Monday, December 31, 2007
At least I was neglecting the blog because I was out of the country, which cannot be said for certain other slackers.
Also, I did make somewhat productive use of time on the plane by reading some essays to use for Comp. and by finishing the last bit of FJR. Otherwise, while on the island I made my best effort to avoid productivity of any kind, and managed pretty dang well with that goal.
I'm not sure what I have in mind reading & writing-wise for this month, but I'll keep you posted. I'm still adjusting back to winter in Colorado instead of winter in the tropics, and it seems far too cold to be doing anything much.
Monday, December 24, 2007
For one thing, Edward Zwick does a fantastic job of scale and balance. You get the whole picture without getting overwhelmed or desensitized by it and he has a great touch for inter-cutting perspectives and stories. Then you have fantastic lead characters and actors who pull them. Wow.
My favorite part of this is the intense believability and DiCaprio's character, Danny Archer. Of course, as we know, I'm all about a good redeption story, especially when it's complex. Nice. If you haven't seen this one yet, you should remedy that. Excellent storytelling.
As an added note - Zwick's other choice for Danny Archer was none other than Russell Crowe. This is particularly fun since 3:10 To Yuma is also an excellent redemption story.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Here I was, trying to thin of something to write other than a post about how I've decided to totally blow off my goals for the month and roll 'em over to January, and I stop by Jenny's blog. *Whew* now I have a question to answer, which is always easier than coming up with something from scratch.
For me, I figure it's more like a kite. Instead of it being a question of running out of juice, it's a question of what kind of wind is blowing. Right now my creative wind is more of a calm and getting anything flying means having to run all-out when I'd rather watch the clouds for a bit.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Here's my question for you: Metaphorically speaking, what tends to be the relative size of your eyes in proportion to your stomach?
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Monday, December 17, 2007
Oracle has been a prime example. I started out with chapters which, in my mind, covered all the ground they needed to in two pages. After a few months of people telling me to slow down and expand, or face the consequences of an irritated critique group armed with sharp and aerodynamic pens, I buckled down and did what they told me to.
At first it was really tough to go into a scene and put so much thought into how I could add to, for instance, a bit of dialogue that was a few sentences long. And yet, after I started to dig, I came up with more and more. I added a bit of description about body language, or anything anyone was holding, or a bit of description about what was happening in the background... After a while, what I would previously have written in a paragraph became a whole page.
More recently, I've been having the same thing happen on my other blog. A while back I added a few quotes from the bar. Then I added a few more. Now the blog is bar-laden and I still have notes on my order pad that I haven't put up yet. As soon as I started digging I wound up with more material than I could have thought possible. My first bar posts were pretty short. My last one was 1,100 words.
The more time you spend fleshing out a topic, story, etc., the deeper you dig. Now, sometimes we get carried away and write a trilogy of novels about the character's teen years, even when the real story doesn't start until the character's thirty-two. So yes, it's totally possible to get carried away. Still, it seems the more common struggle is the opposite.
Since the theme of this month is revision, keep a shovel in mind this month while you're going back to what you've written. Chances are, you could probably dig at least a little deeper.
Alternately, just for giggles, take something out of the piece you're revising - a minor character, one of the props, or even that scar on your protagonist's arm. Get a fresh sheet of paper. Start writing. Say as much as you can about it, everything you can tell about its description, history, significance, etc. Then, once you've done that, write another page about it. See what happens.
Saturday, December 15, 2007
In the past couple of days, I've been thinking of how I have a couple of weeks ahead of me which I get to fill with reading fun things instead of school things. Kid in a candy shop, right? I haven't made it to the library yet, but I was already trying to decide where I'd start. Well, now Jenny's solved that dilemma for me 'cause now I know I'm going to start with FJR. I've just gotta grab my blue pen and then I'm off.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I briefly considered putting up my whole paper here to satisfy y'all's curiousity, but it's longish and I saved it wrong. Gotta love those blonde moments.
I can hardly believe the semester's over now. What am I going to do with all this sudden free time? All I'll have to do is read my comp. 101 book, create a syllabus, and develop my first assignment sequence by the end of next week (so it's done and off to Katherine before I go on vacation). Piece of cake, right?
Otherwise, my agenda for the next few days includes stopping by the library to load up on just-for-fun books, cooking lots, having some folks over in honor of the impending holiday, and watching plenty of TV. Oh boy, I love break.
Monday, December 10, 2007
As so often happens with this whole writing thing, it turned out that the beginning wasn't really the beginning after all. Instead the beginning was more in the middle part with my book study. To get more specific, it really began with Stardust. I should've known that Neil would save me.
Don't you just love how sometimes the best place to start things is nowhere near the beginning of it all? Sometimes you have to walk backwards before you know where you're headed.
So, what's come out of two semesters of theory? Here's a paragraph that's come out of this portfolio (though I'm now no longer sure it'll even be in the portfolio - another funny part about this writing thing) and says it in a way that makes sense in my head:
"In the end, it’s not always easy to articulate the ways reading and writing connect to each other in the same way it’s not so easy to describe the way fingers connect to the palm. Is the connection where the bones meet? The tendons between the bones? Or, is it the skin that covers both?"
So, ultimately what I know about the reading-writing connection is that it's like fingers. Three words to sum it all up. Not bad for a few semesters' work.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
It all comes down to one question: What do I know about how writing works?
I've taken two semesters of writing theory now. All I have to do is answer one question. I started writing one part of the portfolio, my position paper wherein I say what's what. I've got three pages of a 3-5 page paper and I haven't even begun to answer it. This does not bode well.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
If you're not familiar with the jist - the screen writers want more money. To make matters worse, they want things like royalties off of "new media" such as on-demand online viewings of shows/movies. Those greedy bastards!
Bottom line: the studios are making money by taking advantage of new technology, then denying a (decent) cut to those who made it possible for the studios to make that money in the first place.
The writers totally get my support. While it's depressing to think of all the nifty shows that are now/soon-to-be on-hold due to the strike: Heroes, Dexter, Echo... I can wait. Besides, most of the TV I watch anyway is shows that are no longer on the air which come to me via my mailbox. I've got almost two more seasons of Angel to go, plus more Six Feet Under and X-Files to tide me over. I can be patient.
Tuesday, December 4, 2007
I'm now in the planning stages for overtaking the world with branded accessories.
Step one: Develop logo.
Step Two: Get a celebrity to wear Ali-demon gear.
Step Three: Sit back and count money.
The moral of the story: nagging your friends to write more can sometimes lead to fame and fortune.
Yesterday we had another meeting to start expanding the magazine. There were only three of us, so it went pretty quick since we could all huddle around the pile without tripping over each other. I think it was our quickest meeting yet, in fact. It was interesting to go through the stack of pieces we initially said "No" to, looking for a few to say "Yes" to. The criteria changes a bit during the second go 'round.
All I'll say about that is to emphasize that being able to see the selection process up close and personal is an eye-opener. Also, no author should ever witness their own work going through the process - nothing good can come of hearing the editor(s) making off-hand comments about whether or not they like your work and why.
