Emerging from Hibernation

When I logged into the blog this evening and saw all the red notifications, I thought yup, it’s been awhile. When I saw that the last post was dated September 30th, I actually laughed out loud. It’s a sad thing, but being a first year teacher in an urban public school really does suck the life out of you. I don’t think I’ve ever known levels of exhaustion like those I have experienced this year.

So, that’s what happened to my writing these last seven months.

The good news is that it’s getting better, and looks to stay that way. Next school year shouldn’t be nearly as bad, since I won’t be rolling so many lessons from scratch. And for now, it’s Spring Break, with summer hot on its heels, so I’m optimistic that the long winter of no writing is over.

On the front burner: I’ve got a short story in progress for the Ploughshares 2014 Emerging Writers Contest, which I also see as part of an identity novel that’s been percolating in my head for a few years now in various forms. This story marks the first actual prose that I’ve written on the theme of South Asian American identity, and so far it’s flowing well at about 3,000 words so far. I hope to have a draft of the story done by the end of the week for a writer’s group meeting on Friday, feedback from which I hope I can incorporate by the May 15th deadline.

Apropos of the writer group… it’s been great to make a few writer friends here in Boston. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I have been discovering that several friends are also writers, and on that basis forging closer friendships with them. Exciting news: my girlfriend and I, both writers, have made plans with another writer couple for our own little writer retreat up to Maine this summer! Details in a later post.

Vihara remains in progress, and I have vague plans of finishing it by the end of this summer. In terms of word count, its over two-thirds of the way toward my target, but there are much deeper problems than that. I’ve been finding that I really need to work on characterization.

I have plenty of premises, social systems, technologies, and such bouncing around in my head, and I don’t think my prose is too shabby. But almost universal feedback from submissions and friends is that, in general, my protagonists tend to feature too much narrative distance and not enough character arc to really be as meaningful as they could be. In response, I’ve been working hard on writing exercises and re-framing how I approach writing ideas. I hope it pays off!

Lastly, I want to congratulate a new lit mag I’ve been keeping an eye on.. Jaggery just released its second issue of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and artwork by or about the South Asian homeland and diaspora. I’ve been intrigued by its content anyway, but especially now that I am starting to write more identity fiction, I want to keep tabs on the literary conversations running though this magazine.

That’s all for now! I hope to be better about updating this blog (and writing more fiction of course) over the next few months.

 

Thinking About Style

Friends and family seem to like The Parched Lands and I’ve gotten some good feedback from others. I like the story well enough. And as a science teacher, I will undoubtedly continue to think about the issues that the story explores.

Looking back over it though, I think I could have done a lot better with the prose.  I was writing this story on deadline — wanting to submit before CG’s theme Expectations closed at the month’s end. In that mindset, I paid a lot more attention to story and ideas than the writing.

Many might say that’s a good thing, that style is dead (or at least unnecessary) and I should just tell the damn story. This admonishment seems to hold particularly true for science fiction. Certainly, if pressed to rank them in terms of importance, I would put story ahead of ideas ahead of style, for both reading and writing. But style does matter.

Writing is a craft that is not just about conveying information and ideas. It is also about connecting human beings. Style plays with our conscious and subconscious awareness of the words, and helps the writer to craft an overall emotional response. And there are few stronger ways to connect people and ideas than through subconscious emotions.  My opinion is that to say style doesn’t matter reveals some level ignorance or laziness. And I’m pointing my finger mostly at myself.

Sometimes simple things like adverbial phrases poke out at me:

“Mr. Daveys” Kassidi said sharply. “Something’s wrong with Amanthi!”

[…]

“No harm, no harm,” said Mr. Daveys with a reassuring smile.

And I see many places where it would have been more effective to show instead of tell:

She felt self-conscious and tried to appear casual.

More broadly, I agree with my friend Brian Powell’s feedback that having Amanthi dream of being a writer might be a bit too self-referential, and that placing a story within a story for plot purposes can come off as contrived or forced. (for the record, he had a lot of positive feedback as well).

Perhaps I will always see ways I could have improved anything in hindsight — no work of creativity is ever done, after all. I really don’t think of myself as a perfectionist (just take a look at my room or the pile of dishes in the sink), but I do always want to improve my craft. Moreover, I want to spread a greater appreciation for style, aesthetic, and humanism in the genre, both as a reader and a writer. So I think the way to frame it positively is to take lessons for future pieces where possible.

In this case, I’m proud to be published — and I want to set the bar higher for myself.