Monday, November 30, 2009

Pedal to the Metal

And Bam! December is upon us. I'm glad Jenny's up to submit tonight at CWC, because I didn't make any progress on revising Cass at all. This past month was a classic case of over-reach and I took on more than I should have. Whoops.

The good news is that December means Christmas break, and some time for me to put my nose to the grindstone and focus, focus, focus on revision without the responsibilities of teaching.

So, my overall goal for December is awfully simple: get stuff done. I foresee a lot of time spent at coffee shops with my laptop in my future. I've already got a pretty clear idea of what my revisions are going to focus on, so I'm hoping that will help speed things along. That, and, of course, the caffeine from all that coffee ;)

For you this month, I'm putting forth the challenge to push on. Take big bites, keep up your NaNo momentum, etc. Finish 2009 with a roar.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Smile, INC.

**Hi all, welcome to another Writing Prompt Wednesday. Won't you play along? The guidelines are simple, and I'd love to read what you come up with.**

They ask me why I'm not smiling. As if it's some kind of sin to sit at my desk, focus on my work, and not smile. As if sitting here with a straight face is as bad as going around, smacking people on the back of the head. Not, mind you, that I'm particularly opposed to the idea. They're all a bunch of mouth-breathing, pen-clicking, fish-microwaving imbeciles who wouldn't know a 10-14 form if it punched them in the eye.

Yet, here I am, restraining myself. If those losers really want me to smile, there need to be a few changes around here. As you may imagine, I have quite an extensive list of said changes. But, to be honest with you, all I really need, and I mean bare essentials here, is a completely working espresso machine. I've got the perfect one all picked out and it's on sale for eight grand. All they need to do is put that beauty in the break room and then I'll love everyone. I don't think that's so unreasonable, do you?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Character Thoughts, Revision, and Guiding Principles

There's another good post over at Edittorrent. This one looks at character, which I'm all about this month, and I've started thinking about it in relation to Cass. I have a pretty good idea about her first principle and how it gets her into trouble. As I work on revision, I'm thinking about ways I can draw that out a little more to help solidify her character and especially to make her more sympathetic, which is a struggle I'm having.

At the last meeting, Jenny commented on a few portions of the sub which I had missed when I was switching a scene over to 3rd person from 1st. Believe it or not, Jenny liked the 1st person better. Even though I've changed things over so the reader isn't in Cass's head, it seems I need to get them in there anyway. Jenny, ever helpful, suggested I re-write the whole thing to 1st person, and do it in two months. She smiled when she said it, too. How evil is that?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Abandon All Hope

Wow. Oh, wow. I just caught up on this past week's episode of Supernatural, titled "Abandon All Hope," and it packed quite a punch. This season is the big whammy, all about the apocalypse and it is, presumably, the last season of the show - and that's because the show's creator planned it that way, not because the show isn't doing well.

So, fifth season plus the apocalypse means all bets are off. This last episode really brought that home. Over at Edittorrent, there's been some talk about the dark moment. Despair, desperation, and all that good stuff. It's appropriate timing.

This episode was played out masterfully. We start with our heroes teaming up with some allies to go on a mission to attempt to kill the devil. No small feat, right? It's an impossible task, and stupid to even try it, but as Sam so succinctly says, "When have we ever been smart?" The night before the show down, Bobby has everyone pose for a picture, because it might be the last picture any of them take. It's slightly cheesy, but fitting.

By the time we get to the end of the episode, a huge sacrifice has been made and the outlook, which was previously pretty bleak, has turned even bleaker. In the last few seconds before the credits, one of the characters takes the group photo, looks at it for a moment, then tosses it in the fireplace. The camera watches the photo burn, then fades out.

It's a relatively small gesture, but incredibly powerful. They have so little hope left, that they've tossed aside even the little bit of hope that comes from remembering the fallen. After all, you have to be alive to remember.

We've officially hit the dark moment of this season's arch, and I have a feeling it's going to get even darker yet.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Dark Moment

**Hi all, welcome to another Writing Prompt Wednesday. Won't you play along? The guidelines are simple, and I'd love to read what you come up with.**

We zoom in from above, the camera whizzing down, going from a view of the world, to the outlines of a country, county, neighborhood, until finally we're in a living room, face to lens with the protagonist. A man in his mid-thirties with a receeding hairline and a knife in his hand stands over a body with a pool of blood spreading beneath it.