On a side note: What's with all the poetry that uses the word "soul"? Yeesh. The H. Eye staff has now filed a formal complaint against the use of "soul" and against submitting fiction or poetry which is untitled. Thank you for your cooperation.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
So, in the spirit of sharing a painful experience, I'm going to share my intro. It's rough and I'll probably make some changes, but here's my rough:
I began the semester unsure of how best to work up to my thesis. As I will be writing a creative thesis, the element of research will not be as prominent for me as for my peers who will be writing a critical thesis. I decided the best topic for my research would be to focus on the style of story I would be writing: magical realism. The more I thought about my topic, the further back I wanted to look at it. At this point I realized how much magical realism stories have in common with folklore and fairy tales, and that was when I narrowed my research.
In many ways, magical realism is simply a contemporary version of the fairy tale. Fairy tales tap into our subconscious and run through our cultural identity. They speak in the language of symbols and magic, teaching us about extraordinary possibilities and happy endings. As a result, fairy tales are an excellent medium for a wide variety of critical schools: feminism, sexuality, and cultural studies are especially applicable.
The contemporary fiction genre of retold fairy tales has developed in conjunction with these critical schools. These retold tales offer their own interpretation of the original story, as well as a commentary on the ideas and values represented in the original. Feminist retellings are especially popular and change passive female characters, like Sleeping Beauty, into active heroines. Another facet of retellings is modernized versions of the classic stories. Updated tales are popular in all forms of stories, and allusions, such as titling a film “Cinderella Man,” surround us.
My initial goal of researching fairy tales was to gain a better understanding of where the genre of magical realism comes from. However, as my research progressed and I looked at example after example of the ways fairy tales have endured for centuries and remain a central aspect of our cultural consciousness I realized something. These stories describe and influence much more than a genre of fiction. They describe and influence the foundation of our culture. Not only are fairy tales where magical realism comes from, fairy tales are where we come from.
In the meantime, finals week and the due dates for monstrous final projects rampage ever nearer. I can't help but wonder how much more I've got left in me. It feels like I'm a hair away from running dry. Bad timing, to say the least.
Have you ever completely run out of steam? Have you come close, but perservered? What got you through it?
Friday, November 30, 2007
I started going through, writing down the titles of pieces we want, the author's name, and the author's e-mail. For about four authors, I had to write small when I wrote the titles because these folk had four or more pieces we wanted. These are the people who consistently write great quality work. Kudos to them.
The only problem now is that we're going to have to un-accept some of their pieces because having six poems from one author and only one from another makes for an off-balanced anthology. This problem is compounded by the fact that we need to expand the magazine since we initially accepted so few pieces. Now we're faced with the paradoxical task of expanding the magazine as a whole, while simultaneously limiting the representation of certain authors. How do you like that?
As for these particular authors, I wish them the best and hopefully those pieces we will, out of necessity, be cutting are pieces the authors can turn around and submit to another publication. So, it's really the best kind of rejection one can get, isn't it?
Thursday, November 29, 2007
On my list of dream jobs, TV writer ranks pretty high. Specifically, writing for a show like one of those listed above. An ongoing drama with characters you get to dig into, plus a bit of humor to boot (okay, not so much with Heroes). There's also the fact that it's one of the few non-solitary writing gigs one can have, and you get to hang around with a bunch of people just as nerdy as you. Then, there's the slim chance of one day working with someone fantastic like Joss. Ah, that'd be the ticket.
The downside is that, to write for TV it seems like you pretty much have to live in California, but I think I could do that if I had to. If Joss was involved, I wouldn't mind spending a few years on the moon. It'd be fun, and a story for the grandkids (or, great neices/nephews, anyway).
How about you? With the exceptions of novelist, poet, or short story writer, what's your dream writing gig?
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
I gotta say, I'm really excited to have an actual office to use. Doors that close are awesome, so too will be the use of the table in the office for conferencing with students. A spot to spread out a bit which none of the other offices (and definitely none of the cubicles) have.
Now I've just got to look over two books of essays and coordinate with Rick to decide which one we want to use (we've got to be in sync) by early next week. I've currently got four books and two CDs sitting on the desk, all materials to use/look over for the TA. It almost feels like Christmas came early.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
With that in mind, I tried to think about how doing the assignments in class will somehow pay off with my thesis. I've been talking a bit about how, in my head, magical realism and fairy tales are really the same thing after all. I talked about it a bit more, writing it down for class, and I've come to the conclusion that I haven't just been going through the motions. Okay, so there's been a lot of going through the motions, but I have gotten some good out of Tuesday nights.
Let's face it, one given as we go through life is that we usually find what we look for. I know it certainly holds true for me. That's why I get annoyed with myself when I realize I'm slipping into negativity. Like begets like, and all that.
So, let me ask this: What are you looking for?
Monday, November 26, 2007
My plan for this month is to revisit, edit, and revise my potential thesis stories. I'm not sure if I'll get to all of them, but that's what I'm shooting for.
First up: Strong Heart. I need to make a significant change to that one, as well as do some tweaking on POV. So, I'm getting rid of the car accident, giving Chloe a chronic illness instead, and making everything take place in Mathilde's POV. Then it should be perfect.
"Yeah, right," you say. "Perfect. Uh huh."
Hey, I'm psyching myself up here, I don't need your lip.
Now, while I'm digging into thesis stories, I'm challenging you to take another look at your own work. Pick something, roll up your sleeves, and get to revising. Now's the time to take that stack of critiques you got back in June and put them to work. Let the festivities begin!
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Friday, November 23, 2007
Writing books, whether written by real or fictional people, are interesting. The main idea of being a writer is that everyone has to find their own way. Yet, there are stacks and stacks of books written by writers to tell other people how to be writers. Seems contradictory, doesn't it? Of course, whatever helps you find your way, right?
Me, I'm fond of doing things the hard way and figuring it out on my own. This is why I've only ever read two books (that I remember) on writing: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien. Even then, the second isn't specifically about writing, it just has a ton of metafictional commentary within it.
Then again, plenty of writers I admire give credit to writing books as part of what helped them. If I ever wanted to look up a writing book, I know exactly who to ask for a recommendation. I also love to hear writers talk about their process, so when you get right down to it, I kind of do find writing books helpful, just not necessarily when they're in book form.
Reading Jenny's "excerpt" also makes me wonder a bit about all the writers who write how-to books. Setting aside all question of making a quick buck, it's interesting to think of what motivates people like Stephen King to sit down and knock out page upon page of "this is how I do it." Why are these writers so strongly motivated to share their experience?
"Oh come on," you say, "wake up and smell the blog. You're doing the same thing."
Ah yes, you're a quick one, you are.
As writers, we tend to be a fairly isolated lot. This is why writers groups are so important, they at least get us out of the house and into daylight on occasion. The act of writing is so paradoxical: we sit by ourselves in order to make connections with others. It doesn't make any sense, does it?
It seems the point I'm working up to is this: Even if you don't read "writing books," it seems impossible to escape them. Writers are a cannibalistic bunch, we feed off of our peers in an assortment of ways and no matter how long we've been working away at our typewriters, we're always going to be someone's apprentice.
On a side note, what's the best advice about writing you've been given (whether in a book or not)?
Thursday, November 22, 2007
John Jude Palencar
While it is by no means an extensive list, these are some of my favorites.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
By the time I got to the last few chapters, the Jenny train was really bookin' it down the tracks and you couldn't pay me to stand in its way. The worst part is that I don't have all of FJR yet. Bad Jenny. The neat part was seeing her writing get stronger and stronger as she went. Now it's just a matter of going back to the beginning and pulling it up to the level of the rest. But, that's the whole point of editing.
