After many months (some might even say two years' worth of months) chilling out upon my bonny isle, I am back to the city for graduate school! Yes, that's right -- I finally motivated myself to apply, and as such, am kicking it once more in my most beloved English department. In addition to m'graduate studies, I'm teaching an introductory-level English course, which I'm sure will prove an adventure. I didn't faint when I had to stand at the front of the classroom on the first day; I like to think that's an auspicious beginning. I also wound up rambling at my students about Xena: Warrior Princess and the rap from Teen Witch, but I think that's good, right? Just proving I'm hip with the kids! (Yeah no don't say anything. Don't shatter my delusions.)
Speaking of the rap from Teen Witch!
So this is love ... la la la la la ...
As I told my friend yesterday, this is my new standard by which perfection is measured. And quite frankly, I dare anything -- like, an-y-thing -- to TOP THAT. A ha ha wit!
But what I'd really like to talk about (apart from the greatest rap battle ever to grace the entire world, of course) is Know Not Why! I know, I know: again, some more. I'm basically that lady that Garfunkel & Oates lambast in Pregnant Women Are Smug, only I don't even have an actual human being to rhapsodize over. But I do have a book! Full of human beings that I made up! That works, right? Sure. For the sake of this blog post, let's say that works.
My dear little paper-child -- okay, Kindle screen child, and yes, I get that my use of the word 'child' here is creepy, I promise I'll stop soon -- has been released for an entire summer now! And I am still a little bit 'pinch me, I'm dreaming!' over the whole thing; the reception of it, by and large, has been so kind and positive and I am just happy beyond measure or articulation that I could brighten up anyone's literary life with it. It is terrifying and weird to take something as personal as a novel you've been hanging out with for years and then just toss it out of the nest (now it's a baby bird? I dunno? Writing! Metaphors! Y...aaa...y...?), and you lovely readers -- assuming you're reading this -- have made it relatively painless and for that I thank you from the bottom of my Top That-lovin' heart.
Of course, the feedback hasn't been universally positive, because nothing has universal appeal (except Top That), and so to those of you who didn't like it -- assuming you're reading this ... for some reason? -- I thank you so much for giving it a try and taking a chance on it!
A few points have come up frequently in the reviews, and they struck me as really interesting, so here, let's discuss them a little bit! Because it's my blog and I'll ramble if I want to, by Jove.
Point the First: Howie is annoying!
Now, I will admit to you that, absolutely obscurely and completely weirdly, this sort of never occurred to me. I know! It makes no sense! I am basically that parent that goes, 'Well, he never acts like that at home' when the teacher brings up that maybe their kid should stop stealing peoples' lunch money and tugging on pigtails and eating glue sticks like they're GoGurt. (Though if we are going to get technical I'm pretty sure Mitch would probably be the most likely of the Krafty Times crew to eat glue sticks. Oh, Mitchy.) I'm definitely not crying out in my own defense here, because now that it's been pointed out I totally get it.
I think I basically approach writing like method acting, which gets really weird when you are the sort of person who occasionally makes the bold life decision to spend several hours writing a Dwight Schrute fanfiction. (It goes without saying that I am this sort of person.) I expect this is actually just very common, and how writing and characterization works. So when I wrote Howie, I tended to do it in a way where I really did just feel like I was hanging out in his consciousness; for the most part, my consciousness was on the back burner. And though it was often -- near always -- a joy to be hanging out in Howie Brain, at the core, the driving feeling there was really desperate, and discontent, and sad. For a long time, I had Walt Whitman's "A Noiseless Patient Spider" as the novel's epigraph until I decided that chafed discordantly against the writing's vibe. But the line "Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul" liked to echo in my head during the writing process, and make my heart all pangy.
So the spazzy ramblin' quippin' ways of Howie's internal monologue were, I think, something I perceived partially just as fun (the fellow just loves his wordplay), and partially as a defense mechanism. I'm not really trying to make excuses for anything; the reviews just made me quite curious to examine exactly why Howie's characterization and voice turned out the way they did.
Also, really, this whole situation can probably be best addressed by pointing out that I, myself, am a total spazzy rambler. I'm pretty sure just reading this far into this blog post makes that abundantly clear. It's just the way I am! So, ya know, it's possible he inherited that from a certain ... me.
Point the Second: But where's the plot?
