Monday, July 25, 2011

Things I'll miss... and things I won't...

Things I'll miss:
  • the mountains
  • the library
  • the rocking chairs
  • the writing community
  • my teachers
  • free printing
  • the church
  • the restaurant/bakery across the street
  • the wonderful writers I've met/reconnected with

Things I won't miss:
  • the dorms
  • the shower
  • the assigned reading
  • writing critical papers
  • sitting in class for 9 hours straight
  • hanging out at Panera
  • staying up late to finish work

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Writer's Internet History...

So I'm writing this story about an angel that saves a boy from being recruited into a local gang.

And I'm writing a scene where I've had to do some research:

  • What are gang slang terms?
  • What types of guns are most commonly used by gangs?
  • What drugs are most commonly sold/used by gang members?
  • What types of cars are popular with gang members?
  • What would a "tricked out" car have?  (rims, lights, etc.)
  • History of Bloods and Crips
  • Known East Coast gangs
You get the idea...

Let's just say I'll be deleting my internet history after this story is finished!  I don't want Google to start sending me ads for... uhhh... gang paraphernalia or whatever.  Yikes!

(And I'm not the only writer friend who's concerned about this.  This was dinnertime conversation the other night.  Weird things we've had to look up for stories.  A writer's internet history can be a scary thing!)

Friday, July 22, 2011

What I've Learned about Writing Summer '11

It amazed me last summer how much I learned about myself as a writer.  Last summer I learned that writing exercises can blossom into full characters and book ideas.  I learned the magic of moving scenes around and the changes it can have on your narrative.  I learned how to read as a writer.  This summer I definitely grew too.

What I've learned in Summer '11 about my writing:

  • I'm a better realistic fiction writer than I thought... or wanted to be.
  • I learned there are two threads in a narrative, emotional and action.  I'm pretty darn good at the action side, but sometimes neglect the emotional thread.
  • I'm pretty darn good at creating a plot skeleton in my first draft.  *pats back*
  • I'm not so good at deciding on a point-of-view and sticking to it.  *shakes head*
  • I've had a lot of experiences.  And those experiences are going to come out in my writing subconsciously.  It's then my job to use them... and disguise them!  Because I'm not writing an autobiography.  I'm a fiction writer.
  • I'm not a wordy or verbose writer.  I'm precise.  And it's totally okay if I don't have long, elaborate descriptions.
  • Part of the reason I'm okay with not being wordy: Readers usually can't remember more than three details when you're describing something.  (Learned that in class last night.)  And I noticed that I tend to describe things in threes anyways.  So pick three GOOD details instead of describing every last little thing.
  • I can crank words out!!!  Never thought I'd write over 60 pages in such a short amount of time while also doing reading and critical analysis.  I have no more excuses over the school year.  I can make it happen.
I'm sure there's more that I learned, but those are the biggies.

One thing I want to learn:

Is there a way to figure out your "word count for the day" when you're revising?  (Like deleting whole paragraphs and writing new ones)  Without stopping to add and subtract constantly?

Would love to know!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Borders Closing and Tips from an Agent

If you haven't heard, Borders will be liquidating and closing all its stores.  The filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and after no bids (...or bailouts *cough* *cough*) they are going under.

This is TERRIBLE, and let me tell you why:

Borders was the 2nd largest book retailer in the U.S. and has left Barnes and Noble with an overwhelming monopoly.  I've never been as big a fan of B&N.  They have more limited seating in coffee areas, and their coffee is more expensive.  (At Borders, I earned free coffees too!) Depending on the store, I have also found they often have a more limited selection of certain genres (Their graphic novel section is pathetic--just one skinny bookshelf).  And now the purchasers of books at B&N will control what titles you see on shelves.  You can't go to another store to see if there is a different selection of books.

This is going to take a huge hit on the publishing industry.  All of a sudden there are 400 stores not selling books.  There are 400 stores not promoting books.  There are 400 fewer stores to do book events and signings.  This is going to HURT.  I don't even know what the implications could be in the next few years.

There will be 11,000 people losing their jobs.  This is also 11,000 people whose job it was to read books and recommend books.  We are losing a big chunk of the population who promoted book sales.

And while this could be very good business for Barnes and Noble, it could very well be the beginning of their death as well.  People could become frustrated by the lack of availability of books in stores and turn to eBooks and online more so than ever before.  If people see this as the direction things are going anyway, then why fight it anymore.  Borders closing may be the push people needed in hopping on the eBook bandwagon.

