A Few Kinds of Wrong

So, the new book, A Few Kinds of Wrong, is gone to print and I wonder if maybe I should change the name of this blog to A Few Kinds of Wrong. I think I’ll keep it as this much is true, but expect to hear lots about the new book. The blurb can be found up top there by clicking on the Writing tab, where you’ll also find some things other people have said about it (ahem, Bernice Morgan and Michelle Butler Hallett) so you can read that but what’s it really about? Good question. I have trouble answering that, to be honest. I’m not much for synopses. That’s why I write novels and not short stories. Short and sweet is not my forte. So, to explain a whole book in a few lines is hard. It’s about Jennifer Collins. She’s a mechanic and parts of the story are set in her garage. It was her father’s garage but after his death it became hers. Only problem is her soon-to-be-ex-husband has laid claim to the garage too and wants to not only own 20 percent but also wants to work there. See, he’s never really let Jennifer go. But Jennifer hates him so, needless to say, she’s not too happy about this turn of events. Then there’s Jennifer’s grandmother, who Jennifer visits in an attempt to forget about her father’s death; Jennifer’s mom, Grace; Jennifer’s friends, Michelle and BJ; the ever-present memory of Jennifer’s father, Jack; her aunt, Henrietta; and Bryce, the best friend of Jennifer’s father. Those are the players, for the most part.

I really think A Few Kinds of wrong is a love story, but not in any traditional sense. It could have been called A Few Kinds of Love because it’s about romantic love, love between a father and daughter, between a mother and daughter, grandmother and grandaughter, and love between friends. It’s about love and how it’s expressed (or not), mistaken perceptions about love, love that makes you help decieve, love that makes you decieve yourself, and even tough love. All the people in Jennifer’s life have something to do with the wrongs there, they remind her of them or are part of them. But they all love her and she loves all of them in some way. So I really think that’s what’s at the heart of the book. So why call it A Few Kinds of Wrong? Well, that’s a story for another blog post.

Writing "The End"

Writing “The End” at the end of a novel is a pretty good feeling but it can also feel overwhelming. The thing is that the real work begins now. Taking everything you’ve written and trying to edit it so it can go out in the world. This is especially true of A Few Kinds of Wrong (AFKOW) for me. I’ve never had so many starts and stops with any piece of writing, never gone down so many paths only to completely go back and cut them out. It is mostly because it is a very different book for me, more character driven than plot driven and more melancholy than light-hearted. I kept falling back into using plot devices to move things along. Even the one that I did use (because, no matter what, things must move along with something), I had to have a talk and encouragement from my friend Trudy and my husband (always my first reader) to know it was okay to do it.

And, as anyone who has ever written “The End” knows, by the time you get there, you have spent so much time inside these people’s heads and inside their lives, that you lose all sense of perspective. By the time you reach the last part of the book, you feel like this is the worst thing ever written and that you’ve just wasted all this time and energy on it. All the words seem stale and it feels like you’ve said them a hundred times already and you wonder who in the world will care about these dreadfully boring people and what is happening to them. Thankfully, I have a group of writers around me who I can say that to and they’ll remind me that it’s normal. And thankfully, I have a dog-eared copy of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird I can turn to as well because no one can remind you of the insecurities and fears that live inside a writer’s head like Anne Lamott.

For those of you who haven’t read it (and you really should, whether you’re a writer or not I think there are lots of life lessons in there), the title comes from a time when Lamott’s ten-year-old brother had a school assignment about birds due the next day. Overwhelmed, with books about birds all around him, the boy was close to tears. His father sat down, put his arm around the boy’s shoulder and said “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” And as I look at my notebooks full of all those stops and starts, the completed sections of AFKOW with “[insert such and such a section here]”, the unnamed text files on my computer typed on the Neo that I am not sure belong in the book or not, the whole vast, overpowering lot of it, I have to tell myself to “take it bird by bird, Tina. Bird by bird” and then it feels okay (well, kind of–the whole having a baby in less than three weeks makes it feel a lot more overwhelming too, but Lamott has a great book for that too).

Voice recognition software (or The old do to move the man’s)

The problem with writing longhand is that eventually you have to type all the stuff you’ve written. This is where I am now. Since I find this typing such a waste of time and since I don’t like it much, and since no other human being could ever read my scrawl (I spend long minutes staring at paper trying to figure out what in the world a certain squiggly line I made means), I decided to try out some voice recognition software. I’ve never believed in it very much, having tried it years ago but I read some online reviews and it seemed that it had come a long way. Some people said it actually worked quite well. These people must be trained, professional actors with years of training in voice and enunciation. I, quite simply, am not. I’ve been known to mumble when I talk and I have a pretty thick bay accent. But when I concentrate, I can speak more clearly and slow down my normal rate of speaking. Plus, the software allows you to train it to your own voice so one would expect it could figure it out. Problem solved. No more typing for Tina.

Here are the first few lines of my test as the computer recognized it when I transcribed it (after I thoroughly trained the software to recognize my voice):

“‘s absence has order for a couple of weeks my life changed. I came home from work with day before five every day and we are sad at the table together to eat. They had picked up his dishes from the table and insisted I do the same. There didn’t see it in his recliner chair in the corner and read the paper. He set next ma’am the coach watch TV with her calmer his looking strange around her shoulders as he fidgeted.
When I went to bed on him typing, listening to them as they both went to bed at the same time calmer mount hacking caring for their bedroom and sales I didn’t understand then came from them.”

