The Heart

I had my first thesis meeting of the semester today.

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My advisor, having read the first 80 pages of my rewrite, was scratching her head, trying to figure out why my story doesn’t seem to have a heart. She seemed genuinely stumped.

The structure is good, she said, as is the writing, and yet something is missing. Once I got over the shock of hearing that my story (the story I pour my blood and guts over every day) has no heart, we got busy brainstorming about why that might be.

Again, it seems to come down to my main character. Talulah has no flaws, and she doesn’t have any strong reactions. Life just kind of happens to her. That’s not to say that the things that happen aren’t interesting. I feel I’m being plenty hard on her, it’s just that I’m not getting much reaction out of her, and therefore, I’m not getting her onto the page effectively. As my advisor said: “if this were a screenplay, it would be perfect. The actor would fill that in.”

But it’s not a screenplay.

So the second thing I’m dealing with is fighting off discouragement. The pep talk in my head goes something like this: I am in the process of revising. This is a draft. I never had any illusions about this being my final pass. This is the process of writing a novel. Take comfort in the fact that so much is going right.

Then I just think it’s time for a glass of wine and at least one episode of “Lost.”

The San Francisco Writers Conference

If I learned one thing this week at the SFWC, it’s that there are a million things a writer can do besides write.

In two and a half days I sat in on eleven seminars and three key note speeches, and every one at least touched on how to utilize Twitter, Facebook, blogs, websites, LinkedIn, internet radio, you name it. It’s very exciting, and very distracting.

Ultimately the thing that matters the most (and this came up many times over the weekend as well), is that your writing be good. No, not good – excellent. You can tweet your heart out, and gather thousands of followers, but if your novel sucks, all the networking in the world simply won’t matter.

This brings up a swell of anxiety in me that only the Maverick surfers would dare ride, because I did very little writing this weekend. True, I wrote a few posts for my other blog (if you haven’t seen it yet check out www.monthwithoutmonsanto.com), but after going three days without touching my fiction work, I’m surprised how distant it feels. I guess it was a busy three days, but still, I’m having trouble even remembering where I left off.

So I need to exercise a little time management today. I can blog, and tweet and book my face off, but I also need time to turn off all those distractions and sit quietly with Talulah Jones, because really, it’s all about her.

Forty Years

I’m thinking about making a (semi) major story adjustment. I’m considering moving the whole tale about forty years into the past.

Here’s my thinking: All stories basically come down to some really simple idea (as George Lucas said of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – “it’s a father son story”). The thing that makes them interesting is the setting (for instance Italy during the second world war).

Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by the late sixties/early seventies in California. I’m particularly drawn to how the role of women in society was changing; the birth control pill was introduced and Row v. Wade was passed, woman began stepping into more powerful roles in business while still juggling children, the divorce rate in the US doubled between 1965 and 1976,

So in telling my ultimately simple story (girl trying to save family farm), it seems to me it might be more interesting if I set it in this tumultuous time period. A young woman running a farm by herself is a little more interesting in 1969 than in 2010.

There’s also the appeal of the party scene in 1969. From what I understand, kids today ain’t got nothing on the sex, drugs, and rock & roll craziness of the hippies. That could be fun to explore as well.

The one downside to this time jump is the increased amount of research I will need to do. If you have any thoughts, especially if you happen to have been a young woman in 1969 in California, drop me a line. I’d love to hear them.

Why Ostriches?

When I tell people that my novel is set on an ostrich farm in the southern California desert, the question inevitably comes up: “why ostriches?” but watch these two videos: RACING and FARMING and you’ll have to agree, ostriches are both powerful and dumb, which makes them hilarious as far as I’m concerned. There’s something about those big eyes, connected to those tiny brains that appeals to me. Did you know their knee joints bend backwards? Or that they mate three times a day? Or that they can run up to 50mph? The more I learn about ostriches, the more fascinating I find them, but that was not the reason I originally set my story on an ostrich farm.

The real reason was that I wanted to tell a story that was (very) loosely based on my mother’s experiences growing up on a dairy farm near Sacramento, but I love the desert and wanted to set my novel somewhere in or around the Mojave. While googling, trying to find a dairy farm in the vicinity of Kramer Junction so as to justify plopping a fictional dairy farm in the there, I came across the OK Coral Ostrich Farm website. It occurred to me that an ostrich farm is like a dairy farm, except a little odd, and somehow magical.

Before committing to the idea I contacted the proprietor of the OK Corral, a man named Doug Osborne (that’s him in the Dirty Jobs clip), and arranged to take a tour of his farm. Half a day walking around his forty acres convinced me.

Since embracing this aspect of my story, it has lost all resemblance to my mother’s childhood, but I was expecting as much to happen. It is becoming a story all my own, with the Mojave desert and a flock of three-hundred pounds birds as a backdrop.

I’ve been working on this story for over a year now, and I just get more and more excited about it as I go. On Wednesday I am heading back out to the OK Corral to grill Doug on some of the finer details of ostrich husbandry, and I’m very much looking forward to the visit. I’ll tell you all about it next week.