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.
Friday, July 31, 2009
Today there was a bunch of stuff to do, and I got most of it done, then settled in to write by re-googling the Earl of Leicester and associated people like Essex and Lettice Knollys and Amy Robsart because it was suddenly imperative that I refresh my memory about them before I tried to write today, even though none of them have anything to do with my WIP. But then when I finished refreshing, a potential w-f-h project suddenly came in, so now I'm like, should I work on the WIP or get started thinking about this audition?
This business is insane. My widdle mind can't absorb all the facets of it. I was thinking the other day about how some of the up-and-coming agents are so clearly sales/management types, not book types. And agencies are melding with packagers, and publishers are becoming their own packagers behind closed doors. I've seen agents selling packaged books actually written by said agents using pseudonyms. And writers--man, I don't even know.
Where is the writing in all this? I'm thinking that you have to find it inside yourself and then find a way to hang onto it. The crazy part these days is that you've got to somehow locate it in a maelstrom of Other Stuff.
And in a rare fit of circumspection, that is all I'm going to say about that.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
I think in a movie you'd have an establishing long shot (to say Now They Are In This Place With These People), then go into scene and stay there. In writing, that means narration then scene--but it feels weird when I try it, like all the urgency drains out during the setup. However, if I start in scene, inserting bits of setup amidst the urgent dialog feels draggy and intrusive. Not sure what to do. Keep piddling around with it, I guess.
Monday, July 27, 2009
I was thinking about the movie The Other Boleyn Girl. I haven't read the book and don't want to, because I hated the movie. The main reason I hated it was that--well, there were two main reasons I hated it, and they were related. One was that the movie went far out of its way to present Mary Boleyn as the sweet, docile, modest (blonde) heroine to Anne's greedy, bossy, strident, power-hungry (brunette) bitch. This bugged me historically, because Mary has always been seen as somewhat of a slutty ho. If, in reality, she wasn't, I still don't know where they got the characterization they gave her in that movie. It looked to me like they made it up as a lesson.
Because the other main reason I hated it was that the movie played like a morality tale against women stepping outside their modest obedient background roles in life, and trying to make power grabs like the men did. To me, the movie even seemed to imply that you deserved to be raped if you were a woman who wasn't meek. If you were a nice quiet girl, your lovers would be gentle with you. I don't even want to get into how much that movie p*ssed me off.
No, the question is--this is what I've been thinking about--why does the movie come off this way (to me, at least)? Why does it not come off as a kind of horror story where we see how awful it was to be female back then? All the pieces are there to make the viewer cringe with sympathy for both women, rather than leaving with the lesson that the good girl got everything she wanted, while the bad girl got her head chopped off. What is missing that would have made this about women being controlled and suppressed, rather than about girls getting their just deserts from guys?
Was it simply that the control and suppression had to be remarked on at some point?
Hmm, I'm thinking of that scene in Titanic where Rose's mother is tightening her corset and says something about how women's choices suck, so get used to it. Could something that small have changed the subtext? No. There are other scenes in Titanic that add to that one to make the point, like the little girl being made to sit up and hold her napkin nicely on her lap, and Rose's fiance ordering her meal for her and throwing her cigarette away. And maybe Molly Brown's character was meant to point out to the reader that the status quo isn't what you're supposed to believe.
So maybe that's the deal. You have to have something to show that the movie's status quo isn't right, or isn't normal, or is harmful, or...something.
Or...maybe if you have a scene where the choices are laid out for the characters, and their reasoning, and goals. Like if Anne and Mary had each said what they wanted and what they were willing to do to get it--no, that wouldn't work. That would just play up the differences between them. It wouldn't set the world around them in a questionable light. In fact, I think the movie might have actually had a scene like that.
And now I'm thinking Kristen Scott Thomas might have had a scene that added context, but the scene was so early on and so short that I can't remember if she did or not. All I remember is that her character had depth but was only around for about two seconds.
Maybe the problem is that the movie had no sense of theme. At least, I hope the good/bad girl theme wasn't a deliberate one. Maybe this was a story that had characterization and plot, but without theme, those two aspects ended up imposing a theme that the filmmakers didn't intend.
Well, I dunno. I wish I could come to some stronger conclusions about it, because I think that'd help my former GN.
Friday, July 24, 2009
It feels like things may be starting to simmer underneath that could possibly rise to the top and drive the story to move on its own. If they are indeed there, I've got to handle the scenes almost tentatively to be able to tease them out. I can't just dig around and tug them out and plop them down like a slab of meat I'm going to cut into manageable pieces. That would kill them, at this point.
