Saturday, July 31, 2010

The cardinal sin

I think I finally get why people say that Stephenie Meyer is a bad writer, probably because I finally just read Twilight. I loved it. I couldn't put it down.

Stephenie Meyer is not a bad writer. Bella and Edward both feel like real, breathing characters and their love feels real. The plot is smooth and well-timed and fast-paced.

But I think I know why people complain. She breaks the cardinal rule. A lot. That rule't-tell! Writers are supposed to show-not-tell whenever possible. For example, in one scene Bella is in an elevator and says that the other people in it are agitated (because she ran in when the doors were about to close.) Most writers would have shown that, by saying "A woman slammed her fist on the first floor button" or something like that.

Meyer does this a lot. But somehow, it works. It moves the story along quickly. We don't care about the woman in the elevator. We just want to know if Bella can save her Mom!

In truth, this rule-breaking also serves to develop Bella's character. She's smart. She likes literature. She uses all-encompassing words instead of details.

Words like "exasperated" and "agitated" stood out to the writer part of me, but the reader part of me didn't care. The story is good. Really good.

New Moon is on its way. Wow. Ain't I late to the party?!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Revisions aren't so bad

I'm reading a lot about revising right now. My inner critic is nice enough to say "This part needs to go" without turning that into "The whole thing is crud."

Inner critics are so helpful. And so are outside gurus. Here are a few of the many insights into revising that I've encountered.

1) Are there evasions of conflict? In real life, most people avoid conflict (except of course the ones that you don't want in your discussion class because they want to fight with anyone's comment even if it be about peanut butter). I avoid conflict. You avoid conflict. Writer's sometimes want to avoid conflict too, but they shouldn't. Not only because it isn't interesting, but it doesn't move the story towards change. "Take a look back in the story where explosives scenes should happen--places where characters ought to confront or defend." --Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French in Writing Fiction.

2) "What is the pattern of change?" --Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French in Writing Fiction. The authors hold that "discovery and decision" are the forces behind action. Everything else is just a list of events. When a character discovers something, the toast is burning, his wife's a harlot, his truck is ablaze, he makes a decision that develops his character and moves the story forward. What are the discoveries that lead to decisions? What moves the story forward and changes the character? Those are the scenes that matter and need the most attention, all else can be improved to be just as important, summarized, or removed.

3) What is my intent? This one I thought of while reading Nathan Brandsford's post The One Thing Writer's Should Never Ask Themselves When Reading. The important thing when reading is to discern the author's intent and base criticism accordingly. What is the author trying to do? Did he/she do it? For everything I read in creative writing classes, I always had to answer those two questions. Authors can keep these questions in mind when reading their own work. What is your intent?  Does this scene fulfill it? Does that line?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Writer-review: Looking for Alaska

Just finished reading Looking for Alaska by John Green. My experience of a book always combines the fact that I am a reader and a writer. I enjoy spicy imagery and unexpected characters but always always am thinking about craft. Same when I watch movies. I can never just watch a movie. I am always noticing how cinematography plays with mood and how perfectly and/or annoyingly dialogue serves as exposition.

Anyways. Looking for Alaska was a wonderful experience for me. The story was interesting and engaging, awkward and scary. And the writing was seriously superb. John Green knows what's up with dialogue.

I don't like to underline things when I'm reading for fun, so you'll excuse me for not providing you any quotes.

Actually don't bother. You're glad I didn't include any. Because you want to read Looking for Alaska all on your own and knowing as little about it as possible beforehand. Trust me.

The techno man

Gabe told me today that there is a man in the UH library that is there every time Gabe has been. He is a man with a white beard. He is always at the stand up public computers, reading, surfing, watching TV and listening to techno really loud. Who is this man? Why is he always there? An internet addict? Homeless? A retiree?

Ward's Rafters

Our landlords took us to someone's attic. "They have concerts in their attic," the lovely Sheri had said. Gabriel and I were confused, and intrigued, and we so went. Sheri said it was a BYOB, and we came fully prepared.

