Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Not NaNo, but Close

This year it seems everybody's doing NaNoWriMo. Deb's doing it, Jenny's doing it, John's doing it... Not me. For a while, part of me was feeling like a slacker. Then I found out about National Blog Posting Month. I signed up, I'm on board. Now I've got my own National Month adventure. It's no novel, but I'm okay with that.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Shocked and Amazed: Some People are Clueless (and Sometimes They Are Teachers)

Today I see an e-mail one of the SCWP alum sent to the e-mail group. I'm stupefied. This alum received a message from a college professor, some of which read as follows:
"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.

H. Eye Round Three: Is It a Magazine?

Yesterday we went through the remaining "maybe" pieces and hashed out an acceptance or rejection for each of them. Now we have officially, sorta, decided. The sorta comes in when we take a look at how many acceptances we have relative to what that means about the size of the magazine. We may go back and put a few "no"s in the acceptance pile, depending. Still, we've got through the main part (if not the whole part) of picking pieces.

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

Read, Damn You.

One universal trait of all brilliant writers is that they are enthusiastic readers. Sometimes even voracious ones, at that. One of the best ways for us to learn our craft is to study those who've done it before. In the group, one of the most persistent themes in critiques is for us to say, "Okay, you're writing this kind of a story, and so did ___, go read this book he/she wrote."

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

October's End

So, the challenge this month was to get out of the house and I did. Twice. Once all my own, once with a number of people from the group. I didn't accomplish what I had hoped I would for this month, I still don't have a finished draft of the La Llarona story. A bit frustrating. However, I did meet Jenny's yearly rejection challenge and make productive use of my time in the terrible class by starting The Rose Story (I really have to come up with a name for that one, but it's 2:00 a.m. right now and I just don't have it in me).

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

Which Brain Are You?

I just took a quiz for painters,, and while I'm not much of a painter, the questions are easy to translate into whatever it is you do creatively.

My results:
You answered 11 items out of 20 as right brained.
Your score is 55%. Your right and left brain work together equally.

Another quiz:
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
Are You Right or Left Brained?
personality tests by

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

What to Do, What to Do

SCWP is doing a writing workshop this Saturday, and I'm debating whether or not to go. On the one hand, it's being run by Juan and Shawn. Both are cool people, and I think the workshop would be good for me.

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

The Legal Pad of Last Resort

Yesterday, shortly before heading off to the terrible class, I realized that during the notebook-musical-chairs I played for the Writing Marathon, I'd forgotten to replace the one I'd take out of my bag. Ergo, no notebook to write in during class. Desperate, I grabbed a legal pad from the office to borrow that night.

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).

Do any of you ever use legal pads? Got any good accident/change-of-pace stories?

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

About the Notebook Switching...

As I worked on the La Llarona story, I started in a place of ambiguity (image of the woman at the bus stop, idea of a boy, but little more) and worked toward something more definite. Mid-WM, I figured out where I wanted the story to go. Then, Jenny and I switched notebooks and she took it someplace else. All I told her when she asked where it should go was, "Something spooky." That's what she did. Of course, since she's not psychic, how was she to know that she was doing it wrong?

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

Other Uses for Jenny's Handwriting

Today, while taking a massive amount of jewelry pictures, I discovered something else about switching notebooks with Jenny. Her handwriting makes a pretty decent back drop for jewelry. Go figure.

Since this page has a spooky passage on it, I like to think that it helps to add drama to the picture. Ha ha, get it?

Sunday, October 21, 2007

WM Excerpt: La Llarona

-Here's a WM blurb. I opted to use a passage from the spot where I handed my notebook over to Jenny. The font change is where she started. (P.S. you can't tell from this, but Jenny's handwriting is much nicer than mine. Dang her.)-

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?"

Roving Around Downtown

"There once was a man from Peru
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

Do Fairies Have Tails? Wait. I Mean...

I started a new post, trying to talk about fairy tales and why I keep coming back to them as a starting point with my thesis. I tried to be eloquent and articulate. It didn't work. Instead, my train of thought derailed and got convoluted. This time, I'm going to try explaining less and see if that helps.

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

Secrets and Secrets

I'm going to build off my previous post a bit by talking about secrets. As story tellers, we have this fantastic opportunity to tell them. More than that, I'd say it's why we're story tellers. On one hand, we create fictional people and expose them like a farmer-tanned truck driver at a nude beach. On the other hand, we also tell our own secrets.

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?

Yeah, But Can You REALLY Know Them?

"You know there's other ways of speaking
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

H. Eye Round Two, and Some Friction

Today (ok, technically yesterday) we had the second round of going through submissions for the Hungry Eye. This was also the third meeting all together. For one gal, this was the first she had attended. She congratulated me on being head editor. Then, she started causing wrinkles in the works. For one, she really wanted to cover certain things, like introductions and certain protocol points, which had already been covered in the meetings she missed. For another, she got into this habit of having to look at each piece we were deciding on, to "remember" what it was.