This is the moment he surrenders to despair, certain that there is no way out. He's standing over the body of a man he killed and there is no way the police will believe it was self defense. He could try to explain that the dead man was going to kill him tomorrow, that he saw the scene in a vision and came here to turn fate, that the only reason he broke into the house and stabbed this man was to save himself. No, the police won't buy a story of pre-emptive self defense.

The protagonist drops the bloody knife. His hand is shaking, but his knees refuse to bend and even now he can hear, far off in the distance, the sound of sirens. The dead man's wife must have escaped. She can identify him, too. The sirens grow louder and the protagonist's legs hold him firm to the spot with his prints on the knife and his hands covered in blood.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


The new issue of The Absent Willow Review came out yesterday and I've been looking over some stories. I just read one, called Mapmaker, that I wanted to pass along to all of you because I think it's quite beautiful and well-written. I hope you take a few minutes (it's short) to read it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The First Line

Spurred on by getting a story accepted, I've been cruising duotrope, researching more places to submit. I want to pass on one particular publication, because I think it'd be a fun adventure. It's called The First Line and it's rather reminiscent of WP Wednesdays. They provide a first line, you write a story to go with it, and the ones they like the best are published in the next issue.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Needle and Thread

There are few things that brighten one's day like getting a message that says,
"Dear Ali –
Thank you for submitting your story for our consideration. I am pleased to inform you that “Needle and Thread" has been accepted and will appear in the February 16, 2010 issue of The Absent Willow Review. Please continue submitting and thank you for sharing your work with us!"

I'm excited.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Thesis Defended

My thesis defense was last night, and I was successful. Now it's a matter of completing the adiministrative aspect, i.e. paperwork, and submitting my materials to Fort Collins. The thesis process is just about over.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

WPW Replacement

Instead of the regularly scheduled programming, I'm going to put up some thesis stuff. I'm up to my eyeballs preparing for my defense tomorrow, so I'm spreading it around. As part of the defense, I'll be distributing a single-spaced, one page handout that is designed to succinctly sum up 130+ pages of text, 25 pages of which are ultra dense critical analysis.

It's rather like squeezing a linebacker into a shoe box. Without further ado, here is the shoe box:

Overview: Into the Water features eight stories written in the mode of magical realism. These stories loosely trace a timeline beginning during the early colonization of North America and ending in the modern day. They explore an intersection between European and Native American folklore, using animal totems as each main character has a literal animal that acts as a guide to bring that character to a resolution within the story. While the stories are designed to stand alone, there is also a framework where the stories can be read as stories-with-a-story, framed by the first story, “There Once Was a Little Boy Who Walked Very, Very Far” and the last, “Needle and Thread.” They are the two most contemporary stories and both have the same main character.

Magical Realism: A description originally born of the writings of German art critic Franz Roh in 1925 and used to describe a style of art in which everyday subjects were presented “in such a way that the normal became unfamiliar” (Reeds 178). Later, Spanish writer José Ortega translated Roh’s work, taking liberties in the translation and applying the term to literature. This is where the association of magical realism with Latin America culture comes from as well as its use to describe literature “in which magical and realistic elements coexist with equal status” (Warnes 488).

Magical realism can be described in terms of the merger between the realistic and fantastic and analyzed on a spectrum which goes from the use of magic in a literal sense (ontological), where magic is a real force, and the use of magic as natural phenomenon (phenomenological), or something which could be explained as something other than magic (Reeds).

Stories in Into the Water fall along both sides of the spectrum.
Ontological stories: “When Bridgette Went Into the Water,” “Albatross,” “The Honeymoon of Mr. and Mrs. Roux,” and “Charlie’s Ghost.”
Phenomenological stories: “There Was Once a Little Boy Who Walked Very, Very Far,” “An Ocean Kind of Blue,” “The Movement of a Heart,” and “Needle and Thread.”

Cultural Studies: The main trait of magical realism is that of merger, which makes it an excellent genre for cultural considerations. J.M. Wise uses the term “third culture kids” to describe the cultural identity of those who have dual cultural background. This “third culture” is a hybrid creation. As an American of German descent, I identify with this hybridization and it is a theme which Into the Water is based in. The main characters are born of the hybridization of European culture and Native American culture as well as the hybridization of human and animal. In this way, using the mode of magical realism allowed me to express the exploration of culture by making cultural hybridization literal through symbolism.

