Tuesday, March 31, 2009
We're on a roll, y'all. See, I've been reading a lot lately. Reading...not writing reviews. So expect a lot of that coming up soon. Hope you don't mind! But this post isn't about a book. I'm doing one of my super-rare movie-instead-of-book reviews. I've actually only ever done this before with Eagle Eye, which seems odd because these two movies are very difference.
But, even as I was watching Slumdog Millionaire, I was thinking about how perfectly written it was, and, actually, composing a writer's review of it.
Five Sentence Summary: Jamal and his brother live in the slums of Mumbai, India. So how did Jamal rise up to win the top prize on the top quiz show in India? Framed by the game show questions, the movie explores just how Jamal knew each of the questions through flashbacks of his experiences as one of the poorest of the poor. But Jamal's not doing the show for money...he's doing it to find his long-lost love, fellow slumdog Latika, whose history is tied inextricably with his and his brother's.
So what can we, as writer's, learn from this
[As always, highlight the blank spots for spoilers. I left the not too shocking ones black, but the hidden ones are a bit extra-spoilery.]
1. Motivation: Throughout the movie, the characters consistently acted according to their motivations. There was no random surprise, no shocking twist. That's not to say shocking things didn't happen--they just happened according to the character's motivation. For example, Jamal's brother Salim's strongest motivation was possession of his brother. Every interaction between the two brothers subtley stressed this motivation. Early on, when Jamal is obsessed with the Bollywood actor, his brother's spiteful reaction is due (at least in part) from jealousy that his brother is obsessed with someone else. Later, when Salim and Jamal are on their own, Salim does not want Latika to become their third musketeer--because he wants Jamal to himself. And then again, when Salim rapes Latika and kicks Jamal out of the hotel room, he does this because he wants to take away the one thing that could lead his brother away from him. None of this is explicitly stated--in fact, my friend and I had to talk a lot over dinner to discuss what the motivations actually were--but once we'd figured out what the one driving force behind each of the three main characters was, we saw how well each motivation defined each character's action. For those interested, my theories on the main motivations are: Salim: possession of Jamal. Jamal: finding and being with his love, Latika. Latika: survival.
2. Non-stupid Romance: Look, I like a chick-flick as much as the next chick. But let's be honest. Most American romances are STUPID. You see one, you see 'em all. Girl likes boy, boy likes girl, and a comedy of errors then continues until they finally just freaking disclose their mutual liking in the end. Argh. These romances aren't a story--they're a joke. And while that's fine if you want fluff, I don't equate that with love. THIS story had love--real love--and a real underlying romance. There's nothing in here of the too-common comedy of errors. Jamal loves Latika. That's clear from the time they're children. He never hides it. Everyone--Latika, Jamal, everyone--knows his love for Latika. The romance isn't about will-they-or-won't-they...it's about can-they-or-can't-they, given their poor status in a unforgiving society.
And for me, that's the key to a good romance story. Not whether they will be together--because that just comes down to whether they have the courage to say they're in love, doesn't it? No, the real romance is whether they can be together, whether the world will conspire to let their love be realized. That's a story.
3. Speaking without words: Look, I know this is a movie, not a book. And those powerful visual shots are something that can only be expressed with sight: the camera rising over the vast slums of India, the scenes of silence between the characters. But we can emulate that in writing. When Jamal wants to invite Latika into the train car with Salim, and Salim doesn't want her, the camera shows Latika in the background, sitting in the rain, Jamal in the midground, staring at her, and Salim in the foreground, lying down with his eyes open. Nothing is said--but it's clear that Latika is alone, trying to survive; that Jamal has already started falling for her; and that Salim, with his eyes wide open, is begining to realize that his obsession with his brother may lead him to do bad thing, such as leave an innocent girl alone in the rain. Not a word is spoken, but so much is said.
We may not be able to show a picture of the characters, but we can show their motivations/feelings/desires without having the characters state them. If Salim had said, "I don't want that girl on the train with us, she'll take you away from me," his statement would have been true to the character--but don't hand-feed your readers. Show their actions and let their actions show their character.
PS: A word to the wise: Don't show this one to kids, not the very young. The outside story, a poor kid getting riches from a quiz show, sounds like it'd be kosher for the young ones, but there are some very disturbing situations. Realistic, not gratuitious--but not for the young. I don't say this lightly--I could care less if you show a kid a movie where cars get blown up or bad guys die--but this movie shows a real, no-holds-barred slice of life, with all the nitty gritty, and it's not something I'd show to kids less than high-school age. It's not the violence or sex (it's pretty clean in those areas); it's the realism.
Monday, March 30, 2009
I first noticed this book because of the cover. Look at it. Click the link--I made sure to get an extra big cover for this review. That cover is just brilliant.
And then I noticed the title. The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Also brilliant. If you want to know the value of a title, just look at that one. How many questions did you have when you saw it?
And then I found out that the author, Carrie Ryan, is in my state's SCBWI chapter. And she lives a few hours away from me. And she's about the nicest person on Earth.
My husband accused me of stalking her.
That doesn't sound like that bad of an idea :)
Five Sentence Summary:Mary lives in a fenced-off village in The Forest of Hands and Teeth. The zombie plague has come and gone, but the few surviving humans--such as Mary and her village--must protect themselves from the living dead. After both her parents become "Unconsecrated," Mary thinks that her biggest problem is going to be finding a place for herself as either a member of the Sisterhood or married to one of the few single men of her village (although not the one she loves, who is engaged to her best friend). But her real problem comes later...when the fence can't contain the Unconsecrated any more...