The whole thing frustrates me.  I love my Kindle too, but I don't want to see brick and mortar bookstores disappear.  I still make an effort to buy books in stores, especially my favorites, or books as gifts, or books for my classroom.

If bookstores are going to survive, they are going to have to take a new approach.  If I were in charge of revamping the bookstore industry, here's what I would do:

-Hire event planners.
-Hold events and workshops. 
(Some free, some not.  I have a plan of attack ideas there, too.)
-Plan events and workshops that pair well with books.
-Sell those books.

Get people back in the stores by doing things that online or eBooks CAN'T DO.  Socialize, food and drink, hands-on opportunities.

If anyone would like to hire me to plan book related events, I am willing and able.  I could plan book events that would rock the industry's world.

Speaking of the book industry, literary agent Quinlan Lee came to speak to our grad program on Monday night.  Here's some of what she shared with us:

What an Agent Does:
  1. Support our clients
  2. Help manage your career
  3. Negotiate your rights
  4. Be your advocate
She spoke about how her job is much like that of a real estate agent.  People are hunting for the perfect house.  Publishers are hunting for the perfect book.  People have spent years building, remodeling, living in, and loving their home.  Writers have spent years writing, revising and loving their manuscript.  A real estate agent knows the housing market and matched buyers up with sellers based on what each is looking for.  A literary agent does the same thing.  They know the publishing industry and match up publishers and writers based on what they are looking for.

An agent also makes sure that you are treated fairly by publishers and plays bad cop when necessary.  You want your publisher/editor to love you.  So let the agent do the fighting dirty work for you so that a publisher still wants to buy your books and work with you in the future.

She advised to have confidence because editors need you.  They need people to write great stories.

Her tip for a dream manuscript is the 5 page rule.  You have to make the reader want to know what is going to happen next in the first five pages.  Hooking them in the first page is even better.

What they are looking for in a manuscript:
  • it's timeless
  • award winner potential
  • timely
  • action driven
  • suspenseful
  • high concept
  • fun
  • page turning
  • thought provoking
  • fresh theme
She also said all the publishers are asking for "Boy Middle Grade."  Funny, action-packed, pre-teen books.  (Like Wimpy Kid, Percy Jackson, Capt. Underpants)

Overall, I thought she was very encouraging and realistic.

Time to get writing!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Thoughts on Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt 2

Spoiler Alert!
Seriously don't read if you haven't seen the movie or don't want to know what happens, etc.

I used to be quite fanatical when it came to Harry Potter.  Like obsessive.  My brothers will attest to it (and they don't even know all of it).

I've since calmed down.  Become more normal.  Grown up.  I can now go whole weeks without thinking about HP or connecting something in daily life to HP.  I've diversified my interests.

But I still deeply love Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling.  The only thing that may surpass my love for HP someday is giving birth to my own children.  You may think I'm exaggerating and being melodramatic, but I'm really not.

So it was really, really hard for me to not go to the last midnight premiere.  And it didn't help hearing people talk about it in class all day Thursday.  But I waited until Saturday when my mom and brother came to visit.  Me and my brother, who I will refer to as Pacman, have been through many midnight releases together.  We have lots of fond memories of eating jelly beans and talking to costumed people.  My mom went to midnight parties to get the books for us when either we were too young to stay up so late or when I had to work the next day.  They've both been through this HP craze with me, and I'm really glad we waited to see it together.

They brought costumes, and we dressed up...  No one else was dressed up when we went to the theater... Because the movie had no been out for 2 days and all the crazies had already gone.  But we looked cool.

I'm glad I waited to see the movie with them.  It was more meaningful and I loved experiencing it together.  We had so much fun dissecting the movie afterward and talking about our favorite parts.

My favorite part of the whole movie was any scene with Maggie Smith/McGonagall.  I didn't expect to love her parts so much, but she really stole the movie for me.

The Gringotts scenes were EXCELLENT.  So impressed with that part of the movie.  The preparation of the castle for battle was awesome as well.

The parts that were a bit of a let down for me were:
  • Molly Weasley's BIG line
  • Neville's killing of the snake
  • the battle post-Harry's death
Why these parts weren't so great:

There was no lead up to Mrs. Weasley's line.  I didn't even know Bellatrix and Ginny were battling.  They barely even show Ginny's face.  Without that build-up of Ginny being targeted by Bellatrix, the line didn't pack quite the same punch.  Though Mrs. Weasley is still AWESOME.