While everyone's process is their own, mine and Jenny's are similar. Looking at the progress of Oracle is like looking at the progress of FJR. Toward the end, when I stepped away from it, Oracle had hit the point where the rhythm had smoothed out. I have a ton of work to do when I go back to the beginning, but now I have a good idea of what the beginning needs to match up to.
Today, after I wrote my last note on Jenny's manuscript I came home, turned on the computer, and started writing the next chapter of Oracle. Going back to it is both strange and not at the same time. I remember where I was going, but where I was going was the messiest part of the whole book. It's intimidating to try and get my momentum going right at the bottom of this hill, but if I don't I'll never finish it.
I've been thinking hard about just what Oracle is in the grand scheme of things. You hear a lot about how your first novel, or two, is for practice and that the chances of it being any good at all are exceedingly slim. At the same time, I want to make it as good as I can make it and not just toss it aside when I'm done writing it through and say "Well, on to the next one, the one that matters." In the end, I have no idea what'll come of it. I'd like to think I can save it, but I also acknowledge the fact that it might be doomed already. Either way, I've got to at least see it through.
Here's a toast to that first painful chug.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
As an English major, at one point I read Beowulf. Afterwards, I promptly forgot most of it. Also as an English major, I've had a classmate who was in a few classes with me and who is obsessed with Beowulf. By this point, whatever interest I originally had has been squashed by this classmate's over-healthy zeal. Then, I hear Neil wrote it. Okay, I'm in.
My main beef is that the movie follows the tale too closely. Okay, they take liberties with a few points, but plot-wise it's the same story I had to read in Brit. Lit. 1 *Sigh*
I wish they'd have taken more liberties and followed the saga less precisely. The big time jump, particularly, was where they lost me. First story ends, we jump a few decades, and the second story begins. Everything in between is cut away. Of course, that's the accuracy coming through. But, don't they owe more to the story than to just retell it?
"But they don't!" You argue. "They changed lots!"
True, but the changes weren't enough for me. I wanted a re-imagining of the story, along the lines of Roald Dahl's version of Cinderella, or The Mists of Avalon. I felt like the writers had been too loyal to the original and sacrificed their ownership. I'm frustrated with it because it seems like they got so close to what I was hoping for, but shied away in the end. Speaking of the end, yeesh. Not so good.
Still, this isn't to say that the movie was bad. It's decent. But, as far as versions of Beowulf go, the one with Gerard Butler and Stellan Skarsgard is still my favorite. Sorry Neil.
Monday, November 19, 2007
I'm still not quite to the part she did for American Icon, but I have to be pretty close. I'm thinking tomorrow might be a good day for finishing this puppy off. Then it will be all ready and marked up by the time I see Jenny on Sunday and get the rest of the novel from her.
It's cool to be reading the manuscript of a friend's novel, particularly since I'm getting to read it in such a short time (as opposed to the group where everything is spaced out by months and months). Fun times.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Thanksgiving is almost here, then comes the Christmas onslaught and before we know it, it's 2008. Whew. I better hurry up and figure out what December's challenge is going to be, because I haven't a clue yet.
I keep reminding myself that I have the whole week off of school, but the reality hasn't sunk in yet. Even so, thanks to calling in sick last night because of this pesky cold, I'm now rounding my second day of being home all day and I'm already getting restless. I don't do well with extended periods of time and nothing particular to do. This, despite my complaints of having no time all the time. Funny, isn't it?
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Heck, when you get down to it, Oracle is a redemption story (or, will be once I finish it). Everybody has something they've lost, something to try and regain. I think I'm drawn to redemption stories because they feel genuine. No matter who you are, you can relate.
They talk about story archetypes, about how there are only a handful of major plots that all stories somehow correspond to. I suppose I could look them up, but I'm going to skip it. Instead, I'm going to ask another question: Archetypically speaking (yeah it's not a real word, so sue me) what are the stories you're consistently drawn to? Any thoughts on why?
Friday, November 16, 2007
But hey, I'll take what I can get.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I have no beef with paragraphs. I think they're great. I usually write in paragraph form. Paragraphs, in and of themselves, don't bother me.
The reason I commented on them was their context. The fact that, in a class of fourteen, only two people wrote their brainstorming in a format other than paragraphs, is weird. One thing I know about writing is that everybody has a writing process, not unlike a belly button, which is their own and doesn't exactly match anyone else's.
Whit writes down brainstorming in paragraphs. I write it down in a much more irregular way, a sentence here, a word there, bullets and lines connecting ideas. My brainstorming notes are more like PowerPoint slides. Between the two of us, our notes look different. So, how can it be that so many students write notes that look exactly the same? That's where my comment comes in.
Now if these students wrote paragraphs because that's what worked for them, fine. However, my suspicion is this isn't the case. Talking with them, hearing their comments during the class discussion Tuesday, and looking over their papers, I see a lot of people who are struggling to figure out their process, not those who have already. Enter public education.
I'm not saying that all teachers are corporate clones. Most of those I know from my classes or SCWP are anything but. I am saying there's a lot of pressure in the education system to create measurable products. Standardized tests are a big player here. The budget question ties directly to test scores, where there is a right/wrong answer.
One teacher I know has actually been given a hard time by her administration because she was asking students open-ended questions. "That's fine," they said, "but there needs to be a right answer."
To which the teacher replied, "But, then it's not an open-ended question."
Taking this back to paragraphs: Standardized tests and "scientific" approaches to writing boil down to this push for something that can be measured. They want to measure how proficient a student is at The Writing Process, and this means having steps that they can check off: Student did/did not do step 1, 2, 3. The only problem is that most writers I know don't write that way. Most do the steps out of order, or skip some. This doesn't fly with the tests, so students are taught to write in measurable ways, regardless of how that student might learn to write on their own.
Organic/authentic is not measurable. Standardized is. Thus, my problem with seeing so many paragraphs.
A few clumped up with their buddies. A few went off alone. Some stayed on-task, some didn't and needed prompting along the lines of "Oh, finished already, are you? No? Well then, get to work." It was funny to see how they broke out, though about what I expected.
Substituting today reminded me less of waitressing (though, I still remembered everyone's names and was able to name those who were absent) and more of babysitting and working as a tutor in the writing room. The babysitting came in because the dynamics are much the same. A stranger steps in and takes on an authority role usually reserved for the parent/professor. There's a lot of water-testing that goes on and trying to guage how to interact with the kids/students based on their personalities relative to being in that authoritative position. The tutor part is pretty obvious. A couple of students asked me for help today and I flashed back to the writing room and trying to pull the answers out of the student instead of handing the answer to them.
Not so easy, especially when they're asking, "That's what I think, I think. Is what I think right?" Then to reply, "Well, what have you said to me? *repeat* How does that sound to you?" It's an answer that annoys people, but gets them to dig a bit and they usually come up with their own answer just fine after they give me that exasperated look.
Now, after this experience, I'm glad of two things:
1. That I visited Tuesday. Walking in already knowing the students' names and having an idea of their personalities did a lot to put me at ease. I already had a pretty good idea of who I'd need to keep an eye on vs. who would be pretty self-sufficient.
2. That I did it. In my imagination, this whole teaching adventure was getting a bit blown out of proportion and scary. Now that I've actually been in a class I'm less intimidated. Today wasn't too bad, and once they're my own students in my own class, it'll be easier.
My own class, by the way, will be MWF from 10-10:50. I checked the online registration and, while it still says TBA for the professor, it also says FULL. I have students. Now I just need a syllabus, reading list, and course calendar.
