Monday, August 16, 2010

First One Ever!

I was just typing up some notes from an academic advising session with a student and instead of typing “testing asap” I typed “testing asp.” A testing asp! I thought. What a great idea. What would it do? Slither through the legs of chairs and sink teeth into students attempting to cheat? Then I thought, maybe a testing asp is a little too Harry Potter.

I’ve never read Harry Potter but I had a friend in grad school who did. She worked a summer at a store that was like Barnes & Nobel but smaller and more regional and brighter inside and which sold some stuffed animals and a lot of used books and albums in addition to new copies. When the last Harry Potter book came out this friend was behind a register in the bookstore and selling a copy to someone and the someone behind that someone straight spoiled the ending! No matter how you feel about Harry Potter, you can probably agree that spoiling the ending of anything for a fervent fan is just a dick move.

The bookstore has since closed down, which doesn’t affect me now directly because I no longer live in my grad school town, but which does affect the parts of my brain that look happily back on my time spent in the store, visiting my friend during the long summer in which I didn’t work and really did little other than fly around town on a $70 bicycle and watch movies until dawn and shave my head after a bad amateur haircut and sometimes climb rock walls.

Have you ever climbed a rock wall? They’re colorful constructs, tall planks of wood with handholds bolted in, some fat and proboscis-like and others small and shaped like partially eaten pizza slices. Usually certain trails will be marked by colored strips of tape or paint or sometimes by certain stickers so that you have an easier time making it to the ceiling if you go up the barnyard animals trail than if you go up the UFOs trail. Usually you’ll have to have someone hold the other end of a rope that connects to your waist but sometimes you’ll have a machine in the ceiling hold that other end of the rope and if so once you reach the top you can just let go and fall a little and then fall more slowly toward the people staring up at you from the ground.

I’m writing a novella right now and there is some rock climbing in it. It’s my first one ever (I considered capping and bolding ever there), and it’s a pretty great time. I wrote a while back about considering a novella, a form I’d always shunned, and then I started researching other writers’ suggestions for novellas, and reading some of them, and reading advice about them . . . well, all this is to say that I decided the shortish-long form could be interesting for the quirks and possibilities unique to it. And I was right! The project is going pretty well as I approach the end and the story feels like one that could have been stretched to 80,000 words but only with a lot of filler, and like one that could have been sliced down to 3500 words but only with a great loss of blood. And of the novellas I’ve read or read about, almost all of them read like/sound like they carry the same measure of weight.

I went to an independent film slam this weekend. It was my first one ever. (EVER!) It was hosted by an independent theater that sells delicious if expensive food and drinks and seats you in comfortable chairs. The entries in this independent film slam were short, between three and 22 minutes, amateur productions, and they were . . . well, some of them were strong and seemed matched to their length and ambition, and some felt a little hollow of story. I went away and ate some nachos thinking about all the story that needs to be crammed into a short space to make a film or a novel or whatever work, and about all the extra effort that filmmakers have to put into a story, compared with writers: securing equipment, locations, actors, then shooting, then editing. And what do you do with a short film? It must be even harder to place than a short story, and harder to put together successfully. It’s challenge enough to put an entire story together, and it must be almost impossible when the story itself is only one of your concerns.

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