Thursday, September 16, 2010

End of a hiatus

After suffering a few rough patches of reality at the beginning of this year I am finally back on the field with only a few minor abrasions and pulled muscles. I did not spend my time away in total lack of production, quite the opposite. The Blue Zone has grown by several chapters over the summer months and continues to pick up speed with the start of a new semster. Starting off the semester with the creation of Chapter Eleven I have begun what I believe is the most fun party of storytelling. I have laid out all the little pieces, hints and tidbits of mystery and now I am pulling the thread together, building the tension, drawing the villain out. Now that I have fully brought Julian into play, I find myself contemplating his character. Yes, Julian is evil, but I believe all evil has motivations.
Last semester I did a chapter called Felix Chapter, which has finally been woven into the story in chapter eleven, stripped down, changed and weaved in through Mina's point of view. With Julian's chapter I am doing the same sort of set up. I wanted to plot out the events that would create such a monster, so I wrote up this relativley short disturbing piece about his family and childhood. I will definitely add to it, and I plan on weaving it into the story as well within the next few chapters, but it served its purpose in helping me understand my own character better and part of where his motivation begins. The violent death of Julian's mother at the "hands" of his abusive father first leads Julian down a path of real darkness when his anger leads him to retaliate and murder his own father. Unlike everything else to this point, I also wrote this in first person. there is something about first person that allows you to sink even further into a characters psyche that third person doesn't satisfy.
Still even after completeing this tragic scene, I am not thoroughly satisfied with the extent of Julian's motivations. I think I may bulk up the influence of Aunt Ilsa and the drive to climb the social hierarchy that exists in Julian's family. I also used Julian's history to create a more sympathetic character for myself. No one starts off evil. Even a monster like Hitler was once a child, who loved and laughed just like everyone else. I also used this chapter to hash out a concept that had been bothering me, does a school of magic dictate a person's nature? No, magic is not good or evil, it is a person who is good or evil. However, I also wanted to shape more rules for magic in this world. Therefore I came up with the concept that Dark Magic is more physical, my strength oriented, while White Magic revolves around the mind and thought. These differences will play an important role in the next few chapters, esspecially concerning Capricia's behavior and odd actions in drugging Mina.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Unyielding Curtain of Uncertainty

Despite myself, I found myself thinking about criticism I had recieved at Pope's workshop of all places during residencies and the advice he had for successful fiction. I clearly remember one piece of advice that made me cringe : Don't begin a story with the character waking up. I found myself tinkering with a very differnet beginnig for the Blue Zone, though after I got so far in, I realized it was a different novel altogether. Still, I want to post at least a chunk of it, because there is a certain cleansing factor to wallowing in one's mistakes.

Chapter One: Remix
She walked through the high grass, her fingertips tracing a parallel path at her sides as her long white skirts sighed against the growth. Stars winked in and out over head in a net of velvety black sky. The moon hung low, and was so full it blazed like daylight over the field. Laughter bubbled its way up from her belly, spilling into the night as the wind played with her long fiery red hair.

Mina sighed. The hair, that’s what gave it away. She knew it was a dream when that glorious red hair danced at the corners of her vision. It was the same color as her mother’s and very much not her own. But in dreams, wishes were reality. She had wished for this place many times. The night inhaled around her, drawing her attention to the left. There was the house, complete with its network of ivy clinging to every brick of the structure. Momma loved ivy, even when Daddy had argued it would eventually crumble the brick under it.

“Well then,” Momma had laughed, “we shall live in a house of vines.”

Momma was the only person Mina had ever known to actually possess a laugh like wind chimes. A laugh which reached her now. Mina’s mother stood on the concrete slab of a doorstep, waving to her. She wore a white dress that matched her daughter’s, glowing in the moonlight. Mina grinned, racing towards the house. Her momma was waiting.

The wind picked up. The smile slipped from Mina’s face as the world drained of color. The only color left was her mother’s red hair, which whipped across the woman’s face in the building wind. Fear pricked into Mina like thorns. She ran faster, but the grass pulled at her skirts and scraped up her legs. She began to call out, each word squeezing her throat tighter until she could barely breath.

“Mom!” Mina gasped. She was nearly there, just a few yards away. Her mother’s laughter still filled the air, except now the sound was sinister and twisted. The woman grimaced in fear. Mina reached for her when the house exploded.

The wind shrieked, drowning out all other noise. Mina cowered as shards of glass and wood splinters came at her. Pain appeared like black stripes in her eyes. She looked down. A sash of red silk twined around her legs, burning where it touched. More red threads wrapped themselves up her arms, caressing her face. Abruptly the wind ceased. The silence was worse, dreadful. Mina felt her eyes dragged to the wreck of the house. Her mother stood on the step, her hair still rising on a soundless wind. She looked perfect, immaculately white. All except for the tiniest drop of red on her stomach. Threads of red grew out from that tiny drop like spider webs, growing thicker as they went.

Her mother burst into shreds of blood red silk. Mina screamed.

The scream followed her out of the nightmare. Mina sat up, shoving her hand into her mouth to stop herself. She didn’t stop the noise fast enough. Her roommate Sarah nearly fell on the floor as she rushed over.

“Mina!” Sarah wrapped her way too thin arms around her. It was like being hugged by a friendly spider. Mina quickly squashed that thought, Sarah had been nothing but wonderful to her and to her great disgust she was quaking in the tiny girl’s embrace.

“Was it another one of those dreams?” Sarah whispered, gently pushing Mina‘s sweat soaked hair out of her eyes. Mina struggled to calm down, she was four years older than Sarah, it was silly the other girl had to comfort her every time she had a nightmare. Frustrated, she swatted the girl’s skeletal hand away, regretting it immediately when she saw the hurt in her roommate’s face.

“I’m fine Sare-bear,” Mina muttered, trying to make peace. Sarah nodded, scuttling back to her bed without another word. She quickly put her back to Mina, obviously miffed but too nice to snap back. The older girl almost wished she would, it felt like kicking a puppy the way that girl cringed at every harsh word that left Mina’s mouth.

She sighed, resting on her knees. To her great disgust, she was soaked in sweat, so much it felt like it pooled in her sheets. Mina climbed out of bed, shivering as the air cooled her skin. She refused to sleep in that mess and the staff wouldn’t be around to change the sheets until morning. But she had other options. The door to this room with blessedly unlocked since she had been moved to the low risk ward and Mina intended to take full advantage of that privilege. Within ten minutes she was laid out on one of the many couches of the common room, comfortable despite the occasional whiff of old urine and cleaner. She did her best to ignore it and closed her eyes, trying to reclaim sleep.

Her clothes clung to her uncomfortably, nearly strangling her when she rolled over. When she straightened out that, her scars ached and itched. She carefully scratched around the nasty ones on her legs until she left red stripes on her skin. Ten minutes later, her hair tickled her nose, making her sneeze. Mina gave up, the sky was beginning to lighten anyway, which meant the night shift nurses would be gathering soon for Paperwork Hour.

Mina grabbed the ratty afghan hanging off the back of the couch and wrapped herself in it as she made her way down to the desk. It helped stop the shivery feeling despite the fact it made her look like a bag lady. Her journey proved a success when she caught sight of Nurses Bennett and Washbourne, the two nurses she could stand in this place.

Jeannie Bennett had been the first nurse to treat her like a normal person in this miserable place, and Max Washbourne was one of a handful of male nurses probably in existence, as well as being one of the most relaxing people to talk to. It was Max who glanced up from his paperwork first at the sound of shuffling feet, his tired face lighting up in a wonderful expression of concern.

“Mina, dear? Good gravy man, what are you doing up before the sun rise?” Max never swore, and spoke like a cross between an 18th century gentleman and Shaggy from the Scooby Gang. He ran a hand through his nest of quietly graying blond hair, massaging the muscles in his neck as Jeannie turned to Mina with open arms.

“Hunny, you having those god awful nightmares again? Please tell me you’ve been taking your meds on schedule.” She wrapped Mina in a tight hug. Mina loved Jeannie hugs. The woman always smelled like cinnamon, even after a night of work. She nodded into Jeannie's shoulder.

“I keep taking them, but I don't think my nightmares care if I'm taking sleep meds or not.” Wrapped up in Jeannie's hug the night caught up to her, Mina stifled the urge to sob. She missed her mother desperately and having an older woman hug her was almost unbearable. She gently pulled away, not wanting to reveal her feelings to Jeannie. It seemed the older woman caught on anyway, sympathy pinching her face as she ruffled Mina's still damp brown hair.

“You look far too tired for such an important day sweet heart. Why don't you go catch a nap in the staff lounge?” Jeannie pulled the keys off her wrist, much to Mina's surprise.

“But Jeannie patients can't do that, besides what's so important?” Mina got another shock when Max swore just under his breath. Jeannie's face darkened, Mina had never seen her so angry.

“Didn't Mr. Lyme tell you your out patient evaluation was this afternoon?” Jeannie asked quietly fuming.

