Maybe it isn’t too late to like Jack

Anyone paying attention to my last few posts will know I’ve been on jury duty for the month. If you’ve really been following closely (hi mum) you might remember I mentioned I chose One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest for jury duty reading. I finished it today, waiting for the umpteenth delay before we could get in the courtroom. (If you ever get summonsed for jury duty – take a good, thick book).

Two people in the jury pool commented on my choice of book. One younger guy sat up over the back of his chair from a couple of rows away to say: “great book”… and another guy said it was a brilliant book and asked if I’d seen the movie, which I had, but about 25 years ago. The movie freaked me out so much, I’ve never wanted to read the book even though my husband owned it when I met him and it has been in our bookshelf for about 15 years.

Guy number one went on to comment that the only thing he didn’t like so much about the book were the Chief’s dream sequences and we had a little chat about that (I promise this isn’t a pick-up line story). I said that I think they were there because the writer wanted to show that Chief had his problems and that’s why he was in the mental hospital in the first place. I also said that most of those dream sequences were in the first third of the book and I thought they were about showing his mental state when he first met McMurphy, versus how by the mid to end of the book, he isn’t hiding in the ‘fog’ of his dreams anymore… So, character arc…

When I started creative writing, one of my first rejection letters was only a couple of lines but it told me I needed to work on “depth and characterisation” and I’ve been trying very hard on those since.

Cuckoo’s Nest amazes me with its characterisation early in the book. He’s talking about the black boys: “sulky and hating everything, the time of day, the place they’re at here, the people they got to work around. When they hate like this, better if they don’t see me. I creep along the wall quiet as dust in my canvas shoes…” And then the Big Nurse… “she slides through the door with a gust of cold and locks the door behind her and I see her fingers trail across the polished steel – tip of each finger the same colour as her lips. Funny orange. Like the tip of a soldering iron. Colour so hot or so cold if she touches you with it you can’t tell which.”

And that’s all on the first page.

I’ve been having so much trouble with the first page, first paragraphs of my book, I’m in awe of the ones I read where I think they get it just right. I know Cuckoo’s Nest is not the same genre as romance, but hooks are hooks and great writing is great writing.

I’ve always been an avid reader but the difference now is I’m paying more attention to how books are written and structured and I think I’m enjoying the experience of reading all the more because of that.

So now my husband is talking about watching the movie again (yep, he owns that too). I said I need a while, but I will probably watch it one day soon. In some ways it’s a shame that the first two movies I saw Jack Nicholson star in were, Cuckoo’s Nest and The Shining. I couldn’t watch anything with Jack Nicholson in it for a hell of a long time, the man scarred me for life.

I had to brush away tears at the end of the book today in the jury room. All through the book I’d been dreading the ending. The scenes with the electric shock treatment and the lobotomy are so clear in my head from the movie all these years later, and Chief throwing that panel through the window and making his escape.

Hubby tells me he always found the story “uplifting” and for the first time today, I can agree with him.

 

Terrified of telling

I love the internet. It’s the best thing for showing that pretty much no matter what is going on in your (writing) life, there’s someone out there who has been through it too.

I was lying awake for a few hours this morning trying to go back to sleep (like that was going to happen) and in the end I figured, bugger trying to write my thoughts in my head, I’d just get up and do it. Go Nike.

I’m a bit of a ‘list’ person, hubby always laughs at the bullet point notes of ‘things to do’ on the various notebooks I leave lying about, so in no general order:

• This jury duty is on my mind. I have to go down to the court today. I’ve been three times so far without being called for a trial. It’s like a mini-ballot every time you go down there.

• The first scene of His Brand Of Beautiful is on my mind heaps. With the jury duty, I haven’t looked at it for a while but I did again last night for a few reasons: (queue subsequent bullet list)

a) I had a two-line letter back from the agent I queried (I thought these things were supposed to take weeks!) which said: Thank you for contacting our agency. Unfortunately we are not looking at manuscripts such as the one you describe. A list of literary agents can be found at http://austlitagentsassoc.com.au/index.html Best of luck with your writing.

Which doesn’t give a girl much to go on, but I think if you’ve sent a query letter with a pitch for what you’re doing and they say ‘send it’ and then “not looking at manuscripts such as the one you describe’… well I think that means they took a quick look and didn’t like it. (And fair enough). So I was a bit flat last night but I’m okay about it this morning.

b) Last night we watched The Descendants. It’s the George Clooney movie where his wife has a jet-ski/boating accident and is in a coma for most of the movie and they have to turn off her life support. Man what a tear-jerker. I kept running to the kitchen for tissues and in the end I had to bring in the whole damn box. Clooney of course is Clooney, but the Director, Alexander Payne? He wrote the script and there was an interview with the author in the extras on the DVD and she’s amazing too. I think when you see really brilliant & talented people doing spectacular things it shows you just how far you have to go 😉

Traffic on my blog has been fairly high (for me) over the weekend, most people looking at the opening scene of His Brand Of Beautiful I posted a fortnight ago. It hasn’t had any comments, which is fine, people are busy (or maybe too kind!) But the rejection letter from the agency made me take another quick look at the scene. I think I’m making some classic mistakes: introducing too many characters, not giving enough context. I know that my early (very terrible) drafts were full of ‘telling’ not showing and I think it’s made me terrified of giving any exposition at all. I will have to weigh those thoughts up.

Maybe I can take the laptop down to the courtroom instead of the book I’m reading (currently One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – which is also adding to my feelings of writing inadequacies… my god that book is brilliant.) There’s a whole heap of waiting that goes on down there. Waiting for the sheriff’s officers, waiting for lawyers and judges, waiting for a courtroom, waiting to see if you are needed. Maybe I can find a little quiet corner and tap, tap away!

I need to retain the faith that the story for His Brand Of Beautiful is “there” and that I know how to tell (oops – show) it. The next deadline for me is the RWA STALI. I think that opens in a few days and closes about 5 October. So that’s something to work to, and the good thing about competitions is, it will help me with feedback.

Cheers, Lily.