Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Admitting defeat

Benaras, India

I doubt you'll be surprised to learn that National Novel Writing Month was a bust.

Internet access has been rare on the road; time to write rarer. (Is rarer a word? Danae says it is, but that it sounds like fingernails on a blackboard.)

Benaras is far and away my favorite Indian city so far, in spite of the plague of vapidly spiritual tourists. Like the Kalighat temple in Calcutta, Benaras feels like it belongs in another time. But Kalighat is only one building, while Benaras is a whole city. I guess in my imagination both places are sort of lumped together in one big dawn-of-civilization experience: It's amazing to go to the Kalighat and stand in front of the altar, piled high in rotten flowers and old blood, and realize that on this spot, every day, people sacrifice a goat to an old school, blood-dripping, human-skull-wearing, scare-the-bejesus-out-of-you mother goddess.

But my favorite temple is right here in Benaras: the monkey temple. I think it has another name, but I'm too lazy to look it up.

Sadly, we managed to reach the monkey temple during Hanuman's nap time, and so were unable to see the idol. (He has an embroidered black curtain, to keep his worshipers from bothering him.) But it's still a beautiful place. Although it's in the city, it is surrounded by a tree-filled park (for the monkeys, natch), and it feels like you're in the heart of the jungle, at the headquarters of a very jungle-themed religion, which, in a way, you are.

While taking the requisite dawn boat ride on the Ganges, we saw two separate funerals at the burning ghats. The deceased had not quite made it to the pyre on either occasion, which is just as well. One of my great fears in life is that one day I will smell burning human flesh and it will remind me of something incredibly tasty.

This should tell you all you need to know about the number of things I'm afraid of.

But, through it all, there's been almost no writing. I've done just enough to see that the Awful SpaceOpera is indeed awful.

A good way to appreciate the finer qualities of my magnum opus is to read this article, sent to me by my cousin—my story is everything the author says it shouldn't be.

Ah well. Back to the drawing board. Perhaps I should work on the Hunchback some more. Have I told you about the Hunchback? No? Well, that's a story for another day.

Bad beyond belief

Benares, India

I had forgotten how bad this thing is; I really had.

Retyping the manuscript is not as inspiring as I had hoped. It would seem that nothing can make the Awful Space Opera less awful.

More explosions might help, but those might be hard to come by on a sparsely populated planet. More monsters? We already cut the dragons, and I think adding something similar would be a step backward.

The prison escape sequence is too long. It shows the weaknesses in my dialogue far to clearly. How can I make it shorter?

One thing that I intend on doing (I have a very strong feeling that this is truly execrable, grammar-wise. But I haven't had my coffee and I don't care.) is to write draft three in the form of a screenplay. That will, hopefully, help me cut out unnecessary text. Hopefully. (Drew, what was it you tried to teach me about why I use “hopefully” wrong? Is it something to do with it ending in “ly?”)

But draft two is turning out pretty much as bad as draft one.

The really awful thing is, it's also turning out longer.

By the way, I have lice. Well, actually, I don't, not yet, but considering how prevalent they were at the orphanage Danae dragged me to last week I'm sure I will have them soon.

Friday, November 11, 2011


Today I would like—

Let's not make this decision hastily.

Dutch baby? No. Apple dumplings? No. Quiche? No.

Scones! Homemade, creamy, buttery scones, with currants. And bacon and poached eggs, with avocado on the side.

(Would you believe that no one grows avocados here? The tropics are completely wasted on these people.)

I should probably go take my cold shower and have my processed cheese and cracker breakfast. With instant coffee.

Some of the scones should be oat scones.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

More Adiga

Editor's note: This post was scribbled into a notebook during a painful period of separation from my laptop, then transcribed later.

Like the fool I am, I rushed through my long, depressing, Man-Booker prizewinning novel because I wanted it to be over. Now, I've got four more days in this village and nothing at all to read.

And no laptop, so no progress on the novel, either.

Leaving the computer behind in Calcutta was a very bad last-minute decision. I suspect this is the beginning of the end of my NaNoWriMo pretensions.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Last Man in Tower

                                                                                                                                    West Bengal

I keep running out of books.

I know, I know, I'm supposed to be writing a book, not reading them, and I am.

