Join us as Edmond Manning goes Outside the Margins.
Certain writer clichés are now coming true for me and I don’t like it. On a blog out in cyberspace, I already confessed that I am now the cliché writer who “talks to his characters” and have conversations with them in my head. I used to hear writers explain “My characters just interact and I let them do what they want to do” and I would roll my eyes. How fucking pretentious. I dunno. Maybe I was jealous.
Well, I recently discovered another cliché come true.
The blank page.
Television and movies suffered a devastating blow the day dot matrix printers were invented, because it’s standard fare to show a frustrated writer typing madly on a typewriter, ziiiiiiiinging out the paper, crumpling it into a ball (to throw at other crumpled pages) and then returning to stare at a new blank piece of paper. Perfect cliché. Dot matrix printers ruined that standard shot. It’s so less dramatic to have a writer stare at blank Word document. Because, duh, we don’t do that.
Now, we go to Facebook.
And Facebook welcomes us with open arms, distracting posts, people talking about writing, which is a lot like writing (but not) and then there’s always a juicy conflagaration of posters, sometimes hilarious, sometimes heartfelt. Sometimes you’re sniffing around a temporary scandal: who shouldn’t have said what to whom. Soooooo many options besides staring at the blank page.
It turns out that blank page fear is a real thing, I am here to tell you.
I sat. I stared. And I wondered…will the words come?
I wrote a lot last winter. Come summer, I was overwhelmed with publication. A short story in June (Broken Phoenix), a novel in July (Filthy Acquisitions), a short story in August (Hunting Bear: A Fairy Tale with a Very Hairy Ending) and the last one in September (The Butterfly King). From May through the end of September, I edited, blogged, promoted, edited blogged, promoted, edited, blogged.
But I didn’t write anything new.
A few weeks after GRL ended, I realized I had time to write. It was time to write. Get started on the next crop of stories. Somehow, this revelation surprised me, maybe because I hadn’t been crafting anything new since May.
So I sat down and faced it. The blank page.
What if I couldn’t write?
I was very proud of each of this year’s publications. I loved writing short stories. Loved the two books I put out. But what if I was out of ideas? What if I had used up all the good words and now only shitty ones were left? What if I craft a sentence I think is beautiful and someone says in a review, “Yeah…that’s a great sentence. I liked it the first time he used it four books ago.”
It’s hard for me to say what exactly psyches me out. I have read goodreads reviews where someone said, “This isn’t Manning’s best work. He can do better if he tries harder.” And while it’s a testament (on some level) to their faith in my abilities, it also smacks of my grade school teachers who saw my medicore math skills and shook their heads. “Try harder.”
Perhaps it has nothing to do with reviews, but comes from my own satisfaction with pieces I’ve written. Maybe I like my stuff way too much. If I weren’t so smugly satisfied, I’d assume my best writing days remain ahead of me. Well, I do think that actually. I hope I’m improving in this craft.
And maybe that’s the heart of the fear—that this isn’t a craft. That I might not get better and more polished, that maybe—just maybe—any meager writing success was a fluke and the next story to spring from my fingertips will be a real yawner. What if writing has nothing to do with talent and practice and everything to do with beginner’s luck?
In sane moments I don’t believe that. Mostly. I have been writing fiction since I was twenty and I know I wrote some real crap off and on for two decades. I subjected friends to it. They nodded and said, “izgood,” that slurring together of a compliment, said quickly, so you don’t ask too many questions about why it was good and what they loved about it.
I’m not that writer anymore.
I may have lots to learn but I’m not the same writer I was twenty years ago.
A few days ago, I sat at my computer and looked at the blank screen.
I’m writing science fiction. A fun novel that’s been itching me in the back of my brain since I first wrote the short, Broken Phoenix. These guys have a few more stories to tell. But would they come? Would they remember their way back to me?
I began typing a few words.
A sentence or two.
I reread some bits about these characters, things I had written months ago. In fact, I got lost in rereading their first set of adventures, and, oh well, I used up all my writing time revisiting their history. But the next time I sat at my laptop, I experienced the same feelings, staring at the blank screen.
