Saturday, April 30, 2011

Z is for Zed's Dead, Baby

And for Zero 7

And though it nearly killed me, I've loved doing the A-Z blogging challenge. I met some great people, got some rewards, gave some out in return and over all visited a ton of interesting, weird and wonderful blogs that I would have missed if not for the challenge.

And I (pretty much) completed the challenge, only falling down on the letter 'Y'. I spent the whole day writing and re-writing my blogus opus about Young Adult (category or genre? teen specific or for everyone? milk or cream?) only to realize it was all crap late last night. So I'll work on that.

Thank you to these fine friends for throwing down the gauntlet and co-hosting the event:
Arlee Bird's Tossing It Out 
Jeffrey Beesler's World of the Scribe 
Alex J. Cavanaugh Alex J. Cavanaugh 
Jen Daiker's Unedited 
Candace Ganger's The Misadventures in Candyland 
Karen J Gowen at Coming Down the Mountain 
Talli Roland 
Stephen Tremp's Breakthrough Blogs 

See you again at next year's challenge, mates!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

X is for Xavier Roberts

And for (the great) X

My baby had "Xavier Roberts" tattooed on her left butt cheek. I didn't like it at all and seeing the strange signature on her ass almost made me cry, like the stork had saddled me with a damaged kid. I'd waited literally years for my parents to be able to afford a Cabbage Patch Doll, while my friends racked up the trendy dolls like extra pac man lives at the arcade. One friend had over fifteen of them, some still suffocating in their cardboard and plastic boxes, stored in the attic.

My Cabbage Patch doll had another deformity. She was French, or French-Canadian. All her birth documents were in french. I couldn't read the frigging thing and though it might have lent me some exotic credibility with my friends, it didn't. To say I was a disappointed pre-teen would be an understatement. I was desolate (or, as my dolly would say, Je suis desole) and that was one the moment, maybe the last moment, I ever bought into a trend.

I'm not saying I never bought something trendy again. For crissakes you can find a pair of (tasteful, mind) jeggings in my dresser as we speak. But I tried hard not to believe the hype again. If I was going to follow a trend I was going to do it knowing I was one of hundreds of lemmings getting ready to happily jump off the ledge.

Which is why it's such a surprise to me that I've ended up writing a YA book. Somehow, without meaning to, I wrote a in a genre that is hot right now. We have a friend who writes children's books, young kid stuff, picture books. They're great and fun, but what he really wants to do is direct, er, I mean write YA. It's not because he's got a YA story burning in his gut. It's because he's been told that's where the gold is.

Does that make him mercenary, smart or just normal? I don't know. I have the luxury of not being important at all. I don't have a publisher, editor, agent waiting for me to do the next thing. I can write whatever I want and simultaneously believe that I live in a vacuum where nothing I do will ever go anywhere and that one day someone will want to be my publisher, editor and agent.

This is a long-assed way of asking. Do you, in your heart of hearts, follow trends? Try to follow trends? Believe trends are real, important drivers in publishing? I know, I know, write what's important to you, the story that speaks to you, don't write what you think is trendy, yada yada. But what do you REALLY think?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

W is for Why

And for We Are Scientists.

You know how in mystery novels the detective always says 'never mind the motive, find the evidence and you'll find the motive.' That's never true, really, because the 'why' is always the most important question (to me) in a good mystery. The 'who' and 'how' are cool, but the why is where the psychology comes in, where you try and usually fail somewhat, to understand the reasons why.

'Why' in a story is where you get inserted. Every important action the MC takes is an opportunity for the reader to ask themselves "Why did she do that? Would I do that?" I think that's what makes a story compelling, putting yourself in the action through the why.

So, in BookEnd, I'm trying not to answer, or not to fully answer, the why. I don't mean that I'm not leaving clues, I am, plenty. But I don't want the reader to know why Fin does what he does because if she does, she might not find where she belongs in the book. I hate when the 'why' of a character's action is too readily answered. I like to figure it out for myself - even if it's not what the author intended. That's why reading is a participatory past-time, right? We don't passively 'consume' the narrative, we contribute to it.

Does that make sense?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

V is for Vitriol*

And for the Veils

I'm probably naive about this, but I've been a bit shocked by the vitriol that sometimes exists in comment pages. I would as soon eviscerate a total stranger on a comment/ message board as I would scream filthy invective at my mail lady, which is not soon at all. Because I can't seem to forget that the person one is  venting one's spleen at is real. I think of that person as myself, on the other side of a mirror. Why would I do that to someone else when I know it can't help but hurt?

