Saturday, April 6, 2013

Double, Double Toil and Trouble

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Nearly everything I've read in the past few weeks has involved doubles in some way. It began most obviously with reading The Double by Fyodor Dostoyevsky for one of my classes, which is about a man who encounters a Doppelganger of himself and the repercussions it has on his life. Reading King Lear for my Shakespeare class also had its fair share of doubleness, with Lear's madness splitting his consciousness in two, as well as his inability to keep public affairs separate from his personal life. Now I'm reading Twelfth Night for the same class, which is even more about doubles with a pair of twins, one of them being Viola, who disguises herself as a man, looking like her (presumed deceased) brother. This creates for her the feeling of being both a woman and man, living as herself and allowing her brother to live on through her, and causing a whole lot of trouble in her liminal state. Not to mention there's no easy way for her to reveal her disguise or be the person she was before she took it. Also, within the same time frame as reading all of this, I finally got my hands on the 2-disc version of the soundtrack for the musical Jekyll and Hyde (based off of the Robert Lewis Stevenson tale), all of which deals with the issues of good and evil, the doubles in people's personalities, and the facades people create to appear a certain way. On top of all of this, I've just recently finished reading Margaret Atwood's book on writing, Negotiating With the Dead (which is incredibly marvelous, by the way) and a great deal of the book deals with - you guessed it - doubles, discussing how the writer appears on the page and how they act in real life, how their writing may not be a representation at all of what they believe or think, or only shows them in an isolated moment in their lives, and the issue between what the writer writes and what the reader makes of it all.

Seriously, I have been reading and listening to nothing but theories on doubles for the last several weeks. And all of this is happening just as I finished the self-publishing process of my book.

Yes, I am (someone, amazingly, miraculously) a published author. I mean, I've been published (blogging counts, right?) but now my fiction work is published... which is very, very hard to get my
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head around. I went through a website called BookTango, which creates an ebook version (and ebook only) version of the manuscript. So, I have officially published an ebook (well, more or less. It's supposed to take 4-6 weeks for it to be fully distributed to some of the sites that sell ebooks, like Amazon and such, I believe). But it's more or less official. They sent me the email along with the site link to BookTango's bookstore the other evening and I freaked out in celebration, only to realize I had to dash off to my evening class. The weird double feeling of trying to accept I'd been published while trying to remember that I really need to focus on class material was more than a little difficult. The fact that one of my biggest goals in life has apparently been accomplished is incredibly baffling. And I am having a hard time reckoning that pretty much anybody who feels like spending $5 on an ebook can read mine. I feel kind of like I'm living two lives (okay, actually three, thanks to an internship I've begun) in which one part of me needs to focus on school and graduate and so on but the other part is all forward thinking and wondering where my writing career will go and feeling kind of classy and accomplished. And then I go back home to my kind of run-down apartment and realize I desperately need to get my head out of the clouds and write that paper for my Human Sexuality class. It has been a very fitting time to read about doubles as I suddenly feel as if my life is full of them.

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Some of this stems from one basic challenge - how to tell people that I'm a writer. It's not as easy as you'd think. Or maybe you don't think it's easy, and you're absolutely right. I get weird looks when I mention that I write and usually get an idealistic comparison of to J.K. Rowling ("Maybe you'll be like her one day!") and, while I love her and admit that, yeah, ending up a success like her would be incredible, that's also a huge responsibility and there are a hell of a lot of writers out there who want and deserve that more than me. Despite my not-so-long-ago desires to be famous, I really don't desire that like I did before. It isn't a necessity or goal or anything as it was when I dreamed of being a writer in my younger years. Being a blogger has changed a lot of that. I know people are reading my writing and that's all I care about. Apparently I have thoughts people are interested in hearing. For reasons I can't quite explain, this continues to surprise me (probably because always being inside my head is nothing new and exciting and so I have a self-depreciating attitude towards it). Especially after reading Margaret Atwood's book, I keep thinking about why I published my book and why I did it when I did (especially after submitting it and no longer being able to make any changes upon it and realizing there were several thousand things I should have tweaked or added or expanded on). Even though there are things I wish I could have changed, really in the form my book took (which I'll talk a little about later, for those who are interested) I did about all I could do. But why really publish when sources like FictionPress exist and fanfiction.net? (It is entirely arguable that my book is a grandiose Frankenstein fanfiction by the way. But I'm getting ahead of myself).