Will the words come?
I remembered a pithy phrase from a writing book (or rather, several writing books). “There is no substitute for writing but writing.” Ugh. Whenever I come upon a writer using that phrase or paraphrasing, I’ve been irritated by the fake profundity of those words. But I get it now. At this swimming pool, there’s only the deep end.
I plunged in.
I will say that the first hour was a bit of tooth-pulling. But then I wrote a funny exchange between the two characters and I turned their kitchen into a disaster zone. I amused myself. And that’s one thing I like about writing—amusing myself. So I wrote a few more sentences. Wrote a good plot twist. I rewrote the clumsy beginning, tightened it, cut what needed to be cut.
The next time I sat to write, I churned out over 4,000 words that day. The experience was like riding a favorite rollercoaster. The turns, the swoops, seeing what’s ahead and then writing the track to meet it. I made myself chuckle once, and I found a way to be sad with these characters and show vulnerability. When I left them, they were in peril from falling bricks, and I had to force myself to quit writing, to save some of the juice for tomorrow when I sat down again.
The words came.
If you like sci-fi, enjoy some opening lines from the beginning of Broken Phoenix and Other Tales. This is the first ‘other tales,’ titled The Prince from Nowhere.
I am eternal.
I am fire incarnate.
Hear me, oh great blackness boasting six trillion stars, hear my devastating—
Oh great blackness boasting six trillion—
“Babe, do you think this marrock has gone bad? Smell this and tell me what you think.”
Fanaqua this. I can’t meditate.
I love him. I love being with him. But I lived alone for a very long time. Married life challenges me.
Edgar says, “I think it smells okay, but look how it’s browning around the edges. I think we should toss it.”
I wish to be patience, but I am short with him when I say, “So, toss it.”
“What do you think? Smell it.”
Edgar puts the bowl in front of me and I must oblige him. He is my life mate.
“I approve of its general odor.”
He takes the bowl and stirs his finger through it. “I think I should throw it away. I want the bankoo to taste fresh.”
He walks away and I assume the meditative pose I had struck—
Wait. Wait a minute. This does not make sense. I call out, “Why did you ask me for my opinion if you already knew your mind to discard it?”
Edgar turns and smiles, almost bashfully, and I can see he meant no harm. “I dunno. Just wanted your opinion.”
He walks from the room and I consider returning to meditation, to ponder the stars and dammit—I’m not in the mood.
I hear humming.
I wonder what he’s doing. Is he making us food? We ate already. He is preoccupied with food, the next meal, where the food comes from, and such. He says it is the way of his home world, to obsess about the meals, eating as many as three meals every single day.
But everyone exaggerates about their strange home customs. I know it could not be true. Who could eat three meals a day? You would spend all of your life chewing and grinding food. This is no way to live.
When we stayed in New York City, his parents offered us three meals per day but I knew that was only because they believed I was a visiting dignitary. They surely believed the phoenix clan was royalty. They feared and honored me. I tried to convince them to stop preparing banquets, but they insisted they were going to eat anyway. I could not believe it. I still do not believe it.
Edgar gets like this after visiting home, nostalgic for their ways. Increasing the amount of food we eat per day. He visited them two cherries ago. The visit was good but they irked him.
Why is he humming?
This, I wish to know.
I walk to our kitchen but I know better than to enter. I peek around the corner. Edgar sits in the middle of the polished mountain floor, eyes closed, humming. Above him, ingredients fly through the air, combining, chopping, swirling, pulling apart in certain measures. Mixing bowls and utensils I did not need when I lived alone hover near, waiting to do their part. I know better than to walk into this dangerous room and risk getting kalbed on the head by a flying bowl or waiting for a Thentar egg to splatter across my face. I crawl to him on the floor, careful to keep my head low.
We used to cook here. Now, I’m terrified of our kitchen.
~ Edmond Manning
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
|This post may contain affiliate links.
|Prism Book Alliance® assumes no liability for the ownership of photos or content used in guest posts and interviews. The post author assumes all responsibility and liability for this content.|