New Poem – Sonidos En El Oscuro (plus translation)

Here’s a new poem I wrote (in Spanish – with my translation following):

Sonidos En El Oscuro

Ya té extraño en
Este mundo en donde
No hay que decir nada
Porque el agua
Se desliza pasado nosotros
En la noché, se susurra,
Sueños, cantos, los sonidos
De pies descalzos sobre la suciedad.
Las alas de insectos largos,
El momento antes de
Una danza, la vibración
De fruta pudriéndose
En el suelo.

 

Sounds In The Dark

I miss you already

in this world where

there is no need to say anything

because the water

slips past us

in the night, it whispers,

dreams, chants, the sounds

of bare feet on the dirt.

The wings of insects,

the moment before

a dance, the vibration

of fruit rotting

on the ground.

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Trying to Write Dystopia – Pacing Issues

This is the story of struggle, of trying hard but not always succeeding. The following selection is from my current novel draft, a book about a teenage girl who stays behind in her neighborhood after a natural disaster – The Cascadia Earthquake – destroys and floods her city.

Cielo is narrating this section which I just cut. She’s questioning fate. And while I like the idea, the pacing of this whole passage seems wrong:

I thought a lot about both of those books after I read them. I thought about my life, about living in this garage. I wondered if this life was fated for me, and what was fated for my future. And sometimes I wondered if there was a destiny for my mother, if her coming to this country was all part of some larger plan to land me in this particular location for a particular reason.

Now I look at the wreckage all around me, the upside down car in front of the Blue House, the black Mercedes CLA with its door splayed open as it sits on its roof, waiting for rain, for rust, for the coming of fall.

That’s maybe the strangest thing about the wreckage. I’m so used to seeing broken things fixed. There have never been any shabby houses in this neighborhood. Every house is nice, and people call repair men immediately. These men pull up in tool vans. They smooth problems over. Fix windstorm-damaged roofs the next day. Reattach loose mufflers. Replace fence-slats. And nothing is left to overgrow. Yard-maintenance workers manicure front gardens and walks each Monday and Tuesday, use leaf-blowers to scour the corners, edgers and trimmers to straighten the seams.

But now.

This is the world of natural decay. My freshmen science teacher taught us that there is a law in physics that everything breaks down, everything tends toward decay. He said, “Entropy always increases.” He also said that there are two types of entropy, “thermal” and “configurational.” And I watch for both now. I sit on the roof of my garage and imagine the heat of the sun as something visible. Blue and yellow streaks of light and heat radiating down. At the same time, I imagine the fast-forward decaying of the houses all around me.

In my mind, there’s a movie of the house next door falling apart. I watch the wood turn to rot, the nails loosen in the wood, gutters falling off, siding and roof shingles easing, then sliding from the outline of the house. Then the lean of the frame increasing, the angles changing at every corner, wood warping, the twang of boards springing loose, springing free of their moorings to other boards or framing. Piece of the house crumbling, then the outer walls swaying one final time in a gust of wind and the motion increasing until there’s one final sigh of the house as it collapses.

During the quake, none of these houses on the block fell flat. It doesn’t look like a town after a tornado. But none of the houses are unscathed either. They’re all standing at strange angles now, like fun rooms at a carnival, as if I’m looking at the entire world through a set of curved mirrors, as if the world has forgotten the logic of right angles.

For People Struggling With The Writing Process…

Sometimes you don’t feel like writing. Or maybe it seems like you have writer’s block. Or – even though you’re writing, you’re doing the process – it’s not going well. Maybe a scene isn’t coming together. Or your dialogue isn’t realistic. Or you’re outlining and the plot seems too improbable.

Maybe you’ve published in the past and maybe you haven’t. Maybe you’re your own worst critic. Maybe you never get validated for making art.

Regardless, you’re struggling. You might even say that you’re failing.

For those of you in the midst of that struggle, here’s a great essay by the award-winning novelist Don Lee:

What’s The Point Of Writing If You’re Not Going To Succeed?