Other Unifying Symbolic Motifs:
Water, which is traditionally associated with rebirth and change. “When Bridgette Went Into the Water” uses this symbolism when Bridgette crosses the Atlantic ocean to become the first (chronological) character to be changed by magic.
Birds, especially birds of prey, and specifically the falcon. Common falcon symbolism associates the bird with sight/illumination, which reinforces the role of the falcon as totem guide in the stories “There Once Was a Little Boy Who Walked Very, Very Far” and “Needle and Thread.”

Next Steps:
I have submitted stories from this collection for publication (they’re currently being reviewed by multiple magazines). I completed the first draft of a short novel of 53,000 words, Crossroads Promise, in September. The novel continues to develop the mythology introduced in Into the Water. I have now begun revisions on the novel, and, after another review, will begin submitting that novel to agents.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Defense Prep

This weekend my goal is to focus on preparing to defend my thesis. Yesterday I met with Juan for a few minutes to give me an idea of where to focus my preparation.

Juan: I can't tell you the specific questions we'll ask.
Me: Right.
Juan: But, in broad strokes, here's what might come up...

I jotted some notes. It was pretty much what I expected would come up, so no worries there. My prep. plan is to review everything I've written (i.e. re-read the whole shebang). Then, I'm going to write out notes for myself with some key points from the critics I discussed in my intro as well as a list of authors who've influeced me for this project and key points about them too.

Also, as part of my defense, I'll be spending a few minutes reading an excerpt from the fiction part.

All together, here are the steps of the defense itself:
1. I talk for about 15-20 minutes about my thesis
2. My committee members ask me questions about the theory/fiction (this is the defense part)
3. The audience has a chance to ask questions
4. Everyone leaves the room so the committee can confer & decide if I "pass" or not
5. The committee members sign some paperwork

After the defense, there's more administrative/paperwork type stuff to do, then my thesis goes to Fort Collins, and I get my degree about one semester later. So, you know, it's home stretch type stuff right now, which is nice.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

WPW: Alice

**Hi all, welcome to another Writing Prompt Wednesday. Won't you play along? The guidelines are simple, and I'd love to read what you come up with.**

He calls her Alice
because he likes the sound of the name slipping through his lips
shimmery and smooth like a fish.
He whispers the name to himself
saying, "Alice" so soft that he's the only one who hears it.
The name is like a present he gives himself and he says it slowly,
letting the sounds of the letters go out and out like kite string.
He calls her Alice
even though Alice is not her name.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Think Globally

Hey look, October's over. Deb and Jenny have already got their November's plotted out. Me, I'm trying to think of a worthy goal for the month. NaNo? No way. It's tempting, but I've got too much revision on my plate, because I'm on the block for CWC in December. We're talking a completely revised Cass, with some overall adjustments to characters & plots. I've got a pretty solid idea of where I'm going, it's just a matter of actually going there. It'll also entail adding a couple thousand words. So, yeah, no NaNo for me.

Though, that leads me to a perfecto November goal. When I talk with my comp. students about revision, I always emphasize big-picture revision (global) over proofreading (local), because if the ideas aren't there, nobody cares about your commas.

Global revision is what I need with Cass. Ergo, this month's challenge is to look at the grander scheme. Details are good, details are wonderful, but you've got to have the bones before you can flesh them out. Whatever project you're working on, now's a good time to take a step back and ask the big questions:

1. What's the point of writing this thing? What am I trying to express?
2. If my reader gets nothing but one thing out of this, what's that one thing? How do I make sure that's what they walk away with?
3. Do all my parts - characters, scenes, complications, sub-plots - somehow serve my grander scheme?
4. What's the best order in which to put all these parts together?
5. Are readers responding to my characters the way I want them to? If not, how can I change that?
6. Am I making things hard enough for my characters? Are their challenges difficult enough?
7. Why today? Why is this plot happening now?

There are plenty more that could get added to the list, but those are some examples of big picture questions I'll be working on during my big Cass revision. Some of the questions - like #5 - come right from critique comments I've gotten. Others - like #1 - are more all-purpose. All of them are good to know the answers to.

How about you, do you have any good questions/ways of focusing on the big picture?