Friday, September 30, 2011


Looks pretty good to me.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Writing Toward the First Line

Today at lunch, I forced myself to pick up a pen and push onward into Chapter 3 of Go Home, Miss America, the work-in-progress. After scribbling down a few hundred words in the space of an hour, I stumbled over what should be the first line of the chapter, which gave me the image that will open the scene and recur through it. I am simultaneously proud of myself, humbled by good fortune, and annoyed that I seem to have forgotten one of my basic tenets of the fictional art: write in scenes.

I see that I was having such difficulty getting on in this chapter because what I was writing was a bunch of character observations about my leading male and his wife, but there was nothing happening. There was no context, no action, no scene. The comments about who these people are were just sort of floating in space, disconnected from the story. Once I actually began to write about the husband and wife in motion, actually doing something, it all fell into place and I can see the next few thousand words of story. With a little more thinking, this whole chapter should fall into place fairly quickly now that I've remembered to write dramatically rather than thematically. So that's all cool, kids.

And so in a week I'll be fretting about Chapter 4, which concerns the leading female character. I have at most three sentences worth of material for this upcoming chapter, and no idea at all what sort of scenes will flesh out those meager sentences. But hopefully I'll at least remember that I am looking for scenes, not character attributes. Some days I'm a real dope.

This is how the first draft of the book is going to be, I think. Since I'm not outlining it, since I have no idea how it ends or even what the second half of the book will contain, I have only the barest faintest inkling of what I'm doing as I go along, and that means that I discover it as I write it, day by day. This does not make me happy as a method, but the resulting prose seems, so far, to be acceptable. I can't say how successful the story I'm building is yet. And despite my promise not to plan the book ahead of time, I really really (really) hope I figure out the ending before not much longer because I am operating far outside of my comfort zone and I am having to work much harder than I'd like.

Anyway, Chapter 3 of Go Home, Miss America is underway and I am no longer tempted by all the other story ideas floating around in my head.

A Plague of New Ideas

Today at lunch I had two (2) exciting ideas for possible novels. I also have been thinking about the Antarctica novel I have outlined, as well as the abandoned written-on-the-blog-a-paragraph-at-a-time novel I was writing earlier this year, and on top of that there are ideas spinning and congealing that have to do with the possible sequel to the transcendental/philosophical detective novel I've just finished. All of these ideas are a fog descending upon my brain, a curse, a plague.

Why so grim about my overactive muse? Because I know that I'm only thinking so much about all the novels I could be writing as a way to avoid the one novel I should be writing, the novel I've got 11,000+ words of already, the one that stops after the first paragraph of Chapter 3, the one that I carry around with me in my briefcase, swearing that I'll work on it during lunch or on the bus ride home. Yes, I am avoiding that particular novel. Why? Because it's hard work, that's why. It's labor and I know that to actually commit to this book is to commit to a lot of serious thinking and to chain myself to an exhausting project for God knows how long. Maybe I'd be playing avoidance games no matter what novel I was pretending to write? Maybe I'm just enjoying not writing, enjoying the freedom to read as much as I want during my designated writing hours. Well, that can't last. A writer writes, et cetera ad nauseum. And I should be writing. I need to find a joke around which to build the first scene in Chapter 3. Jokes are always helpful when imagining scenes.

As Mighty Reader's nephew would say, "First World problems." I disparage my whining. But I don't--you may well note--delete it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Golden Ass

I am reading The Golden Ass, a picaresque novel from the end of the 2nd century CE (or AD for you old-school types), written by an Algerian Roman citizen named Apuleius. The proper name for this work is The Metamorphosis but I prefer Augustine's title because when I think of The Metamorphosis I am put in mind of Kafka (or Ovid) and I don't need the confusion. Where was I?