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

Patterns, Themes, and/or Motifs

At some point, I remember reading something where Russell Crowe was explaining his band and he said that all TOFOG songs are, in some way, love songs. Say what you will about him being tempermental, he's also got a poetic sensibility which I have a lot of appreciation for. Besides, the guy knows what he's about, and not everyone can say the same.

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

A Novel Trend

"Two pages does not a chapter make."
-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


Now that I've got internet at home, it's strange to spend an entire day off-line, but that's exactly what I did yesterday. Kind of nice, in fact. Well, still babysitting, so here's a quickie.

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


"Which is the greatest compliment for your writing?"
-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

Round One

"Anybody have a 'yes' for that one? Okay, 'no' it is."

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

Boring Heroes

"But, what's so bad if the guy is truly a thoroughly good person?"

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
J.D., Scrubs
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?

Learning People By Inches

Working in a bar is just like reading a book.

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

Leading a Horse to Water, Relative to Making Them Drink

I just, sorta, watched the movie Ladder 49. I had to stop because it was hurting me. Let me give you a brief idea of the movie: We open on a big burning building, the firefighters rush in, Joaquin Phoenix gets trapped, we flash back to the beginning of his career as a fireman and go from there. He's such a sympathetic character that I get tired of him. We get to the point where he's starting a family, and I turn the movie off.

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 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,

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

With Pinapple Chunks In It

"Already, she could feel light from the moon and stars soaking into her skin. Heat from the sunny day leeched out of her. Scars on her chest from the car accident when she was younger started to pucker and gooseflesh filled out across her skin. She would miss the scars, but there was no way to keep them. Besides, she could always get new ones."
-Starbathing (In Progress)

I managed some coffeeshop pages last night before the Rogues' meeting. Okay, well, page and a quarter. I would've gotten further, but D.B. showed up early. My lesser productivity is her fault.

Eventually, I was asked about the thesis - what am I doing? how am I doing it? cycle or collection? how am I tying it all together? Good questions from smart people, and I had no really good answers. Beyond saying I'm writing magical-realism short stories, I have a difficult time articulating.

There'll be stories, and they'll be connected - something to do with a family line, but since one of the very first stories contradicts that premise I still have some clarifying to do in my head. Then last night, my page and a quarter turns out to be part of a very short story about Chloe from the chicken heart story, only it's maybe forty years later. So, she's coming out as a connection, but since Albatross is a good two hundred or so years before her, how do I work that part out? Lots of questions at this point, but few answers.

It's like the first stages of jello right now. Eventually it'll be firm and pop out of that bundt cake shaped mold and be pretty, but right now it's just runny red stuff in a pan. The fact that one of the characters has reappeared is a good sign, though. At least there's the beginnings of coagulation.

Monday, October 1, 2007

A Note About Quotes

As you may have noticed, a lot of my recent quotes have been from songs and don't talk about writing. I'm not just being lazy, I promise.

Lately, I've been drawn to quotes that can be indirectly applied to writing. There is an intended connection, just not always an obvious one.

Criticising Babies

*Big eyeballs*
-The Group, as the pile of submissions grew and grew

What happens when there are five weeks between writers' group meetings? Well, everyone has plenty of time to do four critiques and then do a ton of writing. Yesterday pretty much everyone had something to submit. In one case, he had two somethings, but we managed to talk him down. We all went home with what is, as far as I can remember, the biggest pile of submissions since I've been in the group. It'll be an interesting month of reading and critiquing all of them.

Also interesting was how the gal who's a newer member, and first time submitter, came up to me after the meeting and told me she was scared of my impending critique. Jenny's too, but mostly mine. Good to know I'm still striking fear into the hearts of people. I never tried to create this evil-incarnate reputation, I swear. (Let me add, though, that when I joked about being mean, she corrected me, "Not mean, honest." She sounded no less anxious, though.)

Of course, this gal's comment about how the novel she's beginning to submit is her baby, combined with her anxiety, briefly raised the question: "Should I go easy on her?" For me, it's not a yes/no answer. If it were, it'd be "no," but it's a bit more layered than that. When I'm critiquing, I try to gear my comments toward the specific writer and their sensitivity.

I'm always honest, but with certain people I limit my criticisms to a few points, whereas with others I just let it all out. I'm much harder on Jenny than just about anyone else. I also know that my toughness with her 1. won't give her a nervous breakdown, 2. will be helpful. See, that second point is the most important one.

Someone who's letting their "baby" out in public for the first time isn't going to be helped by a nit-picky critique. Also, there's the global vs. local argument: Why bother pointing out typos when the whole paragraph is going to be rewritten, or possibly cut?

When it comes to the new gal, I can honestly say I have no intention of going "easy" on her. However, I'm not going to critique her the way I'd critique Oliver either. It's all about trying to do the most good for each person, right? An in-exact science, to be sure, but one worth trying.

Do the rest of y'all do the same thing?