Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell today at work (not a single customer all day; I used to dream about having jobs like this). What a great freakin' book. It'd be easy to get bogged down in the structure of the work; it's a series of nested stories, each of which references the previous one, which are arranged palindromically, I guess you'd call it, since each ends in a cliffhanger somewhere in the middle, until the story at the center, which completes, and then the stories are reprised and finished, in reverse order, until the book ends with the same story with which it began. But while the structure, which in lesser hands would be downright gimmicky, certainly dominates the reader's attention (and kept at least this reader's attention with the unceasing novelty of a new character, setting, POV, and narrative/dramatic arc every--for lack of a better word--chapter), there are some interesting and insightful themes running through the work (colonialism, violent conquest, historical teleology, the way that words, things, and ideas take on a life of their own) that carry it past the merely gimmicky and into the realm of Literature-with-a-capital-L. And it's fun, too. The proliferation of stories and POV characters allows Mitchell a great deal of room to play (even while the underlying project has all the seriousness one might ask of a work of literature), and the result is an absolute joy to read. Friends of mine have been recommending this book to me for years now, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. Especially after 2666, this was just what I needed: just the right blend of levity and gravity in an interesting puzzle of nested narratives each with its own particular flavor and character but that connected to each other in interesting and not always obvious ways. I've also got Black Swan Green, one of his later books, sitting on my bookshelf, which I hope to read soon, but, alas, will not be able to get to immediately, since I'm going to have to be more targeted in my reading in the immediate future.
Why? you ask. Well, I'm glad you did (which is why I did it for you).
I have decided, along with several of my Clarion cohorts, to participate in November's annual National Novel Writing Month, during which I, along with several thousand others, will attempt to write a 50,000 word (roughly 175 page) novel, starting November 1 and finishing no later than midnight on November 30. For those of you not doing the math at home, that's roughly 1667 words a day (if I don't take any days off). What will I write about (nice of me to supply the questions for you, isn't it?)? Well, I've been working on an outline and other related miscellany for a novelization of one of the short stories I wrote at Clarion, and though I've toyed around a bit with some ideas for actually writing it, I haven't actually written more than maybe a thousand words on it, so I'm going to table the actually writing it part til November and just work on getting it planned out between now and then. I was planning on a pretty intense period of work on it around then anyway, though I'd envisioned a somewhat longer, less-intense period than I will now be doing, but things just seem to be falling in place so I'm going to run with it. NaNoWriMo is supposed to be more fun and silly than what I'm planning to do, but I like the idea of having this arbitrary-but-kind-of-crazy deadline hanging over me, and it's not like I was going to kick out perfect final-draft copy anyway. If all goes according to plan, I'll at least have something like a completed draft by the end of November, and since I was going to have to go back and revise it anyway, it's a win either way.
So if you don't hear much from me next month, it's not that I don't love you (all five or six of you who read this blog), it's just that all my creative word-forging powers will be bent to this singular task of conjuring forth a tale of blazing awesomeness from the nebulous netherworld of my subconscious dream-factory.
And, of course, there are other projects in the works in the interim. I did a first-lines exercise the other day (something they taught us at Clarion: spend fifteen minutes just writing down first lines; pick five and write first paragraphs to go with them; pick the one that interests you most and write the story), and came out with three things to work on. One was a scene from the novel, so that's obviously on the backburner. One is a flash-fiction version of Gravity's Rainbow, which I read obssessively in my twenties, probably four or five times all told, which I've currently got at about 500 words, though I'm sure it'll get up to most of the whole thousand once I remember everything that happens in the book. And the last is a revamping of one of my submission stories to Clarion, which I thought was pretty freakin' awesome at the time but have since come to understand just how deeply flawed an attempt at storytelling it really is. So I've got that to keep me occupied for the rest of the month, in all the spare time I'll have between working, going to Oregon to work on a property a friend and I own there, planning the novel I'll be writing in November, playing soccer and ultimate frisbee every week, reading, blogging, and, you know, like, having a life and stuff.