Friday, May 28, 2010

Fatherhood and literature

He's taller, but I'm wider! (I said "wider," not "whiter.")

One of the interesting things about the past nine months or so is the effect the combination of having a baby and studying graduate English Lit is having on my relationship with my father.

It's not that we ever had a bad relationship; I think we have a very good one. It's just that, sometimes, it's hard to relate to problems you don't understand, or hard to discuss issues if one party isn't that knowledgeable about them. That was sometimes the case, and usually my fault, through a general ignorance of youth.

Now, with Baby Bear's arrival, I find myself turning to my father and mother for a different kind of advice sometimes, and, well, feeling bad about what these two loving people had to put up with from the time I was about 13 until I was... um... about 35?

(Not to mention turning to them for baby-sitting! One of the great joys of my life is seeing them react to their first grandchild, which I suppose I made them wait far too long for. Though Emma Claire's worth the wait, methinks.)

More interestingly, from an intellectual point of view, is that my father and I now have a common interest: English literature. My slowly growing knowledge-base has led to some truly fascinating conversations, and I find myself more interested in my father's work - he is a retired English professor, I should probably mention - and better able to learn from him.

As I've mentioned, I studied Creative Writing in college. Despite Dad telling me you have to read before you can write, what I wanted to do was write, and not read. Don't get me wrong, I read plenty. Just not the type of stuff you learn from. More like the type of stuff you read at the beach in the summer. I wasn't interested in English lit. Honestly, I didn't want to follow in my father's footsteps. I was a stubborn teenager, for one, and they're big footsteps to try to fill, for another (to mix a metaphor rather nicely).

But now, even though I still have almost no interest in teaching, I really do find myself enjoying learning. It's been a long time since I sat in a classroom (13 years between courses), and I didn't know what to expect. What I found was a stimulation of my mind that I haven't had since... well, maybe ever. As much as I've loved journalism and so forth, there is a rush, an immediacy to it. To give a text a close reading is something different. Something that stretches me, whether because of lack of experience, academic rustiness, or both.

It's fun to learn.

And it's more fun to really be able to talk with Dad about some of the nuances of literature. Sometimes, I feel like it's a conversation he's been waiting 35 years for. I still remember the day I came home from college at the end of a semester in which I'd taken Shakespeare. My Dad asked me about the final, and we had an intelligent conversation about literature. It was a first. It was like a bar mitzvah of the mind. I'll never forget it. It was one of the happiest days of my life, knowing I'd earned a small measure of intellectual respect.

Imagine how I feel talking with him about "City Comedies," a subgenre I'd never even heard of until this past semester. When I asked him about his doctoral dissertation (on Elizabethan Domestic Tragedy, another subgenre), for the first time, I actually understood exactly what he was talking about. As much fun as our yearly pilgrimage to see the New York Yankees is, this year's was even more fun, because it wasn't just talking baseball. It was talking baseball and talking literature.

It may have taken me 35 years to get to this point in my father-son relationship, but I am so very glad, every single conversation, that I have. I can only pray it doesn't take 35 years for me to be able to talk with Emma this way.

Of course, first Emma has to learn to talk...

Thursday, May 27, 2010

What ever happened to that novel, anyway?

Perhaps you may recall the novel I started way back in November of 2006 for National Novel Writing Month. Tentatively called "Throne of the Living Dead," and later "Gun Dead," it was subtitled "A High-Firepower Melodrama in XX Parts" (with "XX" a number dependant sheerly on how many chapters I had written), and well on its way to living up to the name. Guns, zombies, gore, cheesy action... and just a hint of cheesy romance.

That was then. And, really, that is now, too.

See, I encountered a problem. The zombies ate my brain. Well, not really, though you might debate the point. It wasn't even that, three months after I started, I fell in love. You always hear about how artists and writers must suffer in order to achieve true greatness. And, of course, my suffering (more or less) ended when I met Marisa.

Still, I don't think that accounts for what is now going on two and a half years of what amounts to writer's block.

Much like her, I've hit a wall.

I just can't write. Not fiction. Not screenplays. Nothing. I can get my work done, throw together the occasional bit for a freelance gig, but basically, when it comes to my Creative Writing side, I'm just plain stumped. I've tried new novel-centric software, since Final Draft always helped my screenwriting. I've tried rethinking the novel into a script - movie or graphic novel, take your pick - I've tried just plain picking up what I have written and staring at it.


It's killing me. I want to write. I want to edit. I want to finish a first draft and move on to rewriting. I still fantasize that someday it might become one of those limited edition horror novels I collect.

But I can't do it.

I think my mistake was leaving the structure open-ended. If I felt like writing a new chapter, I could just change the number (see "XX," above) of parts in the melodrama. But as you might expect, I had good parts, bad parts, some plain awesome stuff and some stuff not worth the paper it was inkjetted on.

So I kept having ideas, and I think somewhere along the way, the law of diminishing returns kicked in.

Add to that my dubious skill, plus the various time constraints of the past couple of years (see previous post), and you have a recipe for writing disaster. No time to pick up the laptop and start writing, and on the rare occasions I do have time, I just come up empty. It's all in my head, I know it. I just can't do anything about it.

Long story short (too late, I know), that's what happened to the novel. I always gave some thought to turning it into an online novel, posting a chapter at a time on a blog. I have the sad feeling that, despite my success with Dead Hunt, this thing is going to end up unpublished even if I do finish.

But I think it has some entertainment value, if not much literary value, so I keep hoping. And staring at the screen.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Life on the Rim reboot

You may have noticed it's been a long time since I posted anything.

What can I say? I've been busy.

"Why haven't you posted about me?"

For starters, of course, there's Emma Claire ("Baby Bear"), who is now nearly 9 months old - which probably says something about how long it's been since I posted.

Second, there's the matter of my quasi-new job, which has been an ongoing 18-month transition from the world of journalism to the world of academic communications.

"I may be dead, but I'm still torturing grad students."

Third, one of the perks of working in academia is nearly-free tuition. So, despite many of my wiser instincts saying, "Hey, isn't the baby enough in the way of extracurriculars?" I am studying for my Master of Arts in English Literature.

"Emma's first carousel ride: Whee!"

And, given that Marisa is on maternity leave, I've finally taken the "free" out of my freelancing, and picked up a part-time gig doing some copy editing.

"Because where else can you shoot someone in Bangkok? Besides Bangkok."

Needless to say, between all of that and my minor Mafia Wars addiction over on Facebook, I haven't had a lot of time to blog.

But the other night, on a rare occasion when Small Bear went to sleep and stayed that way, Marisa and I got the chance to actually sit down and watch a movie together. After much debate between a chick-flick-loving wife and her horror/action/sci-fi-loving husband, we settled on Julie & Julia. Which is, of course, about blogging. (And food.)

And, as usual, that got me thinking that I should find the time to do more here. I've been tweaking the layout and stuff, as you might notice, and hoping that's the first step in a reboot.

I guess we'll see how that turns out. Wish me luck!