Monday, December 28, 2009

Quoteness

I found (actually, I remembered) this quote that relates perfectly to my new project. And it's cool and it gets me inspired when I'm staring at the word document wondering what to do next. So here it is.

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

-Frank Herbert, Dune

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Write What You Write

I was reading this post and decided it's high time I talk about genre. That post, by the way, is about genre prejudice. As Mary Lindsey says: not a wise platform strategy.

The other day I was hanging out with my writing professor and two other people from the writing program after class, and the conversation went something like this:

Me: Gosh, I don't think I can do the creative option for this paper. I am burned out from writing my thesis.

Prof: Well, you could always write a fantasy novel.

*laughter all around*


Don't get me wrong: I love these people. I think they're sweet and smart and great writers. But she said "fantasy novel" like the thought of a serious writer working in that genre is plain ridiculous with shame frosting on top or something. Meanwhile, not wanting to take a giant poop on the conversation, I did not say something clever like:

Me: Been there, done that.
or
Me: Too late.

After said conversation, I proceeded to have a Writers Crisis of Vast Proportions. I think a part of me always assumed that someday, sci-fi/fantasy or YA or love stories would just stop interesting me and I would move on to write something "important." But now I'm pretty sure I won't.

Okay, first of all, Dumb!Veronica: what, exactly, is "important"? And why is it that a well-written love story is not "important," considering that 80% of movies have a central love story and that 75% of popular songs are about love? (Percentages not accurate.) And why can't sci-fi and fantasy be important? What about 1984? Lord of the Rings? Brave New World? Ender's Game? These are genres that are used to SAY something. Sometimes. I mean, I haven't been using them to SAY something because I think setting out to SAY something can be tricky and dangerous, but still.

Also: just because what you write doesn't have some deep allegory embedded in it, doesn't mean it's not important. If it affects someone in a positive way, that's important.

And WHY did I want to move on from what I love? I'm going to go ahead and blame snobbery. I've been around snobbery for a long time and I think it's rubbed off on me, like when you hug someone with really bad smelling perfume and it's lingering on your clothes for hours. You know, snobbery? That thing that makes people say their favorite author is William Faulkner and that they really did enjoy Ulysses? (Does ANYONE enjoy Ulysses?)

Okay, if you actually like that stuff, more power to you. I hear it's awesome. But I...just...don't. I've tried, I really have. But I do not sit down on the couch over Christmas break and read Ernest Hemingway. When I am forced to read Hemingway for class, I readily acknowledge that he is great at writing. But I. Get. Bored. SO BORED. Am I supposed to force myself to be un-bored, or pretend to be un-bored? Why? Why on earth would I want to do that?

In the difficult times of my life, I have always read books in the genre that I'm currently writing. I have enjoyed them and they have awakened my mind to new possibilities without making me want to poke myself in the eye. What more can a girl ask for? So I shouldn't feel the need to defend myself to...myself. Or to the people who love literary fiction (bless their hearts) at NU.

So, I refer myself to the quote in Mary Lindsey's post, from Kimberly Frost:

"Before that reader email, I had occasionally wondered if I should really be writing paranormal romantic comedy. It wasn't, after all, serious writing, right? Afterward though, I never questioned my choice again. My book eased the pain of someone who was shouldering a very heavy load. Nothing will ever mean more to me than that."


There's a lesson here. And I think it's got several parts. Ready for them?

Dear V,

A. Beat up the snobby part of yourself. With a blunt object.
B. Stop caring about what other people think about your genre.
C. Be proud of what you've written.

And most importantly:

D. Write what you write, and write it well.

Sincerely,

V

That is all.

Friday, December 4, 2009

YA Highway Contest

Let us discuss the awesomeness that is this contest.

Annnnd the books you can win are:

Graceling by Kristin Cashore
Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta
How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
Cracked Up to Be by Courtney Summers
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater
Wondrous Strange by Lesley Livingston

This is particularly awesome not just because of the winning potential but because it's like a little list of book recommendations for me to add to my "must read someday" list.

I have to keep working on my paper now, though, so I'm not going to sit on Amazon reading the summaries, I'm not. Not.

Monday, November 30, 2009

PS: Millay Monday, Week 2

Almost forgot. But it's technically still Monday.

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.


I like the last line best.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Wonders of Word Vomit


(Courtesy of **CRT**)

Today I am trying my best to remember what I've learned from Anne Lamott. Want to hear?

Okay, well if you don't, feel free to not read this.

She says: "Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.

I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won't have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren't even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they're doing it."

Her advice is: let your first draft be shitty. Like word vomit. Every thought and idea that occurs to you, spill it out on the page. Stuff doesn't make sense? Screw making sense. Make no sense. Don't shore up plot holes. Expand them until they suck everything else into a vortex. Feel like changing voices halfway through? Do it. Make it big and stupid and clumsy and obnoxious. Do it.

That's not exactly what she says, by the way.

I have So. Much. Trouble. With this. If you know the whole enneagram personality numbering system, and I tell you that I'm number 1, you know what I mean. For those of you not In The Know, the number 1 personality type (not a ranking system, just numbers assigned to each one) is known as "The Perfectionist." As in: everything is either good or bad. THERE IS NO GRAY. Therefore eradicate the bad! Right now!

Which is why TM had seven false starts before it transformed into a complete story.

