Writing Update

I’m currently working on several different projects.  Some are brand new, some are just revisions of older projects.  And here they are, in no particular order:

  1. Fred, Again.  This is the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo this past year.  I’m still revising it.  I’ve been talking to a woman I know who’s a retired police officer and picking her brain for information such as how crim scene investigations are conducted.  I’m trying not to get myself stuck in Revision Hell, but progress is still slow.
  2. “Indications”.  A story I wrote a few years ago which I thought was finished, though  recent comments from editors I’ve submitted it to suggest otherwise.  So, I’m putting some more polish on this one.
  3. “Burying Uncle Albert”.  I wrote this story about three years ago, and I’m still finalizing it.  I like it so far, but there’s a serious tone shift in the middle of the story that I need to fix.  My question is how I want to handle it; do I want to make the first half more serious, or the second half more funny?
  4. “Tumbleweeds”.  A short story I wrote a couple of weeks ago.  This one just needs a few final touches before I feel comfortable sending it out.

My biggest time sink right now, though, is the rewrte of a short story I wrote a year or so ago called “Hollow”.  This one is particularly challenging because the main character is a young Hispanic woman, and I don’t resemble a Chicana by any stretch of the imagination, not even when I shave.  So I’ve been reading blogs written by such women, checking out some forums, and reading books.  What I really need to do is find a Chicana who can act as a sort of collaborator on this story; who can say, “Uh, no, you racist nitwit, she’d never say something like that.”  I’ve been stressing a lot about that.

What I haven’t been stressing about, though, is the fact that her husband is Irish American; and at last night’s writers’ group meeting, my ignorance of other cultures showed up most prominently there.  I’d been operating under the assumption that Irish American culture is pretty much like most European-American culture, which is pretty much like the culture I came from.  Imagine my shock when my fellow writer M. pointed out that the slang word I had used — “plonker” — is not a word that this guy would have used at all (she has authority on this, being married to an Irish man and having spent some time in Ireland herself).  Now, I admit I was lazy; I just looked up a website of Irish slang, and didn’t bother checking on how current any of that slang was.

I guess that should be a lesson to me and any other writer who chooses to create characters of different cultures and societies.  You can grab words and broad elements of the culture from popular impressions or through cursory research, but it’s the subtleties that will come back to bite you.  A European writer writing about a modern American culture might mention that their character likes to grill with charcoal, for example, and completely miss out on the entire conflict within that BBQ’ing subculture over the value of charcoal vs. gas for cooking (I’m a charcoal man, myself).  Such subtleties may not figure into the story at all, but if the character gets involved in some sort of grilling contest, then our European writer had been know these kinds of subtleties.

Characters have a life of their own.  At first I thought I could avoid these issues by simply making Francesca a white woman and her husband a regular American guy, but neither of them would budge on this issue.  I figure I’m stuck.

Stories frequently take on lives of their own as well.   I wrote “Hollow” almost a year ago, figuring on it being part of one “universe” of stories.  I knew I had to rewrite it, though, but it wasn’t until I realized it was more properly a “Mollyverse” story that I began to know what to do with it.  And last week, I discovered that the story was starting to take on a new title; I’d recently started reading Veinte Poemas de Amor, Pablo Neruda’s collection of love poems.  The first poem in that volume is “Cuerpo de Mujer”, which means “Body of a Woman”.  And because of the nature of the story and the identity of the main character, this title feels a lot more natural to me.

The story will get written.  I’m excited about it.

In other news, I recevied a rejection notice today from the magazine I’d sent “Joe’s Salvation” to.  They were happy with the work, I think, and almost apologetic that they couldn’t take the story, but they did ask for more contributions.  That, at least, makes me feel less pained about the rejection.