May 29, 2012

Book Burgling

A pilfered reading nook.
I love book burgling.

As my writer friend and fellow burglar Fiona could tell you, book snatching is not about stealing books (I'm not into that). It's about...borrowing them from your friends and relatives. Most of the time you ask them nicely before pilfering from their library. Unless you think they're going to say no, and then you stick the book you're coveting down the back of your pants and sachet towards the exit.

I have great memories of doing this as a kid. I snuck Pygmalion out of my grandfather's prized library--I didn't know what a Pygmalion was, but I wanted to read about one. He thought it was such a funny choice for a seven year old that he let me have it. Any time I go over to a friend's house, the first thing I ogle--without fail--are the books on their shelves.

This summer I find myself in a fortuitous burgling position. I'm spending a lot of time at Mom's house; Mom has a LOT of books. There are tons of classics I've never read, modern mysteries I've never heard of, and children's books I haven't enjoyed in years. Not to mention the books I left behind when I moved over to Australia. So I'm setting myself a summer reading challenge: read books exclusively pilfered from Mom's library. No new books (well, except this one). Just the ones on all these heavy shelves.

First up: Test of Wills by Charles Todd.

Current writing soundtrack: "The Woods" by Daughter

May 25, 2012

What Rough Drafting Looks Like

I'm halfway through the rough draft of my third novel. First drafts are a strange and special animal that seem to roll out differently for everyone. Some people love drafting; some people hate it. As for me, I keep waiting for the whole process to become easier and more streamlined. To stop making me feel like a self-indulgent crazy person who talks through plot problems while stuck alone in traffic. I think to myself, "I've done this a few times. So, clearly, I have learnt my lessons. I will know my ending in advance. All of my characters will behave and be nice to me."

Every book has been a different experience, but I'm finding that my drafting process has developed a predictable pattern. Let me illustrate.

0 - 10,000 words: 
My characters are vivid and interesting. Everything I write is vivid and interesting. I can't wait to see where this story is going! And this novel writing thing?...pure magic.

10,000 - 35,000 words:
I can kind of see where this story is headed, but I have no idea how I'm getting there. That end point seems really, really far away. My characters are being tempestuous. I was a fool to think I could make a novel out of this crazy premise. It's hot out here. I'm thirsty. I'm going to send this to my critique partners so they can tell me if it's awful. This novel writing thing?...the hardest.

35,000 - 55,000:
I understand my characters now; they're starting to tell me when I've got them wrong. In fact, they're keeping me up at night trying to dictate their stories. All of these plot possibilities seem worth exploring, but I'm angsting over which ones are the right ones. Let's go left!:

...maybe I shouldn't have taken a left...maybe I shouldn't have written this, period...

...wait, this is nice, but I think the creepy woods were more interesting...

...and here we are again. I remind myself that my crit partners assured me that this story isn't awful. I force loving friends to read pages and promise me that isn't awful. 

55,000 - 75,000:
So this isn't awful; I'm liking this. I know where I'm going! My characters are starting to make big decisions as they stumble towards the finish line. My plot is revealing new twists. Or maybe they're not new: hey, look, I planted the seeds for them in chapter three! This is scary! This is exciting! Someone pass me my oxygen tank!

75,000 - 80,000:
I'm in love with this story. I hope others will also be in love with this story. In a few weeks, I'll probably reread this draft and moan about how much work it needs but right now, for me, it is perfect. 

 Five minutes after typing THE END:

Current Writing Soundtrack: "Stubborn Love" by The Lumineers

May 21, 2012

The Joys of Audio: Reading Edition

I've always loved audiobooks. Mom and I used to go 'shopping' for them at the public library; we'd scour the Mystery shelves together, her because she loves mysteries, me because I wanted to love whatever she loved. I discovered some fantastic books this way. At thirteen I got very sick and spent several months chained to a couch, knitting really ugly scarves with my one good eye and listening to audiobooks. My poor eyesight meant I couldn't really read, so it was good to feel that there was still a way for me to ingest stories.

