Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from 2014

Good Work: Dovetailing your YA Story

I've been re-reading a collection of essays by C.S. Lewis over breakfast this week--reading intelligent commentary on anything over breakfast ensures that, whatever else might happen in my day, even I spend the rest of my waking hours explaining comma splices to students and chasing a toddler, I've chewed on something intellectually substantial.  My mind masticates while my breakfast digests.  How's that for a stretched metaphor?

In any case, I was reading the essay "Good Work and Good Works" in which Lewis discusses the value in doing work worth doing well, and came across this quote as regards the art of literature:

When an artist is in the strict sense working, he of course takes into account the existing taste, interests, and capacity of his audience. These, no less than the language, the marble, or the paint, are part of his raw material; to be used, tamed, sublimated, not ignored nor defied. Haughty indifference to them is not genius nor integrity; it is laz…

Favorite Christmastime Books

I have my favorite fall books, for sure, but it's books for the holiday season that I really do come back to every year.  They're part of the tradition, like decorating the tree or making mincemeat (some of my traditions are a little weird).


A Christmas Carol In Prose.  Confession: I am not a Dickens fan.  I find it somewhat sloggy, and though I have good intentions of attempting a serialized read to mimic how Dickens meant his books to be read, I can't get up the enthusiasm when there are other things to read.  But my Dickens reticence does not extend to A Christmas Carol.  First, the length--it's technically a novella, and the pace is downright sprightly for Dickens.  Moreover, it has a bright wit that most film renditions don't quite capture what with the focus on the saccharine-sweet "God Bless Us Every One" moments.  There are complex family dynamics and a far clearer understanding of a broken man, Ebenezer himself.  Well worth the read.


Nutcracker by …

Favorite Fall Books

I associate books with seasons, especially favorite books that I want to read over and over.  They become tied to times of the year, with some evoking lazing on a porch swing in deep, humid summer and others bundling up with a cup of tea while winter blusters against rattling windows.
A few of my favorite fall books:
Fire in the Blood by Irene Nemirovsky
It's no secret to anyone who's known me a while that I love Irene Nemirovsky, and this is one of my favorites.  The ultimate unreliable narrator delves into his memories and proves--he doesn't know himself as well as he thinks he does.  Cold and gorgeous and fading.  (For what it's worth, I'm already cranky about the movie adaptation of Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise, so don't even ask.)


Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Something about a going to school story appeals to me in fall.  Descriptions of old-fashioned trains, classes we'd all love to take, and a fascinating school?  Beats even back to school shopping…

The Importance of Writing Something New

There's one question that led to me signing with my agent.  I didn't ask it--she did.

"Are you writing anything new?"

I had queried with a project I was really excited about, and was checking in on a full request.  My now-agent Jessica responded promptly and kindly (as is her wont) that she hadn't forgotten about it, and, by the way, was I writing anything new?

Fortunately, I was.  I had two projects going that I was excited about--both departures for me in terms of sub-genre within young adult, but both really fun writes that I was enjoying.  I told her about both, quick pitches that summed up the basics of the plot and what made the stories unique.  (Side lesson--be able to sum up your project effectively at any stage in the writing game.)

"I'm so glad I asked!" she replied.

No, I'm so glad I was writing something new!

This led to a request for material, and then The Call, the paperwork, and the All That Jazz, in an admittedly pretty unorthodox…

Lovely Blog

The ever-lovely June tagged me for a blog award, and since I think it's fun to play linkies and and fun to play along (and finally have time after a busy fortnight of revising), here I am ! 
Rules: Share 7 Lovely Facts about myselfLink to 15 blogs (or as many as possible) that I enjoy readingNominate the authors of those 15 blogs to participate and do the same, linking back to the original Lovely blog.  June's original Lovely post was here.
Facts: My favorite outfit is well over two centuries out of fashion:  I have a cat named Sophie Biscuit.  She was originally  just "Sophie" but she was--and still is--so cute yet addlepated that called her Biscuit as a nickname, because she's just an adorable little morsel but she's still kind of doughy in the middle.  She once climbed our Christmas tree: My house was built in 1872, and then renovated in 1890 because clearly it was so out of date.  The resulting mash-up is pretty awesome.  I love swing dancing (and the music and…

Things That Can Ruin a Writer's Day

I try not to be too "precious" with my writerly requests--the things I believe help me get in the zone and write at my best.  I don't need a particular table at the cafe or a certain hot drink or my lucky left shoe.  But there are a few things that really grind my gears.

