Saturday, September 27, 2008

I'm Just Like This Guy!

In The Artful Edit, Susan Bell gives examples from many writers' processes. I had a lot of fun reading her account of how author Luc Sante works, because I saw myself. According to Bell, Sante himself has interviewed over 100 writers and found hardly any who work the way he does. I am one of these rare birds.

Sante doesn't do drafts, by which he means he doesn't write a fairly quick first draft and then go over it numerous times to fix different aspects each time. Sante edits as he writes, meaning he does a lot of it in his head. His "first draft" takes forever, because he's editing all the way, to the point where the sentences that actually get recorded are pretty polished, and he sides with those who believe that the more an idea perks in the brain, the more mature and better-written it will be when it does hit the page. Sante says: "I write the next paragraph, the next page, painfully slowly, as if I were picking up a transmission from Alpha Centauri on a crystal radio in bad weather. I can't go on to the next sentence until this one feels right . . ."

Sante hardly macro-edits at all, but micro-edits to no end even after writing the high-level "draft." He writes strictly in sequence, rarely changing the order or structure of scenes but picking tirelessly at words. And here's a quote I think is really cool: "Sometimes . . . I get the next sentence dictated to me, which means, generally, that I hear its exact rhythm before I know what the words will be that compose it."

Wow. Me too. All of it. It feels kind of strange, because it seems that everybody writes in drafts and so I speak of drafts too. I mean, it's common language with which to communicate with other writers. But I'm outing myself by identifying with Sante. I do it the way he does.

Anybody else do this?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Newbery/Printz Watch III

Well, I've just finished one of the heavy-hitters for this season, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It's a good book for discussion, because to me there's a lot to love but a few things to question, too. While some have said it's on the line between contending for the Newbery and Printz, I don't agree. I think this futuristic fantasy is YA all the way. I also think that for a potential award winner it's maybe a little more plot-driven than most. Alert: spoilers ahead.

The book is sort of "'The Lottery' meets reality TV." The premise takes some length to explain: The continent formerly known as North America has been battered into a much smaller land area by an assault of storms, droughts, fires, and rising oceans. As square mileage decreased, the battle for resources increased, bringing about a reorganization of the country, now called Panem, to a "shining Capitol" located in the Rockies surrounded by 13 Districts, a few economically okay, the rest scrambling to feed themselves. When the Districts banded together and made war on the Capitol, 12 were defeated and the 13th bombed off the map. The victorious Capitol handed down what was called The Treaty of Treason, giving new laws to keep the people under their thumb, the centerpiece of which is a tournament for ages 12-18 called The Hunger Games. Each district must provide one girl and one boy, chosen by lottery, as contestants. The 24 "tributes" are imprisoned in a huge outdoor arena of brutal terrain where they, very simply, fight to the death until one is left standing. Filled with ceremony, celebration, training and pageantry, the entire Hunger Games is broadcast on live TV, and is required viewing for all citizens of Panem, who are to (and do) consider it great sport.

Katniss, a sixteen-year-old girl from District 12, an area of Appalachia called the Seam, has spent her entire life trying to feed her family after the death of her father in the coal mines and the subsequent emotional crumbling of her mother. An ace with a bow and arrow, risking capture every day by illegal hunting, Katniss knows something about survival. She does not expect to win the Games, but of course we know she will. Trouble is, the boy from District 12, Peeta, is just as likable a character as Katniss, is in love with her, and we know there can only be one winner.

When the rules change to allow two winners, my first reaction was that this was horribly contrived. It isn't until Katniss and Peeta are the only two left standing that the rules change back, and at that point I understood it better. The first rule change, I believe, was faux, not real, done for ultimate audience entertainment: "Let's root for the two lovers to survive!" But the Capitol never had any intention of allowing more than one winner, I believe, and that's why it rescinds the rule change in the end. And Katniss outsmarts the Capitol, and both she and Peeta live.

