Archive for the ‘Million Mile Road Trip’ Category


Thoughts on Writing a YA novel. “Million Mile Road Trip.”

I’ve mentioned in this blog that I want to write a novel about a very long road trip in a universe where Earth, instead of being a sphere, is more or less endless prairie, interrupted by mounts and seas, and with an utterly different civilization every ten thousand miles or so.


[Painting by Keith Haring, vinyl paint on a vinyl tarp.]

My working title is Million Mile Road Trip, and here’s a link to my blog posts about it.

I’ve decided to slant this new SF novel towards being a YA book. I might have a better shot at that fabled wider market that way, and it would be a nice change of pace for me. My 2004 novel Frek and the Elixir was in fact YA or even middle-reader (the hero was 12), but somehow nobody noticed.

The thing that makes YA seem feasible for me is that I’m free to write a YA without downgrading what I do. I realized this when went to the 2014 Nebulas in San Jose for an afternoon last year, and I attended a panel on YA writing. It included the writers Cynthia Felice, Erin Hoffman, Bennett Madison, and the redoubtable Ysabeau Wilce. They totally are regular writers, and I liked how casual they were about the middle-reader and YA genres, saying these were mainly marketing niches, and that older books such as Huck Finn or Catcher in the Rye or To Kill a Mockingbird might well have been put into those categories. They also said you should use whatever language you like, and not be hung up on using a limited-vocabulary word-list.

I’m free to write my YA SF novel as I see fit because, if I can’t get a publisher to take the novel, then I’ll just self-pub it via Transreal Books like I’ve been doing of late. But it might be fun to get a traditional publisher once again.

My agent John Silbersack pointed out to me that middle-reader and YA book editors are prickly about adult writers thinking they can just parachute in and do a book in their market. You have to be serious about it, or they reject you. You can’t be pretending. So it’s a matter of getting my head in the right place. In some sense thinking like a young person. Or like several of them. Not impossibly hard for me, given the kind of person that I am—a rebellious dreamer who refuses to “grow up.”


[Seen in the New Guinea collection upstairs at the DeYoung Museum in SF.]

Superficial observations:

A lot of YA books have short chaps. Makes them seem easy to read, I guess. Bam, bam, bam. Short attention spans these days (including mine).

In a YA novel, the main character has some special characteristic that the outer world has failed to recognize, or which the o. w. even views as a fault—but it just this particular quirk which allows our protagonist to access his or her wondrous adventure.

YA can allow you to make the book somewhat cartoony and parodistic. Like an episode of Futurama. You can use familiar tropes with new twists. Let the readers relax and wallow.

By way of research, I’ve looked at quite a few books on the YA shelves of bookstores and libraries, and some of them are really awful. Like TV. The book I don’t like use a limited-vocabulary first-person point of view that I find tiresome. The gushing, the slobbering, the emoting, the repetitious wheenk. Filtering everything through one limited person’s attitudes. This first person narration sucks all the air out of the room. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

I’ll want to make the narration contemporary and colloquial—without descending into a corner full-bore Valspeak. I mean, don’t make it corny, don’t try too hard.

While waiting to start my novel, I’ve been rereading Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow once again. And, as usual, I’m trying to get a handle on the nuts and bolts of Pynchon’s narrative technique. Somehow I find this very difficult. I get so mesmerized when I’m reading the book that it’s hard to slow down and look behind the curtains. Putting it another way, peering at Pynchon’s style is like trying to stare at the sun.

I recently found a very useful description of the man’s style at the start of a longish 1996 work by Michael Davitt Bell (1962-1997), “Some Things That ‘Happen’ (More of Less) in Gravity’s Rainbow .” Here’s a lightly edited excerpt of the opening paragraphs of Bell’s valuable survey of the novel:


[Detail of a quilt by Sylvia Rucker.]