Again, I find myself confused by the difference between plot-driven and character-driven. Maybe part of the problem is that sometimes when you look at a story and decide which is which, the story's already been written and is a finished book, while I'm looking at a work-barely-in-progress*. And I see that here in this chapter, one character's personality sets up X to happen, and things will ensue from that. That ought to count as character-driven--but it sure doesn't feel like it. It feels like sheer plot. Events hang on it. That makes it plot, right?
But almost as a side note, other personality traits from other characters are surfacing. These character traits feel like they could provide the meat that dictates the arc of the whole book and what specifically needs to happen at the end, to tie the book up the way I know it wants to be tied. That feels character-driven, to me. I'm not sure what the difference is. One's from the head. The other seems already there, and my job is to discover and develop it. I dunno.
So anyway, that's why I don't know where to start today. Maybe I'll begin by de-grossifying the dead body in chapter 5. It must be done, after all. Then I'll see what's what.
*using the term "progress" very loosely.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
All this stuff can't be here. Some of it has to go. The scenes have to be tight and move quickly.
One thing I noticed about the latest Harry Potter movie was that they really whipped through some of the plot points in order to get them all in. If you missed one line of dialog--sometimes even just a couple of words--that was it. You wouldn't know why the characters did such-and-such or why thus-and-so ensued. They gave you exactly one chance to catch on and keep up.
That's what a chapter needs to be like, IMO. In a book, you can stop and reread a line if you think you missed something.
Okay, back to work. Sigh.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
The interesting thing to me is that in Eight Cousins, Rose complains about the mother in "Purple Jar"'s methods of moral instruction. So I finally read the story for myself, and the mom is clearly all about teaching her daughter a lesson, and to me it seems very much along the lines of an Alcott-type lesson. The little girl wants to buy a purple jar she sees in an apothecary window. Her shoes are falling apart, though, and mom and daughter are on their way to a cobblers to get her some new ones. The mom, rather than telling the kid to quit nagging because they're not buying anything except what they came for, tells her daughter she can choose: the purple jar, or new shoes. If the little girl chooses the purple jar, there will be no new shoes till next month. Well, the kid wants the jar. Mom warns the little girl that she ought to at least look at the purple jar first, to make sure it's a good choice. The kid says no, I know I want that jar. So they buy it and have it wrapped up and sent to their house.
It turns out the jar is really clear glass, and what makes it purple is this stinky apothecary goo inside, that must be poured out. The little girl's shoes fall to shreds and her dad won't let her go cool places with him because her shoes are ugly and poor-looking. The lesson is...well, I'm not sure if it's look carefully before you buy, or buy necessities before purple jars. Anyway, the point is that the whole story was about the mom letting her child learn this lesson for herself in a very Alcott-ish way (to be more specific, a very Bronson Alcott-ish way, from what I can see).
So, in Eight Cousins, Rose says she doesn't like that mom. Immediately I thought of two things, both from Little Men, both with an Alcott-ish tinge to them. One was where the professor punishes a boy for lying. the professor punishes the boy by handing the kid a ruler and telling him to hit the professor with it, because the professor has failed at teaching the kid not to be a liar. Basically, he says, "You punish me as you see fit." Luckily, the kid is not the type to take advantage. He does the minimum only when forced, then bursts into tears. (Can you see doing this in schools today? Good g*d.)
The other thing was the story the professor tells the liar before he "punishes" him. He recounts a fond, loving memory of the time his grandmother caught him lying (when he was a boy), and cut off the tip of his tongue with scissors. This made him speak very slowly till his tongue healed, thus allowing him time to consider his words carefully, as well as the truth behind them. The professor is profoundly grateful to his sainted grandmother for doing this.
So the lady that wrote all this is also the one whose character doesn't care for the way the mom in "Purple Jar" teaches kids lessons.
What boggles my mind about all this is the idea of trying to write a truly historical novel for kids or for YA, as far as characterization and attitudes. Nobody would believe it. And what do you think would happen if your ms had positive-role-model parent-figure characters who acted in any of the above ways?
*You can read this online, too, but I'm tired of messing with links. Just google to find it, if you're interested.
