June 30, 2010

On failure and persistance

So I failed.

There, I've said it. I said I was going to finish my novel in June, and I didn't. Not by a long shot.

There are multiple reasons for this, chief among them being busy-ness and lack of interest. First, busy-ness. Since graduating, I've been juggling multiple temp jobs, reading, writing, and (most importantly) preparing for the Denver Publishing Institute. More to come on this later, but for now let me say that I'll be learning so much about publishing, and it's going to be awesome. Writing just took a backseat, especially with the presence of bills to pay and a firm deadline for my DPI advance assignments, which are multiple and daunting. (Also, the World Cup. Yes, I can totally blame that, right?)

I can say a lot of things about the relative importance of my commitments, but the main thing is: this month, I didn't put writing first. Period. And we all know that without commitment (serious commitment), nothing really gets done.

My second problem is really a "how to write" kind of problem. I was less than interested in the story I was writing. It twisted and turned, and I broke some bones and reset them, but it refused to morph into something I really really wanted to write. I spent a lot of time thinking about another story I really want to write, and not getting anything done on either.

I have a few ideas about this. I've been trying to write for a while with only the vaguest of notions about the plot of my novel - I've likened this to the amount of information required to write the back cover of my book. But this hasn't been working for me. And now I'm wondering whether I'm not really a pantser - not at heart, even though I've tried to be. Maybe I'm really a planner - an outliner.

My second writing problem has to do with an idea. There's a seed of a story floating in my head, one that's been there for years, but I'm honestly afraid I can't do it justice. I'm afraid I'm not old enough to write the story that's been haunting me. But I'll give it a shot...if only so it will stop bothering me while I try to write other things.

So to the future. I'll be leaving for Denver in about a week. My goal: to outline this story that's been in my head forever. And maybe when I come back, I'll be ready to write it.

June 25, 2010

Book Swap! (You should definitely definitely read this one.)

So I first heard about this a few months ago on the internet (I kind of forgot where - forgive me?). At the time I tried to get in on it, but interest petered out and it never got going. So I was thrilled when an actual letter was sent my way! Full text below: 

"This is an informal book swap. There is no money involved and no meetings. Please send a paperback book you have already enjoyed to the person listed on the back of this sheet. There is no need to box the book when you mail it. It will be interesting to see where the books come from that you will receive. You should receive 36 books in all.

Copy this letter and send it out to six different people. DO NOT SEND THEM A BOOK. Put my address on the back of the six letters you send out. Include six address labels with YOUR ADDRESS in each of the letters you send out, so that they can put them on the back of their letters.

If you can't do this within one week, let me know so that we can be fair to the participants. I have been told there is seldom a person that doesn't participate because you only have to mail one book."

So you send out a few letters, mail out one (used or unused) book... And get 36 in return. 36. 36! Thirty six books that other people have loved and recommended specifically to you. How cool is that?

I thought that you people would be interested in this, since it's simple, relatively painless, and bookish. Books! Without further ado, I'm opening up the comments to interested participants. If you would like to get in on the action (and I really hope you will), just leave a comment! I need six interested people to get this started, and if there are more, I'll just do some math magic and make it work for more!

June 15, 2010


Oh, there are so many things I could be talking about when I say 'copycats'. For the sake of this (limited) discussion, I'm talking about writers who draw on others' work to create their own, creating a revision or homage to the original piece. I'm talking Rent from La Boheme, David James Duncan's The Brothers K from The Brothers Karamazov, even James Joyce's Ulysses. Or, one of the myriad books that cast themselves as a re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet, all the recent books running off of Pride and Prejudice, the books re-spinning the Odyssey or the Iliad, even all those books retelling biblical events (Anita Diamant's The Red Tent, for example). If you want to take it in a different direction, try these: historical fiction centered on specific (and famous) time periods. Adele Geras' Troy. Any of Philippa Gregory's books about Henry VIII, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall... The lists are endless, and the only thing tying every single one of the aforementioned books (and thousands I haven't taken the time to mention) is this: They are all based on something else.

I must confess that at times I am intimidated by these books. Perhaps it's because of my pseudo-literariness. While I did not graduate with an English degree, I did take a few of those sorts of classes, and came away with what at the time seemed like a much wider worldview. After reading some of these foundational works, I suddenly found myself looking at the world in a much different way, and seeing things with greater depth than I did before. I can remember the first time I saw "A Knight's Tale" after reading The Canterbury Tales and being stunned (in an absolutely delighted way) to realize that "Geoffrey Chaucer, the writer" was in fact the "real" Geoffrey Chaucer, the writer. At this realization, I suddenly understood many of the little jokes the scriptwriters had thrown into the movie, to be caught only by the watcher who not only knew who Chaucer was, but had enough familiarity with The Canterbury Tales to realize that when Chaucer tells his gambling adversaries that he will "eviscerate [them] in fiction," he actually does.