Oh, Apuleius and the story of Lucius, a randy little traveler who runs foul of possessed wine skins, a witch, a gang of robbers and others. What larks, I tell you. This is one of those books that I know by excerpts or allusions, and I'm finally getting around to reading the whole thing and gosh, it's a lot of fun. A lot of bawdy fun and the farther along I get in the narrative, the more I suspect that this ancient tale was known to a great many other authors I've read. Certainly Laurence Sterne knew it, and Cervantes steals the assault on the wine skins scene for Quixote, and the general tone and sexual punning of James Branch Cabell's "Poictesme" books comes straight from Apuleius. Voltaire doubtless read The Golden Ass. Did Kafka? I wonder.

Right now, poor Lucius is tied up outside the robbers' cave, listening to the tales of one gang of thieves as related to another gang. (Yes, it's one of those books that contains a lot of shorter tales, but at least in this one, the frame story is interesting all on its own.) Lucius has been in the guise of an ass for a few days now. Who among us hasn't?

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Thin Man: Asta is a Girl!

I have an interest in classic detective fiction and so in July I picked up a copy of Dashiell Hammett’s The Thin Man. I’ve never read any Hammett but like everyone else, I like the films that were made of The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man. Hammett, by the way, did not have anything to do with the sequels to The Thin Man. But that’s all by the way.

For someone who’s seen the movie but not read the book, there are surprises: Nick Charles is Greek! Asta is a girl! Nora doesn’t give Nick a pistol for Christmas! It’s a good bet that Nick is drunk if he’s awake! Though he also manages Nora’s inherited business, buying stock in gold mines and selling off failing companies. All of which is a load of fun.

The narrative is almost entirely dialogue and what action there is comes across as stage direction, so it reads like a play. A breathless, very talky play with clever banter and a lot of sass. The Thin Man is a classic two-corpse murder mystery, beginning with the discovery of one body and a second stiff to be produced toward the end of the second act. I’ve seen the movie plenty of times and so far it seems to hew pretty closely to the plot of the novel, so of course I know who the murderer is already. This lets me look at how the mystery and detection thereof is structured in the book. I can tell you that almost all of the action is nothing but misdirection. Here and there the actual murderer does something subtle that in no way points to guilt, but that’s in the background, behind a colorful and very active parade of bickering and suspicious activity by a large cast of loud and angry extras. Nick Charles, who repeatedly declares that he’s not investigating anything, asks a lot of questions and has dinner and drinks cocktails and sleeps very late, having breakfast while the rest of the world lunches, and thinks about the crime. He is not the sort of detective to visit a crime scene and scrabble about on hands and knees, searching for clues that have eluded the police. No, he wonders about motivations and character and asks Nora to mix another shaker of martinis. He does not appear to be working, nor particularly interested in solving the mystery. It’s a real page-turner and I expect to finish reading it tonight after work.

I am also reading The Golden Ass by Apuleius, which is a lot of fun. Greek tales of transformation and magic, mostly revolved around sexual relationships between men and women who haven’t been formally introduced. What larks. I’m reading the 1960 Jack Lindsay translation. Next week I’ll read some Portuguese literature.

Also, I just saw this about a remake of The Thin Man starring Johnny Depp. I am not sanguine about this affair.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wuthering Anniversary

One of my favorite blogs, Wuthering Expectations, is four years old today. I admit that I've not followed Amateur Reader's explorations of 19th-century literature for more that the last 10 months or so, but in that short span of time I've become rather addicted to the daily (mostly) musings about the reading life. I've also had some great fun going back through the archives at Wuthering Expectations, where there are all sorts of gems to be unearthed.

Wuthering Expectations isn't so much writing about books as it is writing about the experience of reading. There's a sort of way of life one might have that puts books pretty high on the list of priorities, and a sort of way of thinking about books one gets when reading good books is a central activity in life. Authors and people who write about books are always talking about good books you've never read (or never heard of) and so there is a lifetime of discovery and exploration open to a good reader. Over time a good reader becomes entangled in a large and ever-expanding web of connected literature, influences and responses all around him and the world of the imagination becomes a truly immense place filled with and by other smart and imaginative people. Or something. I'm just rambling and trying to give a sense, in my own poor way, of the sort of thing Wuthering Expectations does. I'm not doing a very good job of it.