1) Sticky keyboards.  Nothing annoys me more than a keyboard with really stiff keys--you know, when you type "biscuit" and it comes out "bsut" because half the keys are so futzy that they don't depress fully on a simple, light touch.  Maybe I'm just very particular about my keyboards, because getting a new laptop has taken all kinds of adjustment for me.
2) A workspace that's too dark or too light.  Squinting at the screen that's suddenly bisected by a hyper-ray of sunlight or squinting at my notes in a dark corner take me out of my zone quicker than a cat landing, claws-out, on my lap.  Which happens pretty often in my house, but she's so darn cute I'm ok with…

Does Working Make You a Better Writer?

Latest in the litero-sphere hullabaloo is Nobel judge Horace Engdahl's assertion that literary grants and programs are killing our creative spirit by isolating us from the gritty real world that feeds our imaginations.  He says we'd do better to work, as waiters or taxi drivers if need be, in order to learn the world in which we write.  On the other side of the ring are writers, many who are currently working or formerly working in that "real world," who contest that doing so did nothing for their creative spirit and that Engdahl's claim is pretty darn easy to make from the vantage point of a comfy professorship.

I'm not going to get into what goes into producing "great" literature.  I really  have no idea.  I have no delusions that I'm attempting to produce "great" literature (then again, I imagine many great writers of the past and present weren't trying for "The Great Novel of Our Time," either, and that's part of …

What Size Pond Are You Swimming In?

I like to sing.  Singing in choir, singing in the shower, singing to my two-year-old...doesn't matter, singing is fun for me.  And, lucky for me, my voice isn't bad.  It's not great--I don't have a huge range, it can get a little breath-y, and my pitch isn't always perfect. Or close.  Or good, at all.

When I was in college and in the years beyond, I lived in a Music Town.  You know, one of those brilliantly over-saturated-with-talent regions where every other person you meet is a near-virtuoso musician?  If you've been lucky enough to live in the vicinity of a top-tier music school, you know what I'm talking about.  Despite being a member of a church, despite plenty of volunteer choirs in town, despite opportunity galore, I didn't sing in public much.

I was a very small fish in that big pond.  There was no way I was measuring up to the fantastic talent I was surrounded by.  And it intimidated me enough to keep my voice to myself.

Then I moved to a littl…

B-Movie Lessons: The Horrors of Spider Island and What You *Really* Want to Write About

After a long weekend full of football recently, I found myself craving a bad movie.  (Not that football isn't in many ways like a bad movie--except that the Mr. doesn't appreciate my witty quips when the involve the combination of his team and the term "butterfingers.")  So I cued up The Horrors of Spider Island.

First, let's clear one thing up. This is your spider:


Now then.  That's done.

It's not an uncommon phenomenon that crappy B-movies from the 1950s and 60s were thinly veiled covers for showing scintillating (for the time) images and suggestive (for the time) racy scenes.  Horrors is a prime example--the premise is that a troupe of "dancers" (ahem--they didn't cast the ballet dancer in the opening scene, just saying) is stranded on a remote island when their plane crashes en route to Singapore.  Said island is infested with giant spiders whose bite, inexplicably, turns people into were-spiders.


You don't see much of the giant spid…

Invisible Diversity

Diversity in young adult fiction: There's plenty of great information out there already about that topic. In fact, before I get any further, I'll just leave this here:

Diversity in YA

That's a link to the Diversity in YA blog, founded by fantastic YA authors Malinda Lo and Cindy Pon.  Read it.  Talk about the stuffs on it.  Really.

There, that's done.

Now a little story.

I was driving my daughter to daycare last week and passed a fellow mowing his lawn.  Nothing unusual, except that he was black.  In our predominantly white and Hispanic town, there was only one black family that I knew of, and I had met them a few times and knew where they lived.  This guy was new.  "Yay!" I thought.  "Our town just got a little more diverse."

And it had.  But as I drove on, I thought about that happy-fuzzy feeling that "diversity" gives us (I get it looking around my workplace, for instance--a mix of races and backgrounds and ages all working together) and…

B-Movies and Writing: The Beginning of the End and Knowing Your Limits

I've blogged before about my love of B movies and the lessons they can impart to the fiction writer. I dissected the plot of Plan Nine from Outer Space to to discover what didn't work (answer? Nothing worked). I examined the effectiveness of the characters in Eegah (conclusion: when a hairy man-beast from a prehistoric era is your most likeable character, you have a problem).

