Monday, September 8, 2008

Boredom breeds creativity

And this blog is proof.

In my constant pursuit of verisimilitude in fiction, I have talked myself into forsaking my current novel, Monkey Tribe, for two weeks. The story centers on a life coach who's trying desperately to broaden the horizons of his client, a nerdy Silicon Valley accountant who has recently been tossed out of his narrow, workaholic life. Some of the early ventures are visits to Burning Man parties and to the pagan drum circle of the title, but recently I decided that this client, Jack, had to experience the hoity-toit side of life, too - and had the perfect setting just waiting for me.

Thanks to 25 years of covering the performing arts in Silicon Valley, I will soon be escorting a genuine diva, soprano Barbara Divis, to the 25th anniversary gala of Opera San Jose (and yes, my journalism career coincided divinely with the birth of the opera). I met Barbara years ago, when my reviews of her singing became ridiculously poetic; divas like nothing better than critics with an ear for genuine talent. But Barbara was also interested in my tennis skills. It has since become my assignment to run her ragged around various courts, so she may continue to fit into all those gorgeous gowns that her roles provide her.

Beyond this plot twist of sending our hero unexpectedly into the higher levels of society, Barbara fits neatly into a running theme of the book: unassuming characters who turn out to have extraordinary talents. So the novel demands that I include her, and it would be silly of me to write the scene until after the actual gala, when I will assuredly pick up all kinds of helpful details.

I harken back to Randall Platt, a gifted young-adult author in Gig Harbor, Washington, who tattooed me with this thought: if you are able, in any way, to personally experience what your character is going to experience, you have to do it. This is not always easy. Years ago, for my novel Painting Tacoma, I made plans for my character to walk out on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge late one night, leading the reader to believe that he was contemplating suicide (don't worry, he was not). "Well, you know what that means," sayeth Randall. "You better go walk that bridge." Damn, I thought. She's right.

As you might expect, the subsequent trek produced all kinds of details that I might never have dreamed up otherwise. Primarily, that the bridge's narrow sidewalks and lack of separation from traffic make it the Worst. Bridgewalk. Ever. Helped very little by the carload of teenagers who drove by yelling "Jump!" (I also spotted two other teens walking the other direction, apparently on a date!)

My big problem is that I am addicted to the novel-creating process, and the idea of going two weeks without, whilst I wait like a 17-year-old for the senior prom, and dig through thrift stores for a do-it-yourself tuxedo (another assignment I have given my hero), fills me with dread. So, I thought, why not start that blog that I have been putting off forever?

Welcome aboard. I hope I can be of service.

Upcoming: a few words with Diane Ackerman, author of A Natural History of the Senses and the recent The Zookeeper's Wife.


Peg Spencer said...

Michael - glad to see you started a blog! I have to warn you, though, you're going to need more than two weeks to do this. I'm sure you'll quickly gather a following, and in two weeks, when the prom is over and you have returned to your unlucky novel hero, we'll all be clamoring for more blog posts.

Hey, enjoy your diva date!

Michael J. Vaughn said...

Thanks! I guess the two weeks is just a good time to get "kick-started." More goodies on the way!