Mina sighed. Mr. Lyme worked in one of the few offices at the center, though his actual job title had never been made clear to her. She knew his duties included such interesting tasks as drawing up the nurses shift schedules, writing requisitions for medications and other hospital supplies, arranging staff meetings to coordinate healing activities for the patients. It was also his job to inform patients of the various performance evaluations they had to undergo during their recovery. She knew the man did many tasks for the center and all around was a decent guy, in fact she saw him only yesterday. He really should have told her then, but Mina knew why he didn't, and for that reason she couldn't get mad.

“It probably slipped his mind,” Mina said as nonchalantly as she could, ignoring Max and Jeannie's shared expression of confusion. “Besides, Jeannie, I have a shift with him at 9 A.M. He could be saving it as a surprise.”

Jeannie snorted, slipping the keys to Mina anyway. “You go sleep on it, love, I'll wake you in an hour and half before I leave for the day.”


Lost Masterworks

Having recently finished a rather interesting text for another class, titled Lost Masterworks of Young Adult Literature (ed. By Connie S. Zitlow) I find many contemplative thoughts springing to my mind. The collection featured several essays by writers, teachers, critics, librarians and other literary minded ilk spotlighting works that have either gone out of print, been severely over looked by the literary community, or have miraculously resurfaced. In other words it covered a wide range of topics concerning a genre of literature oh so dear to my heart. Many of the books I have not heard of, for they went out of print before I entered the realm of young adult fiction, others I have read and was shocked to learn they were no longer in print or were in danger of meeting that big paper shredder in the sky. For instance, having read The Changeover, I personally sought out Margaret Mahy’s other works, only to find out her Catalogue of the Universe is now out of print. I also had no idea Sue Townsend’s Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Age 13 ¾ was such a neglected text, since it was one of my personal favorites growing up. However, the most illuminating essay was the very last one, by Margie G. Lee, who penned her thoughts of her first book going out of print.

It is eerie how much her thoughts echo my own even now. She spoke of writing as an author’s vain attempts to escape mortality, how seeing one’s book go out of print was almost like having a family member die. In my early dreams of becoming an author, I had very much the same thoughts, that creating a book, getting published, was a secret ticket to immortality all writers shared. I could be the next Charles Dickens, whose words have lived well beyond his life span.

Truth and disillusionment really didn’t hit till college. I, myself, was a novelty in a small town high school, few people had such grand ambitions, or were willing to stick with them come hell or high water. I wasn’t completely under the veil of cotton candy clouds and pink sugar trails. I understood the livelihood of a writer was difficult, making a living as a writer was extremely rare, and while you hear about the success stories, there are plenty of relatively successful writers who scrape a living in between two jobs and near starvation. I expected to slave over my craft, and persevere through the ugly stack of rejection letters. But none of that mattered, because if I achieved the ultimate prize, if I got published, then I had achieved my slice of immortality, I would live ‘forever’ through my great works.

Terms like “out of print” never even crossed my mind. Really it should have. Did I really think the century Dickens wrote his masterworks produced no other writers? It is staggering to think how many writers have already slipped into obscurity. Dickens is one of the lucky ones, the chosen popular few. How few writers will escape my generation intact? Will they escape based on their merits or perhaps, their girth? Will a writer like James Patterson, who is now nothing more than a name used to sell books by lesser known authors, be someone who is remembered a century from now? Or will J.K. Rowling be one of the historical greats? Harry Potter shall be the new Oliver Twist. Will something I write find enough of a foothold, enough of a fan base, enough prestige to land in the annuls of the literary elite that perhaps I will steal a small slice of immortality after all? Perhaps. Or maybe it will find a few more centuries of readers before it slips into oblivion.

Margie G. Lee also spoke of the great lengths she went to trying to find a new publisher for her first book, going so far as to put the completion of her new work on hold in her quest to breath life back into a dead novel. Truthfully I know in her shoes I would do the same thing. I would weather hell and high water to find a way. Her essay also proved something. Out of Print books have a very nasty and inaccurate stigma to them. Lee’s book was not put out of print because of slumping sales or bad press, but rather by a common business practice; when her publishing house was bought out by a bigger house, they cut the list of books the house had in print, Lee’s included. This is a business practice that happens fairly often, not that any one told Lee this. Still in her search to find another publisher, she found door after door essentially slammed in her face because her book had the out of print stigma hovering over it. “It is out of print therefore it must have sucked”. Considering how fast books flash in and out of stores these days I wonder how many of them are actually labeled with this devastating stigma or how many were just warehoused to make room for the new junk or best sellers. For example I usually find an entire bookcase dedicated to Stephanie Meyer, whose Twilight series is the soap opera of my generation. Heaven help me if I want to find Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness series or any of Diana Wynne Jones’s beautifully written young adult novels. I know these books are not out of print, and sometimes I do find them, when they are not overshadowed by the EdwardBellaJacob triangle of love.

But these books are becoming harder and harder for me to find, a fact that depresses me, these are my favorite authors, they have written some of the most meaningful books of my life. Will I see them go out of print in my life time? Very probable. On the other hand, there is always that glimmer of a possibility my books find publication. If that is the case, I know where to point a finger for my readers. You like my stuff, well then meet my predecessors. In fact it would be the highlight of my literary career if a critic ever roped my work into the same league as Jones or Pierce.

While Margie G. Lee’s words are illuminating in their honesty, and reveal a side to the publishing world I actively try to ignore as a writer and a book lover, I still find gleaming of hope in her words. Her story is one of success. While her first book did go out of print, she eventually found the publisher who helped pump life back into it. A publisher who was in fact the same one who rejected the book when she first sought to get it published decades earlier, a fact which really says rejection doesn’t always mean rejected forever.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Getting Started

There is nothing quite so frustrating as finally sitting down to your computer, after going to painstaking means to put aside time in the first place, and finding yourself staring numbly at a blank screen with no idea how to begin. You find yourself gently tapping the keys just to give your restless fingers something to do. I find myself in this predicament all too often these days and it is a sensation that makes me want to pull my hair out. It is especially painful after spending a grueling 8 hour day, working a double job of book store employee and playing mom, a double duty which leaves me drained, irritated, and exhausted by the time 4:30pm rolls around. Everyday I have dragged the extra 20 lbs of laptop and books along with me to try and get homework done in between shelving, customers and mommy time. I haven’t even had a chance to turn it on the past three days whatsoever. You would think getting work down at home would be easier, but between household chores, making dinner, and further mother duties, the hours just seem to slip away, until I find myself staring at a blank computer screen at 9:30pm, trying to remember how to spell my name. My husband has found me slumped over more than once, and kindly tucked me in. So here I am after finding a baby sitter for Malcolm, after getting the house essentially to myself, and I must have spent the last fifteen minutes trying to figure out where to go from there. After my eyeballs started pulsing I had to start ranting or I think they may have fallen out of their sockets. Still a page of ranting and raving about everyday difficulties is great therapy, everyone needs someone to rant to, even if it a blank computer screen. I am starting to feel a genuine tingle of motivation creeping into my fingers now. Perhaps this day shall not be wasted after all.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Reading Response: Art and Fear

Reading Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland was far more revealing than I anticipated. I have never had the opportunity to read a text which so thoroughly nailed down the writers mindset, truthfully I never really thought artists were such predictable creatures. I learned I am very misguided.

Art and Fear had several insightful observations not only about the current generation of artists, but human nature in general. I had not really thought of how completely unsupported the making of art is in this day and age until reading this text. I had a certain skewed understanding of it, watching the continued crumbling of the publishing world and its morals, but I did not comprehend this atrophy applies to all forms of art. It is true though, in today’s day and age, it is rare to find the writer/painter/potter etc, who makes a living solely on their craft. Many artists must compliment their meager artistic earnings with a nine to five job. I know because I do work a 40 hour a week job, and all the trappings that come with it. It is an odd feeling when say 100 years ago, one could earn a living by becoming a writer, 50 years ago writers were able to make a living off their work. Something changed, drastically, to the point where the crafting of art is almost looked down on or seen as a tier only the fabulously talented and willing to starve aspire to. The term “starving artist” is not a new phrase, but it seems to have taken on an almost vicious edge in today’s consumer driven world. Bayles covered many issues, from self doubts, to quitting, to the difficulties artists face in the current times trying to find their niche in the art world, if they have a niche at all.

The chapter that spoke the most to me in this text was Fears About Yourself. While it is sobering to realize how completely some of these fears fit me, such as the fear that you are only pretending to do art because you doubt your artistic ability, is one that has plagued me for years. There is always that nagging doubt in the back of my mind when I read over something I have written of “who the hell would read this?” or “what are you playing at? This is rubbish.” I have novellas I can’t even look at without cringing as they sit on my shelf collecting dust because I don’t think they are could enough to mess with. But Bayles also points out, you have to make a lot of bad art before any good art comes out of it. His example of the divided pottery class was excellent, as well as a statement that really struck a chord with me: Artists often dream about already finished work, not the crafting of the work.