I bring this up today because I have an 8-10 page paper due tomorrow. Yesterday I wrangled the night off of work, part of my idea being that I would have "time" to work on this paper. Instead, I opted to do some experimental cooking, watch another disc of my nifty new Angel box-set, and go to bed early. While I can partly use as an excuse the fact that my throat is breaking (woke up yesterday with a sore throat and it's not gone away) the main issue at hand is motivation. Let's face it, I've hit that burned-out, worn-out, just-don't-wanna point of the semester. Add to that my nearness to graduation, and I've got what boils down to as Senioritis.
Part of me is telling myself to just cowboy up and get it over with, or that if I just do half of it today, I can tear through the other half in no time tomorrow. Part of me is saying, "Yeah, but after I do this paper, I've got to do that other one, and then the big portfolio project is due soon after." Ultimately, these parts don't matter. They're irrelevant because there's another part, not of me, which is my professor who has decreed tomorrow as the due date. That's the part of this equation which is going to win out and get my butt in front of the computer and my fingers a-typing.
Thinking about this brings me to a question: What are the main motivations for your writing? Are they internal or external? Have you written more just because you wanted to, or because in some way you had to?
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
So, planning ahead a bit here... During December, one of my goals will be to write the next chapter of Oracle. Maybe, depending on how Thanksgiving break goes, it'll even happen sooner.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
When everyone had them in and had split off to do some computer research, I looked through them. You know what I saw? Almost every person wrote their brainstorm in paragraph(s) format.
These students are, with one exception, all traditional, fresh out of high school, students. Fresh out of the public K-12 education system which indoctrinates all students in The Writing Process (Yup, it's capitalized, and singular) in which there is a right and wrong way to do everything from come up with an idea to presenting the final, five-paragraph, product.
There's only one small problem with this indoctrination: it doesn't work. Quick show of hands, how many of you write according to the precise formula you were taught in school? Exactly.
When I was in school I had teachers who wanted me to outline before I wrote my rough draft. This was an important step, they said, and I absolutely couldn't start writing until I had outlined. If I did the steps out of order, I was doing it wrong. Right? Whatever. I did what worked for me, despite their admonitions, and wrote my rough draft first. Then, since the teacher demanded it, I wrote up an outline which followed my rough draft (but I turned it in first, even though I wrote it second, because it came first).
Now, skip forward in time to a time when I'm sitting around with creative writers, talking about the writing process. Everyone's is different, and I'm far from the only one where The Writing Process doesn't work. In fact, now that I think of it, I can only think of one (two?) writers I know who, for instance, outline.
Back in class: During the discussion time when Katherine asked each student about their idea for their paper, a lot of the students' answers showed how uncertain that student was about whether or not they were doing it "right." Their emphasis was not on writing a good paper, but pleasing the instructor.
So let's roll this all up together. In all my talks with other students/writers, reading the theory, talking with professors, etc. it keeps coming back to this question of ownership. Good writing is writing that comes from the writer owning it. If we don't have power over what we write, how we write it, how can we write anything worthwhile? That said, a lot of standardized K-12 education is counter-productive to writing. The one-size-fits-all model (CSAP, anyone?) displaces ownership and sets students behind once they hit higher ed. As Katherine said, we've got to "untrain" them.
Here's my question for you: How much did K-12 writing instruction help you? Hinder you? How did you figure out your writing process? Has your process always been the same?
Monday, November 12, 2007
Reading the rough draft of a novel is interesting. I think I can see her writing process in respect to where she hit her stride, and now I'm looking forward to hitting the spot she did an excerpt of for her American Idol award.
Okay, I'll let Jenny be the one to say more about it, since it is her novel, not mine. In any event, tomorrow's Tuesday and I expect I can get through at least 30 more pages. I'm closing fast on the rest of the book and I can't wait to see how it all unfolds.
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Saturday, November 10, 2007
So, ladies and gents, here's my question: In this age of online dating, e-mail, and blogs, do you think that (all issues of pretending to be someone else aside) sometimes writing allows us to be more honest (whether by a little or a lot) than we are in reality?
Friday, November 9, 2007
Katherine took our class to this meeting. It's the first time I've had a field trip in college, and it was very, very interesting.
I have a hard time with politics/the government/beauracracy. Last night was no exception. I think the intentions behind this shindig were good, but it was far less informative than one could hope. Less "conversation" and more "well, this is what I think" and "okay, but what category does that go into?" I can't help but feel that we accomplished very little.
In any event, a handful of teachers were there, as well as a handful of students (college) and K-12 parents. Added to the mix were a few politicians, school administrators, and higher-ups from our very own campus.
A few telling things:
- One of the greatest "needs" of educators was more money. (One of my classmates, who is also a K-12 teacher, vehemently disagreed that this was top-priority. She was more in favor of up-to-date materials and functioning classrooms, and giving teachers more authority to decide what goes on in their own classrooms.)
- The group had a lengthy argument to define who was an educator that needs more money: We started with "classroom teachers," then someone said, "But music/art teachers should count too" (I know, I know, not a lot of thinking it through there), and someone from the first group said, "Really, we just meant that we're not talking about administrators."
- The meeting was interrupted so a politician could give us all an "um" laden speech about the budget, because it's all about, um, money.
- While the meeting was going on, some of our educational higher-ups were actively engaged and participating in the conversation (both in the small groups we broke into, and in the overall discussion). Some were ignoring it by, in one case, humming and doodling, and in two others, having a side conversation all their own. I can't help but question their priorities and whether or not I have much/any faith in them as a person in a position of power.
If you're curious to find out more about what this is, here's the website http://www.conversation2007.org/. However, at the time of this posting, said website isn't working. Doesn't that just say it all?
Thursday, November 8, 2007
Like I mentioned, titles are a clarifying tool for me. It's like adjusting the magnification on a microscope. You're always looking at the same thing, it's just the knobs that you adjust, but all of a sudden that slide you're looking at is clear instead of fuzzy and you finally know exactly what you're looking at.
Yesterday I spent some time asking myself questions about the La Llarona story and what it was really about, what was I really getting at, who was truly my focal figure, and what exactly was I trying to say about them? At the end of these questions, I had a title: When Ben Bucater Met His First Ghost. It's not a perfect title, and I may change the wording a bit, but it's there. It says what I want it to and now I have the right magnifying lense to use when I look the story over again and do some revising.
It's a small thing for some, but a big "click" moment for me. It even makes that sound in my head, a metallic sound like the sound of switching lenses on a microscope (thus the analogy, see?).
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
However, it's mostly a warning instead of a threat. I don't expect it to take me long to get through the 200+ pages. Jenny's a good writer and I've got the manuscript of a novel I like. Yesterday I took the manuscript with me to the terrible class and got through page 44. Up to this point, I've read it all already, and I'm making a lot of the same notes I remember making on another copy of the manuscript she gave me a while back (no edits between the two, apparently). I expect I'll slow down a bit once I strike into the new part, but I'll certainly have it read by the next group meeting.
Now, Jenny's got those of us who volunteered to read the whole novel split into two groups - her first readers and second, post-edit, readers - in order to save some money on copies. What she doesn't know yet (but will as soon as she reads this) is that I plan to be in both groups. My campus printing account has lots and lots of pages left, so all she'll need to do is e-mail it to me. (Hint, hint, Jenny).