Here's the thing: some people read good books and write about what that's like. Some people do it better than others. Amateur Reader will, in his charming and self-effacing way, deny that he writes well or even coherently about the reading life, but you must ignore those lies. Wuthering Expectations is a cool blog and I hope it lasts at least another four years.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Chekhov and Turgenev

From "An Anonymous Story":

"Turgenev teaches us in his novels that every exalted, noble-minded girl should follow the man she loves to the ends of the earth, and should serve his idea," said Orlov, screwing up his eyes ironically. "The ends of the earth are poetic license; the earth and all its ends can be reduced to the flat of the man she loves. . . . And so not to live in the same flat with the woman who loves you is to deny her her exalted vocation and to refuse to share her ideals. Yes, my dear fellow, Turgenev wrote, and I have to suffer for it."

"What Turgenev has got to do with it I don't understand," said Gruzin softly, and he shrugged his shoulders. "Do you remember, George, how in 'Three Meetings' he is walking late in the evening somewhere in Italy, and suddenly hears, 'Vieni pensando a me segretamente,'" Gruzin hummed. "It's fine."

"But she hasn't come to settle with you by force," said Pekarsky. "It was your own wish."

"What next! Far from wishing it, I never imagined that this would ever happen. When she said she was coming to live with me, I thought it was a charming joke on her part."

Everybody laughed.

"I couldn't have wished for such a thing," said Orlov in the tone of a man compelled to justify himself. "I am not a Turgenev hero, and if I ever wanted to free Bulgaria I shouldn't need a lady's company. I look upon love primarily as a necessity of my physical nature, degrading and antagonistic to my spirit; it must either be satisfied with discretion or renounced altogether, otherwise it will bring into one's life elements as unclean as itself. For it to be an enjoyment and not a torment, I will try to make it beautiful and to surround it with a mass of illusions. I should never go and see a woman unless I were sure beforehand that she would be beautiful and fascinating; and I should never go unless I were in the mood. And it is only in that way that we succeed in deceiving one another, and fancying that we are in love and happy. But can I wish for copper saucepans and untidy hair, or like to be seen myself when I am unwashed or out of humour? Zinaida Fyodorovna in the simplicity of her heart wants me to love what I have been shunning all my life. She wants my flat to smell of cooking and washing up; she wants all the fuss of moving into another flat, of driving about with her own horses; she wants to count over my linen and to look after my health; she wants to meddle in my personal life at every instant, and to watch over every step; and at the same time she assures me genuinely that my habits and my freedom will be untouched. She is persuaded that, like a young couple, we shall very soon go for a honeymoon -- that is, she wants to be with me all the time in trains and hotels, while I like to read on the journey and cannot endure talking in trains."

An example of so-called "double coding" here is the phrase, "if I ever wanted to free Bulgaria I shouldn't need a lady's company." which is a reference to Turgenev's novel On The Eve. I will confess that I don't understand how "double coding" is postmodernism, since literary allusions have been going on for a very long time. And so, frankly, has postmodernism. Don't get me started on literary theory today.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Transcendental Revisions, Part 3

Late last night, or possibly very very early this morning, I finished the second pass at revisions on The Last Guest. As usual, the confidence in the book that I lost during the middle of the revisions (when everything I've written no longer resembles any Earthly language) returned by the final section and I think, kids, that it's a pretty good book.

I'm currently in the middle of Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair At Styles. Reading Agatha Christie was a big influence on me, one of the reasons I wrote my own detective novel. I look at what Ms Christie has written and I compare it to what I've written and I don't see a lot of similarity (except for the trope of a detective solving a murder, that is). That could worry me, but it doesn't. My book is a lot more clear about what's actually going on during the investigation than Ms Christie's is. Possibly I tip my hand too early, but I don't think my book is about "who did it" so much as it's about what the hell my detective thinks she's doing. There's too much Nabokov, Woolf and--possibly now--Murakami in my head to write a truly straightforward whodunit. Is that good or bad? I've no idea.