I skimmed this story, and another one called "Lazy Laurence" (lazy boy ends up stealing and is sent to reform school, while industrious boy gets everything he ever wanted and more), and thought I had the whole book pegged. But then I read "Waste Not, Want Not," and "The Barring-Out." Both are also moral tales, but the difference is that the bad guy MCs aren't as evil as they were in the Susan and Lazy stories. It's almost as if Maria Edgeworth had a secret sympathy for these bad boys. For example, in WNWN, which is about not wasting things and being economical, the bad guy MC is a kid who is too impatient to untie the string around a package and cuts it instead, thus making it unusable. His morally upright cousin takes the time to untie his own package-string, and saves it for later. Other stuff happens--it was sort of like watching an anime series for the first time, because something happens out of left field and you're like, WTF?--for example, there's a one-eyed boy whose mother has limbs missing but somehow makes bouncey balls out of worsted and meanwhile the impatient kid gets in an archery contest, blah blah blah. But all the time, I was totally in sympathy with the impatient kid. Edgeworth seemed to like him, too, because she made a point of showing over and over again that he wasn't bad or really all that selfish. He kept wanting to help people, but after he'd already spent his money on himself. But the stuff he wanted to buy made utter sense to me. Like he was pining for a green-and-white uniform for the archery contest, so he chose not to spend money on an overcoat, but to get the uniform instead, and hope he could get his mom to send him some more money later for a coat. And he saw some kind of sweet buns that looked good, so he got a bunch and ate them till he was nearly sick, and was going to throw the rest away, but his annoyingly frugal cousin put them in his pocket.
I guess he sounds selfish and bad, but I liked the kid. He was so proud, marching in a parade with the other archers in their green-and-white uniforms, but then various things happened because he hadn't saved his package-string earlier, and he ended up falling in the mud and ruining the uniform. Did he let this ruin his day, as well? Hell no! He brushed the mud off as best he could and was still excited and happy about getting to shoot in the contest. You know his poncey cousin would have skulked off in shame about having a dirty uniform. Except that kid was so perfect he would never have fallen in the mud in the first place.
I thought maybe my liking for the bad kid was just me not caring for the author's message, but then the same thing happened in "The Barring-Out." There was a morally upright hero MC, and then a "bad" MC who the story was really about, and he turned out to be likable and to have some depth to him. In both these stories the out-and-out-villain was a minor character; in the waste-not story, it was a family of stupid rich people, and in the barring-out story it was, I kid you not, a "dunce":
"...there was a great tall dunce of the name of Fisher, who never could be taught how to look out a word in the dictionary. He used to torment everybody with--'Do pray help me! I can't make out this one word.'"
His duncery wasn't what made him bad, though. That was just a clue to the reader that he was rotten to the core. Heh.
I saw that Maria Edgeworth's father edited some of her stories/books--not sure which ones. Why is there such a difference among these stories as far as depth of character? In the first two I read, the MC is the heroic moral good guy--but in the next two I read, the MC turns out to be a human being, with the moral hero sort of falling to the wayside in terms of storyline, and certainly in terms of reader interest.
Hey! I know what it feels like! It feels like Jane Austen and Henry Crawford from Mansfield Park! It feels like Maria Edgeworth liked these bad boys and they took off from her pen and came to life on their own--just like Henry Crawford. Jane Austen manhandled Henry Crawford into submission (she had to do it off-camera, because he surely would not have cooperated in person), but Maria Edgeworth was lucky enough to be writing short stories, so she could just cut the story off with a lesson learned.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
This morning I caught the last half* of Sword of Doom, and now must find a way to see the rest of it. Because I started it so late, I couldn't figure out who the MC was for a long time, but eventually saw that he was the bad guy, a cold, heartless killer. It was fascinating. His eyes were cold and dead, but there was this scene where he watched Toshiro Mifune foil the bad guy group's attempted ambush/assassination (of Toshiro Mifune), and you could see awe and self-doubt creeping in, just from the look on his (the bad guy MC's) face. But he didn't change, not for a second. His character remained consistent all the way to the very abrupt end of the movie. It looks fascinating--I'm still thinking about it, and I only saw half.
Plus, there's this great sword fight at the end, and I was watching it, and after a while I started thinking, Wow, is this all one take? I think it might have been, and if not it sure was a long one anyway. You could see the MC melting down both mentally and physically as it wore on and on. He was like an animal that's going to keep fighting with every last bit of energy it has, until the moment its heart stops beating. I need to see it again.
*Why, oh why, IFC, must you start Samurai Saturdays at 7:00 a.m.?