Come to find that that someone is Mrs. Jackie Ward, a tiny old woman with fuchsia lipstick on her slack mouth and soft red curls escaping a floral scarf. After we walked around the side yard of the big two story house and went upstairs and waited with a man on crutches for the song to end, we walked in and met Jackie Ward. She took our donations, greeted us with a smile.

There were about fifty people in the lofty open beam attic, complete with kitchenette and bathroom and only three chairs left. On the raised stage was a banjo player, a guitarist, a bassist, and a female fiddler playing blue grass. Our landlords took the two seats in the back, and Jackie Ward said to Gabe, "Go downstairs, go to the dining room or the bedrooms. Go anywhere, find yourself a chair and bring it up." So he did, and he came back with a wooden chair and placed it in the aisle next to me, a couple rows back from the band.

The four of them played pretty good old school blue grass, and sometimes the banjo player and the fiddler would do duets: gorgeous Irish or Scottish jigs that brought a sweet, archetypal love story to the backdrop of my mind.

It was amazing really, sitting in this old woman's attic, drinking a Modelo, with all these other lucky souls of all colors and ages, listening to some seriously talented musicians, and just breathing, feeling alive.

At one point, I went to the attic bathroom, but it was occupied. The door's sign read, "If occupied, go downstairs and turn left." So I did. I found myself in what was clearly an old woman's house. A big empty and glossy dining table. Doilies on the hall furniture. The paint in the bathroom mint ice-cream green. Little framed paintings of ducks and faded plastic flowers in tiny upside-down straw hats.

When the music was over, we left, but not before I happily put myself on the band's and on Ward's Rafter's e-mailing lists. On the car ride home, Sheri and John told us that Jackie Ward is eighty four. Eighty four! I'd guessed 72! And that her husband had died in WW2. She's at once a relic, and a new-found gem.

What a wonderful lady, to give me an experience like that.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

inhuman limitations

My WIP is a fantasy. One of the things about the MS that has plagued me is making sure the rules of the magic are clear. Wait, no. I'm being too kind to myself. I didn't even really phrase the issue that way until a couple weeks ago. My original thought was more like this: Something doesn't feel right. Hmmm...

Now, though, I've got the issued pinned. I need to make sure that the reader knows what sort of magic the MC can do and how their abilities compare to others (magical, non-magical, both) in the world, whether that world be epic fantasy or urban fantasy, sci-fi, what have you. And that needs to be accomplished early on.

Case-in-point: Harry Potter. (Did I yet mention that I love JK Rowling?) Harry starts out as a weird but normal kid, and he gradually transforms into a wizard. The reader is there for that transformation. We know at all times what Harry can and can't do. We attend Hogwarts classes and even learn the spells. Alohomora! Expelliarmus! Expecto Patronum!

I'm only on page 96 of The Hunger Games, but Suzanne Collins is doing the same thing. We know that Katniss is a darn good hunter, and then we discover what other skills she and Peeta pick up in training.

In fact, all good fantasy/sci-fi...scratch that! In fact, all good books do this. We have to know what the MC can do or else we wouldn't know what to expect or how to feel in a given scene. We could be enthralled in a super scary fight scene and think the MC is going to be maimed but then he blasts his opponent to smithereens with a magical boom-blaster. That would seriously tick off any reader. He had a boom-blaster?

All books must set limitations. Are there telephones in this time period? Does the MC have a car? Can the MC afford airfare? A poor man cannot escape the mafia on plane.

While my WIP does not include boom-blasters, there is some magic. I don't do a terrible job of revealing what my MC can do, but I know I could do with some clarification. Why?

To develop character and setting. Providing limitations does both. Harry Potter is way cooler than you or I, but is he smarter than Hermione? Is he more powerful than Draco? Those answers tell us more about who Harry Potter is in relation to his own kind.

I do compare my magically powerful MC to others of her kind, but I'm lacking a list (so-to-speak) of her abilities. She kind of discovers/hones her abilities along the way. That's fine, to an extent, so long as everything is clear. What did she teach herself? What did she already know? The reader should never have to guess. And there should never be moments where boom-blasters appear that the reader didn't know about.

