January 31, 2011

Rereading

Last week I saw The Untouchables. All comments on the movie aside (apart from the fact that Andy Garcia is the kick-assest of them all), I'm bringing this up because I was asked, after the movie, how many times I'd seen it.

I honestly could not answer. The best I could do was "Umm... Less than ten? Probably around five." At which point I was met with an incredulous look. Apparently the immediate response was -- with so many movies in the world, why would I ever take time to watch a single one even twice, much less five times?

Shrug. The reason I rewatch movies is the same reason I reread books. Because I take something away from the experience, every time. Maybe I'm an extreme -- I've never counted, but I'm fairly certain that among the books I've reread the most, the movies I've rewatched the most, the number approaches twenty. That's almost once a year for every year I've been alive, and since clearly I wasn't watching R-rated movies or young adult books in my early years, that means I've been doing my re-experiencing an average of two or three times a year, for some books.

People read books in the first place (and watch movies, but let's drop that intro for the moment) for so many reasons. To learn, to experience new worlds, new places, new situations. A book can be an escape, a romance, an adventure, or even just a sugary snack. And rereading, to me, is a chance to gain even more. Why read a book once you already know the ending? Because the experience of reading a book, sinking into the world, spending time with fabulous (made-up) people, is so much more than just the ending. It's comfort food, and it's a chance to discover even more, to see a world through different eyes and different perspectives. (And sometimes, I admit, it's because I've forgotten the ending.)

This year I've decided to spend time rereading several books from my childhood, including Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, Little House on the Prairie, and Anne of Green Gables, among others. I started with Anne of Green Gables, and right from the beginning it's hard to come up with a reason why I wouldn't want to go back and spend time with incorrigible Anne, prickly Marilla, shy Matthew, and domineering Mrs. Rachel Lynde, and cheeky Gilbert, among others. It's like spending time with some dear old friends -- the experience has that same cold night-warm blanket-hot cocoa feeling.

Anyway, do you reread books? Why? And which of your books has the highest number?

January 28, 2011

Lucky Charms

I like Lucky Charms. This is what I'm writing about today because my wrist is bothering me (again), and I don't feel like sitting here waiting for a more inspired idea. So yeah. I like Lucky Charms.

But... Just not all the time. I know, they're delicious and packed with artificially added vitamins, and so sweet they make your teeth hurt, literally, and drinking the milk after the cereal is gone is like drinking chocolate milk, or melted ice cream... But there's just so much of that a person can take before she resorts to vegetables and brown rice.

Anyway, I just had that urge a couple of weeks ago and bought myself a big box of Lucky Charms, which I have been steadily working through. They're not as ridiculously delicious as the first bowl was anymore, but I continue to enjoy them. And when the box is gone, I will enjoy the memory of them until my next Lucky Charms binge, which, according to experience, will likely be 9 months to a year from now. I figure that's infrequent enough that eating (pretty much) straight sugar can't do that much harm, can it?

In (short) other news, have been reading my plotting book. I plan on buying a board and index cards today (ha!). They're exactly what my detail-obsessed brain will love and spend hours upon hours poring over. And I've started rereading Meg Cabot's Airhead. It's kind of awesomer than I remembered -- perfect for when you're in a cotton candy sort of mood, definitely.

Happy Friday, all!

January 26, 2011

Nah nah nah procrastination

My books from Amazon arrived yesterday, shoving out my last legitimate excuse for procrastination. Theoretically, this means I should be down, nose to grindstone, from now until eternity (or whenever I have a decent second draft done, which is to say, it'll be eternity). Instead I'm doing pretty much what I was doing before, except I postulate that it really counts as not procrastinating this time because even though I'm sitting around reading instead of writing, this time I'm reading the books I purchased specifically to aid my writing.

And I've actually learned a lot. I read Save the Cat, that book Elana Johnson gushed about, and it actually makes sense. Even without setting up the board (yet), I can sort of squint my eyes and see where certain scenes would fall into this lineup that Blake Snyder has so keenly set up. It's pretty cool. And I am totally that person who outlines and color codes and dog ears, so now I get to spend all day in an office supply store and call that working too... Heh...