I thought Neville killed the snake in front of EVERYONE.  Harry was faking dead, and Neville was standing up to Voldemort.  Harry disappears under the invisibility cloak, Neville kills the snake with the sword of Gryffindor, Voldemort freaks out, but invisible Harry starts shooting out protective spells to protect everyone from Voldemort's fury.  The movie didn't do it that way.  Harry was visible and distracted Voldemort.  Neville didn't have a big crowd when he killed the snake.  I really wanted Neville to have his five minutes of fame in the movie.  And I really liked the idea of an invisible Harry protecting everyone in the book.  So that whole last bit of battle (after Harry died) was too cut up and different from how I pictured it.

But man did I bawl like a baby when Harry was going to surrender himself to Voldemort and die!  The movie was definitely emotional for me.

So now, I'm going to try to lose my memory of the Harry Potter books, so that maybe in 5 years, I can read them again and experience them almost like it was the first time....

Though Pottermore is coming out this fall...  Maybe I won't be able to forget them...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Everything is coming together!

I feel much better since my last post.  All my assignments for class are coming together.

Goose Girl Adaptation aka Dead Horse Talking is now revised and ready for it's final critique!  I had to work on fleshing out the relationship in the story and providing more closure at the end.  Summary of story: A childhood friendship is on its last leg as two teen girls grow apart, and a betrayal by one girl will be the last straw.

If you're interested in reading, Dead Horse Talking, shoot me an e-mail at

My second short story (after driving me a little crazy) is now ready to be revised.  I had a major brainstorming session and now know where I want to go with it.

For my YA Science Fiction class, I now finally have a paper topic.  I'm going to examine the female archetypal pattern of maiden to mother to crone in the character of Miranda in the YA post-apocalyptic novel, Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer.

For my Forms and Boundaries class, I'm going to do a short presentation on how graphic novels engage reluctant readers.  I will be using the texts Maus by Art Spiegelman and Malice by Chris Wooding.  I'll do a whole blog post on my presentation info sometime next week!

And I'm seeing Harry Potter DH Pt2 tomorrow with my Mom and Brother.  Who are coming to visit!  Because they are awesome!  Woo hoo!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Subconscious Mind

I had a little bit of a breakdown today because I realized a lot more of me is making it into my stories than I intended.  And I don't like it.

I was critiqued last night in my Fantasy class about a story I'd written from the point-of-view of an angel.  The story was about a teenage angel who goes on her first mission to Earth to help someone.  All she is given is a gigantic manual as her guide to helping people.  She goes down to Earth, is overwhelmed, but accepts a mission to help a mother who is concerned about her son.  The boy is being approached by a gang that wants to recruit him.  The angel ends up helping him by reversing a terrible choice he makes, thus giving him a second chance.

So after my critique, and having all these questions thrown at my under-developed story, my brain was buzzing.  This morning I was thinking about a big question that my teacher had asked me.  "Why did you turn Heaven into a bureaucracy?  It's interesting and funny, but you need to think about why you did it." (I'm paraphrasing her here.)  She also asked what it was saying about Heaven (and God) that they are sending their angels out unprepared with nothing more than a book.

So after looking up the definition of a bureaucracy.  And thinking.  I had a terrible epiphany.

This story was a big giant metaphor for my feelings about teaching.  And I hated it.

I am the angel, getting thrown into the world of trying to help people, with little more than a "manual."  And I get put into situations that I don't know the answers to, but my actions are life-changing to the people I'm trying to help.  And ultimately, I'm giving kids chances or opportunities that will help them escape evil in the world.

Yes the angel in my story was unprepared and lost at how to perform a miracle.
But at least she had magic words.

I feel unprepared for the miracles I'm expected to perform in my classroom.
And I don't have any clue where to look up some magic words.

I came to Hollins to read and write, and pursue MY DREAMS.  I got very angry and upset to see teaching working it's way into my writing subconsciously.  The subcontext of my story was not something I wanted to tackle in my writing, but it appeared anyways.

I'm leaving this story alone for a few days.  I need a break from it.  Especially now that I realize how personal it is, it's going to be draining to revise/finish.

In the meantime, I'll work on my teen girl story.  (Which also turned out to be much more personal than I intended, but at least it's not about teaching!)

This summer is going by entirely too fast.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Character Game

In my writing fantasy class, author Ellen Kushner came in for a visit and talked about characterization.  She shared with us a fun and amazing little game which she dubbed "The Character Game."