What is bad is that my next task is to sit down and type all of my changes into the master document. I really really really (really) hate that step. It's the sort of thing I enjoy not doing, and I will probably stretch the work out over at least a week. After that I get to read the whole book again, hurrah! My eyes are crossed in anticipation of yet another read through.

I'm also thinking about my interrupted work in progress, Go Home Miss America. I have a pretty good idea of what the next chapter will be like. The chapter after that is still vague. Somewhere I've got two or three sentences scribbled down about it, but that's not much help. I think there's a goat, and a trip to a village, and then some automatic weaponry. Maybe.

This is a very dull post, but I like to keep track of this stuff and a blog is, if nothing else, a handy sort of diary.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chekhov's "Volodya" and Point-of-View

Toward the end of "Volodya," Chekhov's short story about adolescent suicide, the protagonist finds a revolver in his neighbor's room. Volodya can't name the parts of a gun, nor does he have much idea about how a pistol actually works. Here's how Chekhov describes Volodya exploring the pistol:

Volodya put the muzzle of the revolver to his mouth, felt something like a trigger or spring, and pressed it with his finger...Then felt something else projecting, and once more pressed it. Taking the muzzle out of his mouth, he wiped it with the lapel of his coat, looked at the lock. He had never in his life taken a weapon in his hand before...

Aside from the sad creepiness of the moment (an unhappy teenage boy who feels completely cut off from the world and is putting the barrel of a gun into his mouth), this is a wonderfully written passage. As omniscient narrator Chekhov could give us a precise description of what Volodya's doing, but instead we move a step closer to the character and share his ignorance of firearms. "something like a trigger or spring" he says. Volodya's heard the word "trigger" and the word "spring" but he can't directly apply those terms to the object in his hand. A minute later Volodya "pressed something with his fingers" but he doesn't know the name or function of it; he's just pushing and pulling at the revolver and trying to make it fire.

I'm generally a proponent of precise language, of using the proper names of objects (though not in an obsessive David Foster Wallace way), but I also believe in the power of vagueness, of obscurity. Sometimes characters don't know what they're doing. Sometimes real people have moments where they sort of float above or alongside reality and language fails to connect with the moment. That disconnect can be captured in prose (Chekhov captures it by leaving out detail, by inserting ignorance into the narrative). The lack of concrete language in Volodya's consideration of the pistol reflects his separation from the real, solid world around him. The voice of the narrative has shifted and taken on the characteristics of the protagonist's mood, which is excellent writing.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Monarch, by Michelle Davidson Argyle

My friend (and Literary Lab co-host) Michelle Davidson Argyle's thriller Monarch pubs today. I am not supposed to be envious, but I am. I can't be happier for Michelle, and I hope she sells a bunch of copies. Fans of suspense stories and action-packed romances should run out and buy the book!

Links and stuff:

You can find all book and author info here.

You can sign up for Michelle's newsletter. She's giving away bookmarks and posters and a free matte cover copy of Monarch, signed. Go here.

To see Michelle's current newsletter announcing the giveaways, make with the clicky right here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reading Agatha Christie

When Mighty Reader and I were in Victoria, I bought a copy of Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It's the first novel Christie ever published, the first Hercule Poirot novel, and also a book I've never read. It also has a cool cover and I am, admittedly, swayed by nice artwork. I am tempted to pick up all of the Poirot mysteries in these new Harper UK editions because they're so attractive.

