The Marathon Ends

As I’d sort of expected, it didn’t last nearly as long as I’d thought it would. In the end, I managed 4,924 words in four hours, which is nothing to sneeze at. I’ll probably be posting an excerpt from the first draft of “Street Food” soon.

In the end, it wasn’t my willpower or my stamina that failed me. What happened was, in the metaphorical twelfth mile, I started to get shin splints, and then the marathon was canceled on account of rain, and I realized that it was probably for the best. I feel only mildly disappointed: four hours of constant writing was more of a strain on my flimsy sanity than I really need.

Okay…I guess I’ll go of and do something “productive.” Damn it!

Really, A Marathon

The big day’s here! The Sunday Writing Marathon will begin shortly. I’ll be doing occasional updates here. Wish me luck!

Update: A Marathon

As far as I can tell, the Sunday Writing Marathon will go ahead as planned (although, I’m thinking I’ll make it an eight to ten hour event, twelve is starting to seem a bit much). Although now, I’ve lost any opportunity for comfortable boredom with the idea, since I’ve decided I will not in fact be spending that time working on my current novel project, which I’ve decided to put on hold for the time being, since basically, I’m sick of the boring-ass main character and the boring-ass plot makes me want to punch myself in the nose.

In other words, now I have two frightening ordeals: trying to come up with a great, inspiring novel idea in the next sixteen hours, and then writing it for eight to ten hours. So, for anybody who was worried that this wasn’t going to be as painful, stupid, and humiliating as running a real marathon, it’s your lucky day!

A Marathon

Not a real marathon. Oh god no. For the time being, I’m content that I’ve actually lost enough weight to see my ankles without bending down (much). No, in typical Life of an English Major fashion, I’m talking about a writing marathon. Since I’ve yet to come up with a suitable topic for the Infinite Novel, I had a slightly saner and much stupider idea: why not spend an entire day writing? Because there’s no way banging on a keyboard and staring at a screen for twelve hours could hurt anybody, right?

Here’s the plan: this Sunday, I’ll get up, eat breakfast, and then write all day. From nine in the morning to nine at night. Twelve hours of constant writing, stopping only long enough to pee, guzzle coffee, gorge on premature Halloween candy, and clutch my ruined fingers and weep.

If all goes well, check my Twitter profile on September 27th. In between finger-ruining and frustrated head-banging, I’ll be posting updates.

(I love how I wrote this whole post with a straight face, as though I have, like, actual readers)

The Infinite Novel

While I was sitting around thinking about my latest project (I’m making another crack at writing and revising a novel), I had a silly idea, and as so often happens, rather than dismiss it without a second thought, I thought, “Well hey, that’s kind of interesting.”

The silly idea is this: an unfinishable project, a novel that never ends, that I keep writing until I grow old and die. (I know what you’re thinking: “That didn’t get caught by your silliness filter?” To that, I say: “I have a very porous silliness filter. You know, in case that wasn’t obvious.”) The Internet makes this a lot more practical than it would otherwise be. Here’s how I see it: when I sit down to my daily writing session (thanks to Stephen King for teaching me about that, by the way; a scheduled daily writing session has done me a lot of good), I hammer out another sentence or paragraph or page or chapter of the novel. And then, I just don’t stop. I keep writing, and the story keeps unspooling itself in my mind. The major factor that’ll determine whether or not I actually attempt this is whether or not I can find a suitable premise for an infinite story. After all, I don’t want it to just be some sort of Gödelian “A Thousand and One Nights.” Some planning is obviously necessary before I even consider the idea.

More news as events warrant.

(Note: I was this close to trying to write an infinite epic poem, but then I remembered my poetic skills are confined to the writing of goofy limericks.)

So Bad I Couldn’t Finish It: “Slither”

So I once again feel the need to convince myself that I’m not just yet another hobby blogger spewing random opinions out into cyberspace. And thus, another pithily-named recurring segment that will probably never recur. I present to you: So Bad I Couldn’t Finish It, a (possible) review series in which I vomit bile all over a movie or book or videogame that was so truly awful that I couldn’t sit through the whole thing.

I’m an avid reader, and I don’t like the feeling of putting a book down unfinished. I plowed through Gerald Edelman’s dense and almost unreadable neurology book Wider Than The Sky back when I was a high school student with a laughable attention span. So, it says something about Edward Lee’s novel Slither that I just couldn’t force myself to finish it.

