Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday: Best Book of November

November was a month full of of wonder and catastrophes. I had amazing, horrible long reading assignments that were oh so good for me (sort of the way dentistry is good for me), lovely family members who distracted me so pleasantly from my work, exams, parties, crises, snow, dances and late night guacamole.

I don't think I actually finished a book in November.

Wait, scratch that....

There was that night I read fifteen books of the Odyssey in one sitting.

Okay, I finished one book.

However, I just started another that I think is going to be amazing. It is:

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

I read her The Forgotten Garden and loved it. There are certain books that, when I pick them up, seem to almost vibrate in my hand with life and story. They are the ones that I pick up off of library shelves and don't even bother to read the back before I check them out. The Forgotten Garden is one of these, and I think The Distant Hours is another. What I have read so far is wonderful. Now I'm going to stop blogging and go read The Distant Hours instead.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Home




“Ithaca . . . Heart racing, Odysseus that great exile
filled with joy to hear Athena, daughter of storming Zeus,
pronounce the name. He stood on native ground at last”

~Odyssey by Homer, Book XIII, Lines 285-287



I went home for Thanksgiving to see my wonderful family and had an amazing time. While I was there I started to think about home as a concept, as an archetype that shows up in life and in stories because it is so important and deeply imprinted on human consciousness.

In most stories the concept of “home” is important. The characters have some place where they are safe, where they are loved and cared for, a place where they belong. Sometimes it is the place and the land where they were born. Even if it is not the place where they were born, the place that is home is the place that they love most, where they wish most to be. It is where the people they love are. Home, whatever it manifests as, is often a driving force in stories as it is in life. Whether real or fictional the orphan must find one and the exile must return.

One of the oldest stories (parts of which every story since has borrowed), the Odyssey is almost entirely a search for home. It is the story of Odysseus' journey from Troy back to Ithaca. He fights with everything he has to return to the land of his ancestors, to his father, and to his beloved wife and son. He loses sight of where he is going occasionally ( * cough * Circe and Calypso) but he always remembers that he needs, needs to get back to Ithaca. With ten years of wandering he finally makes it back to his own shores to rescue his house.

The two main characters in my WiP face a problem somewhat like Odysseus'. Neither of them have a place they can call home and neither know who they were by birth. They search throughout the story for a place they can call home and realize, eventually, they knew where home was all along. They realize that home is something you make for yourself.

Home is where the heart is.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Secret Writer

I didn't tell anyone about my writing until I had a finished first draft of something I thought had potential.

SUSAN: Hey Dad...

DAD: Yes, honey?

SUSAN: (awkward pause)

DAD: What?

SUSAN: .......

DAD: What did you want, Susan?

SUSAN: (gulps) I have a question.

DAD: Okay, hold on--could you just get me that box of zip ties out of my closet?

SUSAN: (sigh of relief) Sure. No problem.

Susan comes back with zip ties and gives them to her dad, who uses them to secure a bundle of extension cords or something equally engineer-like. Susan starts to leave the room.

DAD: What was that question you said you had for me?

SUSAN: (takes deep breath, tries to supress the feeling she might vomit) How would you suggest I print out a 400 page word document?

DAD: What? How many pages?

SUSAN: Four hundred.

DAD: What is it?

SUSAN: It's a book.

DAD: What book?

SUSAN: My book.

DAD: But what's the title? I'm sure we can get it for you another way.

SUSAN: I wrote it.

DAD: You--what--HOW MANY PAGES IS IT?!

He was very surprised and impressed and confused. It was extremely awkward.

And that was the beginning.

Friday, November 18, 2011

We are lovely!

The lovely Francesca Zappia of Zap's (lovely) Lobster Tank recently awarded us the ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD!  Yay!  Thank you, lovely Chessie. 
Now, we get to be lovely and award 15 other lovely bloggers with this lovely award! 

The lovely winners are....


2.  Leigh Ann of The Naptime Novelist

3.  Samantha of The Written Escape




7.  Cara of CP Slayer


9.  Melanie of Daydreamer to Writer

10.  Lynn Marie of Bringing the Epic


12.  Suze Reese




Just click to visit the lovely blogs of the awardees! 

