Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The More I Ignore You, the Closer I Get

So. This ending thing. Turns out it's taking longer than expected. Every time I sit down at the computer, I think to myself only twenty pages to go. Then I crank out a bunch of pages, only to say the same thing the very next day.

So, with apologies to Morrissey for mangling his title, and to my throng of devoted, um, reader (hi honey), I've decided to take a little time off from the blogging.

That's not to say I'm walking away – I just think that this site is here to support my writing, and not the other way around. So, barring The Toll Collectors being accepted for publication any time in the very near future, the next post you'll read will be me (quite possibly drunkenly) declaring that I've finished my first draft. Keep checking back; if all goes well, it won't be more than a couple of weeks. Wish me luck.

Until then, I'm goin' dark.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

On Tense

Miss Snark, whose blog is as entertaining and enlightening as it is vicious, recently posted a letter from an editor who lamented the fact that nearly every submission she receives these days is written in the first-person present tense. The post sparked a flurry of comments, many of which echoed the editor’s apparent disdain for the first-person present tense, while others worried that their first-person present writing was a waste of time, or possibly an indicator that they lacked talent or originality. My immediate reaction, having spent the last year working on a FPPT-narrated manuscript, was CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP CRAP. Not because I feel I’ve made a horrible mistake in writing the novel that I’m writing and wasted a year of my time in the process, but because I believe that the voice that I chose is truly the right one for the story that I’m telling, and now I’m going to have to work all the harder to make it stand apart from the sea of bad FPPT submissions.

In his essay The Simple Art of Murder, Raymond Chandler says that “the good detective story and the bad detective story are about exactly the same things, and they are about them in very much the same way.” Similarly, all first-person present tense narratives sound very much the same, be they in the service of the story or merely a misguided attempt to glom on to a passing trend. The trick, I think, is to write well, and to be able to defend the choices you make in the service of doing so. I can only hope at the end of the day that I have written well, but defending my narrative choices is another matter. My story hinges upon both an understanding of the mental state of my narrator and the immediacy of the situations she finds herself in; for that reason, I believe first-person present tense is the best narrative voice to tell my story.

Of course, that may all be bluster, no more than panicked self-justification in the face of overwhelming odds against publication, but I don’t think so. I think that the debate about the propriety of FPPT is missing the point – it makes no more sense to say that FPPT is always a bad choice than it does to say that never in film should you resort to a jittery hand-held shot when a smooth dolly shot would do. Present tense is a tool. Use it when it’s called for. Don’t blame it when it’s not.

Think I’m wrong? That’s fine. Think I’m right? Even better. Either way, let me know.

UPDATE: It seems that Miss Snark herself has weighed in on the subject. Here's an excerpt:

Those commenters who've pointed out that tense must serve the story are saying exactly what Miss Snark thinks. Bright Lights Big City was a wonderful novel and telling it in second person was a stroke of genius. It doesn't have the flexibility of first or third, but when it's right, it's just right.

You can read the rest here. Though I suspect this debate is far from over, it's nice that someone with a rather large pulpit happens to agree with me. Oh, and the rest of you? Just plain wrong. (Hey, it is my website. Fair and balanced I'm not.)

Monday, October 10, 2005

The "F" Word (no, the other one)

In The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, Douglas Adams writes of a best-selling author whose primary qualification is that his first name happens to fit perfectly above his last name when placed upon the cover of a novel in the usual way. While I hope that there is more justice in the world than to allow that to be a deciding factor, I’m forced to wonder just how much an author’s name matters when querying an agent or selling a book.

I admit, I’m stuck with a rather plain name as far as the publishing world goes. Chris Holm has none of the cadence or charm of Tess Gerritsen or Harlan Coben. It doesn’t have the bad-pun-but-good-blurb-inducing quality of Stephen King or Tim Powers. No amount of squeezing makes Chris fit above Holm in a manner that suggests anything other than awkward typesetting.

Of course, none of that seems to bother Dan Brown much, but I digress.

So here I am, left with the last refuge of the forgettably-named – the middle initial. As a kid, I always wondered what was up with those authors who seemed so strangely attached to their middle names, but now I know. Google "Chris Holm" and you’ll find a geology professor, a Scandinavian metal guitarist, and an off-road unicyclist, just to name a few. Google "Chris F. Holm" and, well, you get me. Is it name-recognition? Nope, but it’s a start.

The "F" is for Frederick, by the way. Yeah, I know. But how am I gonna compete with an off-road unicyclist?

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Final Stretch and Yawn

This past weekend, I had the brilliant idea that if I were to get up an hour or two early and write before work, I could double my output – kind of a final sprint to the finish line of a completed first draft. Okay, to be fair, that same idea occurred to me roughly every Sunday evening since I began writing, but it was usually abandoned by Monday morning in favor of a plan that involved beating my alarm clock senseless and falling back to sleep. Good for the soul, but bad for the word count.

Anyways, these past couple of days, I’ve succeeded in dragging myself out of bed, sitting myself in front of the computer, and plodding away, albeit while clinging to a rather sizeable mug of tea as though it were a life preserver. The writing’s come in fits and spurts, but with a couple of side-effects – one expected, one not.

The expected is that, when the writing is done and the day job begun, I’ve been a complete zombie, clumsy and lumbering and stupid (though so far thankfully lacking in the unquenchable hunger for human brains.) I’ve gotten almost nothing done, and what I have gotten done has been done at a fraction of my normal pace.

The unexpected is that, for the first time since those early halting pages, I haven’t the faintest idea how the writing is going. I think that often, writing is rhythm, and once you find yours, you tend to get up from the computer with a sense as to how the day has gone, for good or for ill. Today, and yesterday as well, I truly had no idea.

That’s not to say the writing’s been bad – in fact, reading over some of what came out yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised. That’s still a bit disconcerting, though. It’s one thing to be surprised where your story is going. It’s something else entirely to be surprised where it’s been.

Still, there is some satisfaction in the fact that this morning, Writing won out over Not Writing, doubly impressive because Not Writing offered the added seduction of Comfy Bed to sweeten the deal. As long as my thrilling climax doesn’t consist entirely of ALL WORK AND NO SLEEP MAKES SLEEP A SLEEP SLEEP, I suppose it’ll be worth it.

Oh, and I think my alarm clock is happier, too.