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