I will be.

I'm just getting my thoughts together.

But there must be time for, ahh, inspiration and refueling. And I keep running out of material with all this constant train travel.

This is how I allowed myself to be sucked into AravindAdiga's latest vortex of despair, which I bought because a) its cover made it look like a fun adventure story, b) there was no description of the plot on the back, just review quotes, and c) I thought I should read more Indian authors while I'm in India.

Last Man in Tower is about how a bunch of ordinary people work themselves up to the decision to throw one of their neighbors off an upper-story balcony for a bunch of money.

I don't care if I just gave away the ending. If you are now discouraged from reading it, good. I have saved you untold grief.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sister, you backside—here!

Stuffing sixteen people into a car is a little more complicated when they don't all speak the same language.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Mimi the Dragon Slayer

Calcutta, India
So I decided the dragons have got to go.

I don't remember precisely why I decided that the Awful Space Opera would be infested with flying reptiles, or what pseudo-scientific excuse I used to justify their existence, but they gotta go. Most likely, they made their first appearance on a day when I couldn't think of anything else to put down on paper. Of course, that is the basic backstory for the entire novel, but I think maybe in this case the problem was a lack of action for several pages, and I thought readers might start to notice how awful my prose is. Or that I lifted at least two characters from Firefly. (Not on purpose—it's just something that happens when you quit writing and devote an entire week to your DVD-boxed set collection instead.) If you want to kill boredom, you can't go wrong with a dragon attack, right?


The Most Boring Monsters In Pulp Fiction are dead weight, and my first task in this month's mammoth rewrite was to cut them out.

That means replacing several scenes with, ummm, some other kind of death-defying crisis? Something less likely to induce hysterical laughter at all the wrong moments?

I'm thinking quicksand. With flesh-eating worms.

Editor's note: The frightened J-school student in me demands that I admit to backdating this post. Internet access has been iffy on the rails, and I am marking the date according to when this was written, rather than posted.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

What we have here ...

I don't care much for foreign languages.

I love English so much that I can happily waste hours each day playing scrambled word games on my Kindle, just for the joy of the words themselves—and because I get to pat myself on the back each time I remember I can spell “prise” with an “s.”

Reaching that level of smug self-satisfaction in a foreign language takes decades of intensive study. And my ego just doesn't have that kind of time.

Danae signed up for private Hindi lessons almost as soon as we arrived. She dutifully records her teenage tutor's every word (excepting the ones that deal primarily with her complicated personal life), so as to perfect her pronunciation. 

And she has gamely embraced the infantilization that is an inescapable side effect of attempting to communicate in an unknown tongue: She sounds like a two-year old with a speech impediment, and native speakers treat her like one.

Granted, there are times when relying on a combination of English spoken very loud and extravagant hand gestures fails, but in my experience, you're just as likely to suffer a total communication breakdown with a few half-learned phrases of the local language as you are with none.

At least in English, left and right don't rhyme.

Consider the following exchange with Danae's tutor, concerning the Muslim festival popularly known as Bakra Eid, because it features the sacrifice of a goat:

“Next week am festival—Bakra Eid.”
“Bakra Eid?”
Ha. Bakra is God.”
(Eyes become unfocused, attempting to remember the lesson when the word “bakra” last came up. God?)
Ha. Hindi-'Bakra.' English-'God.'”
(With deepening confusion—)
“'Bakra' is 'God?'”
“Uh, 'Allah?'”
Nehi, nehi! God! God!”
Oh, goat.

You see? Replace all those words with wild hand gestures, and you still have no idea why so many neighborhoods are suddenly full of extra livestock, but at least you could avoid suggesting to a devout Muslim that she worships goats.

. . .

So, undoubtedly you want to know about how the novel's coming. It's, well, today is the first day during the official Month in which my computer has worked, so so far, it's not coming. Tricky, trying to keep up with these deadlines on the old Inspiron 600m. (Why the “m?” That named sounded dated the moment I bought it, and this was a state-of-the-art machine once.)

So, if you figure there are twenty-six days left in the month, divided into 50,000 words, that equals—a whole bunch of words a day. I'll try to put in a fair bit on the train to Calcutta tomorrow.