Last night I indulged in The Beginning of the End, in which 1950s hysteria over atomic anything resulted in a movie about a cloud of giant locusts swarming Chicago.

I love a good giant bug movie. ThemThe Deadly MantisHorrors of Spider Island. All good stuff. In a really bad way. But they can illustrate very well the age-old principle of biting off more than you can chew.

Lesson? If you can't swallow an entire swarm of giant locusts, don't bite one. Or something like that.

So the plot is skimpy, the characters are sketches. I'm not going to nitpick this, because in your average movie about…

B-Movies and Writing : Eeegah and Character Development

I have a penchant for horrible science fiction movies. Not decent stuff like The Day the Earth Stood Still. No, terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad monstrosities like Plan 9 From Outer Space. Terror from the Year 5000. Phantom Planet. Robot Monster.

As I was enjoying Eegah last week, I couldn't help but notice what lessons a writer could learn from the mistakes made by bad filmmaking. Eegah is the story of a young woman and her father who are, for reasons not entirely explained, kidnapped by Eegah, a prehistoric caveman (who may or may not be a giant, depending on the particular camera angle at any given frame) and their rescue by the young woman's unintentionally icky boyfriend (who looks like a ferret).
So, a few lessons on making your characters likeable and believable from a movie that did the exact opposite.
1) Stop saying "Wheee." No one says "Wheee." In one otherwise useless scene, the leading lady, Roxy, and her ferret-faced boyfriend, Tom, are ri…

On Being a Good Beta Reader

I have a confession.  I've been a shoddy beta reader lately.

I've been very busy with the rest of my life--work picked up, I had a ton to put together for a big reenactment event--and beta reading fell by the wayside.

My brief lapse got me thinking about the ways in which one can be a better beta.  Beta reading is not only a great way to offer help to writer-friends (WFs in my weird shorthand), but it can really help you, too.  Reading other's not-quite-there work helps you learn how to revise your own.  Plus, building relationships is a huge bonus of beta-reading.  It's my view that a beta reader can develop into a true critique partner--someone with whom you have an honest and beneficial writer-friend relationship far greater than the usual community support.  ('Cause writers tend to be pretty supportive people in general, you know!)

1) Be realistic with yourself. Simple in theory, harder in execution.

Be honest--do you have time to read and reply in a relatively…

Bad Movies and Writing: Ah, Yes. Plan 9.

Ah, yes. Plan 9. If you haven't seen the celluloid abuse that is Plan 9 From Outer Space, get thee to a rental place or Netflix and view immediately. Considered by many to be the worst film ever made, Edward D. Wood Jr.'s Plan 9 has everything wrong with it--crappy acting, terrible writing, laughable sets, wacky editing choices. An example of the absurdity: Star of the film Bela Lugosi died before filming was complete, and a stand-in who looks nothing like him is used for the rest of the film. He holds a cape over his face, so you "can't tell." Another example: The flying saucers are clearly pie plates glued together and suspended by (visible) strings, making the world's wobbliest spacecraft.

But the worst might be the plot. The strings holding the story together are, unfortunately, much more tenuous than those suspending the pie plate saucers. In short, it's not one of those "good story, bad execution" problems--but I managed to glean some less…

Saving the Best for Last

I have a friend who loves Dickens.  (I don't hold this against her.)  She's read and loved everything old Chuck wrote, from the well-known Great Expectations  and Christmas Carol stock to the lesser known short stories and novellas.

What she hasn't read?  Our Mutual Friend.

And I loved her reason--she's saving it.

Dickens is, in his own colorful terms, "dead as a doornail" so certainly isn't writing any more.  Once you've read the last plot twist, the last unique character, the last ending,  you're done. You can re-read, of course--and I'm a huge proponent of re-reading beloved novels--but the last surprise has been had.

I just bought a new book this weekend--four novels in one volume by one of my absolute favorite writers, Irene Nemirovsky.   Though Nemirovsky died in 1942 (ethnically Jewish, she was sent to a Auschwitz and died there at the age of 39), I have one advantage over my friend and Dickens--not all of her work has been translated …

Confession: I Love Crappy B-Movies

I love bad old movies.  If it involves a radioactive gigantic bug trying to eat a major American city, or a prehistoric creature birthed from a glacier attacking coastal Japan, or aliens or mad scientists or Creatures from Any Black Body of Water, I'm in.

