Friday, August 16, 2013

New(ish) Shiny Idea(s)

At the beginning of this month, I tweeted this:
It really did kind of freak me out. I feel like I've always hopped from one book right to the next. Often I've had a couple of ideas that had to battle it out. One of those ideas that kept getting started and then hitting a wall (The Modern Myth YA) was still bopping around in my head. I really do want to do something with it, but I can't decide if that something is continue where I left off (it had become a Typical Unwieldy Stephanie Mess of Way Too Many Words And Ideas) or rip it apart and start all over again. It may just be another 8 year novel like Ballads of Suburbia was where I write a version, know it's wrong and have to wait for the right structure to fall into my lap. Except seeing as I've already tried 2 versions with it, this may take even longer than that.

Anyway, I still had that idea in my back pocket, but I didn't feel ready to tackle it. That's a pretty huge thing after a cross-country move. When I handed The Grief Book off to my agent in May, I told her and my critique partners and anyone else who asked that aside from my work for Rookie, I was going to take a break from writing at least for June and July. I said if anything I might work on planning my essay collection/memoir type thing that I'd been pondering for years. Oh and I was going to document my move here and on tumblr. Since I finished The Grief Book right before we headed to Seattle to house hunt, and then I came home with three weeks to pack, writing aside from Rookie pretty much went out the window. Then came the cross-country drive, the settling in to the new place, and the all-consuming, very stressful job hunt.

I told myself that it was okay that I wasn't writing anything other than my Rookie assignments and cover letters or having big ideas. I assured myself that it's not like I'd forgotten to pack my muse. After all, Seattle has been a big part of my muse for years. It would come to me in due time. And probably at an inconvenient time.

Then, last Wednesday, I had what I thought was a very inconvenient idea:
As often does in my process, I'd had the stroke of genius that two characters who had been hanging out in my head (very loosely shaped characters, ghost-like really at this point. I don't have a full sight of them and one of them has a middle name but not a first name, though I know what their problems are) belonged in the same story. This had happened previously with Emily and Louisa in I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone and with Zoe and Ivy in my (still unsold) Bartender Book. Those books were mother and daughter while this would be aunt and niece, but as I had before, I wanted to tell the stories I saw unfolding from both points of view. I was immediately frustrated with myself because yanno, the whole spending two years writing a book that hasn't sold yet thing. I KNOW that the issue with the Bartender Book is that it's not YA, it's not NA and it's not Adult (though Adult would probably be the best place for it). So, I told the New Shiny Idea to bugger off. It just wasn't going to work. Besides, I'm busy with this whole applying for jobs thing and I'd already told my agent that the next thing was going to be the essay collection/memoir/zine-like thing.

Then yesterday morning I went running and I decided to listen to The Hold Steady. I have a weird love/hate thing about The Hold Steady, or really about the characters in their songs. These middle-class Midwestern arty kids who are just doing a lot of drugs. I kind of was that kid, but not really, mostly I was just trying to be that kid and failing and I'm a little bit bitter about it and mostly just disgusted that I aspired to be this:

But I can't help being fascinated or relating to The Hold Steady's songs and they are such great storytellers that my own storytelling urge just kicked into high gear.

Or maybe it was the perfect gray Seattle day.

Or more likely it was because my muse is a cruel little vixen and she KNOWS that this is the worst possible time for me to want to start writing something because I was waiting for the details of a temporary contracted writing project to get squared away and I'd applied for a bunch of jobs, one of which is The Total Dream Job and that plus the temporary work would barely leave time to sleep let alone write my own stuff.

But the ideas, they came, hard and fast. My seventeen year-old girl character just started talking away in my head. She's not as sweet as I initially pictured her. She's hard-edged and troubled. She takes too many pills. She might like The Hold Steady (or aspire to be one of their song characters at least), but she likes boys who wear a lot of black even better. And there's a river and drowning or presumed drowning. And there's running away. From the Midwest to Seattle. Of course. And my thirty-five (or maybe thirty-four year-old character) who'd originally really wanted to tell her story, may not be so vocal after all. She could be if I want her too, but otherwise she and I thought up another way to tell her story within her niece's story. It all depends on whether I want it to be YA or Adult.

After early morning notebook scrawling, I managed to push my new characters away. Work on teaching. On job applications. All of the important stuff.

Then this happened:

Not really a fan of this new pattern of waking up because of my tiny bladder or my cats or whatever and then staying awake because I'm consumed with anxiety, but today it was different. It was a dream that woke me (well, and my bladder). My character and her boyfriend. Or the guy she wants to be her boyfriend. And I couldn't stop thinking about them.

Well, not until I started thinking about the essay collection/memoir/zine book, too. Suddenly knew how I was going to structure that. I was okay with it not being a cohesive narrative like most memoirs, but pieces and reflections that made up the whole of my coming of age (which pretty much encompasses age 10 to 24, even though I know that's not neatly YA either). It WOULD be like a big zine of my youth. It would have essays from Rookie and new essays and vignette style stuff like the Cemetery piece I just did for Rookie. It would have pages from my old zines like this:

And the liner notes from my old mix tapes:

At seven, I sucked it up, got out of bed and set about facing a new challenge:

I'd written things about the New Shiny Idea in both notebooks, but I settled on the skulls for it partially because those pages would be harder to rip out, but mainly because it felt right. The stencil notebook has good DIY vibes for the Essay/Zine/Scrapbook project.

I scrawled down everything that was in my head about New Shiny Idea and then I went for a run where I got more ideas, so I wrote those down too. I created a new Scrivener project for Essay/Zine/Scrapbook project because I have a lot of bits and pieces already written that I can use or adapt for that.

Then what I knew would happen did: the contract arrived for the temporary writing job. That project will start on Monday and likely last til the end of September.

Then what I hope hope hoped would happen did: I got an invitation to interview for The Total Dream Job next week.

If all goes well, I will be so completely busy with a full-time job and a temporary job that I won't have time to write, but I'm totally okay with this. In fact I'm hoping for it. If good things come in threes (which they should because bad things always do), maybe I'll be able to sell The Grief Book or The Bartender Book. That will probably shape the direction of New Shiny Idea. So I am okay with just jotting down notes after my run on it for now. Same with potential flashes of essay inspiration for Essay/Zine/Scrapbook project. They can even wake me up at 5 am if they want (but preferably not always).

Fingers crossed that even though my muse is a cruel little vixen at times, she is also an incredible good luck charm.


Katherine said...

See, your Seattle muse kicked in!

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Indeed it has!

Sarah Appleton said...

The collection of your essays and zine pages will be awesome, I'll look forward to reading that one! Hope you sell the other books too, I can't wait to read more of your work x

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Thanks so much, Sarah! I hope it does, too! I want it out there for all of my readers :)