To this end, the Guardian/Observer had an innocent enough article about artists who use antiquated or analog tools as part of their art making. It's a cool article you can find here. Read it and enjoy. Then have a look at some of the comments. People are commenting on things that don't even make sense, making assumptions about the artists (nasty ones) that they couldn't possibly infer from the article. 

One of the artists profiled, poet Claire Askew, blogged about what these comments were and how they affected her personally. I think it's illuminating to see the 'result' of these virtual molotov cocktails that anonymous posters throw - to see where they land. As she says in her response, she's "never taken being picked on lying down " So instead of lying down and taking it or even taking the 'high' road of silence, she responds to some of the haters. It's interesting and kind of thrilling to see her take them all on. 

What do you think about the negative/flaming comments and posts about artists/writers? Haters gonna hate, but should there be a response? Or does that just fan the flames? And should bloggers in particular be honest (I hate this writer/book) or be discrete? Is there a way to be both?

*Yesterday, V was for Vexed, because that's how this issue made me feel. But Vitriol is much more appropriate, no?

Monday, April 25, 2011

U is for Uruguay

And for U2

I went to Uruguay for the last time in 2000. My grandmother was dying and I wanted to see her. It was the beginning of November and I watched, remotely, the debacle of the 2000 presidential race. I walked around the dilapidated village square about a hundred times listening to U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind over and over again.

I have a strange relationship with Uruguay. By my calculations I've gone every year from the time I was 9 months old to the last time, when I was 28. That's 30 times (there was an extra, emergency trip when I was 13 when my grandmothers both got hit by a taxi). And I have extensive family there and in Brazil - most of which I can't keep track of because they all go by their nicknames. (Is 'flaca' the one you went to nursing school with, mom? No, that's 'polvora', 'flaca' is your auntie 'chica's' first cousin.)

But I've always felt like an outsider when there. I've always felt like the exotic, unpredictable animal on loan from a distant zoo. It might be something simple and devastating like the jeans my mom bought  in Kmart costing  a month's wage down there. Or it might have been the Yankee GO HOME graffiti on the crumbling sports center wall I walked passed almost every day. But it was probably my mother, red faced and lips pinched telling me to get OFF my new donald duck space hopper and give it to my less fortunate cousins, NOW. All those things and more conspired to make me feel other.

But, and it's a big one, Uruguay remains the stuff of my dreams. It's ingrained in my soul, as corny as that sounds. The first short story I ever wrote as an adult, the first one that made me think, wait, I could do something with this, was triggered by a smell. The smell was so place specific, so much a perfect blend of the scent of my grandmother's skin and the cooking and flower smells of her house, that I was shocked when I smelled the same scent as I came out of my office building in midtown Manhattan on early spring day. I stopped dead, in a revolving door no less, and let people curse me out. That smell transported me immediately to Uruguay and opened out a narrative, I was amazed to see, that wasn't exactly mine, but had a lot of the same scenery. It was a transformative moment.

So Uruguay is special, indelible, it defines my sense of self and place. Now that my grandparents are dead and my mother likely to move back to the states, will I ever go back again? I tell my sister I want to go back, take my kids there so they can experience it like I did. She's very smart. She says "Your Uruguay isn't there anymore. Don't go looking for it."

Sunday, April 24, 2011

T is for Tesseract

And for Tarnation

All last summer, when I was in bed and had trouble sleeping, I'd repeat the words "C. C Sabathia" over and over again. You can imagine my husband's surprise when he heard me murmuring these words since I have no earthly interest in baseball, let alone sports. But I like the way the words sound, the alliteration and the rhythm.

Tesseract is like that. There's a proper science definition of tesseract here, but when I think of that word I think of a Wrinkle in Time. Tesseract also sounds to me like ancient scottish for 'king' or 'laird', but I bet I'm just thinking of another similar sounding word.

Words are like that, they mean more than they mean. They can do more things then define and explain. I often forget that they are layered things, starting with the sound itself, then first, secondary, tertiary meanings and associations. I see it with my two year old as she toggles between english and spanish that it's great fun and completely a game, playing with words.

Friday, April 22, 2011

S is for Social Network

And for Sufjan Stevens

Well, the sprogs are in bed and I'm finally able to squeeze out this (belated) blog post. I'm not even sure I should have done it, but the great-god Nathan Bransford suggested it and I'm nothing if not slavishly devoted to NB. What am I talking about?


