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The power of story (2016 Iowa Caucus)

I have wagered with my wife that the 2016 US major-party presidential nominees will be Trump and Clinton. I don’t regret my choices after the Iowa Caucus. I understand the power of story.

On the Democratic side, one story seems better — a dark horse, vastly more leftist than anything we’ve seen in decades, going from obscurity to near-parity despite the machinations of party bosses. But Sanders is white, old, and male, and he’s been an obscure senator since before his most ardent fans were sperm. So far the main “machinations” are the Democrats choosing crappy viewing times for debates. Sanders didn’t win on good turf for him, and certainly didn’t trounce. As a tale of a man having a long-awaited moment, he’s heartwarming; but in this race he is an Obama sequel, and at that he is weak.

Clinton started as a sure thing, a near-coronation, just like last time. Clinton got in a fight for her life, just like last time — and narrowly won on bad turf for her. Now, a loss in New Hampshire will only keep the audience more engaged. Sanders failed to get a come-from-behind victory; Clinton is living a come-from-behind life.

For the Republicans, the best story is not when a man works incredibly hard convincing his own most supportive base to give him a squeaker of a win. Cruz has the kind of petty early victory racked up by the loser in a romantic comedy. No one wants that guy to win.

For Rubio, being the newest bottle of old wine is not a story at all. He’s won nothing yet, since the other establishment candidates not only haven’t dropped out, but are now turning their fire on him. So what is Rubio’s story? Alas, it’s Night of the Living Dead, where a man survives zombies inside and out, but dies anyway when he is mistaken for one. (Hey, at least he’s not Jeb Bush, the Chad Vader of 2016).

Which leaves us with a wealthy powerful man committed to protecting his country, who survives his first comeuppance, bloodied but unbowed, keeping the faith that his put-upon supporters always had despite the mockery of the elites, until he wins the naysayers over. That’s a black hole of narrative gravity, the ultimate Frank Capra film: It’s A Wonderful Life To Be Donald Trump.

You can’t fight the power of story. I will win that $1 and put it toward a new novel.

 

 


NaNoWriMo recap (winner!)

National Novel Writing Month was a huge personal success for me, and a big confidence booster. I will miss my silicone NaNoWriMo bracelet tomorrow.

By the numbers, 50,028 words, finished in the wee hours of November 27. On the twenty-three days I wrote, I averaged 2,175 words a day, due mainly to a big push in the first two weeks that had me writing close to 2,500 a day.

As a project, I reached the end of the draft narrative. I kept control of the pacing so I landed it roughly as I intended. It was an active effort, matching my word count to the outlines, planning scenes ahead in 500-word increments, fleshing out passages still short of their part of the total.

However measured, when I could write, I did, at speed and with some level of consistent craft throughout. I’m not sure I believed I could do it. I am glad to no longer have to rely on belief.

I don’t think I have universal advice, but for me it started well before November 1. Continue reading


The pre-apocalypse

My writing group noted that my new story, though a different setting, is also a post-apolcyalypse tale, or at least post-disaster. One colleague included my novel in that theme, even though in my novel things are good, but about to get worse. It’s pre-apocalyptic, she said.

Something in that. My faith is that humanity will persist, but a lot of bad things are going to happen. By the standards of the past they already have. Like my mentor Philip K Dick, I’m less pinpointing details of the great shift, just exploring scenes after upheaval, where people have adapted to far different norms of environment and behavior. I no doubt absorbed this from my family history, for my parents fled war and Soviet occupation, and my own late 20th century life, where we took on huge social changes, and where the rest of the world changed vastly more. I greatly admire writers like Jim Shepard and Harlan Ellison, who change up place and time each story yet keep consistent in their approach and style.

Perhaps I’ll be more sensitive to this strain of pre-apocalyptic. I hope it will give me a way to glide across genre. I would enjoy writing historical.  Continue reading


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Progress Report – Beard Crumbs & Contests

I had vowed that this would be the month I would get back on track; after a winter of “life getting in the way” I have to start sending queries to agents. I am finding ways to avoid that. Or at least that’s one interpretation, that I am fiddling with the novel as a stalling tactic to avoid the big bad commercial world. Another interpretation is that I am listening to the responses I am getting from friends and professionals.

Whatever. Let’s just say I feel there are still crumbs in my beard.

I only received one comment about my idea to move a late passage in the book to the beginning as a sort of prologue, but it came from the excellent and commercially-savvy crime novelist Oliver Tidy which gives it vastly more weight than most, so I’ve done that. We’ll see if it helps.

This also led to my realizing that the whole chapter this passage came from stands alone as a short story, and I thought I might send it out as such. Continue reading


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Asking my readers – “The Briefing” as prologue / teaser?

Yesterday I posted an excerpt from late in the novel, in part to entertain, but as I mentioned I also had another reason. I’m wondering if that passage should become the prologue for the novel. I’d like your opinion. Now to explain —

Not all novels start with a bang. Until the 20th century, most of them didn’t. The characters were introduced, sometimes at the end of a long parentage, and the action followed. A little foreshadowing, perhaps; a choice phrase to let people know what the stakes are, as in Pride and Prejudice‘s famous opening line; maybe a small gesture, like the bishop giving Jean Valjean his candlesticks or Pip helping Fagin go free, but one that will grow. Even in slender The Great Gatsby Nick Carraway gets a couple of pages to complain about his job before the bad parties start.  Continue reading