I just saw the first cockroach in my house. I've seen several on the streets of Honolulu, but this one was in my house! It was an inch long. Ewww...
Am I going to let cockroaches encroach on my enjoyment of tropical life? Am I going to let my fears outweigh my passion for fresh pineapple and mango? Am I going to scream? No. No, I am not.

Monday, July 26, 2010

please laugh

I would really appreciate it if you would laugh at what I'm about to say: I'm not going to work on my second book (right now). Did you laugh yet? A fake laugh? A tortured laugh? Probably not.

I guess its just funny to me. Or at least I'm trying to make it funny.

So, as I explained before, I got sick of editing. I thought editing was the dirty little chore that followed writing and could never match up to its dreamy romance.

Then, as I was working on what would have been my second book, I thought ugh writing is so hard! I can't wait til I can just revise! Well, I can revise. In fact, I should revise. My first book is pretty good, and there's a lot that can be done to make it great.

The moral of the story is don't give up. I refuse to be the person that has a room full of unfinished books. Those are the worst people in the world! Revising is a form of writing. I'm going to attempt to convince myself of that over the next few months.

p.s. I've been speaking to someone in Spanish for an hour and drinking the best cup of coffee of my life.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

down in the dumps

Dang it! I bit off wayyy toooo muuuuuchhh with this book. Yeah, that much. Really. I wish I could say what exactly, but I'm the sort of narcissist that thinks all of her ideas are the best in the world and that everyone, Everyone, will want to steal them.

And so I must hoard. Anyways, I got 80 pages into the first draft and then freaked. Yesterday, I came to a stand still. I'm not putting scenes on the time line they should be on. Why? Because of my just-go-for-it attitude. As I writer, I think its mostly a good thing. I shove my feet into my writing boots (there is no cap) and make a run for it.

Well, I think I ran too fast. Again, I know that's vague, but I can't bait the idea thieves, or they'd be in for the hunt. So I'm stopped now, looking down the path that is my novel. Only its obscured. Its overgrown, and I can't get through. I must run backwards. But how far back will I go?

I'm considering starting over. Gasp! The shame! No. Ya know what? No shame. I'm standing up for my writerly kind write here write now! We are sooooo misunderstood.

Singers get to have songs they never perform. Painters get to screw up and cover it up or start over. So writers get to too! I don't want to, trust me I really don't. But because this book is one big ol' bite that I just can't get down, I'm gonna have to slow down my walk.

Ohhh...maybe I should get flip flops! Maybe my path should be on the beach. That's right. I'll do this island style. Except that this island fires me up/recharges me/sparks me (you get it). Whatever it does, it does not slow me down. This will have to be a conscious effort on my part.

So with that, I'm donning my bikini and flip flops and goin with my baby to the beach. Literally.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

listening to my music

In my on-going quest to perfect my process, and redefine it for my current work-in-progress, I experiment.

I have read of authors who listen to music while writing. At first I thought that was just crazy. It would be terribly distracting and would inject the wrong mood into a story. Now I am using it as a tool. Today, I turned on Pandora and wrote out a scene that has been giving me trouble. If a song didn't seem to fit with the mood of the piece, I would click dislike, and something else would come on.

I challenged myself to the music, like Finish this part by the time the song is over. Certain songs would truly help me focus. I'd forget the real world existed until the song was over. Then I'd look down and discover I had written a page.

The type of music is key. I chose from my indie/folk/country stations : The Be Good Tanyas, Over the Rhine, and Sufjan Stevens for example. They are all artists who embrace whatever odd inflections find their way into their voices, who really know how to blend vocals and instruments until they are inseparable. They helped me to just release the story swirling round in my brain, to not seek perfection. To just get it out.

Had I listened to synthed mainstream pop, I may not have been similarly inspired. I may have been afraid to make mistakes. Who knows, though? Maybe sometime I'll see what Lady Gaga can do to a scene. But only if she's right for it. Only if she fits.

Monday, July 19, 2010

the paper route

For whatever reason, I am writing this book completely on paper. It is so weird. I think maybe its because I have the internet now.

The internet is so distracting! Don't pretend you've never been caught in a Facebook click-a-thon. Unless, you're over thirty. Then maybe...just maybe...I might believe that you're immune. I simply have to eliminate the computer to eliminate distraction.

