28 November 2010

This just in: I didn't do Nanowrimo after all

But maybe there's a good reason I didn't leap into a new project just now.

After a couple of days, my high-concept story idea still felt like just a series of anecdotes and so I didn't push it but stuck it on the back burner to simmer (or leave the lid off the box and let the ants keep filing around -- choose your favorite metaphor). Not doing Nano this year was fine; this month I couldn't feel comfortable about making those 1,600 words a day a priority. I had other, more pressing issues: family business and starting to hunt for jobs again. So I let that idea sit, and there it is now, while my other book, the one I started last November and thought I'd finished in May but felt there was something missing, has started telling me more about its endings.

One of the things that caught my attention recently was listening to Marc Maron's WTF podcast. The title and podcast intro prepares you for the onslaught of F-bombs and some crude humor, but those aside, Maron is a discerning and thoughtful interviewer, who clearly prepares but lets things go off script (unlike, say, someone like one of my interviewing heroes, Ira Glass, who when interviewed by Marc Maron in a rare turn on the other side of the table said he writes everything he says on This American Life). Maron is a Los Angeles stand-up comedian who loves to talk with comics and humorists and other folks he knows or wants to understand. He is probably most famous at this point for his interviews with comedian Carlos Mencia, who trails behind him a long train of detractors who swear he steals other comedians' jokes. So in a two-part interview, Maron sits down in his studio (aka his garage) and confronts Mencia with his reputation as a joke thief. He manages to do this in a respectful and curious way, with great tact; he says he basically wants to know not only what Carlos Mencia's own take is on his reputation but also how the guy sleeps at night.

Now, it turns out Maron has had his own personal point of contention with Mencia. Years earlier, Maron had been headlining an L.A. comedy club one weeknight when Mencia came in. Mencia said, "Just let me go on before you. I'll do five minutes." Mencia performed for over an hour, as Maron tells it. Maron was so furious at being bumped off his headlining gig that he left the club before Mencia got off the stage. Maron reminds Mencia of this incident in the interview and pretty much gets blown off. "An hour? Really? I'm sure it wasn't a whole hour!" Mencia protests. But then Maron thinks about this interview with Mencia and feels unsatisfied. He decides he can't just put it up on his site like it's a normal one-hour interview, because he's been steamrolled to some extent, not given anything real. So Maron does a second segment, and leads it off by talking to some other stand-ups who have been bumped off their stages by Mencia, or saw him rip off jokes, either theirs or someone else's. Then Maron goes back to Mencia with all of this evidence that he really does steal material and act like a dick, as if to say "What the fuck?" one more time until he gets some from-the-gut answers.

At first Mencia tries to stave him off with the same old soft focus, but Maron presses him to explain himself. Mencia finally says he does it to get ahead in the business. And you can see it: his are acts of aggression that say, "Look, I am more famous than you so I can do whatever I want and you can't do anything about it." Maron is an appealing master of ceremonies because you can feel him: his ethics are like racehorses ready to bust out of the gates, all pent up with nowhere to go around this guy. The interview becomes such a surprise because it is not the chip-on-the-shoulder rehash of old accusations but an existential frustration with a failure to comprehend another individual's motivations and choices, an inability to empathize with another comedian's decision-making processes.

This is high drama, with real stakes for both of them, and you do understand by the end of the interview why each one of them can sleep at night (they are wired differently, Maron a mensch, a stand-up guy, in the best-man sense, and Mencia because that's what he thinks he has to do to make it in this street-fight of a world). Maron never says, "This guy is a thief and a parasite," a conclusion most people listening to the interview would expect him to reach. Instead he concludes that Mencia is a performer, not a writer, and too bad the guy thinks of it as such a dog-eat-dog world that he has to go around acting like he's all that because he looks like a dick when he acts like that. As you can see, I highly recommend these interviews. Certainly, not all of them are as dramatic or compelling, but Maron usually tries to go somewhere interesting with each of his interviewees.

Short story long, listening to those interviews gave me loads of ideas for my story. Over the past couple of weeks I've been letting all these ideas cook and meld and they are starting to taste like something, and reveal these arcs that weren't there before, the texture and fun of the storytelling part. It's exciting to feel that way about it. Maybe I liked those Mencia interviews because I'm wrestling with the same thing every time I sit down to write jokes for the story, and I am finding I need lots of inspiration from other folks who do it well. Once you've borrowed inspiration by listening to a bunch of comics, who's to say you can write anything truly original? Your comedy will always be colored by what you hear and what you like and what's funny to you and what everyone around you thinks is funny.

I'm psyched both to be finishing this book now that I know how to revise it and looking for work. I have a lot to offer. Let's see what happens!

Oh, and I'm going to do this nifty, fun reflection/intention project called Reverb10. It might help with everything I want to do right now.

16 November 2010

Quote of the day: We don't starve.

My children dictate my schedule--I have done vast amounts since they were born because they keep me from my desk and make me impatient to get back to it. I don't count words so much anymore, or note beginnings and endings. I work on several things at once, so there is always a file to open and no such thing as a blank page. I like working. What discipline I have comes from the fact that I don't do any of the other things I am supposed to do. Housework, personal administration--everything else goes to hell. My husband cooks. We don't starve.
--Anne Enright, in The Secret Miracle (a survey of writers' ideas and self-reported habits edited by Daniel Alarcon

05 November 2010

File under This is going better than I expected

It's NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) time and I'm so very far behind! By the end of today, if I don't write more today, I will be three days behind. But having allowed myself to give up on completing the writing of my novel this year, I reread what I had written so far and decided to sit down and work on it some more just now. If any of you who know me read it you would know exactly what it is about. I had told my sister about an idea I had for a novel's gimmick--not that novels need gimmicks, mind you, but this actually seemed like an idea that would test the boundaries between fiction and nonfiction, which I always think is interesting. My sister liked the idea, too. But then I ended up doing it with material I wasn't expecting to work with, yet.

So. We'll see. Will I have some big writing days and catch up in time to write the thing this month? I think of someone I know in Tennessee who writes 25,000 words in a day and wonder, who am I kidding? Will this take longer to work out than this month? I'm not sure it matters; I can't just put the story aside quite yet, now that I've opened the lid of the box a crack. The ideas in it are already busy like ants; I just have to watch them and see where they go. As I told my BFF, what am I going to say? "No, thanks, come again next year"? I don't think so.