The reasons for this blog: 1. To provide basic author information for students, teachers, librarians, etc. (Please see sidebar) 2. I think out loud a lot as I work through writing projects, and I'm trying to dump most of those thoughts here rather than on my friends.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Today I skipped over the middle and started shaping up the later middle (Menelaus) and end (Paris). I've been avoiding the Paris part till now because I know it's not anything like the rest of the book in tone. It's the only part that was written entirely in graphic novel form, and it shows, being nearly all dialog and coming off as glib, and also as more of a character study of Paris than anything. So, will have to start thinking about how to bring the questions that drive the ms into that section, and how to make it about Helen, and how and when to bring something besides dialog into it. I can already tell that I'm going to have a tendency to get all didactic and start telling the reader what to understand and what to feel, so I'll have to remember that when I get that way, it's pre-writing and not the real thing.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

I forgot to note another thought I had while out with Tyson: Paris and Menelaus are both younger brothers, and each has grown up in the shadow of an older brother who outshines him. It seems to me that they've dealt with this in opposite ways; Paris good-humoredly does his own thing and doesn't care what's said about him, while Menelaus tries to please. Maybe that's just my reading, though. I've just been getting the impression that when Hector rags on Paris, Paris shrugs and says, "Yeah, you're right, I'm more of a ladies' man than a fighter, but give me a sec and I'll get my armor on and do my part in defending Troy." But when Menelaus hesitates to kill because he feels a shred of pity for his disarmed victim, Agamemnon comes up and rags on him (Menelaus)--and M. gets back to mercilessly killing, ASAP. It's like the softness was unacceptable just because Agamemnon said it was, and therefore must be stamped out. To me it seems that Paris has a grounded sense of self, while Menelaus is all about how people perceive him. OTOH, I'm no classics scholar, so who knows. I think maybe the idea might have been that Paris was a coward because men were supposed to be eager for battle glory and because reputation was everything. But I noticed that for all the comments about his hair and his luck with the ladies and his using a bow and arrow instead of a spear or sword, Paris did indeed get out there with his sword and cut a figure on the battlefield. And I noticed that he got somebody real good with an arrow (forget who), and whoever it was berated Paris for cowardice even as he (the wounded guy) turned tail and ran off the field. So I get a mental picture of this guy fleeing in his chariot, clutching his wounded thigh as he yells accusations of cowardice over his shoulder, and his yells are getting fainter and fainter as he gets farther and farther from danger, while Paris probably couldn't even hear him in the first place because he's still in the middle of the fighting.

I'm wondering if maybe the mocking comments about Paris were meant to make him an easy sort of Metrosexual-Foreigner-You-Love-To-Hate character for the Greek audience.
A few days ago I was uneasy about feeling that I had a grip on where I was going and what I was doing with the former GN. Now I feel better because I dug into the middle and am utterly confused again. I'm wandering around the pages, writing a little, losing track of what I'm doing, moving things around to try to pull them together, then losing track again and writing a little more. It's an utter mess.

I was planning to work on the sample today, but Tyson and I went for a long walk, and while we were out I realized that the middle of the former GN isn't just plot points, it also has some important jobs to do. One is to start setting the reader up to not freak out later when Helen leaves her baby. Another is to clarify different kinds of happiness (continuous low-level contentment vs. risk/uncertainty with spikes of great joy) and perhaps (?) to set up the compromises or losses that come with choosing one over the other. Another is to tie this happiness idea in with the sea, because the book opens with the sea and ends with the sea (excluding framework), and the sea needs to come in again here in the middle where important characters choose to leave on risky voyages.

So I'm massively at sea myself as of today, but I figure at some point it's bound to work itself out. I just have to keep hammering away at it for long enough--and also to set it aside sometimes, so the back of my mind gets a chance to do its own hammering.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

I know I need to finish up this w-f-h sample, so I spent some time today thinking about how to approach it via the bigger picture. I think before I try to pull the sample chapter into shape (I read over what I have, and don't like it) I'm going to make a general outline so I can see more exactly what scenes need to happen over the course of the story.

I don't know what to say or not say blogwise about this project. I'm only auditioning for it, and don't know what the publisher has in mind as far as how they want to present it after it's done. But, you know, it's writing, and the sample is what I'm working on, and I expect to learn from it whether I end up writing the whole thing or not. So I guess I'll just try to be discreetly vague, and then if I don't get hired I'll be done thinking about it anyway.