Anyway: one of the descriptors you might (might) use for someone like me (maybe) is...stiff. I find it difficult to let go. And that's stupid, because it's not like I didn't completely rewrite TM after the first draft was done anyway, so what was the purpose in starting it over again seven times if it was just going to change again? I suppose it was a learning experience. But I don't need to have that experience every single time I write something.

So today's goal: embrace the word vomit. Turn off the internal editor. Shake it out.

I'll let you know how it goes. Any advice, anyone?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Millay Mondays

I keep rediscovering how much I love Edna St. Vincent Millay's work. So I've decided to just give in to the selective poetry love. But only once a week. How fortunate I am that this occurred to me on a Monday, thus allowing me to give it the title "Millay Mondays."

I guess I could have just waited for Monday if I decided this on a different day, but I'm not that patient.

I would like to state for the record that I removed the exclamation points from this poem, because I really don't like exclamation points. Sorry, Edna.

Enjoy.

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year's leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year's bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,--so with his memory they brim
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, "There is no memory of him here"
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.


Breaks my heart.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

RTW: Muse-ic. See what I did there?

Road Trip Wednesday!

This week's question: What are the songs that represent/influence your WIP(s)?

I'm pretty sure I could talk about music and writing for pages and pages and pages, because this is something that I find interesting and that has always been a part of my writing process, ever since I was thirteen, typing away on one of those old macs that doesn't even have a color screen or a CD drive. (Yes, that's right: I was alive when those existed, even though I'm still a youngin'.)

So I'm going to babble, but I'll do it after I actually answer the question.

TM: "Mercy" by OneRepublic (really, it's most of the CD.)
LL: "Last of Days" by A Fine Frenzy
B-B: "Here Without You" by 3 Doors Down (...I'll explain later) and "Marchin On" by OneRepublic

(Some lyrics of Marchin On, just because I love them and because they embody this love story I'm concocting perfectly:

There's so many wars we've fought
There's so many things we're not
But with what we have, I promise you that
We're marching on

For all of the plans we've made
There isn't a flag I'd wave
Don't care if we bend, I'd sink us to swim
We're marching on
)

Okay. OneRepublic. I am not usually into that particular style of music (what would you call it? Alt/Pop? I don't know) but they have a cello and a piano and their music has this slow, sad vibe that worked really well for me, for some reason, at that particular time. I came up with the basic premise of The Manuscript while listening to "Mercy," and its tone while listening to "All Fall Down," and a central action sequence while listening to "Tyrant." Basically, TM would not exist without that CD, at least not in its present form.

Most of the time, whatever music I happen to be listening to makes me think of particular scenes. The basic premise and the general plot and stuff just appears out of nowhere, sometimes when I'm dead asleep (and then, when I write it down, it comes out in this stupid chicken scratch that I can't even read the next day, let alone make sense of), but sometimes when I'm standing in line at Noodles or in a van full of exhausted people on the way back from a retreat or watching reruns of primetime soap operas with my roommates, and a song comes up, I just see something happen in my head and a glorious light shines down from the heavens and a chorus of angels sings in harmony in the background and THE SCENE is born.

Okay, so it's not quite that dramatic. But, case in point: 3 Doors Down. I do not like 3 Doors Down, and never really have, although I don't think they're quite interesting enough to hate-- I just don't have strong feelings either way. But "Here Without You" came up on some girl's shuffle in that van I mentioned earlier and I suddenly found myself with THE SCENE-- that is, the first scene idea I had for a story idea I'd already been tossing around. And it wasn't the opening scene or anything, it was just the first time I'd envisioned either of the characters in a place at a certain time doing a certain thing. And that led to a week full of The Steady Advance Toward Carpal Tunnel, also known as "Oh. My. Gosh. Did I just write 12,000 words in five days?"

Anyway: it's not about the quality of music (though I do think that OR is good stuff. Did I mention there's a cello? CELLO), or what genre it is, it's about function. Do I see things when I listen to it? No? Then I probably won't listen to it that much.

Gosh, I sound like I'm on hallucinogens when I say stuff like that.

Suffice it to say that without OneRepublic's "Dreaming Out Loud" or Brandon Heath's "What If We" or everything by Ludovico Einaudi, my novel would be either nonexistent or in a much different form than it is now. And every day I'm poking around iTunes looking for my next novel to basically plop onto my word processor.

Because it's that easy, folks.

Only...not at all. At all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Writing Music Alert

New OneRepublic CD is out.

That is all.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

PS

PS the other day I was in Barnes and Noble and I found this book written by someone on Absolute Write (writer website, yesss) and I was like "Holy Crap! I've read that person's message board posts!" annnnnd it was weird. Sort of like when you see a celebrity in public and you think "...there goes Tom Hanks. Wow, that's cool." Only, I suppose, not quite as exciting.

I would have turned it facing out (which is a big deal, if the bookstore wants to turn your book facing out) except it already was. Which is how I saw it in the first place.

Oh, to be a published author.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Genre

I recently started to check out this blog called YA Highway, which is of particular interest to me because...I write YA. And I like hearing what other people have to say about it. Anyway, my goal is to answer the weekly Wednesday question-- this week is "How do you choose your genre?"

For me this is kind of a complicated question. When I was sixteen, my characters were over 20, which planted me firmly in the "Grown Up Books" category. The only problem with that is, I didn't know what 23 was like when I was 16, so it wasn't very convincing. I don't even know what 23 is like now, and I'm 21. Anyway, I never consciously decided to stop writing that age level until The Manuscript waddled along.