The Character Game is a way to get inside a character's head particularly if you're starting a novel or feel like your characters are flat and not fleshed out enough.

Very simple.  Only two people required to play, though you can have many more.

Author-Player decides on a character and will then have to answer all questions as if they are that character.

Question-Player then proceeds to bombard Author-Player with questions.  These questions CANNOT be plot questions.  Think more like "first date" getting-to-know-you type questions.

"What's your favorite color?"
"What do you eat for breakfast?"
"What's your least favorite smell?"
"What's your favorite holiday?"

Those types of questions.

Rough game time is 20-30 minutes, and by the end of that time, most authors have an epiphany type moment where their character is suddenly a fully actualized real person.

Trust me, it works!

And it's fun!

Anyone want to play?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Inside Scoop on the Newbery Medal

On Wednesday, we had a visit from Laura Amos, a current committee member for the Newbery award.  While she couldn't divulge anything about upcoming contenders for the 2012 award, she did give us insider information on what it's like to serve on the Newbery selection committee.

She first went over the history of the Newbery.  Which you can read here.  The founder of the Newbery, Frederic G. Melcher, was ahead of his time when he demanded that the selection of the winner be kept a total secret until the official announcement.  The secrecy has been great for publicity and creates excitement and speculation each year.

The measures to maintain secrecy were pretty fun to hear about.  The committee is made of 15 members who meet 4 times in person throughout the year.  The room that they meet in is never used and kept locked other than the 4 times they meet.  I couldn't help but picture a Mission Impossible style sneak in to plant a hidden microphone so you could hear their discussion and the winner.  Hehe!

You have to be either nominated or appointed to the Newbery committee and they have a new rule that you can only serve once every 4 years.  This was done to encourage more panel variety and to bring in fresh faces.

The committee reads books throughout the year (Amos said she's gotten boxes of 30 books sent to her house from publishers!) and on the 1st of every month they can send "recommendations" to other committee members.  Once a recommendation is made, all 15 members have to read the book.  The final day for recommendations is December 31 of that year.  When they meet to discuss and vote on the winner, it starts on a Friday morning and they must have a winner and press release prepared by 6:15am Sunday morning.  It is often difficult to get 15 people to agree, and they often have to vote, discuss, vote again, discuss, vote again, discuss, etc.

The runners-up were given the official title of Newbery Honor books in 1971.  And it is not required to name any Honor books each year.  It is up to the committee.

Cool bit of Trivia:
In 1953, the Newbery Medal Winner was Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark.  The runner up was Charlotte's Web by E.B. White.  It's rumored that someone on the committee didn't like E.B. White and didn't want him to win.

It was a really interesting lecture, and I'm probably leaving a ton out.  But if you have any questions, ask me!  I might have heard the answer!

For Writers:

I highly recommend following the SCBWI blog.  Every Friday, Alice Pope posts interesting news articles related to publishing and children's lit.  I always find them fascinating and feel more up to date in the biz because of it.

A sampling of articles from this week:

Why You Should Own Your Domain Name (GalleyCat)
Having an online presence is critical for writers to market their work. In a recent blog post, author John Scalzi urged writers to purchase their own domain name online.
Tablet, E-reader Owners Also Print Junkies (MediaPost)
People who are heavy print magazine and newspaper readers might seem like the last ones to embrace gadgets like tablets and e-readers. But new research from Gfk MRI shows tablet owners are 66% more likely than the average U.S. adult to be big print magazine consumers and 54% more likely to be heavy print newspaper readers. Similarly, e-reader owners are 23% more likely to be print magazine enthusiasts and 63% more likely to get newsprint on their hands.  
Cherish the Book Publishers—You'll Miss Them When They're Gone (WSJ)
The Klondikers of digital publishing are rushing to stake their claims, inspired by tales of the gold to be found in the Kindle hills. A few pioneering prospectors have indeed struck it rich with light entertainments, most famously Amanda Hocking, who is a sort of Tolkien for our times (if Tolkien had been an avid fan of "Star Wars" instead of an eminent scholar of "Beowulf"). Her self-published e-books racked up so many sales over the past year that St. Martin's Press recently signed her for some $2 million.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Week 3 Classes Part 2

Thursday classes went well:

Science Fiction

We discussed time travel book: Andre Norton's Time Traders and Madeline L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time.  We didn't get a chance to go to in depth with two books to discuss.  But the idea of time travel fascinates me, so that aspect was fun.

Still don't know what my term paper will be on... really need to get on that.

