometimes, as now, my evolution as a writer is so tangible I can be at once encouraged by the proof of progress and disappointed over my prior inadequacy.

No matter which of these emotions dominate, one thing is certain, which is that revision of my novel will benefit from a concurrent perusal of Writing Tools. I must again offer my gratitude to those who critique, even if indirectly, my writing, as Roy Peter Clark, and my neighbor at work who introduced us, have. My gratitude may start off bitter, but leaves, I hope, a pleasant aftertaste.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Taking a Break

...and isn't it sweet? It's not a total break, really. I'm taking some time to plan my excerpt reading. I've invited lots of people, picked the place, picked the chapter. This past Monday, after business hours when I had the office to myself, I closed my door and began reading aloud, expecting to find myself making lots of edits along the way.

As it turns out, the changes were minimal. Reading it aloud was fun; I really started getting into it, attempting to adopt the personas and tonalities of the different characters. Through the frosted glass I saw the shadow of a custodian passing back and forth in the office suite. At one point he knocked gingerly on my door, looking to collect the trash. He must have thought I was out of my mind.

The chapter won't acquaint my audience too much with any major characters apart from my hero (anti-hero? anti-superhero?), but there's a bevy of fun minor characters to play with. It consists primarily of two scenes, and I'm betting most people will be able to relate, on some level to both. On the whole the chapter doesn't require too much context to appreciate --- I really think I picked the right one.

A friend has graciously lent me her microphone and stand, plus amplifier. In between scenes, my plan is to take a break for bathroom trips, food ordering, and the "Guess the Word Length" contest, for which I have a prize for the winner. Only after that contest will I post the final length (of the first draft anyway) here. I also have some "pop quiz" questions about the first part and will award small novelty prizes for those who paid closest attention. This was inspired by my boy Chuck Palahniuk, who awards cheap plastic toys during Q&A to each audience member who asks a question. Thanks Chuck!

The stresses from two weeks ago have reduced dramatically, but not before getting way more intense --- between work issues, family issues, and a conversation at my lease signing that almost made my head explode, July 7 was the worst day I've had in the last two years. Blessedly, most of these tribulations resolved themselves quickly, so quickly in fact I can't believe how good I'm feeling now.

Oh, and I even designed a neat imagined cover for the book, which will go on the blog home page as soon as I've rewritten my first chapter (which will also go up).

And tonight, I'm going to see The Dark Knight at midnight on IMAX, which has nothing to do with anything except that I've been salivating for months over it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Draft Complete: I Have Written a Novel

Let it be written that on 8:16 pm, eastern time, on July 2, 2008, roughly four years after he first started, Jim Cooney completed a draft of his first novel. From this point forward, "I'm writing a novel," will instead be, "I've written a novel." There is plenty left to do, but it is now, without question, a novel. It has a beginning, it has a middle, and as of this moment, it has an end.

So, Jim, how do you feel? Thanks for asking. I feel enormously grateful. Grateful that I have had the freedom, the support and encouragement necessary to see this through to completion. Writing a novel, I've realized, is not just an undertaking. It's a blessing. A lot of stars need to be aligned to make it possible, and I'm very lucky to have had the opportunity.

Of course I'm relieved, but it's a tempered sort of relief. More than I thought anyway. Perhaps this is related, but I don't feel especially celebratory yet. Maybe that will settle in slowly. Or maybe I'll do a cartwheel the second I walk out the library door. But right now I feel drained.

Truthfully, this has been a very stressful week. For a month I've been heavily invested in searching for a new apartment that will be a good fit for the upcoming year, growing more uncertain of my living situation with each passing week. Yesterday, I received an e-mail from someone I care about deeply, who is very, very angry with me (probably she will be reading this). And today, I learned that my boss has misremembered our discussion regarding my workload capacity when I go part-time, such that her current impression is that I'll be doing 50 percent more work in half the allotted time.

All of these things, I have no doubt, will work out fine. In fact, one of them already has: I found a comfortable space to live in with three lovely new roommates. But these things lumping together has made them difficult to process all at once, and my nerves are frayed. When I go several days without writing, consumed by errands piling up, or distracting life events, I get a little depressed. And when it happens so close to the conclusion, well, you can imagine how frustrating that is.

But it's finished. And I'm grateful.

How I will celebrate: My plan, simply enough, is to organize a reading of an excerpt for some friends in the area. A relaxed night with food, drinks, half a bar to ourselves, and a chapter (I have one picked out already). I'm really looking forward to that.