Friday, July 17, 2009
Also today--played Mario Party with the household punks, and won even though I got soundly beat in all but two mini-games. This was because we ended up playing on Bowser's level (level isn't the right word; I forget what you call it) where you can steal stars from other players. Knowing that I suck at mini-games, I set myself to stealing other people's hard-earned stars, fully expecting that everyone else's superior game play would enable them to overtake me. It didn't. I'm not sure what the lesson here is, but I don't think I like it.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Unfortunately it's also time to hit the job-hunting trail. Past time, actually. Got one application in tonight. Blech. I don't know if I'll be able to keep writing this time around. I'm pretty sure I won't. This last round of trying to work and write at the same time really took it out of me.
That reminds me, I didn't mention that I'd decided to go ahead and stick in business-related posts anytime I feel like it. I realized that, in trying to avoid the topic, I'm aiding and abetting the implication that the only true, pure writers are those who hold themselves above the quest for filthy lucre. *&^%#! on that.
Monday, July 13, 2009
In fact, for the rest of today I might just scribble some notes to see if I can find something I'd enjoy working on tomorrow. I see a little part that might fit the bill, maybe. Must think about it.
It's weird, because in the part I was supposedly working on today, I couldn't even figure out where to start the scene or where it was happening or what needed to be real-time and what needed to be quick narrative overview. But I can look at this little wee bit that seems like it could be fun, and just glancing at it, I already know where it starts, where the characters are, how they're feeling, how they're going to treat each other, and how it ties into the scene that will come after.
Here's what I hope. I hope I've got enough writing chops to be able to pull together a scene that doesn't interest me but that needs to be there for story. I hope I have enough craft under my belt to be able to make it readable, clear, and interesting so that nobody can tell it was like pulling teeth for me to write it.
Tomorrow maybe I should think about why today's scene/chapter seemed so effing dull that I couldn't settle into it, and why this other wee bit might not be--what's different about them, and is there any way to make boring parts less boring for me? Because from where I sit right now it looks like they both have dialog with people exchanging information and coming to decisions.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
But then I thought, wait a minute, maybe I can do more with the second scene than just cannibalize it. The scenes are similar--is there something that can be shown by contrasting the way the character responds in the first scene with the way he does in the second? Is there something I can get across by doing this? Something about the character arc?
I don't know if there is or not. That's what I'm trying to think. What does the character learn in the book? Self-control, for one thing. Distrust. Thought before action. So, is there anything he is unable to do in the first scene, that he can do in the second? Or vice versa?
I do see one path I could take. I have some stuff from earlier versions, about the character's regrets during the first scene. It would fit right in if I keep that and develop it, then during the second scene show him having learned from those regrets. The only problem is that I've led the reader away from this aspect of the character recently.
What I have to do, I think, is make sure I have a grip on what makes this character respond to crisis with action, and what makes him totally lose it. That's going to be tough to get across--that the character is both cool-headed and a loose cannon. I need to understand it better or the characterization will come off as inconsistent.
I know that he's a good guy to have around in a crisis if the situation calls for immediate, gut-level response. Like pushing a stranger out of the way of a speeding car. But if the situation is more complex--especially if there is no clear, quick action to take--he can become a problem. And--I think this is what's hanging me up--his ability to respond goes out the window when his own tragedy hits. You'd think that anybody who has the presence of mind to leap in front of a speeding car and push someone out of its path would keep that presence of mind 24/7, no matter what. At least, the reader is probably going to assume so.
This is very, very tricky.
*I don't know the answer to this anymore because I no longer know what the exact path to the ending is.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
So. I guess tomorrow the thing to do is continue to look at the tough part, although I'm not even sure what scenes need to be in it, or what all they need to do. I have a vague idea, but that's it.
What's tough about them? I guess that they're the kinds of scenes you'd prefer to write around if you could--too raw, too close to the emotional bone for this character and, therefore, for me. Of course, this means a very real risk of overwritten melodrama. On top of that, the rest of the story rides on these scenes because they provide the motivation for everything that follows--every despicable, unlikeable act the MC does. I have to somehow get the reader on board, or if not on board, at least sympathetically wishing they could warn the poor guy not to do what he's going to do. And if I can't do allllll that, the whole story falls.
Somebody remind me, please--why didn't I just get a job flipping burgers? Oh yeah, that's right--the smell of grease. We'll see how much longer that seems like a minus.
Also--this is nothing to do with foreign rights--I thought this guest post in Nathan Bransford's blog was interesting:
nathan bransford-guest blog-book sales demystified
1. No, Nathan Bransford is not my agent.
2. No, I've never met him.
3. Never met Eric the sales assistant, either, as far as I know.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
Wednesday, July 8, 2009
Do I find myself skimming as I read because it's not grabby enough--or because I've read it three million times already?