Forms and Boundaries

We are working with novels in verse, and I did some practice poems to share for critique.  I had never even attempted to write any poetry or novel in verse, but it turned out to be a lot of fun!  And apparently I'm pretty good at it.  People liked part of my poem so much that they demanded to hear the whole thing!    Here's the poem they liked (it was part of a series of 3 poems):

Dark purple lipstick
on a coffee thermos
on old stained teeth
She’s late
Strolling in
Like a furry brown sasquatch
Who still wears fur coats anyways?
At lunch
Food dribbles
Artichoke hearts
The liquid lingers
at the bottom
of her clear tupperware.
The tupperware is lifted

It was a character sketch. And the second poem shows my increasing frustration, and then the third shows a redemptive quality in the person and my change of heart.


I finally got critiqued!  And it went really well!
My teacher's first words on my paper were, "This was lovely."  Can't even tell you how good that felt!

Overall, my classmates said they loved it.  They said it had great teen appeal, excellent pacing and flow.  They liked my connections to the original tale.  They liked my characterization and the setting.  They said my dialogue was strong and believable.

My teacher said I picked out the parts of the fairy tale that best suited my story.  And she said that my story could stand alone; you didn't have to read the original tale for the story to work.

The big thing I have to go back and work on is defining the friendship between the two girls.  People commented that they couldn't tell why the two girls were friends if they were so different.  The friendship is supposed to be in a state of disrepair, and the two girls are holding onto something that's no longer there because of their past together and the convenience.  But that wasn't totally clear, and I have to develop that.  I probably didn't do a good job of establishing that because I didn't know that's where the story was headed when I started.

Encouragement is such a good thing for a writer.  I feel so validated.

Posts coming up this weekend:
-Inside Scoop on How Newbery Awards are Chosen
-Writing Tips and Tricks (featuring The Character Game)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Writing Diverse Characters

I teach in a very diverse school, and because of that I see the need and desire for literature with characters that are diverse.  My kids get excited when they hear about books with characters like them.

I wonder if I would like reading as much as I do if I hadn't seen characters and families that are a lot like mine.  I grew up on Boxcar Children and American Girl.  These books have white main characters and probably also have morals and cultural values that are similar to my own.

So here comes my dilemma.  They say write what you know.  Does that mean write from the cultural perspective you know?  Can I not write from a Latino or African American viewpoint because I don't understand?  But then how do we get more diverse books on bookshelves?

I'm in a graduate program for Children's Literature.  My classmates want to write, create, and publish books for children.  Let me breakdown the races of my classmates:

Of the 24 people I have class with:

  • 22 are white females
  • 2 are black females

There are no Asian or Hispanic people in my classes.

So who will write these books that reflect diverse cultures?  I see the NEED for them.  My kids WANT them.

This subject is on my mind for two reasons.

ONE- My most recent short story was as close as I've come to touching on race.  I wrote a story from the point of view of an racially ambiguous angel who saves an African American boy from being recruited into a neighborhood gang.  I had some experience with this issue, but it was still slightly uncomfortable to write in the way that it was outside my comfort zone.

TWO- I spoke with a professor today about a novel I'm working on.  I'd wanted to use references to the Underground Railroad because my novel deals with oppression and running away to freedom.  My professor cautioned me that unless my main character was going to be black, then I need to be very careful "touching" the Underground Railroad because people could take it the wrong way.  Right now, my main character is mixed/racially ambiguous, and I have a cast of characters who is very diverse.  But my cast is not strictly black.  She recommended I look into the Civil Rights movement instead.  Or connect it to the Holocaust because it sounded more connected to my themes.  But the Civil Rights doesn't fit the aspect of my plot that the characters would be running away and looking for safe havens.  And while I can see the Holocaust connections, I wanted to incorporate some African American heritage.

I don't have a solution to anything I brought up here.  So much of writing is subconscious and pulling from the experiences deep in the brain.  I don't think I'll ever be able to really write from within a culture that I'm not a part of.  I guess I was hoping that I could create racially ambiguous characters and then incorporate historical allusions that brought many cultures to the setting and plot of the text.  But I guess there are serious implications to even doing that.

I'd love to hear any thoughts on this subject.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Classes Week 3 Part 1

I can't believe I'm already in the third week of classes!  Ahhh!  Life needs to slow down!

Science Fiction

Of my three classes, I'm not gonna lie, this one is currently the most frustrating.  The reading load is very heavy.  (I had to read five books for classes this week alone.)  This is my only non-creative class, so I have a hard time getting excited and geared up to go.  It's first thing in the morning.  And I have no clue what I'm going to do my paper on.