I suppose I'm starting to sound a bit possessive here, but I have a hard time apologizing for it. She knows that I wouldn't get possessive if I didn't like the book, and who's going to turn down a bonus (and free) extra reader/proof reader? Exactly.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
About a page later, I was at a climax point, where I had originally planned to wrap up the La Llarona story. The ghost has a hold of the boy, he's struggling to get away... and then he does. That was not my plan. Every writer talks about times when the story gets away from them and all of a sudden the writer realizes that they're not driving any more. In my case, I realized there were about three more pages to the story (if not more when I start to revise).
Before I could finish, Deb walked in with her laptop and said she was going to ignore me for a while to do some writing of her own. So, there we sat, ignoring each other for a while until the rest of the gang started to wander in. I finished my rough draft, finally, and resigned myself to the fact that this story is going to be more work than I originally planned it to be. I'll tell you right now, this rough draft is one of the roughest I've ever produced. Usually, I'm more of a writer who does mental pre-writing and then when I get to physical writing, I've got a pretty good idea of what's going on. Not this time. Not by a long shot.
I'm beginning to sense a pattern, as well. Right now I've got two stories I keep calling The __ Story and both have proven to be very problematic. I think the lack of clear title and the lack of clear vision go hand-in-hand. When I think of titles, I think of distilling the essence of what the story is all about and pasting a few words to that effect at the top. I can't help but think that once I get the perfect title for these problem stories, the rest of the difficulties I'm having with them will fix themselves. Focus, right? Clarity of vision.
So tell me, what's your title philosophy? Does having a strong title make it easier for you to writ the story that goes with it? Or, do titles come last in your writing process?
Monday, November 5, 2007
Well, I finally finished the teeth-pulling that was my application letter. Katherine suggested I keep most of the stuff from the last one, then add a "since my last application, here's what I've done" part. That part was easy, the first part (since I no longer have my last letter) was far more difficult. I've mentioned before that I hate writing sales pitches for myself, and nothing's changed since then: "I'm Super!" just isn't something I say often, because it's weird to do it unless one is an egomaniac, or Jenny (though they're not so mutually-exclusive). Just kidding, Jenny. Mostly. But hey, a bit more egomaniac in most of us wouldn't hurt, would it? Especially not in these circumstances.
So, the "I'm great" letter is done, and I think it came out pretty well. Of course, as they say with the proof and pudding, I won't know until we get the announcement of who got it. At least the turn-around should be quick, and it'll certainly be before Thanksgiving break.
Here's hoping for a quick verdict.
Let me explain something briefly: Mondays for me are like Sundays for everyone else. They are day two of my weekend, thanks to usually working at the bar on Saturdays. I like Mondays because I get to goof off and watch DVDs, etc. Mondays are beautiful.
No day off for me today, however. I've got to write my TA letter, do a couple hours on campus (to make up for what I missed last week for the craft show), get some things together for a major project due in Katherine's class soon, and take care of some Hungry Eye business. Then, there are a couple of personal errands I have to run and the Rogues' meeting happens later tonight, which I plan to be early for so I can sit in the coffee shop and finally finish the rough draft of the La Llarona story.
I'm not even supposed to have had breakfast yet on Mondays, and here I am, already on campus.
I just keep telling myself, "You just hafta make it to Thanksgiving break. A whole week of no school. You can make it..." It's kind of working.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Speaking of antagonizing, I've been meaning to talk about an article I read recently, and now seems like the perfect time to do it.
The article in question appeared in a local paper at the beginning of October. I just Googled it to find a link for you all, and realized that this same article has appeared across the country. Just think of all the people who have read it. Now, read it yourself: http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2007/10/advice-to-colle.html
Another classic example of canonical elitism, and did you catch the racist overtones? Yeesh. I like that her writing is illogical and often makes no sense, too: "Current works promoting multiculturalism written by women and minorities replaced the classics of Western civilization written by the DWEMS, Dead White European Males." Even though it may look like she's making fun of the DWEMS, she's really defending them. So, why the satirical acronym? Beats me.
I took Shakespeare, so by definition, I'm no fraud. However, I considered it then, and consider it now, one of the least useful classes I took as an undergrad. Funnily enough, one of the most useful was one of those "worthless courses," Ethnic Literature. Worse yet, most of the authors we read were *gasp* still living!
Why is Shakespeare so important to these people? I can give credit for the fact that he influenced a lot of what came after him, and that he had some nice complex plots and characters. Fine. But, think about it. People have been studying him for so long that the proverbial Shakespeare well is pretty dry. You want to learn more about homoerotic themes in Hamlet? There are plenty of articles already written about the topic.
But, when you get to the living authors, authors whose book was just published last year, and you want to dive deeper, well, you've got to do it all by yourself. Isn't that more of a challenge than just searching for what other people already said about it? Isn't that where true scholarship lies?
So, let's ask the question, shall we? What's the point of an English degree? An also-important question: On the list of "worthless courses" she gives, how many would you like to take?
Saturday, November 3, 2007
I never did make the pie, but I just got back from the store a bit ago and now have pie fixin's for tomorrow. In fact, I've now got fixin's for all kinds of fun food, like egg rolls. I feel a cooking binge coming along with the reading binge.
Friday, November 2, 2007
Now, for a word about book type things - I'm one story into the latest issue of ROF and it's about a character who I've seen before in another issue. Every now and again they'll sneak these stories in. If you're a regular reader, you'll catch it. If you're not, they can stand alone. It's fun. They also went on a Halloween kick, it seems. This story has zombies and it looks like the next one takes place in hell. Good times.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
Tomorrow is chaos and exhaustion. Friday is much the same. Saturday I have off. I have grand plans for Saturday, which include sleeping a lot, watching Scrubs and The X-Files, and possibly making a pumpkin pie.
That leaves me with Sunday wide open. I'm thinking it'll be the perfect time to ignore everything, settle into a chair, and see if I can read one of these books in a day. I should really try to get that pie made, because I think it'd go excellent well with a Terry Pratchett book. Mmm... Pratchett book...
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
"I have a strange request. I teach community colege English, and I have my students write essays about ----. Because your essay comes up so easily through a Google search, students plagiarize from it every semester. Any chance you could take your essay down from the web, or publish it somewhere else?"
You got that? Since this professor's students pliagarize, it'd really be helpful if she'd take down her article so they could stop pliagarizing from it. Ooh, shame on her for having a well-written essay that's easily accessible. She should take it down immediately!
Okay, a few points:
- It's spelled "college"
- If this professor's students keep pliagarizing, this professor needs to address it with the students, not the author, because...
- Even if she removes this article, they can find others online
- Even if she publishes it somewhere else, it may still be available online, and it's not impossible to pliagarize from books - it just takes more typing
The funny thing, is it's more a compliment than anything else, right? Or, it's a chance for this professor to nip this whole thing in the bud and do something proactive. If all the professor's students are reading her essay already, what with the pliagarizing and all, why not beat them to the punch and assign it as part of the class reading?
Okay, so here's the question, it's a two parter:
1. Are you as entertained, and horrified (this is the one who's teaching our "colege" students?), as I?
2. If you found out college students were pliagarizing an essay you wrote, what would your reaction be? Me? I think I'd be a little flattered.
Here's a funny thing - yesterday we also talked a bit about possible bias from seeing a given piece in workshop. Going through the pile, there were definitely a few I recognized, including one by a gal who I suspect has a hearty dislike for me. During our first workshop together, I apparently offended her with some of my criticisms. This information comes from a friend who knows the gal, it seems the conversation went something like this:
Gal: Ali's so mean.