I'm on Facebook already as a human of course, I'm not a complete luddite. But as a writer, um, no. Firstly because it never occurred to me until I read Nathan's post from back in February, but also because it seems kinda ridiculous to create a fan page for myself. What is there to be a fan of except my NaNoWriMo win and the fact that I keep plugging away at this writing business like the worst of both worlds Sysiphus and Prometheus combo (And yes, I often think revising feels like eagles are pecking out my liver, you?)

But I keep hearing about brand building and author platforms.  I wish that platform was a wooden 4x4 perched high atop a pool on Coney Island that I'm about to horse dive into instead of the marketing tool it is - horse diving would be much less scary.

There is a small part of me that says "Baaa! Stop being a sheep! Just because people say you have to do this thing doesn't mean you have to do it. You can go at your own pace, do what you think is best, you know, you could grow a spine." But then I remember the 'sustainable writing life' I'm building and I'm determined all over again to do everything I can to give it my best shot. Everything that's seemly, of course. I won't be horse-diving in a bikini. I'll have a one piece on. Maybe a Muumuu too.

For now, I've created an author facebook page here and put some stuff on it. It may become an orphaned page if I can't keep it up. We'll see.

What do you do to build your platform and what won't you do? What helps and what hurts and what is way too much effort?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

R is for Revancha

And for Rilo Kiley

Revancha is Revenge in spanish and I don't know how to write about revenge. In fact, when I think about the word seriously, when I think about a time when I wanted to take revenge, with my whole soul and heart, I think about cards.

I only know how to play one card game (war not included) and that's Canasta. In the 1950's Canasta, along with lots of Latin and South American things, became popular. This american version is pale in comparison to what I think of as the true form - Uruguayan cut-throat Canasta.

When I'd lose as a kid to my more experienced parents - and I'd almost always lose - the first word out of my mouth after URRRRGH! was REVANCHA! Let's play the revancha. It's sort of like saying 'let's have a re-match' but what I'm literally saying is 'I want to revenge myself on you as you have destroyed my honor and I will have my pound of card-like flesh' Or something close to that, it's kinda lost in the translation.

So while I'm revising my first draft, I'm outlining the sequel, BookBegin, because through this arduous process I've learned that outlines can be your friend. I've quickly realized that I will need to channel revenge. It's going to be a central theme. The question is, having not felt it much (does Canasta even count?), how do I get authentic "revenge is a dish best served cold"* into my story?

How do you get feelings that are abhorrent or alien to you into the story?

*Another great spanish saying. What's with us and revenge, anyway?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Q is for Query

And for Queen
I'm sorry, but I have to go with the majority of A-Z bloggers on this one and call out 'query.' I was going to go with Qwerty and learning to type, but the horror-show that is a query has been on my mind lately.

I don't think I'm ready to formally query BookEnd - for one I'm halfway through first revisions, for another I haven't actually written the end. This can also be stated another way "I haven't finished the book yet." But I feel that's just negative talk, too much of a downer. Also, I'm coming to terms with having written a YA book without really intending to. I didn't sit down and say, "Time to write a young adult book." It was more like, "What if this boy lived on a farm where the cattle were really people?" So now I'm educating myself on agents that deal in YA and I'm not done with my learning yet.

Having said all that, I'm going to the Pennwriters' Conference on May 13 and have signed up to have my query letter, pitch and synopsis reviewed and commented on by agent Barbara Poelle of the Irene Goodman Agency. I've already sent my goods to her and now I'm rethinking everything I sent.

So in the spirit of further evisceration, I'm including the query letter below for your delectation. Go on, rip it to shreds, I mean comment on it's strengths and weaknesses as it befits a nurturing, mannerly group of writing individuals. I'd love to hear what you think. For reals. Before we get to that here are some links to query-writing resources:

Query Shark
Pub Rants
Nathan Bransford
Pimp My Novel also has an interesting (non agent) take on queries
Writer's Digest

OK. Here's my query:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

P is for Phoney

And for the Pixies

There's an interesting debate going on over at Pimp My Novel about how factual memoirs should be. This is an old problem, fiction in memoir, that keeps resurfacing. The latest kerfuffle revolves around Three Cups of Tea author Greg Mortenson. The WSJ has a piece here with specific allegations against him, but they are basically of two counts: Greg Mortenson made up parts of the story in his memoir and he misappropriated funds due to his charity.

