Friday, April 30, 2010
Luck of the Draw
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Writing Go Round
Last night I had the opportunity to put those concerns aside and talk about the creative part of my work. Spokane writer friend Kelly Milner-Halls put together a panel of local children's/YA authors at our local independent bookstore - Auntie's. Instead of a reading to celebrate her new book Saving the Bagdad Zoo, she wanted to share the evening with her friends and reach out to those who want to write for young people. I came home energized after hearing YA novelist Chris Crutcher talk about the need to find hope in our stories for even the most damaged characters. Terry Davis, author of Vision Quest, talked about the energy it took to work for beauty on the page. Kelly told how by the time a book is finished she hates it. Until she visits a school and a young reader falls in love with it, reminding her why she wrote it. I talked about how the older I get, the more I yearn to go deeper with my writing and that the only way I can, is by letting go of my research, to uncover the theme and narrative arc buried beneath.
Today will offer the same merry-go-round. And it's up to all of us to keep reaching for the ring - any color will do. Riding along with other writers can make all the difference.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Sunday, April 25, 2010
With a Little Help From My Friends
Friday, April 23, 2010
Since I am currently revising a novel and all three of my Hamline students are working on novels this semester, it proved timely.
I kept these suggestions in mind all week as I worked on scenes in my novel.
Some Dialog Tips from novelist Janet Fitch:
* Dialog should NEVER be used to impart information or back story.
* Dialog is for the reader, not the other character. Therefore, don’t repeat what has already happened or been mentioned in story.
* Every character’s dialog should be particular to them. A line that anybody could say – nobody should say.
* Purpose of fictional dialog is to reveal tension, characters putting pressure on each other. Purpose of real life conversation is to avoid conflict.
What do you think? Any of these ring true for you?
Wait a minute, I assumed all novels need a hook and must be about something!
So I looked up high-concept on Wikipedia: “High concept is an ironic term used to refer to an artistic work that can be easily described by a succinctly stated premise.”
Second hit on google is screenwriter/pitcher Steve Kaire. He gives five rules for creating high-concept:
1. Premise should be original and unique.
2. Story must have mass audience appeal.
3. Has to be story specific.
4. The potential must be obvious.
5. the Pitch (flap copy) should be one to three sentences long.
He also describes Non-High-Concept (phew, it exists) as: “projects that can’t be sold from a pitch because they are execution driven. They have to be read to be appreciated and their appeal isn’t obvious by merely running a logline past someone.”
So my questions are thus:
How do you define “high-concept?”
What do you think of “high-concept” in contrast to “non-high-concept” or “concept?”
And here’s the fun one—what would it take for your current writing project to be “high-concept?”
Thursday, April 22, 2010
Guess which one is older!
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Devices and conventions
According to the site's home page, "tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés."
True, I suppose. But after wading through list after list of obscure tropes everything blurred into cliche for me. And that, I've decided, can be a helpful thing for a writer. So if you're thinking about adding a certain character quirk or a plot twist, it might be worth checking this site. Undoubtedly your great idea has been done and done and done.
The majority of contributors to this Wiki are clearly grounded in fantasy and science fiction and are steeped in the minutiae of their passions; further, books are not privileged. The children's book world can be a tad insular and old-fashioned (Think how long it's taken graphic novels to be accepted). TV TROPES is a fun escape from the cloister.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Monday, April 19, 2010
At Home with the Amazonians
An extraordinary literary "whodunnit" over the identity of a mystery reviewer who savaged works by some of Britain's leading academics on the Amazon website has culminated in a top historian admitting that the culprit was, in fact, his wife.
Prof Orlando Figes, 50, an expert on Russia and professor of history at Birkbeck College, London, made the startling revelation in a statement through lawyers following a week of intrigue, suspicion, legal threats and angry email exchanges over postings on the website's UK book review pages...
It ended on late on Friday evening with the surprise unveiling of Figes's wife, Dr Stephanie Palmer, a senior law lecturer at Cambridge University, barrister, and member of the top human rights specialists, Blackstone Chambers, as the reviewer calling herself "Historian", and responsible for several anonymous online attacks on the works of her husband's rivals.