(Hot dang! Did that one in four sentences! OK, since I've got an extra sentence...) PS: THIS BOOK IS MADE OF AWESOME.
So, what can we, as writers, learn from this book?
[PS: As always, highlight for spoilers.]
1. Make it worse: The zombie plague has hit. Things can't get worse than that, right? WRONG. Carrie Ryan does an amazing job of consistently making things worse and worse for the characters. Mary's dad gets infected? Bad. Mary's mom follows him into the Forest of Hands and Teeth? Worse. Mary's brother sends her to the Sisterhood? Bad. Mary's one true love ends up in the same building after getting engaged to her best friend? Worse. ...and the list goes on and on. Carrie TORTURES her characters--and the book is so much better for it. Anything that happens, it can always be worse. And when something good happens, like when Travis finally confesses his love for Mary, something worse happens, like when Travis then becomes zombie lunch.
2. Internal and External plots: I am starting to think that this might just be the key to writing an un-put-downable book. Obviously, the external plot of The Forest of Hands and Teeth is surviving the zombies. But there's an internal plot that's strong, too: Mary wants to fulfill her lifelong dream of leaving home and seeing the ocean--a feat which will require her to go through the Forest of Hands and Teeth. And that's before even mentioning the love triangle (or is that quadrangle?). Here's the point: you read the book to see if they survive the zombie invasion...but also to see if Mary's dream comes true. When one plot narrows (i.e. the find a safe hide-out from the zombies) the other one widens (i.e. Mary's longing for the ocean grows).
3. Don't listen to Kurt Vonnegut: I have blogged before about Kurt Vonnegut's 8 Simple Writing Rules. The oft-forgotten last line of his rules is this:
The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.Carrie Ryan is one of those great writers who ignored Kurt's rules. Take, for example, Rule 8:
Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.I did not know what would happen to Mary until the last line of the last page...and even then, there's room for a sequel. (Which--whew!--there will be one, called The Dead-Tossed Waves.) I did expect some things in the novel (such as Travis's death) but the rest...wow. I am still not sure if Jed made it, I was never sure if Harry or Cass would follow Mary. And I really want to know about Argos! WHAT HAPPENED TO THE DOG?! Anyway, point is, if cockroaches ate my last few pages, I'd call the exterminator and order a new copy of the book.
4. Feminism: I don't write much about this. But I will say this: people have often said that Graceling is a modern feminist approach to literature (in that she refuses traditional bonds of marriage, etc.). Look, I liked Graceling as much as the next person, but I never saw Katsa as very feminist, just a rebel in general (besides, she wasn't doing it for herself so much as for others--in other words, if it weren't for her grace, she'd have gotten married). Mary's a feminist. She is perfectly aware of society's expectations of her, and she's aware of her own power (and lack thereof) as a woman. When she realizes that her dreams lie not in marriage but in finding the ocean--and she acts on that truthfully and whole-heartedly--that, to me, is real feminism.
5. Lyrical Writing: There are a few books that I love more than any other, merely for the beauty of the language. I'm a story girl, not a language girl, but these make me sit up and take notice of the style and beauty of the written word. Marcus Zusak was, for nearly a year, the only YA writer I could cite for this for The Book Thief. Then came Mary Pearson and The Adoration of Jenna Fox. I can safely add The Forest of Hands and Teeth to that list.
Quibbles: I have very few. In fact, the only thing that I wish I could have seen that I didn't was the resolution to Mary's problems with faith. Her losing her faith seemed like such a big deal in the book, but she doesn't find anything else to fill that void except, perhaps, her obsession with the ocean. However, I expect the future books to explore Mary's internal struggle with faith and belief, and cannot wait for the ride!
STATS: This book is part of my 50 in 2009 Challenge.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
I don't like to think I'd leave you behind on Z-day, but this comic totally made me think of who I would...
(Can you tell I finished The Forest of Hands and Teeth yesterday? Oh, yeah. Totally.)
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
Not too long ago, I made myself a writing mantra: write constantly. Because writing does not always imply actual physical writing, but also the thought process that goes behind writing, this works particularly well for me. Take this week: I'm getting ready for a teacher's conference, pulling together several new author interviews for this blog, and preparing report cards for my students. The best writing I've done is thinking about the plot of the next few chapters while driving my car or taking my shower. I figured out a way to show the world building, and a way to develop a plot twist that I'd been struggling over.
But, for obvious reasons, writing down these writing thoughts while driving or in the shower are somewhat difficult tasks to do. The paper gets wet. Or I crash the car and take out a chunk of rural NC in a fiery inferno of not-awesome. You get the picture.
This is where I love technology.
I want to be the writer that always has pen and paper handy, but the truth of the matter is, I'm just not that organized. At least once a day, I have to run through the house, trying to find my glasses. So keeping up with my glasses, a pad of paper, and a pen? Way too stressful. My life can't take that kind of complication.
You know what I do keep up with? My iTouch.
It's like my Apple laptop, but palm-sized. And it has a very well organized application called simply: Notes. And guess what? You can type notes on it. Quicker than I could click open a Bic, I've got all my ideas right there on the screen. ALL OF THEM. When I use paper, I grab whatever scraps I have--receipts, grocery lists, even tissues (not used. You know, unless it's an emergency). And, typically, I'd lose the paper. Now all my notes are RIGHT THERE. Electronically organized. WITH DATES.