I didn't know until I reached the end that this is the first of a trilogy. My first question was "What can come next?" My guesses: In Book 2, Katniss and Peeta return to District 12 as celebrities to train new District 12 tributes (the fate of Games winners), Katniss must choose between Peeta and the best guy friend she left behind, Gale, and she must face repercussions for having outsmarted the Capitol. In Book 3, I'll bet on a successful uprising that defeats the Capitol.

A number of grammatical errors surprised me. The first time "I" was used when "me" should have been, I fell completely out of the story and just sat there staring at it for a time, wondering if my eyes were deceiving me. And then it happened again. Still, the characters, world creation, and plot are original and gripping. The Hunger Games is outstanding among the competition, and is a fine bet to win the Printz Games.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Aw, Thanks!

I've received this award from Brenda. Isn't it sweet? Now I'm to tap seven others whose blogs I enjoy. Just like the meme thing below, I apologize if it seems I can't count. I can, actually, since as we'll recall there is sometimes arithmetic in this blog! :) The thing is, I don't want to tap any of the same people Brenda tapped, I do want to tap blogs that stand out to me, and I have no idea if any of the following have already received this award or not. If so, I half apologize, and I half don't, because my picking you again just means more love for your blog. :) Jacqui Robbins (funny and smart), Tabitha Olson (full of good food for thought), The Bookshelf Muse (unique focus!), Anne Spollen (grabber topics, cool white-on-black look), and Angela Cerrito (for cultural focus). I hope I haven't forgotten any I'd really like to have here. But since I've never quite gotten to subscribing in a reader, I don't really have my blogs organized.
The idea is to copy this picture and post it on your blog, link to the person who gave you the award, give it to seven (or apply the fudge factor to arrive at your own number) others, link to them, and let them know what you've done. Well, you all have a great day -- now we should all stop procrastinating and get back to work. :)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

As If We Didn't Already Know Reading was Important . . .

Last time I talked about The Artful Edit by Susan Bell, I mentioned that she divides editing into two main components, the macro- and micro-edit, and that many writers prefer and are stronger in one than the other. I'm a micro-editor, as is Bell, as was F. Scott Fitzgerald, the author she profiles in much of her book. Hey, not bad company to be in. :)

What might be a reason to prefer the micro-edit? Maybe the way Bell chooses to begin that section of her book sheds some light. She quotes novelist John O'Hara as saying, "I read slowly, because when I read . . . I am intently busy."

Can I just stop here and sigh and take that in?

Micro-editing, Bell agrees, thrives on the ability to read slowly. Then she adds something that can't help but make me nod: " . . . reading as slowly as O'Hara did in 1959 was easier then than now . . . . To read slowly today is not just unfashionable but nearly impossible. We are in a permanent hurry . . ."

What do you think? Do you agree? How does your busyness affect your reading and vice-versa?

Under headings such as Language, Repetition, Clarity, Transitions and more, Bell gives specific advice such as cut cliches, watch present participles, recognize and vary pet words and phrases. She talks about how every single a, and, the has an effect, using this example:

Jane walked the dog.
Jane and the dog went for a walk.

Such simple sentences with simple words, yet they give different impressions. In the first sentence, Jane is in charge. In the second, Jane and the dog are equals.

I love this sort of thing. Layers of meaning at the micro level just blow me away. :)

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Still Foggy on the Definition of "Meme" . . .

. . . but I have been tagged by Tabitha Olson to answer these questions. The rules of this game, 95% of which I will conscientiously obey and the other 5% of which I will smash to smithereens, if I follow my typical pattern, are as follows: (1) Those who are tagged and wish to participate should answer the questions on their blogs and may replace any questions they dislike with new questions they make up (see, this is already not quite the way Tabitha stated it :); (2) When you post your Q&A, name the person who tagged you AND tag 8 other people.