I'm also doing considerably more research this time around. This book is not fantasy. It is set in several real places. While I'm not being a total stickler for detail, I do want to name things properly, have them in the right location, correct weather and sunset times etc. etc. I have to create an essence for places I've never been.

What's your opinion? Does it bug you when you read about a place you've been and it puts a street in the wrong place or describe locals that look nothing like the vast majority of people that inhabit the place? Has that ever even happened to you? It's never happened to me, because I tend to read of "far off lands," whether fantastical or just plain far away.

I'm trying to find a balance. I need to do enough research to create the right vibe, but if I do too much I hyper ventilate from the lack of actual writing that gets done. (It's like oxygen.)

When I sit in front of the computer, the whole world is before me. Google Earth makes it so easy to do Way Too Much research. I could look at individual pictures of every brick on every building. It makes me nuts.

Because what really matters is the scene. What needs to happen at this point? What will all the characters do? When I answer that question, I find it necessary to fudge the lines a little bit, to screw with Mother Earth's placement of mountains. And I do. But so far, this has only been possible away from the computer.

I have to step away from it to enable my fudging and tweaking capabilities. Today, I bought a Mead Composition notebook that will house probably half of the first draft of the book. It's amazing that I blog. You'd think that a girl who writes on paper wouldn't even have a touch tone phone.  And yet, I've learned to pick and choose my technologies, to neither purposelessly go with the flow nor hopelessly resist.

So even though I sit here typing to you, I will in about T -2 minutes, return to my notebook, where all the possibilities are mine.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

it really has begun

Feeling optimistic today. The wind, the rain, the pineapple, the pot. Two days ago, I put up my encouragement on the wall, notes to myself and quotes. It really marked the beginning of the writing process for the new book.

To digress, the idea for the book came to me in a dream one year ago, and it really excites me to write something that seemed to come in a message. (Book 1 was conceived while battling senioritis triggered by my nerdy-hot British professor.) In that dream, I actually saw the book.

A husky man had delivered a shipment of the books to a very run-down pet store. I reached into a bin that should've held bunnies and picked one up, cleared off the hay. I skimmed through it and saw pictures of the five main characters inside. The gist of the story leaped off the pages (can't tell ya what yet). It was exactly the sort of book I always wanted to read. I remember very clearly that it was written by Morock Spock.

Yesterday, I backed my painted notices on sturdy cardboard and tacked them to wall. Here are the words that will help me beat Morock Spock to it, whoever he is:
I have a dream
Just don't stop
"If you just imagine your criticism, and you put it into a little bundle of sticks and you place that bundle of sticks a foot away from yourself, that space between you and that bundle of sticks is your creative space. How far are you gonna put it from you? You could set it a mile from you, and you could dance all around the countryside. Or you could glue it to your forehead and never be allowed to take a breath." --Antony Hegarty
"A brilliant writer sweeps the reader out of this world into one where the author rules absolutely." --George Dawes Green
Give yourself permission

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Steven King, 180 thou is just too much.

A couple weeks ago, while reading Nathan Brandsford's fantastic blog, I read a poster's comment that almost made me barf:
In the otherwise miraculous book "On Writing", Stephen King gives two pieces of advice that seem to be on a lot of agents' no-no lists: (1) he suggests querying with a few chapters written, and (2) he suggests writing 2,000 words a day for three months, giving you a nice 180k word novel. Whenever I see someone mention a supersized novel, I wonder if that advice is behind it.
I almost died. I felt like a big fat idiot.

I read On writing last summer and said to myself, "well I'm writing a young adult novel, so I'll make mine 160,000 words." And I did. It is 160,000 words. Come to find out after discovering Nathan Brandsford and the world of blogging authors/agents/editors/publishers, that 150,000 is the cutoff for first-time adult fiction novelists. Oh crap.

And what was the debut young adult restriction? 100,000 words. I shot myself in the foot.

Why couldn't I have read all this a year ago? That poster's comment shocked me into a regret that lasted two days and spanned every aspect of my life.