So, now you think that English is not my first language or that I am writing a sordid novel about a new fetish where people mount and type on top of each other in bed, but I’m not. The word ‘calmer’ that keeps coming up is actually the word ‘comma’ as in I am asking the software to put punctuation in the paragraph for me. Later I tried using the actual word ‘calmer’ and it typed it as ‘karma’. It quickly became apparent that it would take more time correcting the mistakes in my work transcribed by the voice-rec software than it would to type the stuff on my lovely Alphasmart Neo, or, as the voice-rec software calls it “my Neill”.

And now, as another test, the beginning of the Ode to Newfoundland:

“The old do to move the man’s

when Sunday is crowned iced pine clad hills”

Makes you teary-eyed and patriotic, doesn’t it? And it leaves me wondering just what the old do to move the man’s. And the man’s what? The possibilities are endless.

Sigh. Ah well, it’s back to pounding on the keyboard for me. Just me and my good friend, Neill.

I’ll just let them stay a little while

Remember how I decided I would let the characters in my novel in progress, tentatively titled A Few Kinds of Wrong, come visit for a literary booty call while I worked on Unnamed Fun Novel? Well yesterday I was having coffee with Trudy who unintentionally gave me permission to continue with something in Wrongs that I was unsure about and the characters started screaming for me to get back at it. They were relentless and I was not great to be around yesterday evening. My mind kept wanting to be there with them and not in the “real world”. Finally I sat down with pen and paper and whispered that they could stay for a few minutes only and that once I wrote a bit of a scene and knew where it was going, then that would be it and they would have to go away again. But they stayed for hours and now this morning they are still there.

I explained to them that I cannot have a committed relationship at this time. I need to see other stories right now and have some fun. I know that the main character in Unnamed Fun Novel is not happy. I can picture her tapping her fingers on a table and rolling her eyes, saying “You cannot be serious. I’m here with all these exciting people and really interesting things going on. I mean I got shot, for God’s sake. And you want to hang out with misery guts there and her crying and her ‘poor me, poor me’.” And I want to say “But BJ and Jennifer are having a really big fight now and I’m finding out a lot more about both of them so I just have to see it through and then I’ll go back to you.”

And I think I have figured out why the transitioning between novels has been so hard. Like I said before, I have never had this problem. I can, and have, worked on three different projects in one day, slipping in and out of each one with very little effort. But I think the problem here is one of tense. Wrongs is in the present tense and Unnamed Fun Novel is in the past tense. The characters, as this post proves, are alive and well and living inside my head. It’s getting them down on paper in their respective tenses that is the problem. Part of me is tempted to see if Wrongs would be better in the past tense just to make the process easier and because the present tense is harder for me in general. But I know the present is the right one and that is not the answer, at least not right now, at least not at this point in the process. I’ll just have to keep trying and let the work guide me.

They keep calling me

I’ve said before that I keep a variety of writing projects on the go. It allows me to write when the mood strikes, no matter what the mood. Because I received a project grant to write A Few Kinds of Wrong, I spent a winter of working on restricting myself to working on that one novel (interrupted only by editing another novel and writing a short story). So, I was looking forward to getting back to my other work, in particular, a fun book to write with a character who is so rich and fun and unpredictable that it’s just a joy to spend time with her (and all the other characters in the book). This is quite a contrast from Wrongs which is darker and is about death and grieving, pain and healing. So after hanging out mired in the grief of one character for so long, it’s no wonder that I wanted to get back to some fun stuff. I printed out the 120 pages I have already written in Unnamed Fun Novel (so much for the paperless society), enjoyed rereading it, know right where I want to go next, don’t have a clue where to go after that but know, without a doubt, that I’ll figure it out. I should be face and eyes back into this book by now.

But every time I start to write, the other characters from Wrongs call me. I’ve finished the first draft of Wrongs but there is much to be filled in, things to research, things to move around, and they want me to work at it. They come to me in dreams and most of all songs. I’ve switched the songs on my MP3 player from the soundtrack of Wrongs to that of Unnamed Fun Novel. I had to. The kind of slow, sticky, sad, music from the Wrongs soundtrack makes the character in Unnamed Fun Novel roll her eyes and huff off somewhere far away. But songs keep coming on the radio and television and movies that make me think of Wrongs. Scenes and conversations continue from characters I wish to let go of for a while, just to let them sit in a drawer so I can get distance before starting on the next draft. They should sit there quietly and wait for me. They’re not and I don’t know why.

Part of me wonders if it is because I have been exclusive with this novel. We have had a committed relationship instead of me just bouncing back and forth between books. And while I have liked and loved characters from my other books, I think the subject matter and tone of Wrongs, along with this commitment, have made me feel connected to it more than any other.

I know the solution to my problem. As always I have to write through it. I have to put my pen on the paper and find my way back to the characters in Unnamed Fun Novel. But I think I have to tell myself that when that other crowd calls out to me, I’ll allow myself to visit them, to jot notes about them, hang out a little and say hello without getting too immersed. Like a literary booty call. At least until I find my way back to the other novel, at which time, I will be able to work on them both again.