Friday, December 21, 2007

Brief Response Upon Finishing Lolita

I finished Lolita over the weekend. I alternated between reading the book and watching the accompanying scenes from Adrian Lyne’s filmic version (which is 100% true to the book, but only as far as the events go—the characterization is completely wrong, but that’s another story). The book bowled me over so hard, I think I’m still recovering.

The best way I think I can describe is that Nabokov took me on a three-tiered, or three threaded, journey through the book. The first thread was the actual story as it unfolded linearly—how the characters experience the story. The second thread was the writing style/narrative—how the author experiences the story. The third thread was the way I felt about the narrator, Humbert Humbert, and the book at large—how I experience the story. All three of these met in a synergistic yarn which caused the three elements/entities (characters, authors, reader) to be interconnected in such as way as to make the existence of each impossible without the existence of the others.

Throughout “Part One,” I was absolutely entranced and delighted by the writing and, much to my chagrin and confusion, felt just as charmed by the pedophile Humbert Humbert himself. The book takes a sharp turn at Part Two. This was an interesting and ingenious division for the book: the change from Part One to Part Two is that Lolita finds out that her mother is dead. Charlotte actually has been dead for quite some book-time. Both the reader and Humbert know the mother is and has been dead. Only Lolita didn’t know, and when she finds out, everything changes.

“Part Two” begins the slow decline of the regard in which Humbert is held by Lolita, by Nabokov, and by the reader. His charm and wit have worn thin with his self-awareness and, later, his inability to deprive himself of self gratification. Confidence has become smarm, which soon gives way to patheticalness. The writing seems to become long-winded and cloying. I don’t fault Nabokov for this, as some reviewers have. Rather, the culprit is Humbert’s increasingly desperate attempts at justification for his actions that plays out via the narrative. I began to hate him, began to hate what he had to say, began to hate his every action, and in turn began to hate the book and the writing itself—but I was so mired in the story that I could not put it down. Likewise, Lolita was mired in her own situation that she could not escape. Even when she thought she did escape, she just got into another situation that was equally unhealthy for her. She never really escaped at all until her death (which we learn about at the beginning of the book, but actually occurs after the book is over: she dies in childbirth). The reader gets to escape the misery of the story at the same time both the characters do; but only death is a strong enough reprieve from the torment they’ve been subjected to by the hand of McFate and by their own designs.

As I stated earlier, I felt immensely uncomfortable and confused at how much I was enjoying reading this book about a “nympholectic” pedophile. It made me feel dirty, decadent, and debased. But the way I felt throughout the end of the book completely reconciled my emotive response to where it “should” have been through the incredible feat of making me strongly desire to read a book I was, at points, loathing.

There’s so much to say about this incredible book, but I haven’t fully been able to wrap my brain around it all. I just wanted to write a few words about my response as a writer. What I’m taking from this is how your narrative design can affect the interconnectedness of character/author/reader—and the tremendous effect that interconnectedness can have. I’ve also learned about creating unreliable narrators, and the power of both sides of that coin: when the unreliability is only hinted at, or unknown completely, and when the unreliability is undeniable and almost excruciating to the reader. Nabokov used that tool to effectively manipulate his readers emotive responses as if he were creating the responses himself.

I love when you finish a book and you feel like you have “traveled” – through time, through space, and through that intangible journey that is experience.

Read it.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Publication News

I have recently had a creative non-fiction piece, "What It Means To Be Alone," picked up by The Eloquent Atheist. You can read the piece in its entirety here.

If you are moved, whether positively or negatively, by the piece, please leave a comment on the site. It's a very interesting, lively community, and I'm proud they wanted my writing to be a part of the site.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

NaNoWriMo Reflections

Like thousands of writers across the country, I participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. Due to a series of unfortunate events, including my car getting broken into in a Baltimore alley (one that I park in at least three times a week), I almost didn’t. I gave up before I began, having only written 149 words by Day Five. However, when on Day Five I realized I had blogged nearly the same amount of words as my required daily quota for NaNoWriMo (1667), I told myself that noveling was a far more rewarding and worthwhile past time than blogging, and set myself to the task of catching up.