Thursday, April 15, 2010
I went to an Illustrator’s event last night—Four famous illustrators talking about their work in regard to collaboration and expansion. Don’t forget, dear writer friends, that illustrators are also storytellers and that they work incredibly hard to come up with brilliant ideas. It is also a collaborative effort. No artist works alone. In every book, every illustration there has been help and guidance.
My favorite of the four was Chris Sickels, founder of Red Nose Studio. What I love about his work is how playful and profound it is. Here are some Utube links to his sculptures and animations. See if you find them as inspiring and enjoyable as I do.
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Writing and the Home Office
Do I answer - my desk area? My filing cabinets, book shelves, living room where I read and read and respond to Hamline student manuscripts and edit my own ? My bed where I read some more? The kitchen where I think about my writing while chopping vegetables? The dining room table where I sometimes drift off during dinner, thinking about some writing problem?
Some days I think it might be better if I had an office away from home. Some of my writer friends have contemplated that over the years. A place where I go to work, so that when I return home, I turn my writing life off. So that I come home and pay bills, talk to my husband, play the piano, take a walk.
The home office is always there - weekends, Christmas morning, the middle of the night when you can't sleep. It's especially there when your kids are grown and out of the house and not interrupting you with squabbles and requests for overnights. I know. I know. When the kids are young, there is never enough time. But our kids are in their 20's and I still think there's not enough time. There never will be when we're trying to write well.
Boundaries. Like Sisyphus shoving that rock uphill, I am in a career that takes a giant to shove away the thoughts night and day, about a manuscript, research, a student's story, a knotty craft aspect.
I know how lucky I am to be able to work in my pajamas, jump on the computer without a commute, eat breakfast after some breakout writing time. Some of you are so frantically busy juggling, that my situation sounds like heaven. I've been there. But right now for me, it's time for some realignment. Time to step back sometimes without leaving home. To return to work the next day fresh and confident. Perhaps no writing on Sundays or after 5 p.m.? How's your home office working for you?
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Monday, April 12, 2010
While reading through the comments I noticed one person said the #1 book was one she rereads, adding, “I rarely reread any book.” Oddly, this was the third time in about as many days that I’ve run across such a comment about rereading.
I reread a lot. A LOT. This is a carryover no doubt from my youth when I spent more time rereading than reading new books. As a result, I was poorly read by the time I went to college. (Cathleen Schine has a lovely essay on her very similar youthful reading habits in the NY Times.)
Rereading is my best medicine for getting out of the writing doldrums. I may not finish an entire book, but I’ll reread enough to absorb the writing and once again fill up my head with language I love and admire. And sometimes I do finish the book and go on to another favorite by that author, immersing myself in his or her voice.
Story hardly matters when I reread. A return visit is all about “the how” of it. Marveling at an opening and the immediacy of mood, admiring the deft passing of time, savoring a word.
Of course I read new (to me) books, lots of them. I’m always thrilled to find a new book and writer I love; even so, it’s rereading that fuels the writing fire.
Currently Rereading: The Truth of the Matter, by Robb Forman Dew. Anyone else rereading something?
Friday, April 9, 2010
The Parent Trap
Afflicted by anomie, sitting down to another dismal meal or rushing out the door to a meeting, the hapless parents of Y.A. fiction are slightly ridiculous. They put in an appearance at the stove and behind the wheel of the car, but you can see right through them.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Questions from "Ask the Inkpot"
I've finished my novel! I've put six years, and lots of blood, sweat, tears, heart, soul (and everything else) into it. It's revised now, and sitting on the desk of someone I hope will send me a nice letter soon.
Now what? It's been so long since I began a project, I don't remember how to start. I have a few ideas, but I can't seem to get going. Any advice for getting on to the Next Big Thing?
Signed, Too Much Freecell
Dear Inkpot Blog,
If an agent or editor asks to see a synopsis of a manuscript (and not the whole thing), but that manuscript is a picture book....how long should the synopsis be, how should it be structured, and what should it include?
