Monday, November 29, 2010

The Classics - Do you read them?

What I'm writing: I'm in the editing phase now - starting with Gods Willing
What I'm reading: Nothing! Ack! I went looking for the copy of Eat, Pray, Love I picked up this summer, but can't find it
What I'm knitting: Mitten 13/14

For the past several years I've begun reading some classic literature. I sprinkle in a bit here and there to spice up my usual fare of bestsellers and recommended reads. There've been some hits and misses along the way. Just because a book is considered a classic, doesn't mean everyone's going to love it.

What I've read:
Everything by Jane Austen - I adore her writing. To me, her humor and snark are as relatable now as they must have been in the 1800s. My favorite: Emma - I think because for this tale, the woman wasn't constricted by poverty. She could have chosen to live as a spinster and been financially sound. I'm sure I'll read most all of Ms. Austen's works again.

Bronte Sisters - I bought a hardcover edition of their works intending to read it all as I had with Ms. Austen's. I managed Emily's Wuthering Heights and Charlotte's Jane Eyre. I disliked them both. I still can't figure out how any of the Wuthering Heights' main characters could be seen as sympathetic or likable to readers. And Jane Eyre seemed like so much romantic tosh that I barely made it through the novel. I apologize to the legion of fans the sisters have, but I didn't get it in the least.

Lucy Montgomery/Anne of Green Gables- Again I bought a large hardcover that held the three novels of the Anne series, I enjoyed Anne of Green Gables, though parts of it seemed a bit contrived. I planned on reading the other two, but have thus far not done so.

Frances Burnett/Secret Garden - Loved it! It was emotional without the feeling that the author was trying to wring the emotion from the reader. Well paced and great character development. This is one I plan to read to my granddaughter some day.

Arthur Doyle/Sherlock Holmes - I bought all the stories in two paperbacks. I read two... maybe three... but couldn't get emotionally attached to the characters.

J.R.R. Tolkien - Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are amazingly wonderful. I've read LotR multiple times. The pacing can kill me when I'm immersed in it - following Frodo and Sam for hundreds of pages and then howling when I'm suddenly shifted to Legolas, Aragorn, and Gimley - and howling again when, hundreds of pages later, I'm shifted back again. I haven't read his other works.

Jack London- I adore White Fang but haven't tried any of his other novels.

Wilson Rawls - Where the Red Fern Grows. Several years ago when Brian had to read this for English, I took advantage and read it to Mark at the same time. I bawled so hard at the end that I could hardly speak. Now that's pulling emotion from a reader. Bravo!

There are probably others, but I can't think of them right now.

My next endeavor will be The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald. I listened to a radio program about Fitzgerald yesterday and it made me really want to read the book. I believe I might blog about this one as I read it, just as an experiment in reviewing and an endeavor in trying to deconstruct a classic. Since I really know nothing about it, I'll come at it with fresh eyes.

I actually felt a little better about my own writing when the radio commentator stated that the first drafts of  Fitzgerald's works were quite pedestrian. I spent a few days in the doldrums of thinking my first drafts are such utter manure that I wonder why I even bother. LOL. So, yeah, it was good to hear that about Fitzgerald and give myself back a little perspective.

Really, though, I think (from what I read and conversations with other writers) we're a lot who either think we're brilliant or horrible - and we can easily go between extremes in any given hour.

So, tell me what classics you've read. Did you enjoy them? Are they worth my reading?

Also, if anyone wants a copy of the Bronte Sisters works or the complete Sherlock Holmes, drop me a line and I'll send them to you.

(and update on Mark: His guitar instructor 'graduated' him out of lessons - he said Mark is faster than he is and has gotten to the point of teaching himself. Mark is really going to miss his lessons, but Ben said to give him a call if Mark ever needs to ask him questions or just wants to jam with him. We bought Mark's one and only Christmas gift this year over the weekend: A burgandy Jackson Randy Rhodes edition electric guitar. Now if Brian would only think of what we can get him for Christmas, I'd be coming along well!)

~~ Amy~~

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Hunger Games and Jack White (Yeah, to me they go together)

What I'm Writing: In the Shadow of Olympus (60K in - maybe another 10K to write)
What I'm Reading: Just finished Mockingjay this morning - I think I'm ruined for other books for at least a week
What I'm Knitting: Ugh

I spent the last eight days devouring the Hunger Games trilogy of books. Yep, eight days in a dystopian YA world - can't be good for the psyche, can it? :)

I don't remember a series of books capturing my attention so completly since my first read-through of the Harry Potter books. At least with this, there are only three and they are already all in print, so I wasn't playing the waiting game (thank goodness).