And I'm going, "I don't know eight people." (Half the time, this is true.) Especially not eight people who blog, who might want to do this, and who haven't already been tagged. And I don't necessarily know first and last names. But I will tag "some" people now and perhaps add to the list before this post goes up, since I will now spill the beans and say I am postdating it! My tag-ees are: Anne Spollen, Angela Cerrito, Brenda, Angela Ackerman, Becca Puglisi. Remember, taking part is totally optional. No blogosphere sanctions imposed if you decline. :)

I did not change any of the original questions and insert my own. Too lazy. Here goes:

1. What are your nicknames? I don't have any. Although my parents and husband sometimes call me "Marsh," which briefly (VERY briefly) morphed to "Swamp" when I was in about 7th grade. Put an end to that right quick.
2. What do you do before bedtime? In a word, read.
3. What was the first movie you bought in VHS or DVD? How do you know it wasn't Beta? That was the big debate back in the day -- VHS or Beta? I never had Beta; I'm just sayin'. Anyway, the first movie was probably something Disney when the kids were small. We didn't buy anything when we first had a VCR, because my husband got this ancient VCR (it was in two parts, if I recall) they were throwing out at work and rented movies and then used the two VCRs to . . . oops, did I say that? This answer's too long anyway. Moving right along . . .
4. What is your favorite scent? Toss-up between vanilla, roses, and baking bread.
5. If you had a million dollars that you could only spend on yourself, what would you do with it? I'd greatly expand the definition of "on myself" to mean "in a way that makes me feel I've used it well." I'd tithe 10%, do some home repairs (not buy a bigger home), help immediate family, put some away for retirement, and donate generously to ministries and charities I trust.
6. What one place have you visited that you can't forget and want to go back to? I'm not in the least well-traveled. I'd like to see the Rockies again. And if I can stick in a place I haven't been, I'd like to go to England. Basically, though, I don't have wanderlust in my blood.
7. Do you trust easily? Yes and no. I'm not easy to get to know, and I can be reserved and secretive, letting people in pretty slowly. On the other hand, I have a fairly good sense of discernment about character, which can cause me to trust or distrust rather quickly and not be wrong *too* often.
8. Do you generally think before you act, or act before you think? I definitely think first. I think and plan everything out, then decide action should be taken, then mention the topic to my husband. By this point I've already committed to the idea, he's first hearing about the possibility, and he goes, "Huh?"
9. Is there anything that has made you unhappy these days? Small, normal, everyday things that happen to everybody and pass quickly. I feel blessed to say that the periods of my life when I've seriously been down have been few.
10. Do you have a good body image? *Blushes* I absolutely do. For me, this may be the most true-confessions question in this whole list. Of course it isn't perfect, but for an "old girl" who sits at a computer a lot, I'm in dang good shape.
11. What is your favorite fruit? All of them! I LOVE fruit. It's hard to leave anything out, but nothing beats a fresh-from-the-tree McIntosh apple.
12. What websites do you visit daily? I visit so many, but if I take "daily" completely literally, those would be Verla Kay and the Elijah List.
13. What have you been seriously addicted to lately? This! And just after I cured myself of Minesweeper . . .
14. What kind of person do you think the person who tagged you is? A bookworm, serious, gentle, a deep thinker, peaceful.
15. What's the last song that got stuck in your head? "Let it Rain," a worship song by Michael Farren.
16. What's your favorite item of clothing? In-the-house clothing, my flannel bathrobe. If you mean that which can be worn in public, a hoodie cardigan sweater (no buttons) in many shades of blue, a Christmas present from my daughter.
17. Do you think Rice Krispies are yummy? Only if I'm really in the mood for them. I'm a bit of a health nut who wants fiber.
18. What would you do if you saw $100 lying on the ground? I'm assuming this is outside, as opposed to, say, inside a store. I'd pick it up, then glance around to see if anybody in the vicinity looked panicky, or as if they were searching for something. If so, and nothing about the situation was screaming "Don't do this!" I'd approach, ask if the person lost something, and wait for some indication that the lost item was money. Chances are there wouldn't be anybody, though, and chances are I'd donate the money.
19. What items could you not go without during the day? Bible, calendar, journal, computer, cell phone. I could spare the latter, but it's my connection to my kids and husband.
20. What should you be doing right now? LOL. This IS actually time I had set aside for blogging. Alternatively, I should be doing -- what else? Reading and writing.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Book of the Semi-Month Club

Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix is Book 1 of The Missing series, and not only does it have plenty of plot, but it gives tantalizing hints at the many plot directions the rest of the series can take. Before we go any further, I'll definitely have to issue spoiler alerts.