I can not even count the number of times I have day dreamed myself at a book signing, having achieved J.K. Rowling status-like fame, having just bought a castle with my oodles of money from my amazing book sales. *Snort* Yes it is easy to dream such dreams, but I honestly do not daydream myself swearing and sweating over a keyboard, trying not to beat my head on the desk as I try to get the words out of my head and onto the page. But writers are allowed to produce bad work, its called drafts. I could not believe William Kennedy rewrote one of his novels eight times before he was satisfied with it. At the same time it is a work ethic I am trying to cultivate.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Response to Roger Sutton’s Blog

Reading Roger Sutton’s Blog was highly enjoyable, mainly because reading his blog pieces was very similar to conversations I have with a wonderfully flamboyant and intelligent coworker of mine. Although I started reading by skipping around, I ended up reading a few dozen posts, his sense of humor and insights into the publishing work are easy to get into. Plus, Sutton often references genre fiction, which is wonderful because I am surrounded by genre fiction all day long, as my store specializes in mysteries, romance, westerns, and children’s. Despite the amount of giggling I did while reading his posts, I also had some interesting personal insights.

One of his posts dealt specifically with mystery writing, as he was currently reading Lisa Scottline’s latest book in her Bennie Series. He spoke of how ludicrous the plot was but how he would not only finish the novel but eagerly await the next book. This sentiment brought to mind two questions. How long should a mystery writer keep a reader in suspense, or how long should they drag out the element of suspense, but the reader becomes too frustrated and throws the book across the room? I ran into this problem outside of the mystery genre just reading Robin Mckinley’s Beauty, which drags out its final plot elements to the point I could feel my teeth grinding as I read it. While her character development is wonderful, there is definitely a feeling it is far too dragged out, it takes nearly half the book before Beauty even meets the Beast. In my own writing this is also a large worry I have. I always wonder how much I want to reveal with a chapter and what I want to save for later, how much later, when will my reader feel I have kept too much hidden for too long and throw the book across the room. And yet the right amount of suspense is golden, fuel for the fire, it keeps the reader strung along, unable to put the book down. For all I don’t like his books, Dan Brown is the king of suspense. The Da Vinci Code consists of two to three page chapters each bloody one ending in a cliffhanger but by god you can’t put that book down.

The second question Sutton asked in this post was in a character series what unforgivable mistake does the writer have to make in order for the series to be dumped? This is a very scary feeling and again applies across multiple genres. I myself dumped the Anita Blake series by Laurel K Hamilton when her books became too raunchy. He even mentioned that perhaps the author did not truly make a mistake so much as fail to hook the reader from the beginning. I have to point a finger at Patterson in this case. The man does not even writer his own novels anymore, but the Alex Cross series sells like mad, even after he actually had a commercial where he threatened to kill the character off if not enough people bought his book. Ugh.

Aside from Sutton’s insights on writers, he also had many posts which shed more light on the world of publishing and selling. I found his post on’s war with Macmillan a bit unsettling. I know I am treading tricky ground here but I have always had issue with book pricing, I love working in a used book store that sells books for $1 -$4 because I hate how much Borders expects people to pay for the pleasure of reading in our current economy. When Amazon attempted to sell Macmillan’s books for cheaper than the publisher wished, Macmillan pulled all there stock out of Amazon. Okay, but I am not going to stop using Amazon because I am a poor working class housewife and Amazon helps me afford school books. It is hard to defend Macmillan’s decision, or Amazon’s reaction when I have been perpetually torn over book pricing for years now. Still it was insightful to read about the situation. I wonder how I would feel if I were a published writer in this scenario.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Masochism Tango, the typist’s lament

A shorter entry, really to vent my frustration more than anything.

I want someone to explain to me why it takes longer to type out handwritten work than it does to actually hand write the work? It seems like it is taking three times as long to type my chapters into the computer than it did originally writing the entries out long hand. Where is the big hiccup I wonder? Is it in glancing back and forth from paper to screen and needing to find my place again every time, the constant need to go back and correct what my oh so nimble fingers have gargled on the screen, or perhaps it’s the teeth gritting need to correct all the obvious glaring errors in my spelling and grammar, not that I catch half of them anyway until I go back to see what I’ve written. I know realize one of the reasons I truly stopped writing out my work long hand was the frustrations I have with copying the text onto the computer screen. That and it became harder and harder to read my hand writing, unless I wrote in cursive at which point my hand would cramp up.

Okay frustration vented. Back to the typing board.

Musical food for thought

I never really thought about it much, but it is nigh impossible for me to work without the benefit of music. The itunes library on my computer has a song list that literally lasts for ten straight days if I just left it playing. That’s a lot of tunes. The taste in music is eclectic as well. I listen to a wide, wide range of music in genres across the board, much like I read books in every genre across the board. I enjoy a trashy romance as much as I enjoy a riveting memoir. Likewise I have play lists for music ranging from soft comfy tunes, to harsh angry music I like to play when I am pmsing.

I even have three different play lists of music to write to. One with fast paced, pounding music which I find helps me write action oriented stories, or stories that have to keep up a rhythm. I have a mix of silly fun music that helps me relax into a writing mood, sort of like watching Stranger than Fiction gets those creative juices flowing. And, aaaand, I have a play list specifically for writing academia. I titled it my Mind Meld list, which mostly consists of classical music, certain wordless soundtracks, such as lord of the rings, and for some reason a great deal of Enya. The point of the mind meld list is to provide music without the possible hitch of singing along to my favorite songs, whose lyrics have a bad habit of creeping into my papers. (“Why are the words “Sassy Brat” in the middle of this essay on Jane Austen‘s Pride and Prejudice, Kristin?”)

Still I find it interesting this development has taken such firm root in my entire work habit. For as long as I can remember, even back as far as my first “highly” functioning computer in high school, I would slog that thing full of music off of every CD I could jam in there, create this extensive play list that wouldn’t repeat back to the first song for five hours and work all night long to music. It has literally become part of my writing process at this point. With music playing, the typing is smoother, faster, more regimented. I’m not sure what to call such a technique, but I guess each writer has their own methods to their individual madness.

The Masochism Tango, part deux

When I was much younger and lived in a house with nothing more than a DOS word processor safe guarded in my parents’ bedroom, I used to scribble everything long hand. I filled notebooks upon notebooks with my lefty scrawl, and I was proud of my efforts, but in my handwriting I could fill a sixty page notebook with five chapters of writing. Granted once typed out and edited a bit, this produced about maybe twenty pages, but it sure felt like I was writing novel length stories in those notebooks. Hell twenty typed pages still felt novel length when you are 12 years old. I was just rearing up in my ambitions too. Still it was a relief when my family acquired its first family computer, which I would spend hours on, or until dad kicked me off, typing away. It was one of those old school word processor types, which printed everything in hard to read gray scale, on double perforated paper, but it was a step up from the ancient electric typewriter which refused to type e, g, or c. I never knew how many words needed the letter e until I didn’t have one.

Back to the moral of the story, I used to write out everything by hand, in fact used to write instead of paying attention to the lesson in class. But since they thought I was taking notes it is amazing what you can get away with. I was a decent student, really good at essays, so they never clued in. A side effect of all this writing was a remarkably noticeable indent in the middle finger of my left hand. There was an actual pencil shaped groove from the death grip I kept on my writing utensil. It was also usually the color of pencil lead. As time went on, and my access to computers became blessedly more commonplace, the groove slowly began to fade. In college, even if my computer of the moment was having a persnickety moment, I had access to computer labs all over campus.

So here I am nearly a decade since my finger groove had begun to smooth itself out. It’s amazing how fast that groove reforms when you have no choice but to write everything out by hand. I definitely have a new respect for computers after not having much access at all to one for just a few weeks. I think I actually did a celebratory dance when we bought the lappy. But sometimes I still find myself, tracing the familiar pencil gray indent on my middle finger with fond memories.

The Avatar Effect

Okay this is a post of outrage.

As recently pointed out to me by my habit of watching Today while getting ready for work, movie theaters have sneakily hiked their prices more and more for 3-D movie showing, which are now all the rage due to the outrageous success of Avatar. On top of that was the unexpected success of Alice in Wonderland which also broke box office records. How bad are the prices you ask?

Well the news anchor pointed out with a slight green look of disgust on his face that a family of four will have to pay about $100 including any refreshments that is, to see movie in 3-D.


This does not make sense to me; maybe I think the movies should be more accessible especially in a time of economic crisis where a two hour movie is the only vacation way too many families can afford. What makes even less sense, is Hollywood is not the one demanding the price hikes. They are happy, movie goers are at an all time high, they like the numbers they are seeing. So why is this necessary? The Today show doesn’t think this necessary; they attacked this price hike like white on rice.

But you know what bothers me most of all about this back stabbing price hike? This is going to make new movies as bad as new books.

I have long been disgusted with the price of a new hardcover book, long disgusted with the whole publishing industry as a matter of fact. This is why I am happily working at a used bookstore. Sure I would love to be one of those writers who makes so much money of their work they live in a Scottish castle, but as a reader, my heart is with the Book Barn, where I can purchase an 8 dollar paperback for a buck and a $25 hardcover for $4 or $5 bucks. There is something even more satisfying than that. Its having a family come in and walk away with a stack of books knowing this place has provided them a way they can live off their budget and not get raped by Borders or Barnes and Nobles. I have helped teachers stock their classroom libraries, knowing they have to stock their classroom out of their own pocket.