Struggling With The Work In Progress

photo-2 copy 2

Once you’ve published a few novels, you start to feel like you know how to do things, like you have a style, like you can repeat the process. But it’s the same struggle every time:

My first draft is always terrible.

By draft two, I realize that I might be in the wrong genre.

By draft three, I realize that I need to cut at least 100 pages that don’t work anymore. Those 100 pages don’t have a single, salvageable paragraph.

Then by draft four, and I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere. I usually send that draft to my agent, and she tells me everything that’s wrong with it. She often says, “I’m not really sure what you’re trying to do with this novel…”

With my current work in progress, I guess I’m struggling most with my rhythm, with pace. After Too Shattered For Mending, I got a lot of praise for my short chapters, for how those short chapters pushed the reader forward. I thought I’d found something style-wise. But now – with my current novel – my short chapters aren’t working. I’m going back through the draft and running chapters together, moving chapters around, combining short chapters that lack significant action/content.

I can’t figure out what I was trying to do with my last draft. I keep saying, “Does this book even matter?”

“Should I keep working on it?”

Fiction Writing – Cut Material, Failure

As a novelist, I have entire books of slashed material (as well as entire failed books).

This morning, I cut a series of postcards from my current novel-in-progress. These notes are from my narrator’s best friend from childhood, Tomás, after the two of them had a falling out.

A little background on the writing process: I asked my friend Ben Temple (who was a captain in the army during peacetime) to give me specific details and stories to make Tomás’ postcards more realistic. But they didn’t fit the narrative arc anymore, so here they are.

14 POSTCARDS FROM TOMÁS BEFORE HE WAS DEPLOYED

  • You dont even know how to say sorry after a thing like that. Just get up and walk away and say to yourself dont ever fuckin make that mistake again. Ever. So Im feeling like that but also Im here just thinking about being in a war and hoping to become a hero, a brave soldier that at least everyone could respect for that thing, am I right, Cabron? I imagined a sniper rifle in my hand, obstacle to obstacle or house to house. NVGs on my head at night, destroying the enemy, but apparently were gonna stay here in the USA and train…plus clean shit all the time.

 

  • Everythings still the same here Klay. We got something called “sequestration” sometimes…I guess? My CO yelled in my face, “Do you like sequestration?!!” and I had no fuckin idea what that was, but the way he said it, his tone, I just yelled back, “Sir, no, sir!!!” and he smiled. So I guess he likes me?

 

  • Heard ISIS was training in Pakistan now. Knew we had a battalion just over the border in the Aff desert. We all watched CNN in the briefing room like we were about to go to war. But then we didnt go. We waited another week on base like it was peacetime and there wasnt even an enemy we needed to destroy. Thats the army sometimes: too much time to think. I still feel bad about everything with you. It was once, I promise. Only once. And that shit is NEVER happening again. Write me back when you can.

 

  • Peacetime means PMCS pretty much everyday: Preventative Maintenance Checks and Services. Boring fuckin daily. Example: Checking the fire extinguisher in each vehicle. But we got bored after a while and just checked the boxes without actually checking the items. Got me and this kid Teague in trouble. Were warming up our LMTV when the fire extinguisher (which we had NOT inspected in a while) went off. Covered us both in white foam. Captain laughed his ass off, then assigned us latrines for a week. Only latrines. I dont know how many we cleaned, but it was morning til night!

 

  • Every day.  But at least that reminds me of high school workouts. Its a infantry unit, so difficult compared to other parts of the branch I guess, but nothing like high school wrestling, and I wrestled varsity for three years. Braceros Fuertes! State finals senior year. Wish I could go back and win that match. Wish I could go back in time and do a few things different. Thanks for the letter the other day. It meant a lot to me.