Long story short, this book is going to MAJORLY impact my plotting ability -- which is to say, give me some plotting ability in the first place. Easy four stars, might just push up to five depending on the results. Yes, this is a results-measured book. And that really makes me wonder whether people should be rating books on the results they achieve. And that makes you wonder... what sort of results are you talking here?

But that's a post (probably many) for another day.

January 24, 2011

Derivative Works

You know, I should get into a much longer discussion about derivative works sometime. Because I happen to love them. But today we're talking about one specific derivative work -- Jane, by April Lindner.

I read it over the weekend. For those not in the know, this is a recent debut novel that takes Jane Eyre, and throws it into the twenty-first century. Example: Mr. Rochester becomes a rock star. Literally. (Those of you who have not read Jane Eyre, please be aware that there will be spoilers (of Jane Eyre, not the recent Jane).)

Honestly... I wasn't thrilled. But the problems lay not so much in the actual telling of the story -- the craft was there. I think the problem is that Jane Eyre is just really difficult to translate into the twenty-first century. Think female autonomy. Sure, we've all read the stories about how women still aren't equal, how we only make 80 cents to every man's dollar. But it pales in comparison to the reality of the time. The reality of limitation, and the trap of a world where a woman's working options were few. Jane Eyre strives above all else for independence, fighting against a system that believes inherently that women are weak-minded. The twenty-first century? Well, the struggle just doesn't quite translate.

Same for the (SPOILER!) crazy wife in the attic. In Jane Eyre, one can believe that whatever else Rochester was, he was truly trying to care for his wife in the best way he knew how. In a world (see above) where women were devalued and treated like feeble-minded children, the only place for Bertha, alternative to the proverbial attic at Thornfield, would have been a mental institution far worse than those that exist today. So Rochester -- was he doing the correct thing, keeping his wife locked up in the attic? Well... A little, yeah. If you consider that the only real alternative would have been a nightmarish institution she would likely never have left alive.

Truth is, though, this doesn't work today. Nico Rathburn, our Rochester counterpart, argues pretty much the same thing. That he's keeping his beloved crazy first wife locked in the attic (and presumed dead, if you want to get right down to it) because he can't stand the idea of locking her in a mental institution. Sure, there are bad places out there. But any decent institution nowadays (and let's remember that Rathburn is a rock star, so he can afford the best of the best) has got nothing on the ones you could find two hundred years ago.

I could go on (and on), but I'll stop here. Let me be clear: This is not a critique of Jane. Rather, this is a (very brief, and incomplete) eye shed on the difficulty of modernizing Jane Eyre. Some stories lend themselves to the touch-ups, the cell phones, the world of today. Some don't. The power of Jane Eyre is in the power of woman, in particular our heroine. It's the portrayal of the world as a beast sitting on the belief that women are inferior, unimportant, and useless, that makes Jane's story that much more potent.

But all that coming-into-your-power, independent thinking and choices -- sorry, but it doesn't translate in the world of today. Jane is a diverting book, to be sure. But stripped of the context that made Jane Eyre's story so powerful, it's a story about a girl who falls in love with a rock star, and not much more.

January 21, 2011

Amazon!

Okay, so I blame this entirely on Elana Johnson. Because she talked on and on and on about how splendiferously awesome this book on plotting was, and I thought: Hey. I trust this Elana. I have respect for her. I think she may be an internet-cyborg-thingy, the way she seems to be everywhere at the same time and still get her books done. So maybe I'll pick up that book, the one about plotting, since I am having the EXACT SAME PROBLEM.

This post is not about how I'm having trouble with plotting, although I could talk at length about that. No, this post is about how Amazon is a soul-sucker. Because you know what happens? I go over there to check out this book, Save the Cat. Easy enough. One click and it's in my cart.

But then they had to go and do that thing, you know the thing. The one where they say: "eligible for FREE Super Saver Shipping on orders over $25!!!" Okay, the exclamation marks are mine. So now I've spent at least twenty minutes agonizing about what I should purchase in addition to my life-saving plot book, and still cannot come to a decision. Not to mention the fact that Amazon is sneakily convincing me that spending more money to buy more stuff (say, $12-15 to reach the magic $25) is better than spending less money ($3-4, right?) on shipping.

Curse you, Amazon! If only you didn't have everything I could possibly want to buy online!