It's so simple. It makes writing constantly a bit more doable.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
A kid is showing me all the books she's just checked out from the library.
Kid starts talking about a book that had a lot of different settings, where the protagonist travels through different countries.
Kid: I love this one! This book took me around the world!
Monday, March 23, 2009
So, you didn't get a chance to go to the launch party for The Forest of Hands and Teeth? Don't feel bad! I've got you covered!
I have prepared for you--yes, YOU--a goody bag of all the stuff from the launch party--a little zombie man, a tin of gummy brains, a bookmark, a postcard of the launch party, and, best of all, a signed copy of Carrie's book!
Here's all the swag you'll be getting.
The Swag. OK, so you might not be interested in the book mark. But how about...
Brains and a Zombie! AHHH!
As always, there are many ways to win:
- Comment with your dreams of swag: = 1 entry
- Become a follower of the blog = 1 entry
- If you were already a follower of my blog before this contest = 2 entries (this only counts for people in the "readers" section in my sidebar--these are the only people I can see to verify this)
- Link to this contest on your website = 1 entry
- Link to my blog/this contest in the sidebar of your website = 1 entry
- Get a direct referral = 1 entry (if someone comments in the blog that they found the contest from you, then you get the extra entry)
- ETA: You don't have to do multiple entries in the comments section :) You can just bunch it all up and I'll sort through it :)
- Sorry, but I can only ship to the US--but if you're outside the US, I'd still love to know your swag story (and if you win, you could have it shipped to a USian friend!)
- Contest ends April 5th. I will stop taking comments at 11:59PM on April 4th, EST.
- If you are a writer and would like some linky-love to your blog from this website, please leave that in the comments and I'll make a special effort to check out your blog.
ETA: So, what would I give away? My WIP is a MG fantasy that takes place inside a school...I think I'd give away little zippered pencil cases with some school supplies...and a print-out of the class schedule, including the magical teacher's class :)
Saturday, March 21, 2009
Carrie Ryan's booklaunch was today! And it was a ton of fun!
First thing I learned on Z-day: The husband does not like being woken up on Z-Day by me trying to eat his brains. Good to know.
Hey, look! I took pictures!
That's me and Carrie just before she signed my book. Look, I know someone famous and cool!
See, I told you she is famous and cool! Now, in addition to getting my book signed, Carrie also had great freebies! Little tins of gummy brains and little zombies for the takin'. Here they are. You can see how the little zombie man is reaching for the gummy brains. He is, of course, foiled by the simple plastic top. Silly zombie, brains are for kids!
And here I am, consuming tasty, tasty brains. Mmmmmm.....brainssssss.....
All in all, quite a successful day! After the booklaunch, the husband, my friend Laura, and I strolled around downtown Greenville. We ate ice cream (almost as tasty as brains) during which time I noticed that the husband's pants had an unusual bulge in them...the little round tin of gummy brains. "Hey," I said, "you've got zombie brains in your pants. Bet you never thought you'd hear me say that sentence."
It was quite amusing.
And here's a charming fact about Greenville: hidden all along Main Street are tiny bronze mice. You can totally make a day of finding the mice--something I totally plan on doing. We only found one today (them suckers are really hard to find!). Here he is. I think he's probably a mouse zombie. Don't let the cuteness fool you.
Hey, you know what? That mouse totally told me a secret. And the secret is...if you're not a follower of my blog, then you should totally become a follower really soon. Like, before Monday. Cause something pretty awesome is coming, and followers of the blog get a li'l extra-extra if ya know what I mean...
Why are you checking this blog? You should be driving to Greenville, for Carrie Ryan's book launch!
Well, what are you waiting for. Go get in the car! I'll see you there!
Friday, March 20, 2009
So I'm working on the new WIP, a YA SF (how's that for some abbreviations?). Part of Chapter One drug a little bit...I wanted to describe the setting in my narrator's first person voice, but it came out false. After all, if we're really getting inside his head, then it doesn't make sense for him to describe the intricacies of his world--he already knows them.
Then I had the idea of him showing and explaining his world to another character--but that's so been done before.
But here's the idea I think just might work: tying the setting to his motivations. If he just pops up to Character B and says "Hey, let's go for a ride, I want to show you my world!" Well...that's cheesy. But if he has a crush on Character B (he does) and wants to get her away from Character C, who also has a crush on her, and he wants to show off a bit...well, he'd take her out on a date. And while he's showing her his world, he's also hitting on her. Now, the scene isn't about explaining the world, but about him struggling to get Character B to recognize him and fall in love with him...and in the process showing the world.
By tying my character's motivation to the setting, I think I'll be able to show the setting without being boring or to inf-dumpy. The chapter isn't just about the setting--it actually progresses the plot, too.
Now, off to write it!
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Discussion veers to zombie attacks. Don't ask.
Kid: I have a zombie plan. See, after you figure out it's Z-Day...
Me: Figure it out?
Kid: Yeah, that's the key. You've got to figure out that they're here.
Me: Yeah, of course, it's not like you wake up knowing that today's the day zombie's will attack.
Kid: Obviously. That's key. Anyway, after you figure out it's Z-Day...
*start of a 30 minute conversation of What To Do After Z-Day: Week One, Scenario A*
PS: The plan is actually pretty cool. It does involve a church, a mason, and a welding gun. But if those are given, this kid might make it...