Obviously the misappropriated funds is black and white - it's just wrong, no question.

But making up stories is a harder thing to prove, to qualify.

I met a mom at a PTA event recently and she told me she was a writer too, but that she wrote non-fiction. We got to talking about writing groups and decided to start one up together.

OKAY. We actually met at a PTO event, but I changed it to PTA because I thought that was something more people would understand (Parent Teacher Association/Organization, for the un-kid initiated) And she actually told me she was a teacher at a community college, then told me she wanted to try and write non-fiction someday. I tightened that bit up, made it less boring. Also, can 'recently' be 'over a year ago'?
Finally, we did talk writing groups, I had already started one, and she said 'no thanks' to joining mine.

See? Even in this no-account blog, I'm embellishing, adding, editing to make things seem better than they are. I do it all the time when I'm talking to people, when I'm pretending to listen to family tell stories I've heard a gajillion times before. I'm dissembling. LYING.

Where is the line of truthiness? Where is the art (short for artifice) in the memoir? What's an acceptable lie, one that doesn't hurt someone? What's unacceptable? One that makes the author seem more heroic, admirable, marketable than she really is? Is it intent that matters?

This is a subject that fascinates me because I feel like I'm a pretty good liar (as I've mentioned before). I try to lie for good, not evil by being a writer, but I would never write non-fiction, I couldn't trust myself. And, despite being a liar, I have an adverse, visceral reaction to people like James Frey. If you're going to be a liar, for chrissakes be honest about it.

What do you think about fiction in memoir? How stringent should the standard for factuality be? What is a lie too far?

Monday, April 18, 2011

O is for Omniscient

And for Okkervil River

So far I've only written two books, both only as far as the first draft. That's a caveat emptor for you so you understand, I know nothing and my non-knowledge I'm passing on to you.

My first book, Death Hires an Assistant is in the omniscient third person voice. The narrator knows things that no one else in the story knows. It knows what people are thinking, what they are doing when they're alone in the bathroom, what is just about to happen and what happened 100 years ago. Anything you want the reader to know can be delivered (or withheld until the right time) by the omniscient narrator.

The cool thing about Omni (if I may be so bold) is that you can have this narrator just blend into the background, giving information in an unbiased way. This 'voice' is really a 'non-voice', purely the engine for delivering information - putting you in the scene so to speak. Or, you can make Omni seem like another character, with a style of speaking, a point of view and definite opinions. This is what I liked about using Omni for Death Hires an Assistant, which is about - you'll be shocked, I know - Death hiring someone to help him out on his rounds. It's a comedy, of course, and in the style of Terry Prtachett and Christopher Moore, a funny Omni works well for telling the reader ridiculous things.

For my current WIP, BookEnd, I decided to hobble myself with first person. Why? Because it seems so easy at first and I wanted to try it out. Friends, don't be fooled. It's not easy, it's hard. You are stuck in the head of your MC. You can't get out and find out what someone else is thinking unless they tell you, or you guess from their body language. Right about three fours in I felt like I'd painted myself into a corner.  But I think, for the right book first person is the right way to go. For my MC Fin, he's struggling to find himself and he's pretty damn self centered so it makes sense that the book is all from his point of view. But I have to work hard to give the reader hints about the wider world, hoping they'll find those clues even when Fin remains clueless. It's hard but the restriction of first person is kind of exhilarating.

I found a cool blog that had a post about Omni not too long ago. Ingrid's Notes. Check it out.

So, what view do you write in (person/voice etc.) and why?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

N is for No Way - I got Another Award

And for The National

Blog awards are like high-fives and hugs from people you don't know, but not in a, like, creepy way. In a lovely, community building way. I'm so thankful that people like my blog. Woot!

Shannon Lawrence at warrior muse gave me this versatile blogger award. Now I get to tell you seven things about myself, some of which might even be true:

  1. I'm an event planner in my non-writing life
  2. I dream of owning chickens one day - hopefully Buff Orpingtons
  3. I'm an indifferent knitter and gardener but I keep making seven foot scarves and growing scraggly tomatoes. You could call it preserverance or bloody mindedness, up to you
  4. London is my favorite city, followed by Edinburgh
  5. I used to live in London, Balham to be exact. I often still wish I lived there. Then I wonder how I'd fit chickens in a city flat.
  6. My best friend lives in Laramie Wyoming. Before that she lived in Lubbock, Texas. I've visited her in both places and found unexpected beauty.
  7. My husband looks a bit like Jim Reid from Jesus & Mary Chain, only, regrettably, without the Glaswegian accent.