 

  • Ugly fuckin’ Guerra in the desert over there. You seen any footage? We watch a shit ton here on base. The marines keep getting deployed, but not us, at least not yet. Were just sitting here on our asses in Washington State, fuckin ready to go, twiddling our thumbs. Its like were in full-on peace-time, and the mantra of the peace-time U.S. Army infantry soldier is this:

“Somebody – anybody – start a war now.”

 

  • Cleaning (always something to clean: the motor-pool, barracks, grounds, equipment…). Cleaning and cleaning and cleaning. I wanted to make one of those boxing champion of the world warm-up robes, all red silk, have it say “LIMPIADOR” in big yellow letters on the back just put that shit on in the morning and wear it to work, cuz – apparently – Im a fuckin janitor.

 

  • This is how it is: An infantry unit in peacetime or not yet on deployment “goes to the field” for about 10 days every 3 months.  Really just El Campo. The woods there. Most common thing heard after field training in the Northwest: “We were in the field last month for 10 days.  Wettest fuckin FTX Ive ever been on too.  Were still rotating the tents through the motorpool… setting them up and drying them out until the end of the world.” Dios guarde mi.

 

  • I know you said its okay now and you and Olivia are talking again and hanging out, and Im happy about that but Im still so fuckin sorry about everything. You and me have been friends since when we were little and thats all that really matters to me now. That shit is the real stuff. Also Im bored as fuck here and I appreciated your letter. I liked your description of the country out northeast. I could picture it all. Made me miss Sisters, not the town really, just the high desert.

 

  • Cuate, theres this shit called STAFF DUTY: a soldier, a sergeant, and an officer, at the Battalion Head Quarters every night.  The solider is awake by the phone all night long.  The officer and NCO find some quiet corner of HQ to hangout in and then sleep.   If an emergency occurs, those 3 use the alert roster to wakeup the Battalion and get everyone moving.  Classic convo: “Want to go out with us tonight? Pitchers?”  “I cant. I have Staff Duty.”  People just watch regular movies during staff duty…if theyre smart.

 

  • Shit got a little more interesting this week: We had a platoonlevel live-fire training this week: M4’s, M249’s, & M203 simulators plus a vehicle mounted 50-cal all firing together. Went like this: the OIC rotates (let’s say there are 12 platoons in the Battalion) through his range over a 5 day period.  Got to snipe 6 people, two on one day, plus we did an ambush that worked. Then I slept in my own bed like I hadnt just been out. Youd have liked this week.

 

  • This is MESSED UP: I was locked down for 4 days before thanksgiving. We all were. People missing flights. Chingalo. And it was after a weeklong FTX…were in Battalion buildings… no clean clothes, no personal items except the ones we had with us on FTX.  Felt like those days when were cutting weight for a tournament except all of us eating in the chow hall. All for one pair of stolen NVGs! 800 fuckin soldiers locked down for that!  I wanted to track down the brigade commander and tell him to Chupame los huevos but he finally blinked on the night before thanksgiving. Said he would let us go but we all had to be back in 48 hours, and just as we were leaving post, the NVGs showed up MYSTERIOUSLY on the hood of a Humvee. Fuck whoever did that.

 

  • December: Private Wilson got busted for watching porn on the DOD computer during his staff duty assignment.

Then Private Jeurgenson.

Then Private Wonokoswki.

Then Private Childer.

Common article 15s from the UCMJ. Every single one of them.

Radioman Thompson said, “Why don’t they just watch Top Gun or some shit?”

And I said, “Somebody, anybody, start a war now.”

 

  • Looks like were finally gonna get deployed. Felt like I was dying…or becoming a professional cleaning lady.

Also, Im glad you and Olivia are back together. That seems good.

I guess Ill catch you on the other side. Im off to the Aff desert!!!

Simple Writing Advice For October

This will be the shortest post ever. Writing advice for October:

  • Write fewer articles.
  • Write fewer adverbs (or no adverbs at all).
  • Start sentences with verbs to push forward action. Let the reader assume the subjects that correspond to those verbs.
  • Trust your reader. Explain less. Write the action and the dialogue.