Monday, July 15, 2013

White Screen of Death

Sparky died this weekend. Well, I don't know that he's dead, but he doesn't sound at all well. I'm ashamed to admit that, before he took ill, I did not name my trusty laptop. My constant companion, my Starbucks buddy, the keeper of all my FEELS and THOUGHTS and WORK. But as he lay pulsating weakly in the hands of Genius Jonathan, I felt the need to name him. Thus Sparky was baptized, because I'm hoping, like the dog in Frankenweenie, that he makes a full, if slightly glitchy, recovery.

Saturday morning, a day I had cleared the decks and the house so I could spend hours writing, Sparky presented me with what is an actual term among Apple people: White Screen of Death. It means your computer is not happy with how it's been treated and it's basically going on a hunger strike.

I'm distraught.

But I'm hoping this obstacle is a gift in disguise. Because I've been stuck. I'm rewriting a book I love and it's complicated and problematic and I love it so much I want to strangle it. I don't have writer's block, words are coming like a deluge. BUT THEY ARE THE WRONG WORDS. So now that all I have to write words with (I'm writing this at the LIBRARY and there's a time limit *sob*) paper and pen and work out my story problems on whiteboard and stickies, I'm hoping that I can find the RIGHT words.

I hate writing in longhand because my handwriting is so bad that it distracts me. I'll write a sentence, then read it and say to myself "Who writes an 'A' like that? it looks like an undercooked biscuit. And the 'r's' are pretty much only a suggestion of a letter."

Is this enough of a mental shift to jolt me out of my plotting snafu? Will Sparky live or will I have to sell something (like a kidney) to afford a new computer? What do you do when technology fails you? And do you have pretty handwriting? If so, I want to see proof.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell

Oh. How I love this book. I don't usually do book reviews because I'm crap about being objective. I have very strong reactions to books - and if I don't, that's an even bigger problem. So, please don't look for a coherent, clear-eyed account of this book's strengths and weaknesses. Instead, let me tell you how this book moved me.

Eleanor is a misfit in a time when being a misfit was in no way cool. She's the wrong size, wears the wrong clothes and is angry. Maybe her biggest sin is that she isn't 'nice.' That just means that she is truthful about how she feels, she doesn't pretend to have softer, gentler feelings than she has. And for a girl in the 80's that is practically unforgiveable. Park doesn't quite fit in their small town either. He's half American, half Korean. He's into alternative music and he's small, effeminate in a high school dominated by jocks. This isn't a John Hughes movie. The underdog doesn't suddenly get their heart's desire after some mild discomfort. 

Eleanor's mother is not on her side - staying in an abusive relationship even though she knows it jepaordizes her kids. This is one of the many things I think Rowell does so right. Eleanor's mother doesn't come off as a stereotypical abused woman. She's not stupid and she's not evil. She's complicated, she's trapped even though she's complicit in that trap. And Eleanor is poor. Dirt, can't-afford-toothbrushes-or soap kind of poor. Rowell does a beautiful job of showing the embarrassment and shame and fierce rebellious pride that Eleanor can't hide. 

When Eleanor and Park connect it's through art. Comics (The Watchmen, in fact. Oh man how my 16 year old self would have been all over Park like a mongoose on a snake. But I digress.) then through music. 

I grew up in this time period, it's not an abstraction for me. The bands that Park listens to, I listened to. So every musical reference in the book - from the description of the heart-stirring opening chords of Joy Divisions Love Will Tear Us Apart, to the Prefab Sprout t-shirt Park wears, all of it tugs at me, brings up my own memories, acts like a time machine directly to my sixteenth year of life when love felt like danger and salvation. As I read, I tried to ask myself, if I wasn't so invested in the time period, the details, would I love this book the same way? Maybe not. But I do know that the writing is exquisite. And I've never seen dual POV used so successfully. Usually, when I see dual POV in YA I wonder what obstacle it's being used to overcome. But with Eleanor & Park, the dual POV was essential. It was a main line right into their heads, their hearts. And the description of the music is what convinces me, finally, that even if the music connecting them was old-timey swing or Norwegian Death Metal, I'd still have fallen madly, deeply in love with Eleanor & Park. 

They get together and you know it's impossible. The suspense builds because you know it can't last, you know, logically that (see previous 'this is not a john hughes movie' note) love doesn't conquer all. But you hope like hell. At the end, Rowell doesn't disappoint. She leaves us with hope. And with Eleanor, worthy of her queenly name, a heroine that is strong just because she holds on to who she is.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Read Like It's Your Job

Because, when you are a writer, it is your job. Yes you have to write, bum in seat, pound out the words. But you must read. It's fuel.*

you will trip over books in my house

you really will

Nothing gives me greater pleasure than declaring my book and audiobook purchases as a business expense on my taxes. I feel like I'm cheating the system (but I'm not, I've asked my accountant) because I get to do something I adore and it's absolutely a vital part of my writing job. I imagine that, if I were an agent, I wouldn't love reading so much, because there are things I'd have to read (query letters, partials, fulls) that I may not enjoy. But as a writer I can be the titular magpie and read whatever shiny thing catches my eye. It all goes in the hopper.

I read constantly. I usually have two or three books on the go at once - one audiobook and two ink + paper books and sometimes something on the kindle as well. Some reading is for crit partners and beta readers, but most falls into two categories: My genre/peers and My interests (which is not always what I write at all.)

One thing that's helped me stay on track is the Goodreads reading challenge. You can see my books here. and see how I'm progressing on my reading goal of 40 books this year.

Here are my favorite books from the last six months. In the coming weeks I'll be reviewing each of them. And when I say reviewing, I mean spewing such reader/writer love and awe and gushing that you'll need an umbrella.

ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell
WILD AWAKE by Hilary Smith
THE ONLY ONES by Aaron Starmer
WHEN YOU REACH ME by Rebecca Stead
CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein

So, what are you reading? What have you loved this year and what's been a disappointment?

*when I say fuel, I absolutely do NOT mean plagiarism. This is something I hear from new writers - the fear that if they read too much, and in their genre, they might accidentally swipe something they read somewhere else. My short answer to this is - read so much that you are AWASH in words. That your brain is churning with words from lots of sources that you can't even begin to lift a phrase, sentence or paragraph. My long answer is coming in another blog post soon. :)
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