The novel’s plot runs something like this: a pair of scientists is sent to a tiny island off the coast of Florida to gather samples and escort a ditzy photographer from National Geographic. The island houses an “abandoned” military installation, so the group has a military escort. After a while, they discover some very odd things: giant trichinoid worms, reproductive cells that should be microscopic but are the size of ladybugs, and a profusion of weird cameras and equipment. Some pot farmers have been using abandoned missile sheds as grow-houses, and they get chucked into the action.

The thing is, I’m not sure what that action is, because, although the plot is complex and well-thought-out, the writing is so dry and lifeless that I couldn’t make it to the climax.

I say “climax” for a reason, because Slither is dripping with what I can only assume is sexual frustration. Nora, one of the scientists, is a thirty-year-old virgin who spends an anomalous fraction of her time being jealous of the National Geographic woman’s good looks. There are a couple of sex scenes, but those are far outweighed by scenes of people talking about sex and thinking about sex and admiring or despising their perfect or hideous bodies, respectively. The aforementioned trichinoid worms take a strange interest in female genitalia, but I’ll hand that one off to Dr. Freud.

Oversexedness aside, Slither is simply a lousy read. Edward Lee has the same problem Richard Preston did when writing his novel The Cobra Event: the technical bits overwhelm the narrative. But Richard Preston has two distinct advantages over Edward Lee: one, he’s made his career writing about technical subjects, and so has developed a talent for it; and two, he actually knows what he’s talking about. Lee, on the other hand, seems more or less to be making shit up. And even if he’s not, the execution is so horrendous that it doesn’t matter. I cannot imagine any normal person who would throw technical jargon into idle chit-chat; or worse than that, in the case of one male character, act like a complete geek one moment and then like a stud the next.

Of course, somebody will no doubt argue that, since I didn’t read the book all the way to the end that I have no right to comlain about nonsensical plot points. To that I respond: yes I do. I’m a fan of Stephen King, so obviously, I don’t have a problem waiting for nonsnesical plot points to be resolved. The difference between Stephen King and Edward Lee, though, is that Stephen King is a good writer, while Edward Lee reads like a hybrid between a fourth-grade science book, a pulp novel, and a sexually-frustrated twentysomething’s lurid, sweaty fantasy. Slither’s few virtues–well-thought-out plot, mildly interesting characters, semi-inventive ideas–are simply not enough to compensate for its insipidness and its dry, uninspiring prose.

How I Beat Writer’s Block

Ah yes, the famous writer’s affliction strikes again. But this time, instead of grovelling at Writer’s Block’s knees, whimpering for it to please go away and let me write, I kicked it in the ass, hurled it off my porch, and threatened to pull off its gonads if it ever came ’round here again. This isn’t some sort of guide, and this solution will probably only work for me, but here it is, how I beat writer’s block.

First, the backstory. I’ve just recovered from a week of semi-insomnia and maybe a month or two of lousy writing. Now that I spend the bulk of my time shoveling different kinds of composted shit, writing has become just about the only useful thing I do (unless you count honing my Fallout skills and learning how to cook lentils), so it was pretty damn distressing when the old WB left me with nothing but Fallout and beans.

But like I said, this time I didn’t curl up on the floor and whimper. This time, I kept fighting it, trying to beat it. So, the first key thing when it comes to beating writer’s block is PERSISTENCE.

Of course, no amount of persistence could fix the fact that I was subconsciously pretending to be Stephen King. The solution to that little problem came when I made an effort to RE-DISCOVER MY VOICE. Which didn’t do me any good as long as I had no stories I felt passionate about writing, so I WROTE OUT MY FRUSTRATION. The result was this: A tiny story called Writer’s Block, and the solution to my problem. Enjoy!

*          *          *

WRITER’S BLOCK

I was scowling at the computer screen when she came in. She was the last person I wanted to see, and I couldn’t get rid of her. As I heard Andrea sitting down next to me, I let out a small sigh.

“You’re looking rough,” she said. I shot her a frown and turned back to the computer.

“Writer’s block.” She took a sharp breath.

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah…don’t worry, I’ve got it under control.” She leaned forward and read what little there was to read over my shoulder. When she slumped hard back into the chair, I knew what was coming. When I looked over at her, she was rolling her eyes.

“Wow….read enough Stephen King lately?” I glanced to the computer, and then back to her, turning in the chair and eliciting that mousey squeak from its poorly-oiled bearings.

“What?” She smiled up at the ceiling with mock innocence.

“Nothing. Just a familiar style, that’s all.” Now, I turned the scowl I’d reserved for the computer on Andrea. Her mocking sarcasm was hard enough to take on a good day, and it was not a good day.

