Daddy's Secret of Writing A Novel

23 October 2001

It's amazing what NyQuil and exhaustion will do to your dreams. I dreamed someone had annoyed me by acting as though "Now is the winter of our discontent" was the entire sentence and sentiment. It's actually "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York." A bit different, hmm? And a real-life pet peeve. Just not, er, one that comes up much. In my dream, C.J. was laughing at me.

That part comes up a lot.

Anyway, I slept quite well despite being annoyed over Richard III and am feeling somewhat better. Still coughing, but I can feel the congested area growing smaller every day. Mark's theory is that the problem is that my lungs are too big, so it takes them longer to clear out than most. (Heh...catch a load of that broad...what a pair of lungs...anyway....) It's true that I have pretty darn big lung capacity, so we'll pretend he's right.

I got four rejections yesterday. I've been telling people variety is the spice of life, or they've been telling me -- Saturday's two rejections were both from Asimov's, forms with a little bit of Gardner-scribbling on them. Yesterday's were for a fantasy story, a science fiction story, my picture book text, and my agent solicitation. Much better, I'm sure. I also declared a market dead, since nobody else had been hearing from it and they hadn't responded on my story in a year. So I sent a bunch of stuff out in yesterday's and today's mail. It feels good to keep it out of my hair. To keep from letting it pile up. Whatever. It would have been nicer if there had been an acceptance in there somewhere, but, you know, I'm told you can't have everything.

TNN has been showing their Next Gen marathon, and Mark flips it on quite frequently in the evenings, when he's not being dragged off to meetings. They're trying to claim they're now The National Network. Yeah, whatever. They have commercials for old story-telling country songs, and in the bunch is this paratrooper song that cracks me up every time. The bit they sing in the montage is: "Fighting soldiers of the sky, fearless men who jump and die." How do you really rally behind that one? "Woohoo, it's us, it's our paratrooper song! Fighting soldiers of the sky, woooo! (As opposed to the non-fighting soldiers?) Fearless men who jump and -- wait a minute, Earl, what kind of song is this?"

And speaking of commercials and the military, I had thought that if there was one thing the war in Afghanistan might fix, it might get rid of the stupid Army of One commercials. I thought perhaps if we were sending people into a foreign country with very many armed fanatics, we'd want to send an army of, say, several thousand. Not an Army of One. An Army of One might be good for getting rid of an ant problem in your kitchen. Maybe.

Oh, and I see that some people in this world may need a review, so let's go over a vital concept: public space. If you didn't pay for the courtyard outside my apartment, it is not yours. Which means that if you want privacy to talk on your cell phone at 2:30 in the morning (or the afternoon, for that matter), it is not the place to go. Not private. Public. Not yours. You may not be in the same room as your mother, Mademoiselle La Cell Phone User, but since you and your cohorts go outside, you are now effectively in "the same room" as the rest of the complex. How fabulous for us all.

Ah well. Yesterday I got another story idea (woohoo, just what I needed, more story ideas) that deals with the Tam Lin ballad. It'll be fun to write. Thing is, it sounded like a perfect excuse to reread Pamela Dean's Tam Lin. I love that book. I use just about any excuse to reread it, because I love it so much. I loved it this much even before I went to Gustavus. But it is definitely The Novel if you want to find out what it's like to go to a small private college in Minnesota.

I tried to lend it to Andrew while we were at Gustavus, because Andrew liked fantasy and wanted to borrow a book. "Ooh ooh," I said, "Tam Lin, Tam Lin!" Well, that was not my best choice. When he was done, he handed it back with a weird expression on his face. "I don't really know...." It hit me suddenly. "It was kind of a girly book, wasn't it?" He agreed, relieved. And it is. But it's still good. And the pacing is not so hot. But it's still good. Really.

And I always find passages in it that express something I've been doing lately. This time it was this: "Janet considered interrupting, but what she thought of as the fatal flaw of the novel-reader prevented her. She had meant to ask Nick if he and Robin were coming to the party, since neither of them had actually expressed any intention of doing so. But the flaw of the novel-reader is to want to know what will happen if a situation is allowed to develop unmolested. So she let them talk, and ate her canned okra and tomato soup...."

I try not to let the novel-reader flaw interfere with my life too much. I try not to make people psychically guess what I want of them. But once I've spelled it out (two or three times, in block capitals), I tend to have the urge to let it develop unmolested. This has been known to get me in trouble from time to time, on minor and major issues. But sometimes it's quite tempting. And, as Janet finds out, the problem with letting your real life develop unmolested is that you're still a part of it. So sometimes you're saying to yourself, "Hmm, if I don't interfere, I wonder if this person will make me feel like crap? Why yes, he does! What a great discovery!" Hmm.

Anyway, for those of you who want to write novels, I have a secret. It's Daddy's Secret To Writing Novels. My dad has never actually written a novel, to the best of my knowledge, but he has this set of secrets to doing stuff. Daddy's Secret of Building A House is: use lots of nails. Daddy's Secret of Wrapping A Present: use lots of tape. Daddy's Secret of Sewing A Button: use lots of thread. So I figured out Daddy's Secret of Writing A Novel. Of course. Use lots of words.

Aren't you glad I was here to pass that along?

And have a happy Mole Day.

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