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.