Anyway, for those of you who aren't familiar with the books, here's a blurb:
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before-and survival.

Suzanne Collins has done an awesome job in these books of finding a character voice that holds the reader and doesn't let go.

Speak to me and don't speak softly
Talk to me and let me know
Grab hold of my shoulder and tell me
Grab hold and do not let go
(Raconteurs - Jack White Vocals - song: These Stones Will Shout Out. written by Brendan Benson)

So what does this have to do with Jack White? Maybe it's all in the timing for me. You see, at the same time I was reading the books, Mark made me a mix CD of some of his favorite songs that I also like. Most of the CD is either White Stripes or Raconteurs (two of Jack's band). I don't think I ever listened closely to many of these songs until I was alone in the car traveling back and forth to work - and then many of them blew me away.

One song in particular, the White Stripes Same Boy You've Always Known is a punch in the gut to me every time I hear it. The lyrics are so sad and Jack's voice so amazing that when the song ends on:
And if there's anything good about me
I'm the only one who knows

I'm pretty well gutted.

Think about that line...

How utterly sad is it for anyone to believe that about themselves? And that's kind of how Katniss in Hunger Games feels about herself on more than one occasion (and really, sometimes she just doesn't think she even knows anything good about herself). I swear, this song (or at least parts of it) should be in the Hunger Games movie when it's made.

You fell down of course
and then you got up of course
and you started over
forgot my name of course
then you started to remember
(The White Stripes - Same Boy You've Always Known)

For anyone who's read Hunger Games, that line could probably refer to Katniss or Peeta at various times in the book.

(Take a short break right now and watch a video of Same Boy You've Always Known- and then tell me that last line doesn't affect you - really, do it!)

Do I sound fangirly enough? I do? Good! Because I am.
It's funny, but I think Hunger Games and Jack White now will be forever entwined in my mind - I guess that's not a bad thing.

And now that I'm thinking about it (and giggling to myself), I suppose White Stripe's song You're pretty good looking, for a girl could be a good one for Katniss when she's being all re-made for TV.

Oh yeah you're pretty good looking for a girl
but your back is so broken
and this feeling's still gonna linger on
until the year 2525 now
(White Stripes - You're Pretty Good Looking, For a Girl)

Oh, and wow on the books being written first-person present tense. It was a bit wierd to get used to at first, but then the writing gave such rapidfire movement to the books that who can complain, really?

(And one caveat - I've talked about this to some writer friends (specifially Jeanette) - but it really irks me when problems in novels are solved too easily, or solved outside of the MCs sphere of influence. I mean I love Tolkien and Rowlings, but really, how many times can Giant Eagles or magical Phoenixes come to the rescue when the MC is backed into a corner? How many times can some magical law - unknown until then - step in to save the day? In the Hunger Games, there's a bit of that - though not magic - instead it's little silver parachutes bringing necessities - 'nough said).

Okay, I think I'm officially done rambling, but, yeah, if you want a good read, then try the Hunger Games Trilogy (Hunger Games, Catching  Fire, Mockingjay) (and listen to Jack White in between reading sessions - see if you're convinced).

Monday, November 22, 2010

On characters and plot and writing

What I'm Writing: In the Shadow of Olympus
What I'm Reading: Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (wow, just wow)
What I'm Knitting: Still working on those darned mittens 12 of 14 mittens done

Throwing myself so fully into Nano this year helped me remember why I love to write, and why I should never, ever stop writing. There's such a thrill to be had from weaving a story, letting your subconscious out to play and guide you, meeting new people through your characters, and testing your boundaries along the way.

It's magical, at least to me.

Weaving a story: Where else (other than sims games, perhaps) are you so free to world-build? You can be a god, conducting the lives of your characters, giving them thoughts, and throwing perils into their paths. For me, I start with knowing where I'm starting and where I want to end up and then it's a whole lot of thinking and trying and rethinking and retrying from there. And, yes, since I'm building my own world, from the ground up, really, I set the rules, but I always must make sure what happens in the story sticks to those rules - if it doesn't, well, then no one's going to believe. For my Nano novel, I've completely changed my plot (though it still starts and ends in the same place) three times. I am now within 10000 words of the end of my first draft and very happy with how the story arc went. I'll have a lot of work to do filling in holes, fluffing up descriptions, dropping hints, etc., when I rewrite (not to mention the gruesome SPaG errors that will rear their ugly heads), but the bones are there.