As for those who got the award, you're supposed to pass it on to 15 other lovely bloggers.  Cheers!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

RTW #105: Sending Vergil

This week's topic from YA Highway:
In high school, teens are made to read the classics - Shakespeare, Hawthorne, Bronte, Dickens - but there are a lot of books out there never taught in schools. So if you had the power to change school curriculums, which books would you be sure high school students were required to read?

 
First, I would like to say that I believe reading curriculums need to be approached with much more care.  More care and thoughtful deliberation. 

~~~~


In Dante's Inferno, the pilgrim Dante wants to approach a pair of souls in Hell--particularly, the illicit lovers Paolo and Francesca.  Vergil, Dante's guide, counsels him that it would be most effective (in paraphrase) to speak to the lovers "in the language of their desire."   Similarly, Vergil is the best person to guide Dante through Hell becuase Dante loves the poet's "ornate words."  Dante loves the Aeneid, and as a result, he follows Vergil to salvation more willingly than he would follow scripture.

THIS is the approach schools should take when compiling reading curriculum. 

Imagine what would happen if, before jumping into the classics, we required teens to read stories written in their own language, stories about desires they experience every day, stories about people they can relate to.  Imagine what would happen if we spoke to them in the language of their desire

I know what would happen.

They would
                                 learn
                                                            to love
                                                                                         to read. 

Which, I'm sorry to say, does not happen in a whole lot of high schools.  More often, as I have quite recently witnessed, the majority of students develop a stubborn distate for reading and the blessed minority picks up a blockbuster novel by accident and discovers, lo and behold, that they actually love books. 

In my opinion, middle and high school reading curriculums should have one goal:  to teach kids to love to read. 

And I cannot see why we are trying to accomplish this by asking students to twist themselves into all sorts of contortions so they can appreciate a work of art written centuries or millenia ago, or a work that is so overwhelmingly depressing and/or violent that it bears no resemblance to the actuality of their lives.  (The majority of high school reading curriculum, as I have experienced it and discussed it with peers, contains mostly classics--which I have NO problem with, as I'm sure you can tell from my comparison to Dante--and  ultra-depressing literature--this, I do not understand.) 

The way to teach young people to appreciate Homer, Shakespeare, Sophocles, and the others is not to shove the classics down their throats and hope it digests. 

Dante wouldn't have followed an angel on the path to redemption.  He's simply not in love with the way angels talk.  He's in love with the way Vergil talks.  He's in love with Vergil's poetry.  He respects, admires, and understands Vergil. 

So how do we teach students to love reading, and thereby teach them to love the classics? 

WE SEND THEM VERGIL. 

Now, if you've stayed with me all this time, you can probably guess what I mean by "Vergil."  What I mean by books that will speak to high school students in the language of their own desire

Young adult fiction. 

And I don't mean Huckleberry Finn.  I mean the latest, greatest, most fun, fast-paced, romantic, exciting, keep-you-up-at-night YA novels that are being written for young adults right now.  We should introduce teens to the world of reading with these books, and we should sprinkle in these books once we've progressed to teaching classics. 

 
Then maybe, maybe, high school would be less of a place where only the dorks carry around books to read.  A place where you don't get made fun of for loving Greek tragedy.  A place where people don't snicker when you faithfully do your reading for English class. 

If we first taught our teens to love to read, I can't help but believe it would be different. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

Rain (or: Poetic Monday)


It's raining today. Its not raining in my home but it is raining here and today I am considering the rain. I forgot my umbrella so I ran from the Student Union all the way to my dorm.

I got soaked. My boots were wet through, I had mud up to my knees, there water dripping into my eyes and I was happy.

I felt like a fool and a goddess alternately as I ran up the street through the rain. There is something about it, when home is close enough so you can be dry and warm in a matter of minutes but for the moment there is no choice but to get thoroughly wet, something magical about the rain.

The rain makes me dream. It makes me dream of dripping forests full of the rattle of small creatures, it makes me dream of cities far away where people bustle about their lives under navy blue umbrellas, it makes me dream of civilizations long gone, where the people once looked up from their fields and praised fickle gods for their blessings.