The Manuscript is my attempt to write about what I like to call "healthy love." The short definition is: love without The Death Grip. And it seemed obvious to me that said story had to be told with teenagers, because I felt like it would have been nice for me to read something like that when I was a teenager, rather than reading books and watching movies in which the girl always needs to be saved and she cannot LIVE without the guy and O. M. G. I must fan myself every time he calls me so that I do not FAINT. I was under the impression that the fainting heroine of many Victorian novels had disappeared with all mentions of corsets and men named Edmund, but apparently, I was misinformed. Seriously. Ever read East Lynne? That woman swoons every five minutes. A tiny sliver of shock and BAM! She's on the ground.

That's not to say that there are no books with strong heroines and healthy love stories out there, but I didn't bump into them until later, so there need to be MORE, people!

Back to my point: the story demanded characters of a certain age, and therefore I found myself writing a young adult novel. It then occurred to me that that was what I wanted to do: write young adult, because that was the age at which I loved reading the most, and it's the age at which I was trying to figure things out and wanted to read about other people figuring those things out, too. Hence, YA. There are some other reasons, but I'll stick with that one, for now.

As far as a more specific genre goes, I think that just depends on what I have when I'm done. I write about the people that pop into my head and if they're fantastical, the story turns into fantasy, and if they're not, it doesn't. I don't know. It's not an exact science, I suppose.

For school, I write literary fiction because that's what I'm supposed to write. I am glad that I have learned to write that way because it has given me a useful set of tools. I just don't seek it out when I'm in a bookstore. Maybe I'll change my tune when it's no longer The Assigned Reading, though. Because I do like a lot of it once I get into it. For awhile I had this distaste for literary fiction, but I think that was mostly the last bits of post-teenage rebellion that were floating around in my brain. Now they're gone and I appreciate it for what it is. Which is: good writing. Complex. Sometimes brain-numbingly boring.

So...genre. Let me summarize:

Unconvincing Grown-Up Characters --> TM + Northwestern = YA + Compulsory Literary.

See? I can do math.

Monday, November 2, 2009

And Now, A Poem

I have discovered that in general, I don't like poetry, but I really like Edna St. Vincent Millay. Here's one that reminds me of TM, and if you don't know anything about TM, it's at least a cool thing to read. Enjoy? Or go about your daily lives in peace.

Not that it matters, not that my heart's cry
Is potent to deflect our common doom,
Or bind to truce in this ambiguous room
The planets of the atom as they ply;
But only to record that you and I,
Like thieves that scratch the jewels from a tomb,
Have gathered delicate love in hardy bloom
Close under Chaos,--I rise to testify.
This is my testament: that we are taken;
Our colors are as clouds before the wind;
Yet for a moment stood the foe forsaken,
Eyeing Love's favor to our helmet pinned;
Death is our master,--but his seat is shaken;
He rides victorious,--but his ranks are thinned.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

The Shortest Distance Between Two Thoughts...

What I am doing right now (not right now as you read this, but currently, in my writing life): Line. Edits.

Have you ever stared at something long enough that you couldn't see it anymore? Like that air vent that's been on your floor since you moved into your house. Or that tiny stuck pixel on your computer screen that's always red when all the other pixels are black. Something is always in front of you so it starts to disappear.

Well, that's what happened to me with TM. Let's ponder this, shall we?

I wrote about seven versions of TM before I arrived at the one I've got now. Five of those versions were pretty short, admittedly, because I hit my sticking place and had to start over. The sixth version I worked with for the entirety of last year. I probably read that draft like...ten times. And then, when I did my TM Overhaul earlier this year, I read THAT about five times. So I know this story backwards, forwards, sideways, and diagonally. And up until like two weeks ago, every single sentence had disappeared for me.

Scary, yes?

Two weeks ago I sat down with two copies of my draft that had been marked up by Others, and I started to see the sentences again. Why? Because I really like to use the phrase "took a sip of" when I should have used "sipped." Because you don't need to say "reached out and touched" when you could just say "touched". Because every...word...counts. Mraaaaagh.

I have edited 83 pages so far, and I have already cut 5,500 words. For those of you who don't think in words, that's like...a little over 15 pages. And that's just sentence-to-sentence. I'm not axe-ing huge chunks or anything. So here's my question:

Who knew this was possible?

Let me tell you, though. It feels kind of awesome. When I reread, everything sounds clean to me, like it's been scrubbed with a Mr. Clean magic sponge or whatever they're called. Clear thinking leads to clear writing. And clear writing kicks buns.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Random Thoughts

Today I realized that I have a system for eating M&Ms. I eat them in a particular order: orange, green, red, and yellow. And once I'm down to the blue and brown ones, I eat them in pairs of blue and brown. Because I like the color combination. They look nice together.

I've always been of the "save the best for last" camp. I used to eat the cookie part of the Twix first and save the caramel until later. I eat around the outside of a sandwich first to preserve the crustless middle. I eat my vegetables first on any given plate of food.

It didn't occur to me that not everyone thinks this way until today, as I was downing two little bags of M&Ms in the presence of others.