In the meantime, I'll be puzzling over the relative merits of these seventeen books. Yeah...

January 19, 2011

Getting grounded

You know what I did this week? I'll tell you. (Just for the record, it wasn't being sent to my room for the next three years without supper or recreational activities.)

This week, I reread my first draft.

I'd been avoiding since the end of November. To be perfectly honest, I had been operating under the assumption that I would outline the entire book and rewrite the whole thing, effectively scrapping everything I had written before. But when I made the decision to sit down and read my really (REALLY!) crappy first draft, it was because my way wasn't working.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about what needed to change in this book, and the changes piled up really fast. First it was small things -- add in a minor character here, clarify where the government gets its money from here -- but the big stuff wasn't far behind. I decided that what had previously been the ending of the book had to be the ending of part one, instead. I changed the gender of a major character, changed the first love interest, changed an entire society, killed off a god. It got to be so bad, pretty much everything had been changed, usually more than once. It became a story I didn't even recognize. (And to be perfectly honest, many of those changes were led by my idea of what would be marketable, which is ALWAYS a horrible idea during your first rewrite.)

So I did the thing I thought I'd never do. I went back and read my NaNo2010 novel.

And it wasn't bad. Clearly, it's not in publishable shape, not by a long shot. But the writing is entertaining in places, characters do their funny little character things, and most importantly, I caught the slightest glimpse of the heart of the story. I promptly threw out about 95% of the changes I had made in the six weeks I'd been away from my novel.

Going back to the very first draft was something I thought I'd never do, and it turned out to be something that was so, so necessary. Getting grounded -- I got grounded again in my book, firmly entrenching myself in the potential and the heart that's there. Doing this reminded me that in fact, I don't hate my book. I actually kind of like it. And those things I like about it -- those are the most important things to remember, and to keep around.

The lovely and supremely talented Stephanie Perkins, author of Anna and the French Kiss, (which I loved and highly recommend, by the way), wrote a similar post on Between Fact and Fiction, where she argued for the creation of a "love list," a list of all the things you love about your novel, small and big, in order to remind yourself when the going gets hard that yes, you do like your book. You may even love it at times.

So that's what I was doing this week. I was rekindling my love for my book, grounding myself in the style and the mood. It takes a big weight of my shoulders to remember that I actually like my story, that it isn't actually hopeless, that I don't actually have to turn the characters on their heads and shake everything out of them to make the pieces fit. Here's hoping I can make this time last.

January 17, 2011

Adverbiage

I'm late on the blog post today, dear readers. I hope against hope that you will find it in your hearts to forgive me. Today, I'm addressing one of my reading resolutions for the year - rereading childhood favorites.

Since I downloaded the Kindle version of Anne of Green Gables, I thought I'd start with that one. The book is as delightful as I remember it being (and also puts me in the mind of the equally delightful TV miniseries (1985 and 1987) based on the books). However, there's one thing I'm noticing this time around that I definitely didn't see last time: adverbs.

Everything Marilla says is said drily! Anne sobs "luxuriously"! People think "shamefacedly," cry out "sternly," sarcastically," and "admiringly". I could go on, but I think you get the picture. If every there was a poster book for what not to do when attempting to use adverbs, this is it.

Of course, I still can't help but laugh in delight at what hijinks little Miss Anne gets up to, and it is with absolute pleasure that I sink into a book that to this day fills me with those warm, cuddly happy feelings. But you have to admit, L. M. Montgomery really did overdo it with the adverbs.

Anyone else out there with similar experiences with childhood favorites?

January 14, 2011

This is not really a blog post

This is an obligation to have a sort of blog post (as in, something) posted on Friday. I want to be writing my book instead of writing a blog post. So in lieu of a blog post, this is what I have recently learned (and have resolved to remind myself of every day):

1. It is easy to want to be a writer. I've gotten that one down. If wanting to be a writer was a career, I would be stellar at it. (I'd make a lot of money doing that too. Although -- what does it look like? "Please please please please pleASE MAKE ME A WRITER!" If the job were to scream that at the top of my lungs every day, I might not be that great.)

