Mock-up Cover for Wrapt

This is just an attempt to bring together visual elements that would make the book compelling on a bookshelf or an Amazon listing.

Please feel free to comment on your first impression. It’s a work in progress.

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Review of Mark Paxson’s Weed Therapy

Normally I don’t recommend that a reader go through the About This Author page or Note to the Reader page in a book, but for this one I do. I say this because as I read Weed Therapy, it seemed like two very different stories woven together to make one novel.

Kelvin Rockwell is unhappy in his marriage, in his job, and with his life. A stranger in a bar tells him about a priest in a tiny town in Baja California, and how the stranger’s visit there changed his life. Kelvin leaves his family and visits this poor village to get some answers and some advice.

The first thing I would have you understand is that Mr. Paxson has a wonderful writing style, a great way of putting words together to paint a picture or convey a feeling in a story. The narrative about visiting the village, learning how these simple people find their happiness, and the conversations with the old priest remind me of Hermann Hesse’s writing. There’s something mystical and spiritual about the experience, and I wanted to soak in the aura as long as possible.

The other aspect of the novel is Rockwell in first person telling the reader how his marriage has gone south, how his wife doesn’t express her love for him the way he wants, and how his kids have drifted from him. I went through a divorce and custody proceedings more than a decade ago, so when I read these sections of Rockwell complaining and blaming his wife, I wanted someone to shake him out of it and see the other side of the issue. But I realize that is my perspective, and that re-marrying as an older, hopefully wiser person has changed the way I look at relationships.

Ironically, the old Mexican priest’s words are spot-on for Rockwell, despite his protestations and complaining, and the reader can go a couple of different ways with this story. You can feel the pain Rockwell is experiencing, and sympathize with his thinking. Or you can view his narrative as flawed and myopic, and sympathize more with his wife.

Either way this is a good read, and makes me want to get a copy of Paxson’s other novel, One Night in Bridgeport.

Review of My Novel, Fugue in C Minor

Kevin Wallace reviews Fugue in C Minor in Goodreads:

I read a draft version of Fugue in C Minor and found the story interesting and many of the issues fascinating. Having now read the new version, I face the challenge of seeing it on its own terms. I gained certain impressions of the novel from the draft, and found that in the end these were not quite the direction Dickinson took it in the final edit. So my perspective needs a little adjustment. As I am fond of saying to my students, every text provides its own set of reading instructions, so I had to relearn them for the second version.

In doing so, I definitely enjoyed it, as I have all of Dickinson’s published stories thus far. He is very good at developing plots that are not always straightforward, surprise-laden, and which bring in and integrate issues of characters and theme that would sound disparate if I were to list them. One late revelation about a principle character in appears jarring, and I felt I was not properly prepared for it. But that is just one, amid many that I found quite satisfyingly unpredictable. For the most part, he integrates them well and makes good sense of them. To mind mind, his stories reflect the complexities of real-life characters: while I may not see myself in Maxim Edgars, I can recognize in him my own frequent confusion, and the way my life story is buffeted in various unpredictable directions by the often contradictory impulses to which I guess we are all subject.

Fugue’s real strength isn’t so much the analysis of an amnesiac rebuilding his memories. Instead it is his protagonist’s growing understanding of himself as part of a love relationship. Maxim has the unique opportunity first to reinvent his life, and then, due to his brain injury, to reinvent his own relationship with his past, and the way his present is affected by it. The story shows what such an experience could mean – to be freed from the influence of past errors, betrayals, the real and the imagined selves that one must live up to. As Maxim rediscovers his past, he’s in the enviable position of being able to choose between his various possible selves, and to sidestep (but never erase) the guilt and regret that, for most of us, make such choices so difficult, no matter how many times we have to make them.

In a way, the “fugue” or amnesia aspect of the story comes off, in this version, as more of a device – a situation – that makes Dickinson’s unique discussion of love and marriage possible. I found myself wanting more psychic angst – the fear, the distrust, the paranoia – that I suppose such an experience might entail. But that’s because “angst” is my personal oeuvre. To be sure, Dickinson doesn’t neglect these aspects; but I admit I was hoping for more of it.

