Tag Archives: novel

Playlist For a Novel

Flagstaff Mars HillI’m writing a novel this summer, or at least until the semester starts. Without divulging too much, it’s a crime novel, which is a return to my literary roots. I grew up reading detective fiction by Rex Stout, Agatha Christie, Colin Dexter, and others. The novel is (unsurprisingly) set in Flagstaff, Arizona, and mixes fictional and historic criminal cases.

Like most writers, I listen to music when I write. It blocks out distractions and helps put me into whatever mood I need to be in to write, which for me changes from story to story. I try to create a certain atmosphere for myself when I write, something that suits the tone, plot, characters, and setting I’m writing about. For most short stories and essays, I listen to one or two tracks on repeat, usually folk music or classical. A novel, though, is different. I need numerous moods for the story’s numerous characters. So I created a playlist catered to the overlapping atmospheres I want to write in.

The songs in this playlist work together eclectically. Some songs suit a specific character (“The Boxer” and “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings”) while others suit the plot (“No Man Knows My Destiny” and “Runaway”). For a crime novel, I want mostly minor keys and acoustic sounds, with strategically surreal lyrics (crimey music, in other words). More than anything, I want to feel immersed into the fictional world I’m working in, a sense of a world that is closed in, identifiable, and aesthetically comprehensive.

My novel playlist is as follows:

“19th Nervous Breakdown” by The Rolling Stones

Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” by Father John Misty

La Llorona” by Sofia Rei

“When I’m Small” by Phantogram

“Sorcerer” by Junction

“The Battle of Evermore” by Led Zeppelin

“Tam Lin” by Fairport Convention

Bye Bye Macadam” by Rone

“The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel

“Runaway” by Nice as F*#k

“Seeds” by Moses Sumney

“No Many Knows My Destiny” by Ryan Biter

“El Mayoral” by Sofia Rei

“Far From Any Road” by The Handsome Family

How It Went Down” by Dark Dark Dark

“Man On the Moon” by Moses Sumney

You can find most of the music I’m listening to in this playlist. What music do you listen to while writing? Let me know in the comments. I’m always open to new tunes.

-jk

 

The Novel That Wasn’t (But Will Be)

library-books-2The last time I wrote anything for NaNoWriMo this year was November 8. After November 9, I mysteriously lost interest in a genre-bending crime-western about four elderly women who witness a murder and can only recall the gritty details of a bad acid trip they had together in their college days in the late 1960s.

I still have that overwhelming disinterest now, as I apply for more graduate schools in the humanities, an area continually asked to justify its existence to university administrators who want higher salaries for themselves at the expense of faculty and student budgets. We’re constructed as the enemy, put on watchlists by paranoid Internet users, and made to be reminded that our pursuit of art is a waste of time in a fastpacedgrabitall economy. What good is an MFA to a post-apocalyptic society struggling to save the last bee colony? What good is a genre-bending novel to a pipeline oil leak? In a few years, will we even be publishing novels?

So I put it aside. I was also busy studying and teaching. I want to enjoy the rest of my education; I don’t know if I’ll have an opportunity to enjoy it again. It’s a lot of work for little, if any, profit. I’m lucky I have no student debts, but every time I look at the news, I can’t help but feel that I’ve squandered my education for a pursuit that now only exists to sustain itself. The power of the written word has betrayed us. The written, texted, tweeted word can be undeniably a lie, and people still believe it. Meanwhile, if a poem goes viral, it only reaches the people who already love it.

I still have the urge to write, though. I enjoy it, when I manage to find the time and peace. Even this meager blog is satisfying. It’s work, pleasurable work, but it can’t exist only for me. The most successful writer, as I’ve heard, is the one who can write a story and put it in a drawer forever. Until I reach that level of inner peace, I need an audience. Maybe this post will reach someone who needs it, or at least enjoys it. Probably not. I want to be realistic about my prospects, but the pleasure I derive from writing propels me forward through this muddy, hopeless, disgusting month.

I’ll get back to my novel soon. I don’t think a genre-bending novel will make a difference, but if I ever stop writing, the anti-intellectuals win. If they want me to justify my existence as a writer, reader, and academic, I’ll have to give them one hell of a novel full of well-written dynamic characters and compassionate portrayals of inner conflicts and meticulous attention to the beauty of environmental and historical landscapes. I’d rather write hopelessly than not at all.

-jk

Nobody Actually Has Time to Write a Novel (But We Do It Anyway)

train-1November 1 kicked off the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, the long-standing tradition in which writers and readers alike decide to write a novel (or 50,000 words at least) during the month of November. The idea isn’t to have a novel finished by December 1, but to have written enough of a first draft of a novel (or memoir or novella even) to build on during the next year, something to return to and tinker with at a more casual, realistic pace.

Writing at a bout 1600 words a day, writers might finish. Most don’t. I’ve only finished once, and I was a very sleepless college freshman, full of ideas and not much else. Now, I’m a graduate student in English. Now, I’m full of ideas and stress, and not much else. I have deadlines to meet, books to read, authors to research, research to catch up on, and workshop material to write. I have classes to teach and a full 13 credit hours of graduate coursework to focus on, as well as graduate applications and a brand new hip flask to make proper use of. Do I really want to add the pressure of a novel to that?

The answer, of course, is no. But I’m doing it anyway. I don’t expect to finish, even if I write during all of Thanksgiving break. Even when I inevitably don’t meet the standard 50,000 words, I’ll still have a novel draft to tinker with in 2017. Like many writers across the globe, I’m enjoying more ambition than I can justify having, and the companionship of fellow writers struggling near me.