In today's class we discussed Robert Heinlein as one of the founders of YA science fiction.  We read Rocket Ship Galileo (his first book) and Have Space Suit--Will Travel (one of his last books).  Both books were about space travel.  Galileo was especially ridiculous because it involves Nazis on the moon.  But overall, I was pretty impressed with Heinlein as a writer and really enjoyed his books.  I'm too tired to go into more detail than that, if you want more details... ask me.

Forms and Boundaries

This week we are looking at novels in verse and examining Nikki Grimes' Dark Sons and Karen Hesse's Witness.  I especially loved Witness and wrote a fantastic forms analysis paper on how Hesse creates dynamic characters through undercutting and set-up.  Here's my opening paragraph/thesis for my essay:

Karen Hesse is a master of creating dynamic characters in her verse novel Witness.  The reader observes Hesse’s wide cast of characters grow and develop over the course of the novel, especially the character of Leanora Sutter.  One way Hesse accomplishes creating a dynamic character is through undercutting.  The term undercutting is defined in Alexandria LaFaye’s The Primed Mind as “the depiction of emotion that shows the emotion and allows the reader to analyze it rather than leading the reader to a particular emotional conclusion through loaded language” (305).  Another method Hesse uses to show character growth is set-up.  LaFaye identifies three elements common in the set-up: backstory, foreshadowing, and revealing a character need (280).  The set-up fully prepares the reader for the change they will witness in the character at the story’s culmination.  In Hesse’s Witness, readers will observe Leanora change from hating white people to feeling empathy and respect for white people.
I really enjoyed writing this paper, which I can't often say about writing essays.  I think what was so enjoyable about the process was I'm really analyzing the author's craft and what makes their writing work, which is about as close as I can get to the creative process in an essay.  I still feel like I'm doing something to grow as a writer in doing this type of critical paper.


Today we briefly talked about point-of-view, which is a difficult thing to talk about because it is so case specific.  Different writers are comfortable writing in different POVs and different stories need to be told in different POVs based on the story's content and goals.  I don't know if I learned anything especially groundbreaking about POV tonight, but it was good to talk about.

We then critiqued four more stories.  Not mine.  I'm up on Thursday.  But it's been kind of nice being an observer because I've now pinpointed the people in class whose opinions I will most value because their writing style is similar to mine or they have superior knowledge of the craft.

Again.  Totally exhausted.  Meeting with two teachers tomorrow.  One to discuss Underground Railroad stuff for a book I'm working on.  Another to talk about doing an online independent study with her this fall/spring.  I'm determined to keep up with my writing this year and not let it fall by the wayside when I return home and start teaching again.

Oh!  And tomorrow we have a guest speaker at night who serves on the panel that selects the Newbery winners each year!  I'm excited!  Should be super interesting!

Until tomorrow...

Monday, July 4, 2011

Thoughts on Feeling Spoiled

Yes, I'm at grad school.  And yes it's a lot of work.  And yes sometimes I feel overwhelmed.

But when it comes down to it, I'm spending my days lounging around reading books.  Whether comfortable in a porch rocking chair or cuddled on a couch in the library, it struck me that not many people can afford to spend their days like this.  Reading for 3-6 hours at a time.

And when I drive around down here, it becomes glaringly clear that the opportunities I have would be considered luxurious to a lot of the people around me.

I don't know why I've been given such a good life.  Good family.  Good home.  Good education.  Good health.  It probably has a lot to do with this good country I live in.  So as much as I complain about the politics and the current state of education, I do see how lucky I am.

Happy 4th of July everyone.

Initial Thoughts on Witness

Novel in verse, quick read, very deep, love the wide cast of characters.

Brief Synopsis: Follows several characters as they deal with the Ku Klux Klan growing more powerful in Vermont.

Why I liked it: Each poem reveals something of the plot, but also reveals important details or developments in the characters.  The words are powerful.  There is symbolism in abundance.  And a nice hopeful, happy ending to leave you feeling like maybe the world isn't such a bad place.

If you liked Out of the Dust, this book is a must-read.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Brag a little...

I had a fantastic writing day today!

I wrote 3,072 words.
That translates to about 13 typed pages.

I'm on a roll with this second short story  :)

I swear, if I didn't have to teach, I could bang some books out.  My hands can't type fast enough and I have no shortage of story ideas.