Rain washes everything clean. It stirs the earth to wakefulness in the spring and lulls it to sleep in the fall. Rain looks like tears, but tears that bring life, that heal. It is like the tears that seal the final crack in a broken heart. Tears that are a letting go.

I've heard so many different places how cliché the image of the girl crying in the rain is. “One shouldn't use it, it is just so overdone, avoid clichés like the plague (ha ha).” But there is a reason it is cliché. It is cliché because it is a clean, true image and we have known it for a long, long time. Though clichés are not good style, I find I can still appreciate their truth. While I have nothing to cry about today, it sometimes feels like, in my own selfishness, when I cry the whole world weeps with me. That I am the girl weeping in the rain.

And sometimes it makes me want to dance and life starts again.

I come from a desert state. When it rains the first time in Fall, we go out and stand in it. It is like the black sky explodes. The water fills up the red clay that was so dry it cracked making three inch deep fissures in the earth and everything that was dead turns green and comes back to life. That was how we can always tell when it's winter. It rains and the grass grows.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Defeating the Vacuum: Part 2

Today, my inner therapist is going to make an appearance as I attempt to allow myself to sit back, relax, and think about my setting. 

Here are the options I consider as I envision my inner therapist: 



Dr. Grover



(This came up when I did a limited image search for Grover.)  I imagine when she talks, her lips would move but she would continue gazing upwards.



His name is Mo. 

I'll let you decide what my inner therapist looks like.  Here's how our conversation goes: 


SUSAN:  Oh no! My story occurs in a white void!  Or is it a black void?  Or grey?  I can't even tell!

INNER THERAPIST: 
(Nevermind, this is what my inner therapist looks like:) 


INNER THERAPIST (YODA):  What your setting is, discover you must. 

SUSAN:  But..but...I thought I had a setting!  I've known my setting ever since I started writing!  There are two, actually:  one is sort of like our world, but really, really not...and the other is a kind of late-midieval kingdom.  See, I've already discovered my setting! 

INNER THERAPIST (YODA):  Too broad your answer is.  The setting of a single scene describe. 

SUSAN:  Well, okay... It's in a classroom. 

(Switching to Grover.  Yoda's syntax is limiting my dialogue.)


INNER THERAPIST (GROVER):  And...? What kind of classroom is it? 

SUSAN:  Well...my character's sitting at a desk...

INNER THERAPIST (GROVER):  You don't actually know what it looks like, do you?

SUSAN:   [slouches in chair]  No. 

INNER THERAPIST (GROVER):  Don't look sad!  I know what to do. 

SUSAN:  What?  Take my manuscript and burn it? 

INNER THERAPIST (GROVER):  Close your eyes. 

SUSAN:  [closes eyes]  Interesting.  It looks a lot like my setting.  Dark, uniform, kind of impenetrable....  And oooh, it turns pink when I put my face close to this lightbulb!

INNER THERAPIST:  Get away from that lightbulb!  Now, with your eyes closed, just imagine this classroom you speak of. 

SUSAN:  But--

INNER THERAPIST (GROVER):  Shh!  No, it's not a waste of time.  Sit there, keep your eyes shut, and imagine what it looks like when your character sits in that desk. 

SUSAN:  ....

INNER THERAPIST (GROVER):  Very good. 

SUSAN:  [with eyes still shut]   Wow!  Wallpaper! 

So this is where I am.  Learning to slow down, take a deep breath, and acknowlege that taking time to discover my setting is worth it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Friday Fives


Friday Fives is hosted by Paper Hangover.  Today's question is:

What are the FIVE ways that get you from the beginning to the end of your WiP without losing all your hair? 

1. I draw.

It is so therapeutic. I keep a sketch book full of Oh-My-God-This-Story-Is-Going-To-Kill-Me drawings. I once read a book about the different ways people use the right and left sides of their brains for different things. According to this book, the left side does language and straight lines and numbers and the right side does shapes and color and creativity. So in theory, when one taps in totally to the right side of the brain (drawing will do this to you) all the little voices (relatives who wouldn't approve of what your doing, imaginary policemen, the guy you pass every morning, teachers, employers etc....), voices of the insecurities that writers are traditionally prone too, as well as the narrator of your current WIP who is keeping up a running commentary on your life and her life--they all shut up and there is blessed silence and just wonderful color and shape.

2. I eat.

Chocolate is good. Cookies are good. Candy is good. Chips are good. Pretty much anything is good. Especially if it crunches. I like crunchy food while I am writing best. Juice is lovely. So are carrots. And Soda and tea and hot chocolate and...Oh, I'll probably eat anything.