I have this dream, see? I wanna be rich enough to buy this old plantation house down the road and open up a writer's retreat/bed and breakfast/bookstore...but I wanna be so rich that I can get people to do all the work AND so rich that I can just give away the books and don't have to worry about sales. So, basically, I want to live on a plantation house with servants and surround myself with books, readers, and writers. Is that so wrong?
The point (yes, I have one) is that I am going Indie around here.
Not the Jones sort of Indie (mmmm), but the buy-from-local-bookstores sort of Indie. Since I can't have my Plantation-B&B-Writer'sRetreat-Bookstore-of-Joy, I like to dream that someone out there does have it...and in order to ensure they keep it, then we've got to support the locals. So I've added a little blue IndieBound logo to the sidebar. And books on this blog are gonna be linked to IndieBound, no where else. Not that I don't like Amazon--I do. But, see, I get like I dunno 2 pennies or something for every book you buy from my links, and, well, that's 2 pennies closer to my Awesome-SuperAmazing!-Plantation-B&B-Writer'sRetreat-Bookstore-of-Joy-and-Awesomeness.
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
I've got a love-hate relationship with writing. And boy am I glad I do!
Let me start off with two examples. Aside from my practice novels, the first decent novel I wrote, I loved. The writing was so good it charmed the socks off me, if I do say so myself. I adored it. I'd gone in with the intention of writing a book that I'd want to read, and I succeeded! I loved, loved, loved that book. Still do, actually.
Problem is, I love it so much that I can't imagine changing a single word. Not one. And my unwillingness to revise that novel has led to a couple missed opportunities that I now regret...but even if I regret them, I'm still not sure that I'll ever be able to change a word of that original manuscript.
After that one, I wrote another book. I hate this one. It was very personal to me--although it was a story about a girl falling into a parallel world, I wrote it after my brother's death, and all the emotion I was feeling at that time seeped onto the pages. I can't stand to read over this one, because it reminds me of the feelings I felt as I was writing it, and I don't want to relive that. Also: I'm very aware of the weak writing, plot holes, and poor characterization in this one--I know it has problems, but it has SO MANY problems that there's simply no way that I can revise it without immersing myself in it. I know the writing's weak, I even know how to make it better, but I hate that manuscript so much that I know I will never go back to it.
So, instead of trying to revise that one, I decided instead to write a new manuscript, which ended up being The Amnesia Door, which is currently out on submission. As I wrote that one, I was very conscious of what I'd learned by writing my love book and my hate book: revisions would need to happen, so I'd have to maintain an attitude open to them. I had to find a balance between loving my words and having confidence in their worth, but also hating them to a certain extent so that I'd be able to change them. While writing The Amnesia Door, I loved it. Loved, loved, loved it. But during revisions, I was ready to set it on fire and chant voodoo at it. By shifting my perception and feeling towards that manuscript between the writing and revision process, I was able to develop my strongest book yet.
Through trial and error, what works for me is this: love the writing in the first draft, hate it during revisions. This makes me eager to write more, develop the plot, and get the words on paper...but ready to cut them by the time I have to do revisions.
What works for you? Do you have a love-hate relationship with you work?
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
It was easy for me to say my new mantra would be "write constantly" after a very productive writing weekend. It's only Tuesday, and I've already felt the swarm of work descend upon me like a swarm of hornets, buzzing in my ears to run away from what I want to do and drown myself in what "needs to be done."
I didn't write a word yesterday. But I didn't forget my new mantra. I may not have a new scene written, but I have figured out how to kill a character.
And you know, that's a delicious part of writing: we're considered industrious, productive workers when we plot murder!
Monday, March 16, 2009
Let this be a lesson to all children's writers: kids love jokes. Seriously. Complicated jokes, stupid jokes, puns--all kids of all ages love 'em.
Recently I took my class to the library, and instead of researching their essay, some of the kids were cracking jokes. Those same old stupid ones that I used to tell in high school.
Kid: Come on, Mrs. Revis, tell us a joke!
Me: No, you should be working on your essay.
Kid: Just one, we'll promise to work after that!
Me: Well...it's just...I'm not in a joking mood.
All the kids: Why?
Me: Well, you know how warm it's been lately? Well, my husband got the lawnmower out to work on it, and drained all the gas, and put the gas in a bucket by the garage. And...well...my dog--remember, the big black Lab?--he went over there and drank the gas!
All the kids: Oh, no! What happened?!
Me: He jumped up and ran around the house like three times! As fast as he ever ran before! And...and then he just fell over.
All the kids: *silence*
One Kid: *whispers* Did he...die?
Me: Nah, he just ran out of gas.
Lemme tell you, all kids love jokes! And if you can nail 'em with a good new one, you win!
Me: Just try to write a poem. It's not that hard. I just want you to try.
Kid: But Mrs. Revis! I can't! I've got Writer's Cramp!
Update on Commenting Problems: I'm not sure why, but the computers I use at work won't let me comment (perhaps a firewall?). I can still read everyone's posts--and occassionaly get a comment in--but mostly I will be commenting from home. As I've got over 100 posts in my Google Reader write now to go through, I may be behind on comments for awhile. Please rest assured that I am reading everything--and will comment as soon as I can!
As some of you may have noticed, blogging has been sparse, and my weekend's post was just scribbles and scratches (and that may, perhaps, be my favorite post of all time).
I really got in the zone--not just this weekend, but all this week. It was nice. It's been awhile since the words practically wrote themselves. I couldn't quit thinking of this new story, and I've been obsessed over getting the images in my mind onto paper.
