post office

mathematical gymnastics and book hooky

Things here at Casa Crisis have begun to settle down a little. Some good progress is being made in those areas which were most worrisome. Long way to go, but we have a solid and promising start.

So the Mathematician went skiing. Right now he’s at Whistler in British Columbia, where he goes every year for a long weekend with a group of friends. In the evenings they play poker and eat and drink a lot of beer, and in the day they ski. He hesitated about going; I tried not to push him out the door too roughly.

I like having the house to myself now and then. Okay, I like it a lot. What would a writer be without a lot of conflicts in her nature? Love the family, glad to be alone.

However. I am just alone enough to feel overwhelmed by the long list of things waiting to be done. A backlog of things, most of them not especially fun. Like: getting the tax stuff ready to send to the accountant. Not only our personal tax stuff, but the Saralaughs corporate tax stuff. This always makes me nervous. You know if you look in your rearview mirror and there’s a cop following you, you get a flush of adrenaline? Thinking: shit. Thinking: what did I do? Did I cut that light too short? Are my tags out of date? Where’s my insurance card? What’s the speed limit here? Are my brake lights working? Did I pay that parking ticket? I can work myself into a sweat in a situation like this, and then the cop pulls out and passes me and I collapse into a twitching lump of adrenaline-saturated self mockery. That’s how I feel about doing the corporate taxes. I am very scrupulous about making sure that business expenses are really business expenses, that I can justify and document everything, that I’m well within the letter and the spirit of the law. Every year I say the same thing to the accountant: no numerical gymnastics, no loopholes. I want to pay what I owe.

All of this so that if dear old Saralaughs ever does get audited, I don’t faint dead away. So I can walk, angst-riddled, into the audit knowing that I am in the clear with at least a chance of not having a full blown panic attack.

What can I say? I was brought up Catholic.

Have I ever mentioned that the Mathematician collects graduate degrees? He’s got an undergraduate degree and a Master’s from Trinity Cambridge, a Master’s degree and a Doctorate from Princeton, and then for fun he went and got an MBA at the University of Michigan while I was on the faculty there.

He’s the Mathematician with an MBA, and I’m doing the taxes. And you know why? Because we’ll end up divorced if he does them. A typical exchange would go like this:

Him: Wait. Wait. We’re paying how much for server space?
Me: We’re not paying anything. Sara is paying. Saralaughs is paying.
Him: With our money.
Me: With her money.
Him: Debatable.
Me: You promised not to use that word.
Him: I have told you before, I could set up a server of our own, right here from the house–
Me: Can we move to the next item?
Him: It’s ridiculous what they charge.
Me: Granted. Can we move on to the next item?
Him: Wait. Wait. We’re paying how much for software updates?

You see that it’s easier, in the long run, to do it myself.

So the taxes need to be sorted out, and various animals need to go to the vet, and I have to call the attorney about something really irritating but necessary, and there are three boxes of things I need to pack and take to the post office, letters to write, email to answer, the forum to check, and I have a doctor’s appointment and oh by the way, this book that is stuck in my craw. More than one book.

I have such an urge to play book hooky. Not work on the book I have to work on, but on the book that appeals to me most at the moment. The one I don’t have a contract for. The fun one.

So that is where I am at this moment. You know what? I’ve been up two and a half hours, and I feel the need to take a nap.

here's an idea. maybe not workable, but an idea

I get email all the time from people in the UK and Australia/NZ (and other places, too) saying they can’t find copies of the Wilderness books, and do I have any suggestions?

The problem is, I don’t. It’s as frustrating for me as it is for them. No, wait. It’s almost certainly more frustrating for me.

Except I had an idea today, which may or may not work. Here’s the question for you: If it were possible to purchase the first four Wilderness books in paperback and/or Queen of Swords in hardcover, all signed, and have them sent to you the slow way, would people be interested in that?

As you see here, I can order the four paperbacks from Amazon for a total of $23.41 (this is a special deal which won’t last forever; when it’s over the price for all four will go up to close to $30). If I place the order, the books appear at my door nicely packaged. I could then open the package and sign the books, tape it all back together, put a new mailing label on it, and drop it off at the post office.