The book is narrated, throughout, in the present tense. Flashbacks (or events remembered by various characters) usually begin in the past tense, but they tend to shift rapidly into the present tense. The narrator is also capable, upon occasion, of flashes forward. Point of view shifts frequently and is sometimes indeterminate (or omniscient). And much of what ‘happens’ (it’s hard to say how much) is fantasy (it’s often hard to say whose).

So we’re talking about writing in a present tense head-hopping third-person point-of-view. You narrate it like you’re describing a movie, cutting from camera to camera in real time. Telling the story movie. You are there.

I had a first-person past-tense opening passage that I didn’t fully like. But then, working by the light of poor dead Bell’s pellucid lines, I switched my opener to the present tense, and put in a few spinning-wheels-of-the-mind asides, and looked into the minds of both my current chracters. I feel the story opening up. I think of compressed tea that comes in a block, and you flake out the stuff to brew it.

It’s working, I’ve started, I’ve got two very short chapters with two good characters, Zoe and Villy, on the eve of their high-school graduation, cantankerous off-beat kids, and they’re about to meet a pair of aliens.


[Rudy Rucker Jr. preparing Christmas dinner.]

As is often the case, I find it hard to actually be writing new material in my novel for more than an hour or so a day. I’m always looking for distractions. Waiting till my head is in the right place. Waiting for the level of dread-that-I’ll-never-write-again to build up to a sufficient level. Building up a big enough head of steam to turn the rusty wheels of this ooold locomotive.

And when I’m not exactly writing new words in the actual novel, I can pass my time correcting what I’ve written, or making plans in my already-30K-words-long Notes for Million Mile Road Trip document—I always make these huge book-length notes for each of my books, you can find them on my Writing page.

“Endless Road Trip” oil on canvas, Sept, 2014, 30” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

I already did a painting that relates to the novel, like the Endless Road Trip one I did a few weeks back. It’s good that I previsualized these two characters from “unfurled Earth,” as they just showed up in the novel, looking pretty much exactly like I painted them. That’s Pinchley on the left and Yampa on the right. The capybara and the spider monkeys will come later, I guess.

For my novel I shifted down from an “Endless” Road Trip to a “Million Mile” Road Trip, as the first option seemed too far! As another way to make starting this new project less intimidating, I told myself it might just be a novella. I’m always scared when I start a novel. Like getting in a rowboat yet again, with an intention to row from San Francisco to, like, Palau in Micronesia.

Whatever works. I may get this mofo going yet.

Aliens Coming Down a Pointed Ladder. Magic Rabbits.

There’s some woods near Los Gatos where I’ve been walking for twenty-eight years. Ever since we moved here in 1986. I always see new things.

Like these pinecones resembling (to my eye) rabbit ears. The broken wood is the rabbit’s face.

We had a nice Thanksgiving and Christmas with the family. It always does my heart good to see the grandchildren. The wheel of life—I’m on the way out, my children are middle-aged parents, and the new crop is coming up.

Dig this oak leaf resting on the gnarly leaves of a red hot poker cactus. Maybe my mind is like the oak leaf, resting on the cosmic, living biome-swirl.

My wife and I are always going down to Santa Cruz, looking at the ocean over and over. I like these stairs, on West Cliff Drive near the statue of the surfer. The stairs go right down into the water. Something richly symbolic about this photo, too.

I put out The Secret of Life as a single-volume ebook the other day. It’s also a part of the three-books-in-one Transreal Trilogy. But I wanted Secret out as a single, in case anyone is looking for specifically that book As usual, I used one of my paintings for the cover; this one is called “He Enters Her Room.” It works as a cover for Secret, as the guy looks like he could be an alien in a human body. With that small head. I myself have a head the size of a grapefruit, or a satsuma, or a Meyer lemon—it gets smaller every year.

We went to see the Keith Haring show at the DeYoung Museum in San Francisco. It’s quite good. Keith did some remarkable things—like he drew five or ten thousand large chalked graffiti pictures on rectangles of black paper in the NYC subway system over a period of five years. The rectangles of paper were in place to cover up ads whose space-rental time had expired. A very nimble guy with a small head. I’m planning to look at some videos of him.