It was brilliant. I felt like I'd learned a foreign language without realizing that's what I'd been doing. Without reading The Canterbury Tales I wouldn't have gotten the joke. Much like without reading Paradise Lost (itself a revision of the story of Creation), I wouldn't have gotten the same depth of appreciation from reading Ronald Johnson's Radi Os, a poetic project that revises the first four books of Paradise Lost by excising certain words to create an entirely new version of Creation.

Back to the intimidation factor. Many of these books, the books based on other books, which in turn are probably based on other books, are on my to-read list, but I hesitate at reading them. These books range from literary fiction (The Brothers K) to young adult (Lisa Klein's Ophelia, or Mirjam Pressler's Shylock's Daughter), but they have this in common: I have not yet read the source work. I haven't read The Brothers Karamazov, I haven't read Hamlet or The Merchant of Venice. So I hesitate.

It's almost as though I don't quite feel qualified to read these books without reading their sources first - I feel as though I won't get the same understanding or appreciation. Some author may be making a subtle commentary on the source work, but if I haven't read said work, I'll completely miss the commentary. (The musical Jane Eyre, based on the book Jane Eyre, is a prime example of this - I think the musical is done brilliantly, especially in the musical numbers, where the writers really captured many of the themes and recurring metaphors from the book and wrote them into the songs. But I'm actually discouraging one of my good friends from seeing/listening to the musical before reading the book, because without first reading the book, such cleverness and loyalty to the book will be completely lost on her.)

I suppose this all boils down to a question. And that question is: How much do such reimaginings depend on their source work? And how much should they? And, should I just read these books anyway, knowing I won't get as much out of them as I would if I'd read the source first? Anyone can read a book, any book, and appreciate a well-written story, deep and sympathetic characters - but I feel that if one is reading something based on something else, it is impossible to get "everything" without having experience with both bodies of art. Is this the truth? What do you think?

*I am also aware that this is an enormous topic, one that cannot possibly be spanned by one blog post, even one so disgustingly long as this one. For those reading, this topic will most likely return. Probably in a more focused way.

June 10, 2010

The ineffability of passion

I've always found that there are different kinds of books. There are books, and then there are books, and sometimes, it's very difficult to tell what puts one book into one category or another. There are books that may be called "bad" because of the low quality of the writing, in one way or another, and then there are books that may be called "bad" just because they're not your cup of tea. I try to distinguish clearly between the books with serious flaws in construction and the books I'm just not that into, but that's not what I'm thinking about right now.

What I'm really interested in is what makes books books. What thrills the reader, what makes a story memorable, what turns a book into a comfort book - basically, what makes a reader passionate about a book.

I write of this now because I've been doing a fair amount of rereading recently. Specifically, I've been rereading Sharon Shinn. Now, not everything that Sharon Shinn writes is flawless, but I have been more than impressed by two series she's written: the Samaria series, and the Twelve Houses series. And at times, I've been hard pressed to determine exactly why I'm so impressed by them, why I'm so passionate about them I've read each book in the series at least three or four times, why I've put these books on my MUST BUY list. (You know, for when I have money.)

These books aren't flawless. They're well written and well constructed, but the book critic in me can identify plotting discrepancies, characterization issues, etc. etc. But I love them anyway. Why? The Twelve Houses series has some of the most enjoyable characters I've come across in fiction, characters I'd just love to know/be in real life, and I find the world building simply excellent. The Samaria series I like in part because the premise is just so KICK ASS AWESOME. Although I'm sure, given its religious undertones, some people might not like it quite as much. But this still doesn't explain exactly why I love them the way I do.

The 'why' is probably something that varies from reader to reader, and even in the same reader, something that varies from book to book. So what does make a book a book? One of my former roommates has a pet series of her own, the Trade Pact Cycle by Julie Czerneda. She openly acknowledges places in the series where the writing is a little off, where the characterization is just weirdly wrong, and yet she loves those books passionately, and sometimes swears by them. (I read them too, and found them entertaining and well-written, though not quite books I would be passionate about.)

So what is it? What makes a book a book, one of those buy-ten-copies-in-various-editions, read-twenty-times, gush-about-forever kinds of books? I'm really not sure, but I really think that's part of what reading's about: finding those true book loves, and maybe feeling a little more complete for having them.

June 4, 2010

The art of visualization

One of the things that has helped me out on this writing charge is visualization. Now, I'm not really talking the meditation and breathing deeply and visualizing a quiet forest kind of visualization. But it's kind of similar. In the past I've been really stuck when it comes to writing because I didn't have a coherent idea of where I wanted the story to go, or what I really wanted it to be about. I'd have an overarching plot, but nothing that made it special to me, and when that moment came my work in progress would usually fall victim to the Apathite, the champion of all things apathetic. This beastie has killed off a lot of my works in progress in the past, but this time I'm trying something different. I'm visualizing.