Also, most of the pictures on my phone are of cats. Do I have a cat? No. Figure that one out.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Reason to Love Revision

I have this love-hate relationship with revising. The hate comes in when I first get feedback and I just sit around and ruminate for a day or so. (Side note: isn't ruminate a great word? It reminds me of cows.) Anyway, when I'm sitting there staring at the work I've done and thinking about how I should just tear a certain section out and write it over again, that's when I'm not such a fan of the revising process.

I feel like people who don't write or who aren't exposed to the insanity of writers don't quite get this, so let me put it in terms everyone can understand: how would you feel if I told you to tear off your arm and get to work growing a new one? Not so good, yes? Well, it's not quite that dramatic, but basically you sit there and think: "How the hell am I supposed to grow a new arm?! WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THE FIRST ONE?!"

After I have formulated a plan as to how I will sprout a new limb, the love starts. I don't just like revising because it makes the work better, although that is the primary reason. Actually, that's not even what's on my mind most of the time, because I have a hard time looking that far ahead. I also get confused when people say the best thing about writing is having written, because for me the best part is the...writing part.

Mostly I like it because it's like a game. Someone tells you a problem with your work, and you have to sit there and figure out a way to fix it. It's kind of like someone giving you a starting point and a destination and you have to figure out the shortest, most efficient way of getting from point A to point B. Maximum impact with minimum damage. All the different places your story could go and your characters could go have to unfold in front of you and then you have to force yourself to think of other options. If life were like this, we could go anywhere.

But of course, we don't. We pick what we pick because we are what we are. That's the tricky part. You have to ask yourself: "If I want Jimmy to end up sacrificing a goat at the end of this story...given that Jimmy is a shy, mild-mannered fellow, how on earth do I get him to the goat stage while still being true to his character?"

No note, no goat.

(Did I mention George Saunders is coming here in the winter? Yesss.)

I like having nine different versions of the story. I enjoy reading the old ones over again once I've made drastic changes, and knowing that there's more to it than anyone will ever know. I pity the person who tries to find something in my files, though, because it's full of word documents with code names like: ER4. HB2. L3. WCTE. Like I'm planning a flipping sneak attack on the US government.

I'm not.

Promise.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Next Stop: Super Glue

Part One

I spent a few hours yesterday researching hagiographies, which is a really fancy religion word for "biographies of saints." As it turns out, this is harder than I thought it would be, because I foolishly assumed that someone had translated hagiographies into English from Latin. I don't know why I thought hagiographies would just be laying around the school library, but maybe it's because that place is a huge pit of books. Too bad the only thing it's good for is getting you lost and confused and possibly trapped between two walls of encyclopedias.

If you think I'm exaggerating, look at Northwestern's library:



Yeah. What IS that? Every time you look up a book, you also have to check to see which pod it's in and what level it's on. And let's say you need four books of different genres. Well, good luck, buddy, because it's going to be a long day of walking and peering and staring and getting shushed by stressed out grad students.

Anyway, my attempts at research were basically fruitless, except I learned that hagiographies mimic Arthurian legends, because the people writing them wanted to make saints seem more like heroes than boring, stuffy monks. This is good news, though, because Arthurian legends are quests for the unattainable (IE- the grail) that involve a lot of physical struggles, and hagiographies incorporate a kind of spiritual quest for the unattainable with a lot of spiritual struggles. Woo!

Damn, my tea is cold. Anyway.

The reason this is good news, and the reason I'm talking about this in the first place is not just because I'm procrastinating and I don't want to read this essay about Huck Finn. It's because last year, when I still had delusions of grandeur about what senior year was going to be like, I decided I wanted to structure my senior thesis (read: another novella, continuing the last one) as a hagiography, and I've been stuck on what exactly the plot of this thing is going to be until I realized this nerdy thing about hagiographies/Arthurian legends.

AND SO, because I have set up this character with a physical difficulty (heart condition), an emotional difficulty (no mother), and a spiritual difficulty ("...Legalism? Or grace?"), this plan to structure the story like a hagiography is actually going to WORK, which is always comforting to me.

So basically, prepare for a series of posts featuring Novella 2 and references to hagiographies, which is a pretty funny sounding word. I realize it more and more as I say it more and more. Hagiography. HAG...iography. Hagio-graphy.

Part Two

Almost every day, my lit professor (who used to be my writing professor) walks into the classroom and tells us about something she read or something she saw on the news that somehow relates to what we're doing that day, or at least that's interesting enough to share with thirty tired college students. It's always hilarious and it's always fascinating. Did you know that they have to bundle up at-risk infants to keep their arms from flailing, because they'll be afraid of their arms, because they don't know that their arms belong to them? Okay, not hilarious, but interesting, right?

A little hilarious? No?

I think what I really like about this is that she continually reminds me that there's stuff in the world worth knowing apart from what you learn in a classroom. That sounds really simple and obvious, but to someone who spends all her time staring at religious texts written a thousand years ago and writing papers and then zoning out at a television (...me), it bears repeating. The world is a huge and fascinating place, full of interesting and crazy and ridiculous and beautiful things, and I'd probably be a better writer if I noticed more of them.

So I have decided to pay closer attention to all things not school-related, and write them down in that moleskine I have, which, by the way, is IMPERVIOUS TO ALL GLUE, because the stuff I glued to the cover keeps falling off no matter how much rubber cement I use. Next stop: super glue.