The picture shown above, drawn on a prefab urn, has some nice aliens, he didn’t draw these particular figures over and over, and it’s fun to see them.

He draws a certain kind of dog a lot, also UFOs. I think of the series of drawings above as, “Keith Haring Explains It All.”

Keith’s UFOs look different from the way I like to paint them. That’s one of mine above.

I’m on the verge of starting to write a long story or a novella with the working title, “Million Mile Road Trip.” I was calling it “Endless Road Trip” before, and saying it would be a novel, but that felt like too long to walk on my bare feet. I’ll just do a million miles for now.

It’ll have a couple of aliens in it, and I already painted them back in September. These days I think these two aliens are called Yampa and Pinchley. My outline for the story was too complicated before, and I’ve been making it simpler and simpler so it’ll feel easy enough to actually write.

I’d been puzzling over how the two aliens manage to show up on Earth. Probably at first one of them is chasing the other. The boy chasing the girl, right. Or vice-versa. And today I had the idea of making their arrival really simple. There’s a ladder that tapers up to a point. It’s like “forced perspective,” the point is, like, a thousand light years away. Or in another dimension. And the aliens come climbing down that ladder. Which I saw while walking near Lexington Reservoir. Gift from the Muse. Took the photo with my iPhone’s feeble camera and really it’s not bad. Just don’t zoom on it or you’ll see the quantum space-foam speckle.

And I saw a second magic rabbit in the woods. Maybe put the magic rabbits in the novella too. “The Million Mile Road Trip,” yeah.

At Loose Ends

I’m kind of at loose ends these days. I have some ideas for a novel with the working title Wacker World or perhaps Million Mile Road Trip, and I’ve been moving those around in my head. And I’ve written a lot of notes. But somehow I’m not quite ready to start the actual book. It’s like staring into the sun, and I keep flinching away.

I’ve been working in parallel on my giant 400,000 word Journals 1990-2015, hoping to get that finished and published early next summer.

I watched a graffiti artist at a big art festival in San Jose a few weeks back, it was called “Anne and Marc’s Art Party.” It was nice to see how this young man worked.

It’s nice when you get into a work of art, or a work of literature, and you forget your self. The muse gets into your head. In a lesser way, when you’re holding a camera, sometimes you see what you think are pictures amid the clutter around you.

I was part of a reading at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park about a month ago, we were promoting an anthology called Hieroglyph. The best-selling author Neal Stephenson was part of the project, and there was a huge crowd at Kepler’s. This photo is of two of my fellow lesser-known authors, Annalee Newitz and Charlie Jane Anders. They have pieces in that antho and were on the panel as well.

Kepler didn’t have a single book of mine for sale, which kind of made me wonder why I keep bothering to write them.

Somehow I picked up a cold virus around the time of that reading, and it stayed with me for a month. By the end, I had what you might call postviral depression—it’s when, like, you’re feverish and coughing and in a bubble week after week, and you feel like you’ll never be well. The photo above is one I took just the other day, when I started feeling reasonably cheerful again, it’s of my writer friend Michael Blumlein in San Francisco.

Not that Blumlein looks especially cheerful here himself. What is he thinking? Hard to tell. Being a writer is hard.

On the art front, the other day my daughter Georgia sent me a jpg of this “cornball fall painting” by former Los Gatos artist titan Thomas Kinkade, and she suggested that I liven it up. So I Photoshopped an alien “gub” from my novel The Big Aha, plus the rather dangerous hyperdimensional creature Babs, from my novel The Sex Sphere. Always fun to be busy doing nothing.

Another fun thing this month was going down to Pfeiffer Beach in Big Sur with Sylvia. There’s this wonderful big rock there with what I call the Magic Door, a square hole where the surf surges through. The Magic Door plays a big role in my old novel Mathematicians in Love (which is now out of print—but I’ll be reissuing it via Transreal Books this fall.)