Specifically, I'm thinking about what kind of a book I want this to be. Maybe everyone else out there already does this, and I'm just way late on the visualization train. Or maybe this is just too pathetic for words, so no one else has even thought about it, let alone written. But it's actually helping me. I've been thinking about what kind of book I want to have published, what kind of book I want to be known for. Now, of course everyone wants to be known for excellent writing and best-selling-ness. And it's going to be a long time (at the very least) before I'm agented, published, and well known. But this is still helpful to me, trying to answer the question, "What do I want to be known for writing?"

For me, at least for this book, the answer is obvious. "Lush" is the word that comes to mind. I want this book to be so perfectly real in its construction that the reader is completely immersed in a lush culture and world. I don't want it to be just another medieval-esque world. And I want the characters to feel absolutely real, and their trials to be heart wrenching and affecting.

Maybe that all boils down to this: I'm writing fantasy, and I want it to be real. Which, when typed out like that, is really kind of boring. It sounded better in my head! I swear! And it actually is helping me stay on track and focused and interested in the story, which is always a good thing, even if it turns out to be a boring blog post.

Thinking about what I'm aspiring to as a writer has gotten me thinking of the books/shows/music that I think do some things absolutely right, so right that I get giddy while reading, or shivers while watching/listening, and I thought it might be a good idea to share some of that with you. Look for those to come! First I need to come up with an appropriately cutesy feature title.

Also, did you see that I've been writing? See? See? (I'm actually a little behind, but still. I'm writing. It's going. This is happening. And it's exciting!)

June 2, 2010

Hometown glory, or "on libraries"

I've been visiting home for a few days, and today I took the opportunity to go to my library. Twenty minutes later (because that's all I allowed myself), I walked out with fifteen books. These books I will now lug back with me to my apartment, to be added to the 20+ books I have from the local library near my apartment. Umm... Oops?

There's a reason for this, actually, and the reason is this: My hometown library is WAYYY better than my local library. My hometown library is AWESOME. My local library is simply adequate.

My local library is only adequate because while it has a decent selection (and is a member of LINK+, which is a plus), the design is just horrible. It's not conducive to anything other than book storage. When I am there I do not feel invited to browse and hang out - I'm there to get my books and get out.

My hometown library is AWESOME because it is AWESOME. It also has a great selection, and is a member of LINK+. And it was renovated (once, majorly, about twelve years ago, and another minor renovation about three years ago). These renovations resulted in a library designed for people to hang out in. So when I went to my library today, I wasn't looking for any particular book. I was just looking for some books, and I had a pleasant time looking for them. The YA section (called the Teen Zone) is also the best kept teen section I've seen in a library, and the selection is great.

Anyway, the moral of this story is this: I have great library access, when you put them together. Everyone should have such library access, and it's truly a pity that so many people don't/aren't interested. My local library is fine for getting books from my to-read list - basically, it's fine if you know what you're looking for. But my hometown library is just awesome, because that's where I discover new books to read. Although I have so many books on my to-read list I shouldn't even be looking at new books.


June 1, 2010

Contest driveby

 Sherilyn Kenyon Giveaway at Parajunkee's View!

500 Followers Contest Extravaganza at Frankie Writes!

Look out for real updates soon! The writing is writing is writing... I should also write something about how much I love libraries. Yep, that's coming up too.


The Beginning

Here we go. As per fairyhedgehog's suggestion, I've installed a word count widget. It's all shiny, see? And brand new! I was a little hesitant to do it because, among other reasons, I've been writing by hand for a while, and in order to utilize a widget you must (I'm sad to say) type. On the other hand, the whole point of writing by hand was to get more done, and see how dismally wonderfully that turned out? I also liked the idea of the widget because it's way more concrete than saying - hey, I'll post something when I write something. Instead, it's just there. Staring at you. Right at the top of the page. And it's not going anywhere.

I've started at 0, just because 0 seems like the right place to start. 60,000 is an arbitrary number, taken in part because I've done NaNoWriMo, and each year have hit 50,000 without even killing off a secondary character. So I'm assuming my novel will break 50,000 easily - we'll see where it goes after that. (The lesson here is that you should be looking at the word count rather than the percentage complete.)

What else will I be doing this month? you may ask. Well, I'll still be reading and posting sporadic reviews. I'll most likely be doing some posts about how much my writing is sucking glowing, and what kinds of books I'm seeking inspiration from. There may be a few Denver Publishing Institute posts as my departure grows nearer. And if the world blows up, there may be notice given here.

And now, to the keyboard!