“You’re saying it’s unoriginal.” She looked up at the ceiling again.

“’I stole one last glance at the old pocketwatch as it tumbled down into the sewer drain. The light of the setting sun flashed off its face for a moment, and then it was gone. Hopefully, forever.’” She looked at me with those scalpel-sharp eyes of hers, and gave a similarly sharp smile.

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing, if you’re writing for Hollywood.” I felt my face flush immediately, and put up a noble battle against the urge to stand up and shout at her.

“That’s not Hollywood!” I barked. She rolled her eyes again.

“Wow…nice to meet you, Mr. I-Can’t-Take-Criticism. New in town? No, I think you must’ve been here a while.” I realized my nails were digging into the arms of the chair, and I tried to slow my breathing and calm down. With her still smiling that goofy, incisive smile, it was difficult.

“I can take criticism.”

“Clearly not.”

“I can!”

“You can’t. If I told you what I wanted to tell you, you’d hit the roof and then yell at me to leave.” The fact that she was right was infuriating, as it often is.

“Tell me.”

“No.”

“Stop playing games!” Andrea’s smile broadened.

“You really don’t want to hear it.” I sighed, my anger finally exhausted.

“No, but I probably need to hear it.” Some of the sharpness went out of her eyes, and her smile grew softer.

“Now there’s the right way to ask. But you have to promise me you won’t yell.”

“What do you care if I yell.”

“Promise me.”

“What does it matter if I get angry?”

“Well, we can’t have you getting your blood pressure up, can we?” she mocked. I almost wanted to shove her out of the chair.

“Fine. I promise.”

“Good.” She folded her hands and leaned forward. “First of all, I have a suspicion that I know where this story is going. Let me guess: main character buys weird pocketwatch from old gypsy, discovers it has supernatural powers, uses them, pays dearly, finally decides to get rid of it.” Her rightness continued to irk me.

“I wasn’t sure where I was going with it,” I lied.

“Fine, I’ll pretend that’s true for the sake of argument. But what the hell’s the deal with the style?”

“What’s wrong with the style?” My face was getting hot again, and I was leaning forward, trying to bore into her skull with my eyes.

“It’s forced, and like I said, it’s pretty Stephen King-ish.”

“Stephen King’s a good writer.”

“Right. Stephen King is. But Brad Gorham pretending to be Stephen King is something of a hack.” I could feel my carotid artery pulsing against my shirt collar.

Nothing came out of my mouth but a long, drawn-out Hhhhhhh. I couldn’t bring myself to say the H-word. I stood up (the chair squeaking like a rat), and balled up my fists. Andrea, as always, did not look concerned.

“Sit down. You’re not going to hit a girl, and even if I was a guy, you wouldn’t hit me because you know that I’m right and you’d feel terrible afterwards.” After standing there for a moment drowning in bile and breathing my own hot exhaust, my fists loosened and I sat back down. “Besides, I didn’t actually call you a hack. I called Brad-as-Stephen-King a hack.”

“You know how easily other writers influence me.”

“Stop making excuses. Like it or not, you’re trying to be Stephen King.”

“I’m not!”

“Oh, shut up,” she said playfully, “You are, and you really ought to stop lying to yourself. You’re trying to be Stephen King, because you like his style. But I can tell from the expression you had on your face that you don’t enjoy his style. You don’t like trying to write in his style. It’s too hard, and it’s no fun.” She was right, and my anger had been replaced by rueful concession.

“Okay. So what do I do, then?”

“It’s obvious.”

“No it’s not.”

“Yes it is. Get back in the groove. Find your style again.”

“How?”

“I don’t know, you’re the writer.” That made me smile a little, and Andrea caught my smile and magnified it. “Try writing from your own perspective.”

“What about, though? I lose interest in everything I try to write.”

“Well, write what you know. Write about writer’s block.”

At the front of the house, a key rattled, and the knob made a clunk sound. The door squeaked (sounding nothing like a mouse), and heavy footsteps thumped down the hallway.

“Sounds like George,” said Andrea, getting up from the chair and turning to leave.

“Wait a second!” I protested, swiveling to face her as she paused in the doorway. She looked down at me.

“What?”

“We’re not finished yet!”

“Well, you’ve got something to write about now, so hop to it!” She smiled and walked out into the hallway. A second later, George walked in, sweaty from his run and breathing hard.

“Who were you talking to?” he rasped, wiping beads of sweat from his huge forehead. I almost said Andrea, but I stopped. George wouldn’t really understand. But I said something fairly close to the truth.

“Myself.”