Friday, June 1, 2012

Progress Flagging on Your Novel? Try This

Picture this: You have been working on a novel for, say, five years or so...

You find your progress flagging, say, because you've got a bone-crushing day job that is sucking every ounce of pep out of you...

This happens just as you are ready bring that first draft in for a rocky, perhaps dangerous, yet invigorating landing...

You find an opening in one of your frenetic're ready to start again...but where? You're lost.

My advice: Print the damn thing out. Invest $24 bucks in a new InkJet cartridge, line the chapters up, and click the Print button. I did, and I ended up with this:

Untitled - First Draft - Five Years In
I knew I'd been writing for a while, but I had no idea I'd produced that much. Even if half of it is complete crap (the realistic assumption for a first draft), I'm like, dude, you've got something substantial here, something with some heft to it...

Something worth sticking with for a while.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Arthur Phillips and the American Worldview

(Long) After the Fact: A look at Arthur Phillips' first novel

On Arthur Phillips’ website, the following pivotal passage is included in the synopsis of Prague, his first novel:

What does it mean to fret about your fledgling career when the man across the table was tortured by two different regimes? How does your short, uneventful life compare to the lives of those who actually resisted, fought, and died? What does your angst mean in a city still pocked with bullet holes from war and crushed rebellion?
These words are placed in the mouths of the novel’s principal characters, a group of twentysomething American expatriates who seek adventure and understanding in the newly freed Eastern bloc. And what struck me in reading the passage was that this outsized narrative covering a year’s time in 1990-91 Budapest is remarkable ten years after its publication not only for its wit, style, and poignancy, but also for its portrayal of a world in which very little has changed. Emerging from the novel, one could easily see young Americans today in post-revolutionary Tunisia or Egypt asking exactly the same questions and arriving at exactly the same non-answers.

In other words, the story resonates. But that resonance comes not only from the moment in history the story captures, but also from the author’s seemingly effortless command of his art. Each sitting takes the reader on a gliding ride through imagery and emotion that is vivid, at times piercing, but always easy to digest. Even the massive interlude Phillips injects in Part Two is completely painless, and in fact invigorating. Here we are treated to hundreds of years of Hungarian history given as backstory for one of the novel’s few aged characters, a device that illuminates the character, takes us on a exhilarating flight, and lays a solid foundation for the remainder of the story.

As it turns out, I have once again let a book sit on the shelf for much too long. Phillips has delivered four novels since Prague, all to great critical acclaim. But I figure arriving at the party late is much preferred to not arriving at all.