My friend: Yeah, but was she right?
Gal: Well, yeah, but she's mean.
I wounded said gal's pride and I don't think she's forgiven me for it. She's come in the bar a couple of times and consistently left a crappy tip for me. To my face, she's perfectly friendly, but in a way I don't trust. In short, I don't see us being best friends any time soon, and to be frank, she gets on my nerves.
Now, getting back to my point - in the second workshop we had together, the class was poetry instead of prose and she found her voice. Poetry works for her. It's her key, as Deb would say. One of the poems she wrote for that class made it through the first round of decisions, then almost got canned during the second. The majority was against it, in fact, and the only reason it didn't go in the rejection pile right then and there was because I pulled my weight and vouched for it. My words, "I want to come back to this one. I'll fight for it." Yesterday, of the four of us, we were split: two for, two against. I made a case for it. It's going in the magazine.
When you get right down to it, the quality of the work was more important than the fact that the author and I have personalities that don't mesh so well. Of course, the best part is that this gal will never know that the only reason this poem was accepted was because I'm Head Editor. I'm sure as heck not going to mention it, though I wonder if she'd like me then?
Monday, October 29, 2007
Aside from the learning from example, being an enthusiastic reader also nurtures the love of books that any writer needs. There are few things that motivate so readily as to read an excellent story and think, "Okay, now I wanna do that." Then you're off to the races with a new spurt of energy. Huzzah!
My challenge for everyone this month is simple: Fit some extra reading time into your schedule. Allow yourself a book binge. Let the dirty dishes wait another half hour while you read a couple more chapters. They're not going anywhere, now, are they? You are hereby granted full permission to stay up past your bedtime to read "one more" chapter. You are also hereby granted permission to neglect your TV or computer this month. Now, I just got the latest issue of Realms of Fantasy this weekend, and it's sitting on the table calling out to me. Gotta go.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
I think next month's goals are going to be more modest than those of late. This is that magical time of the semester when demands go up and energy starts slumping. A less-than-ideal combination and one that provides much enticement for slowing down a bit where I can to make up some slack for where I can't. Anyhow, it's late and I've still got to get my copies of Albatross collated (damn campus printer) and stapled in the morning, which will be no small thing as this is a longer story and I'll be tired. It's that 2:00 a.m. thing, mostly.
There are times when working at a bar is highly over-rated. This week has been one of them. At least it's over and, after Wednesday, Halloween will be too.
Friday, October 26, 2007
You answered 11 items out of 20 as right brained.
Your score is 55%. Your right and left brain work together equally.
Brain Lateralization Test Results
|Right Brain (56%) The right hemisphere is the visual, figurative, artistic, and intuitive side of the brain.|
Left Brain (56%) The left hemisphere is the logical, articulate, assertive, and practical side of the brain
personality tests by similarminds.com
How about you? Are you going to take the quiz - or do you know of another good right/left brain quiz? What're your results? Does that shed any light on your process?
Thursday, October 25, 2007
The downside is that it's at ten a.m. on Saturday morning and I'm at the bar until close Friday, then back to the bar from six o'clock until close on Saturday all by myself, and the group is meeting this weekend and I'm giving my brother and possibly one other cadet a ride back to the Academy before I go to the meeting, which means leaving early.
Consider, also, that I'm submitting Albatross on Sunday and still need to revise it and make copies. Tomorrow I'll have some time to work on it, but I'm also meeting with Juan to do some thesis-related paperwork. Then, too, there's that craft show I'm doing next week and the most time I'll have to prepare for it will be this weekend. All together, a busy and tiring weekend, so do I really want to cram one more thing in on Saturday morning?
But, like I said, I think it'll be a good workshop and I think I'd get something out of it. It's also particularly relevant since the workshop deals with the themes/symbolism of rivers in writing and I just so happen to be working on the La Llarona story. It ties in perfectly. Tough call.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I got to class, pulled out my legal pad, and blanked. I didn't want to write to Camii on this horrible yellow paper, so that meant a story. But, what story? I figured since I was breaking my routine anyhow, I'd just start someplace and go from there.
A while back I was talking about how writing is solving problems, you go through and answer questions. Last night I had to ask them first. I have a man and woman who have a close relationship, but what kind is it? He makes a special gesture to her, but why? How long have they known each other? Why are they so close? And on it goes. Sometimes you add the details first, and figure out what they mean second. This was one of those stories.
Now I've got almost two full legal pad pages, and I've figured out where it's going. Turns out, this isn't a thesis story. That happened totally by accident, I kept looking for ways to make it one and it started out with a thesis story idea (heck, have you ever kept track of how often roses pop up in fairy tales?) but it just didn't want to go there. Still, I think I can be okay with that. If only I could get out of my title slump and stop naming things "The __ Story."
Stephen King is fond of legal pads, but I don't know why. Not having margins to write notes in makes things more difficult than they ought to be. Here's a picture of my legal pad (note that the camera is pulled back to reveal the chaos that is my desk, and this is the "tidy" side, too).
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
I read what she wrote and my reaction was, "But that contradicts my plan, I can't use it." Then I thought, "I love this description here, though." Then, "And she did good with the spookiness." Bit by bit, I started thinking about what she did and about the real La Llarona story and what I was trying to do with the story. Bit by bit, I realized that although Jenny derailed my original train of thought, said derailing was exactly what I needed.
In a way, it's kind of like getting a pre-emptive critique. I imagine what would have happened when the group critiqued my original story, and I imagine their criticisms would suggest to do precisely what Jenny did for me.
Sometimes, it takes someone else to show us where the story is really going, especially when it's really going a different direction than we had planned. I can think of a couple of times this has happened to me, how about you? Any thoughts on collaboration? Has Jenny ever ruined one of your stories?
Monday, October 22, 2007
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Ben left for school early again. The ghost didn't look at him this time either. He sat down beside her. He reached for her hand. It felt cottony and not as solid as it should have been. "You didn't mean it," he said.
Slowly, the woman turned. Her eyes were all black, as if the pupils had grown too big and taken over her whole eyes. Shadows of tear tracks traced the contours of her nose. They reminded Ben of weeping statues and dry river beds.
She said, as if he had not spoken directly to her her, "Would you like to walk beside the river with me?"
whose limericks stopped at line two."
The Writing Marathon was yesterday and, though there was a small turn out from the public at large, there was a good turn out from the group and Mishell. Technically, the guidelines for the WM specify groups of about five people, but we broke that rule and all eight of us wandered around, hitting a coffeeshop, the river walk, and a salooon before meeting up w/the rest of the marathoners for pizza and sharing.
I managed to get almost done with my La Llarona rough, and Jenny even helped. At the saloon we decided to switch notebooks so she added to what I'd written and vice versa. It was fun, and like the round story, challenging and liberating at the same time. I tried to continue on with Jenny's tone, and managed to come up with a brilliant ending. Well, I like it any way. Jenny didn't finish mine off, but she gave me some neat description and added a darker tone than I had planned, but which I'm keeping. Ergo: productive to the story on two levels.
Then, after the marathon was officially over, we already had a rhythm going so we continued in the same spirit and went to another coffee shop for a while, then to my bar. A long day, but full of socializing with good people and making progress on the story (and thereby the thesis).
