Tuesday, September 14, 2010

My Literary Bucket List

I think I figured out the cause of the weekend boredom/ennui. It seems that my subconscious was using all the mental and emotional energy. I'd been keeping a notebook handy and scribbling down ideas that came to me for scenes or plot points in the book I'm working on. There was one particular scene idea that I kept adding ideas to, until mid-day Monday it kind of clicked into place, and I realized that was the midpoint of the book. From there, everything else fell into place, and the book now has something like a structured plot. I may even be able to write a real synopsis! I plotted it out using two different plot structures, and it came out the same way both times, with just a little tweaking of a few events that I'm still not entirely sure of that could fall in either of two places. I didn't hit my writing goal yesterday since I spent the afternoon plotting, but I think having a plot will help with the writing going forward. This may be a light week, as I'm getting ready for FenCon, but next week, with the convention behind me and with no more physical therapy, I hope to really get going.

I referred to my "literary bucket list" yesterday, then realized I hadn't actually written it down. I just had vague ideas of the books or kinds of books I want to write someday. So, here is my current literary bucket list of the things I want to write before my career ends. The trick isn't so much writing them as it is publishing them, and when I'm making my living at this, I can't afford to spend time on things that won't be published.

1) The "weekend house party gets cut off by a storm -- and one of them's a killer!" story -- I love this whether it's an old Agatha Christie Ten Little Indians/And Then There Were None mystery or something more paranormal, like last weekend's episode of Haven. I think it would be a lot of fun to write something that claustrophobic, sort of a bottle episode. I do have something like this started that falls somewhere between contemporary fantasy and paranormal romance, and falling into that gap makes it difficult to market. Every so often, I take it out and play with it a bit, and maybe someday I'll get it to fit into some publishable niche. Or maybe I'll come up with an entirely different story to tell with this trope.

2) My dream city -- When I dream about being in a city, it's always the same city. The dream may be set in Chicago, New York, New Orleans or Austin, but the city I see in the dream is always the same place that isn't really any of them. A lot of the dream city is similar to downtown Philadelphia, which is weird because I was dreaming it long before I went to Philadelphia, and that made being in Philadelphia a rather surreal experience. I think this city would make an interesting setting for a book. I'm not sure yet if it would be like the fictional city in the real world that Charles deLint uses or if it would be a secondary world (like Narnia, with or without the connection to our world). I really should try to capture what I know of the city from the dreams and try to map it because there's a lot of it that's incredibly vivid to me. I'm not sure what time period it is. Most of the buildings are old, but it could be anywhere from the late 1800s to the present or even into the future (when I dream I'm in Dallas, it seems to be the outskirts of this city and in the future), but there's a retro quality to a lot of the imagery. But I would need to figure out stuff like plot, characters and situation before I could write anything. At the moment, it's more of a world building exercise, what my professor called "a place where things can happen."

3) A Sliding Doors kind of story -- something that explores parallel realities and what ifs -- what might have happened based on either a random thing or a choice. When I've seen this done in books, it almost always seems to be centered on whether or not the woman gets married to a particular guy, and I think there are other what ifs that could be explored. Doing this in print could be tricky, though. On film, there are visual clues, like in the movie where in one reality Gwyneth Paltrow got her hair cut and bleached, so you always knew which one we were seeing. I tried writing something like this, and I haven't made it work yet.

4) A novel written in letters, journal or diary entries, etc. -- I love reading these, but it's actually something pretty tricky to pull off. Again, this is something I've tried, but it wasn't working, so I went back to regular narrative (and it still didn't work well enough to sell). The diary thing seems to work best with less adventurous plots, where the story is more about observing other people, like the Bridget Jones books. When there are adventures involved, the journal slows it down and turns it into more "telling" than showing. I think I've figured out a way to make it work, and I'm currently letting my subconscious work on a more specific plot.

5) A really sweeping, unabashedly romantic story -- This may be one of those that has to wait until I'm a big enough seller that I can get a contract on the basis of, "You know, I'd like to write a book ..." There seems to be this weird mental block with me where romance is concerned in the publishing world, but when I submit a proposal that has the slightest hint of the possibility of a romantic sub-plot, the fantasy publishers reject it on the basis that it's too much a romance for them to publish (never mind that I've read books from those same publishers with WAY more romance than I had planned). And yet the romance publishers reject it on the basis that it isn't a romance. At any rate, I'd love to write something like Stardust, which was a fantasy novel that was also a swoon-worthy romance, and I'd like to do the romantic part of the plot on my terms, and not in the mold of the romance genre.

6) "Old and Wise" -- I know that basing stories on pop songs is a kind of teenage, fanfictiony thing to do, but ever since I was a teenager, the song "Old and Wise" (link goes to a YouTube video of it) by the Alan Parsons Project has haunted me with the sense that there's a story in there. I'm sure it really is meant to be about being old and wise and looking back on your life, but it's always struck me as being about time travel or living life out of order or being young but having already lived to old age, or something like that. I guess it's very Doctor Who, now that I think about it.

7) A classic-style romantic comedy -- Not a romance novel style romantic comedy, but something more like a romantic comedy film in book form. That was kind of what chick lit was, but it died before I got a chance to do it. Something like It Happened One Night, The Philadelphia Story or even moving closer to the present, When Harry Met Sally. This is again a genre issue. What I want to do wouldn't fit into the romance genre, but unless chick lit is revived, I don't stand much of a chance of doing it outside the romance genre. I could add fantasy elements, but then the fantasy people would say it's too romancey. So, either I need to be big enough that they'll publish anything I write or I need to go the entrepreneurial route and just write it and e-publish for the Kindle, or something like that. Even that would require building a big enough fanbase for it to be worthwhile. Or maybe I should delve into screenwriting.

8) An old-fashioned, traditional, quasi-medieval fantasy -- these are the books I grew up reading and that got me into wanting to write fantasy, stuff like Terry Brooks or Katherine Kurtz. I actually have one written, and I still like the concept and the characters, but I wasn't a good enough writer at the time to pull it off. I'd love to rewrite it, but it's another thing that would be tricky to sell right now. It seems the trend in the traditional quasi-medieval fantasy is darker and more violent, kind of the sword-and-sorcery thing, and this book is more intimate, mostly about two characters, and it gets fairly romantic, though not in a romance novel way. It would probably qualify for that #5 sweeping romance.

9) A book that takes place in a specific period of time -- one night, one day, one week, one year. There's a certain plotting discipline involved in working out something with this kind of constraint, and it takes a certain kind of plot to make it work. I love those stories that are about all the things that happen in one crazy day, or where it spans a year, so you can see exactly how things change for the characters as the calendar makes one round. I actually have an idea currently developing that might fit the "one crazy day" story, but I'll have to see how it works out.

10) A 1940s or World War II story -- This is one of my favorite historical periods to read about or study. It was a real test of human character, and the clothes were awesome. I just don't have a plot for it, or even an idea of what in that vast range I'd want to focus on. I've dabbled with mental ideas involving resistance fighters in Europe, the home front, the Blitz, etc. I love what Connie Willis has done using time travel. Or I guess I could use that dream city, make it a setting like the 1940s, but in another world, and have them fighting a different but similar war. Or it could be a retro-futuristic dieselpunk thing, like Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, only without a main plot that sucks. This is definitely something the subconscious will have to play with because it's nowhere near ready to write.

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