Now the hard part. I need to nominate fifteen blogs of my acquaintance for the self-same Versatile Blogger Award. There's no shortage of great blogs, it's picking just fifteen that's hard. Here are some great ones I found. Check them out!

  1. And then she was like blah blah blah - great title for a blog!
  2. Perri at Lesser Apricots
  3. PK Hrezo
  4. Nick at Who ate My Brain
  5. Tallie Roland
  6. Lisa at Read.Write.Repeat
  7. Cherie at Surrounded by Books
  8. Liz at Liz Writes Books
  9. Laura, my writing group bud, at Writing Unleashed
  10. Paper Swamp
  11. Talei at Musings of an Aspiring Scribe
  12. Catherine at Winged Writer
  13. Jen at Unedited
  14. Theodoric at Mythopoeicrambling
  15. Lyra at Lyrical Meanderings
If you have won an award, virtual hugs to you! Here's what you can do: You can grab the image and post it on your blog, linking back to this site. On your next post you can write about winning the award while listing seven true-ish things about yourself. You can then gift fifteen other blogs you like with the award (see above) to pay the love forward. Or you can do nothing at all. It's all good, no pressure here. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

M is for Music

And for The Magnetic Fields

Music is my on switch. Music means GO. Music means the door is shut, stay out, I'm working. Music is an engine.

I can't write without music. I know for a lot of people that's counter intuitive, they need silence to compose their thoughts and words. But for me, I need an almost pavlovian signal to start. That's music.

It's not only in writing. When I worked for a non profit producing events, most of the time my office door was open, the music was off and I was answering emails, phone calls, questions fielded to me from the doorway. All good, but all fairly superficial work-mode. If I needed to concentrate on budget numbers or detailed floorplans or anything at all that involved higher math skills - the door would close and the music would come on.

The kind of music I listen too is important too. When I'm brainstorming I can listen to internet radio like Y Rock on XPN or Pandora. When I need to be immersed in the world, be in the room with my MC, soundtracks work best. I've got two playlists right now on iTunes, writing 1 and writing 2 that I can use to get me in the writing groove.

Is music a motivator or a distraction for you when you are working? What do you listen to and when?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

L is for Low

And for Levy

As in, the lowing of beasts. I love this use of the word "low". It's so much more evocative than "moo", which is basically what it means.

I remember years ago visiting a bed and breakfast at a farm. Being seriously urban at the time and having allergies to boot, I was up and outside trying to breathe (why oh why do bed and breakfast owners have to have cats?). It was so early that the sun wasn't strong enough to burn off the dew and the light fog. Out of the fog, somewhere to my left I heard cows lowing. It was mournful and it seemed to reverberate in the mist. It was beautiful. I don't know why, I don't know if it even makes sense, but the sound comforted me so much, I still remember it.

What unusual words can comfort you?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

K is for Kill Your Darlings

And for Kristin Hersh

It's revision time. And it's come much sooner than I thought it would. I thought I'd be finished with the first draft before I had to revise. Silly me. I got as far as I could with my cast of misfits before screeching to a halt (as I've mentioned, on the road to Damascus) within spitting distance of the end. I couldn't go forward because I had to go back. There's a lot of advice out there on when to revise, how to revise, etc. And it's all good advice, but I think it varies depending on what's going on with your WIP. I'd been able to hurtle along without really developing a key aspect of my MC because I had PLOT. I had shite going down! But the crucible for my MC, the place where he has to pony up and show what he's made of, well. Let's just say that what I wanted him to do and what he could do -seeing how he was written - the twain could not meet.

So I got out the shears and, like Inigo, I went back to the beginning.

Revising isn't fun, not at all. But it is satisfying. It's like saving money at a shop or fixing something you thought was so broken you'd have to go out and get a new one. It's the satisfaction of saving the day.

I'll be revising for the next month at least. I plan to revise while at the Pennwriters Conference in May. I will be sporting this shirt, available from cafepress, during the revision process. It helps me remember to slaughter the sacred cows of my prose.

What do you do to keep revising till it hurts?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

J is for Joke

And for Joy Division

For a long time I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. This is a common refrain, I know. But as I've mentioned before, I'm fair to decent at a few different things, so I've tried being an artist, tried being a filmmaker, tried being a corporate goddess, all with varying, but decent success. So when I was an artist making an installation piece that revolved around the written word and when I was concentrating on writing copy for Victoria Secret and awards shows, I was always trying to get back to writing.