So yeah, something like a movie ticket price hike fuels my outrage all around for the price this country tries to place on its entertainment. Books and movies are meant to entertain, to help you laugh or cry or just forget the world is in rough shape for five minutes. They are meant to be a source of wonder, of learning, of seeing worlds in a new perspective. It disgusts me businesses feel it’s necessary to make these precious items more and more unattainable.

Yet, Borders has the gall to complain about Walmart offering books at a cheaper price then they do. Gee, golly whiz, that sure sounds hard to do. And yet not a peep about BJ’s doing the same thing… riiiight. Still, on a lighter note, I have to say it is deeply satisfying to know places like the Book Barn exist, and continue to thrive despite having no form of advertising other than word of mouth. Okay so I don’t have the “at my fingertips” selection that the big boys have, but working in a used bookstore, (which also sells $4 DVDs I might add) has taught me good things come to those who wait. So I shall wait out this absurd price increase in entertainment, firmly holed up in my used book store.

And then there are the true pioneers…

Okay I have said my piece about companions and adaptations, now here is the main course of the tirade. Rewritten Fairytales.

Rewritten fairy tales have almost become a genre unto themselves, with writers like Cameron Dokey, Donna Jo Napoli and Robin McKinley, creators of strong representations of the art that can be wrought from a three page Grimm’s fairytale. It is interesting to see a three hundred page novel take shape from these short, sparsely detailed stories. Rewritten fairytales is in particular a genre I like to work in. While I enjoy creating completely original worlds, or at least as original as I can make them, there is a satisfying concept to recreating fairytales, mainly because so many of them have endings I find unsettling. I am unsettled by happily ever after! I am not satisfied with the behavior of the women in these fairytales, hell even the men usually leave something to be desired. By really I am not satisfied with the motivations in these fairytales. So sue me if I have a problem with the concept of love at first sight, though I am a true believer in lust at first sight, but I don’t believe in a lust so immense these princes would be flinging themselves in great peril just to get a date. Plus what if the rescued maiden or princess turned out to be atrociously awful? Well then you’re stuck with her…happily ever after.

Perhaps the reason the old school fairytales do not satisfy anymore is because they no longer serve their original purpose. Originally fairytales were supposed to be moral tales, stories that taught you what to fear and to respect the things that go bump in the night. By the night has gotten considerably smaller, the unknown is slowly shrinking, there are new things that give us chills while walking alone at night. It used to be beware of vampires and werewolves while walking the dark highways of night, but now our monsters are more human, but just as dangerous. Fairytales need a new purpose, perhaps they can still tell a moral but the moral needs to be tweaked to fit a more modern time.

The writers who undertake rewriting myths, folktales, fairytales, legends and so forth now, have different goals in mind than scaring the wits of their audience. I have personally found in the numerous reworked and reshaped fairytales I have read, these works explore a great deal more of the human psyche, the motivations behind the face value approach fairytales originally gave. One really stunning example is Beast by Donna Jo Napoli, which retells the Beauty and the Beast story from the Beast’s point of view. Napoli had nothing more to springboard off of for that story than one version of the fairytale which happened to mention the Prince was from a middle -eastern country and bam, Napoli created an eloquent story of a prince’s pride being his downfall, his eagerness to gain the wisdom of adulthood leading to his curse. It follows his attempts for survival, his long journey to France, his work to make the abandoned castle he finds a suitable home for Belle, even his sorrow when she doesn’t return back to him at her promised time.

Truthfully, this makes for the more interesting story.

This is what I seek to do with my own rewritten fairytales. I want to explore the human motivations behind the characters. I have trouble believing a character who falls in love at first sight, unless there are some strong motivations behind it.

Flattery will get you everywhere...

Continuing on a thought from yesterday, after broaching the subject of the Companion novel it seems only natural to mention the odd success that adaptations enjoy. Adaptations are not in the same league as companion novels though many would be quick to loop them into the same category. Truthfully, adaptations, while operating on some of the same guidelines as Companion novels, have a great deal more freedom in their construction. And speaking of the construction analogy here, if a companion novel is an attempt to build something new in an already constructed universe, an adaptation, or retelling is basically knocking the old universe down and building something new fangled on its sturdy foundation. The same characters might be there, but they have been outfitted with new personalities, new clothes, new time period, new motivations, and so on. This is why adaptations are so popular, and also the secret to their success. When a writer sets out to retell an old story, they don't set out to continue it as writers of companions do; instead they set out to create something new, with a few bits of borrowed material.

Indeed, I think the success formula of adaptations is that they bring a level of familiarity, even comfort to the reader while creating a new story. Plus adaptations are expected to take interesting liberties with the characters they are borrowing for their piece. Frank Beddor took extreme liberties in his Looking Glass Wars trilogy, blending science fiction and fantasy elements to create a very unique version of the Alice in Wonderland story. There is mystery series featuring the charming duo of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy as a pair of genteel sleuths. Not to mention the fifty or so different versions which borrow the lovers for various works of romance, chic lit, and other genres it has actually become difficult to remember how the real Mr. and Mrs. Darcy behaved, though the romances are interesting. An even more reproduced set of characters would be the knights of Arthurian legend. There have been retellings of Arthurian legend in every century, including this one, such as the very memorable Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley.

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, I wonder if any of the creators of the original characters were still alive to see their creations behaving as such what they would have to say to such a statement then. Somehow I don’t think Austen would necessarily be pleased with Mr. Darcy in a few of the romance novels I have come across, then again….she might.

Not Necessarily the End anymore...

There is definitely something to be said for those brave enough to take the scariest step of all and build on a classic. I am speaking of the treacherous world of companion novels, a field considerably more dangerous even than simply writing a completely original work. Why?

Because it is so easy to fail.

Companions are risky because they attempt to build in an already constructed universe. These writers take well known, well loved characters and attempt to carefully place them into an entirely new storyline, taking all the character's baggage with them. No wonder so many fail. There have been several attempts at successfully continuing the adventures of everyone's favorite pipe smoking detective, but avid Sherlockians will pounce viciously if Holmes so much as steps a toe out of character. And don't you dare mess with Watson.

And yet more and more writers, including screenwriters are attempting the mine field of continuation. Many suffer the flames but a few have pulled into an interesting flair of success. While Ripley's Scarlett, a continuation of Gone with the Wind, fell flat on its intentions, Tim Burton's screenplay continuation of Carroll's Alice in Wonderland has met with great commercial success. What is the formula?

Tim Burton did have a visual canvas to recreate his story but that doesn't change the hazardous conditions. He was still charged with creating a new story with characters that still rang true to their original form. A difficult task for any writer. Burton got around this but simply adding more dimension. Yep the Hatter is still mad as well as hatter, but now he is brave, the leader of a rebellion, a protector. But the Hatter is still true to form, slipping in and out of lucid sanity on the screen. Even Alice, who is portrayed as thirteen years older must keep to certain standards. The new Alice maintains her sense of wonder and curiosity, her disbelief in the world she has landed in, while also allowing for character growth and development. It is a fine line to walk, and although many people have enjoyed the new story of Alice in Wonderland, I haven't heard anyone say it is better than the original. This is another consequence a writer must deal with in this particular category. Writing a true sequel to a work that has become a well loved classic always comes with the price of being held up to the original masterpiece, most likely the reason most companion novels do not fare so well. Still there are always exceptions, which is probably why writers keep trying.

The Masochism Tango

Once again technology and I have danced the deadly dance, in which I make sure I don’t have any hammers in easy reach, and unfortunately I lost. Again. My track record with technology is not a good one. This could have something to do with everything I learned about computers I learned from my father who would just slam the keyboard until it “fixed itself” or would hit the blue screen of death, at which point he would turn off the machine and leave it alone for a little while. I guess he thought it would pout it out. The machine/ paper weight I took to college with me the first time had only dial up capabilities and had a surly habit of eating my documents and or floppy disks if it was so inclined. I have many hard copies of my writing efforts of that time because if I didn’t make a hard copy it was very likely it would be lost forever. The next computer I got with inheritance money from an unfortunate passing in the family crashed about three days after I got it, defective mother board. They replaced it for “free” with a slightly down-graded model which lasted me three years!! Though about two years after I got it I had to leave it on all the time because it started like a dying cat when I tried to turn it on. It actually wheezed. The computer after that, which is currently out of commission on a geek squad friend’s coffee table, was a wonderful machine, except that it picked up viruses like Augustus Gloop meets Godiva Chocolates. I have tried about 9 different virus protection programs on this machine, but it always finds the doozies. Last year, I picked up a key logger, who hacked into every account I owned, even bloody Livejournal, before I got it off my computer and reset everything. Thank god we are poor or he might have actually stolen us blind. Then there was the time I managed to put two computers out of whack in six hours while writing a paper. One permanently.

