Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Celia

(My entry in the 78-word Esquire short short fiction contest).




Celia said goodbye to her father at the Manila  airport. She had paid to work as a maid in Saudi Arabia. She worked for an Arab couple in Riyadh. Her employers held her virtually prisoner in the house. The husband raped her. Crazed with the  abuse, she stabbed the man to death. The court sentenced her to be beheaded. As she was led to her death, she looked up at the hot sky of Riyadh and cried: "Papa!"

Friday, October 14, 2011

How To (Finally) Write A Novel

       First you must have some kind of a theme or a story. Then you think about expanding that story into a novel. Then you think some more. Do this for maybe the whole of your adult life, say thirty or fifty years. Finally, you either give up thinking about writing a novel altogether and concentrate instead on other stuff, like sewing or dressing up as Darth Vader; or you stumble into a website called NaNoWriMo and a bell rings in your head.  Sort of like the bell that rings before the first round of a Manny Pacquiao/Floyd Mayweather fight (we wish!). Then all hell breaks loose, literarily speaking.
     To those who don't know what it is, NaNoWriMo is a contraction of National Novel Writing Month. A couple of years ago, a bunch of San Francisco  writers found out that they could not start, let alone, finish writing their novels because they tended to procrastinate. Nothing new there. Writers always procrastinate because thinking of something to write and actually putting the words down is an extremely painful process. Writers also tend to editorialize as they write, and the resulting paralysis of self-correction prevents them from moving forward. So our SF writers thought of writing a 50-000-word novel under a self-imposed timetable of thirty days. They named it National Novel Writing Month. And a cult was born. Now thousands of ordinary human beings all over the world with a barely articulated ambition to be the next Robert Ludlum or Arthur C. Clarke are putting pen into paper, or fingers into keyboards, to write, write, write until they've written the magic number of fifty-thousand words. Even if the finished product is a load of crap, at least it qualifies as a novel. You have the next 12 months to winnow and shape the thing, or else  press "delete" in order to spare yourself the agony.
     Last November, 2010, I joined the fray. I wrote under duress for thirty days and produced fifty thousand words of utter claptrap.
    The actual timeline of my novel went farther back in time. In 2005, while working on a cruise ship plying the waters of Tahiti, a plot for a novel sprang in my head. It started with a woman plunging into the sea and ended with a dead man in a vineyard in Australia. Yes, I was thinking such thoughts while I was watching the sunny, exotic isle of Bora Bora.  The problem was, I didn't know how to proceed with it. Besides, when you are cruising and swimming in some of the most exotic South Pacific locales, you don't really feel like subjecting your brain to plotting exercises involving imaginary dead persons.  I actually started to outline the story in an application called Dramatica Pro, but all I did was plot, not write. Dead-end there.
     Fast forward to 2010. I had just relocated for the summer to New York City. My brain started going on overdrive. I gathered all the scattered literary musings and journal entries I'd written during my previous years working on ships and published my first book under the title "Footprints: Travels of a Cruise Ship Musician". Several friends bought and praised it (of course). It's still on Amazon.com.
     But the Holy Grail for my literary self had always been to be able to produce a novel. My dream of writing one had already faded into oblivion until I discovered NaNoWriMo. The creators of this site were basically telling me: "Who cares if it’s a 50,000-word piece of crap, as long as it's your crap!"
     So I wrote my novel with the tentative title of "Tangerine". Somehow, in my head, the song "Tangerine" would figure prominently in the work. Don't ask me why, that's how my imagination got fired up. It was a sort of tent pole, a marker that I always referred to when I was getting lost in a thicket of words and plot turns that didn't make sense. Also, when the plot started to veer into strange paths, I always comforted myself by thinking: "If Dan Brown can come up with a plot that involved a nuclear fusion bomb exploding above the Vatican while the renegade priest floats down on a parachute, survives and then is exposed by Tom Hanks, then nothing I'll write will be outrageous or farfetched enough."
     I wrote everywhere: at the food court in Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst, the Starbucks on the corner of Broadway and 70th, the Starbucks on West 14th street, the Starbucks…you get the picture. I liked to be able to write for a few minutes and lift up my eyes to see the street drama of Manhattan, be it two guys kissing or Sarah Jessica Parker pushing the pram of her twins. OK, I didn’t see the latter, but between bouts of painful paragraph-forming, New York City was my inspiration and my distractor.
     Two days before November 30, 2010, I reached the word count of 50,000 according to the NaNoWriMo ticker that I uploaded my novel to. NaNoWriMo automatically awarded me a nice certificate attesting to this accomplishment. The "novel" was unreadable in its original form, full of repetitions and vague generalizations.
     The next months saw me setting the work aside, getting royally sick of the characters, adding and eliminating characters and changing plotlines. I changed the title as well from "Tangerine" to "A Song for Glenda". I was going to include the lyrics in the novel, except for that little thing called copyright infringement.True to what writers before me had reported,revising a novel was harder than the initial writing of the book as a stream-of-the-consciousness process. I put in more facts, details, a bit more characterization.
     The seed had been planted. The basic bones of a completed narrative remained. Three weeks before the start of another NaNoWriMo writing challenge, I posted my novel on Amazon.com and Smashwords.      Yes, I'm no Hemingway, nor did I have the benefit of a dedicated editor or publisher, but I didn't care. I could now publish myself on the internet and in the world at large, take it or leave it. Writing my novel has been a process that I can only compare to going to university. I learned a lot about the art and business of writing. The internet was my greatest resource, comfort and platform. There are thousands like me who have benefited from its inclusive universe.
     Even if I don't write another novel,at least I've proven to myself, thanks to NaNoWriMo  that somehow I can create a sustained narrative, with words and plot points plucked randomly from the recesses of my mind. If I can do it once, then I can do it again. And again. And…you get the picture.

Visit my novel's website at: http://asong4glenda.com/
Link to NaNoWriMo's website: http://www.nanowrimo.org/