The Stupid 365 Project, Day 60

November 29th, 2010

When I wrote yesterday about different kinds of writing days, I didn’t yet know what kind of writing day I was going to have.

As it turned out, it was one of the days where no ideas whatsoever sashay into view for approval or rejection.  It was one of the days when you feel like you’re dragging marionettes around from situation to situation, and not very skilfully.  It was one of those days when your dialogue sounds like a conversation between a toaster and a clock radio.

It was one of the days when you want to quit.

But I couldn’t quit.  I’ve dragged myself up here in order to move PULPED forward.  If I walk away from a session up here, I’m going to be asking for real trouble.

As Annie Dillard says, writing a book is like taming a lion.  Every day you stay out of the cage it grows more dangerous to go back in.  Quitting yesterday would have been an admission that, for now, anyway, the book had beaten me.

And when you think about it, that’s an insane concept.  A book that you are creating, that’s coming out of your heart and mind and onto the screen (or page) is not only opposing you, but beating you.  You are, in other words, beating yourself.  It makes a kind of grammatical sense but it has nothing at all to do with the world of possibility and experience.

So I wrote crap.  I wrote crap until I remembered the old trick of finding a small detail and describing it fully, letting that be the point of attack for the scene.

Here’s where I was.  Madison (you remember Madison) has fled her house and rented a car because she doesn’t feel safe.  She’s spent the morning  drinking weak coffee and driving a spiral around the places Ferdy frequented (Ferdy is her co-worker in the bookstore who’s murdered while he’s reading Everything But the Squeal), trying to work up the nerve to go into his apartment.  By the time she pulls up to the rundown apartment house, she has to pee so badly that it takes precedence over any intention to learn more about Ferdy and the mysterious baggies of white powder she found in his car.  She has his keys, but the door to the apartment is standing open, and it’s been trashed.

Also, the walls are covered with big blowups of photos of her.  I got her into the apartment, seeing the wreckage and pictures and blah and blah and making sure it’s empty and blah and blah, and then I saw Ferdy’s yearbook.  Madison would find that, and she would open it.  And Ferdy would be in there, but so would Jake, the worthless guy she’d followed to Joshua Tree.  I wrote this:

He looked out from the page of the yearbook with an expression simultaneously expectant and steeled against disappointment. His eyes announced that he knew all about disappointment. Already fat at seventeen, with a stiff bird’s-nest of hair that looked like he’d put it on crookedly, ill-conceived sideburns of different lengths, and a really unfair case of acne. Surely, Madison thought, surely the acne could have skipped Ferdy, who had lacked only pimples to hold a royal flush of teenage afflictions.

Beneath his picture were five words: Ferdy. Big Bird. Tries hard.

High school heartbreak in one-third of a haiku.

His whole life had been spent in this merciless, cheerless sunlight, rolling around alone in the high desert as the world bleached itself bone-white around him. The kid no one remembered two years after graduation. The one they’d pass without a flicker of recognition in the Stater Brother supermarket. Never one of the stars, one of the ones who gathered the light.

Wait. How old had he been? She looked at the cover of the yearbook: 2000. Just about right. Feeling faithless – how many other people had turned away from Ferdy to look for someone else? – she flipped through the pages until she found him, grinning knowingly up from the page, a beacon of confidence. Jake. Hmm. Real name, James; she hadn’t known that. Among other things, she thought. And a knot of type beneath his photo as long as a paragraph in Finnegans Wake: Jake. Dreamboat-in-waiting. Whistle bait. ‘Don’t ask me – I was born this way.’ Bats 320, and that’s in the daytime. Class president, junior year. ‘Lemme see the pictures on that phone, Jakey.’  The reason they invented Facebook. And on and on.

The kid Ferdy would have avoided in the halls, the kid who was a funhouse mirror: This is who you could be if God liked you.

I’m not claiming that as great writing, but it got the book moving.  I did 2200 words yesterday and about 2400 today, including a 1200 word outline of a possible ending that came to me as I was driving the Monument to Beethoven’s Seventh.  I wouldn’t have had any of this if I’d gotten up from the keyboard yesterday.

I’m telling this story mainly because of Sylvia’s and Glenn’s comments yesterday.  Any day you get up without doing your work could be the worst day to quit.  It could be the day you miss the idea that moves the book forward, maybe even changes or deepens the emotional tone.

So there.