Before I wrote my first book, I didn't seek out anything other than King's word-count advice. I didn't even really research the market. I was naive, or lazy maybe. Or maybe I just needed to prove to myself that I could do it.

But it's okay, because I'm here now. And I love where I'm at. In response to yesterday's post, I've found a tool that not only exists outside my brain, but limits it! How delicious.

Word Count makes it so easy for me to feel either accomplished, wordy, or brief. Word Count labels my life. Okay, that was extreme.

I have a way to make my ideas tangible and small. Life is big but my books are small. Duh, right? But listen. If a book were as big as life...umm no...(don't listen). I can't even finish that sentence. All that comes to mind is apocalypse, explosion, and a twenty-year-old man who looks 102 and then dies. Sounds like I've got the premise for my third novel.

So basically, a word count goal limits a writer. Like a canvas would to a painter.

But WAIT! THERE'S MORE! I have another tool.

On Voice. (Darn you Steven King!)

I couldn't even read my first book out loud. It felt awful. All wrong. But I love reading other people's books out loud. I do an excellent Hermione, and a darn good everybody else. Really I do. Except that I'm shy and can only do it for Gabe and Deven.

I couldn't even read my own book out loud to Gabe. What the hell?

I didn't think I was a capable of mastering the complexity of my characters. They were too real to me. I dreamed of someday doing the audio for the book, but I couldn't even read it aloud to myself.

Voice is ESSENTIAL to writing. And it's auditory. It's kinda/sorta outside the brain. It limits me (thank the Lord). It makes my book tangible. I have just had a revelation! Writers must focus on how their audience will absorb the product. This is hard for writers to do. Dancers and performers can look in the mirror. Actresses can do screen tests. Painters can take two steps back. And so on.

Writing is very personal. You can't just sneak a peak. You can't see it from the bleachers or eye it from across the museum room. You have to get up close, and let it fill your head. The writer's tools are all about how your head gets full.

If you hold a book, you probably don't want it to break your hand. Enter:

If it's read out loud to you, you want your mommy or teacher or wife to do fun, entertaining voices. (I love you, J.K. Rowling.)

So yeah, Steven King gets to write books that can send you to the hospital, because obviously he writes some good shit. (Though I doubt he could get me to growl like Hagrid.)

Uh, oh. There's a conundrum. That conundrum being e-books. They aren't heavy. My laptop weighs a hell of a lot less than the university library (fake tans and mow-hawk dreads are heavier than you'd think).

Kindles and iPads enable people to load tons of books on a device they can balance on one finger. How do they choose these books? How do they know if the writer is worth his weight if the item weighs nothing? They get a sample!

It's not just about weight. It's about layout. LAYOUT! I have another tool :)

Long books can't hide. They have .25 inch margins and not enough paragraphs on the page. Well, so do these e-books. If they start making separate, sparser layouts for these e-books, Jacqueline Carrey's books will be as long as the Bible (I'm talkin' to you, Steven King).

WORD COUNT, VOICE, and LAYOUT. Readers are going to use these things to help them choose what to buy and decide what they like.

So writers should use them too.

Friday, July 16, 2010

on drunken writers

For the performer, body form and facial expressions are essential tools. The painter actively twists caps, mixes exact shades, and creates life out of brush strokes. The composer must play or hum, or put his ear to the floor. Oral storytellers have bright eyes and intuitive tongues. Only The Writer is without more than his brain, except maybe layout-his eyes weigh the density of white versus black. He writes pen to parchment in his woodsy cabin and his words are copied by someone with a finer hand. He sits at his chair and types. The font is then changed. He has no physical finesse. What matters to him is purely thought, memory and imagination.

All artists' tools need to be rested and relaxed. Dancers must massage and soak. Actors take off their costumes and wash their faces. Painters rinse their brushes and let them dry. Singers must be silent.

Alcohol might make the others sloppy, but with it, the writer has reined in his thoughts. He has confidence and hope where before, only infinity applied. A writer rubs his aching wrists, but what he needs is a tall drink of hazy gray.

Might I suggest a walk instead?

why I love James Waterfall

I have lost complete track of time, but I think it was a week ago that my sleeping schedule went like this.

