Thursday, July 26, 2012

Second Chance Books

I love to read, that's a no brainer. If I didn't love it so, I'd be in the wrong profession  obsession vocation.

But I do sometimes feel fatigued. Especially when I'm concentrating on my genre (say the mantra with me now - read 3000 words in your genre for every 1000 words you write.)

Some books, even highly popular and praised books just make me feel tired, especially if it's a theme I've read before (a lot.) I admit. I've made mistakes. I've put down books, unfinished that I should have stuck with.

Some books come to you at the wrong time. Others are a slower burn that need a smidge more of your attention to get you hooked. I know everyone talks about the immediate hook being so important, but there are books that reward more than cursory effort.

I put down Wuthering Heights about two chapters in. I was so frustrated. Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books and, as a teen, I thought "sister-writer of my fave book? I will LOVE it." Then I started to read. YAWN. It took me years to pick it up again. In the interim, I talked smack about that book, called it boring and annoying. In my 20's I finally got past the slow beginning and fell, quickly and completely in love with it. It's up there as another of my favorites. I shudder to think what would have happened if I hadn't stuck with it.

Another example of a book that initially didn't grab me is Ally Condie's MATCHED. I know, a gazillion people loved it. A gazillion people raved about it. That might have been part of the problem. Coupled with the fact that, when I got it from the library, I had just come off a dystopian/sci fi jag - reading Beth Revis' ACROSS THE UNIVERSE and A MILLION SUNS, followed by Scott Westerfield's UGLIES series. I was tapped out on the future controlling society theme. I read 15 pages of MATCHED and said, meh. Later when I passed the new entry of the trilogy in the bookstore, CROSSED, I said meh again to myself. I would have gone on 'mehing' ad naseaum if it hadn't been for my sainted library. They always pull popular books that have been loved too much (ie coming to pieces) order new ones and put the old ones for sale. 25 cents. I saw MATCHED again and instead of saying 'meh' I bought it.

I'm so glad I did. It is a slower burn. Despite a lot of menace and internal turmoil not a ton happens. But that allows for more emotion and introspection and poetry. It's actually lovely.

What books have you abandoned only to later find out it's a gem? What hidden gems lurk in your 'discard' pile as we speak?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Happiness is...

Pretty much overrated.

I'm taking my eight year old to DC this weekend, just girls. She's practically floating, giddy with anticipation. She talks about what she's packing, what she'll wear, what we'll see and how much of her saved money she should bring. She's anticipating her happiness and I have to clamp my mouth shut not to say "It's just one day, one night. It will be over in a blink."

Because for me, it's already Monday morning. I'm on to the next thing. I've always been this way, living in the future instead of the past or, as is extremely difficult, the present. I have trouble enjoying anything because I know how short lived it is. I think of it as disaster-preparedness. If I'm always anticipating the end, then I won't be disappointed.

The downside, of course is that by anticipating the end, by fast forwarding beyond the thing that might be fleeting or difficult, I've missed the bloody thing. 

I've been having dreams about my submissions. They're always weird (all my dreams are weird. I'm not able to have a dream where something surreal doesn't happen.) Sometimes they're rejections and sometimes they're requests for edits that are so ridiculous and impossible that it's worse than a rejection (or pass.) And all the time I'm churning, churning, trying to figure out how to triage the damage.

The thing that I'm missing by concentrating on what could be happening with my submissions (and what I have ABSOLUTELY NO control over) is the pretty damn good WIP I'm working on now. I showed it to my group and they were excited and hooked. They both said how much the writing has grown. This made me happy for about 10 seconds before thoughts (or dreams) of my submission process came in and made it rain.

Why is happiness so short lived? What do we expect to feel over our accomplishments? And why are we so quick to dismiss good feelings while lingering over bad ones? Easy to say human nature, but I think it's something else. I think we're conditioned to be fearful - at least I am.

There's a really interesting TED video on happiness by Dan Gilbert below. I think it's pretty savvy on how you could (but often don't) make your own happiness.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Fiction is Larger Than Life

First, a programming note:

Summer might mean taking it easy for most people and the CountryTime Lemonade dude who seems to think that powdered lemon drink makes the summer an exercise in olde-timey relaxation, but for me, it's hard work.
 I'm my kids one stop entertainment center. the entire day is filled with things I need to give them and boredom I have to vanquish.
It's hard to write. 
So I'm going to pare down to blogging once a week - just Thursdays until the little lovable rug rats go back to school in September.