The latest doozy, was just as much my fault as anyone else. The Hubby and I went out for a date night, leaving Malcolm in the capable care of people we trusted, but unfortunately, people who also know jack about computers. I’m not even sure what sites they were cruising or possibly downloading, it’s not their fault they were ignorant of my computer’s junkie like addiction to viruses. The virus/plague/malady we did get this time I didn’t know was there until I realized something was wrong with my documents. Such as the first two saved documents I opened, literally ate themselves. (By the way would you happen to have chapter three of the Blue Zone still in your email?) It just got worse from there. Geek squad friend says it was attacking program files. I did not know they made viruses that did that. It’s kinda sad but I wish I was dealing with possible identity theft again. Then at least I wouldn’t have had to get a new computer.

And then there is the lappy. I guess I should be grateful my hubby was already saving up for it, I just wish it wasn’t necessary to buy it six months ahead of schedule. Early birthday present, even though we had to call in a few favors to afford it.

As it is, communications have been iffy. I am just finding out many of my emails never made it out of my inbox. Pointed question to professor: have you received any emails from me in the past few weeks? Two professors haven’t and my parents actually called me in a panic because I wasn’t responding to their emails. I don’t know if you put an emergency phone number on my syllabus because I didn’t have a hard copy at the time of computer self implosion. Right now I am playing catch up on a few playing fields. I am terrified my financial aid paperwork did not go through. I just got the computer department to open up my black board login account again. I am worried about some bills that were supposed to be paid. Things have been a bit stressful lately. Tell me what is happening on your end?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Ummm, yeah came on tonight to make a nice post and discovered none of my posts I did for last week were on apologies, not sure what malfunctioned here, I shall attempt to recreate these posts to the best of my ability and post another three new ones for this week. Sorry for that o.o

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Heroic Ethical Tale

I have been reading a critical piece titled Fantasy Literature for Children and Young Adults. It provides an interesting overview of the fantasy genre for young readers and the many purposes it serves its readership. The book addressed many of the issues adults seem to have with fantasy and letting their children read it. Honestly I have never understood the mentality of parents who deny their kids books not because of their content alone but because of their genre in general. Books are my business. I almost take it personally when I here someone bad mouthing a book out of ignorance. I can barely deal with parents who come in looking for Christian youth fiction, openly sneering at Harry Potter. Ya, okay I get your religious viewpoint, but don't bring your sneering face against my literature.
But the book dealth with parents who denied fantasy not only for religious reasons but because they felt it was escapist. Brillliantly the authors pointed out fantasy does not teach escapism but creates a broader sense of problem solving by opening the mind to more possibilities. Where realistic fiction tackles problem solving in a more limiting way, fantasy offers itself as a guide, not an answer book.
I like it.
One of the sub genres the book covered was of the Heroic Ethical Tale. This covers such stories as Alexander's Prydian Chronicles, Lewis's Narnia Stories, Harry Potter, Percy Jackson...basically some of my favorites. Which got me to thinking, I think the book I am currently working on will end up being a Heroic tale. I know I want Mina to set things right, I want her to save Felix, I want her to make peace with the death of her mother and the disappearance of her father. Maybe Mina will join the ranks of Eilowny and Hermione. I think the world needs more female heroes.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Finding Direction in the Quagmire of Creative Thought

I've always rather thought the creative process was similar to navigating your way through a swamp on a cloudy night with a compass that points in every direction except the one you need. Maybe I'm being optimistic...
I believe the philosophical viewpoint I am trying to make here is: beginning a story is sometimes easy, figuring out which direction you want to go after the beginning is a bit tricky. Thats my philosophical viewpoint anyway, I know for some people the beginning is the most bloody difficult part. For me I can always start a story, but then I have to figure out what story I'm setting out to tell.
Happily, I think I am beginning to find a direction for the Blue Zone. Now I just need to be careful I don't go off the scale and create the even more treacherous quagmire of over-complex plotlines. I would prefer the Blue Zone to be a stand alone single novel, not an epic. But I tend to think in trilogies. If I have a set of characters I love, I just want to keep spinning their world. Which has its ups and its downs. Still, I want the Blue Zone to be a singular work, I'm not setting out to write a trilogy, I don't want to create a plot line so complicated it needs a trilogy just to make sense out of it. I think I can find a coherent and satisfying storyline which will conclude hopefully gracefully at the end of the novel, but mostly I want an attainable goal. The problem with thinking in trilogies is I can't often envision the end.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

C is for Cookie

A short post, but I wanted to share this. My favorite cookie is not White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies. Mine is French Lace Cookies, which are bloody hard to make but delicious. However, I have made a point of naming these as Mina's favorite cookies in the book, so maybe I shall make some for inspiration. And every case of the snifflies needs a good dose of sweets.

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

Prep Time: 15 Minutes

Cook Time: 10 Minutes Ready In: 45 Minutes

Servings: 48


1 cup butter, softened

3/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup coarsely chopped macadamia nuts

1 cup coarsely chopped white chocolate


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla and almond extracts. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt; gradually stir into the creamed mixture. Mix in the macadamia nuts and white chocolate. Drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

3. Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown

The Plague....

I hate being sick. I know I've been getting more colds as of late because I am constantly run down. But being sick and continuing to go to work, usually with my son in tow, who is also recovering from being sick and therefore a hellion, I spend all day juggling him and the needs of the store. Hence by the time I get home I am completely spent, exhausted. It completely saps my strength and usually my creative juices. I have a terrible time writing when I'm sick. I'm sure other writers feel the same to some degree. Even when I have the greatest rhythm going in a story its like a big wrench in the gears. This is like a fog on my brain. I love winter, but in a job where I am constantly around people and germs, I could do without the constant barrage of the germies. This is the first winter in years I've been sick over and over. But I think wearing a biohazard suit to work would send the wrong message. Guess I just need to inject myself with some vitamin c and keep on chugging.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


So I have heard the phrase "All good writers steal" as well as "There are no original ideas left." I believe these sayings to a point. My favorite genre of fiction is rewritten fairytails, there is something uniquely enchanting about talking a story hundreds of years old and taking it for a joyride. I have read the original Grimm's tales, Anderson, Perrault, who is himself a reteller, the Mabinogi, Cretin de Troyes, even Homer. But I find their literary descendants more interesting. This could have something to do with most of the older stories truly being morality tales, the stories were meant to make children avoid of the dark, mind their manners, listen to mom and dad, don't misbehave. The newer fairytales set out from the getgo to tell a story, maybe a moral might sneak in there, but above all, they mean to make a damn good story. Which usually equals some damn interesting twists and turns I don't think the Grimm's would approve of. Still there is something wonderful about Red Riding Hood falling in love with the Big Bad Wolf.
I also enjoy rewriting fairytales, putting my own twists on them. Fairytale elements always sneak into my writing, even when I set out to write something outside their realm. So I wonder how much I'm stealing. I just finished reading a version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves which had one character who seemed eerily familiar.
Snow by Tracy Lynn follows the story of Jessica, a young duchess. The evil queen is replaced by a step mother who mixes modern science and alchemy with the arcane. Her experimental children, a mix of animal and human, are outcasts, calling themselves the Lonely Ones after they flee the place of their birth and set themselves up as pick pockets in London. Jessica, or Snow, eventually falls in with them by accident, after fleeing to London herself to escape her stepmother's plans to eat her heart for fertility. Among these misfits, Snow begins to fall for Raven, a handsome, darkeyed, dark-haired, tall serious looking young man, who happens to have black feathers sprouting out his arms and mixed into his hair.
...Well Damn.
Aside from the feathers, Raven seemed like a dead ringer for Felix, but then how many stories have serious looking dark eyed, dark haired heroes. At least Mina doesn't look anything like Snow. Still it was odd how uncomfortable I got reading about Raven, as if I was affronted he was so similar to MY CREATION. But Snow was published six years ago. I don't really have the right to feel affronted. Perhaps if Blue Zone ever sees a printing press, Ms. Lynn will feel her hackles rising when she reads Felix on the page. I have always tried so hard, even in my retellings, to create original characters and storylines, but perhaps, we have just run out of pure orginality and every story leaks into another without even meaning too. I am not plaguarizing Lynn's work, and maybe, instead, she might be flattered by a character that by chance echoes one of her own.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Animal Husbandry

I bring this up not for its original definition but its play on words.
Okay, I let a friend read some of Blue Zone, and was telling her where I hoped to go with a relationship between Mina and Felix. Her response was something along the lines of "Isn't that kind of beastiality?"
There is nothing quite like that unique little jab in the gut about something so off the wall as beastiality to put a kink in your literary think tank. After vehemently defending that really, Felix is a man most of the time, two its magical dammit, and three it wouldn't be having any sort of carnal relations with a bird, I was still left with the sensation that real fantasy was not for her. I wanted to ask her if Bella sleeping with Edward was Necrophilia since he had technically died, but I was afraid she would go fan rabid on me.
Still I never thought I would have to defend against beastiality. I don't think I would feel all that proud wearing a beastiality t-shirt either. The wierd thing is, it doesn't bother me in a literary sense, because beastial relations in stories have been around since Zues ran around seducing women as a swan, but it bothered me more because I feel that it does not apply here. It such an odd term to use, I don't even think she knew completely what she was talking about. has a definition for beastiality:
1.bestial quality, character, or behavior

2.a bestial act or practice
3.sexual relations between a person and an animal

The problem is I'm not sure which definition she may have been referring to here. Felix does have bestial quality, character, or behavior. But for some reason I fear she may have been aiming for definition number 3.
I am somewhat disturned...