So I'm thinking that what I'd want to do if I wrote this book is to really focus on chapter hooks, and experiment to see how tight and quick I could get the pacing and readability, while also touching on a theme about people, especially girls, defining themselves by their friends and boyfriends. The object would be to strongly grounded in plot (by chapter and scene rather than by a vague idea of what needs to happen)*, but with a very simple theme and character arc. Nothing too complicated. I thought I could write this way (plot-first, hook-driven, outlined) in the swordfighting ms, but it just didn't work. With this ms, I'd like to try again. So that's what I want to keep in mind as I sort out a general outline, then try to shape up the sample chapter.

*I am fascinated by straightforward, unashamedly plot-driven books (ex. Alex Rider), and would like to be able to write one. So far, no go--it's been beyond my capabilities.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Today I settled in to work on son #2's laptop, only to find that with two people transferring files around, I ended up with an older version of my ms in front of me--one that didn't have the work I did yesterday. So I skipped to a different part and worked on that, then later got both versions (I think) back on my desktop, and now must sort everything out so that I have one version containing all the work I've done lately.

While working today, I was thinking maybe this ms is too obvious and simple, and therefore not enough to make a book. But I remember thinking the same thing about Repossessed, and maybe other books too, although I don't recall right now. And now that I think about it, it makes sense that I'm so used to being confused and overwhelmed by a ms--after all, I spend the vast majority of my first-draft time feeling that way--that when I'm suddenly not anymore, the story seems alarmingly straightforward.

It's very strange, though, knowing what needs to be done. It makes me uneasy. I guess if something's wrong, I'll figure it out eventually. Nothing to do but press forward.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I don't know if this ms is going to fly as a YA. It's certainly pushing the limits by page 40, and it feels like it's pushing past them by page 56. But I really don't feel I can back off. The whole point is to put this out there without any namby-pamby gloss to make it more palatable. The point is that it's not palatable.

So, well, what can you do? The ms has to be what it needs to be. Too bad for my career, and too bad for the book's chances of publication. This isn't about me, it's about the story. Sometimes I feel like an ace kamikaze pilot.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Today has been busy, but I worked a little on the former GN, digging very slightly into the missing middle. I have only a general idea of some of the plot points that must be covered, but that's all. Today I was trying to think, "What do I need, in order to decide how to approach this section?" I decided that I need to zero in on the MC's character arc/emotional realizations. If I can get that in mind, it ought to help me understand some of the specific scenes that would arise, and ways to shape them.

The problem, of course, is that the MC is a girl, and I have trouble with girl characters. I know this character arc, but I guess it's so internalized that I'm going to have to work hard to recognize it in a concrete, hands-on way, and then to verbalize it.

Good luck to me, because I'm going to need it.

I wonder if girl characters tend to be less developed than boy characters in YA--if they tend to be more broadly painted? Because it sure seems like they're not allowed to have the same failings as boy characters. If they're allowed fewer or more minor flaws, doesn't that mean they're necessarily less developed?

Examples: Are girl characters allowed to lose their tempers in the same ways and to the same degree as boy characters? Are they allowed to be as close-minded? As negative? As insensitive? As horny? As judgmental? As violent?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In the Dallas Morning News, Tom Maurstad asks Quentin Tarantino about suspense in the opening scene of his new movie (haven't seen it). The scene is almost 25 minutes long, Maurstad says. Tarantino uses the metaphor of a rubber band, and says in part:

"...the idea is as far as that rubber band can stretch is as far as I wanna go and the more suspenseful the scene is. So as opposed to most other scenes in the movie, where the most compact version, the version with as little air in it as possible, is usually the best way to go, in this instance, if I can pull it off and my dialogue can bear that weight, then the longer the scene is, the more suspenseful it is. So that opening scene is actually more suspenseful at 25 minutes than at eight--if I can pull it off."

Before that he says "When I think about suspense, the pattern I adopted was above and below. Above is what's happening and below is the suspense."

I think he's talking about the above being the actual plot, what the scene accomplishes to move the general story forward. And the below is the way he chooses to pace it. Hmm. I wasn't planning on seeing the movie, because it bugs me that all the Quentin Tarantino characters I've heard tend to talk alike--to me, they all sound like the same person, even if they're wildly different. The actors bring different things to the parts, but the underlying dialogue always has the same rhythms, language, and style. I always feel like I could be watching a Quentin Tarantino monologue--just take everybody out and let him play all the parts, it'd be the same thing. However, this scene sounds interesting. Maurstad says:

"Lasting almost 25 minutes, what starts as a casual conversation between a Nazi colonel and a humble French farmer builds into a full-on interrogation."