Anyway, it occurred to me last night that the secret to the middle of a classic detective novel is to present every single thing the detective sees or touches as A Clue. You just bury the reader in Clues for 100 pages. "There was a blade of grass on his left shoe." That sort of thing. "His tie was askew." "There were two cups in the sink, though Jones claimed he'd been alone for breakfast" (it turns out later that Jones used one cup to drink coffee and the other to water a houseplant while having his coffee; "the cup was right there, so why not use it?"). And so on. None of these clues are differentiated, though it's helpful to have someone insist that certain of these Clues are Very Important. The less they have to do with the actual crime, the more important someone should insist they are. If the detective waggles his eyebrows over a particularly slight discovery ("Look: the cat has shed on the bedspread!"), all the better.

The middles of classic detective novels often annoy me because they are generally little more than lists of nonessential information. The stories grind to a halt and a weird sense of stasis settles over the narrative. I grit my teeth and push forward, hoping for something exciting like a second victim. Christie sometimes breaks up the monotony of building the pile of clues with passages about gardens or architecture or whatever that are usually pretty entertaining and well written. But most of the time the middle of a detective story simply irritates me.

In my philosophical detective story, I have attempted to avoid this "These Are All Important Clues So Pay Attention" technique, and have focused instead on the characters and their relationships. I decided to write a story that happens to be a mystery, not a mystery that includes a story, if you see the difference. Even so, it's tempting to go back through my manuscript and add a deluge of Clues, not because I think that will increase the enjoyability/challenge of the mystery, but because it looks like a lot of devilish good fun. I mean, I can see what Christie is doing with her second acts full of useless detail; it's interesting work to come up with and plant useless clues. You have to make it believable to the reader that there was a tire iron in the dining room and a shard of broken mirror under the sofa in the parlor. You can't just throw in props at random.

Why is the cat shedding on the bedspread significant? Because the owner of the bed is allergic to cats. What's that have to do with anything? Well, it turns out that the allergy is a lie. Is the liar guilty of murder? No, he's actually just afraid of cats but can't admit that so he made up the allergy. He's trying to impress a girl and thinks his fear of cats isn't impressive. See? It's all misdirection but it all has to make real-world sense, or something close.

The secret to reading a classic detective novel is to ignore, to the best of your ability, all of the alleged Clues the detective presents and instead focus your attention on what happens with the characters who move about in the background. That's where all the real action is.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Transcendental Revisions, part 2

I have finished the first round of revisions to my philosophical detective novel, The Last Guest. I added about 5,000 words and cut about 2,300 others and so now the MS is just a little over 71,000 words. Not a long novel, but 71,000 words is a fine length for a first mystery. This weekend I managed to finish the hateful task of typing up all of my changes into the Word(tm) document, and today I've printed out that revised document and over the coming week I'll read through the MS again to see what I think of it. This draft should come pretty quickly, as I think the narrative's pretty solid as it is. I plan to add one new scene, featuring the redoubtable Captain Mayhew, USMC. This might necessitate altering a scene late in the book; we'll see when we get there. Anyway, I'm getting very close to the day when I can have my Three Trusted Readers(tm) have a look at the book before I send it off to my One Trusted Agent(tm).

Though it's certainly jumping the gun a considerable bit, I've been making notes for what could be a sequel to this book. It looks interesting so far, and I'll get to do all sorts of further research, which is always exciting. Working title for the idea-in-progress is The Circus in the Dust. C'est tres Faulkner, non?

I also had what might be a good couple of ideas for the literary fiction piece I've put on the back burner while revising the detective novel, and it'll be fun to get back to that book in, say, October. Not having an outline from which to work is allowing me to ask more "what if" questions about the story than I normally would ask, maybe, and so I've hit upon some interesting possibilities for the book. It'll be nice to get back to that one. I miss the African goats.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Conmergence by Tara Maya

I interrupted my reading of Chekhov stories this weekend to (finally) read Tara Maya's story collection, Conmergence. Yes, she published it some time ago and it's been sitting on my bookshelf at work looking at me sidelong for all this while and I kept forgetting to read it.