Amanda Hocking's Trylle series

If you pay any attention to book publishing, then you will have heard the name Amanda Hocking.  This 26 year old landed a $2 million dollar four book deal with St. Martin's Press back in March after self-publishing her novels as eBooks and selling over a million copies.  Here is a link to a story on her in The New York Times.

So after reading this article last week, and hearing her name popping up constantly, I decided I needed to see what she wrote.  What is so great?  Is she a JK Rowling?  Is she a Stephenie Meyer?

I didn't want to read about vampires, so her paranormal romance series My Blood Approves was out.  I definitely didn't want to read about zombies so her Hollowland series was out.  Her other series is about trolls, the Trylle series, so however odd it sounded, it was better than vampires or zombies.

I really, really enjoyed the Trylle series.  Read it in 3-4 days.  Couldn't put the books down.

On Kindle, the first book is $0.99, and the 2nd and 3rd are $2.99.  Good deal.

Summary:  Wendy learns that she is a changeling, a troll swapped with a human baby at birth to grow up in a human family.  (Note: Trolls can be quite attractive in Hocking's universe.  They are distinguished by their special abilities, picky eating, fiesty temperament, uncontrollable hair, and disdain for wearing shoes)  When she finally decides to return to Trylle, the troll kingdom she is from, Wendy learns that she is a princess.  But being a princess is not all ballgowns and handsome princes.  The kingdom of Trylle is at war, the subjects are threatening treason, and the Queen fiercely believes that Wendy is the only one capable of bringing peace back to Trylle.

What I Loved:  Hocking creates really memorable and lovable characters.  At the end of the book, I wanted to go back and re-read from the beginning because I missed the characters.  And the protagonist, Wendy, grows soooooo much over the course of the books.  You really root for her.  The pacing and suspense is excellent.  The books were very hard to put down and the plot never dragged.  This is a big difference from Stephenie Meyer, considered the queen of paranormal romance, who would write huge sections of text with very little plot development but a whole lot of description of Edward's eyes and hair.  And finally the romance was much more true to life than a lot of teen romance out there.  Some people won't like it, but I thought it was true to life.  First love isn't the end all be all.  A boy can only break your heart so many times before you move on.  And when you grow as a person, what you look for in a partner changes.  Hocking's romance reflected that.

Criticism:  I think I'm a little too enthralled with the books right now to offer much criticism.  There were some typos (she self-published, it was to be expected).  I read on-line that people wanted more characterization of Tove and Loki.  I can see that, but I still loved Tove and Loki and they definitely weren't flat characters.  Some people said Rhys and Rhiannon just disappeared in the third book, and yeah they did.  Maybe she could have integrated them into the plot.  If you decide to read them, know that they aren't meant to be grand literary fiction.  They are definitely aimed at the YA market.  They are very much in the paranormal romance genre.  You have to expect that going in.  But in my opinion, they are a perfect summer read if you like that kind of stuff.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Week 2 Classes

I wasn't sure if I was doing the right thing in scheduling my classes for 9am til 9pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  I get brief breaks for meals, but I'm sitting in three 3 hour classes for a grand sitting time of 9 hours.  The first day of class wasn't so bad because it was just going over the syllabus and easy stuff.  BUT MAN!  Tuesday left me a walking zombie.  Tuesday night, I went to buy ice cream and then just kind of stared into space for awhile.  I rested pretty much all day Wednesday and didn't leave my bedroom til 2pm.  I did better on Thursday because I had rested and I knew what I was in for.  I also got lots of COFFEE.  Which helped a ton.  So.... I'm sorry I haven't posted in awhile, but here is a brief synopsis of what I've been up to:

Science Fiction

This week we discussed books that came early in the development of the science fiction genre.

Tom Swift and his Motor-Cycle
Published in 1910, one of the first affordable hardback series.  Focused on mechanics, engineering, motors, and transportation.

I wasn't too fond of this book while I was reading it.  The language and topics were very dated.  Most of the characters were flat stereotypes.  The plot was very predictable, but the character couldn't see the threats and villains right in front of him (which became very annoying).

However, after discussion, I see some merits to the text.  These texts were written for a public that maybe didn't read literature and so a lot of the explanation and stereotypes were necessary.  The books praised and glorified technology and innovation, which I think we need more of today.  We need more admiration and aspiration towards the sciences as opposed to other careers... athletes, actors, music.  The books also tried to set a morality and behavior standard.

I much preferred talking about Princess of Mars.

