Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve?

I just realized a few hours ago that today is New Year’s Eve. Crazy, right? Clearly I’m not much of a New Year’s person. And no, this is not just because I tend to write down the wrong year for months after it changes. 

First, New Year’s comes on the heels of the awesomeness that is ThanksgivingChristmas, and it just doesn’t measure up. In terms of food, I’d argue that Thanksgiving is the perfect holiday. Turkey, mashed potatoes, corn, pumpkin pie…all my favorites. I’m not a big Christmas ham fan, but all of the cookies and the presents more than make up for it. And then what does New Year’s Day usually bring? Pork and sauerkraut. Uggg. I didn’t like pork until this year, and slimy, smelly, stringy sauerkraut is possibly the most disgusting food known to man. At least in my region, sauerkraut is believed to bring good luck for the coming year, so my mother always INSISTED that I eat some. It got to the point where she would take a single strand and bury it in my mashed potatoes. She thought she was clever, but my Princess and the Pea pallet would always ferret it out and I would gag and emote dramatically until someone gave me more mashed potatoes. 

New Years was also always an unwanted reminder that I’d soon return to school. Now it means that I’ll soon be returning to school AND I really need to finish my planning rightnowlikeyesterday, which is even worse.

I don't think I need to discuss the uselessness of New Year's Resolutions, right?

The Eve was never a big deal to me either, maybe because I’m not much of a binge drinker. Or a champagne drinker, for that matter. I’ve never done any huge New Year’s events, I’ve never seen the big ball/rose/bologna* dropped in person, and I’ve only attended a handful of parties. The HUGE New Years Eve that ushered in the new millennium? I skipped both the parties and the Y2K fever to babysit an infant for free food and $100, which was BANK at the time. (Heck, I would totally still take that deal now. Good thing Y2K didn’t actually happen then though.) 

Last year my husband and I actually had a New Years Eve party, and by party I mean that we happened to have a friend staying with us for a few days so the three of us had drinks and cheese and played a game or two while we listened to the excited drunk people cavorting downtown. Definitely the most action packed New Years I’ve had since high school.  

I'm getting a little ashamed of my lameness as I write this entry, but this New Year’s Eve will not be anything exciting either, and I’m okay with that. We’ll enjoy some chips and guacamole and a movie and refuse to believe that the year is already over. I’ll be utterly content. 

But whether you’re a New Year’s fanatic or more like me, I still wish you a very wonderful New Year’s Eve full of promise for 2011.   

*True story. They drop a real 100lb bologna  in Lebanon, PA, not far from my hometown. It's the only drop I've ever really wanted to attend. Another Fun Fact: According to Wikipedia, Pennsylvania drops more New Year’s objects than any other state.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Back to Work

I took a writing break during our Christmas travels, and now I’m back and feeling rejuvenated. That energy + avoiding lesson planning and cleaning the house = 3000 fresh words today plus a ton of editing. Woot! 

After the writing and editing, I started in on the copying and pasting required to combine various story pieces that are in three different files. I started to combine them into a Scrivener file, but then decided to stick with Word for now because (1) I noticed that all of the text that I copied and pasted into Scrivener lost its apostrophes. I assume it’s something easily fixable having to do with straight quotes versus curvy quotes, but I don’t feel like figuring it out now since (2) the Windows version of Scrivener that I'm using is still in Beta, so I figured I might as well wait until the real version comes out in a few months. I’ll keep experimenting with it to see if I want to buy it, but I'm thinking I will, especially since I can get it for $20 with my Nanowrimo discount, and less if I qualify for the instructor’s version. 

Anyone out there have any experiences with Scrivener to share?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Listening for Voices

You know what it's like to have a character's voice suddenly show up in your head, telling you stories and demanding that you write them down?

Wait, you do? 

<Sighs with jealousy> 

It seems like a lot of authors have been accosted by their protagonists before they even started writing their story. The characters appeared to them in dreams, or woke them up with a scream or a monologue, and then continued to haunt them until their stories made it to the page. Even my husband, who never planned to be a writer, is currently writing his first novel because a story came to him and now the characters won’t get out of his head. 

This has never happened to me. I'm usually struck by a concept or a piece of plot; the characters start as game pieces, essentially, and I have to flesh them out from there. 

Even though wishing for voices in my head sounds, well, crazy, I’m jealous of authors who have such vocal and developed characters from the start. My characters aren’t completely  submissive: I have been pleasantly surprised when they do or say something unexpected as I’m writing them. But they’re never very active in my head when I'm not writing, and many of them still don’t have voices that feel real and strong.

But I’m coming to terms with the way my writing mind works. And even though my characters don't yell at me when my word count dwindles (caused more by Hulu than the holidays right now, I’ll admit it), random messages from the universe have been reminding me that making dreams a reality takes time and dedication, not excuses or delays. (Thank you King’s Dark Tower series, which is saturated with procrastination guilt, and the second verse of “Airplane.” Told you they were random.)

Don’t worry, I’m not going to get super stressed or beat myself up about the days when I don't dive into my writing. Making writing feel too much like work is not helpful either. I just keep reminding myself that I need to finish something – really finish it and shine it up all pretty and send it out to people – before I can say that I even tried to achieve my dreams. And afterall, I do enjoy my WIP, so we should really spend more time together.

