Monday, August 15, 2011


I was writing over the weekend and discovered that I needed one of my characters to have a job, or rather, a career. What I actually needed was for him to have some money in the bank but not have to go to a workplace (it’s all very complicated, he is suffering from amnesia [DO NOT JUDGE ME! It is only a cliché if you let it be! And anyway, he exists in a storyline that is fictional within the novel itself, so the cliché is understood to be a cliché. So there!] and I need him to have some free time). So I made the completely asinine decision to make him a poet, but - like - a really successful poet (I know, right? I am totally giving away my narrative authority by doing it; who has ever heard of a poet with no day job?!) But it’s fiction and anybody who has a problem with it will have already stopped reading by that point anyway (did I mention one of the characters lives with a talking spider? Yeah, it’s that kind of novel).

More than just being a practical narrative solution though, having the character be an amnesiac poet allows him (and by extension, the Reader) to explore some poetry for clues as to the nature of identity. As a writer, it allows me a new kind of connectivity between some of the storylines. See, since the amnesiac poet is a fiction within the novel (essentially a story-within-a-story … don’t groan, I can make it work!) the Reader will sometimes encounter fragments of poems in the outer frame (the writer who is authoring the fiction) and in the inner frame (the amnesiac poet who is the fiction) and I think that will lend a new and interestingly slippery connection between the stories.

I will spend just a few moments here justifying my use of both Retrograde Amnesia and a story-within-a-story framework.

First, I’m trying to write something that is a sort of jigsaw puzzle. I’m trying to write the sort of book that you think about even when you’re not reading it. The kind of book that you want to mentally play with like a Rubik’s Cube. As a reader some of my favorite books have been the ones that asked me to do a little bit of mental work. The House of Leaves makes you actually decode a letter hidden within the text. Steve Erickson’s Tours of the Black Clock is narratively structured like the mystery its protagonist is trying to solve (ie: what’s in the secret room? : The story of the secret room is what’s in the secret room!) So – yes – I am trying to write a book that is a labyrinth and a game. I make no apologies for that, because imagine how cool it would feel if you actually had figured out The Sixth Sense like you always tell people you did. Or if you actually had figured out that Kevin Spacey is Keyser Soze! I’m not writing a twist ending or anything, but I am laying out a structure that will allow you to make connections at your own pace. If you don’t make them on your own, I promise I will knit it all together for you by the end. But if you do figure it all out somewhere along the way, then I think that the book will open up for you like a flower and you will get to enjoy surfing its interconnected tides until the last page (sorry for mixing metaphors there). Okay, so that’s why I’m using a story-within-a-story framework in some places.

The amnesia thing: okay, I know that this is kind of trite and over-used by lazy writers, but I feel okay about it because it will be fun for the Reader. Everybody likes a good “Who am I?” story because we are essentially all living our own every single day, in a much more subtle way, obviously. Plus – as I said – I’m okay with it because it is understood to be a fiction from the get-go, I’m not trying to pull some meta-fictional M. Night Shyamalan parlor trick or anything. Plus, that means that I’m not the hack! The writer inside my story is the hack! Not me! So there!

If anyone is still reading this post at this point, I just want to apologize for the amount of writing I have been doing on here lately about writing. I know it is just a lot of inside-baseball and probably terribly boring to read, but it does me a lot of good to work it out in my head. That is the nice thing about having a blog that no one reads, it allows me the freedom (and the excuse) to write all of this stuff out and hopefully come to understand it better myself. The other fun thing about having a blog no one reads is that if I want to post a picture of my cat trying to steal a cookie, followed by a picture of Richard Nixon and Elvis (if you don’t know the story behind this picture you should totally Google it!) followed by a picture of Ingrid Michaelson, well then I can do that.


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