There's nothing like being read to; it makes me feel like a little girl again. I clean to them, drive to them, and sometimes fall asleep to them. A book read really well can make a story come alive. Even so, my audiobook love often strikes me as something of an old lady habit, but more and more books I've read and want to read are being respun into audio, read by interesting people - especially in YA. Here are some of the best audiobooks I've enjoyed in the last few years. I read them all first, and I can tell you that these renditions are well worth taking the time to enjoy.

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater (read by Steve West & Fiona Hardingham). I loved this book when I read it, and I loved it even more when listening to it. These readers evoke all the atmosphere and sense of place the book does so well. I liked it so much I listened to it more than a row.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman (read by George Guidall). I listened to this before bed (a very relaxing way to wind down) and was completely captivated by this guy's reading voice. It is deep and kind of craggy, perfectly suited to this story.

A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson (read by William Roberts). This book is very funny, but it was William Roberts' rendition of it that made me laugh so hard I almost wet myself. He brings Bill Bryson's dry humor to life and turns interactions between Katz and Bryson into comic gold.

Dark Matter by Michelle Paver (read by Jeremy Northam). I feel that I should just be able to say 'Jeremy Northam' and leave it at that...he performs this book so, so well. He takes its creep factor and turns it up several notches (in a very good way). Don't listen to it before bed or on dark car rides, though. Trust me.

His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman (read by a long list of great-sounding people). I listened to these on a very, very long car ride. They made me fall in love with Pullman's world all over again.

Current song obsession: "War" by Gossling

May 17, 2012

Author Thoughts from a Figment live chat

I participated in my first "live chat" the other night. It was like sneaking a peek at somebody's Gchat (although apparently 500 other people were doing it, so I guess I'm not that big a creep). The chat, run by This Is Teen and Figment, went down between two of my very favorite authors: Maggie Stiefvater and Lucy Christopher. It was supposed to be about voice, but their answers spanned a whole range of writerly topics that had me taking avid notes. 

On Character:

- You don't always have to know how the story ends, but you should know the end of the characters' emotional arc. In other words, what do they learn? Everything that happens to a character in the story leads to the realization they come to by the end.

- It's OK to steal people. (I liked this one...because I'm constantly stealing sayings and nervous gestures from people from strange and familiar). Keep writing fresh by watching how people react to things; their speech patterns and movements; their turns of phrase.

- Read out loud to see how a character's voice is shaping up; it's great for objectivity and for 'hearing' what isn't working for your characters.

- The most important thing is that your character be consistent and believable and true to themselves...

- I think it comes back to being true to the individual you're writing. You don't ask "would a teen say this?" you ask "would my character say this?"

- Ask yourself: who is it that your character projects? Who are they really on the inside? You need to know the 'why' when you're the author. WHY are your characters acting the way they do? Don't worry about the physical things like eye color and hair length...worry about motivation, what propels them.

- Reading out loud helps you to know if you're being yourself, or if you're being your character.


From Maggie: "...the key to true storytelling is to be specific". You can find a character's 'truth' when their reactions become predictable, and you know what it is that drives them

LC: "I write stories about places I want to explore / think about more / have issues with / have an interesting cultural resonance."
MS: "Absolutely. A setting is like a character where you have to ask yourself, why are things that way HERE. Not anywhere else, but HERE."

MS: "So if there is something peculiar and interesting about you, something cool you've done, that is what you should mine for your novels."

MG: "In my head, the story already exists, and my job is to dust carefully away until I find it beneath all the silt. And if I smash too hard and impose my will and bust past writer's block without thinking about what is really stopping me from writing, I'll smash off the statue's arm. So I need to go carefully and trust my gut, and when they are right, I can FEEL it. I see it right there. The story I always meant to write."

MS: "If you know how a character is going to react, you know what they're going to say."