Beware: Vicious Defender of Writers

My husband and I went to see the Lightning Theif, at my prompting. I have been enarmored with Rick Riordan's amazing quintet of modern greek mythology since I first stumbled upon him a few years ago, working the recommendations section at Borders. (One of the perks of this job was discovering new authors as they came out. In other words, I had read Twilight before it was huge) I remember opening the new arrivals box to this interesting looking cover to a story called the Lightning Theif. The book turned out to be incredible. Rick Riordan started out writing for adults, and because of this, I think his 'kids books' have a great multi-generational feel to them. Since then, I have hooked as many people as I can onto these books. I have gotten some of the pickiest readers to dive in and want more. I got my eight year old nephew hooked on these books and my 62 year old co-worker. They are that good. So when I heard a movie was being made, naturally I felt excited. Hollywood had been on a good streak with film adaptations as of late. They had produced several good movies that were relatively faithful to their literary foundations so I was hopeful.

It was the greatest disappointment I have had in years.

I left the theater with the feeling of "I want my ten bucks and two hours back." The movie big shots had slaughtered Rick Riordan's work. Every plot point had been cast aside, characters were drastically changed, and the main villain of the storyline was completely left out. It wasn't even so different that is was good to stand on its own as a movie. Weak acting crippled it there. It was just bad. I knew I wasn't the only one feeling the disappointment, I could feel the murmers around me from several younger kids, who whispered frantically to their parents through the whole movie "That's not what happened."
Hollywood has made a huge mistake, and I hope they pay for it. Its like they underestimated the intelligence of their audience, "Oh they won't notice we changed a few things". Well your audience noticed and they are not happy.
On a personal level it is chilling to watch something like this. I think, in this age, every writer has the secret fantasy their book will be made into a film. I used to consider it flattery, but sometimes, Hollywood takes such liberties that film can become an insult. Truthfully its a matter of the author's involvement. If the studio shuts out the author completely, which I feel they must have to Riordan, then the movie tends to be a piece of drivel like Lightning Theif. However, if they let the writer in, even in an artistic sense, such as the screen writing attempting to channel the writer's essence into their script, it usually makes a much better movie all around. An instance of this is Interview with the Vampire. Anne Rice has a total sign off on it, and it was a great film adaptation. It's subsequent wanna-be sequel Queen of the Damned was the exact opposite. Rice was completely shut out and thus the movie pretty much bombed.
Truthfully I don't know what I will do in the future if I am ever (hopefully, oooh maybe) approached to have a book made into a movie. I don't think I could stand by and let them slaughter my literary child, so really I would be the sort to insist on my presence. I would be barging into offices, criticizing casting, sticking my nose all over the place. I'd be a bloody nuisance. But I'd make sure it was a damn fine movie.

Monday, February 8, 2010

One! Hundred! Demons!

There was something quite freeing in reading Lynda Barry's One Hundred Demons. To take an exercise as old a painting demons with traditional asain inkstone and brush is an interesting enough perspective to draw a reader in, but to take it a step further and create this series of stories and collages from your demons is inspiring. Barry's collages proceeding each story are as intense as the demons she draws on the page, telling a small story before each story. One of my favorite collages, not even necessarily chapters, was for Resilience. There was something so sad and so touching about each image chosen for the piece; the little girl with the strip of paper over her eyes, the ancient stuffed panda bear taped upside down, and the play on "can't remember, can't forget".  Another ascpect of the book I found interesting was how much it revealed and how much it didn't. Here is Barry pouring all these personal private demons onto the page, sometimes painful or embarrassing memories, and yet there were some basic elements I was still left wondering about, such as her father, who is all but completely absent from the pages. There are several stories about her relationship issues with her mother and grandmother, she has younger siblings, yet a father figure is absent from the pages. I only assume he is white because everyone else is phillapino, yet Barry and her siblings are red haired and freckled. What seems such a simple element of background created a rather large mystery for me. I wondered why he was left from the pages. What was her relationship like to him? Was he just absent from her life? Or was he an issue so deep she still couldn't write about it?
From a writer's perspective, I have always found a personal connection between art and writing. I often find inspiration from art for stories, including the current novel I am working on which sprang entirely from a picture painted by a friend. Art is also a reader's intial connection to a novel. The "don't judge a book by its cover" line is bull puckey. I am often drawn to a book by its cover art. The cover makes the first impression on a reader, if the novel with be mysterious, or fantastical, dramatic or humorous. The cover to Diary of  a Wimpy Kid draws you in with its handdrawn downtrodden character, its drawn on a torn notebook page which appears taped to the cover. The combination of the title and the sad little frown on the character's face still draws a chuckle from you, it is a caricature of sadness, belaying the humor of the piece. Just as the cover to One Hundred Demons also draws you in, the collage on the cover lets the reader know they are in for an interesting ride.
An effective piece of art on a book cover can sell a book over the novel's description. Twilight for example, presents this very stark contrast of black and white on the original cover, with just the red apple for color. It draws you in, you are mesmerized and filled with wonder. Frankly the cover art for the Twilight series is brilliant, it keeps to a set of stark spartan imagery to produce an almost mystical tone through all four novels. So really good art can do wonders for a book, the connection between art and story is still a strong one.

Response to chapter 3 and Felix chapter

Hi Kristin --

As I've said from the start, I won't comment too much on your new drafts, not wanting to interrupt your flow. But I've got to be truthful and saying I'm not having much problem, because I think your work is so very good. Keep on keeping on, and, if there's any advice at all, it's this:

1. Keep us firmly grounded -- as you have so far -- in the contemporary world, in your mc's (main character) point of view and history. It's extremely effective when introducing these fantasy elements.

2. Consider reading your dialogue aloud in order to get a better sense of punctuation. This is a small matter, since your dialogue is very strong -- but you need to figure out where the commas should go (where the pauses are). Don't worry about what's already written. At some point I'll send you a line edit to give you an idea what I'm talking about, but for now just keep it in mind as you keep moving forward.

3. I love Frank. :-)

The Felix chapter is well done and fascinating -- I like the owl very much. It will be interesting to see how it fits into future work.

All the best --

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dream Weaving

I know I am experiencing a hot streak when I start dreaming about my characters and what they are going to do. Sometimes I also find my definition in these moments when I am not quite asleep. For instance I know there is this major plot point with Felix's character that I have been just starting to introduce. And the last couple of nights I have had fantastic vivid dreams about it. I have also finally, FINALLY, had a break through with a character I have been having trouble with. I hint at this character a couple times as a presence but I hadn't quite worked him out yet or how sinister he was going to be. But he finally has a name. Yup. The villian shall be hence forth known as....Julian. Sinister, right?
 Well I didn't want to name him Lucius or Damian, that's a screamingly obvious villian name. Plus I want there to be personality confusion as you have with Felix. I have already revealed Felix is the Dark Mage, the order of Mages being the other power structure of magic users I am focusing on against Capricia and the Wardens, mainly because they are always mucking up the balance of magic which she guards. I have also revealed a bit of Felix's character, just a peek, in the first meeting between him and Capricia. I plan on introducing a few more plot points to that chapter as well. I think I want to end not with Capricia entering his memory, but with the flood of images she recieves from him that she doesn't quite understand. I think I want his full back story revealed to Mina over Capricia.
I have also had a bit of a breakthrough on what I am going to do with Mina's character. Originally I felt perhaps she would become a Warden like Capricia and her father, but I have decided to make her a bit different.
Truthfully I am just excited, I love it when I start dreaming about a story I am writing because it's a signal it's really rooting it's way into my mind.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Let's Talk about Sex Baby....

