Friday, October 29, 2010

Rocky Horror Glee

Since I watched the Rocky Horror episode of Glee, I've been trying to figure out why the show doesn't seem as enchanting to me this season as it did last.

I think I've got it.

It's all in the characterization. As a writer, I have to think about my characters, live in their heads a bit, get to know them on an intimate level. I have to ask myself, Is this really what he/she would do? And if it's not, I better figure out what he/she would do - otherwise, I lose credibility.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think Glee has awesome writers - they take a rather large cast of characters and show them to the viewer in ways that help you understand their motivations, desires, dreams, and jealousies. But what happens when one of those characters no longer seems to be in-character?

I'm talking Mr. Schue - Will Schuester.

In season one, Mr. Schue was all about the kids. He took his love of his students, and this feeling of being honor-bound to help them succeed, to an extreme. He ignored his marriage in order to give the kids his best (granted, the marriage wasn't spectacular). He stood up to Sue and Figgins to defend his students. He was, in short, a model teacher - unimpeachable in his job, really - and we needed him to be that way. He was the responsible one, the one who saved the students from themselves, the one who made (mostly) mature decisions in guiding them.

We could have a Sue Sylvester on the other end of the spectrum because we had a Will Schuster. (And isn't Jane Lynch spectacular as Sue? Very much deserved Emmy win).

Fast forward to the Fall 2010 season, and in... what?... five episodes we've seen Mr. Schue team up with  Sue to bully the new football coach, sing/dance with the students at a pep rally to a sexy Brittney Spears song, convince the students to do a musical that's really not suited to high school, expect one male student to wear nothing but skimpy shorts onstage and a male and female student to perform in their underwear, and get hot-heavy-partially-naked with Emma in the school.

Hmmmmm... doesn't quite sound like the same character, at least not to me.

I'm not judging this on morality - I could really care less about the moral issues of the show - I enjoy it for the writing, the humor, the edge. I'm only looking at this as watching a character slip out of character. Would season one Will even recognize season two Will? I don't know. Can we use the excuse that he's going a little wild after his divorce or because he lost Emma? I don't think so. Sure, we all know people who, after a divorce or upon hitting 'middle age', go a little nuts - but don't we usually see that in them, at least a hint, before? Does someone who holds high standards and ideals fall so quickly because of a divorce? I have a hard time believing it.

I'll keep watching Glee, of course I will, but now I'm watching it with a more critical eye, waiting to see what Mr. Schue will do next, and if I'll really buy it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

For most people, November 1st isn't a milestone, it isn't a date they look toward with both anticipation and dread. For them, it's just another day - a Monday this year, to be precise. But for anyone who has ever participated in National Novel Writing Month, the first day of November heralds the beginning of thirty days of stress, self-imposed deadlines, exhilaration, and, if you push yourself enough to reach 50,000 words, joy.

After participating in Nanowrimo for the past five years (year six starts in a few days!), I tend to forget that not everyone in the world - or at least my world - knows what Nanowrimo is. For the uninitiated, Nano is a challenge - write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. That boils down to 1,667 words a day. It's not a horrible task, it's not almost undoable, it's just a marathon when you think of doing it for 30 days straight.

Believe it or not, there are speedy typists out there who write 12,000 words, 25,000 words, and more in a single day.

Not me.

I chug along at about 2000 a day - a bit more some days, a bit less on others - many years I've finished the challenge just before Thanksgiving.

I've been doing a lot of research for this year's novel. I've been filling up a journal with hand written notes, printed maps, and scraps of information gleaned from the internet. It's over 50 pages right now. My house and office are overrun with books on Boston during the Civil War. I've actually (ACK!) gone online to research racial and ethnic slurs of the 1860s (that really made me feel skeevy).

This year along with participating in Nano, I'm also Municipal Liaison for the Watertown, NY area. So there are extra duties, but also an extra sense of community. For anyone interested, we're having a kick-off meeting at Arbys on Arsenal Street in Watertown on October 30th at 1 pm.

On top of all that, I'm trying to finish a romance novel I've been working on all summer. I'm close, but I'm not sure if I'll get it done by October 31st. Aaaaannnnndddd... I'm trying to learn the new duties I've been given at work.

So... if when November comes and you barely hear from me for days on end, just listen for the clacking of computer keys - that's where you'll find me.

(by the way, this post was just over 400 words - yeah, I'll be counting everything for the next month).

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How to portray racism in middle grade novels

What I'm Writing: Gods Willing
What I'm Reading: Doing research on Civil War era Boston
What I'm Knitting: Moooooo

The start of National Novel Writing Month is only about nine days away, so I've been frantically researching and planning my novel.

I usually don't have a lot of research to do when I write. I tend to either make up my own world where my only limitation is my own creativity, or base a story in the modern US - something I know.

I had planned on writing a romance for Nanowrimo this year, but this one little strand of thought kept nudging at my brain, telling me there was a different idea, a different storyline, I should persue. I let that nudge turn into a full-fledged kick and took a couple of weeks to flesh out an idea. I liked it and decided to run with it.

This idea: a Middle Grade novel that starts in a to-be-determined era in US history and then veers into the realm of fantasy, seemed pretty straight forward at first. It would be a I'm-kidnapped-and-need-to-save-myself type story. All well and good, right? Well, not so much.

First off, I needed a city - an industrial port town is essential to the plot. Boston! my mind shouted. 'k, I can do Boston - never been there, but I can do enough research to portray it well enough - and since this will be set.... hmmmm.... when would be a good time period?... how about just after the Civil War... yes, that's good - I won't have to know modern Boston, just a Boston during its growth.