And I noticed a difference: when I wanted to write, I made excuses to do so. I wrote short scenes between classes. I thought of plot problems in the shower. I'd vacuum a room, write a chapter, vacuum the next room, write another chapter. I wrote some before supper, thought about it during supper, and wrote some more after supper.
It's been productive: I've got 17,000 words done, over 10,000 of those words from this week.
Which got me thinking: why don't I write this way more often?
I wouldn't write during my breaks at work because I knew I only had so much time. What can I write in 15 minutes? Maybe a page? So I wouldn't write it--but this week, I've seen those short scenes add up. Or, I'd tell myself to finish one thing (i.e. washing dishes) and then I'll write...but I'd always find another task that had to be done right away instead.
Not any more.
Segue. I once read a quote by CS Lewis that I cannot remember word for word, but the essence was this: pray constantly. No matter what you're doing, no matter how mundane, don't wait for church to pray--just pray without ceasing. That had an effect on my young Christian mind, and I've striven since then to do so.
Now I'm going to make my mind multi-task. My new mantra: Write constantly. No matter how little time, I will write. No matter how many other things need doing, I will write. Even if I don't have the materials with which to write, I will compose scenes and solve plot holes until I can get to a notepad or computer.
I will write constantly.
OK, that sounds a bit epic and preachy even for me, so, I promise, next post will be light and airy and I will try to incorporate something silly.
Saturday, March 14, 2009
scribble scribble write revise cut write more add detail write write write delete delete write write scribble scribble scratch scratch write
Stop. Eat potato soup.
write write scribble scribble scratch cut write write
Friday, March 13, 2009
Edited to Add: For some reason, I'm having a really hard time commenting on people's blogs...every time I click to comment, my intarwebs crashes. So--sorry, but comments from me (on this blog and on yours) are going to be a bit light until I can figure out the problem. Didn't want y'all thinking I didn't love ya no more or nothing.
Previously, I posted about books that I can't help but dislike, and the exceptions to that list. Today, I'm switching it up a bit: books I love no matter what.
There are certain tropes and types of stories that I will read no matter what. It doesn't matter that it's the same story in a different pair of pants--this type of story just hooks me, and I'll buy it sight unseen.
- Myth retellings, particularly retellings of Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. This has led me to Ever After, Ella Enchanted, and Bound in the Cinderella category, and countless others in the B&B category. I know the plot is essentially repeated in these tales, I know that I'm reading fairy tales that rarely deviate from the norm....but I love 'em and could read them all day.
- Portal stories. This is something, I've heard, that agents and editors are tired of seeing, but I love them. Give me a world where someone from Earth lands somewhere else, and I'll eat it up. It started with Narnia, obvs, but I love all the stories that follow this formula.
- Girl hero stories. Love these, too. The Hero and the Crown is my favorite in this category, but if there is a girl with a sword kicking tail in the story, I'll read it. This is, btw, the category I'm most often disappointed with...I may read all these stories, but lately I've been having trouble finding one I love.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
Hey, you know I couldn't do such a negative post without doing a positive one! Although I previously listed styles of books that I don't really like very much, there are always exceptions to those rules, proving that, once again, writing trumps all:
- Books where the author talks to the reader. I was a bit too quick on The Tale of Desperaux. While I still dislike the author-talking-to-the-reader bit, I'm loving the introduction of the rats and Roscuro's conflict with light, and I'm starting to find this story glued to my hands... (Also: I secretly kind of like it when Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte talk to me from their books. Makes me feel personal.)
- Books where the solution to a problem is found in another person (i.e. my world revolves around him!). Ah, Twilight. My relationship with you is so love-hate. Because even though I really dislike this trope....I really did like Twilight. I couldn't put it down. I hated it while I was reading it, but I still couldn't put it down. Also: An Abundance of Katherine's sort of did this, but in such a brilliant way that I sort of loved it.
- Books where the solution to the problem could happen if the character just said something. But....well....that's the basis for Pride and Prejudice, isn't it? And Romeo and Juliet? And don't all books do this to some degree? It IS the secrets that drive a plot forward, often enough.
We all have a certain "style" of books that doesn't match our style. For some people, it's a genre (I hate sci fi!)*. For some, it's a style (ugh, first person!)*. I even have a friend who will only read a book if a female is the main character. But despite your preferences, I'm willing to bet there's at least one book out there in that style you hate that, once you gave that book a chance, you actually kind of liked. Maybe it even became your favorite book...
So, what style do you hate...but what book do you love despite that?
*Those are not my sentiments. I used them as examples only.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
I am reading a book right now that I want to love--I really do--but I can't. It's well written, the plot is there, the characters are tight, but...it falls flat. For me. For the millions of fans of the book (and movie), it worked, but not for me.
And I realized--there are some styles of book that I will NEVER like. It's just a personal preference, just like how I don't really like movies like Meet the Parents where the main character has the worst luck EVAR or any movies by Jim Carrey (with the exception of The Truman Show).
Anyway, here's the kinds of books that I just do NOT like:
- Books where the author talks to the reader. This was a problem with me with the Lemony Snicket books and, more recently, The Tale of Despauraux. Here's the thing: I feel like I'm being talked down to in these cases--like the way Lemony Snicket assumes we don't know the meanings of words and gives them to us. Now, some people love this plot feature--up to and including Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte--but it breaks the fourth wall for me and kills the book.