Proof?  This is the poster decorating my living room wall:


Yes, John Agar's notquiteclassic about a subterranean civilization.  And mole people, of course.
Little known fact: "B" in "B Movie" does not stand for "Bad" or "B-Grade" but for "Budget."  They were movies made with lower budgets and often released directly to dive theaters and drive-ins rather than taking up precious marquee space.  Because who goes to the drive-in to actually watch the movie, right?  But they often were pretty Bad, too.
In any case, what do crappy B movies have to do with writing?
They're excellent examples of what not to do.  
Seriously.  Writers should read, a read widely, and learn from good …

Silly Blog! Private Setting is for Journals with Locks

Funny story...Blogger ate my blog.

Well, only kinda.  Somehow the settings got swapped to private (maybe I was sleeptyping again?) and posts I wrote for a couple months there disappeared.

No worries, it's regurgitated now.

Wait, what?

That sounds horrible.

The whole whoopsiedaisy got me thinking a little bit about WHY we blog.  Why not just write our thoughts down in a journal with a nice little lock and key?  Even a digital lock and key.  Why share?

I think it's because we crave some connection.  I can't speak for all bloggers with all purposes, but for a writer?  The work can be pretty lonely.  And we want to reach out to others in similar, small, personal boats (not the same boat, of course, you see? Because it's lonely work.  Consistent metaphor usage, natch) and share what we're experiencing.

The value in that?

1) You're not alone.  All the struggles you experience?  Other people are there, too.  Which means...

2) Struggling is normal.  You can start to f…

The Writing Advice I Won't Give

When you read enough blogs by writers, writing blogs, interviews with writers, and other writing-related web-posted material, some common themes start to emerge.  I agree with most of them.  Writers write.  Butt in chair, get to writing.  Write the book you've always wanted to read. And cut the boring parts.

Still, there are some pieces of advice that I can't, in good conscience, get behind.  Maybe they depend on your individual goals, or your personality, or your genre.  Maybe I'm just an oddball and these ideas really are universal, except for my warped view of things. 

However, I will never tell you to:

1) Write the book of your heart, and don't think about trends.

If you just want to write, write.  Write whatever is begging to be told, and don't think a whit about what's out there in the publishing world.  If your goal is just words on paper (and that, friends, is a worthy goal), just write.  But if you want to be published, write the book of your heart...a…

Weird Things I Do That Aren't Writing

I think every good writer is, in fact, a weirdo.  At least, every writer I've met is a weirdo.  With weirdo hobbies.

Being a weirdo is good.  It makes you interesting.

It's funny how many of us try to hide our weirdo tendencies and hobbies, thinking that we'll be judged or excluded from some kind of elite club on the basis of our fly fishing or our fencing or our cookie jar collection.

OK, so maybe the cookie jars might be a problem... (30Rock, anyone?) So, I thought I'd own up to some of my weirdo hobbies.  Those of you who have been with me a while might know about some of them (which I wrote about here on my much-neglected personal blog).  But for any new friends, I'm waving my freak flag and admitting that: 1) I am a historical reenactor.  Yep, I dress up in historical clothing and hang out in a temporary canvas city equipped with reproduction musekts and cannons and cooking pots and talk with visitors about life during the....REVOLUTIONARY War.  That's rig…

On Choices (or, Why I Don't Have a Six Pack)

Recently, a friend posted a "fitspiration" meme that got my hackles up a little. 

This is it:


Now, I don't see anything inherently wrong in that sentiment--a person who trains his or her body is showing dedication, patience, persistence, and a host of other positive traits that have nothing to do with the end result of "attractiveness."

However.

You know what else takes dedication, patience, persistence, and a host of other positive traits?

Writing a book.

Writing several.

Pursuing publication.

And here's the rub--doing so has left me with less time to pursue other ends.  Like working out.  Before I had a child, I did work out multiple times a week, hard.  I did cardio.  I went to a gym.  I had a dedicated schedule and recognized the other people who had the same schedule I did.

Now I have a choice.  I work, have a child, have a house, and writing is important to me.  Here's the truth, in a nutshell--you can't actually do it ALL.  You can do most o…