I dunno. I guess I'll see if son #1 has seen it yet (probably; he sees everything the night it opens) and if he hasn't, maybe he'll go with me. Otherwise, I don't like the idea of spending ten bucks only to find that this scene is a rehash of other QT scenes where two people are talking like QT and somewhere in the middle it gets menacing and then somebody gets hurt. When dialogue is used to stretch the scene, if I'm not buying the dialogue, the suspense doesn't take. Maybe I'll see what other people say about it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Today, started a new writing schedule--not sure how it'll work itself out yet, except that on Mondays I'll be in the library at the local junior college working on son #2's laptop. That means no internet and nothing to do for four hours but sit there at a study carrel and write. I didn't realize how long four hours is when you don't stop to check e-mail or go get a Diet Pepsi. And I'm not sure how it'll go when my WIP starts causing trouble and refusing to cooperate for that long a stretch. But boy, I got quite a bit done today. Of course, then I spent much cranky time trying to figure out stupid PC crap--okay, let me reword that: I spent much cranky time trying to work out the problems caused by transitioning from Mac to PC and back again. But once I get that down, I think it might go well.

I am writing closer and closer to the big blank spot in the middle. I expect to avoid it until avoidance is no longer physically possible--I'll skip it and write everything after it if I need to--unless inspiration strikes and I feel compelled to dabble with it.

The reason it's blank is that there's a lot of stuff happening, and it's mostly a combination of plot needs with severe emotional digging, blech. Like the mom has to die, and the sister has to leave and the brothers leave. I don't know how to organize all that so that it's not an avalanche of maudlin scenes that are so rushed as to be unbelievable. But really, I just need to get rid of everyone so I can move on with the parts that I'm more interested in right now.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Yesterday was productive. Spent a few hours on one section, then spent a few hours cutting and consolidating pieces not yet completely converted out of GN form. The ms length dropped by over 20 pages, which feels good because maybe now I've got room to add some of the scenes I need. Right now the ms is at 158 pages (but only 25,000 words; remember, the format is experimental), including many pages of leftovers at the end, where I always stick things I cut but am not sure I'm really going to do away with. Sometimes you have to see how something reads before you decide what to do. That's why I always end up with pages and pages of floaty bits of scenes tagging along at the end of an ms. So far I haven't ever forgotten to get rid of them before I send to an editor, but I'm sure the time will come when I accidentally leave them there.

Today I met a writer friend to talk, and was going to print out some of this ms to show what I've been doing. I printed out about 10-15 pages, then decided I wasn't going to take it because it's the same general thing WF has seen many, many times before. Then I thought, no, maybe I can get a fresh eye on the framework issue, because I still don't know about that.

Then as I was printing out more, I remembered that yes, I do need some kind of framework to warn the reader that this is not for middle grade readers. It's not appropriate for middle school, if you ask me. So I've got to have something up front as a hint, because the tone changes so drastically--the story begins with a ten (or eleven) year old in a home-sweet-home situation, then later sex starts creeping in, and violence will pretty soon after that. So yes, framework is necessary on that count alone.

Also had the thought that maybe the framework needs to stay uncomplicated--more of a mood piece without much action, without story, maybe without characters except the MC--so as not to compete with and distract from the story proper.

WF had me verbalize the purposes of a framework, and we discussed those, and we discussed the main problem of having a frame, which is losing the reader by jumping around in voice, viewpoint, time, and place. We talked about ways to minimize the shock of switching gears, ways to help the reader move smoothly from one section to the next. It's possible, we decided, that the framework might be able to consist of one scene up front, and one scene at the end.

WF reminded me: keep it as simple as possible. I ought to have that stitched on a sampler and hung over the computer.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I looked at the parts I was worried about, and my initial impression is that yes, I was being unhelpfully neurotic, and that they're okay for now.

Now I hate to do it, but I'm going to cut some pages that I like, because I need to get to the point and keep the story moving. Sometimes you read over a ms and there's a point where it seems to loosen up suddenly. It's like the storyline took a Valium and you can put your finger on the place where it kicks in.

Was thinking last night that some problems to keep in mind are the huge differences between the first part of the ms, the second part, and the third part. I was going to say the difference is in tone, but I think it's more than that. The voice, the rhythm, the style, and the themes seem different, too. Somehow I'll have to think how to pull them all together. One thing is make sure the theme of the first part continues all through the book. I need to focus on the choices the MC has and doesn't have. I need to not let the story turn into a list of things that happen to her that she can't do anything about.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Need to work out how to move from general narration to specific scenes. It's weird in this WIP, because each page is an entity to itself, so the flow is completely different from a normal book. There aren't many (if any) transitions; the general narration, which is mostly telling about the culture, the relationships, and the world of the book, leads straight into specific scenes. So over and over I have something like "They do things a certain way because blah blah blah. And so one night the MC is doing things that certain way, when....". It feels wrong, it feels splotchy and disconnected.