Letting my subconscious out to play: Well, I suppose since it's the subconscious, it's never really 'out,' but boy do I notice the inner workings of my brain more when I'm writing than I do at any other time. How weird does that sound? If I have a plot hole I need filled, I think on it for a while and then let it go - the answer comes sooner rather than later. And one other thing that I adore - and it's happened to me, I think, with every manuscript I've ever written - I'll throw some detail in at the beginning - something for atmosphere, perhaps, that is not meant to have a bearing on the book. Usually something that I think I may cut out later. But in later chapters, I'll have a use for that 'thing.' It'll somehow become necessary and important. And I smile and pat my subconscious on its... um... back(?) and feel like, for a moment, I'm queen of the world.

Characters: I hear authors talk about how their character did something wholly unexpected that changed the direction of their book. For non-authors, this might sound silly, a bit demented, really. So, Ms. Tripp, the characters of your book are talking to you? How long has this been going on, hmmmm? But really, it happens. As an author, I strive to get to know my character: how they think and react, what makes them tick, what their past, present, and future are like. When this is done thoroughly and you know who exactly you're writing, then they do, in a way, tell  you how the story should go. If I'm in a good groove of writing, I'm sometimes completely surprised by what a character says or does, but when I think about it, I realize it fits, and usually gives the book a twist I hadn't been planning - gives me a fresh perspective. It happened in this year's nanonovel - although instead of a character I'd been writing surprising me (which they have), this was a character I hadn't developed suddenly showing up (literally popped into my scene, but that's allowed in the world I've built) and became my MCs sidekick. I absolutely adore him. Love it when something like that happens - and again it comes back to the subconscious working away.

Testing Boundaries: The Can I? Should I? questions should be thrown out the window when you're writing. You can and you should write whatever it feels like the story needs for it to be told. You can worry, on editing, if you've gone too far, but if it feels right, then usually it is. In a blog post before Nano, I asked a question about racism in MG novels. As I dove into the world of my characters, I used words and phrases I though I'd avoid. I put in situations that are uncomfortable. I'll decide, later on, if they need to be toned down, but I'm hoping, really, they don't. For what is a good story, really, if it doesn't make us think and react.

For those writers out there - how do you write? Do your characters drive your story?
For non writers - what makes a good read, a good character?

I'd love to know what you think.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Nano Update and an opportunity for Mark

What I'm writing: In the Shadow of Olympus
What I'm reading: Grilling Season by Diane Mott Davidson
What I'm knitting: Double-knit mittens

Nano is flying by and my fingers are flying along with it. I'm up over 30,000 words now. I'm really liking my story and my characters so that makes it easier to write (of course). I thought I had worked out how the story would progress (though I've already radically changed it twice), but just today I thought of a different route to take that I think I'm going to go with. One character who was supposed to be a friend is now going to be an avowed enemy. One enemy is now going to be, while not exactly a friend, at least somewhat helpful. And one character who I hadn't even plotted is now going to be a good friend. Who knew?? LOL

Yesterday, being Veteran's Day, Mark and I had the day off. I asked him in the morning if he wanted to do anything, and he just gave me the 'you should already know what I want to do' look, so I took him to Watertown and dropped  him off at Dr. Guitar while I hit the mall and a craft store. We got back home in time for me to make an early supper and get some cleaning done. Later, when we were having supper, Mark's guitar instructor, Ben, called. He asked if Mark could be back at Dr. Guitar by six to be in a local commercial for the store. Um... yeah.

We had to leave right away since it takes almost an hour to get there, but Mark was excited, so I wouldn't have dreamed of telling him no. We got there in plenty of time. Mark was handed a beautiful white Epiphone electric guitar to play. He was seated in an aisle on a stool just playing the guitar for a half hour or so. Another of Ben's students was across the store playing an acoustic guitar. Others were wandering the store as 'customers.' As for me and the parents of the the other student (a lovely couple who had just moved back to NY from Hawaii), we tried valiantly to hide in a corner. The cameraman told us once to walk around, so now I'm just really, really hoping I don't end up in the commercial.

Anyway, Mark loved it. He got to be in his favorite place in the world (for the second time in one day), he got to play guitar, and he was filmed. What more could an aspiring guitar player/builder want?

I can't wait to see the finished product. I don't know when it will be shown, but it's also supposed to be uploaded to the internet, so when it is, I'll drop a link here.

They had cookies for everyone once it was over. I told Mark his first professional gig and he got paid with cookies. LOL.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why, oh why?

What I'm reading: Sala's Gift
What I'm writing: I finished the first draft of Gods Willing yesterday and will begin my nano novel: In the Shadow of Olympus today.
What I'm knitting: Double-knit mittens

Why is it we tend to get snow on Halloween more often than not? It didn't stick around, but still... those poor little trick-or-treaters!

Mark got his first pair of glasses on Saturday, now hopefully they help his headaches.

November 1st! Nanowrimo starts today!