There’s as second, less clearly-cut magic door in that rock, over near the left end, and some guys were standing inside it, like on the threshold. I like the weird plants that grow in there as well. Truly science-fictional.

And what else? Sylvia and I went to see the latest ballet by Mark Morris and his company, at Zellerbach Hall in Berzerkistan. I like the side wall of the theater, it’s like abstract art. Telegraph Avenue seems ever shabbier. When you lose a big bookstore like Cody’s you lose a lot. But I suppose Berkeley students aren’t buying books like they used to.

Just this week I was up at Castle Rock Park. I like to walk through the park to a ridge that overlooks a big basin of trees, with the Pacific visible in the distance. Interestingly pocked rocks called tafoni in the park. Some of them with loud people climbing on them—they weren’t there twenty years ago. Nature still doing her thing anyhow anywhen anywhere. This photo of some red bark on a manzanita tree.

A stone whale or turtle surfaces, astounded. A-stone-aged.

And I’m happy by a sun-outlined bundle of laurel branches.

So, like I said, I had some good ideas for Wacker World, but today I was working on Journals 1990-2015. Fun / nostalgic / wrenching going down those mazes of memory lanes. I see publishing it one large volume—as well as, of course, the tractable ebook format.

One last image, it’s a detail of Alma Baptizes in the Waters of Mormon, by Arnold Friberg. For whatever reason, my friend and fellow-writer Thom Metzger became obsessed with this painting while writing his highly entertaining journal/memoir/report Undercover Mormon: A Spy in the House of the Gods which I’ve been reading this week. The best book I’ve read this year.

I was Thom Metzger’s math / philosophy teacher, back at Geneseo State College in upstate New York in 1977. Tick, tick! The two clocks are in synch.

Or maybe not. Blumlein asks: “What time am I? Is it 9:00, or quarter to midnight? Early or late? The beginning, or the end?”

“Endless Road Trip.” “4th D.” Author’s POV.

So I finished that painting I was talking about in my last blog post. Before getting into the details, I want to mention that I just started a big sale on my paintings, with the sale lasting till October 15, 2014. If you’re curious about that, check my online Paintings page.

Anyway, here’s that new painting. I did quite a few revisions on it. As I’ve said before, the way to tell when your painting is done is when it stops bothering you. I like how it ended up. The paint is nice and thick, with a rich glow of colors.

“Endless Road Trip” oil on canvas, Sept, 2014, 30” x 24”. Click for a larger version of the painting.

Endless Road Trip shows my alien characters Flook and Yampa, driving their hover car across the unending plains of the unfurled “Wacker World” Earth that I’m hoping to write a novel about. (I may call the novel Endless Road Trip or, to make it easier on myself, I might make it Million Mile Road Trip. Not as far!)

Anyway, Fook and Yampa are admiring a capybara and some squirrel monkeys. My heroes Willy and Alma are along for the ride, but you don’t see them in the picture, partly because I didn’t feel like struggling with the human form—I just went for some expressionist zigzag aliens.

This place where they’ve stopped—way, way west of California—was going to be called the Land of the Ants, but then I got into a capybara-and-squirrel-monkey routine, so that’s what’s in the painting.

I like how the guy Flook on the left looks, he’s like a cartoon-character tough guy with a whiskery jaw, and the round thing on top of his head might be a derby. And Yampa on his right, she’s looking at the squirrel monkeys and the capybara and saying, in a screechy discordant voice, “Aww, aren’t they cute!” Maybe her voice is so horrible that one or more of the animals dies in some weird way. Turns into dark energy or some such.

There’s a nice new reprint of my nonfiction book The Fourth Dimension, from Dover Books. The subtitle is “Toward a Geometry of Higher Reality. There was also an edition where I used a different subtitle, “And How To Get There” — but these are the same books. The Fourth Dimension is probably my all-time best-seller, maybe a quarter million of them out there. Over the years, scores of people have written me to tell me that this book changed their lives. It’s one of my main works.

