I’ve Had the Time of My Life

Nov. 1st 2011

What Happened in Granite Creek (WHIGC) plays with time. Part one alternates between “present day” (the fall of 2008) and the past, which starts in March 1995 and goes through November 2007. Part two takes place six years into the future (from the “present day”), so 2014.

I was inspired by The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. I found it to be an incredible story, but as a writer, I was awed by the craft aspect. I can’t even imagine what Niffenegger went through to keep that timeline straight. Now, I realize Niffenegger’s book is about time travel. So the going-back-in-time-in-certain-chapters structure actually makes sense, but still.

Anyhow, while I was reading her book, I’d just started to seriously draft WHIGC. My novel felt right in first person, present tense, but I also knew I needed to weave in a lot of back story since two of my main characters — Koty and Wayne — had been married for twelve years and the landscape of this marriage — all its hills and valleys and craters — were important to the story and to the characters. I didn’t want to get mired in flashbacks. Unsure of what to do, I just decided to write the scene when Koty and Wayne first meet. I wrote it in first person, present tense and realized it worked. Well, why not keep it? I thought. I can play with time. As long as I make it clear to my readers, it should work. (Jodi Picoult, one of my faves, also uses this structure in some of her books — My Sister’s Keeper comes to mind).

One of my beta readers asked if I thought this “looping timeline” would become a signature of my work. I don’t think so. My first novel, Forgotten April, went in chronological order (although there were plenty of flashbacks). My third novel, which I’m working on now, is moving forward (so far).

But I did have fun playing with time in WHIGC.

What books have you read that play with time? Do you like it, or does it feel like cheating to you (I won’t take offense — I know not everyone will like the style)? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Remember, if you tweet this post, use the hashtag #WHIGC.

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Kindle Singles. They’re What’s for Dinner.

Jan. 27th 2011

I was excited to see the Kindle Singles section of the store go live on Amazon with some heavy hitters, including one of my faves: Jodi Picoult.

I’m not happy about some of the comments I’ve seen floating around about Kindle Singles being for people with short attention spans. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Oh, where to begin? Let me count the ways…

Short stories are shorter, yes, than their novel cousins, but that makes them no less of a story any more than a short person is any less of a human being. In fact, you might be surprised at how many shorts you’re already familiar with, thanks to the silver screen: Stand by Me (based on Stephen King’s short “The Body”); Brokeback Mountain (based on a short by the same name by Annie Proulx); Million Dollar Baby (based on shorts by F.X. Toole); In The Gloaming, an HBO move based on the short by Alice Elliott Dark; A. I. Artificial Intelligence based on Brian Aldiss’s short story “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long”; and countless others.

Shorts require careful, thoughtful reading. Every. Word. Matters. Yeah, every word should matter in a novel, but let me ask you this: have you ever skimmed through some pages of a novel, even ones you like? That’s harder — if not impossible — to do with a good short, where your mind needs to be alert and aware of every move, every word.

Short stories are not easier to construct simply because they’re shorter. In fact, some would claim that crafting a successful short story is even more challenging than a novel.  Annie Proulx used to have a website (anyone know why she gave it up?), and I recorded on another blog her answer to how long it took her to write Brokeback…she said (and again, I can’t find the original source, but you’ll find references to this quote if you Google it): “Roughly six months, about twice as long as it takes to write a novel.”

Short stories are immensely satisfying. And yeah, a good novel can be as well. But shorts are satisfying in a different way. Imagine getting all your satisfaction in one sitting — say on a commute to work — with a story that lingers with you for the rest of the day and makes you think. Ah heaven, methinks (even when you’re dealing with PITA clients. Not that I ever am. Ahem).

Shorts could inspire reluctant readers to read more or to read, period. Throw Moby Dick at a reluctant reader and, well, expect a big fail whale, my friends. (I mean, c’mon — they don’t even get ON the boat for well over 100 pages, right?) Give a kid a rockin good short story and maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to show a kid the joy of reading a great tale. (And then get them to try Moby a little later, once they’re hooked. Ha! Hooked — get it?)

They’re a great way to experiment. Want to try a new author or genre? Consider Kindle Singles your Whitman’s Sampler. Try a new flavor of writer — if you like his or her shorts, upgrade to a novel.

And yeah, they’re cheaper. Nothing wrong with that. I sell my shorts for 99 cents (and $1 in the places that make me, like Scribd). I want eyeballs. The more the merrier.

So call Kindle Singles exciting, cheap, a ploy by Amazon to make more money (I have no problem with that — it is a business, after all), or the best thing since kitty YoutTube videos, but do NOT say they’re meant for people with short attention spans. And don’t insinuate they’re unworthy due to length.

Nerve struck, obviously. Open to thoughts in the comments!

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