Conmergence presents a solid batch of stories that are crafted to a high standard. Tara Maya's prose is quite fine, and I forgot right away that I was reading a collection of science fiction stories (I am, after all, a literary fiction snob) and settled in to enjoy some well-written tales. They range from 2-page "flash" pieces to longer stories that verge on being novellas. The longer pieces were my favorites, possibly because they were more character-based stories. A couple of the shorter pieces were clearly more idea-based and that's not really my thing, but "Tomorrow We Dance," the penultimate story in the collection, is really really cool.

One of the things I'm impressed with in Tara Maya's writing is the way she creates new terms. Most of her stories take place in fictional worlds, and her characters are using fictional objects to do fictional activities. A lot of SF breaks down at the prose level when the author is confronted with the task of naming imaginary items and actions. Tara Maya has come up with a lot of believable new words, which fit into the sounds of English pretty well. Her new words are either Latinate or Anglo-Saxon, or at least have the sounds of Latinate or Anglo-Saxon words. It was really cool to come across these invented words and Tara's work here deepens the reading experience. Again I say that it's really cool and I'm really impressed. "Delighted" is probably the word I'm looking for here. I'm a big fan of detailed craftsmanship, you know.

Anyway, I don't really review books but Conmergence has been out for a while and I've been remiss about actually reading it and it is a good book. I do not mean, "good for SF." I mean it's plain old good writing. I don't know why Ms Maya doesn't have a publishing contract already. I don't know why her novels aren't on the shelves at your local book store. I really don't. Because she can really write.

Friday, September 9, 2011


I have just purchased a subscription to the new Seattle Opera season. Mighty Reader and I will be seeing Bizet's Carmen, Verdi's Attila and Puccini's Madama Butterfly. Hurrah! I'm undecided about Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice, but we can add that one later if we want to.

This will be our first season of opera. We saw Porgy and Bess not too long ago and it was fabulous, so we've decided to throw our money at the arts and wallow in more Western European Kultur. Yes, Carmen and M. Butterfly are more-or-less old warhorses, but they're excellent old warhorses and I won't be shy about saying that I love the music. I've never heard Attila but who doesn't like Verdi? I'd pay good money to see a production of his Otello, I would. Some of the best writing for operatic bass ever.

It would be cool if Seattle Opera would put on some more modern works, by folks like Janacek or Berg (I'd pay a good chunk to see Lulu or Wozzeck if you're listening, Seattle Opera). Mighty Reader has a fondness for 20th Century music. Which is why I need to look seriously at the calendars for Meany Performance Hall (the Emersons are coming again this year, and it's all Mozart which delights me more than I can possibly say. No Berg or Webern this year in the whole series, and only one Haydn trio, alas. How will I get my Haydn fix? How will Mighty Reader get her Webern fix? Why would I pay $34 to hear the Carpe Diem Quartet play Monti's Czardas when I can play that piece? WTF, CDQ? Though they're doing a Piazolla piece so props to them for that.

Where was I? Oh, opera. I think it'll be a good time.

Meanwhile, revisions to The Last Guest continue apace. I am considering a new scene in the middle which will aid in breaking up a long passage in Chapter 10 (because I'll move half of that long passage into the new scene, if I write it). I am also considering adding another red herring to the story, and then I've got to ask myself if the actions of the detective in the third act are plot manipulation or if she's just a damned clever detective. Hard to say. We'll just see, won't we?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Transcendental Revisions, Part 1

It seems like every time I turn around, I’ve got a novel to revise. This week I began work on The Last Guest, which is what I’m calling my philosophical detective novel for now. I am fond of the title but Mighty Reader gives it a shrug. She prefers The Transcendental Detective but I, happily, get the only vote at this stage. I digress.