2. It is very difficult to actually be a writer. Let's forget about all the publication and post-publication woes for the moment. I'm talking about sitting down in a chair and writing. Word by word. A story that I'm convinced sucks, and may never rise above the suckage. (It's that time of book-life, friends. Seems like it will never end.)

3. I am trying to bridge the gap between the two.

4. And that is where I am on Friday, instead of writing my blog post. I'm writing my book.

January 12, 2011

The power of thinking deeply

Doing a lot of thinking about writing this past week. And I think (although I am not sure) that I have discovered a few things about myself as a writer, and about writing in general.

1. I cannot start writing this second draft until I have a clear picture in my mind of the following: the beginning of the story, the end of it (and the general story arc), and the main characters. (I currently know some, but not all of these things.)

2. It takes a lot of time to think about all these things. Specifically, I can't think about writing in the spare five minutes while waiting for my tea at work. Can't think about it walking to work, because walking to work takes less than five minutes. I need at least thirty solid minutes to really sink into a writing thought mode, and ask difficult questions (ex: How does the crown pay for everything? Do they collect taxes? If so, how so?), and write all of that awesome information down. Which means that...

3. I, as a writer, suffer because of the internet. Because of technology, really. If I'm in a room with a computer, I'm thinking about the king's favorite color until -- Wait! What color, exactly, is mauve? And chartreuse? I've never been quite clear on those, either. I should check this, and Google is right there, and it's so easy, and look! Wikipedia! And I should check Twitter too -- you never know when your favorite author will say something amazing like "I GOT MARRIED!".......... Yeah. That's why going on long walks and sitting in restaurants for far longer than they want to have you with only a pen and paper is a very good idea. I recommend it...

4. Because that's the only way I got around to realizing that perhaps this book I'm trying to write? The part where I thought it ended actually happens to be the end of Part One, that's what. (Don't worry, this is not going to turn my book into a gargantuan mess. It was short to begin with.) <-- That's big. Really, really big. It has been bothering me for months, and was only solved last Friday.

And that's the power of deep thinking. Internet, beware. I can (and really should) get stuff done without you. (And so should all of you, my fellow writers.)

January 10, 2011

To listen or not to listen

So, audio. That's what I've been thinking about the last few days, ever since I listened to the episode of Books on the Nightstand where they talked up audio. (Side note: everyone should be listening to Books on the Nightstand, period. It's awesome.)

I've never listened to an audiobook. Mostly this has to do with the speed. I read pretty darn quickly, and so listening to an audiobook always makes me feel as though I'm being held back. My first college roommate loves audiobooks (she used to listen to them to fall asleep), but I never quite got that. However, Ann brought up some interesting points on the podcast that made me stop and think about it. Specifically, Ann wants to use audiobooks to help her stay motivated at the gym.

I thought that made perfect sense -- that audiobooks could potentially take the place of music in terms of what to listen to while walking, jogging, running, etc. (I suppose that they would be good to listen to in the car, although I don't have one, so it doesn't really concern me.) So I thought to myself, why not give this audiobook thing a try? You never know until you try, right? (This is in keeping with my philosophy about books -- that I pretty much give everything a fair shot.)

Anyway, I started looking around at audiobooks, and, because I have never looked up audiobooks before, I was struck by a severe case of sticker shock. $30+??!? And that's normal?!?? Well. Maybe I won't be getting into audiobooks as quickly as I wanted (although I probably will be looking into what my local library has to offer), but the desire remains to give them a try. So, my friends -- what's your take on audiobooks? Awesome? Not quite as awesome? Any favorites that I should start with? (I presume that, like translations, the narrator makes a huge difference in the quality of the finished product.) Any suggestions on where to come by these audiobooks?

Also, I read Red Glove, by Holly Black, over the weekend. It's awesome. (Review to come closer to publication date.) My only regret here is that I will have to wait until 2012 to read the next one. Urgh.

January 7, 2011

Some thoughts (randomness, really)

It's Friday today. The auditory sounds that accompany this post are: the pianist upstairs who practices about three hours a day... AND the intermittent chirp of (I think) the smoke detector. It would like a new battery, I think that's what it's trying to say, except I am not tall enough to reach it. Alas, the limitations of a not-quite-average-heighted person.