Jenny has decreed that everyone needs to post some of what they wrote yesterday on their blogs, so my next post will be dedicated to a WM excerpt.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
I've come to realize I have a preoccupation with fairy tales. I love it when Realms of Fantasy features a re-telling, and got a kick out of all the references in Stardust (the book more than the movie). I can still remember illustrations from the copy of The Green Fairy Book I read as a kid, though unfortunately I no longer have the copy. In short, fairy tales are embedded in my head.
Not just mine, either. For my terrible class, I did a paper about canonization and how fairy tales are unjustly excluded. Yes, they're in the Children's Literature edition of Norton, but can hardly be seen in Western Literature, let alone any other editions. Yet, they're such a significant part of our cultural subconscious. Shame on Norton for shoving them off as only good for kids. Arrogant bastards.
Think about it. How many Cinderella spin-offs/spoofs can you think of? In our society, we have a common language that revolves around fairy tales and the allusions/revisions they've birthed. "Mirror, mirror," anyone?
As far as the thesis goes, technically I'm working on magical realism, but in my head it makes almost as much sense to call them fairy tales. Not re-tellings/modernizations like Ever After or even Pretty Woman. Rather, getting back to the original mythos of fairy tales: You take a more-or-less real world setting, then throw in fantastical elements without explaining why they're there. A gigantic bean stalk that grows over night? A very old man with enormous wings? Sure, why not. If anything, fairy tales were the ancestors of magical realism, despite this whole idea of magical realism as a shiny new genre.
Right now I've got a number of books at home, on hold at the library, or coming via interlibrary loan which are all collections of fairy tales, or commentary on them. Now, ask me how many books I have on magical realism.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Each bit of something we write is informed by our own lives and experiences. Sometimes the influence is slight, sometimes it's not. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least three stories I've written which are a translation of a struggle from my own life. Writing the piece helped me work through that struggle, but I also wanted it to be a story in its own right, not just therapy. So, one situation became a completely different one. A character was removed, added, their gender/age changed. In the end, the story I wrote bore little resemblance to the actual details of why I wrote it. Yet, the truth of the situation was still there for me.
As I get further into this whole writing thing, I find more and more that the secrets I tell in my fiction are my own. Strange, especially when I remember turning to fiction as a way to tell other people's. During my last poetry workshop, I even made myself a note: "Fiction is telling other people's secrets, poetry is telling my own." That was only a handful of months ago and it's already untrue.
My questions: When you write, whose secrets do you tell? Has it always been that way? Do you find yourself going in phases from one to the other? How do they translate/evolve?
Words are just the deep end
I'm not good at keeping secrets from you"
-Russell Crowe, Other Ways of Speaking
If I'm in a low mood, I like to hear Russell Crowe sing. It almost always helps. Ditto for Chris Isaak or Mark Knopfler. Of course, if I'm in a good mood, I like to hear these guys sing too. They make sense to me. Ask anyone and they can name a few singers or bands that fit into the category of "they sing about what I'm feeling."
Now, as I have yet to meet any of the afore-mentioned guys I have no way of comparing who they are in their music to who they are in reality. Part of me hopes I never will meet any of them. What happens if I dislike the guy? I hope that wouldn't be the case. After all, they're the ones who write the songs. Still, we don't necessarily write the same as we live. Or, do we?
I'm not saying Stephen King is really a murderer or anything, but how much of us comes through in what we write? If you read/listen to enough of a given writer's work, can you truly get an idea of who they are? If all you have of a person is something they've specifically created for the public sphere, can you match that up to who they are in the private one?
Jenny, Shane, and I were recently talking about patterns in writers' work and I'm starting to re-think having Jenny read my thesis. I'll be giving her a stack of my writing to look at all in one go, and suddenly I'm thinking of how I'll be open to the same kind of pondering I do to others. It's strange to think of someone being in my head that much. I know where certain things come from that go into my stories, and it's odd to think of someone else knowing the same.
I guess my question is this: Would I really like Russell Crowe in person? How far into someone's head can you get without knowing them in real life?
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Had this one person alone not been present at this meeting, we could have shaved a good fifteen minutes off. My favorite part was when she wanted to talk about our standards for acceptance (i.e. what we talked about last time) and made a point of saying "If my name is going to be on this, I want..." Her name? What about my name? Not to be ego-centric, but come on. I've got more at stake. I'm not fooling around here. But, if her name is going to be on it... Which raises the question of where she sees herself in the power structure. My answer: the top. Except, the problem is, she's the latecomer and not the head editor. She has little to stand on here.
I threw my weight around a little bit today and, among a few other things, gave a definite "yes" to a piece everyone liked but her. A small thing, but it was either make the call or save it for us to talk about again later. Besides "I don't like these kinds of stories" isn't enough to convince me
My other frustration was people messing with my piles. As we were going through the pieces, a couple of other folks kept picking up the submissions to look at them. A couple of times I momentarily lost track of them, and a couple of times these folk tried to set the submission in the wrong pile. Now, you might not know it to look at my house or my desk, but I like organization. Granted, sometimes it's a looser schema than others, but when I have four piles of submissions, (yes, no, come back to, and not decided yet), and somebody puts one into the wrong pile, I get annoyed. There's a reason I'm sorting them, so I can keep them straight. There is a method.
I have to admit, the fact that this week has been busier and more stressful than usual, combined with the "tick, tick" of knowing that I had to keep the meeting moving so I could get to work on time did little to expand my patience reservoir.
At the end, I tried to have what Katherine would call a "Come to Jesus" talk with the staff. I set a date for the next meeting, and told everyone that by the next meeting I want to have a definite list of acceptances so we can let the authors know and begin the process of getting the electronic copies from them. So, I said, this means everyone needs to re-read the pieces we're still debating and have it firm in their head whether they want to accept it or not. I also said that I want to make the next meeting more efficient than the one we had today so that we didn't have the paper shuffle and all the "lemme see it agains." I phrased it in terms of how everybody's busy so let's all do each other a favor and try to streamline the process. I'm really hoping it works to stress the idea of stop wasting time. However, I don't know if those I especially wanted to get through to were listening. I got a few nods though, so that was encouraging.
Now, when it all boils down to it in the power dynamics, the funny thing is that it's pretty simple. Those who aren't pulling their weight don't have equal say with those who are. Even more important, I'm the one who gets to make that call. Most important, when it comes to people throwing their respective weight around, let's face it, I'm the heaviest of us all. Like the man said, it's good to be the king, (I mean, head editor).
Thursday, October 11, 2007
We all have certain things we keep turning back to. Sometimes we realize it, sometimes we don't. Thinking about the thesis has made me think harder about the trends in my own writing, the types of conflicts, characters, and other things that I like.
For instance: I'm fond of redemption stories, characters who are emotionally detached, birds, and a bit of the magical/mystical.
What about you? What kinds of patterns do you notice in your writing? How prominent are these themes/motifs? Do you embrace them? Try to break away?
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
-Critique of my first novel submissions
When I first started submitting Oracle to the group, I had major pacing problems. Now, a couple of years later, I realize that I'm not the only one. In our big batch of group submisions there were two new novels being newly submitted. Both are rushed, and they aren't the only writers who've come through the group to do this. Weird.
I can't help but wonder what the big rush is. Are we just in a hurry to get done so we can say we've done it? Are we trying to pace ourselves and not put too much into one chapter for fear of neglecting the others? Is it an issue of being intimidated by writing something novel length? Or, are we just trying to cram too much in?