Jonah, thirteen, is adopted and has always known it. His younger sister Katherine is not. Though his parents' constant reading of "how to help your adopted child adjust" books and hyper-sensitivity to how he might feel make his eyes roll, theirs is a normal family. Then an unusual thing happens: Jonah makes a new friend, Chip, who also happens to be adopted. But Chip's uninvolved parents never told him. Chip doesn't have a clue until the weird stuff starts happening.

They both get strange anonymous notes: "You are one of the missing," says the first. The second reads, "Beware, they're coming back to get you." The investigation by Jonah, Chip and Katherine is kicked off by Chip's anger at his parents' deception as well as the notes themselves. Breaking into a safe at Chip's house, the kids find among the official records a jotted name and phone number. Calling it, they reach an FBI agent.

Things get stranger when the FBI agent agrees to meet with Jonah's family but deliberately antagonizes them hoping they will stop asking questions. Katherine, uncharacteristically spooked, insists she saw a man appear and disappear into thin air. Jonah doesn't believe her but can't deny that there's a file on the agent's desk that wasn't there before. He creates a distraction while Katherine snaps pictures of the papers it contains with her cell phone.

Now they have lists of people and phone numbers, some of whom are termed "missing" and the others "survivors." Thirteen years ago, they learn, a myterious plane bearing the insignia "Tachyon Travel" landed unauthorized at an airport -- carrying thirty-six infants and not a soul else. One of the airline clerks who worked that night agrees to meet with them and shares the belief she has arrived at: because tachyon means faster than the speed of light, the infants were probably adults when they boarded the plane, and they arrived in the present as infants to be adopted by 21st-century families. The flight crew, able to step into time warps, simply disappeared. In fact, the thirty-six infants were gathered by time-travelers from prominent but unfortunate lives in the distant past, purportedly to be given a chance at a better life -- or life at all -- with adoptive American families. One among their number, they are told, is Virginia Dare, lost with the rest of the Roanoke Colony. Two are Princes Edward and Richard, vanished from the Tower of London in the 1400s. Others are Anastasia Romanov and Charles Lindbergh III.

Found ends with Jonah, Chip and Katherine on their way to the 15th century, so it definitely doesn't stand alone. With potentially thirty-some countries and historical periods to visit, Haddix has rich setting and plot possibilities to draw on. Her portrayal of the sibling relationship between Jonah and Katherine and the boys' respective feelings about adoption are well handled. It will be interesting to see how Haddix makes use of her material in books to come. And I for one really want to know which unfortunate famous historical person Jonah is.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Why do I Want This Piece of Writing to Live?

In The Artful Edit, Susan Bell talks about two major kinds of editing, macro-editing and micro-editing. I find it interesting that though I usually test as a "big picture" person, I prefer the micro-edit. Bell writes that she also does, and that F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose The Great Gatsby she examines at length in her discussion, was also a natural micro-editor. Be that as it may, we mustn't skip over the macro-edit, which, as long as you have a good chunk of the book done, comes first. :)

The macro-edit isn't an edit-as-you-go thing. You need a substantial number of chapters, if not the whole draft, that you'll reread and note the big stuff that isn't working: characterization, tension, tone, and so forth. One of the more interesting aspects of the macro-view is what Bell calls "intention." Synonyms she uses include "overarching aim," "central idea," "your mind's highway," "a main line for readers to go down," and "a kind of gravitational force" that draws the reader through the story. To discover or refine your intention Bell recommends asking questions such as "What am I trying to do here?" "Where am I going with this?" "Why do I want this piece of writing to live?" Sometimes the intention is quite grand. Fitzgerald wrote that he was trying for a "consciously artistic achievement." But I believe we need a specific intention for the story itself as well. The intention can be unknown at the start, says Bell, it can be discovered through exploration as we write the draft, but when a writer begins to edit "he knows the story he wants to tell and maneuvers his material to tell it . . . Once there is story, there is an intention: a will toward . . . [an] end."