Today, I've been thinking of a film script I wrote in early 2000. I'd just come back from living in the UK and was looking for my creative 'place'. I took a class at the New School on film. I've actually made short films and videos in art school, but I wanted to concentrate on what (I thought at the time) I wanted to concentrate on: Film. So I wrote a script called Joke. It's not very good, and like most of the things I was doing creatively, it really wanted to be something else. I think it wants to be a book. So when I'm done with the five or so books I'm already invested in (one trilogy, one a two book set), I'll dust off Joke and see what happens.

What abandoned projects do you have in your back catalogue that want to see the light of day again?

Monday, April 11, 2011

I is for Icarus

and for Interpol

I have a fantasy about a proper education. It's the kind of education I don't think anyone under the age of 100 has had. It is a classical education, the kind that included private (public) schooling wearing a striped blazer and a straw boater and concluding with a Grand Tour. The kind that rich people had a century ago, though maybe they still do now, how would I know?

In my elementary school, polyester blazer and morning and afternoon hail marys, I dreamt of having a classical education, where I'd learn greek mythology, latin declensions and how to drink tea with the Queen.

Instead, I learned about Icarus from the in-flight magazine on Varig, the now defunct Brazilian airline we traveled on when I was a kid. I feel like most of my 'classical' knowledge has come, derivative and partially pre-digested from other sources. I don't know much, but I know 'of' a lot of things. I blame the internet. I blame television. I, of course, blame my parents.

All right, maybe it's a smidge my fault too.

So, I have bought a book on Greek Mythology and I'm reading about the incest broth that was Mount Olympus back in the day. I'm also reading The Case for God by Karen Amrstrong in order to get my Mythos straight from my Logos. No matter the gaps in my education, it's all me now, and I believe saying it's too late to learn is like saying it's too late to breath. "No, I've breathed enough, thanks. I'll just quit while I'm ahead."

Go forth and read something you don't think you need to learn. Get schooled.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

H is for Holy Cannoli- I Got an Award

And Howling Bells

I'm lounging in my white terrycloth bathrobe at the Beverly Hills Hotel, room service bacon and eggs nearby and a bottle of something cool and bubbly in a bucket of ice. Or I'm watching the same episode of Jake and the Neverland Pirates on Tivo for the fourth time with my toddler, who is simultaneously sticky and sandy after back to back birthday parties. One or the other.

But, I won an award for this blog, which is so lovely, I have to send a big thank you to Deirdra over at A Storybook World. She made this lovely artwork too, so she's a triple, possibly a quadruple threat - you have been warned.

Friday, April 8, 2011

G is for Grace

And for Grizzly Bear

Are you are old enough to remember the movie Reality Bites? I was in my early 20's when it came out and I was so excited to see it. I had a girl crush on Winona Ryder and had actually met Ethan (Oh Capitan, My Capitan!) Hawke in Washington Square Park.

I felt grubby when I got out of the theatre, realizing that for the first time in my life I had been directly marketed to - me, with my Bauhaus and Love & Rockets be-stickered car and pre-Chanel black nail polish. Mainstream, meet Alternative, now get cozy and have lots of babies. Yuck.

But there is one part of that movie that stays with me. Winona Ryder's character goes to a job interview, which doesn't go well when Anne Meara asks her to define irony. Winona hems and haws a bit then says, "I know it when I see it!"

I feel that way about the word 'grace' I can look it up a million times, and feel like I have. But it's a slippery, teflon kind of word that, for me, doesn't 'do' definition well. It's got multiple meanings that lay like nesting dolls, one within the other. Grace is experiential, sure, but it's also fluid. It means so many things, and if you stretch the word to represent something it 'almost' means, it brings a certain flavor that's above and beyond it's definition. It's a word that resonates, literally spilling out concentric meanings, seemingly into infinity.

Is that completely daft? (that's a rhetorical question)
Do you have a word that does that for you, transcends definition?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

F Is For Find the Future

And for Felt

It's no secret to those who know me that I have a serious hard on for Patience and Fortitude. I passed these stone lions every day, to and from my work in midtown for nearly ten years. There's something about them, and the library they guard that makes me happy to be alive. I've eaten lunch on the steps to the library, I've wandered around the Rose Reading room, open-mouthed and staring at the glorious ceiling frescos like a tourist. I've itched to get my hands (wrong, so wrong) on their copy of the Guttenberg Bible. The Stephen A Schwarzman Building on 40th and Fifth Avenue is magic, it just is.