You got me! I mean, there's an approximation of a plot. Things happen and because of those things other things happen. But I am definitely just not a big plotter. While I love a complex, sprawling, exquisitely crafted plot, what I tend to enjoy the most about stories -- and about telling them -- is the relationships therein. A lot of this comes, I think, from the fact that TV is basically my favorite storytelling medium, and on TV, just putting a group of characters in a room together and watching them do their thing is enough to make for truly moving and wonderful fiction. I like stories that are just peoples' lives, and how they interact, and what they mean to each other. I get that this isn't for everyone, but it tends to be where I feel the most at home as an audience member and as a writer, so that's usually what you're going to see from me. (It's very possible that Anne of Green Gables, The Office, and Gilmore Girls are all to blame here, in a big ol' formative influence way.)
Fortunately, there are countless authors out there who can plot like superstars! So I don't think the universe is missing out too much. :)
One aspect of the whole no-plot thing that I'm actually very proud of is the fact, as pointed out by a few reviewers, that there isn't the traditional romantic comedy formula that goes:
UST! --> Finally, they hook up! --> Oh no, conflict & misunderstanding & total failure at communication! --> Sad montage featuring a lovely bittersweet folk song --> They get back together in the last five pages/minutes/what have you --> The end!
I very deliberately didn't do this, because oh my God, I am so sick of this formula. It is a whole Flames on the side of my face! situation. Some stories pull it off better than others, and I'm not saying it isn't well-earned sometimes. But often it does feel contrived and lazy, and during a watch of some romcom a few years ago (27 Dresses, maybe? I don't remember!), I very heartily vowed, "Yeah, I am never doing this with any of the couples I write. And when Howie and Arthur get together, they're staying together!"
I often feel cheated by the Sad Montage Ft. Lovely Bittersweet Folk Song sections of stories, because I would much rather spend that time seeing how that couple works as a couple, you know? The whole crux of the story is that you're rooting for them, and yet most of the time you don't get to see how their relationship would actually work.
So I like the idea of tweaking the romcom formula a bit, and that's what my intention was when deciding the course Howie & Arthur's relationship would take. I figure there's enough organic causes for tension going on without adding in a Howie/Arthur breakup too. Not that they wouldn't both brood just beautifully to something by The Civil Wars. I'm sure they would. Is it possibly to do anything unbeautifully while the Civil Wars are playing? Seriously.
Point the Third: But where's the sex??
Hahahahaha! Here's facts, y'all: I, like, the Doctor, am worse than everybody's aunt. Everybody's spinster aunt. The kind you'd find in an L.M. Montgomery story. The kind that I'm not sure even really exists anymore, or ever did, aside from, well, yours truly. I'm the spinster aunt, and I'm not even an aunt. Basically: though romantic relationships are one of my very favorite dynamics to write, I don't tend to write explicit sex scenes, simply because I don't really feel like I'm the person to do it well. There are tons of people who do, so lament not! Just look elsewhere!
I do feel a bit guilty that peoples' expectations are shaped, very understandably, by the fact that it's in the M/M romance section on Amazon. I put it there because technically that was the closest genre match for the plot, but I definitely wouldn't classify it as a romance novel. So my apologies there! And, ya know, bring on the porny fanfiction or whatever. Go fandom go!
Point the Fourth: Sequels & Stuff?
A few people have mentioned liking the idea of a sequel, which is so sweet and kind that I'm sort of wondering if my mother somehow found them and bribed them to write that. So, here's facts!: I would love to do a sequel. I actually started one very soon after I finished the first draft of KNW, but wound up wandering away from it. Now I'm not entirely certain that I'd want it to go in the direction I had planned for that one, so I'm still very much in the 'hmm! ponder ponder ponder!' phase (the most lofty & illustrious of phases) -- but the point is, oh, how my heart does yearn to hang out with these kids again. I think there's still a lot of storytelling potential left in this gang, and I absolutely 100% intend to return to them.
A proper sequel may not show up right away; I've been brainstorming some short story ideas. (And am also quite tempted to do a zany Howie & Co. Bounce Through Different Genres story collection, because while the real world is all well and good, sometimes I just wonder how they would fare if they were fairytale characters, or vampire-daters, or something.)
I am, however, also working on some other projects right now! Too many projects to actually list; there are just-begun novels dancing around my brain clamoring for attention like Adele Fairfax all the time. Unfortunately, I'm way better at thinking things up than writing them down, but I like to imagine I'll get to them all eventually. Right now, I'm paying the most attention to (1) a tongue-in-cheek Gothic romance (which I would love to have done and Smashwords/Kindle Store-ready by Halloween season!) and (2) a Cinderella retelling focused on the dynamic between our heroine and her new stepfamily (who are all heroines too in their own right). Hopefully both tales will continue to treat me nicely, and will one day venture beyond my mind and laptop to hang out with y'all, should you be interested!
In the meantime, everybody just start workin' on committing Top That to memory? Readyyyyyyy? Go!
AND THEY KNOW IT ...