I estimate the box would weigh five pounds, so mailing cost (parcel post, 4-6 weeks):

Great Britain $24.25
Australia $22.75
Greece $19.25
Ontario Canada $16.00
The Republic of Georgia $23.25

and so on.

Queen of Swords would be $19.32, plus shipping. If all five books were in one package, with an estimated weight of seven pounds, that would be $28.45 to England.

I wouldn’t add any additional charges or handling fees, but it’s still not cheap. If you live in England and you want the four signed paperback books, we’re talking $47.66; for the paperbacks plus the new hardcover, a whopping $71.18. Australia would be a little less. And once the three for one deal is over at Amazon, you’d have to add on another $7.50. So the big question: is this worth talking about? And if there is enough interest, how in the heck would I handle the money end of it?


Back to work.

Just checking in to say

things are chaotic. Or should I say, more chaotic than usual. So forgive me, I’ll try to post something more substantive later today or tomorrow.

In the meantime, a question that maybe you can answer for me. Why does everybody want to write a novel? So, okay, maybe it’s not everybody. But it seems that way sometimes. Taxi drivers, surgeons, carpenters, post office clerks, teachers, fourteen year old cheerleaders.

I’m not saying that it will never happen. It’s certainly possible that the next wonderful book I come across will have been written by a plumber. The question is, what is the drive here? We are disposed by our social natures toward storytelling, but why novels? What’s the attraction? I can see why some people want to act in movies — if it goes well, fame and fortune. But that can’t be it for those who dream about writing novels. So what is it that is so appealing?

UPDATE/NOTE/CLARIFICATION: I will say again that to any of you working on your first novel, I wish the very best of luck. Sincerely, and with all good will. I’m not questioning that you write, but I am curious what drives people to write a novel. I know why I started writing fiction, but what about you?

point of view slippage

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything on craft, but over the last few days I’ve been thinking a lot about POV.

In every discipline there are some concepts which are particularly hard for students to absorb. In linguistics there’s the concept of the phoneme, or, on the syntactic level, the passive. I run into really intelligent people who are confused and frightened by the passive. On a few occasions I have used a napkin in a restaurant to do my little passive spiel, and almost always it’s like coaxing somebody out on a high wire with no net. Once that’s been managed, I sometimes trot out my second party trick, which requires another napkin: the great vowel shift, or the house/husband goose/gosling puzzle.

Back to POV. In introductory creative writing classes it’s often simply explained with who’s the camera? — which character’s head are we in (assuming third person limited POV), through whose consciousness is this scene being filtered?

Lately I’ve been noticing a lot of sloppy POV work. A scene opens with the POV character coming into a house where he’s never been before, meeting a person he wants to like. The details of what we as readers see can’t go beyond what that character sees and perceives. Which depends, in turn, on the character’s powers of observation, what’s on his mind, his background, and whether he got enough sleep last night.

There’s a famous writing exercise by John Gardner that goes something like this: character walking down a hill in a small city towards a bay. The weather is bright and warm. Describe the town and street from this character’s POV…

1. a woman who has just got a promotion she worked hard for
2. a teenager whose brother was just arrested for drug dealing
3. a man who has been spiraling deeper and deeper into depression
4. a five year old child on his or her way to the library with a parent

Each of these people will experience the street and the town differently. Of these four, only one is likely to notice, for example, that the crocus are coming up on the lawn outside the post office.

In the last couple days I’ve read passages in published novels where tough guys have observed things so counter to the characterization that I was pulled out of the story. Of course, a big bad detective could take note of the fact that the dead woman is wearing lilac pedalpushers, but then at some point you have to show me that he grew up doing his homework at the back of his mother’s dress shop, and has a quiet interest in watercolor. Otherwise it’s clear that the female author is observing and pushing her big bad male character to do the same. That’s classic author intrusion.

At different times, different POV approaches are fashionable among writers. First person narratives really had a strange hold on novels for a while there, but I think (I hope) that’s relaxing a little. Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, which won a lot of literary prizes and was widely read, is written in omniscient. I can’t remember the last contemporary novel I’ve read in omniscient POV. I was quite shocked, and then I settled down into the story and I admired the chance she took (which paid off).

Really, all you have to do is this: decide what approach you’re going to take, and stick to it. And hope for an editor who reads closely enough to catch this kind of slip.