Social Distancing — Not so Isolated

I’m glad that others are making the best out of a bad situation and getting a lot of writing done. Seriously, I am. I’m also super jealous. With three small kids at home, my writing has ground pretty much to a halt. As you can imagine, they don’t quite get what Daddy does on his computer. But I’m not really complaining. I’m lamenting. There’s a difference. I may not be making a lot of headway, but I’ve been spending tons of time with my family which is pretty great too šŸ™‚

In the past, I’ve tried to publish a post every Monday — and missed more than a few deadlines — but this is going to be hit or miss for a while. In the rare moments when I DO get a chance to write … like right now … I may choose work over blogging. Sorry blog-buddies! So don’t expect any kind of consistency from me on the ole website. Hey, don’t blame me. Blame the Coronavirus.

If we’re talking actual progress then I think I figured out the problems I had with the second half of my new book. I knew what the protagonists were doing, but not how the antagonist would respond. That’s solved. I hope.Now I just need time and space to get back to the outline to plug all that in.

And I decided I’m growing a quarantine beard. Is this a thing? I haven’t shaved since work told me to stay home and I’m getting pretty bristly.

What I’m Watching: Lots and LOTS of Paw Patrol. I’m usually the one who gets up first with the kids so my wife can sleep. I need less hours than she does and can typically go more sleep-deprived days than she can before a recharge. So the task of keeping the kids alive and quiet often falls to me. We don’t usually use a lot of TV but early morning is the exception. Whenever I need them to be quiet so Mommy can keep sleeping, I just yelp for help!

What I’m Reading: I finished The Sword of Kaigen and … I have mixed feelings. I like it, I think. I like the world but the author doesn’t do much to help ground the reader in it. There’s a specific term that gets used a lot that I have a problem with because I don’t think it fits the rules the author created. I mean, this is just my outside opinion here.

That’s only the start of it. Not to give away a major spoiler, there’s a big battle halfway through the book. The entire second half is dealing with the fallout from said battle. And this is where it completely kicked me out. Again, my opinion here, but I feel like the author set up some promises and then either ignored or broke them all during that latter half. The climax of the book isn’t what the climax of the book should have been about. Or if so, then there wasn’t enough ground work to get there. Don’t give me the ole dangling threads excuse either. I love a few open ended things as much as the next person, but I’m talking central conflict points here. They don’t need to be resolved, but there should be movement. I think I see what the author was trying to do and how it made sense in their head, but it just didn’t work for me. It’s a shame too because I was all on board and then felt like I didn’t fall off, but was pushed.

I’ve also just finished Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch, the fourth Rivers of London/Peter Grant book. It was pretty much what I expected. It was the old friend, the sure thing, I needed after the previous disappointment.

Reading as an Author

For the most part, being an author has only enhanced my ability to enjoy a good book. It also lets me know pretty quickly when I won’t enjoy a story either. I can usually tell how far I am into a book based on what’s happening, guessing what the hook, plot points, midpoint, and climax are as they happen. Sometimes I get so held up on understanding the narrative structure that when the book diverts from that path, it really bothers me. I get too focused on what the story is doing “wrong”, I no longer see what it’s doing right.

I used to review movies back in college. My internal critic got to be so powerful that I eventually had to willingly turn it off. I made the conscious choice before a film that I was just going to sit back and relax. I try and do the same with my reading as well, I mean if you’re into stage magic and you’re at another magician’s show, can you still enjoy it if you know all the tricks?

The answer, apparently, is yes!

I’ve been reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell and I’m just continuously blown away both as a fan and an author.

As a fan, I find the story fascinating. I’m intrigued with the plights of the primary protagonists and it’s scratching the itch Shogun left behind that so far no other book has been able to salve and believe me, I’ve tried a lot!

As an author, I think I appreciate it more!

The descriptions are sparse, but exact while the dialogue is rich and verbose. It’s like reading a play at times. So much worldbuilding comes out through the dialogue its insane. There could be five or six individual references in someone’s speech — so it reads accurate to the time period the novel takes place in (this is historical fiction after all) — but each of those references is easily its own area of research. I haven’t dug into the behind the scenes stuff yet because I don’t want to spoil the ending of the novel for myself by accident, but I’m interested in Mitchell’s research process. I’m surprised something was written at all and he’s not stuck down what has to be many, many rabbit holes.

This play-like style is further reinforced by the narration. The characters speak for themselves, but the exposition is very straightforward for the most part. My favorite, I think was when a nervous Jacob was going to talk to someone about the woman he’s infatuated with. It reads something like:

“Jacob lost his nerve. Jacob regained his nerve.”

Just like that. Back to back. It pulled a chuckle from me as I understand what Mitchell is conveying. In anyone else’s hands, that would have been some internal strife as Jacob came back around to the idea. But it works here in two sentences that definitely tell and don’t show.

Another interesting point is that while the novel is divided into parts, it doesn’t follow a typical seven point structure. That would normally bother me, but Mitchell’s words are enchanting. He presents this world so thoroughly that while my fan-brain is just wide-eyed in wonder at what’s going to happen, my author-brain is taking notes. Except instead of “oh I see how he did that,” it’sĀ  more like “I can’t believe he got away with that!” And he does. Every time.

I’m only halfway through and The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is wonderful. Even if it stays on the same emotional plateau and doesn’t escalate in any way, he’s got me to the end.

So I suppose my big takeaways are this: Sometimes you just need to shut it off and let yourself be entertained. Other times, the artist in you is looking for new experiences like a jazz musician soloing with notes that are more difficult than aurally pleasing. And if you find a work that combines the two, then well, you’ve got something special indeed!