Have I mentioned that I can see the metra trains arriving and leaving from my apartment window, and that their shiny side panels reflect this purple-blue light at night? Very cool.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thoughts

So, this is a quote from Gilead that I'm puzzling over. I'm not sure to what extent I agree with it, but I like it:

"I am one of those righteous for whom the rejoicing in heaven will be comparatively restrained. And that's all right. There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or a parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality. It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal. So how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence?"

That is to say, God's love isn't administered in proportion to how lovable a person is. Which makes no sense. And is kind of incredible.

In other news, it's the first day of class and my pants haven't loosened up yet. Ever have that problem? When I first put them on after washing them, I have to do lunges to get them to fit right, and even then it takes me a little while to feel comfortable. Then, by the end of the day, they're too loose and I have to pull them up all the time. I just can't win with jeans.

Hello, my name is Veronica. I wake up and think about God and jeans.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Story Time

Two words for today's story:

GIANT. SPIDERS.

Okay, so I live on the ninth floor of a large apartment complex, and my room is not supposed to be a bedroom. Technically, it's a den, which means several things:

1. No closet
2. Double doors
3. Balcony

The balcony is pretty much the coolest part of my room. It looks out over Evanston, and I can see as far as the Bahai temple, which GLOWS at night. Yep, my living situation is pretty sweet, especially considering how much mold grew on the ceiling of my dorm's bathroom last year.

The unfortunate consequence of the balcony is that there is a large sliding door that forms one of my walls, and any time you have an entrance to the outside world in a room, that means: bugs. And the only bugs that are crafty enough to make it to the ninth floor are spiders, apparently.

Two days ago I was up at three o'clock in the morning because I am deathly ill (well, not really. But it's really hard to sleep when your nose is burning all the time) and I noticed a quarter-sized spider descending from the ceiling. I think that's one of the creepiest things that spiders do. It has to do with the whole "let me slowly lower myself onto your head while you sleep" thing. Anyway, I had a mini little panic attack and grabbed my brush and hit it as hard as I could. It didn't die. It fell into the fibers of my really cool rug and disappeared. So I stood there like an idiot for about two minutes, staring at the rug to make sure it didn't reappear. Sure enough, it did, and then I beat the crap out of it with my hairbrush.

The next morning, I woke up determined to kill all the spiders, so I took a can of Raid onto the balcony and started to spray the top of the doorframe. And a few seconds later, half a dozen spiders did that slow-descending thing from the doorway, sort of like in the movies when SWAT lowers themselves from the ceiling on ropes to ambush the enemy, or whatever. One of these spiders...its body was seriously the size of a dime, which doesn't sound all that impressive until you realize I'm not even COUNTING the legs. Anyway, that one got caught directly in the line of fire and turned white from all the Raid I used because I'm a sissy and I was determined to kill this thing.

I haven't seen any spiders since then. But all that stuff they tell you about how spiders are good because they kill other bugs or whatever? BS. I would rather have other bugs. Bring on the flies, the ants, the gnats, whatever. They're annoying but they don't make me want to hop on a chair and scream. You know why? Because they don't move in that creepy spider way. And they have a reasonable amount of legs. Six? Sure. Eight? TERRIFYING.

Now I feel creepy crawlies all over me. Ugh. I'm going to make tea.

In other news, I outlined the rest of LL and did some estimations that confirmed it will be about as long as I suspected it would. All while sitting on the train across from three guys who were talking about...well, some unsavory things.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Side Note

I cook things!

I made sweet potato soup today, all by myself. Well, I had parental supervision. I have no idea what "translucent onions" look like, so I kept having to bug my mom about it. BUT STILL. It tasted good and I didn't cut my hand open or set anything on fire, so I'm calling it a success.

It's strange when your standards for success involve no bodily harm being inflicted on anyone.

Page 35

Every single thing I have ever written runs out of steam at page 35.

Except TM. But I'll get to that.

At first, when I realized this, I wondered what was up with page 35. Why does it suck so much? Or is there something wrong with me? But now that I've thought it over, I realized it makes perfect sense. Page 35 is just after all the characters and setting tend to be established, so right after The Beginning (or around there). And then I have to figure out how to transition from The Beginning to The Action, and for some reason...that is really freaking difficult for me.

TM was a weird case. First of all, I wrote seven versions of that story, all of which deflated after about fifty pages. I never expected any of them to amount to anything-- it was the story I was writing while I figured out what to do with my novel, which has since gotten filed and is collecting dust in a folder somewhere. When I finally sat down to write the version of TM that actually lasted, I wrote the Big Event first and continued from there, and then went back and wrote the beginning when the Brandon Heath CD came out (for some reason).

I never break from chronology like that. Apparently it worked. Maybe I should do it again with the thing I'm writing now. Now if only I could find a way out of this full outfit of sweats and do something productive.

Also, the guy who came to deliver...whatever he's delivering...just now probably thinks I'm an idiot. I answered the door wearing huge sweatpants and a giant sweatshirt with my hair all messy and didn't know what the date was and had no idea where he should deliver the furniture (right! furniture). Eventually he told me the date and I told him to put it in the garage, which in retrospect is probably not the right decision, but I had no idea what the man was saying. Then I went inside and lay on the ground and wondered why I have this tendency to make an idiot of myself on a regular basis. Oh well.

