Tag Archives: The Immortal Flower (novel)

Writing Your First Book

Image result for the many, wyl menmuir

There was an interesting article in The Guardian a while ago titled “How to finish a novel: tracking a book’s progress from idea to completion.” It’s about a go-getter named Wyl Menmuir and an app he used called WriteTrack (now known as Prolifiko) to keep tabs on his progress/set daily goals over his journey to write – and finish! – his first novel.

The original aim was to complete a 44,242-word book in 124 days.

Before we go on, I have to point out a couple of things. To begin, I first wrote about a similar subject when I created a Page on this site called “Evolution of a Novel.” I described how much changes in the years (plural) it takes most authors to write a novel. I cut and paste a single paragraph, the opening to A Father’s Son, from its inception in 2006 to its completion in 2012 to its published form in 2013, and the differences between drafts is pretty staggering. Why? Because time had passed and I could go in with fresh eyes at each new stage.

The fact that Tolstoy and Ondaatje each only took five years to craft War and Peace and The English Patient, respectively, is insane. Arundhati Roy, who took home the Man Booker Prize in 1997 for her debut novel The God of Small Things, will be releasing her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, next month. In case you lost count, that’s 20 years for her follow-up work of fiction.

My own second novel is scheduled to be published next spring. I began the first draft of The Immortal Flower in winter 2001. By the time it comes out, the writing/editing/publishing of that single book will represent 39% of my life. Ouch!

Second, since when did a novel fall under 50,000 words? Doesn’t that get tagged as a “novella” anymore? It’s my understanding that most novels – even in today’s age of hyperconnectivity – fall in the word count range of 80,000 to 100,000 words.

Than again, maybe I’m full of **** and **** because Mr. Menmuir ended up completing his novel in one year, 10 months and two days. In the grand scheme of things, I’d say that’s still pretty fast, especially for someone who’d never finished a full-length novel before.

The real icing on this gravy train of literary sweetness, though? Menmuir not only finished The Many, but he got it published. Amazing. But there’s more! He not only got it published, but he was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2016!

I therefore say to all of you out there who’ve been sitting on an idea for a book for years: Go do it! If you need an app, download it. Otherwise, read The Guardian article I linked to above and then tell yourself, I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain. Set aside a single hour a day at first – even 30 minutes in the beginning – and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you may be able to impress even yourself.

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Where Abstract Art and Science Intersect

Image result for jackson pollock

In his piece entitled “This is your brain on art: A neuroscientist’s lessons on why abstract art makes our brains hurt so good,” Noah Charney writes for @Salon about a Nobel Prize-winning scientist specializing in human memory who is attempting to “break new ground in art history.”

Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine? Science? Art? This string of words is as titillating as it is tantalizing.

The Nobel Laureate Dr. Eric Kandel of Columbia University was initially interviewed by Mr. Charney in a piece called “On Memory, Klimt, Sex and Sea Snails.” Sounds sexy mild, right?

In the former article, Noah Charney postulates that the average person enjoys – and is less intimated by – traditional, naturalistic, formal art. It’s what Hitler called Hellenistic art. The German leader actually hated anything except this classical fine art medium so much that in 1937 he went so far as to hold what will probably go down in history as the biggest art sale ever, partly to raise money for his burgeoning army, but mostly to purge his borders of the “filth” that he believed painters like Picasso, Manet, Monet, Dalí , Miró, Gauguin, and van Gogh embodied. The führer lumped Impressionism, Surrealism, Expressionism, Cubism, and abstract art all into one category: scheisse (poo poo ca ca).

But I digress. As Mr. Charney argues, abstract art “poses such an enormous challenge to the beholder [because] it teaches us to look at art – and, in a sense, the world – in a new way. Abstract art dares our visual system to interpret an image that is fundamentally different from the kind of images our brain has evolved to reconstruct.”

Dr. Kandel backs this up with scientific data about the brain, discussing something every neuroscientist knows intimately: the difference between bottom-up and top-down thinking. The former refers to mental processes that are ingrained over centuries. In a nutshell, our safe zone from a cognitive point of view. The latter, on the other hand, refers to personal experience and knowledge.

Put in the context of art, “Top-down thinking is needed to interpret formal, symbol, or story-rich art. Abstraction taps bottom-up thinking, requiring little to know a priori knowledge.”

Personally, my favourite abstract painter is Wassily Kandinsky. As seen in this painting below, Sketch for Composition VII, 1913, Kandinsky does so much with what on the surface appears to be nothing but some random colours thrown together. But just as Dr. Kandel has shown through numerous brain experiments, a painting such as this bends and warps and pushes the mind to move in different directions and to essentially think outside the box.

As it were, Kandinsky was actually the inspiration behind my own short story, “Fervour of Spirit,” as well as the impetus behind a character in my second novel, The Immortal Flower.

Image result for kandinsky

Now, that’s not to say that I love all abstract art. I’ve been very fortunate to have visited some of the finest museums in the world, and every time I run across a Mark Rothko piece, like the one seen below, I scratch my head in wonder and say to myself, How on Earth is that meaningful or aesthetically appealing? Split the canvas in half and paint two colours? For true and for serious? It just looks like a bad European flag to me.

Image result for rothko

From a literary perspective, I highly recommend reading Lynn H. Nicholas’s The Rape of Europa if you’re interested in learning how modern art, especially abstract art, survived the Nazi purge of World War II, and how Peggy Guggenheim almost single-handedly saved Europe’s treasure trove of artistic treasures.

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