As I am slogging through a particularly dense critical text for Genre History Crit and Theory, I reach a chapter titled "And then I came" Sex and Power in Adolescent Literature. Consquently it has been the most interesting chapter in the book thus far, despite the dense technical jargon. One of the points it brings up is how, since adults are the authors, they impose societal and their own bias and condemnations on teens having sex in their books. Truthfully I never stopped to think about how many books punish their sexually active characters with ruin, pregnancy, or death. Most of the time, its the woman who suffers more for her promiscuity, which means even though our societal is supposed to be much more accepting and free, we still haven't come all that far from Hester Prynne. Gays and lesbians have the even rawer deal, as half of their texts concentrate on trying to normalize "gayness", but they also often end in death, ruin, or just a really bad day. Even the few books the writer points out are on the more positive side don't really cut it for me.
So how do I feel about sex in my stories? I know its a tricky subject. I like to think of myself as a open minded person, but even as a teenager, I KNEW there were consequences to sex if you did not protect yourself. There were girls in my small hometown class who went through pregnancy or abortions before we graduated. But I can't condemn them. They all have their reasons for sex. I personally chose not to in high school. But the second I got to college all bets were off.
Character wise, I've never really thought about how I handle sex or intimate scenes in my stories. In my thesis piece, I have sexually experienced woman who is being pursued by a virgin male. He makes the first move, but she puts him off for many of his first attempts. Although she is attracted to him, she does not want to ruin his innocence, and she doesn't want to become deeply involved with him because she knows she is terminally ill. But sex does come into play eventually, as love kinda steam rolls it over. In this case I guess I am promoting the bias that sex should come after love. And my female protagonist is going to die. But I don't consider her punished for her sexual activity.
In Blue Zone however, the chapter I am writing write now has Mina engage in kiss that she intiates without love. At first she thinks she is sleep walking in a dream, but she quickly realizes she's more "awake" than asleep. However she takes advantage of this state because the one she kisses, Felix, assumes she is alseep and believes she will forget the action. Hopes she will forget in fact as he feels he has taken advantage of her even though she is the one doing the kissing. It is a dynamic I hope to play on later of Mina's feminine power over Felix.
Is Mina a virgin. If I wrote a character profile of her, I'm not sure how I would tackle this question. She is sixteen, which is the older end of the high school spectrum, and she is mature through life experience. But I don't think she trusts men with her father issues of abandonment. It is food for thought. I think I have to really think on the subject for a bit.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hospitals are unexpected creative rechargers...

Having spent a good three hours today in the Emergency Room with no reading materials and truthfully no want to read even if they were available, I can honestly say when you have nothing better to do than sit there and think, you do a lot of thinking.
I spent my first half hour there concentrating on how much I didn't want to be there but once I got past that I was able to think on a more constructive level. (Consequently I am alright, I contracted a nasty UTI that laid me pretty low though.) And I realize, I don't often have the opportunity to sit and think for two or more hours. I had to start thinking of my story or my surroundings were going to drive me nuts. Plus thinking of the Blue Zone took my mind off how yucky I was feeling. (yes I said yucky)
Truthfully it was a bit of a blessing, even if it was a painful one, to be able to think alone, in a relative quiet and definitely sterile environment. Normally I am trying to think surrounded by some noise or another, or in between patrons at work. In the time I had waiting in a ER room, I think I worked out some tweaks in my story line that have been bothering me for a while. I even thought of some character histories, some of which I promptly forgot when I got home since I had nothing to write with at the time. Nonetheless, I feel my hospital stay was a good brainstorming session. But I wouldn't do it again any time soon.

"Heeeeere Fishie Fishie Fishie!!!"

Sesame Street gives me food for thought. My son watches Sesame Street rapt with attention every time I put a video in. Granted, this is a blessing as I often bring him to work and can leave him in the play room watching Elmo or Ernie for an hour or two while I attend to business. At home if I have to really get work done and my husband is not around, I can pop in a video and Malcolm will be relatively entertained for a bit. Sometimes though, I will sit and watch it with him, because truthfully I am curious. I watch Sesame Street myself as a child, and I wonder what exactly is its drawing power. What keeps an audience rapt? The curiosity extends to the realm of books as well. What keeps a reader rapt? Of the several stories I read to my son, the stories he really stops and listens to, the stories that have him crawling into my lap are Ginger Baby by Jan Brett and The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle. While on one note I think my son has very good taste, on another note I try to see what about these stories grabs him. Is it a repetative phrase he can identify? Or is it merely the inflections in my voice? The Very Busy Spider has several animal noises I imitate for him which makes him giggle delightfully. Not to mention Carle's illustrations are always fabulous. (He's my favorite ^^)
Okay so what are the equivalent for animal noises to a teenager? Up until this point, I had thought I chose to writer for an audience I could relate to. I am not that far gone out of adolescence, but really I am. Relatively, six years is not a long way from 18, but in that time I have earned a college degree, married, had a family, moved into my own abode, and I work a forty hour a week job. There is a vast amount of experience gained in six years after 18 versus say six years leading up to 18. It is that leap into the adult world which makes the difference and now I feel a bit out of my depth. Can I still find the animal noises? Can I write a book that holds a teenage reader as raptly as Sesame Street holds my son? Only one way to find out really. Start mooing and find out.

Dumbfounded by Death

It has become a difficulty for me in my writing, killing off characters. Even if the story lends itself to a character's well plotted demise, I always find myself choking up on the actual act. My hands stay the keys, my mind going "Wait, this is fiction, you can break the boundaries of life and death, your character can live on!!" Perhaps my mind has a point. Isn't one of the blessings of fiction just that? Escape from reality.
On a personal level, death has unfortunately played an overbearing role in my life. Having lost my mother shortly before my 8th birthday, I have always tiptoed around the subject in my writing. In my imaginings, even when I killed off characters in my head, I always found a loophole to bring them back, because I couldn't imagine them truly gone. Truthfully it hasn't been until quite recently, say the last couple of years where I find I can write a realistic death scene. Well almost. I seem to have Karen Eiffel syndrome.

For those not in the know, Karen Eiffel is the writer from the film Stranger Than Fiction, who when confronted face to face with her "fictional character" Harold Crick, has a bit of a problem as she set writing the story to kill him.

Like Ms. Eiffel, once I meet my character's face to face as it were, I feel like a murderer. Even more so, how can you kill a character that would so nobly go to meet their demise as Harold Crick chooses to do in the end? I am having this same problem with the story I wish to complete for my thesis. My main character is dying from the beginning of the story, I know this, I felt she was sick when she first stepped foot on the page but she is one who would nobly go to face her death. Which is why I have yet to successfully write of her departure.
And I am feeling the tickle of similar difficulty as I work on Blue Zone. Except this sensation is different, mainly because I don't know if death works properly in this world. I think the Blue Zone, unlike my other novel, is a place where I can break more rules. It is one of the great gifts writing offers a writer, the license to bend and break our own rules, provided it makes sense to us. So perhaps I might have to write a death scene in Blue Zone, but maybe not too far down the road, I can follow it with a nice resurrection scene.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Additional Comments

Out of the many fine entries I read in the Alice Pope Blog were a few that just stood out to me because they were too interesting to ignore. And reading them I found they were actually helpful to me as a YA author. The first was a post from December titled “Embracing Inappropriate, Violent, and Blasphemy.” This post struck that same twang of heartbreak I felt when I first pulled up the banned books list. The three ladies featured were all writer’s whose books had suffered a negative backlash for their provocative material from some nitwit or other. The first, Emily Wing Smith’s The Way He Lived had received reviews as being inappropriate because it dealt with themes of suicide, homosexuality, and mental illness. My immediate feeling was how dare they. How dare they. (This was pretty much my feeling reading the whole blog post but the immediate reaction is still important) Like Smith, I’m baffled a person can be offended by just the mention of something “inappropriate”. Who are they to deem what’s appropriate?

Likewise, Brodi Ashton’s Echo was labeled as Violent for its depiction of a female teenage alien hunter. Even more shocking was Bree Despain’s The Dark Divine label of Blasphemous because it mixed views of mythology and modern religion. So how did they ladies deal with the blows to their literary ego? With fashion. Each took the negative word used to describe their work, printed it on a t-shirt and wore it to their next writing conference. I found it inspiring. Not only was it a strong statement, but their shirts created conversation.

If I ever find myself fortunate enough to be in their situation, perhaps I could fashion myself a bad review business suit.

The second post that really caught my eye was from April of 2009: “Edward and Bella, An Abusive Relationship?” Having experienced first hand the wave of lust crazed teens with a completely obsessive love of Edward, I can honestly state this post just caught my eye because of its refreshing perspective. What was shocking to see is how correct the guest author Sara Rasch was in her assessment of Edward as the dreaded abusive boyfriend. Although I found myself frowning often at Edward’s sulky vampy persona, and dear Gods and Angels Bella’s constant martyr attitude drove me bonkers, I never really put together the whole abusive relationship picture. Seeing it laid out before me, I actually shuddered. I actually sympathized with this guy? And that is when the message became clear.

Beware of what you writer, beware of the unhealthy relationships you portray as a writer, because you might just have rabid teenage fans thinking your word is sacred.

This was an especially worrisome message to me as I often write characters with “messed up” relationships. The story I am working on now has two characters who don’t exactly have the ideal relationship. But abusive? I think I am safe from that title. I think Mina would knock anyone flat on their ass if they tried to pull half the stunts Edward does with Bella. While my heroine may make sacrifices to protect those she loves, she would not gentle set aside her self preservation to please her man.

Still as a writer of YA fantasy, Rasch’s message is something to keep in mind. But what she really brings to light is not only Edward abusive, but hey, he’s NOT HUMAN. Does that make it okay? No. But I have often found the portrayal of otherworldly boyfriends fits into the Edward template. They are controlling, and arrogant, and well, stalker-like, but why shouldn’t they be, they haven’t lived by human laws for a few centuries, or ever in some cases. Unfortunately, this factor is lost on many minds. They seem to gloss over the fact this is not the way your real breathing live boyfriend should act. Which makes me feel like the whole idea of otherworldly relationships is a very complicated dance for writers in general. What do you do when half the couple doesn’t act like a normal person? It is something I truly wonder about, and I wonder how often I will pause over a line of text in the future and think is this too close to the line?