These minor caveats aside, I “really liked it” (to quote the Goodreads rating criteria). Of the three novels I’ve read by this writer, Fugue in C Minor has been my favourite (I look forward to the rumoured rewrite of Virtual Silence). What I like best about Dickinson’s storytelling is here in strength, and I have to say, I learned a few things. Can’t be bad!

Character Editing

This is something different from character development. What I refer to here is the act of making certain each character is unique, but also that each character is described uniquely. So it’s more about what the author and narrator have done than what the character has done.

In my spreadsheets I like to make sure I describe what every character is wearing the first time we see them. What color is their hair? What marks them as different? Do they have unique mannerisms. I put all of that in my spreadsheet. When were they born? Who are they related to? What is their secret? They each have a dossier!

In my timeline notes I mark the major events of their lives. You don’t want to refer to John’s gender re-assignment surgery three years before he became Juanita!

The draft I am working on right now is partly about making sure every character gets an appropriate introduction and description.

Inspiration

The reason I list inspiration as a step in the writing process is that, as a much younger person many decades ago, all of my stories came and went through the same thing: my ego. So now I try to pay attention more to the ways people do things. I’m not saying you should watch every sci-fi film or read every sci-fi book before you write your own sci-fi story. But it’s important to pay attention to how the real world works in order to find wisdom and little jewels others might miss.

One example of this was a bird I saw at work once, maybe three years ago. It might have been a robin or a starling. There’s this corner of the building where the black windows make a nook on the north side, about halfway from center to the east side of the building. You can see inside the building there, but I can understand how a bird could get confused. It started trying to fly into the window. Why it wanted to visit Cubeland, I don’t know. But it kept flying into this window, maybe five times before it flew back away from the building.

This scene is going into one of my future novels because it got me thinking about how human beings do the same stupid stuff over and over, hoping the results will change one day. They tend not to change. Flying into a window generally will not get you where you want to go, especially if you’re a bird.

So I watch and listen, and allow things to inspire me as I write. I don’t know everything. Don’t tell my wife I said that.

Composition

I think most writers prefer composition to planning or editing or marketing. Just sit down and write, right? For me, it’s important to get into an environment where I am alone. Or if not alone, it’s important to be in a place where no one around me is talking or listening to music or watching Dexter on Netflix. So I prefer to write at night when the kids are asleep, or during the school day. I have to have a tanker of coffee. And I have found that I write better, I’m more productive, when I use my little Netbook. It’s slow. It’s like molasses on the internet. And that’s great because I don’t need the distraction of the internet. If I’m away somewhere, Microsoft Word and Excel are all I have open. So I settle in, and just write.

I like to start by reading what I wrote the day before, remind me where I was. Then read over my outline for that chapter, so where I’m going. Then I start a conversation with the characters. “This is your situation. What will you do? What is true to your nature? You don’t know about the garbage you’re about to run into, but how might you handle it when you do?” I think of people who inspire me, good or bad. What would they do? I try not to imagine myself in the conflict because then all of my stories would be the same. And since most of us think we’re pretty reasonable creatures (most of us are wrong), all my stories would be boring.

If the chapter is really funny, or really sad, or loaded with some other kind of syrup, I try to to throw some other spices into it. Can you have a blooper at a funeral? An argument? Who wants to read about a normal funeral, anyway? They’re sad and quiet. Can your scene about a funeral be more awe-inspiring or respectfully funny?

I’m pleased if I write 1,000 words a day, excited if it’s 1,500, and exhausted if it’s 2,000.

The Process of Writing a Novel

Sometimes blog posts are meant to communicate something to one’s readers. But today’s post is more a note to self. But go ahead and read along anyway.

Now that I have the draft completed of my work in progress, the next step is editing. I don’t dislike editing. I just don’t love it. There’s something thrilling about composing new material, like watching your kid do something they’ve never done before, like watching the light go on in their head. Editing is more like correcting their manners or bad behavior, or changing a diaper.

So as a reminder to myself, and a diversion from the grueling editing I get to do now, I have listed below the steps I take in novel writing. Each day I’ll post a paragraph or two on one of these subjects, and link them all back here, too, in case anyone thinks it is/was useful.

Enjoy!

Concept

Outline

Composition

Inspiration

Character Editing

Line Editing

Beta Testing

Self-Publishing/Self-Marketing or Marketing to Agents