Now that I'm far away, hunkered down in my gardening boots, running to Girl Scouts meetings and baking brownies for Japan at the yoga studio, there isn't much about my city life that I miss. Except Patience and Fortitude.

If you live in the City, or near it, enter the library's Find the Future game. If you win, you along with 499 other people get to stay over night in this storied place with Patience and Fortitude watching over you. You'll do a scavenger hunt, you'll write a novel en ensemble. You'll have an unforgettable blast. I hope you do enter. I hope you win. I hope you tell me all about it.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

E is for Everything OR Wednesday! 4.6.11

E is also for Echo & The Bunnymen

Starting off this week's links with Nathan Bransford's defense of the J. Howett debacle. There are some really thoughtful comments on his site about this, and I generally agree with him that there's just too much mean-spirited, mob-like bashing going on for what is, in essence a mistake anyone (any writer) can make. But it brings to mind the recent bashing of Rebecca Black's Friday song (Stephen Colbert made fun of it for charity)
and the (alleged) UCLA student's racist tirade against Asians. Despite the good/bad or unconsidered intentions of the poster (who is, in essence, the 'author' of what's put out there) the fact remains - the internet is the epitome of what it means to be public today. Even more public than going out your front door and stripping to your undies. Why? In front of your house maybe 10-15 people will see you, for a flash of time, then it's over. On the internet, it can be 10-10 million and it can go on forever. Until we learn that lesson, these examples of bad behavior, compounded by mob-mentality, anonymity-fueled tirades, will continue. And don't get me started on the 'anonymous' posters. Why isn't there a wiki-leaks for the effers who flame and humiliate on the internet, but are too cowardly to put their names to their deeds.

OK. Calmer now. Proceed.

Martin Amis is innocent?

Teen books should behave badly.

What is that thing?
It's a Book.
Can it Tweet?
No. It's a book.

Let's end on a sweet note. Cool  book trailer for Lane Smith's 'It's a Book' book

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

D is for Details

And for Decemberists

The first time I thought about the saying was when my then boss, Debbie, asked me "Is it 'God is in the details' or 'the devil is in the details?" This was before the internet, when google meant a fantastic number followed by 100 zeros and was not a verb, so I couldn't just whip up some info. I had to think; Is it God or the devil that is in the details?

It turns out it's both, and that both sayings mean the same thing - pay attention to detail. When it's 'god' it means that paying attention to the little things is where you'll succeed; when it's 'the devil', it's a warning, don't get the details wrong or you'll be in hot water (or lava, or ice floes or whatever they're using down in the 9th ring these days.)

Details are so important to me as a reader and a writer, and I'm not what's known as 'detail oriented.' I don't plan every detail in advance, I'm not meticulous - I'm pretty intuitive and sometimes sloppy. But details are the handholds into a story for me. It's the detail, the kind that grabs me and doesn't let go, that keeps me in thrall. In a book I just finished, Mortal Engines by Phillip Reeves, it was the detail of white rubber coats that kept coming back to me. This did so much - it was a uniform reserved for a special class of people, it was used as a disguise, it was a visual echo of mundane lab coats in our world and it was wonderfully textural.

Small things, planted like seeds through the story, that's what I'm looking for. Specific, odd, beautiful, compelling and sticky so that I can't let the detail go. Don't underestimate the power of the detail to deliver god and the devil.

What are some interesting details that hooked you in a book recently?

Monday, April 4, 2011

C is For Critique

And Crime + The City Solution

I was talking to my friend Jackie the other day and she asked me how my critique group was going. When I told her it was great, I don't think she completely believed me. Granted, I sometimes don't believe me either, especially since I'm not great at 'not taking it personally' and am really terrible at seeing the constructive in the criticism. I've always been this way. When I think about how, in art school, we'd all wait next to our artwork on crit day, lined up against the wall like we were facing a firing squad, I still get queasy.

But my writing group is amazing. It's all the positive stuff I've heard about groups for years, but never really believed. We're supportive, insightful, smart as hell and encouraging. I started the group after meeting some cool people at a NaNoWriMo write-in. Personally, I can't believe I got so lucky. I have fun at these things, even though I still get butterflies when my work's under the microscope. We have intellectually stimulating conversations for the love of mike - do you know how rare that is with the Caillou watching crowd?