No problem! Yeah, right.

I began planning out the plot, naming and then learning my characters, refreshing my knowledge of the mythic part of the novel, ordering books about historical Boston from ebay and my local library. It was going well - I was filling a journal with scraps of information, character studies, plot points - 30, 40... almost 50 pages. And then I received my first book on historical Boston and spent an evening and a bit of the next morning skimming through it. Wow.

I had already decided my MC would be an Irish boy, but little did I realize how reviled the Irish were in pre-Civl War Boston. The protestants hated the new Irish immigrants (Potato famine refugees by the thousands) - seeing them as violent, barbaric, even. The Irish took over much of the housing and many of the jobs the free blacks in Boston had held before, so that caused even more strife. The Irish, in turn, didn't much like the blacks - worrying that if slavery was abolished, they'd lose their jobs to the freed slaves who would flood north.

The Irish proved themselves during the Civil War, fighting for their new homeland and President, and so, after the war, they were more highly regarded (black Bostonians, on the other hand, didn't see as much benefit from the outcome of the war as the Irish did - Go figure. (and I'm not talking about blacks that won their freedom through the war - I'm speaking about already free blacks - big difference)).

So all this information seived through my brain and began changing the tone and complexity of this novel. I pushed back the time frame, deciding to set the novel during the Civil War. I had already created a character of African descent who would now have a bigger role in the book, thus bringing out some of the racism and fright/hatred of the period.

All of a sudden, this seemed like a hell of a lot to take on, but I believe I'm up to the task.

My biggest worry now is how to portray racism in a book meant for middle grade readers. I'm certainly not going to sugar-coat it, but I also don't want to push the envelope too far. I won't be using some of the language - the titles, if you will - that were hung on the people of different nationalities, as that would be too coarse. The story has to lead to understanding and redemption at least on an individual level, as history shows that we're still struggling, as a nation, with those ideas.

All-in-all, the novel is going to be grittier than I had first imagined, but more truthful as well.

I'd love to hear your thoughts - what place does historic racism have in the books children read?

I've pretty much decided that I'm not going to worry so much about what's considered polite and just write the hell out of this thing and see where it takes me.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

This 'n That

What I'm writing: Gods Willing
What I'm reading: Forest for the Trees (Awesome!!)
What I'm knitting: I'm done complaining about it....

I'm feeling like a real girl  author now! In gearing up for this year's Nanowrimo, I'm actually doing some research! I know! Me! Doing research!!! My novel is going to be for middle grade readers. It starts in post-civil war Boston and then veers into fantasy from there. I want the Boston parts to be as true-to-life and accurate as possible - thus the research. I just bought three books off ebay and ordered two more from the library. Nanowrimo is only like 17 days away, so I'll have to read fast when the books come in!

In other exciting news, after more than 2 years of being part-time, I've been put back on full-time at my job. I will miss my days off (and my adventures with Kim), but the money will be nice. Plus I can start saving for retirement again.

I'm reading a fabulous book: The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner. It's nonfiction and is an 'editor's advice to writers.' I HIGHLY recommend it to any and all of my writer friends. I'm reading it voraciously. I love Betsy's style of writing, and I'm having lots of Ah! moments.

Last night I helped Brian start rolling his spare change. He has a rather large jug full of change and I told him I'd help him roll it up and take it to the bank. He's travelling to two Table Tennis tournaments over the next two weekends, and I'm sure he could use the money for travelling expenses. Oh, and he told me the other day that Ping Pong is a leisurely game, Table Tennis is a sport. If you're wondering, I play Ping Pong. (rarely) ;)

At his last guitar lesson, Mark's teacher, Ben, told us that starting in November he wants to cut Mark down to lessons every other week. He said Mark is getting good enough now that Ben needs to give him bigger projects to work on and longer to work on them. Mark's assessment: "Who am I going to jam with every week now?" So this week he started teaching one of his friends to play - I believe it's a wholly selfish move.

Let's see.... hmmmm... nope, nothin' else to say right now...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


What I'm writing: A horror short story - thus far unnamed
What I'm reading: Anne of Green Gables
What I'm knitting: That darned cow motif scarf - I've decided I hate intarsia knitting. Grrrrr

Tropical storm Nicole chugged up the east coast at the end of last week. In Northern NY we didn't get hit as hard as some other areas, but we did get over five inches or rain (and our local newscaster helpfully told us it would have amounted to 5 to 6 feet had it been snow).

Our house sits less than a half mile from the Black River and we have a creek that runs through our land. (Please note, around here it's pronounced Crick, not Creek :)). When the Black River floods, it backs up into our creek and we can end up with a lake in our yard. So it was when I got home from work on Friday night (and had risen even more by Saturday morning).

Jon had to go into work on Saturday to deal with rain damage there, so I took my camera and walked to the river. It was a nice quiet walk since the road was closed due to the flooding.

In this photo, the actual river is on the left, any water to the right of the treeline is flood water.

This is usually a field. When the water receded back to the river, it left a lake in the field, which has now almost dried up. Every time I drive past I think of all the fish that probably got trapped and died.

This last one is our yard. The tree right about in the middle of the photo? Yeah, the water is usually on the other side of that. This one was taken Friday night, so even more of our yard got swallowed up by the next morning.

Other than some debris on the lawn, everything is pretty well back to normal now - except it's raining again (cue the music from Jaws).