- Books where the solution to a problem is found in another person (i.e. my world revolves around him!). I have this friend, right? He thinks that his life is horrible, and if he'd just find a woman to share it with, it would be a dream. Also, I teach high school. All the girls' worlds revolve around the boys, and vice versa. My point is, when a person OR a character thinks the solution to all of life's problems can be found in a dream lover, I am out. Look, I love the husband. Like, a lot. But real love isn't obsession, and real love loves despite the problems and flaws--it doesn't, for example, get distracted by sparkly vampires.
- Books where the solution to the problem could happen if the character just said something. This is why I am not usually a fan of romance novels. If the guy would just tell the girl, or the girl would just tell the guy that they liked each other, problem solved! Of course, the plot would be two sentences long...but I am the type of girl who says what she means and doesn't beat around the bush, and it drives me crazy when characters do. Just say SOMETHING!
Present tense voice.See? Sometimes I have to eat my own words. Ask me about present tense voice a year before, and I would have said I hated it. But now...well, I'm writing a manuscript in it. And some of my favorite books have since been written in that tense. The moral of the story? Any of my personal pet peeves can be tossed out when the rest of the writing's good enough.
How about you? What kind of style in a book will automatically turn you off?
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
For the first time ever I have no clue what to title my new WIP. Seriously, no clue. I can think of no simple word or phrase to sum up the main idea or theme, not even a string of pretty words.
Currently, my working title is "That SciFi Book." That is only my working title because "That Murder-Mystery Set in Space SciFi Book" is too long.
Then I thought: Hey! The Beatles! What problem can't they solve?!
So...what do you think of Across the Universe as a title?
I'd be totally kosher with it, except for that movie. To be honest, I'm tired of comparisons (having had a character named Belle, I sort of want to stab Twilight with a wooden stake).
And, you know, that whole comparison thing is just a train I don't want to ride. I can already picture it: "Hey, I like your story, but did you know that your title is just like that song/movie?"
But....those lyrics....they do actually fit with the theme of my novel. Like many Beatles's songs, they have a poetry quality to them.
[deleted lyrics to avoid copyright infringement]
So, what do YOU think? Is Across the Universe a good title for a book--or too close to what's already there?
Wyoming is now accepted in the United States of Beth.
That is all.
Monday, March 9, 2009
It is too early in the morning for me to come up with something intelligent to say (I WANT MY HOUR BACK, DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME. You're going on the list with Wyoming.)
So, here are some casual observations I've made recently:
- Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist the movie is a pale imitation of the book. Kind of like seeing a brilliant piece of artwork in an old textbook versus seeing it in real life. They look the same, but the colors, feel, emotion of it is all different.
- The writer of this letter makes me mad, much in the same way as politicians who make educational policy: neither the letter-writer nor politicians realize how stupid they are, and how much they actually hurt real professionals.
- Dust of a Hundred Dogs has been surprisingly romantic. And violent, even for a pirate. I am surprised at how sympathetic I am to Emer/Saffron. I suspect I would dislike this character in real life, but actually, I kinda want to cuddle her. Like a puppy. Hmm...maybe that's the real Dog Fact #9.
- Sometimes I hate writing. Like when revision time rolls around. But sometimes, I love it. Like now. When I find myself sneaking away from doing things I'm supposed to be doing (dusting, cooking, school work) and instead sneak my laptop open to type some more of the story. No kidding: the husband took away my laptop so I could finish school work first.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Several people have been blogging recently about their own personal writing process. As I am just beginning a new project, I thought I'd do a little self-analysis.
- STAGE ONE: Idea. Somewhere, I get an idea. Sometimes it's an image, like a scene from a movie in my mind. Sometimes it's just a really cool bit of dialog. Or, I'll watch TV or listen to the radio and hear a story--fiction or news--and think "what if...?" and add a different twist to it. Either way, the idea is planted.
- STAGE TWO: Fermenting the Idea. I get lots of these ideas. I've been known to have character dialog re-enactments in my car on my way to work. Often, as soon as I've thought of the idea, it's gone. I don't think about it again. But sometimes, it doesn't go. I'll find myself re-thinking of the character or scene or what-if plot, and in my head I start fitting the pieces together, like a detective on CSI.
- STAGE THREE: Casual Notes. I write out the scene that gave me the original idea. I might go on Wikipedia and look up some detail. If there's a show on TV about the idea's subject, I watch it. I'm not doing anything serious, just surrounding myself with the idea.
- STAGE FOUR: Chapter One. I write a full scene, sometimes Chapters One and Two. Often, this is just a page or two--but never more than 10 or 15. I sit back. I tell myself that I am brilliant. This is the best writing I've ever done, and I will become more famous and well loved that JK Rowling and Stephenie Myers combined.
- STAGE FIVE: Abandonment. I completely drop the project. Sometimes for months. Sometimes, I never go back to it.
- STAGE SIX: Panic. Eventually, I get to the point where I realize that I don't have any more ideas. I want to write, but what to write? Then I remember that story I abandoned...
- STAGE SEVEN: Frustration. It's been months in returning to the original story idea. Things have changed. It's not as good. The magic isn't there. This stage lasts for up to several weeks. I cuss at the computer. I spend more time on blogs. I clean the house a lot.
- STAGE EIGHT: Recognition of my Brilliance. Something happens--an idea, a suggestion from a crit reader, something...and I've got the story again. I hold tight. I usually write in flurries here, and usually get at least to the first fifty pages. I re-read these pages often, remarking to myself upon my own brilliance. I make the husband take me out to dinner. I am often giddy. House cleaning happens not at all.