I’m happy to see it reissued by Dover, as I got my start studying Dover’s inexpensive reprints back in Louisville, Kentucky, in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

The Fourth Dimension in Kindle and paperback on Amazon..

Go git it.

Back to the new novel I’m trying to start. Wacker World. Today I’ll share some semi-technical thoughts on writing. When starting a novel I always have to decide about what point of view or POV to use. I always use either first-person (1POV) or third person (3POV).

Writing first person or 1POV is probably the easiest style. I used it in Jim and the Flims, and in The Big Aha. A no-brainer, like falling off a log. If you get the right narrator voice going, it works very well.

This said, the first-person point of view carries some risks.

(Risk 1) In that 1POV filters everything through narrator’s attitudes and language skills—and this can be an irritating feature if it’s done wrong. I don’t to see page upon page of gushing, slobbering, emoting—what I call repetitious wheenk. The first-person narrator can suck all the air out of the room.

(Risk 2) When using 1POV, there’s a sense that you need to impose the narrator’s linguistic limitations and quirks on the text. This can be okay if the author makes the viewpoint character fairly interesting, rounded, and non-generic. But it’s very risky to try and narrate a 1POV story in dialect. Unless you’re Mark Twain writing Huckleberry Finn. Although, come to think of it, I did something like this in my shot at a great American SF novel, The Hollow Earth, which is 1POV from a boy from Killeville, Virginia.

(Risk 3) Another issue with 1POV, is that the author may feel it necessary to have a frame-tale explanation of how and why and when the character is telling us about his or her adventures. You say that the narrator is reminiscing about the events afterwards, or documenting them for the record, or narrating them to a rapt audience, like that. But you don’t have to do the frame-tale, and, if done wrong, it can be of corny and obtrusive. Sometimes it’s better to just have the reader be in the narrator’s head with no explanation.

A final point to make about 1POV is that, if you want a reportage feel, you can have several characters telling the story from their points of view, or even interrupting each other, as if doing a joint interview. This could be fun. (Cat calls, loud farting sounds, sarcastic laughter.)

Regarding third person point of view or 3POV, here’s a link to a nice little essay by a writer called Michael Neff, he talks about the levels of 3POV, distinguishing 1POV, far 3POV, and close 3POV, which we can abbreviate as C3POV.

I like the C3POV, where my viewpoint is closely focused on one single character at a time. I’m following one character and seeing his or her thoughts. The C3POV is also called “third person limited point of view” or “deep” third-person. It’s like following a movie actor with a camera.

If you do C3POV instead of 1POV, you’re free to use a more literate style than the character would—I think of John Updike’s magisterial Rabbit tetralogy, of the tints and shades of feeling that are assigned to the everyman-type Rabbit Angstrom.

Note also that you’re free to adjust the “closeness” of the C3POV over the course of a scene, at times getting in so close that it’s as intimate and telepathic as 1POV.

Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy using what I might call rotating close third person point of view, or RC3POV. The idea is that I shift the close third person POV from character to character. I don’t do the shifts within a scene, I cycle from one character to another from chapter to by chapter. I did that in Realware, Postsingular, and Hylozoic. I plan to use RC3POV in my upcoming Wacker World, that is, I’ll have close third-person C3POV on my character Willy in some chapters, and have the camera on my co-starring character Alma in other chaps.

Thinking back to Postsingular, I rotated the C3POV focus from section to section within the chapters, using seven different points of view in all. And in one single section I went kaleidoscopic on the reader’s ass, hopping one head to the next without even signalling the changes with section breaks.

It’s risky to do head-hoppping, or “wandering POV,” although Thomas Pynchon and Phil Dick often do. Pynchon can do it because he’s a supreme and god-like master, and Phil, well, you never know. Phil wrote really fast and he might not even have noticed he was doing it. But getting Phil’s reckless downhill-racer thing going is a skill in itself.

Through the dancing sunlight, and into oblivion.


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