Here are some of the reasons why I think this group works:

1) Everyone has skin in the game. Almost every time we meet, we're giving feedback to everyone in the group. If there is ever an impulse to be less than kind, or less than thoughtful, it's squashed by this fact - you next. You want a well thought out, insightful crit that you can build upon? No problem, just make sure you give one too.

2) It's a small group, only three of us. I think it could grow, but it also works at this size. We all get the chance to know each other and know each other's work/style, strengths and weaknesses. It just makes the feedback richer.

3) We 'kill' the author. Usually, I bring baked goods so that the person being critiqued can shove his/her mouth full of cookie and keep quiet. Only when everyone's had a turn at pros/cons can the author talk.

4) We give an annotated copy of the submission back to the author. Having all that feedback thrown at you is disorientating and, while you take notes, it's hard to keep up.

5) Everyone's got a great sense of humor. That is HUGE. It makes the social aspect of the group possible and welcome. It's absolutely imperative to not take yourself too seriously, and goofing off is a great way to make this happen.

Do you belong to a writing group? What is the best and worst part of being in a writing group?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

B is for Balance

and for The Birthday Party

There are two kinds of balance, I think, in writing - and I'm shite at both. There's the balance outside of what I write, which means getting everything done and having time to breathe, oh yeah, and write. Nathan Bransford touched on this topic last week and I think in this ebook/author platform age, its harder to do. Blogging takes up a lot of time, especially when you want to be thoughtful, but can't always be (I leave Wednesdays as my chunk o' links day so I don't burn out quite so much.) Not to mention keeping up with other blogs and finding new ones - there are so many people out there that must be living lives very similar to mine with similar dreams. Reading their blogs makes it feel less lonely on mine, and makes me feel part of a community. You also have to constantly educate yourself on the state of the industry on what deals are being done and who is sleeping with who.

Okay, just put that in there to see if you were paying attention. I don't actually know/want to know who is sleeping with whom. But I do want to know if I should have used 'whom' or if 'who' is now more generally accepted. Balance. I have more curiosity than I have bandwith to absorb it all. So sometimes I stop. I don't go online, I don't read news. I just stop trying to keep up with the writing jones. I go for a walk and count bluejays. I jump in the bouncy castle with my daughter. It's refreshing to be off grid, though a little scary. Ultimately I think it's a reset. I can go back to the world of the writing life feeling less like a hamster on a wheel.

In my writing, balance means something different, but it's also hard to do. I don't really understand people who ask writers 'where do you get your ideas from?' I have no more power to stop an idea popping up than to stop a charging bull. The effers are everywhere. The problem is finding the right idea AND resisting the urge to populate the WIP with too many ideas. Ideas, in and of themselves are marvelous things. They're frigging supermodels, beautiful, enticing, wearing cool clothes. But I have to be careful I don't litter my WIP with too many beautiful ideas, just because they are there, drinking seltzer and smoking too much. Balance. It takes daily practice.

So, how do you find writing and life balance? Share your tips!

Friday, April 1, 2011

A is For ART

And Arcade Fire

Simple equation - You need to see art to make art. I'm not getting drawn into another high/low art discussion, because I'm post-modern, see, and I don't think there's a high/low divide. So by art I mean whatever you can get your hands on, especially if it's not something you usually do or see.

Last night, in the yucky, sleety rain, I took my husband out to the National Theatre in London. OK, not really, but we did go to the Ambler in PA to see a screening of Frankenstein at the National Theatre. First we hopped across the street to the pub for a swift pint, then we sat down to watch semi-live theatre in an old fashioned movie palace (pictures here, gorgeous place).

It was as close to being there as you could get and the production was stunning. The sets and music were breathtaking, but the acting, especially by Johnny Lee Miller as the creature, was off the charts. It was actually filmed beautifully, not overly orchestrated so that (most of the time) it let you feel the play unfold as the live audience does. It was exhilarating to watch and thought provoking. Check out this trailer:

My train of thought after the play went something like this: Does the creature have a soul? If he is man made, can man make a soul? Does the fact that he thinks he has a soul make him have one? Hmmm. The catholic church used to say that animals and woman did not have souls. Hmmm. I wonder if Qrs have souls...

Suddenly, I wanted to get home quick so I could sketch out a new scene, one where Hero and the Queen discuss the possible existence of Qrs' souls.

Art can do that, it can spark ideas like crazy. Go out and get some art.
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