13 Responses to “The Stupid 365 Project, Day 60”

  1. Suzanna Says:

    Hi, Tim

    Seriously, why wouldn’t you consider what you just shared from PULPED great writing???

    It was funny, smart, and makes me want to read MORE of what you have been working on.

    It’s really fascinating to see how your creative process works. And when you talk about it, even though I am not a writer, you make it all too clear hard you work at it. As a writer you are fabricating a living breathing story out of thin air. What a difficult thing to do!

    Which raises another question. Do you think there is a writer alive or dead who wrote something great without slaving over it? And if so, who?

  2. Larissa Says:

    So I should have read this post before posting yesterday…all I have to say is, yessir. Point taken. (c:

  3. Beth Says:

    I can’t write a book; I do read many books. I have said many times, in other places, that you write prose like poetry.

    It would be unfair to offer this much of the book to readers of the blog and then not finish the book.

    A bad day’s writing for you is far more than the best day’s writing for the rest of us.

  4. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Hi, Suzeeee — Well, it’s a first-draft sketch of something that will probably make it into the book because it opens up the issue of who Ferdy really was — we only see him alive for a minute before he gets strangled, and we never see him speak. But this put Madison onto the track of Ferdy’s past, as well as an internal realization that at a time she felt alone and isolated, someone really cared about her, and he was obviously pretty fragile, and just how self-involved is she, anyway? If I write this right, she’s going to change a lot during the course of the book –although she’s already who she changes into; she just doesn’t know it yet. There’s a four-line stanza in a Sara Bareilles song that says it all, but I can’t find the first couple of lines in my memory right now.

    Riss, please post whenever and whatever. Always good to see you.

    And Beth, you really are too sweet. I’m just hacking along trying to make a daily word count. And if I DON’T finish the book, it’ll be because I didn’t make my daily word count.

  5. Gary Says:

    Tim, I can only admire your bravery in putting stuff up as you write it. Talk about the Dickens Challenge.

    There’s only one of my readers I would dare to do that with, knowing that what I’m showing him is probably going to be changed out of all recognition by the time I’m done. But he’s so uncritical and he thinks I’m so wonderful that I could show him anything!

  6. EverettK Says:

    Tim said: There’s a four-line stanza in a Sara Bareilles song that says it all, but I can’t find the first couple of lines in my memory right now.

    Lyrics to her songs are at: Sara Bareilles lyrics

    Without knowing exactly what you were thinking about, the one that sounds like a good possibility is “Let The Rain”…

    I wish I were pretty
    I wish I were brave
    If I owned this city
    Then I’d make it behave

    And if I were fearless
    Then I’d speak my truth
    And the world would hear this
    That’s what I wish I’d do, yeah

    If my hands could hold them you’d see
    I’d take all these secrets in me
    And I’d move and mold them to be
    Something I’d set free

  7. Bonnie Says:

    Tim, are you staying at the 29Palms Inn? That’s where I sent my English friend who wanted to cruise SoCal after attending an Adobe conference in LA.

    Oh, and I reviewed Crashed on DorothyL. Hope you’re not too displeased. I loved the book but had a few nits.

  8. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Gary, I appreciate your posting this. I feel like the people who read the blog know what first draft is and will make the necessary excuses. I put this one up not because it was elegant or surprising but because it illustrated exactly the point I had been making: one word after another, and sometimes a corridor of story will open in front of you. That’s what happened here. Don’t know how much of this will be in the book, but the yearbook itself, and the path it puts Madison on, will certainly be in it.

    Everett — thanks for the link. Her new album and Taylor Swift’s new one are pretty much all I’m listening to right now, and I have to say that Bareilles is the most exciting new singer I’ve heard in years: great equipment, enormous musicality, superb taste, major songwriting skills — on and on. And Swift just kills me on about half the songs on SPEAK NOW. The lyrics I was thinking of for Madison are:

    All my life
    I’ve tried
    To make everybody happy while I
    Just hurt
    And hide
    Waitin’ for someone to tell me it’s my turn
    To decide

    Now she’s stopped waiting, and the murder is part of what moves her out from the life she’s let other people create for her. I really love her, and I love the hell out of writing her.

    Hi, Bonnie — No I was at a Motel 6, one of the best in America, where I’ve been staying forever. I read the review and I thank you for it, although I have about the same number of nits with the review that you did with the book. On the whole, though, it’s a good one.

  9. Bonnie Says:

    Well, don’t feel shy, Tim, happy to have my nits nitpicked. One of the things I wish you had on this blog is a place where we could discuss your books. Not just what you’re working on now, but all of them. Although I guess it looks better if the fans have their own website. I have to think a bit on that.

