Adaptation

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to adapt my book for serialization on radio. In this post I reflect on the process of abridging, adapting and reshaping an existing narrative (and nerd out about New Zealand’s public broadcaster).

I’ve always been a bit of a public broadcasting tragic. New Zealand’s “National Radio,” as it was known then, was always on in our house as I grew up. They had a kids’ program called Ears that broadcast on Saturday mornings. There were two hosts, Dick and Chrissie, and a strange electronic-voiced character called Letterbox Lizard who read out listener correspondence. I loved it. Each episode featured some chat between the hosts, a mystery sound for kids to guess at home (eg toilet flushing, onions frying in a pan), letters, and most importantly, stories. Stories from all over the world, but especially stories from New Zealand, recorded in the studio by people with New Zealand voices. Stories about kids like me, and kids like the kids I went to school with. These days RNZ’s slogan is “Sounds like us,” and when I was growing up, it did.

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First paragraphs

The past couple of posts have been writing excerpts from my friends in this group. Reading words, especially the words of my friends always helps to motivate me and remember why I am in this group, in this blog, writing at all in the first place. When I feel stumped and generally dried up I often go back and read my own writing. This is often an exercise in ridiculousness.

I sometimes think “Jesus this is terrible, thank god I never let anyone read this.”

But often I will read something and wonder if it was really and truly me that wrote it because I genuinely like it. I’ve gotten most of my short story ideas from writing prompts. These are specific but always somehow warp themselves into my voice and my same themes. Our writing is not intentional in terms of what comes out of us and onto the page. The act of writing and sitting down to work is quite intentional, but if our hearts are in it what comes out of us is quite the opposite. It is free and open and uninhibited, and we can’t stop the bleeding.

Here are the first paragraphs from six of my short stories. These were written when the blood was pumping and the ideas were fresh and raw and they remain some of my favorite paragraphs in the stories. Sometimes a starting point, the moment when we close our eyes and jump, is the clearest and sharpest moment we have. So keep starting. We don’t need to finish quite yet.

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So What Am I?

I know you are, you said you are, so what am I?

We used to chant this to each other at primary school, whenever someone called us a rude name.

You’re stupid!

I know you are, you said you are, so what am I?

A stupid dick!

I know you are, you said you are, so what am I?

Shut up, you’re a mean, stupid dick!

I know you are, you said you are, so what am I?

Our child-size lizard brains exploded with frustration at answering a direct question, only to have it turned back on us over and over again. We fumed. Smoke billowed out of our ears; we danced on the spot with rage. We didn’t know about logical fallacies. We thought if we could just come up with the ultimate insult, we could smote our opponent. They would be felled by the devastating completeness of their new epithet. But it was always served back.

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Abandonment and Annihilation

A little less than a year ago I ditched my book. I’d been writing it for almost three years at that point and had revised at least 4 times, re-mapped the storyline, gotten rid of an entire main character.

And then I felt overwhelmed. I decided that I had zero business writing a novel and needed to work on my actual skills before I jumped off that cliff. The plan was that I would write and revise a collection of short stories and try to submit them for publication.

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Alchemy In Spring

I’ve been cold for months. The older I get the longer the cold takes to seep out of my bones. It kind of sits there, at my deepest marrow-level and crouches until spring. The green air warms me and the sun penetrates everything until the smells and the chartreuse of spring are there, just as the cold was.

We’re in the brown time now. Everything is crackling and stark, wood scratches on bare wood branches. The sky gets bright but the way the sun hits you is alarming. It blinds and makes you squint as you see your breath in the air in front of your face.

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Where do you draw the line? An experiment with “found” writing

Due to a recent tweak in my insomniac four-year-old’s bedtime routine, I now spend hours each night sitting outside her room waiting for her to fall asleep while answering the questions that run through her head while she winds down: “Mum, what’s a fawn?” “How do you spell poison?”

It’s painful, but at least it affords me some reading time, and as a consequence I’m churning through the books at the moment. One of the latest is The Beat of the Pendulum by Catherine Chidgey.

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Writing Places

Places have always riveted me. As a young girl, I would ride with my Dad in the car on our frequent trips from San Antonio to Taylor, a small town north of Austin, to celebrate Christmas Eve with family. I would read the mile marker signs and call out the names of towns we passed through.

I took my first trip out of the country (if we’re not counting childhood road trips to border towns in Mexico) when I was 20. It was a study abroad trip in Costa Rica, a country I explored for six weeks one summer. I traveled with a group of students, and we all met for the first time at the Houston airport. The company that arranged our travel had assigned us host families, and two of us stayed with each family. My roommate, the woman who shared a wing of the house I stayed in, had a bit more international travel under her belt. She taught me the difference between travelers and tourists, and turned me on to the Lonely Planet series of guidebooks.

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Connecting + Writing = A Happier, Healthier Brain

Recently I watched an eight-part docu-series about the brain from Dr. Mark Hyman who, among other things, is the Director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. It was filled with words like mitochondria, neurotoxins, and glutathione. Each episode would expire after a short period of time so I watched them intensely over the course of the week.

Of all the things I heard, there were a few stand out concepts that made a big impact on me. In discussing exercise, one of the doctors used CrossFit as as an example but not only due to the activity but also because this group in particular supports each other within that culture—it’s a sense of community. Her research suggests that being cared for could cause the brain to release chemicals that inevitably lends itself to healing (biological changes in the body) and happiness.

Since hearing this I felt compelled to reach out to a few old friends that I love but let the business of life grow distance between us. Because why not—I want a brain that’s full of happy pathways free of plaque. I didn’t expect the outcome of relieving a bit of my self imposed isolation, nor did I see that this would make for a more powerful writing experience.

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Being Real—In Life and in Writing

When I was in elementary school, my mom and I lived with my grandparents for a few years. Each morning, I would wake in my daybed and tiptoe, pajama-clad, out to the second-story landing overlooking the living room, dining room, and the breakfast bar of my grandparents’ large kitchen. Down below, there they were: sitting in the dark on stools at the breakfast bar, sipping coffee from matching white porcelain coffee cups and talking in low murmurs. Eventually, the sun would rise and light would fill the whole first story of the house. My mom and I would join them for breakfast. The TV eventually would be turned on to catch a glimpse of the morning news, traffic, and weather reports.

But for my grandparents, the morning started with stillness, darkness, conversation, and coffee. Since my parents divorced when I was a toddler, my grandparents were my model of an adult relationship. I wanted that: a partner to start the morning with, over coffee, in the dark, until sunlight flooded the house.

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