When I do finally manage to get dressed, I'm going to try breaking from chronological order and see if that helps me. I'll let you know if it does, because that will be a breakthrough in the fight against writer's block (which I have always maintained is just laziness in disguise...and that seems truer now than ever before, since I've been watching Top Chef for two days now).

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Writer's Crisis

It's like a midlife crisis, only it happens far more often.

Here's what it is: you came up with this idea. You teased it out. You wrote it out. You re-wrote it. You refined it. You lovingly crafted this book, or this story, or whatever, and suddenly...

You HATE it.

You begin to wonder if anyone will ever like or even mildly appreciate what you've written, because it's flawed, or unoriginal, or just generally oozing suckiness from every orafice. You doubt everything you have done in the past day, week, or hell, year. You consider giving up writing and becoming a potato farmer in Idaho instead.

Happens to me like...once a day. Right now, I hate TM. I want it to go suck an egg. I spent four days fixing it and trimming it down to 70,000 words and now I have lost sight of what made it so magical to me when I was writing it. I can no longer picture someone, an agent or an editor, sitting down to read it and going, "...wow. This is cool!"

And it's only 11.

Here's the thing: when you revise, you train yourself to look for flaws. And soon, flaws are all you see. And when that happens, the hate begins. But stop with the hate! Remember the awesome! Remember the awesome soon, before you get soundly rejected...because in all likelihood, you will. And when you do, you have to be able to believe in your work anyway, or you will never get anywhere. You won't be able to continue sending it out, and you won't be able to fix it and make it better.

I say that and it sounds so pessimistic, but it's important for me to remember. Rejection doesn't mean "your idea sucks. Your writing sucks. In fact, YOU suck. Do the world a favor and move to Siberia!" It means "No." Or "Not right now." Or "not for me." Or "needs work." And it'll happen. Because just as not everyone likes you, and you don't like everyone, not everyone will like your work. Too bad, so sad. Scoot along to the next person.

Good pep talk, V.

I need this pep talk because at any moment, someone will read my query or my partial MS. And rejection or acceptance are hurtling toward me any day now. I pride myself on my ability to keep my head on straight, but it's faltering right now. Someone send me stable thoughts.

I'm going to go have a chat with the BMU (Big Man Upstairs, aka God) and then get back to work. Diet book, anyone?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Raccoons, Cutsies, and Revision Goals.

Here is my question: why are there so many dead raccoons on the side of the road on route 59?

Story time: one time, I shot a baby goose in the eye. It was not on purpose. I was aiming this little pellet gun we have at the butt of a big goose to get it to GET THE HECK OFF OUR BEACH, because the large and irritating geese poop everywhere and I would like to be able to walk in my back yard without stepping in crap. The pellets in this gun sting big geese, but don't hurt them, and it teaches them not to come back. Case in point: we have very few geese haunting our beach at the moment, so HA. Anyway, I have poor aim and I shot a baby goose and it died and it's very sad.

Okay, you know what? It's not that sad. There are so many freaking geese around here. Did I cry when it died? No.

The point of this story is to establish that I am not easily affected by dead animals. But there are so many dead raccoons! And they aren't the big, nasty raccoons that hiss at you when you take out the trash at night. They're these little baby raccoons with tiny paws and limbs sticking out at unnatural angles. Fluffy. Cute. What's with all the death?

Also, I have a message for a certain kind of person. There are four construction zones on the way to Naperville from Barrington. All of those zones require the right lane to merge with the left lane. So I dutifully get in the left lane at my earliest convenience and wait patiently in line with everyone else to get past the zone. The line usually goes back about a half mile, on a bad day. And there is always at least one butthole who zooms to the front of the line from who knows how far back and wedges his stupid car right in front of someone who has been sitting there for ten minutes. It's the adult version of cutting in line. So my message is: no cutsies, jerkface. Wait your turn.

In other news, I have 40,000 words finished in my revision of TM. I figure I have 35,000 to 40,000 left to write/adapt from the old draft. My goal is to have at least finished this draft, without a read over, by Sunday, and to send my partial in on Monday with the synopsis. There. Now that it's written down and floating around in the ether, maybe it will actually happen.

35,000 words in five days...that's 7,000 words a day. Crazy talk, Veronica. Crazy talk.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Epigraph

If I get to pick an epigraph, and they won't let me use John 15:13 (There is no greater love than this: that a man lay down his life for his friends), this is it:

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, -- but the best is lost.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.


-Edna St. Vincent Millay

My very simple interpretation of this poem is: death happens. But that doesn't mean I'm going to sit around and wait for it. Or, similarly, I'm not going to go quietly.

I'm probably wrong, but no one's grading me on this one.

Friday, July 31, 2009

The Gift of The Axe

I want to talk about the little blessing in disguise known as word count guidelines.

When I finished TM and fixed it (or so I thought), it was complete at 112,000 words. The average YA book is 80,000 to 90,000 words for a new author (or somewhere around there). For those of you who want to object with "But Harry Potter books were NEVER that short!" I am sorry, but you are wrong. The first Harry Potter book was around 80,000 words long. The second one was also not very long. It wasn't until the third HP that you could start measuring the thickness with a ruler, and that was after JK Rowling was established, had a fan base, and could do pretty much whatever the heck she wanted.

I don't know why I got it in my head that cutting 20,000 words wouldn't be that big a deal, but as it turns out, I'm kind of dumb. Here's why: 20,000 words equates to about 80 pages. What? Yes. 80 pages. I was at the writer's conference when I discovered that horrifying fact. How am I supposed to cut EIGHTY pages, I wondered to myself. Can I seriously lose that many? Won't caving to these word deadlines ruin my masterpiece?