Well then. Other than that, I've started a new story. Don't worry, this isn't cheating on my novel, really -- it's a short story (or it BETTER be). Just a little thing on the side. Just to break up the rhythm a bit. It has to do with a rather jolly king who inadvertently gambles away his kingdom? Although that's just in the first paragraph, so who knows what's going to happen next. It might be the end of the world. You never know.

Considering that this is my first experience with random Fridays (or Fridays of Randomness? Or Frighteningly Freakish Fridays? Okay, scratch that last one...), I think it's going rather well. I get to hop about from subject to subject without thinking ahead, without looking ahead, without pausing before I jump feet first into a hole...

So the first week of January comes to a close. It's been a little stressful, to tell the truth. Stuff at work and all that. Trying to live up to all the resolutions, which have decided to gang up on me and hold me down while one by one, they punch me in the stomach -- that's not working out very well. I may have to adjust as necessary, although the one I'm actually living up to so far is the 300 books thing. Oh, that and the blogging three times a week thing. Week 1, check!

I suppose that the thing to look forward to is February, then. Because in February I will be seeing Avenue Q, and it will be marvelous.

January 5, 2011

In the slog

I'm in the slog, yo. Which is funny, really, because it's not like I'm three hundred pages into revisions. I made a resolution to spend fifteen minutes a day writing, and so far I've written half a scene from the hero's perspective (rather than the heroine's), a thought exercise on the history of the kingdom I'm writing in, and a doodle about whether the heroine should be in love with someone other than the person with whom she's in love at the beginning of the book.

In other words, I've been slogging around, doing something, sure, but what? Err...

I've got two problems. 1. I don't know where to start. There's too much. The prospect of reconsidering the entire book is staring down at me from the ceiling, claws extended. AH! And 2. I'm losing faith in the book. The ideas. The characters.

There are horror stories everywhere (at least everywhere I'm looking) about how hard it is to make your book stand out, about how hard it is to be successful as a writer, about how hard everything is, even if your writing is extraordinary. And even though my writing is certainly nowhere near extraordinary -- well, I had hopes that I would make this book as amazing as it could possibly be. And this is one of those slogs where I don't think I can. It's not new enough. Not cool enough, not captivating enough, not original enough...

Sigh. Revision is slow going. On the other hand, it took a long time figuring out how to write crappy first drafts. I've only just figured out how to finish a crappy first draft. So maybe it'll just take a while to figure out how to revise those first drafts into slightly less crappy second drafts. (Hopefully, though, it won't take quite as long as the first-drafting process...)

January 3, 2011

Well, it's Monday

This week in reading... or last week summed up.

I brought a suitcase full of books (literally -- there were 18) home with me over the holidays. I thought I would polish them off for the new year, then sit back and attend to other things. Alas, this was not to be. The books refused to cooperate -- instead of yelling "Pick me! Pick me!" from their pile on my sister's already-messy table, they exuded a supreme air of boredom. Lackadaisical-ness. They didn't want to be touched, they were perfectly happy by themselves.

Which all goes to say that I lugged 18 books home with me, only to bring them back up to my apartment this afternoon and send them packing to the library. It's a mystery, sometimes, why you're in the mood for one book over another (or perhaps no books at all). In this case, I had seven or eight books looking at me, and I wasn't interested in any of them. Why? Well, they were all perfectly fine books, and most are on my eons-long Goodreads to-read list. But for whatever reason, I wasn't interested. So back to the library they went, and I spent my time picking up some books that I really was excited to read (among them Fall of Giants, by Ken Follett, and Storyteller: the Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl, by Donald Sturrock). And now I am perfectly interested in reading again.

In other reading news, I'm on target to complete the year with 300+ books read, seeing as how I read a book yesterday, and a book today. Two down, so many more to go... I've also started Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff. The first ten pages are pretty awesome.

All this goes to say... Well, that reading is subjective. There are bad books, certainly. But even among the good books, you just might not be the right type of person for them. Not the best fit, not the best genre. Or even -- you might not be in the right mood for them. It might not be the right time. Or even the right year. In other words, some books are amazing, but you will never like them. And some books are worth giving a second chance. (And some aren't worth it at all, when you get right down to it -- but there are a lot of them that are.)

Happy Monday, everyone. I hope you're reading excellent books.