I dunno. Maybe I'm just being neurotic about it. Well, I know I'm being neurotic about it, but maybe this time it's in a non-constructive way.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

No writing today. However, I did get some work done last night. Mainly I moved pieces around on the former GN, trying to sort them out so they make sense in a bigger picture and build a story. This is work as usual for me, it's how I've written novels from day one--I get chunks of story, but then have to figure out how to line them up thematically and plot-wise. I don't know why this is more comfortable for me--and less mind-numbingly boring--than just sitting down and writing a story straight through.

Anyway, I think perhaps it's best to try and think about all this without fretting over the framework needed to hold it together (framework in this case meaning out-of-pov pieces that provide foreboding and context). It occurred to me last night that I don't have to have framework between every section. What I could do is have long "chapters" composed of related sections, and just have framework between the "chapters." But I may need to get the story into place and get a grip on the bigger picture before I can see how the framework needs to function, exactly--how often it needs to be there, for one thing.

Monday, August 17, 2009

No writing. Medium-sized crises that hopefully don't escalate to major ones. I'd like to try to write tonight, but we'll see.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Yesterday, after half a day of "have-to" type stuff, I pulled up the former GN and got more of it into shape. Then today I was able to work on it nearly all day, cutting around 50 pages and one character. I'm going to bring another character back, one I'd decided to cut earlier and who's already mostly gone from the ms.*

Now it all makes sense, mostly. I see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel--not that the ms is anywhere near being finished, but there's a possibility that this time, finally, I may be getting it right. Fingers crossed--and if this particular train of thought doesn't work out, well, what else is new?

*Thinking about it, the character I'd tried to keep but ended up cutting today was there for plot. There are only one or things about his sections that I enjoyed, and I can use them elsewhere for other people. As of today, he's entirely lopped out.

But I never quite managed to entirely get rid of the character I tried to cut before. Her personality and the things she said were just too good, and too fun. I wanted to cut her because she didn't do anything for story. But now I see that she can take over some of the duties of the newly cut character as well as getting a bunch of other tasks done--all arising naturally from her personality and situation. There's nothing about her that's a chore to get in, while most of the other character's scenes tended to turn ponderous and the story couldn't hold my interest while I was writing them.

With all the cutting today, I may bring the baby back, too. There may be room for it now. We'll see.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

No writing. Swimming upstream through real life stuff.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Yesterday I worked on the w-f-h sample and had great fun with it. Then I switched to the former GN and had a good time with that, too.

Then today I pulled up the w-f-h sample and tried to continue, but what was fun yesterday seemed silly today. I think it'll be okay, though--I probably just need to be in the proper frame of mind to work on it. Maybe a day off, a day on.

The former GN--I dunno. I worked on that all today. I think I need to wrap my mind around the whole ms as a unit so I can knit all the parts together and keep them heading toward one goal. And I'm thinking the theme is what I need, in order to do the knitting.

I have a lot of things on my mind while writing this, and they shift around. But some of them are: choices, risk, cost, fate. For example, when is it worth the risk to make a try for happiness? I think the answer may seem different depending on whether you're looking ahead to make the choice, or looking back after you know what the fallout was.

Is it worth it to take action in pursuit of freedom, if your own life is at stake? What about other people's lives? What if their lives are only risked by the choices they make as a result of your action?

Who is the better person, the one who accepts an unpleasant destiny and makes no fuss? The one who maintains hope that destiny can be changed? The one who fights fate, even knowing fully that failure lies in the end?

All of the above is way too much for me to hold in my head. I'd need to work it down to one strong idea, to be able to use it as a tool to knit my book together. And I don't know yet if this general train of thought is the proper thematic glue, or if it's just the usual dips and dabs of stuff I like to think about and explore in writing a book.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Still too much other stuff going on. However, last night I figured out an approach to the w-f-h sample, so did a little of that. I don't know if it's what they'll want, but it's something I can live with and expand on without feeling like I'm pulling teeth for 60,000 words. I hope it is, anyway.