It was a fantastic chat, and well worth sipping wine through. If you want to replay it in all its glory. go here

May 8, 2012

April Photo Collection: Tripping Through The South

I recently went on a stellar road trip through the South. Besides slaking my general thirst for travel, it allowed me to flirt with my ever-growing love of the South. When I was a kid, I moved from D.C. to Northern Virginia. When friends would tease me about the fact that I was now Southern, I would grow very grave and maudlin. "I am NOT A Southerner," I'd say. As if being Southern were akin to having shingles. I don't know what that was about; now, I like the South a lot. I like that it has retained so much local flavor and cultural heritage. I like that people say hello to strangers instead of assuming they want to mug you.

Here are some trip highlights, photo montage style.

The view over our first morning's coffee in Atlanta, Georgia.
Spanish moss in one of Savannah, Georgia's many squares. I love this stuff!

A fantastically crowded second-hand bookstore in Savannah. Hello, lover. 
Tori and I discovering sweet tea vodka in Charleston, SC (and looking a little bit devilish)
Outside our B&B in Charleston. The whole city smelled like this Confederate jasmine, which was, in a word, glorious.

Sitting in our garden patio on our second morning in Charleston. 

Our boat ride through the amazing Cypress Gardens, SC. For five bucks you get to paddle yourself around a stunning swamp and wave to the alligators!

This swampy smelled quite nice. The water's black because of all the tanins, but when you stuck your hand in it, it was actually quite clear. 

Something happens to me when I am behind my camera. I decide that whatever I'm  shooting isn't actually a threat to me. So despite Tori's protests about toothy grins and that whole "don't bait the gators" rule, I convinced her to paddle up to it. We started out this close...

...and ended up this close. Actually, this is as close as we got before I dropped my camera and we ran into its log. Now I know what an angry, hissing gator looks like. Whoops.

May 7, 2012

Should Do vs. Driven To Do

The amazing driftwood teepee that, sadly, is no more.

I have been so absent from the blog this month. A part of me has missed it, but another part of me didn't like the fact that it was starting to fall into the dreaded category of something I really "should be doing". 

Having lived an oddly nomadic, sporadic, all-over-the-place lifestyle for the last year or so, I've had a lot of time to think about the difference between the things you think you should be doing versus the things you feel driven to do. There are always things that you should be doing (paying taxes, say...or brushing your teeth). But to me, those are things you have to do. I'm talking about when the things you once loved to do start to feel like obligations. When a job you were excited by becomes an obligation. When this happens to me, it always seems like an ominous feeling. I don't ever do my best work when I come to it begrudgingly: a part of me is wondering why I'm doing it at all. Of course, just because something isn't inspiring you, doesn't mean you should stop doing it. I'm pretty sure bosses don't think "I'm just not feeling motivated and inspired today" is a good enough reason to skip out on work. I'm pretty sure that it doesn't get novels finished, either. 

Still, I recently read Stephen King's On Writing and was stuck by something he said. “They pay me absurd amounts of money,” he observes, “For something that I would do for free”. I think when something you started for fun starts to feel like an obligation, it's starting to lose its point and purpose. Maybe it's time to spend time away from it, to let it become a thing you feel inspired to do. If there's anything I've learned this year, it's that passion and conviction are necessary to make any part of your life thrive, and that "should do" and "driven to do" should overlap as often as possible.

Here are some of the things I've been doing, and that I'm still excited about:

1. I took a week-long Southern road trip with one of my oldest, dearest, craziest friends.
2. Signed a teaching contract.
3. Found an awesome place to move this summer.
4. Made many cards and envelopes out of old book pages/illustrations and started on online Etsy shop.
5. Made dinners and toasted glasses of wine with amazing friends, old and new.
6. Watched my brother graduate.
7. Wrote almost 30,000 words of my new WIP, currently known as UndergroundNovel.  
 8. Taking pictures of Mom's local woods and beach as they get dressed for summer.

Current song obsession: From The Woods!! by James Vincent McMorrow