Reading Response 1

Reading One: Alice Pope’s CWIM Blog

Sifting through the entries on Alice Pope’s Blog has probably been one of the more gratifying required readings of my educational experience. I have made it a personal goal to embrace the idea of blogging not only due to the sense the Web Generation has made blogging the new frontier in communications, but also because the writing community has raced out to join the wagon train as it were. One of the entries I chose to read spoke in particular to the public forum of blogging itself.

This particular entry titled “Should you be on face book? Is tweeting really necessary? Talking online presence with Loren Long…” discussed not the necessity of diving into the many forms of internet self promotion into today’s writing market, but comfort levels. Personally, this was a very reassuring post to read. I have heard over and over the necessity of self promotion, and exploiting as many forms of self promotion as you can hook into, blogging, face booking, and tweeting being the newest and most accessible of methods for authors to promote their work in a flagging writers’ market. I have even followed (stalked) authors I have admired through their blogs or face books.

Some authors seem quite comfortable, even thrive, in the blogosphere. Daniel Waters has two blogs, one for himself and one written by the zombie protagonist in his YA novel Generation Dead, which is so completely developed its like reading a novel in itself ( A few of the other posts I read in Pope’s blog featured writers who kept excellent blogs, such as YA Fresh by Kelly Parra and Tina Ferraro. A post on Kathleen Duey highlighted on how she has been writing a book called Russet on twitter in 140 word bursts, comparing the experience to a stage performance.

Yet while many have embraced the idea of blog, face book, and twitter, the point Pope was trying to make in this particular entry was they shouldn’t feel like they have to merely to succeed as a writer. Yes, the writer’s market has become a rough rider’s zone, but a writer shouldn’t plaster themselves all over the web with the hope to score a few hits on their blog. A writer should not force themselves to twitter, or blog if it doesn’t fall into their comfort zone. As Pope states “if these things aren't you, if they'd be drudgery, move along. But at least try things out to see what fits--you might really enjoy participating in the conversation.” (November 18, 2009, Alice’s CWIM Blog)

The tone that came across was one of encouragement without the pressure, to try out these methods of reaching their audience without feeling like they have to in order to achieve an audience. Perhaps they will find a mode of inspiration like Kathleen Duey’s Russet. I certainly find her idea intriguing. Don’t know if I’m ready to condense my thoughts into 140 word bursts but someday I might. Maybe I’ll even blog through the voice of a character like Daniel Waters. I must admit I have been leery of blogging. I have tried to keep up blogs several times on my own steam, but often find I don’t have anything I want to writer about. So perhaps blogging is not my forum, or I have not found the right idea for a blog to fit me. Several of the entries I read in Pope’s blog gave me a wider view of how writers stay connected to the public conversation. How they encourage and highlight each other’s work and not just their own. Really that is what it is all about, creating a supportive writing community. A writer doesn’t have to do it all on their own, they just need to join the, now ongoing, conversation.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Learning to Juggle for the Adulthood Circus

I believe it is also referred to as the Writer's Lament.

I remember spending a summer as an Undergrad, 18 years old, still in the glow of a completed freshman year, making a deal that would give me the most unrealistic glamorous view of a writer's life I would ever have. I had come home expecting to struggle through another summer butting heads with my father, the proverbial workhorse, about getting a soul crushing summer job to toughen my skin. My father was a big believer in life lessons through distasteful experiences. My first official job was working as a stall cleaner at a local horse farm through my entire senior year of high school. To this day, I can't go near a horse without shuddering.
However, I recieved quite the shock when my father sat me down my third day home from college and proposed a deal. If I could commit myself to writing 8 hours a day at least 5 days a week throughout the summer I would be free from Summer Labor. This was a double surprise as my father and I had, to put it lightyly, disagreed on my choice of major and life profession. Ever the practical thinker, this was my father's method of acceptance. I seized the opportunity like a crocodile pounces on raw chicken. I wrote through the night, slept through most of the day, and became the writing hermit. It was quite theraputic. By the end of the summer I had produced 250 pages of a novel and two 50 page novellas.
I will never forget that summer, it was the last summer before reality hit. That year, I fell in love, and by next summer moved into a tiny apartment with my respected significant other (and two other people), got a soul crushing job (at Macy's), and found I barely had any time or will power to writer. I went back to school after an exhausting summer with maybe 20 pages (maybe) of new writing. Definitely a lesson in the trials of adulthood. I told myself, after graduation it wouldn't be like that, I would get a career, blah, blah, blah, best laid plans and such.
Okay so obviously I was a little naive about the immediate job opportunities for post bachelor degree English Majors. And after two months of scraping by, I had to turn to another retail job. (Border's is just as soul crushing as Macy's but with more reading material) And after my significant other and I became husband and wife, then father and mother of one hyperactive bright eyed boy, I really found myself crawling into bed most days, lucky enough perhaps if I graced the keys of my computer for more than an hour or two a week. It took the better part of two years before I found The Job.
Now working The Job in a family run used book store, able to bring my son to work, have run of the place, and build an encyclopedic knowledge of children's books, I found a balance to work with. It isn't that miraculous summer between my freshman and sophomore year, but my soul is feeling pretty good, barely crumpled. Its amazing how much time you find yourself having when your child goes from completely dependent to not so dependent. It feels like I have almost reached that level of Zen, like where you can balance standing on a small round ball while carrying two trays of three tier triple chocolate death layer cakes and not be tempted to lick the closest one. I have learned how to juggle for the adulthood circus, between work, family, wants, and needs. I even find time for the occasional netflix movie.
Now I am adding another chainsaw to the juggling hoop, hoping not to upset the flow. I feel, however, it is worth the risk. Going back to school, while adding a whole new strata of pressure and stress, will bring back my focus, my drive, and hopefully give me an excuse to occasionally dump complete parenting responsibilities on the hubby for a couple nights a week so I can work. And write.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

On reading your first chapters

Oh Kristin,

It's very intriguing, and your writing is beautiful. I hope it was useful to get these chapters, and the letter and painting, out your virtual door to me. I think you're moving in an excellent direction, and I don't want to say too much more, because I want you to be drafting, not thinking about what you've already written. So please don't mistake my brevity for lack of interest, quite the contrary.

I'm interested in what you said about numerous villains, and would like to caution you only about one thing: getting Mina into an Alice-in-Wonderland situation where she pits herself against a succession of characters. She's a very strong character, and the setting you've established in the first 3 chapters is very emotionally involving. Her personal growth, and her relationship to the characters that are already present, and to those you are going to introduce, seems to me like the heart of the story as it is so far.

I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next. Once again, I'm sorry about your friend. You write about her so beautifully, with a strong sense of story even in this situation. Although it may be hard for you at times to write about the death of your mother -- the death of any mother in your books will be about your mother -- it will provide a strong backbone to Mina's experience. One of my rules of thumb is that if you're shaking as you're writing, you're on the right track.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Unexpected Walls

I didn't think my first post would be on something so hard to write about. We all hit walls as writers. We deal with real life, jobs, family. The wall we never see coming, because of it's very nature is grief. We crash into it, headfirst, it breaks us open, exposes our innards, our soft spots. Artists are precieved to view the world on a more emotional level that "regular" people. They are conduits for emotion, through their chosen medium they are the ultimate creatures of expression and experience. I think this is a bit of bull. Artists don't feel emotions any differently than "regular" people, they just have more practice and perhaps ease in expressing their emotion. As a writer, we have the gift of eloquence, but there are times when we find ourselves at a loss for words. A writer at a loss for words is a cripple, it is a terrible feeling that sits in the pit of your stomach and gnaws away at your stomach lining.
This week I hit my own wall of grief. She was 23, and one of the most passionate people I had ever met. I wasn't the only one who saw her passion. Almost every one who spoke, wrote, facebooked, blogged about her spoke about that passion. At her memorial, I watched those brave friends and family who found this amazing strength just two days after her passing to stand on that stage and find the right words to honor her memory. I am in awe of them. In their wavering heartbroken voices they expressed more beauty and eloquence than any artist I have ever known.
Here I am several days later, and I can't find the right words myself. Just the words that are there. I don't know if they are right, but they are my words.
I once knew a girl brighter than a candle flame in the dark, a searing wondrous light who gave off

such warmth she staved off even the bitterest human emotions. She read "Oh the places you'll go" by Dr.Suess when she felt lost in life. She kept a journal every day of the things she was thankful for, even when her friends made fun of her for it. She had a ten gigwatt smile that never went out. She sang beautifully, she sang for all to hear, she sang every chance she got. She was a fierce lacrosse player. I expected her to be the first female president. I was willing to wait. I wanted to see what she would become, not this, not now.
Her moment wasn't supposed to be now. She was meant to be more than a memory.
Farewell Ariel.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Response to first page

I've got to tell you -- I wasn't supposed to do this, wasn't supposed to start reading yet, because I have another syllabus to write and a big assignment to finish this afternoon -- but I took a peek at your first page and fell in love. I can't wait to read more.