So, to my fellow November-long novelists, I wish you luck and sudden bouts of free time. Say goodbye to your loved ones and the prospect of having clean dishes. It’s noveling season.

-jk

A Step-By-Step Guide to Not Writing a Novel

Coffee Flip

  1. Get an idea for a novel, something that challenges the status quo, too radical for your parents to read. Something like Cormac McCarthy’s work. Drink three cappuccinos and write two pages of exposition, then call it a day.
  2. Make concise, attainable writing goals the next day, but you should wake up late because the caffeine kept you from sleep. Create a reward system: one glass of wine for every ten pages you write. Proceed to crank out sixty pages of character description. Print it out the next day after the hangover wears off, read it over, and flush all sixty pages down the toilet because it sounds like a high school student trying to imitate Cormac McCarthy.
  3. Walk to the store for more wine and a plunger after the first draft of your radical novel clogged the toilet. Make small talk with the cashier. When she asks what kind of stories you write, look at the ceiling, shrug, and say, “Whatever comes to mind,” realizing that after the first three glasses of wine you forgot what you wanted to write about in the first place. Walk out of the store with the bottle of wine in one hand and the plunger in the other, like all writers do at some point.
  4. Rewrite your visionary, stupendous novel in a new voice. Shift the paradigms so radically that you end up with one hundred pages of a different novel entirely. Print it out, read through it, and this time flush the same sixty pages, keeping forty pages of unnecessary but extremely well-written exposition. Blame writer’s block and pour another glass of wine.
  5. Spiral into a deep depression because you can’t seem to write a novel. Spend the weekend drinking wine and reading Cormac McCarthy novels while sitting in front of your word processor. Manage to write another page of exposition, then go a bar where writers are most likely to congregate, to ask them for help with your insurmountable writer’s block.
  6. Choose a swank hipster brew pub in a highly gentrified neighborhood. Stumble in and identify four or five writers sitting in a corner; you know they are writers because they have ordered wine in a brew pub and have brought their plungers with them. You order wine too and spend the next five hours pretending to listen to their advice but, like them, you spend much of the time updating your status about the loser Cormac McCarthy wannabes surrounding you.
  7. The next morning, email Cormac McCarthy. By now, your plot and character names should be thoroughly forgotten. You decide that you cannot write without his prophetic advice, so do not even attempt writing until you a receive a reply from Cormac McCarthy’s agent, a terse email containing the titles of several self-help books that Cormac McCarthy has written to counteract the rise of depressed writers trying to imitate him. You purchase one such book, entitled It’s Called Trying, Doofus. it features McCarthy on the cover holding a plunger.
  8. Spend the next three months perusing the Internet for cures to writer’s block and trying each one until it becomes boring. Start with the obvious (writing), then move on to the more exciting suggestions, like boxing Irish dairy farmers or having an affair with the prince of Liechtenstein. Try living on a diet of onions and peaches, or preach the gospel to alligators. All writers have their quirks, right?
  9. Try to be a writer; do everything you can to be a writer, because we all know being a writer is a lot easier than actually writing. The act of writing is difficult, often lonely work, requiring dangerous amounts of time alone with one’s thoughts resulting in alienation and poor social skills. Although the benefits of writing (completing a draft with a satisfied sigh, seeing the delight in the faces of those you share a polished draft with, seducing people, and such) are truly worth the effort in the end, the work that goes into writing is emotionally exhausting. If it were easy, there would be a lot more people writing than sitting around being writers.
  10. If writing were easy, it wouldn’t be worth it. Scars can be beneficial sometimes.

-jk

A Novel That Sounds Like Bach

Typewriter musicStarting a new writing project can sometimes feel like latching onto an umbrella and jumping off a cliff, relying only on improvisation and plain luck to keep me from hitting the ground. The key difference is that, unlike jumping off a cliff, writing is a lot scarier.

The other day, I latched onto a good idea for a novel (lawyers, blogs, Texas). It’s since pulled me over the edge, and there’s no turning back. Fortunately, I have plenty to write about. I pull my inspiration from many sources, the authors I read, the people I talk with. One notion fueling this new novel is that I want it to read like the sonatas and partitas of J. S. Bach.

Of course prose and music are two different forms of art, but I’ve enjoyed listening to Bach for over ten years. I enjoy the deliberateness in his music. Nothing is superfluous, allowing the chord progressions to take center stage unhindered by a fixation with virtuosity, and I say this as a violinist who has personally dealt with the pretentiousness of virtuoso musicians and composers.

Instead, Bach patiently jogs along, sometimes as straight 8th notes for measure after measure. The emotions he conveys vary from movement to movement, but they always carry the same deliberate awareness, the same steady pace, putting focus on the chords rather than the structure. Similarly, I want to write prose that invites the reader to go on a run with it on an Autumn morning, that invites the reader to turn corners in an unfamiliar neighborhood but to keep running no matter what they encounter together. Ultimately, I hope to write something the reader can get along with easily, more a friend than a confusing professor. I admit that I am sometimes guilty of lecturing my readers in past stories.

I intend to listen to Bach’s sonatas and partitas while my fingers unravel this novel, but specifically I will listen to Chris Thile performing them on the mandolin. Bach wrote them for the violin, but I enjoy Thile’s rendition more. The timbre sounds more autumnal, more like raindrops or footsteps. And unless I get back to work writing, I may never see this idea to the end.

-jk