On the my-own-stuff front, I'm likely to switch back over to the former GN and work on that for a while. If I get the w-f-h job, I ought to be able to work on both, because they explore similar themes (or at least themes that are in the same ballpark), and because the former GN is more cut up and doesn't have to flow like the regular prose swordfighting ms does. (Since it's all cut up, I won't have to maintain focus for weeks and months, but can work in spurts here and there.)

I retitled the former GN (again) and decided the latest framework I provided for the story is all wrong, so I cut that and took out some of the formatting, too. Now I'm thinking about trying a framework based on that scene from the Iliad that just kills me, the one where Helen is on the battlements of Troy with Priam and they're looking out over the Greek armies.

I know I've got to do something; I can't just dive into the story because it's boring. There's no problem. The problem only comes up slowly, so for pages and pages the story is just la-di-dah description and blah-blah-blah. I feel a framework is needed to provide a problem, but I didn't like the way the latest framework was all over the map, with each piece showing a different person and different place and a different thing happening. Rather than holding the story together and drawing the reader in, it felt like it just added unrelated fragments to the mix. I don't know that looking over the armies is much better, but we'll see.

When I was thinking about it this morning I realized that the new framework is in first person in my head, while the main story already on paper is in third. But I think I'll just go with the flow for now. It might end up working just fine--and if not, I'll worry about it later.

(note to self--remember to use MC's name up front so the reader knows it's the same person as in the story proper, even if pov/voice/tense is different.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

No writing. Too much other stuff going on.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Did try to write yesterday, but didn't get much done. Too much real life stuff piling up and causing stress, making it very difficult to concentrate. I'm not sure whether to try to push through a little bit of my WIP each day anyway, or just forget that for now and put any focus I can muster into the w-f-h sample. Probably the latter would be a better bet, because I'm going to have to muscle through parts of it anyway, and it has financial potential.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

No writing yesterday. I was a bum--busy with other stuff and confused over switching from WIP to w-f-h sample, but still a bum. I shoulda written something.

I'm not going to start the w-f-h sample yet. I've got to get a handle on it first. I'm going to call a writer friend and see if we can meet so I can try to talk it out.

Today Tyson and I sorted out a few things (him sniffing, me thinking, us both walking). I was a little stuck on the WIP, but now I've got something to work toward today. My last scene was people discussing and learning stuff and deciding to do things (bor-ing). That scene's not quite finished because I'm bored with it and don't know or care how to wrap it up (this may also be one reason I was a bum yesterday). Now I've got to finish that scene, end it on a question, and dive into another almost exactly like it, because more things have to be discussed and decided. Then I can hook up with a nice chain of scenes that I already have down on paper because they were more interesting to me.

Today it occurred to me that I'd better get the reader to like the dad before I kill him, otherwise they won't feel loss and despair. I thought, why don't I try to make them like him in the discussing scene? So although that scene would be doing plot stuff, to me it would really be about showing something characterwise.

[Side note: Then I thought, if I can always do this--take a plotting scene and do something characterwise--it could be the key to writing plot-driven stories for me. However, I quickly remembered I'd been trying to use this approach in the first four or five chapters. The problem was that there were a ton of characterwise things any one scene could be "about." This time the "about" is selecting itself. So maybe this approach is not so clearcut when you've got a large array of characterwise things to choose from.]

So I was thinking about how to quickly drive the point of a lovable dad while the characters are talking about plot stuff, and I couldn't come up with anything. But then I remembered I'd been wanting to write a scene with the MC thinking in bed at night (dunno why, I just want some kind of peaceful quiet scene that lets me sink into the room and the feeling of snugness a little). That was more fun to think about. Then I realized the secondary MC would have nightmares, and I knew I wanted to write a brief bit showing that. Then I thought, hey, since the main MC will be awake and up out of bed, maybe the dad can talk to him a little and be lovable? I couldn't think of anything to make him quickly lovable, but I did realize that he can say some of the stuff I'm trying to work onto the end of the discussing/deciding scene I'm bored with, so that scene can cut off quicker, thank g*d.

It's so much easier for me to work this way than struggling with things that I'm not interested in. It's easier to want to write something then think how I can use it to meet the needs of the story, than to see the needs of the story and try to meet them. On this nighttime scene, I can tell what the emotional point is without even thinking about it. Safety, snugness, loving family, protection, calm before the storm. I also know that it sets the reader up to understand the motivation behind things that happen later. However, I didn't think of the motivation connection till I'd already given myself permission to write the scene.

Now that I think about it, this nighttime scene, when added to the rest of the dad scenes, may be enough to make the reader really feel for all the characters when he's gone. Or not. We'll see.

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