- STAGE NINE: Distraction. By this point, I've got a clear idea of the story...and I'm starting to get a bit bored with it. Oh, look, something shiny! *dashes off in distraction*
So, how about you? What's your writing process like?
Saturday, March 7, 2009
I've blogged before about the advantages of using Scrivener. I found another one today: no page count. As you write, the running tally on the bottom of the screen is for words, not pages. And it's words per chapter, not per project (unless you go in and change the settings). And I suck at numbers so much that I can't really look at word counts of multiple chapters and figure out what's really going on. I've just been typing away, hoping that what I end up with looks like a book.
So today I decided to see just how close all this work I've been doing actually does look like a book, so I transferred it all to Word. And all those words add up to 50 pages. I hadn't even noticed. I usually really care about hitting the 50 page mark.
But I've been more focused on writing the words than on the word count...and that's a much better way to write.
Last week, snow. Actually, there's still snow on the ground in some parts of the county. But today: 85 degrees. And sun--bright, shiny sun. Every once in awhile, a breeze that still has the scent of snow twirls my patio umbrella in a circle.
This is my office for today. Laptop on the patio table. A glass of Cherry 7-Up. A box of grape Mike & Ikes. And my notepad, with chapter sketches.
And a whole day of sunshine and writing.
Life is good.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Stayed up until 1 am last night with a good book...mine! I was trying to sleep, but suddenly realized a way to fix a problem with the start of the next chapter, so I ended up writing a whole chapter.
...which made getting up 4 and a half hours later a real pain, lemme tell you.
Then, school. Ah. Wow. I remember sitting down for lunch...everything else was running from kid to kid, helping to tweak essays, fix grammar, and suggest new topic sentences.
After school, the microwave died, so I jumped in the car with the husband for a three-hour round of microwave hunting!
In short, I'm drained.
But you know, I think I might have an idea to start that next chapter...
Thursday, March 5, 2009
For the record: I am still shunning Wyoming. Wyoming, you know why. I've got my eye on you...
But aside from That State I Am Shunning Which Is Being Replaced With France (bonjour!), a couple of you asked how to use Google Analytics. I've had so much fun with it, that I thought I'd share.
- Go to Google Analytics and create an account.
- Follow their step-by-step guide to get your blog/website/etc. into their program. This will require a few cumbersome steps, so set aside some time to do this. I also recommend their help pages--easy to understand if you get yourself in a corner. [Look, I'm kind of a do it as you go, who needs an instructional manual anyway? kind of girl. But if you'd like more of a step-by-step guide, then check here.]
- It'll take about a day for everything to start being processed correctly. Be patient.
- Once your site is being tracked properly by GA, on the front page you will find several kinds of information.
- The line graph on the top. This shows your blog traffic for any given day. It can help you see which day's post is the most popular...and once you know what your reader wants, you're better prepared to provide them with it.
- Under the chart: Site Usage. I don't like numbers and ignore that part
- Under that: Visitor Overview. That will tell you how many people have actually visited your blog (as opposed to Pageviews, which tells you how many times your page has been loaded. I could load my page 10 times, and that's 1 Visit and 10 Pageviews...Visitor Overview gives you an accurate idea of the number of visitors). If you click on the "Visitor Overview" link, you can see a graph with the info on it--you want to see "Absolute Unique Visitors" for your visitor count. I use this in my query letter. I have very very little by way of bio, and so I added a line in the bio section along the lines of "I also run a blog for writers about MG and YA literature that has recieved nearly a thousand visitors."
- Underneath that: Map Overlay. I just find it fun. Click on the map and you can see where people who visit your site are from. For example, someone in Uganda once clicked on my site. Wow.
- I also click on the nagation bar on the left and look at new vs. returning visitors, just to get a sense of it, and sometimes traffic source (i.e. referring sites vs. direct sites).
- Content Overview tells you which posts of yours have been the most popular.
- On the navigation bar, under traffic sources, I will sometimes check the referring sites--just to get an idea of who's linked me (so I can share the linky love).
I was just foolin' around on Google Analytics, and noticed that every state in the US--including Hawaii--has visited my blog. That fills me with bloggy love.
Except for you, Wyoming. Only one state on my Google Analytics map is white...and that's you, Wyoming.
Until this is rectified, I will be forced to assume that you are filled with nothing but cows who are unable to type my web address into Firefox. Because you, cows of Wyoming, do not have opposable thumbs. And because you are cows.
At least France loves me. Wyoming, you have been replaced with France.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Shelli posted on my SCBWI listserv about Molli Nickell's new website, on which she's offering a discount on editorial services.
Here's what I found great: a free workbook on query writing!
(And there's also some good info there on, including evaluated queries.)
Go check out my guest post on If You Give a Girl a Pen. I wrote about using technology to revise a manuscript.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
I was worried. I wasn't really finding time to write, and even though I had a project to start working on, I wasn't really in the flow, if you know what I mean. I wrote words to write words, but they weren't good words, they were forced.
Well, today I wrote a chapter and a half.
And all it took was two days off work...and a chance to not focus on everything else, but have a moment to myself!
Becky Levine is one of those blogging authors that you just know is kind in real life. When I saw that she's just finished her draft of her latest book--and that book was about critique groups--I knew I wanted to pick her mind, and she very graciously agreed! Her book, The Writing Group Survival Guide will be out through Writer's Digest press in January of 2010.