I was officially behind for about the first twenty days of November, when I suddenly surged ahead. I “finished” my novel (read: 50,169 words of it . . . after un-contracting all my contractions) four days early. It was a vomitous first draft—full of such flaws as wordiness, repetition, inadvertent rhymes, typos ("soul heir"), mixed metaphors, purple prose ("never ending slumber of death"???), meandering plot, redundancy ("ghostly apparition" ??), etc.—but it was a first draft nonetheless. It is officially the second longest piece of writing I’ve ever done, and has provided great groundwork for a significantly less flawed second draft.

My NaNoWriMo experience was most likely exactly the same as every other WriMo’s experience in that it was deeply individual. I make that seemingly self-contradictory statement on purpose, because I think that is part of the human experience: to feel exactly the same things as countless other living and dead humans, but to experience them in a state of complete self-absorption and solitude. Or maybe that’s just writers.

But in any case, a lot of time NaNoing is a lot of time spent alone. Even those occasions when I partnered up with a fellow WriMo for sessions of solidarity, we were still very much inside our own heads during much of our time together. Not only is writing “butt in chair,” it is “mind in mind.” Unlike an artist painting a figure study from a model, fiction writers create almost solely from within their own heads. A lot of time spent inside one’s mind can lead to many negative things—antisocialism, narcissism, self-consciousness, low self-esteem, etc. But it can also be a transcendental and uplifting experience, as was my NaNoWriMo experience.

I learned many things during this time, that I want to just get down in words. I’m still digesting the whole experience, but this is what I have for now:

1) Writing fast encourages you to write in a fat and bloated way; you write the way you eat on Thanksgiving—and there is great pleasure in that. But there’s a reason Thanksgiving only comes once a year. It’s not healthy to do that all the time. Something can be said for turning off your inner editor, but I say put her in the next room. Don’t send her home on an extended leave of absence.

2) Outlining would have been a really good idea. I once did the Three-Day Novel Contest, and the ONLY reason I finished was that I had an extensive outline and notes beforehand. If I had used an outline, I might not be in the position I am now, and that is the position of rewriting a second draft from scratch. I have written Chapter One three times now, and it’s still not right.

3) 1667 words a day is nothing. Stephen King recommends 2000 words a day—and we all want to be Stephen King, don’t we? (Just kidding.) If you can’t find the time to put down 1667 words a day, you don’t deserve to call yourself a writer. Harsh, I know, but I’m growing tired of the “someday” people (myself included). You’re not going to someday win the lottery and be able to quit your job and suddenly have an extra nine hours a day to devote to writing. Even if you do win the lottery, you’ll probably spend those extra nine hours a day getting really familiar with daytime television—or shopping—or (like I probably would) staring at your bank statement in orgasmic disbelief.

If you want to succeed as a writer, you should be putting in a little time every day either: writing, editing, or sending out submissions. Even if you’re not working on your novel or a short story or a poem, write something. It will be good for you and will help you develop a habit.

Right now, I’m taking a break between my first draft and the “official start” of my second draft. It’s giving me a chance to catch up on my reading (the second best thing you can do to improve your writing is to read) and also to let my mind wander around the plot and the various holes I need to tidy up. Then I’ll finish and refine my outline, which has been dribbling out slowly, and finally I’ll begin earnest work on my second draft. Around that time, Writers Block will hopefully have started back up, which no doubt will prove to be very motivating to me.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Lo. Lee. Ta

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.
My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of
the tongue taking a trip of three steps
down the palate to tap, at three, on the
teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta."

--Vladimir Nabokov

I stopped at Barnes and Noble on my way home last night in search of Noah Lukeman's Dash of Style. Usually, I buy books online, using a site like Better World, which donates a portion of its proceeds to charitable causes for global literacy and uses green shipping methods. But I was really craving a look at this book.