This book was much more fantastical and adventure driven than Tom Swift instead of a technology focus.  There were much more vivid descriptions and the characters were more fleshed out.

While we were discussing the book, I realized that the main character, John Carter, is the same name of the legendary hero in Terminator.  Which got me thinking about James Cameron movies, and I realized how many similarities there are between the book Princess of Mars and his films.  There are SO MANY similarities, so I searched around on the internet and found a blurb that James Cameron DID read Edgar Rice Burroughs as a kid.

I'm toying with the idea of writing a paper on Princess of Mars and James Cameron films.  Some similarities I would discuss:
  • John Carter as a Idealistic Time Traveling Hero
  • Romanticized Female Upper Class Figure
  • Humans vs Natives/Aliens
  • Social Class
  • World-Building
The last book we discussed, Skylark of Space, kind of blended Tom Swift and Princess of Mars in that it had the technological aspects but also had space adventure.  I found the book to be a little too heavy on the technical descriptions.  But the most interesting part of the book was there being two of everything: two heroes, two heroines, two villains.  That kind of thing interests me because a lot of what I write has multiple protagonists.

Forms and Boundaries

This week we focused on picture books, which isn't really my area of expertise nor what I desire to write.  But I can still have an appreciation for picture books.  We looked at two books that break the rules of the picture book genre.  

The first book we looked at was Black and White.  This book turned out to be a post-modernist picture book where the story is told in non-linear time with an unreliable narrator.  Basically, the book has four different plot lines, but by then end of the book you are very confused as to how the plotlines are all the same story but the impossibility of them all being interconnected.  For example, there is one plotline that is on a toy train station, but it becomes clear that the parents were at this toy train station... and they are full-sized.  It's all very mind-bending.  We talked about how a good picture book can be read over and over and still be appreciated.  This book can be read over and over at different ages and you will get something different out of it.

The next book we discussed is Zen Shorts by Jon Muth.  This book was genre bending in how it presents Asian Culture.  The books also makes great use of narrative gap where the author and illustrator leave it up to the reader to fill in what is happening between the unsaid moments in the story.  The story is about how a giant panda with an umbrella arrives in this family's backyard.  Each of the three children go to visit the Panda and then play games and the Panda tells each of them an Asian folktale.  The book is very charming and I like how it exposes children to Asian culture.

Writing Fantasy

On Tuesday, we discussed and looked at story beginnings.  I love how well-prepared for class this teacher is.  She always has custom handouts for us and great activities planned.  This class, she had taken the first paragraphs of several novels and short stories and looked at what made them effective openings. We examined what information we learned about the characters and their setting.  It was a really good exercise in reading as a writer.

This teacher also thinks writing exercises are extremely important.  She compared it to bar exercises for a dancer or practicing lay-ups for a basketball player.  Doing writing exercises is creating and maintaining neural pathways in your brain.  The more you use the connections in your brain, the easier it will be to access them when you are actually writing.  Also working through different challenging exercises will help you troubleshoot problems you encounter in your writing.  It made total sense to me.  I loved the way she put it.  She recommended a book of writing exercises called Steering the Craft by Ursula K LeGuin, that I definitely plan on ordering.

Our next class we did a brief exercise/discussion about setting.  She emphasized that setting details should not be lengthy in children's books.  Setting details should be carefully chosen.  The details should be enough to give a picture and convey the tone of the scene.  Kind of a less is more approach that I agree with.  (Though lengthy, detailed, gorgeous setting descriptions are fun to write)  She also said that if you're going to spend a whole paragraph describing something, it better be important to the plot.  Time spent describing something should be directly proportional to how important it is to the story.

We also did the first four critiques of our short stories.  My piece won't be up for critique until next Thursday.  So far, I'm very impressed with how the critiques have gone.  For the most part, I feel like my classmates have great feedback and constructive criticism.  However, my teacher is a spot-on critic.  Her feedback is insightful and I enjoy listening and learning from it even if it isn't directly about my piece.  I'm so impressed with everything that comes out of her mouth.

Our next short story has to be from the point-of-view of a non-human.  It's very open-ended.  Right now, I'm leaning towards writing from the point of view of an angel.  I have an idea for the plot, but it hits kind of close to home (teaching) and I'm not sure how I'm going to have it end because I don't know the solution to this very real-world problem.  We'll see.  I'm very much in the beginning stages at this point.

Have a book series / author blog post that I want to do, but will leave that til tomorrow.  So glad it's the weekend!