4hrs of sleep one day. Then 4hrs the next. Then no sleep. Then 12hrs. Then no sleep again.

During the sleepless hours, the whole emotional trope and main plot of my new book came to me. So weird. I've never preplotted before. (Guess I should add that to my list of new behaviors.)

I was writing like a mad woman, developing characters, the rules of the world, going from one event to another, naming chapters I had not written. My brain was on such overdrive that not even 60wpm could keep up. I had to type trigger phrases in a word document instead of ideas, and then fill in the thoughts when my brain had paused.

And since I hadn't been sleeping, I was really wacky. You know the look.

Towards the end of the ordeal, I called up my stepfatherinlaw, James. I told him my dilemma.

Now, most people would tell you that voices in your head, or rather ones that come on misty wind through open windows, are a sign that you need medication.

Not James. He advised that I talk back. Brilliant!

He framed the issue as my relationship with my Muse (I just really can't help but cap it). I must tell my Muse that we can work together, but only so long as I stay healthy and happy, physically and mentally and in my relationships. (That means you, babe).

That I must tell my Muse straight up about my demands. And I did. I wrote my Muse a letter, in my journal. And it didn't feel silly at all.

Why? 'Cause I had James' seal of approval, and its a mighty fine seal to get.

Gabe quote

Gabe says lots of wonderful things. Tonight he said:

God is the explanation for the unknown, whatever the unknown is to you.


The tropics does some crazy shit to a person. If you don't believe me, watch The Secret Power of Time.

But you believe me.

A list of opposite things has been running through my head since we've moved. Let's see if I can remember them.

CA: Get inspiration from the sea and calm organization from the mountains
HI: Get inspiration from the mountains and get calm organization from the sea.
It is tripping me out! I can't stinking sleep, because I live in the mountains. Wind blows through the open window and I go insane.

CA: Unconfrontational
HI: Confrontational
So I used to avoid confrontation at all costs, even if it meant frantically fretting over everything I could have said for about four days. But now, I just wanna tell the world. Like today, I was at a beach resort in Kahala (where I got to see dolphins do tricks by the way. Yes! Tricks! Back flips. Front flips. Swirly flips. Ohhh, dolphins. They make me cry). Oh sorry. Anyways. These two love birds run right by my towel lengthwise at the beach and spatter me with sand like happy water-loving dogs. I stand up and yell "Excuse me!" as they dive into the ocean, holding each other tight. They don't hear, and I sit back down. But still, I yelled.

CA: I needed a lot of sleep. Gabe needed a little.
HI: I need a little sleep. Gabe needs a lot.
Ya know what, this little item is total bullshit. I need some sleep. Sleep? Who said the world sleep? Ahhh glorious sleep. I need it. Yes I do.

CA: loathed the smell of blogs
HI: has own blog
It still trips me out, still makes me wonder. What is wrong with me? Pity the creature that lies in bed typing on aluminum all about herself. What she thinks. What she wants. Ick. Icky icky ick. All bloggers are just plain icky. And yet, once I got used to the foul smell, I realized that there are many blogs that I just plain adore: the rawness, the look-at-me, the voice.

I'm writing another book.

I just couldn't take it anymore! Nine months of editing drove me totally nuts. It was always questions. Sooo many questions. Should they kiss in this scene? Should she think of him here? Should she think of him there? Is this right? Is this wrong? Is this good?

Is this crap?

It sucked. I hated all those questions. They felt like shattered dreams. The three months I spent scheming up an alternate universe and filling it with fascinating people doing fascinating things came down to plot holes, lost momentum, and caricatures.

Damn them and their two dimensions.

And so, I'm being irresponsible. I am quitting, for now. I'm writing another book.

Currently, its 10 pages. So exciting, I know.

I get to start all over again, create the place, create the people. And when I'm done, I'll resume editing the first book while editing the second book. Oh, shit, then I'll have two books to edit!

They are each the beginning of their own series so...uh oh. Maybe I'll be one of those people with a room full of half-finished series-starters.

Until said room is full, you can find me in denial.