Two weeks have passed and I still haven’t written a blog post. I have been working on my book though, so that is something. Still, there’s time and distance to look at the experience and that, also is a good thing. So here are some thoughts on the A-Z challenge and blogging in general.
- Blogging is hard work. I don’t care what anyone says. It is writing and it is challenging, and it takes time and it is hard work. I know if I followed my wife’s suggestion and wrote short that I would be a better blogger but I tend to write long and meander. It is not a good blogger habit. So for 26 posts I tried to meander less and work quicker. When I was lost in side bars, side tracks, asides, and digressions I tried to find my way home and back to the point as quickly as possible.
- If was impossible for me to visit three blogs a day, much less five. I might have averaged out about 1 a day. It is only because I write slow and meander (see bullet one). But I did see 26 new blogs and found some great ones to follow. The blogging community is an eye-opening, huge group of absolutely crazy individuals with fascinating opinions and stuff (read – all kinds of shit, good shit and bad shit and all kinds of shit that’s in-between) to share with the world. My favorite blog to look at was Kristen Pelfrey’s, not because I found her blog during the A-Z challenge as I’d read her blog before… but because I found myself compelled to follow her post by post whenever I checked in on her work. She is a woman passionate about writing, about art, about learning, and about her angel potatoes. Each of her posts was a gem and worth going back for a second read.
- Choosing a theme was a good idea for me. My Greek theme played out well in helping me to structure my posts and give me a hook so I meandered less and actually, more than less, found a point to talk about. But… some letters were hard to come up with post for ( those with no Gods or Heroes or creatures beginning with the letters like Y, W, F and others). I find, though that constraints can sometimes be great creative devises. If I had left myself an open field to work with for each post I might have spent many more hours staring at the screen and imagining myself to be Stephen King (has anyone read his new Dark Tower book? I have to get that – I digress…). When I performed improvisational comedy with KLAATU my favorite improvs were the ones with more constraints. Free-form always troubled me. I liked a space to work within rather than the whole universe. It’s a different kind of creativity and one I work well with.
- I really enjoyed writing the posts. I felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment as I worked my way forward. Some of the pieces I wrote even ended up having some meaning to me and perhaps others – though more than anything I feel like I write to myself when I blog. I wonder if others do the same?
Finally there is the case of one Mathew MacNish, blogger extraordinaire, and the master of the QQQE. I tried the A-Z challenge because he was one of the masterminds in charge and if he was involved it meant I should probably give it a try. Mathew is a butt-kicking blogospherical expert and he hasn’t led me wrong yet. Plus he’s a friend and those two things together work magic.
On another note I read a bunch of wonderful books over the month that I’ll mention in future posts. But I will say that at least one was an adult novel and another, not the adult novel, my son can not read. On second thought my son can’t read either. Even though he’ll use his tried and true leverage, “But I read The Hunger Games” on me. It won’t work. Nope. Not this time. I will not fold for the YA book was brutal B R U T A L brutal.
And finally, I’m going to White House on Wednesday. Seriously. I am. I have a meeting with some colleagues about a project I’ve been involved with and we’ll be sitting down with Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) members in the White House, on the other side of the wrought iron fence – a place I’ve never been and never thought I would go. The experience relates to writing in a very distinctive way. My day job (running a training institute at a non-profit that works in the fields of AIDS and Drug Treatment amongst other issues) is challenging and hard but also interesting and provides me opportunity to do work that I think is important in helping others. As a writer it’s good and bad to have a job like this, good because it’s good to work at something you care about. Bad because it can suck all your time and energy away from you. What’s the best job to have if you’re a writer? More on that another day.
For now, I’ve meandered enough and need to find my way back home. Now… which way was it?
There is no letter Y in Greek, either ancient or modern. And what’s interesting is some posit that that’s why there are so few English words beginning with the letter Y – since Greek and Latin are root languages for English. So why Yakoots and what’s the connection. Work with me, Ill get there.
First, Yakoots is a word for a nomadic Mongolian tribe native of Northern Siberia most likely of Turkish stock who are also mainly pastoral in their habits (which I like to think means they listen to a pastor a lot, but I could be wrong). There is some Mongol in my heritage – being a Jew whose family was pushed, plundered, nudged, conquered, and pogromed from one part of the Ukraine east, south, and north from Poland to Hungary and Rumania (and eventually to the US but I’m pretty sure that was by boat right around 1900 – hello Bronx and Brooklyn!)
Second it is one very cool sounding word that could easily be a curse if you think about the way it sounds – it is almost spit out of the mouth.
Third is reminds me of Yakutsk from RISK which is one of the great world conquest and domination games ever made – just behind Diplomacy which if you’ve never played you haven’t fully lived (it is a great simulation of the diplomatic wrangling of pre WWI that should be played in every World History class). Any word that reminds me of the game RISK is a good word.
Fourth, in Greek the word for nothing is tipota. And Yakoots with it’s image of life in Northern Siberia, desolate, cold, harsh, reflects this for me. As a writer being faced with nothing – the blank page – is both the most exciting and horrifying of prospects. Exciting because we will cross into Siberia and put footprints across the snow, filling that page with words. Horrifying because the journey may very well take us deep within ourselves and every inward journey is a journey not to be taken lightly.