The answers are: Yes, you can lose that many. And no, losing them will not damage what you've written, in all likelihood. It was only when I thought about condensing TM that I realized how much extra STUFF was in there, just floating around doing absolutely nothing but slowing the plot down. It took me eighty pages to get to the first real incident. Eighty pages of setup is TOO MUCH SETUP.

When I revised, I was able to shorten those eighty pages of setup to something like 25 pages of setup. For those of you who aren't so good at The Math, 80-25 is 55 pages. Of extra crap that no one needs to read.

The thing is, it's good to write everything down. Writing those first 80 pages helped me figure out what was going on and where everything was headed. My mistake was not writing them; it was refusing to acknowledge that after the whole thing was finished, I didn't need them to be there. I don't care what epic creation you have spent a year constructing. If it's YA and it's over 90,000 words...get out the scalpel, because it's time to trim the fat. And there is fat. There is always a shorter way for your plot to get where it's going, and if you feel like you're losing valuable information or character development, you should probably learn this lesson that I'm still having trouble grasping:

Trust. The. Reader.

They will put the pieces together far better than you think they will. I know this because I've had people read it. And they get it. And they sometimes feel like I'm repeating myself. Because I am.

This whole process has forced me to be far more economical. I think that's the right word. Never use a paragraph when a sentence will do. And never tell when showing will do. I didn't need to tell the reader that my main character was lonely. The fact that no one sits next to her in class and she's always dodging other people's elbows in the hallway is enough. Why did I not realize this the first time around? I have no idea.

Also: I didn't figure out what the book was really about until the last twenty pages. Which is a problem. Now that I'm revising and condensing, I'm weaving that information I crammed into the last twenty pages into the rest of the draft. Honestly, if this partial manuscript gets rejected, I will be sad, but I won't be heartbroken. Because this process has made TM ten times better than it was before, and it will finally be in good form to send to other agents.

As I reread what I've done in the last few days, I actually find myself thinking that the writing is good. It took me like ten tries, but finally I found this balance between short and long sentences, between high and low language, between seriousness and humor. Let's hope I can keep it up, because I really believe in this draft and that's important. If I don't like it, how will anyone else like it?

So if you're like me, and you always write more than you should: embrace the word count guidelines. Even if you don't have them...tell yourself to cut 20,000 words, and if you can find a way to do it...do it. If you can find a way, even if it means dramatic restructuring, that means there were too many words to begin with.

I forgot who it was that said it, but: "There are always too many words at first."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Fist? Meet Face. Maybe.

I am so bored.

Do you want to know what kind of bored I am? I am not just "look at the clock every two minutes" bored. Nor am I merely "so bored I think I'm hungry" bored. I am officially "considering punching myself hard in the face just to have something to do" bored. I just got up, washed out my water bottle, filled it with water, fixed my hair, went to the bathroom, and moseyed back to my desk and only four minutes had passed. Why do I move so quickly? It's probably the tall thing.

I don't know how much I can talk about what I'm proofreading right now, because it isn't published, but suffice it to say it relates to business and my mind is numb. If this book was a class, I would not even consider taking it for a moment. Therefore, proofreading what seems like a textbook about this topic is pure torture. And here's the worst part: the more bored I am, the more tired I feel. The more tired I feel, the slower I work. The slower I work, the longer it will take to finish. And the longer it takes to finish, the longer I have to wait before someone gives me something interesting to do.

I have forty minutes to go before I can haul butt out of here. Don't get me wrong: this publisher is awesome and I'm happy I'm an intern and it's been a great experience and whatnot, but this project in particular might cause my brain to spontaneously combust. Especially since the partially written revised draft of TM is sitting there STARING at me as I work.

Pooooo...p.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Narrative Momentum

I've wanted to toss some thoughts out since the conference, but I have so many it's been tricky. I'll just go with one today. In one of the sessions, Dennis Hensley was talking about plot momentum, and he went on to discuss the basic eight priorities we have as humans. Read them, and that will make more sense:

1. Preservation of life (or the survival instinct)
2. Good health
3. Sense of security (financial, family, etc.)
4. Status (social, mostly)
5. Sensual stimulation
6. Mental stimulation
7. Altruism
8. Suspended action (or "rest")

You can debate the order of those all you want, but it doesn't really matter for my purposes. Dennis said that you get narrative momentum when you switch the order of those priorities, because something about that intrigues us or creates problems for your characters. In Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein puts his desire for mental stimulation above his sense of security, and that's where all the trouble comes from. In Harry Potter, Voldemort sticks "status" right there above "good health". In the Iliad, the warriors tend to put "status" above "preservation of life." Reordering these priorities makes a story.

The hero of my story is the quintessential 7-and-1 switcheroo-- that is to say, he places altruism over his desire to preserve his own life, and that, I think, is what makes him intriguing to me. I had to write it out to figure out why on earth someone would do that, and what sort of person he would be because of it.

Nifty, huh?

Sunday, July 26, 2009

New Goal

I am going to state my new goal here, on the off chance that writing it will make it happen:

The quality of the writing will transcend the limitations of the plot.

Now it's time to chop this thing to bits.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Day Two: Decisions, Decisions.