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
The Exquisite Corpse - Group Writing Exercise
Dinty Moore, Penn State Altoona, contributed this exercise. He says that that the resultant seven-sentence stories are strained and inelegant. But that they help us break away from predictability and familiar plots.
1. Write first sentence, introducing one character.
2. Introduce second character and establish conflict.
3. Problem grows more complex.
4. First character speaks.
5. Second character speaks.
Okay - don't leave me hanging. Here's my first sentence. Next poster writes sentence one and adds number two and so on.
1. Sixteen year old Sarah Janson snuck out of her parents' house every night.
Monday, April 5, 2010
What's in a Name?
I've known all along that the three carryovers can't and won't have the same names their origin characters had. But I just didn't get around to changing them. For months I've been thinking of them as Claire, Hannah, and Gwen.
I'm about four scenes from finishing the novel and I realized this morning that it was time to do it. You'd think I could wait a day or two until I get those scenes written, but no. Like a dog with a bone, I spent the whole day playing with names. The girls weren't much of a problem, but renaming the main character has been a nightmare. I pored over lists--women scientists, rose varieties, characters from the Bible. Just when I got one that seemed right, I'd get up and head for the coffee pot and by the time I was in the kitchen I knew it was a lousy name. I took a long walk and during that time I settled on and then discarded several possibilities. At about three this afternoon the perfect name appeared out of the ether. I celebrated by going out to work on the flower beds. I didn't even have my gloves on before the perfect name was smelling like decayed leaves.
I do think I've got the right names now. Not to be coy, but I'm keeping them under my opening-day baseball cap. Don't want to jinx it. They're nothing special, I'll say that. Simple, serviceable, Midwestern names. I haven't written a word of those remaining four scenes of course, but it still feels like I've put in a good day's work.
Sunday, April 4, 2010
Vera Wang Knows All
WHY THE %! NOT?
I’m fifty pages in, and every time I get stuck I ask, “why not?” We are so conditioned (at least I am, as my students can confirm) to ask “why.” One of the reasons I’ve been avoiding another novel is because I’ve felt that the field was becoming full of shoulds. It should be about vampires. It should be a potential series. It should use modern technology. I have certainly asked why of all these and more, and then hid under my bed cowering in fear (along with many of my colleagues and peers).
Asking “why” implies that something is not working, someone doesn’t understand what you are trying to say, right? Asking “why not” implies that you have an idea, maybe a wacky, bizarre, crazy idea, but you might as well try it.
WHY NOT have a trainjack in a contemporary novel?
WHY NOT kill off some important people? (and I don’t mean kill as in take them out)
WHY NOT have your character join a circus?
WHY NOT put her in serious danger around every corner?
I mean, if it doesn’t work after the first draft so what? Then you can ask the annoying “why” questions and fix it. (I still believe at some point “why” is necessary, so, dear students, don’t think you’re off the hook.)
Try it. Why not? Or as I prefer, Why The %! Not?
You might find it incredibly freeing.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Mysterious Process III - A Brother on Everest
My brother John has now departed on his own mysterious process, the final book in a seven-part series. I wasn't going to mention this for awhile, as he will be trekking in to Everest base camp for three weeks and won't make the final ascent for 6-8 weeks. But today the NY Times has a featured article on him, written by National Book award-winning NF author Tim Egan. Tim covers JR's range from confidence to conflict, in attempting to climb the tallest mountain in the world at age 62.
Our daughter in graduate school in NYC calls early this morning. Uncle John's in the NY Times. So - even my 91-year old mother could mostly handle the article. But the blog comments - oh, my. The entire range from hero to crazy man.
Enough. I saw the slides. I get the challenge. Yet I am not sure that I understand this one. But everybody has one or more Everests in our lifetime, whether we choose it or not. We've all got mountains to climb. Not as public as my brother's, but mountains full of crevasses and rock slides. And people who don't always understand.
I love my brother like crazy and wish him godspeed. That's the best we can do.