Is it too fairy-tale-ish in tone?
Does it get too glib in Chapter 3? (I already know the answer to this one: Yes.)
It flows okay.
Most of the backstory could possibly be in the right place for now.
Most of the description isn't tripping me up.
Things to think about:
That girl character needs to be a human being, not a piece of cardboard.
Maybe look at fairy-tale-overtone words (princess, palace) and consider whether any other terms will do.
Hmm. I think developing the girl character (even though she's a hundred yards away and doesn't say anything) will also do away with of much of the glibness, and maybe even some of the fairy-tale overtones. Not sure what to do exactly, though. Must think.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
It's Harlan Ellison's "Pay the Writer" rant. I adore it.
Two not-very related thoughts:
1. When one of my sons was in language therapy at a certain place, there was a sliding scale for fees. One of the administrators told me that even though the institute had enough donations for the year to cover the entire cost of services for families at the neediest end of the scale, they still charged those families a token five dollars per session. I think the full cost at that time was something like $75 a half hour, and many parents were paying that amount.
Why did the office charge poor families? This place was fully booked and appointments were hard to come by, and there was a long waiting list of kids waiting to get help. But the office had found that parents who didn't have to pay tended to blow off appointments. They wouldn't call to cancel or postpone--they just didn't show up. The valuable time slots went unused, and the therapists sat around twiddling their thumbs till the next patient came as scheduled.
However, if the office charged five dollars for the visit, the problem virtually ceased to exist. Parents made a concerted effort to bring their kids in for the scheduled sessions. If they couldn't make it, they called ahead of time to let the therapist know. There was no charge for missed appointments, so that wasn't a variable. The parents simply valued the therapy more because they had to pay for it.
Here's what I think. I think that publishers also tend to place more value on what they pay for. I think that perceived value is directly proportional to the respect, courtesy, and professionalism with which writers are treated.
2. Once I got hired for a w-f-h project, along with a handful of other writers. The company decided that the best way to set a price per passage was to have us all submit a price, then average them. So guess what: somebody lowballed. I don't know who it was, or if it was more than one writer. All I know is that on a conference call, one of the other writers was saying that this job sure sounded like fun, and since s/he didn't really need the money, there was no pressure to interfere with the joy of writing for kids.
Here's what I think. When writers who have the luxury of getting altruistic and theoretical about pay actually get altruistic and theoretical about pay, some other writer who can't afford that luxury is likely to get screwed.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Yeah, now that I think about it, my dead body chapter isn't anything like that.
I wonder if I still have my copy of The Wreckers or if I lent it to somebody. If I do have it, I'd better not reread it, because it might mess with my voice, which I'm only now starting to get comfortable with.
I've been tempted lately to reread Johnny Tremain, though. I don't think that would mess with anything. I know Johnny Tremain is downstairs. But I'm still slowly working my way through Jane Austen's Letters, The Climax of Rome, and Alexander the Great. I really shouldn't start another book. It takes months and months to finish anything, and the book lies around with the others, cluttering things up.
Okay, I think I've calmed myself down. So. Yesterday I put chapters 4 and 5 back together, and it wasn't as horrible and pointless a session as I was dreading. I don't remember what I did, exactly, but I remember that I felt okay when I was finished.
I also realized (again) that sometimes it's best to get something right before jumping ahead (or moving on), because it's easy for me to pick up a little scenelet and get it all nicely worked out--then realize that the scenelet would never have happened in the first place. Without the stuff ahead of it being right, I pick up an idea that sounds reasonable and seemingly ought to come next--but it isn't reasonable and wouldn't come next.
OTOH, if I always go in order and everything has to be exactly right before I move on, I might as well sit in front of the computer and hit myself repeatedly in the head with a shovel instead, because I'll be EFFING MISERABLE either way, and at least the shovel will give my arms a good workout.
*Except Pepys**--but he's getting pretty bad, too, because his behavior re. women is getting worse and worse as he gets more money and climbs the social ladder.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
But what else is there to do? It doesn't get written if I won't pull it up and work on it. Gawd. Now I know why all those writers drank.
Saturday, July 4, 2009
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Not thinking about the ending AT ALL. For the ending and every other horrible pressing matter that shall go unmentioned, I am a cross between an ostrich with my head in the ground, and Scarlett O'Hara refusing to think about anything right now. I am willing reality to disappear so I can work on this book.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
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