    Ha, and a fellow Motel 6 fan, great! It seems to ironic to me that these days Motel 6 is usually providing free Wifi, as are many rock-bottom budget hotels. I travel a couple of times a year on business (where someone else is paying) and almost without exception your high-end Marriotts, Hyatts, Wyndhams, etc., charge $12-15 a day for Wifi access. That and $6+ for designer bottled water. I’m pretty happy to have free Wifi and clean sheets, all the other stuff is pretty much optional.

  10. Suzanna Says:

    Hi, Tim

    Thanks for chatting us up about Sara Bareilles. I’d heard her on the radio many times but until now never really gave her much more of a listen. She is really good. I especially like it when she pares down the arrangements to simple voice, piano, and strings. Always have been a sucker for ballads like GRAVITY.

  11. philip coggan Says:

    “the mysterious baggies of white powder she found in his car.” Bags of white powder are rarely mysterious.

    May I reccommend to your attention, when all else fails, Saint Expeditus. He’s the patron saint of procrastinators. On hearing the word of God he was instantly converted to the Truer Faith and resolved to take baptism. But the Devil appeared to him in the form of a crow (which in Latin says “cars, cras,” as in “procrastination), and the Devil told him to chill out, leave it till tomorrow (cras, cras). But the saint-to-be stomped on Satan (he was a Centurion and wore hob-nailed sandals) and went off and got baptised that very day, upon which the Governor had him crucified. And so Expeditus achieved conversion, baptism, martydom and sainthood all in the same day. Go thou and do likewise.

    (There’s a story, spread by the wicked, that the saint got his start in the year 1781 when a package containing human bones was received in a convent in Paris. It was marked “Expedite”, and the good nuns naturally assumed that it contained the holy blessed martyr so identified. And they prayed, and theiur prayers were granted (Sister Agatha’s sinitus cleared up just like that, and you know what it used to be like with her and her sniffles at Matins every bloody morning), and a saint was born; in fact, or so say the wicked, the bishop had been cleaning out the crypt under the cathedral and these were the bones of good but anonymous parishioners from ages past which he’d sent the the convent for storage, the Expedite bit being merely an instruction for swift delivery – but we don’t believe that story at all. So whenever you’re dithering over the keyboard, whisper a quick prayer to Expeditus of holy memory).

  12. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Oh, Bonnie, I was just being flip. I’m happy for any attention — writers are all insecure egomaniacs who need praise but don’t think any of it is sufficiently enthusiastic. The one thing I questioned (and this wasn’t anything negative) was the idea that Thistle was my surrogate in the book. Except for the press conference, where I agree with every word she said — I think most broadcast reporters have to stand on tiptoe to qualify as vertebrates — she’s pretty far from me. I’m actually more like Trey, and that’s not really a joke.

    As far as Motel 6 is concerned, I’ve been in some great ones (the longstay ones are especially nice) and a couple that were crack headquarters (Memphis and St. Louis) with the doors open and guys sitting on beds with little vials of product next to them. Had gunfire in the middle of the night in Memphis. But some are great.

    Sana, Sara Bareilles is amazing. The new album is colossal but overproduced — you’re right, with that voice she doesn’t need 80 string players, kettledrums, and bells. But the SONGS are astonishing. “Shotgun,” about a truculent bully who gets mad at everything, going into the chorus — and way, way up in her range, “Maybe nobody loved you when you were young/Maybe when you cried nobody would come” — whooo. Made me tear up. STILL makes me tear up.

    Philip, I don’t know how to say this nicely, but I doubt the literal truth of this tale. I even doubt its truthiness, a term for which I will be forever grateful to Stephen Colbert. The centurion’s hob-nailed sandals are a truthy touch, and it’s interesting that you took it from bags of white powder to Sister Agatha’s sniffles, hmmmmm? You had me laughing, but I couldn’t quite coax myself into credulity.

    I do, however (by reading between the lines) deduce that you have a procrastination problem, and THAT I have no trouble believing in.

    Captcha “Hygelac Prooding.” I do so not want to know what that means.

  13. Sylvia Says:

    I’ve been backtracking to read posts I missed while I was busy and also to catch up on comments (you have some great conversations going here). This was really what I needed to read today, to remind me to stay with it each and every day, even when it feels pointless.

    I think I’ll reread Annie Dillon, too.

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