3. I vent.

Lucky for me, I have amazing friends who will listen to me whine and complain about something I am not letting them read yet. They restrain me from beating myself against the walls because of the futility of my project and they pat my shoulders reassuringly and tell me that I am a good writer and that all my skill hasn't abandoned me. Then I whimper a little more about how it is not turning out the way I imagined and by then I can probably go back and work on it.

4. I think of something else.

Sometimes it is really hard, especially when brilliant idea has you in its grip (the kind that have you leaping out of bed to write it down before you fall asleep and forget it), but sometimes it helps me the most to think about something else and let the story sit for a little while. I usually stuff it in a drawer or just ignore my word processor and go do something fun. Like all the homework I neglect to write my stories. Thinking about that always cheers me up.

5. I accept the fact that I will probably lose a lot of my hair.

I prefer my eyebrows, especially, for yanking. They are not as long and troublesome as the rest of my hair and are conveniently located near the temples so one can goes easily from massaging of temples to pulling of eyebrows. I won't lose all of my hair, but I will definitely lose some of it. Accepting this fact increases the percentage of hair I get to keep.

Defeating the Vacuum: Part 1


I have my own writer kryptonite. We call it...

THE VACUUM.

Dahn-dahn-dahn-daaaaaaahn!

Seriously, though, it can be very scary at times. Like a lot of writers, I went through an initial phase of over-description. Now, however, I tend to err on the side of under-description. I do this to such an extent that sometimes my story seems to occur in a "vacuum," with nothing but action and dialogue.

As I have talked with Tyler-Rose--who is largely responsible for bringing this problem to my attention--about "the vacuum," we have developed a new use of the verb. Thus, I vacuum settings, facial features, minor characters' personalities, and main characters' clothing... I've entirely vacuumed a knight, and a housekeeper, and probably a lot of other people and places I haven't noticed yet.

The first step to overcoming a problem like this is to accept and understand it, so now I present to you:

THE THREE STEPS OF VACUUMING YOUR STORY:

1. Exterminate all physical description of your setting. Do not describe the physical atmosphere the character is in until they actually encounter said setting. If there is a staircase leading out of the room, do not describe where it is, where it goes, what it looks like, or what it's made of until your main character actually trips over it. Ideally, it will be as if your story takes place in a white void. Or a black void. Don't even specify.

2. Turn minor characters into pudding-people. All minor characters are created equal. They are robot-like beings who exist solely for the purpose of moving the plot forward. They do not deserve personalities. They do not deserve souls. They do not even deserve faces. Therefore, give them none of these things. Envision brainless manikins wandering around with your main characters.

3. Vacuum all physical description of your main character(s). Main characters are very important, and so you should make their personalities and motivations very clear, compelling, and realistic. However, for fear of boring readers with All-Evil Description, no mention should be made of their physical appearance or what they are wearing (or what they are seeing, for that matter--see item 1). At all times there should be a possibility that your protagonist is wandering around naked, or in a pink tutu, because you have not otherwise specified their attire.

If you follow these three simple steps, you will be well on your way to a successfully vacuumed story.

Now that we know what The Vacuum is and how it happens, stay tuned to hear how I go about defeating it...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Road Trip Wednesday Topic: What are your writing superpowers and what is your kryptonite?


So, you want to know what my writing superpower is?

Hang on for a sec while I find my spandex super-suit with the big blue 'W' on the chest and check the tag. I threw it in the laundry because it was all covered in ink after my most recent epic battle with my NaNoWriMo project.

I write wonderful description that brings life to my work and color the the world I am creating. It gives brilliancy to the people that wander across the stage of my story and meaning to their actions. It draws out the beauty from the mundane and calls to the readers attention the smallest and most important of things. I bravely battle the Ever-Encroaching Void with color and detail. Good description must always prevail!

Also, Susan tells me I am a pretty awesome beta-reader/critique partner.