The decisions I have made today:

(Dramatic pause)

1. I will create a device that wraps around my wrist that fires sticky business cards at people like Spidey webs.

2. I will cut 20,000 words from my manuscript in order to fall within the word guidelines of the YA genre. Plus, if you look at your manuscript and you discover that you probably CAN cut 20,000 words...you should. 80 pages don't just fall out of a book unless they're supposed to.

3. I will not take it personally if I am rejected by an agent. Or several agents. Perhaps when I reach the "dozens of agents" stage, I may begin to feel a little blue. But at that point, I will buy some Half Baked ice cream and watch a stupid chick flick until I feel better, and then I will get up and keep. writing.

4. I will not say anything to the effect of "I don't know anything" or "I don't know what I'm doing." Because anyone who has completed a manuscript, regardless of how terrible or craptacular it is, knows something. Even if it's just about how to cope with carpal tunnel pain.

5. I will not fall asleep while driving home at night tomorrow.

6. I will figure out a domain name close to "veronicaroth.com" (because someone ELSE has that domain name, turns out) and purchase it, on the off chance that I one day have enough content to put on a website, per the advice of Jane Friedman.

7. I will remember to check out of the Ball State University hotel tomorrow so they don't charge me for an extra night.

I'm pretty sure that's it. Plus, I just remembered I have to go pack.

Midwest Writers has been good to me. I hope it continues to do so.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Prince Charming, Meet Wal-Mart

Okay, Wal-Mart. We need to have a conversation about your new "I'm taking my daughter to college!" commercial.

For those of you who have not seen this short segment of ridiculous, let me fill you in. I haven't memorized the specifics, but basically what it amounts to is a calming voice-over talking about change and growing up or whatever, because Wal-Mart ads are just a CAN of cheese wrapped in more cheese and fried with other cheese. Anyway, the mother and the daughter enter an empty dorm room, the daughter gives the mother a look of sad desperation, and the mother says something reassuring, whatever. Here's the thing.

That dorm room? Spectacular. Huge. It's like the size of my current bedroom. And it has very large windows overlooking a lawn of some kind. And the walls are this bright, gleaming white. And it's CLEAN. At least, it looks clean. And she gets it alllll to herself.

When I walked into my first dorm room, I walked into a place with yellowish walls (there were so many layers of cheap paint that it was starting to bubble and peel) that smelled like an old lady's shoe mixed with rotten crackers. The windows were the size of a large textbook and there were only two of them. And one of the walls was slanted such that half the room could not accommodate my six feet of height. And I was sharing this pit of gloom with another person.

I don't think Wal-Mart has ever been to a college dormitory.

Granted, it's a commercial, so I really shouldn't be so whiny about it. But when I was seventeen and terrified at the prospect of moving away from home, I was desperate for an idea of what college life would be like, so I would watch those commercials very carefully. Imagine my disappointment when my first room was shaped like a submarine. I have this issue with things on television that get teenage hopes up.

That's why I wrote my book, actually. Because I was tired of those movie and television love stories that set you up for disappointment. Here you are imagining that when you find love, it's going to be like a Disney movie, and when you get it, it's hard and requires work. You mean "happily ever after" doesn't exist? You mean a pumpkin can't turn into a carriage? You mean sometimes Prince Charming turns out to be a huge butthole? Shocker.

I'm not as jaded as I sound. I don't have much experience, actually. I've been with the same guy since I was fourteen, and he is wonderful. But that's what convinces me more than anything that there's a problem, because my relationship is pretty kickass but it's still nothing like a Disney concoction.

Okay, so for awhile I didn't think this was a big deal, and compared to a lot of things, it isn't. But ever since I was five years old, movies and books and television and music were telling me what to expect from love. They told me to expect a relationship that would complete me as an individual-- who is Cinderella before she meets Prince Charming?-- and that would give my life meaning. Let us examine, for example, a few lyrics...

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you


Prior to someone pointing out that this song is actually kind of creepy and not at all romantic, this was considered a love song. And the message of this love song? Love = obsession. How...sweet?

Also, take Romeo and Juliet. Most people consider this to be one of the most romantic plays ever ever ever. I take issue with that. Romeo learns that Juliet is dead, so he kills himself? Juliet sees that Romeo is dead, and does the same? The message is that life is not worth living without your respective significant other. Never mind that both Romeo and Juliet had families that loved them and the potential to do something with their lives. Suicide is preferable to losing your high school sweetheart-- didn't you know?

What BS. I don't want anyone killing themselves over me. Love is important and having a boyfriend or a husband or a lovahhh can be life-changing and good. But if you don't have it, there is more to life. And if we could change the way love is presented in popular culture, we could change the expectations that people have for love, and we could prevent a lot of messed up relationships.

Relationships do get screwed up because of expectations. If I go into a relationship defining a "good guy" as one who opens doors for me and gives me flowers, rather than as one who is interested in what I have to say and makes me laugh, I'm going to dump a lot of fantastic people in the search for a Prince Charming that doesn't exist. And if I find a guy who gives me flowers and opens doors for me, he might turn out to be a complete and total jackass. I think girls (and boys, actually) should adjust what they're looking for and focus on what's really important. And it would definitely help if what they were exposed to was...healthy.

How did I go from Wal-Mart to this?

Anyway. That's my rant. I'm going to go read chapter 4 out loud.

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