Xerxes is son of Darius who attempted an invasion of Greece and conquered a good part of the ancient world stopping at Greece (oh those damned stubborn Greeks). At 36 he took over his dad’s job and became self-proclaimed king of Persia, Great King, King of Kings, and King of Nations. Let’s just say he had a thing for being king. But the Greeks defeat him eventually and he goes back home only to be murdered by the commander of his royal bodyguard. It’s not always good to be a king.
So Xerxes is not Greek but he is an antagonist for the Greeks and the one for which great and heroic acts are required to be performed in order to defeat him – take Thermopylae for example and the stand of the 300 Spartans. And that’s just the one gets all the press. The naval battle at Salamis is a pretty neat little fight also and on a grand scale (let the Greek Fire loose!).
Antagonists then are the subject and Xerxes is the model. Is he evil? (Probably not but he certainly does have issues.) Does your antagonist have to be evil? (No, but it can make the story stronger sometimes if you’re playing up the good vs. evil angle.) Do you even need an antagonist? (You may not but you do need something for your protagonist to struggle towards or against even if it’s only him or her self.) Can your antagonist and your protagonist be the same person? (Yes, literally if you have a good Kirk bad Kirk going like that episode of Star Trek in the original series with William Shatner splitting himself and giving us smiling Shatner and sweating snearing Shatner. Or, as I mentioned before you can have your protagonist have to overcome his or her own limitations like lack of courage, or facing their past.)
Regardless of who the antagonist is, I like characters that I end up feeling for or seeing why they end up being who they are. It’s more complicated and nuanced a story but I find I enjoy them more. Would Darth Vader be the same if we didn’t eventually find out that he was Luke’s father and at some point regrets what he has done? Understanding why someone does bad things can help us feel for them, as uncomfortable as that can be. And if I feel for the bad guy I will feel that much more involved with the good guy. This is probably why a good bad guy can so easily steal a show, novel, movie. If written well, they are just so interesting.
Who are your favorite, authentic, fully fleshed antagonists (people, places, or pieces of self)?
I was thinking vulpine (cunning) or vorpal (deadly) or valetudinarian (anxious about health) or vafrous (sly) but… I’m sticking with my it’s all Greek to me theme and working my way through the hard letters. A vastidity (vastness) of words in Greek starting with a V, there are not. Actually there are none. There’s no V in Greek. So… I skipped a bit ahead in time and chose Venus who is the Roman version of Aphrodite, Goddess of love. Though because she’s Roman and not Greek she has her own spin on the love thing. She is not always venerous (lustful) or venary (in pursuit of sexual gratification), though she can be at times. She was not born but emerged out of the sea-foam, probably covered in varec (seaweed). But let us not vapulate (flog) the V anymore and use this as a vincular (connective) moment.
Just how important is a love story to your work? I’ve never thought of this in terms of my writing at least not in the context of do I write love stories? . I’ve not set out to write a love story (except for the first novel I ever wrote which must stay in the dark dark underworld of a drawer covered in dust and buried beneath later works even though it sometimes calls to me late at night to let it be free) before. Usually a story comes to mind and it may or may not have a love story in it. I find love in stories, happens, many times whether I want it to or not. What’s interesting to me is when I talk about this called love, I wonder who you, the reader imagine are the lovers and what kind of love it is. Are they male and female, two men, two females? Is it a love triangle? Love hexagon? Is there such a thing? What are the limitations we and society put on such things?
In my book Open Wounds my protagonist, Cyd Wymann, struggles with love – love from and for parents, parent figures, boys who are his friends and brothers, and a girl. Relationships are complicated and yet they are what make so many narratives pulse, whether there is love, ambivalence, or hate involved between the characters. A theme I find myself coming back to again and again in my work is the love of a boy for his father (or father figure) or what happens when there is none.
What are the themes of love that echo in your work? Which ones are violactic (flying above) and which are sequestered in the viridarium (Roman Garden)? Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.
Sisyphus was one ruthless, murderous (at least three people and children as told in stories about him), sly, crafty, iron-willed, Machiavellian, power-hungry, bastard of a Greek king. He was an absolute evil genius that regularly outsmarted Gods (Zeus and Persephone in particular) and mortals alike. Of course he took a fall eventually and Persephone (Goddess of the underworld) took him to task (after he played her the fool twice) and made him pay for all his trickery. His ultimate fate is to roll an immense boulder up a hill and upon getting it to the top watch it roll all the way back down, only to roll it back up, again and again. He’s probably (probably?) still at it right now. Now there’s a story to be written (Rick Riordan are you listening?). A Sisyphean task is one that is endless and can never be completed, no matter how hard you try.
Sometimes writing a novel seems like a Sisyphean task. It seems endless with restarts and stops. It is soul crushing at times (dealing with writer’s block), humbling (critiques and rejections, oh my), and the words the end seem like they are unreachable, no matter how close you get or how hard you try.
Which is why when you finish a first draft and write the end, it is so damned satisfying. No matter the rock rolls back down the hill for draft two through nine-teen. Because it doesn’t roll back down all the way and although the peak gets higher, it is a new peak to push the rock up to. And eventually, if we do our work well enough, we get to a top (after copy editing and final final editing and final final final editing with a publisher) and the damned thing doesn’t roll down at all.
Of course then it’s time to create a new rock to roll up the hill.
But for a few moments, on top of the hill, rock firmly in place and unable to roll back down, the view is pretty damn good and the air is very very sweet.