As for my kryptonite. . .Well, sometimes its possible to have “too much of a good thing.” Sometimes my powerful weapon, the description, exceeds its carefully controlled bounds and turns on me. It eats up my people and my plot until my characters just sit around describing the beautiful and detailed scenery to each other. Sort of like Odysseus's men on the Island of the Lotus Eaters. I don't want any Lotus Eaters in my story. I must remember only to use my power for the forces of good and never for evil. I must never describe anything to death, because that would be a cruel and horrible fate.

Death by Description.

Eeeep!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Uncovering Your Purpose

A few months ago I was reworking the beginning of my WIP, which features a series of extremely violent scenes that traumatize my main character.  Let's just say there's torture involved, the main character is forced to do things she doesn't want to do, and a lot of innocent people die. 

As I was working on one of these scenes, I eventually got to a point where I stopped typing, glared at the screen and said, "Why am I writing this?!" 

I was absolutely disconcerted by all the blood, beheadings, and general pain I was putting on the page.  I was kind of sick of it, actually.  I found myself asking a lot of questions: 

1.  Why am I writing this? 
2.  Why would I put my poor character in this situation? 
3.  Is this just gratuitous? 
4.  Am I trying to shock people into being interested in my story? 
5.  Is there a good reason for this to happen in my story? 
6.  Why am I writing this? 
7.  Is there something wrong with me? 
8.  Am I trying to compensate for something in my story by including this violence? 
9.  Why am I writing this? 
10.  Is this violence necessary? 
11.  Why am I writing this?  

I thought deeply about these questions.  I considered taking the character out entirely, writing a different story, taking out all the bad things that happened to her, or simply glossing over it. 

But then it hit me:  There was a reason why I was writing that story.  There was  a reason why I was writing about a girl who had the teenage years of her life taken from her in a violent and painful manner. 

I was writing--in a very, very, very, VERRRRRY indirect way--about myself.  About some of my own experiences that never quite left me. 

And even though (I would like to emphasize this.) I could hardly be farther removed from a girl who sees that much violence in her teenage years, I do have something to say about it.  I do have something to say about people who will never be able to say the young years of their life were their best years. 

Once I knew why I was writing what I was writing, and once I knew why it mattered to me, I understood the story so much better. 

And I didn't doubt myself so much--which is a good thing too.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Henna!

This is pretty much irrelevant, but we (or Tyler-Rose, rather) took a break to do henna today! It's pretty, AND it smells like lavender... Very therapeutic. 


This isTyler-Rose's...


And this is mine (Susan's).

So yes, this doesn't really tie in to writing, other than that it goes to show that Tyler-Rose is talented.  Yay!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Follow Friday #2!



Follow Friday is a blog hop hosted by Parajunkee and Alison Can Read.  It helps book bloggers (yay book bloggers!) get to know each other and increase their followings.

Today, we were supposed to post a picture of ourselves with what we're currently reading, or just a fun picture.  I'm a little bit shy and I tend to fight with my WebCam, so I went with the fun picture.  I took these over the summer when Tyler-Rose and I went to England. 



It's The Eagle and Child, the famous pub where the Inklings (writing group of C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, et al) met!  When we were about to leave Oxford--I mean literally getting on the bus to go--I realized I didn't take a picture of this place and had to run back to get one.  It was worth it.  :)

While the Inklings are The Eagle and Child's claim to fame, what most people don't know is that after a while, the Dons decided the beer was better across the street (or had a disagreement with the owner of The Eagle and Child, depending on who you talk to), and they defected to this place: 


The Lamb & Flag, which is where I ate.  I can't vouch for the beer, but I had a very tasty ham sandwich there. 

Happy Follow Friday everyone!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"You must travel down to the House of Death..."


Today was the first time I really checked out my college's library. It is a little strange that I have been here for two whole months already and had yet to make a real pilgrimage to the library. The reason is mostly that I have yet to write a research paper and my consumption of novels has dropped drastically because of all the reading I am being assigned for my classes. But I wanted a look at a book on Medieval weapons, so I embarked for my first foray.

My school is justly proud of its library. The building has three floors, which the student body has playfully named Heaven, Purgatory and Hell in descending order (the third, or basement floor, being Hell).