Would you sacrifice your life for your sister?
Would you kill someone in cold blood?
Would you sleep with your best friend's boyfriend?
Would you lie, cheat steal?
What wouldn't you do, in the right situation?

Over the past month, I've been using Donald Maass's amazing book, Breakout Novel Workbook as a compass as I write the first draft of my current WIP. It's an amazing diagnostic tool - it just gets me thinking deeply about who I'm writing about. Today I'm going to be talking about ways to give your MC larger than life (LTL) qualities. 

I always start my MC as someone like me, someone normal. That's okay, as long as they don't stay that way. If your MC starts normal you have to have her go abby-normal pretty damn sharpish. Have her make a colossal mistake where the stakes are unbelievably high, pile drama after drama on top of her. And it doesn't only have it be external forces that make her LTL, make her decisions LTL. How? Start by making a list:

  • What is the one thing your MC would never, ever do?
  • What would she never say? 
  • When you think of your MC, think about what her limits are. 
  • What's a line that she would not cross?

Then? You guessed it. Find a place in the manuscript where she can cross that line, do that thing, say the one thing she promised she'd never say. I'm not saying she has to be some uber confrontational, transgressive mess (though those are interesting,) she just has to go somewhere she never thought she would go. And it also depends on what's LTL for your character. If she's a wallflower with a painful stutter, asking a crush out on a date is HUGE. In my case, I'm thinking about Mop's mom and how they've only had each other, depended on each other almost unhealthily for five years. They're going to betray each other - irrevocably. And Mop is going to do something that she never dreamed herself capable of.

How do you make your characters Larger than Life?

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Confluence of Random Things

Confluence of the rivers Negro and Uruguayo, Uruguay, SA
After a long break from my WIP, I was ready to get back to the world of FIND ME. But I was a little trepidatious, too. I mean, I left our heroine and a girl she just met in the girl's bathroom. One girl was putting on elaborate make up, the other was watching her, feeling out of her element. I needed to get back inside my character's heads to pick up the thread that brought me to the bathroom in the first place.

I went back a couple of paras and found out that I'd missed an opportunity to fill out the story and the characters. I do this often, 'under-write' particularly in a first draft. I like to sketch and then fill in richer details later. Anyway, while I was diving into this section to expand it, I opened up a page on my browser.

Now, a note on distractions. My husband can stay up late into the wee hours googling all manner of nonsense, like, "What was the name of that chick that used to be on MTV News? Tabitha something?*" and so on. I'm not like that. I'm not saying I don't waste time on the internet, I do. But I have a limit to how much web surfing I can do before I get bored. For me, I can open up a page on salon or slate or WWD and read a random bit of news that interests me and, before more than 15 min has passed, be back at my WIP.

Like the difference between people who must work with music and those who can't (I fall into the former category, which makes sense) I need a modicum of distraction to spark ideas. I can't work in a vacuum. I don't recommend this for everyone, but distraction in small doses can be an engine of ideas. And if it's not a web page, it might be a spot of gardening, a walk around the block, laundry folding or watching your neighbor's kid try to parallel park. As long as it doesn't keep you away from your work, distraction is good.

Back to my confluence of random things. In my WIP, I have a girl who we have just been introduced to. I know what she's got to do, but I don't know how she'd present herself to my MC. Mulling this over, I click open a page on Safari and head over to an article about a Balenciaga fragrance that's launching soon. It catches my eye because my grandmother was a seamstress at Balenciaga before the Spanish Civil war. I also worked in the beauty industry and visited many fragrance houses. I wondered who created the new Balenciaga fragrance. I wondered if I would know the Nose. I thought about how a girl I used to work with became a Nose and was sent to France for two years, and how she earned an associate chemistry degree - all in her quest to become a perfumer (or a Nose, as it's called.) Then I realized that my secondary character already had a deep interest in chemistry - mostly because later she will need to blow things up. Wouldn't it be awesome if she wanted to be a Nose?

Yes, yes it would.  That's the direction I'm haring off to. I like it and it dovetails neatly with what I'm already writing (by the seat of my pants.)

I believe in the confluence of random things. I believe in 'medicinal' distractions. But that's just what works for me. What distractions actually help you write better?

*Tabitha Soren was indeed part of MTV News in the 1990's
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