The honest answer is: I don't really know. It just felt right. Margaret Atwood has a whole great list of reasons why writers write and, while most of them are relevant to me, it isn't something I really consciously think about. Why do I write? I don't know; why do I do half the things I do? I've been writing stories since I was eight or so and it's just something I grew up doing. However, it's something I haven't really expressed about myself very much until here recently. When people in high school or in the first few years of college would ask me what I wanted to do with my life, writing stopped being the first thing I would say. I convinced myself that writing was something I did on the side, something that probably wouldn't be a viable career option and maybe something I was really good at, but needed to go along with something else. And so I stumbled around many other things - music education, psychology (music therapy and clinical therapy), television and film work, a career in academia, evading the very fact that what I love doing most is writing. Finally, in the last two years or so, I realized that I want to write books - not films, not television shows, maybe plays - I do like writing dialogue - but really I'm focused on books. And I should stop trying to find something to do to occupy my time until I get published because... well, okay, I am published (still sounds weird). But
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also because, while maybe one day I do want to be a full-time writer, a lot of my encouragement and inspiration to write comes from what I do in my day-to-day life. Thus, I should probably find a job I enjoy, one that compliments my interests, allows me time to write but also gives me something solid to do with my life, and (based on my plethora of posts on humanitarianism) gives something back to the world. I've got a clearer idea of that, at least. But being a person with many interests and many pursuits I'd like to undertake in my life, it's easy to let many aspects get left out. Unfortunately, for too many years it was writing. Which is a shame, because I've always had an affinity for words. When I was little, I used to tell my mom that I had a lot of words in my head and I had to get them all out. That's pretty much how it still is.

Yet part of the struggle with admitting one is a writer is being held accountable for one's words. I wrote my novel in a very short period of time in a very particular state of mind, one that I'm not
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entirely in anymore. The ideas presented in it may not exactly be ones I agree with or intended to include or even realized were there. Whoever does that phrasing, that thinking, that compiling of stars into constellations, that strange double of me called the writer may not be who I am in day to day life. As Margaret Atwood asks, "How many writers have put on other faces, or had other faces thrust upon them, and then been unable to get them off? (Atwood 139). I wear a mask when I write - I have to. I have to create a generalized audience in order to get anything down. I have to put certain aspects of my life aside and say things I would never utter and create situations I might never engage in. It's interesting to compare my fiction writing to my blogging, as both have their similarities. I wear a bit of a mask for each, though here I try to be as transparent as possible with it. In novel writing, however, especially when writing in first person, it isn't really me that's speaking at all.

Writers may never quite be who they seem. And how are they meant to appear to their readers? Atwood considers this, stating beautifully, "Should the god of the artist be Apollo, the Classicist, whit his beautiful formality, or Mercury, the mischief-maker, trickster, and thief? Should you invoke as your inspiration the Holy Spirit, as Milton did in Paradise Lost, or a Muse of fire, as in the Prologue of Shakespeare's Henry V, or Harry Houdini, the hocus-pocus man?" (Atwood 105). The answer is that we're all of this at once and yet none of it. We sit solitary in front of our computers or notebooks, spinning stories, but I don't find it a solitary act at all, needing to be around people to bounce ideas off of and feel inspired and motivated, and for God's sakes to tell me synonyms for certain words. We are inventors and thieves and both invisible and visible in our writing. You can see why double start to become a good symbol for writing.

I could prattle on about theories on writing and being a writer forever, but that would be tedious for you. Instead, I'll say a bit about my book here. It's called First Light and can be purchased here.

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What's it about? Well, here's the description I wrote up for the site: "Annabel Guerra is a first year med school student grieving the loss of her sister when she meets Doctor Victor Klemens, an accomplished anatomy professor, who hires her as his research assistant. As her work with him continues, she discovers that his research stretches beyond that of modern science and into the realm of the dangerous experimentation. Committed to curing death and restoring life, Klemens plans on creating a human being out of the bodies of the dead and, with Annabel’s help, his plans could become a reality. Against her better judgment, Annabel helps him and embarks on a journey of creation and destruction from which there is no return."(Would you believe me if I told you the idea for this book originally started out as a parody? That idea lasted about one minute before I realized there was something far more serious underneath). At the most basic level, it's Frankenstein fanfiction. It's a modern kind of retelling of Mary Shelley's novel, not because her novel needs updating or changing, but because there were ideas from the book I wanted to play around with in a different context and see what could be made of them. I promise nothing - it hasn't been professionally edited or reviewed and I didn't give it to anyone to read-thru before I went on to publish it. It's totally a shot in the dark. But it's a good chance to see if anyone is interested in reading the sort of fiction I seem to be writing.

So, if you have $5 you feel like spending, I would be happy to have you purchase my book. I get all royalties (ah, the perks of self-publishing) so if you trust me with your money, then go for it. However, as long as I'm out here writing for free (which is for the infinite future, as far as I'm concerned), I'm not going to twist your arm to pay to read my writing. But if you do choose to read it, let me know what you think. I'd love to hear your input!

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Citations from:
Margaret Atwood. Negotiating with the Dead. Anchor Books, 2002.

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