Saturday, May 03, 2003

I have three complete chapters done on Henderson, and the beginning of a fourth. Maybe this is a good time to mention a technique I sometimes use.

As I begin a new chapter, I think about what scenes ought to go into it. Usually I can think of three or four, each of them posing a problem to one or more of the characters, whose response to the problem tells us something about them and prepares us for the climax of the novel. I list them at the beginning of the new chapter. As I complete each scene, I erase it from the list.

Being very long-winded, I usually find that if I've listed four scenes, the chapter ends after three, leaving me with a scene to begin the next chapter with. It's not because I've hit some word limit, however. A chapter can be any length. It ends when the characters (or at least the readers) understand something important about the situation the characters find themselves in, so that the next chapter begins with higher stakes. Maybe the character has faced some challenge in the previous chapter, and must now face an even more serious one in the next chapter.

So at the end of chapter 3, Henderson has accepted an offer by a Korean chaebol to engage in secret research into cell-regrowing nanobots. He's done so because he's furious that a kid he likes has been beaten in a robbery attempt and left almost brain-dead. The chaebol (a kind of corporation) wants the research done because many Korean refugees have suffered similar damage from the chemical warfare that made their country almost uninhabitable.

So chapter 4 has to deal with Mike's realization that he's moving deliberately outside the law by accepting this offer, and that he must now work effectively with a small group of the chaebol's researchers. Finally, he must at least begin the procedure of building the nanobots, and do so in a plausible way.

Well, that's at least three scenes right there. Maybe more.

Meanwhile, I have gone back into chapter 3 to make the hospital far nastier than I've originally described it. Ran across a hair-raising description of what's currently going on in the last public hospital in San Francisco, which is already in horrible shape. North Vancouver's Lions Gate Hospital will have to be at least as bad by 2030, and probably much worse.

By the way, someone tried to e-mail me from this blog and got a bounce. If you've had that problem too, try to reach me at crof@shaw.ca or ckilian@thehub.capcollege.bc.ca and let me know about it. I may have simply mistyped the correct code.

Friday, May 02, 2003

Blogger was having problems last night, so my comments didn't get posted...mostly having to do with planning the scenes within each chapter. This morning I gave two long talks to a local teachers' association, and I'm more tired than I'd expected to be. So I'll post again sometime on Saturday--including the material about planning scenes.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Haven't mentioned what I'm reading these days: Just finished a long biography of the Emperor Meiji, by Donald Keene. Very interesting despite a rather plodding year-by-year narrative. Meiji was a better man than he should have been given his ancestry (and especially his xenophobic father). Striking to see that within a year or two of Admiral Perry showing up in 1853, the Japanese were already thinking about building an overseas empire. And they did so to avoid being pushed around by the Europeans--but imposed on the Koreans exactly the kind of colonial regime they didn't want imposed on themselves.

Also finished a book about Gabriel Garcia Marquez--it's a kind of reference survey, with bibliographies, plot summaries, and brief analyses of his stories and novels. Also some interviews and critical articles. A good, concise source of information. I finally learned a bit of how GGM gets away with breaking all the rules of fiction writing: in novels like Love in the Time of Cholera, he's using a kind of extended monologue. Like Conrad's Marlowe, the narrator is a participant or witness, not really the author, and this narrator doesn't bother with literary stuff like quoting dialogue. I wouldn't dare trying the same thing, but I admire it in GGM.

Now I've started a biography of Aldous Huxley, a writer I grew up reading. Brave New World was of course one of the two great British dystopias, the other being Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. I've been making little references to Orwell in Henderson's Tenants; maybe I should allude to Huxley as well.

Speaking of Henderson, I did a bit more this evening. Chapter 3 is finished and Chapter 4 well under way. Henderson will be on his way to building his nanobots in a few more pages. Once they get going, the challenge for me will be to anticipate the changes they'll make in my protagonist and his friends.

Tomorrow the college is holding a lunch to honour some of us old hacks. I think I'm one of just two of the original founding faculty. Thirty-five years go fast when you're having fun.

Monday, April 28, 2003

This has been a fairly productive day...this morning I test-read one of the speeches I have to give on Friday, and realized I needed a lot more material for both of them. They just weren't long enough. So I restored a lot of stuff that I'd originally cut because I thought I'd be too long...better to be too long and skip some points, than too short and improvise new material.

Also sent a query letter to the Globe & Mail, pitching a story idea about SARS blogs, but didn't hear back. Probably won't, but it was worth a try.

Then this evening I opened up Henderson's Tenants and the writing went very well--about 1500 words in an hour or so, and we're getting into the story very nicely. I'm up past 9,000 words and now Mike Henderson can start developing his virus-sized computers. Very cheering.

Meanwhile I also got a note from a Dutch novelist, thanking me for the material on the Fiction Writer's Page, which is always cheering, plus a request from a grad student in China asking for help with the symbolism in The Thorn Birds--a book I haven't read. She'd found me, I guess, through a Google search for "symbolism," which must have turned up the symbolism material on the FWP.

But it's fun to deal with unexpected requests like this, so I answered and said I'd be willing to discuss the matter further. We'll see what happens. I'm doing a lot of editing these days, and enjoying it: proposals, academic papers, business letters. Gives me an idea about what's going on in the world outside Deep Cove.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Most of today's writing was a polish job on the second of the two speeches I'm giving next Friday to the Surrey teachers. Printed them off and will spend some time tomorrow reviewing them, when the text is good and cold. Otherwise I don't even see the words on the page, just on the inside of my forehead.

But I did do some work on Deserters, filling in one of the gaps where I'd cut Maddy out. And it worked pretty well...in fact, I could even keep a memory Jack has of the funeral of Maddy's suicidal dad, with Maddy as a baffled little 8-year-old. She'll be back in the story at some point, but not for long.

So instead of Maddy moaning about her love life, I have Jack re-reading the transcript he's made of Stackley's obituary in the Vancouver paper of May 4, 1925..."Suddenly, May 1." I'm still as uncertain as Jack about what drove Stackley to shoot himself: some kind of post-traumatic stress, or guilt about not being able to save his deserting soldier from the firing squad? Or something else?

Same thing with Sid Gardner's suicide, which Jack discovered back on that awful afternoon in 1979, with brains and blood all over the bed. Sid had been some kind of CIA errand boy in the late 1960s before coming to Canada, and of course Maddy is his kid by a Vietnamese woman. But what made him, ten years later, shoot himself--something come back to haunt him, or a confrontation with one of his current problems (=numerous girlfriends, including Jack's then wife Elizabeth)?

Jack is going to talk to Sid's widow Astrid, but I don't know if she'll be able to explain matters; she was always half a bubble off plumb, and hasn't improved much. As a guy doing detective work in the dim and distant past, Jack may find that some things are just plain unknowable.

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