We need to spend some time talking to ourselves about our intention. Our attempts to state it may seem incomplete, a tad mysterious or secretive, something we wouldn't want to try to voice to others yet or even squarely face ourselves. But we can and must tease it out of our hearts; it forms the backbone of our story.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Library Love

Spent yesterday afternoon at the public library. Does it get any better than this?
  • Shelves, shelves and shelves of fiction and nonfiction surrounding you
  • Brand-new magazines to read in comfy chairs
  • Quiet, no-stress atmosphere, punctuated by whispers and chairs sliding on carpet
  • Librarians who love research as much as you do
  • Untold information, contained or accessed within these walls
  • Study carrels like hidey-holes tucked into corners
  • Old newspapers on microfilm that bring history oh so close
  • Getting your hands, finally, on that special tome you've been wanting
  • Browsing books, thrilling to the treasures you find, gathering all you can carry
  • Using the cool self-checkout machine
  • Loading it all in the car, driving home with a smile, stocking your nightstand

How do you love your library? Please do count the ways! :)

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Quotes to Chew On

Need a shot in the writer's arm today? Here are some quotes from The Artful Edit by Susan Bell that I find interesting, thought-provoking or affirming.
  • " . . . editing is commonly taught as an intrinsic part of writing, not an external tool. . . . It is vital to teach editing on its own terms, not as a shadowy aspect of writing."
  • "Most of us who write on computers are facing and continually accessing a global Internet lodged in our writing instrument. . . . In conditions of creativity that are increasingly complex, stringent editing can focus the multitasker's scuttling mind."
  • "A great many authors determine the full shape of their stories as they write, not before."
  • "For most, it is only with an unedited flow of imagination that there is anything worth revising in the end."

I like all of these, but the first one sounds like a key to my editing/writing dilemma: If I don't consider editing an intrinsic part of writing, but something separate, I may be less likely to let Editor Me run wild on Writer Me's turf.

Anything here resonate for you?

Monday, September 1, 2008

Book of the Semi-Month Club

In which I discuss another chapter book, Judy Moody Goes to College, by Megan McDonald. Chapter books are known for humor, and Judy Moody's adventures are no exception. Third-grader Judy goes to school on Monday and finds that she has a new teacher, and "her new teacher was called a sub (not the sandwich)." Her real teacher, Mr. Todd, is in Bologna, Italy, and Judy knows Italy has a dance called the tarantella. She thinks: "Mr. Todd was probably in the Land of Baloney right now, dancing like a tarantula, while they were stuck in the Land of Multiplication." Judy doesn't like math. During math, she'd rather press the buttons on her "robin's-egg-blue, glow-in-the-dark Ask-a-Question Watch 5000."

A note goes home: Judy needs remedial math. Her younger brother Stink, who knows his times tables, is ecstatic. This means a tutor, he says, and tutors have flash cards. Baby flash cards. And make you count jelly beans in a jar. But to Judy's complete surprise her dad takes her for her first tutoring session to the "Math Lab" at Colonial College, where she meets her tutor, uber-funky college student Chloe Canfield. "My friends call me C-squared, since my name has two Cs and I go to CC. You know, C to the second power, 'cause I'm into math?" Judy and Chloe play games, visit the coffee bar, count different colored VW bugs on campus and graph them, and Judy goes from having "Mad-i-tude" to "Math-i-tude" along with developing a very funky sense of style. College life goes to Judy's head, though, and she progresses to "Brat-i-tude," "Cat-i-tude," and even "Flunk-i-tude" before eventually reaching "Glad-i-tude," when, upon the return of her regular teacher, Judy reports to her parents, "Professor Todd gave us a pop quiz in math today, and I owned it."

A glossary of college slang ends the book ("Judy Moody's Not-Webster's New World College Dictionary"). Amid all the fun, readers are left with the message that college can not only teach you what you need to know, but expose you to all kinds of things you never tried and didn't know you were good at. Almost makes this math major want to go back. :)