So I entered Heaven where we keep the computers DVDs, CDs, and reference books (also where you go if you want to check your email) and looked up the call number for The Book of Swords and began my odyssey. I discovered shortly that because we have so many books we use the Library of Congress method of cataloging stuff, a system I have never encountered before. (It's by genre??? Maybe? Anyway, there does not appear to be any alphabetizing going on which makes everything so much more confusing. I've got to find the BH3454.U7 shelf. Hmmm....) The catalog entry informed me that my book was to be found on the third floor (down in Hell), so I went down the wide curling stairs into Purgatory where the books spread foreeevvverrr in every direction on big tall shelves that block your view of anything else but books, books, books and more books. Purgatory also has the best studying hidy-holes because of how close the shelves are packed to each other. This is where you go if you have a paper due in a week. I looked around for a bit, enjoying the enormity of Purgatory, and decided it was time to be on my way.

Then I went looking for Hell. Hell is where you go if you have a term paper due TOMORROW. It's scary down there. But I wanted my Medieval weapons book, so I steeled myself and went back to the curling stair case that came down from the first floor, hoping for a vast chasm in the ground so I could make it down to the next floor. Apparently the curling staircase does not go into Hell. Its stops in Purgatory. The Epic Stair Search began.

I did the loop of the edge of the library twice. I found two sets of bathrooms, four mechanical closets, sixteen private study rooms with people in them that looked up at me every time I walked by, three water fountains and two sets of stairs that only go up. All the while, of course, I was getting a kick out of searching for stairs that would take me down into the underworld. Finally I found a map, did a third loop of the library and found one staircase that goes down.

First of all, Hell is air-conditioned. It is also a lot smaller and has more books than I thought it would. Persephone must be a reader.

There are collapsible book cases down there too. So much fun. You punch a button and they all thunder together, opening up the row you selected. We are told they are supposed to stop before they mash you, but there are always urban legends floating around about mushed students being discovered around finals time.
Then I found the the weapons books. Joy. Bliss. We should rename the floors the other way. They had a whole shelf of books titled things like: Fencing in Elizabethan England and The Medieval Archer. I almost hopped up and down which made all the Hellish term-paper writers look at me meanly and bare their fangs a little bit.

Then I quietly collected my things and ascended into Heaven and now am in love with our library.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Not Quite NaNoWriMo


It's November and the first day of NaNoWriMo! Good luck and God's speed to all those participating.
I, however, will not being joining them this year.
I have two reasons for this:

1. I'm a Freshman in college.
At this point in the semester I don't think my Greek grade could take NaNoWriMo. I did it two years ago and turned in three of the worst essays I have ever penned during that month. My teachers all looked at me as if they thought the aliens had replaced me with one of The People. I think my level of eloquence dropped at least a grade level or two probably due to lack of sleep and basic NaNoWriMo insanity. The un-edited creative exuberance that is required to write that many words in a month also might have bled over into my non-creative writing. Once you're making up wild metaphors in your persuasive essays you should probably be worried. "The brown muddy mud that is _______'s argument is muddy because..."

2. I just started something.
To do NaNoWriMo right you have to start something new. I don't feel I can abandon my recently born people quite so quickly and make up something else. Mostly because I think I will probably lose momentum and they will malinger sadly on my desktop for a few months before vanishing into the archive. I like them too much to let that happen, so I am forgoing 50,000 words of a new story to preserve their respective existences.

But I really don't want to let NaNoWriMo month pass and have nothing to show for it either. So I have made up my own challenge. One that I think will be plenty challenging enough and will allow me to suffer gloriously right alongside my literary brethren.

In the month of November I will:

add 25,000 words or more to my current work. That is only half the NaNoWriMo challenge, but it is still quite a lot of words. It is few enough to allow me to make sense as I write (last time I did NaNoWriMo my characters had long, drawn out, dead boring discussions of movies I had recently seen, the color of clouds and various other topics that did not help my plot but pumped up my word count) and will still be challenging.

Today is Day 1.

On another subject entirely this blog now has 22 followers!!!!! Happy dance!!

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