What helped me was making the novel into a movie in my head, then trying to translate that movie into what I wrote. The firmer things like scenery, props, gestures, costuming, etc. were in my head, the better I was at expanding scenes and slowing the heck down. It goes back to that idea of "show, don't tell." I had to show people the movie in my head, vs. tell them the story about the movie. That was my lightbulb moment. It still took a few months of practice before I could get the pacing about right, but I did get there.
Now we have two more people telling us about the movie, and getting them to show it will be quite the trick. Anyone have thoughts on other ways to explain pacing?
Monday, October 8, 2007
What with all the commenting around on blogs and having to type in the little nonsense letters to verify I'm not a computer program, it strikes me that these measures are inadvertently helpful to writers, especially genre writers. While often the nonsense is just that, on occasion there's some smidgen of sense to them, almost like a word from a mythical land.
Think about it, what does "htbaku" mean to you? Run with it. Maybe keep a notepad handy the next time you're leaving comments.
Saturday, October 6, 2007
-Jenny, for her poll
I said Oprah, but the truth is I'd be most impressed with a fan convention. When a big bunch of people are geeky and excited enough about my work to assemble all together wearing homemade costumes to try and look like my charcters, that's when I'll know I've made it. Being a writer, that's a pretty unlikely dream, but there's always the potential of a movie deal. Even better, the potential that a programming developer from some cable network will pick up something of mine and make a show of it. Something like Dexter, for instance. The real success will be having said show run for multiple seasons.
The greatest compliment? People so excited about my work that they're not afraid of being branded as geeks. Say what you will about the Pulitzer, but there's no risk in being a fan of a Pulizter prize book, who's going to argue that it's not worth your time? Wear your brown coat out in public, though, and you might get a look or two. That's real love.
Friday, October 5, 2007
Today was another Hungry Eye meeting and the first round of narrowing down submissions. Now we've got a pile about half the size of the one we started with and a couple of pieces that got a unanimous "yes" and are in the little pile of accepted subs. Now it's time to go through the remainder and firm up what I think of the pieces so next time we can all do a bit more narrowing down. I just hope everyone gets on the ball and gets through the "maybe" pile again as well before the next meeting. Considering that some never got through the initial pile to begin with, I'm a bit doubtful.
On the up side, since I'm in a position of power, I get to decide how much say the slackers have (or don't). Of course, since it's a smaller stack now, maybe these folks will be able to get it in gear and do some reading.
It was interesting to see how the opinions of the people at the meeting did or did not mesh. There were a lot of pieces that had a consensus, and a smattering where I disagreed with it. In a couple cases I hung on to a piece no one else was excited about, which made me feel a bit strange because I could do it. Next comes the part where we start getting into the gritty and working out the pieces where there isn't a consensus. That's when it'll really get interesting.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
A simple question with a sort of simple answer. If a character is a thoroughly good person (i.e.already perfect), they're not going to grow. Doing the "right" thing is what they do, they treat people around them decently, pay their taxes, etc. It also means there's little to redeem, and isn't that ultimately what we want? Redemption is a powerful concept.
Quick, think of some of your all-time favorite characters, or just those that come to your mind first. Let's say five. Or, we can talk about mine:
Mal Reynolds, Firefly/Serenity
Dexter Morgan, Dexter
Thomas Build-the-Fire, The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven
Queen Elizabeth (a la Cate Blanchett), Elizabeth
Each are, to a greater or lesser extent, flawed. On one end of the spectrum is J.D. who's sometimes bumbling, frequently confused, and who usually says things he should have kept to himself. On the other is Dexter, the serial killer. I'd put the rest somewhere in between.
There are also varying degrees of redemption, when the respective characters overcome themselves - like moments when Dexter has a flicker of humanity, or when Elizabeth asserts herself as queen.
Now, let's add the "perfect" character into the equation. What does he have to overcome? The perfect character's problems are due to other people and circumstances, like a burning building, for one. When a character only has to overcome things that are outside of their control, they don't really grow as a character. Yes, any story has an element of things that are outside of the character's control, but the good stories tie them in with things the character does have control of. Mal's confronted with fugitives on his ship, but he choses to keep them aboard. It's his decision that creates more conflict which he then has to overcome.
Even more importantly than that, is the fact that no one who reads about/watches these "perfect" characters is themselves perfect. Since most of why we read is to live vicariously, the system doesn't work if we don't relate. No, I haven't had to solve Dexter's problems of how to murder people without getting caught. However, I can relate to his struggle to understand the ways people connect to each other.
The fireman's life went so smoothly. He gets the job, gets good at the job, befriends all his coworkers, meets the girl, marries the girl, has the kid... It's all so organized and clean. I can't relate to that at all.
So, why is perfection boring? Because we are most interested in people we can relate to, and none of us are perfect. We relate better to characters who are working toward redemption than those who have no need for it.
Anyone else want to add?
You open a book and see a character doing something, or thinking something, and you start building who that person is in your mind, sentence by sentence, page by page. Unless the author is very lazy, they don't lay out the character all in one go, and you don't get all the answers about who this character is right away.
Someone walks into the bar. Maybe the bartender greets them by name, maybe the person walks in as part of a couple or a group. They order their drink(s), sit and chat (or read a book) and bit by bit, I get an idea of who they are. I don't always like to ask questions, unless I'm making chitchat, because it's more fun to see what you can overhear. For instance, a gal today mentioned the time, then said "So it's 11:00 Florida time," so I'm guessing she's just visiting, and so it goes.
It's a lot like what the Eavesdropping Writer gal does, but in this case there are people who keep coming back. After a while, the eavesdropping and casual comments add up and I know that Rod works at the convention center, makes great barbeque, has a wife named Alice... Of course, working in a bar also gives a great opportunity for learning about people through how they tip, too. At this point, I'm pretty good at guessing how a given person/table will tip. Coincidentally, people who enthusiastically tell the bartender/server how good of a tipper they are often tip poorly.
The often little things they do are what add up to make a character, or a person.
So, let me ask: How often do you find yourself playing the game of watching people and putting together the bigger picture of who they are based on the small things you can directly observe? Do you usually find your first impressions of people hold true? What kinds of things stick out to you during first impressions? What are the first things you notice when you meet someone new? How does all this relate to your writing?
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
For crying out loud, could they have tried any harder to make him Mr. Perfect? Doubtful, truly doubtful.
The really disappointing part is how they totally missed the boat on making a compelling story. First scene: fireman trapped, possibly doomed. Then, we flash back. Okay, I'm fine to there. Now, what would've made it work for me: our trapped fireman isn't perfect. In fact, he's heavily flawed. Now we see how he's really a jerk, but he still saves lives, and he's trapped. There's the built-in sympathy because he's near death, fighting the fact that we don't really like him. Now I'm interested. Alas, this is not the movie they made.
I just looked the movie up on imdb.com and it turns out the movie is based off a real person's life. Is that why they tried so hard? I'm sure the real person was a wonderful guy, but this is a movie, not a documentary. I wanted more than hero worship.
Part of me wonders if, by turning off the movie mid-way, I've missed the good part(s). However, my curiosity is simply not strong enough to make me watch more. The story wasn't good enough. I deserve better. I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks so, either: "Instead of humanizing the firemen, the movie idolizes them, and thus renders them into cardboard characters." - Rotten Tomatoes, http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/ladder_49/