So I’m revising yet another novel. I have decided to work on this one in discrete stages. Stage One, which is where I am now, is essentially just a read-through to see how the book feels as a whole. Certainly I’m doing edits as I go along, to beautify and clarify the prose, but I’m not doing any real work yet. I printed the full manuscript out on letter-sized pages, single space with a 1” left margin and a 3” right margin. 12-point TNR type, I believe. The 3” margin is so that I have room to make extensive notes to myself about the work I might want to do in the way of a serious revision. Mostly, so far, it’s pretty clean, but some pages look like this:

I’ve written a couple of thousand additional words already, mostly to expand scenes and add action I think the story needs. I’ll add some unknown number of scenes during the revisions; unless I am inspired to write the new scene immediately, I’m just making notes and moving on. I’m also looking for places to insert the ideas I had while writing the first draft, ideas that I scribbled onto note cards rather than working into the narrative. My rule this time around was to always go forward until the first draft was complete; stopping and rewriting was not allowed.

Today I reached the halfway point through this read-through. I figure I’ll be finished with this stage in another week easily, and then I’ll sit down, type in all the edits and then write out all of the new scenes or expansions of existing scenes. That will take another week or two, and probably I’ll type them into the master document as I go along (though they’ll be written longhand because that’s how I work). After that, I’ll have a finished second draft that I’ll print out once again in the same format as this version. There’ll be another read-through, marking up as I go along, but hopefully I won’t have a lot of big changes to make at that stage. The finished third draft will be offered to a select few readers for comments and then there will be either more revisions or not (likely there will) and then, oh then, off the completed novel will go to my fabulous agent. How long will all of this take? I don’t know. I’d like to think that the book is solid enough now that I can be rid of it by Halloween. We’ll see.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

All Over The Place With Murakami

I am 464 pages into Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. For about 325 pages I didn't like this book but I kept reading it because Davin Malasarn said it was good. On or about page 325 I realized that I was reading it the wrong way, insisting it make sense and obey my aesthetics of form. What I really needed to do was just read along and enjoy the sense of being uprooted, accept the unlikely events and just see how Murakami would surprise me. A little over a year of story-time has gone by now and very little of the events in the book are clear to me, and I have almost no idea what the dramatic purpose of any of the characters is. Which is all fine. The first half of the book is told in essentially first-person by Okada, the protagonist, but in the second half Murakami introduces a third-person narrative about one of the new characters (Cinnamon, son of Nutmeg). It's possible that this third-person account is actually given by Okada, but there's no way of knowing at this point. He's also introduced a series of letters written by one of the secondary characters to the protagonist, which seem to be essentially statements of theme, or maybe arguments in support of Murakami's storytelling strategems. I'm not sure at all what's going on. But I am sure that I'm enjoying the book now (despite the ongoing clunkiness of the prose here and there for which I blame the translator) and I'm enjoying the constant sense of surprise I get from the narrative.

Reading this book while working on a novel of my own has started me thinking about the idea of surprise in a story. I think I have a tendency to write sort of overdetermined stories, where the primary movement is almost implacably in a single direction, the narrative broken up by comic relief and short diversions here and there, but essentially the plots are one thing. I have decided, possibly thanks to Murakami but likely more thanks to Davin Malasarn, that my plots should be more surprising. The stories should feel free to change direction radically in the middle.

I don't know if this is a good thing at all, or if it's just something I'm choosing arbitrarily. After all, Graham Swift's novel Waterland was certainly multilayered and memorable, but the action in each of the three timelines pretty much all aimed itself the same direction and I had no problem with that. The same with Louis deBernieres' Birds Without Wings. So I don't know. To tell the truth, nothing about my writing has been quite the same after I read Virgina Woolf's Mrs Dalloway. My ideas about point-of-view and narrative distance all went out the window. Possibly I have an as-yet-unformed Idea in my head and I'm just casting about trying to give it a name before I've seen it clearly in the light of day. Very likely that's it. But the idea of the Unexpected seems to be calling to me in a very very very loud voice and I think I'll try to find out what it wants to say to me.