But sadly (and not unexpectedly) they didn't have it. They had three editions of The Elements of Style, including an illustrated version (do you really need to illustrate a book about words?), but they did not have one copy of Dash of Style.

So, still craving something to feed my bibliophilia, I headed over to Fiction/Literature, where I promptly forgot the names of all the hundred or so books I want to read right now. Love in the Time of Cholera was on prominate display, because of the movie coming out, and I briefly toyed with the idea of purchasing One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I've wanted to read for some time. But the book was heavy in my hands--I wanted something lighter, shorter after having slogged through The Blind Assassin (which, I know I know, is not a long book; I just have a short attention span, which is why I mostly read short stories).

Thinking of heavy books, I remembered how fervently Chris had recommended Great Expectations (after overcoming his shock that I hadn't yet read it. I was a writing major, I told him yet again, not a literature major). So I headed to the Ds and selected one of the three editions they had available. It was strange indeed to see such a classic in mass market paperback (and about three inches thick at that size). While in the Ds, I saw Dostoyevsky, which reminded me of Nabokov and reminded me that I wanted to read Lolita. That seemed like it would be as "light and short" as I might get, considering my list of old and new classics that I hadn't gotten around to yet.

Long story short, I bought Great Expectations and Lolita (as well as Madison Bell's National Book Award Nominee All Souls Rising, which I really ought to read as well) and started Lolita last night. I don't know what I expected of this book, only knowing the plot and having seen the most recent film adaptation. In fact, I fear that the story is so ubiquitous that many have not taken the time out to actually read the novel.

I'm SO glad that I have. Even just reading the first paragraph (reprinted above) I was blown away. Nabokov plays with language in a way I am desperate to be able to do (and to have the confidence to do). The book was simultaneously creepy and laugh-out-loud funny--not a combination I ever expected. So many little lines and jokes and off-the-cuff witticisms have captured me entirely. 40 pages in, and I am in love with this book.

" knees were like reflections of knees in rippling water..."

If I didn't have to get up for work this morning, I could have easily spent all night drowning myself in Nabokov's intoxicating language, his scenes and images that pop more vividly than any film could ever hope to recreate. I felt naughty reading the book, like a kid with a flashlight under the covers, reading something utterly trashy and delicious. I couldn't get enough. Today, I regret not having brought my copy to pore over during my lunch hour.

"I exchanged letters with these people, satisfying them I was housebroken, and spent a fantastic night on the train, imagining in all possible detail the enigmatic nymphet I would coach in French and fondle in Humbertish. Nobody met me at the toy station where I alighted with my new expensive bag, and nobody answered the telephone; eventually, however, a distraught McCoo in wet clothes turned up at the only hotel of green-and-pink Ramsdale with the news that his house had just burned down--possibly, owing to the synchronous conflagration that had been raging all night in my veins."

I'm not going to do any sort of detailed literary analysis of Lolita. I just wanted to share how amazing it is, so, if you haven't read it yet, you can pick up a copy and join me in savoring it like dark chocolate cheesecake.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Blog Renaissance

If you've visited my blog before, you know it has previously been dedicated to my craftwork, soft sculpture, and stuffed animals. Due to various circumstances, I am no longer working on that type of artwork (though there are still some items left in my store). Rather, I am focusing my energy on working full-time on my writing career.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with me, I am a 25-year old professional writer working in living in Baltimore, MD. I have my BA in English from Goucher College, where I was fortunate to study under the amazing Madison Smartt Bell. My passion is for short fiction, and my stories have been published in Preface and the unfortunately defunct Baltimore Writers Project. I've also been a staff writer for several periodicals. I'm currently honing my poetry skills and revising a novel I began during National Novel Writing Month, which deals with gender roles as they relate to power, wealth, and status.

I will be forthwith dedicating this site and blog to my journey as a writer and a reader. Though, due to publishing standards and copyright issues, I will not be printing any of my pieces here, I currently have one story on the web from my undergraduate days, which you can read here.

Thanks for visiting!