Becky has been writing for many year, always with critique groups. Besides this nonfiction writing aid, Becky also writes nonfiction for children and young adults. Her most recent project is a YA historical novel about a young woman in 1913 Chicago just before the suffrage march on Washington, DC (I'm already interested, aren't you?). Additionally, she's working on a couple of picture books and a chapter book. Her website, located here, is where (in her words), "I try and share constructive ideas about critiquing and writing, and all steps on the writing path." Her personal writing blog, located here, is where she focuses on her own writing projects and dreams.
On to the interview!
Could you tell us a little bit about your writing process?
Why did you write your book?
Who would most benefit from it--I assume, obviously, writers, but writers at what stage in their writing or career?
In your experience or research, what were some of the most surprising things you learned about writing groups?
What are a few characteristics of writing groups that work?
What are some things that writing groups should avoid?
Do you believe that all writers can benefit from a writing group? Why/why not?
You call your book a "Survival Guide." Is it more about how a writer can survive in a writing group, or about how writing groups themselves can survive--and thrive?
Any final thoughts you'd like to leave us with?
Just a reminder: Becky's book is due out January 2010 from Writer's Digest. Be sure to order a copy!
And...THANK YOU BECKY for sharing your thoughts and ideas with us!
Monday, March 2, 2009
...well, not any more. In the South, we get snow for a day, and then wet, muddy grass. But c'est la vie.
So, from the picture on the left, you can see just how Narnia up in here we got. It was a winter wonderland, y'all.
Here you can see the forest across the road from my house.
And here is a picture of the apple tree in my backyard. Back story: last fall, we couldn't get the top apples from the tree. So we figured heck, we'll leave them there and let the deer eat them when they fall. But they didn't fall. But it made for a cool picture!
But you're not here for artsy pics of the snow! Besides, Lois does those much better than me. Here's Dog with his favorite toy, Massive Stick. He found it in the snow. Click on the pic for a bigger version--you can see he's got a mouthful of snow with his stick!
And here is a very short video of Dog trying to catch snowballs. (It would have been longer, but the husband made me cut out the part with him in his robe.)
...that if it snows, and you throw a snowball, and the dog chases that snowball, and then tries to dig in the snow to find said snowball... that is the funniest thing EVAR.
I am going to do what I can to post a video of this event, but the MASSIVE amount of snow (we're up to two inches, do not talk to me all you Yankees and mid-westerners, TWO INCHES IS MAJOR IN THE SOUTH) anyway, that massive amount of snow is also blocking the interwebs, which I procure through satellite. So....
Sunday, March 1, 2009
I am of the praying variety. If you are also of the praying variety, I sure would like it if you sent up a prayer for me. Something sort of bad has happened to my family (not tragic, but it's hard to make lemonades of this one), and something extremely good might possibly maybe happen, both of which I'd like I little prayer power behind. So...if you're into that sort of thing and don't mind, I'd appreciate a bit of prayer-love heading my direction.
It's been a while since I did a good ol' fashioned linkspam. And maybe since I just did my own contest or maybe since we're all in the giving mood with spring (and tax returns) upon us, but I sure did find a lot of contest on y'alls blogs!
-Ladidadida has a great comprehensive list of many contest throughout the intarwebs. If you're in a winning mood, check there first to find contests you might have missed.
-Market my Words is holding a contest that is worth up to $1000...and all you have to do is comment!
-And speaking of marketing, the YA Blog Newsletter is giving away free blog advertisement.
-Tabitha at Writer Musings is celebrating her first year blogiversary by giving away a copy of The Spectacular Now.
-BookKids tells us about an awesome opportunity: have Marcus Zusak (of The Book Thief fame) talk to your book group!
-*sigh* I guess I'll share this one, too...Cupcake Witch is giving away an ARC of The Forest of Hands and Teeth. *iwantthatbooksodon'tentersoicanwin!!!*
-The Book Muncher is giving away a copy of Circle of Friends. There are, apparently, no zombies in this book, although I assert that it would probably be better if it did.
-Keri Mikulski is giving away books for her Yay for YA Spring give-away: E. Lockhart's FLY ON THE WALL, Meg Cabot's AVALON HIGH, Clare O'Donohue's THE LOVER'S KNOT, and Niki Burnham, Terri Clark, Ellen Hopkins, and Lynda Sandoval's BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO. None of these, to my knowledge, feature zombies, BUT I have been longing for Avalon High, so please don't enter and ruin my chances ;)
-And while I was scouring through your blogs for posts on cool thins to win, I stumbled upon this blog, full of crafty art and photography. One of the things the artist did was give away a pair of hand-made Cinderella shoes. They look awesome, y'all. Go check them out here, as you wish you had known about this contest before it was over, and as you wish you had won.
-So, ya know...wow. That's a lot of contests. And that leaves me with only one question:
Well, are ya, punk?
I listed out all the entries for the Eternal/Tantalize contest--there were over 75! I listed them all out in a row, ready to print them out, put them in a hat, and draw one. But...I ran out of printer paper (I had to print my crit partner's entry for this week on scraps of old versions of my manuscript).
Me, shouting from the living room: Hey, husband! Pick a number between one and 76!
Husband, shouting from his office: Why?
Me: Just pick!
Husband, used to my random crazy: 33!
And so we have a winner!
Sarah, please drop me a line at bethrevis at gmail dot com
with your address and choice of book, and I'll get that in the mail for you!