Plus, the more I write about them, the more likely my characters are to develop into real people and have a stronger presence in my mind.

I know:  Be careful what you wish for…

Monday, December 20, 2010

Reading for Writing: The Abhorsen Trilogy

Many published and prospective authors who blog seem to purposefully avoid doing regular book reviews. The concern is that eventually they'll have to write negative one, and it’s not a good professional move to bash someone who might share an agent/editor/publisher/conference stage someday. I’m happy to join the trend, especially since there are already plenty of excellent book review blogs out there. I’d rather keep my reviews on Goodreads where I can be brief and relatively private. Although I just realized that even if I do have a public Goodreads profile someday it shouldn’t be much of a PR problem, since most of my 1 and 2 star authors are dead. (Don’t worry, many of my favorite authors are dead too.) 

In any case, there seems little need for book reviews here, BUT, since I do love to read and discuss books, I’ve found a different way to fit them in. Whenever a book I’ve read offers a helpful example for writing – how to craft a compelling villain or solve plot problem X, for example – I’ll try to write up a blurb on it here.  I’ve actually wanted to keep track of helpful examples and lessons for myself for a while now, and this way I can organize them AND share them with others. I really wanted a catchy title for these segments, but the only options I can come up with at the moment are Reading for Writing, Lit Lessons, and Writer Reads (or Writer’s Reads or Writers’ Reads, depending on how you look at it), some combination of which will have to do for now. 

I'll start with the last series I finished: the Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix. I actually listened to all three (Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen) on audio as narrated by the always entertaining Tim Curry. This is one reason for the entry on audiobooks yesterday (and by yesterday I mean several days ago because I am a slow blogger).

Lit Lessons from the Abhorsen Trilogy:

It is possible to use a third person limited POV that switches from one character to another. While listening to this series I was struggling with POV problems in my WIP – I wanted to switch back and forth between two characters but I felt squeamish about “breaking the rules.” To soften the shifts, I started to make chapter divisions whenever I changed POV, but that simply didn’t work for some scenes. Seeing how Nix made this sort of shifting work in Lirael and Abhorsen really helped and freed me up. I also learned from the few times when it didn’t work as well – when he showed the point of view of a minor character out of the blue. His moves from one protagonist to the other, however, always felt very natural, and it was a relief to see how it could be done.  

It is possible to reuse motifs and character shells from your previous works, as long you do it well, meaning (1) the new situation or character has to be different enough to feel distinct and unique, and (2) something about it or the story has to be more exciting or extreme than the original. In Sabriel, Nix combines a headstrong heroine trying to find her place in the world with a significantly less confident male character and a sarcastic talking animal. In the second book he introduces three new characters that fulfill those same roles, but they are well-defined as distinct characters and he increases other factors (the danger, the action, the number of supporting characters) so that readers don’t feel like they’re reading exactly the same story. Obviously I’d rather have a new angle entirely than have to take on this tactic, but it’s interesting to see it done successfully. 

Which leads me to my brief but important third point: talking animals are awesome, especially sarcastic ones. Also, any books I write with cats are definitely being narrated by Tim Curry in my ideal world.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On Audiobooks

I’ve always loved the physical act of reading and the feel of a sturdy, paper and ink book in my hands. This is one reason why I haven’t bought a Kindle or a Nook yet, much as it would help my overstuffed bookshelves. So it might be surprising that I am also an audiobook addict. 

It wasn’t always this way. I can vaguely remember a time when I had no interest in audiobooks and thought they were only for the lazy, the blind, and the elderly. But after college I found myself facing two conundrums: I had a dull 45 minute commute and not nearly enough time to study for the Literature GREs. So I turned to audiobooks. 

First it was just lectures from the Great Courses series, but then I started to tentatively branch out to actual books – those classics that I never got around to reading. There were many books that I still felt like I MUST read as a PHYSICAL TEXT, either because they required more careful analysis or because I thought they would put me to sleep while I was driving (I’m looking at you, Mayor of Casterbridge). But a few worked well on audio, especially when the readers were well-chosen. 

When I was finally free of the GRE, I indulged myself for several months with the most anti-GRE audiobooks I could find. (The Nanny Diaries narrated by Julia Roberts? Surprisingly good.) When I got into grad school and moved many hours away from my boyfriend and family, audiobooks filled the long trips to and fro on breaks. As an added bonus, I discovered that as long as the book was relatively fast paced, I could listen to it while working out. So I became the only person at the gym using a Discman. Library books on tape are also the reason that I kept the tape deck in my car and my colorful My First Sony Walkman, so clearly audiobooks have made me cool and hip beyond my wildest dreams.

Anyway, the point is I became an audio book addict in less than a year, and I continue to listen to them even though my two commutes are blessedly short now. I do pick carefully – many books just aren’t the same on audio – and I certain do far more physical reading of books than listening, but audiobooks will always have a special place in my heart. Some aspiring authors fantasize about what actors will play their characters in the movie version; I more often dream about choosing an audio reader for mine.