Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Books, books, books

I'm reading a self published book at the moment. The story is well revealed and that is why I keep reading it. That and all the mistakes. The big ones. They have me reading in keen interest. The dialog  is too long. For a lot of the scenes the tension is not clear.  At awkward moments, new information surprises the reader. Such are the things that I could learn from. I think this book could be great, if the revision was taken a little further, if author of (un)said book worked a little more to learn some tricks about setting and revealing just enough to make a reader suspicious and then the next event will make more of an aha, than a groan. How come this has become easier to see in someone's writing and has been slow to come in my own?

So, I think this writer could have published this book traditionally with just a little more work. That's my prognosis. But maybe she didn't want to. Maybe that is just me that wants the traditional publishing house. But this is why I think the gateposts that editors provide are a good thing. They force us writers to keep working even when we hoped we are already done.

I am in the middle of Liar. I was totally enjoying it. I have just been busy busy busy. Cooking and cleaning and doing laundry. With five extra people and a couple of them under 5 there is always work to be done. Thank the lord they just keep getting older and more helpful. But boy are they cute. No writing, no blogging, no reading of Liar. Lots of drinking(wine for adults, milk for children), conversation, laughing and putting on of snow-pants and taking off of snow-pants and dishes. Such fun! Such puddles in the entryway! Such red teeth!

Go over to The Rad Librarian to see his book list for 2009. He reads more than I can imagine(It is even condoned at work. Why the heck did I not become a librarian?). He mentions The Highest Tide, which I loved but I have to tell you about my reading experience sometime (Because I think it is terribly interesting--I read half the traditional way and listened to the other half with my family in a car). And Jim Lynch has another book if anyone is interested. I know I am.

I bought my son Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman for the holiday and he has been reading reading reading. That is such a thrill(Go, Son, go!). The boy child has a thing for mythology and especially Norse. And I can't wait to read it myself. Now everyone here wants to and I believe there is now a queue. It is kinda like the library around here. Except louder and hardly anyone is reading.

As Always(trying to keep you posted.),

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Eleven Years Today

The boy child is turning eleven today. Eleven years of being a parent and it always seems to be in a new phase. We bought him a bow and arrow for his birthday and he's walking around the house with his cape and quiver (He doesn't really have a quiver. I just thought it sounded good.). He has entered what I am going to call his Percy Jackson Phase. It is apt just because my son has some serious demons to battle now that prepubescence is upon us and although it is hard for me to watch, he is a beauty. I hope the bow and arrow has some magical properties. That it becomes a manga pen and will return to the spot behind his left ear whenever it's lost(like Percy's Riptide).  And then he could also use it to draw. I hope we have given him what he needs.

As Always(thinking of you, Karlene),

P.S. Times, they are busy. Kids out of school and my house will be full with 2 sisters, 1 niece, 1 nephew, 1 brother in law, 1 mother and 1 Bill, 1 son, 1 daughter and 1 husband. Fun and chaotic and sporadic posting. Maybe I will be here before the end of the year (I hope so), more likely I won't. Wishing you all houses filled with loved ones AND time for writing!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

corrections and writing updates and declarations

So I made a mistake in my last post and called the prefrontal cortex the amygdala. The amygdala is actually a spot in the near center of the brain at the top of the brain stem. It is responsible for emotions, mainly fear, and incites those big reactions fight or flight. As such not appropriate for Queen Amidala(That’s the other thing I did wrong in that last post is I called her a Princess. Probably I was thinking of Princess Laia. Whoops, again. I had googled t to make sure I was spelling it correctly but it seems that I wasn't the only one.). She much more of a prefrontal cortex person. Calm cool and collected, I’d say. And her name does not sound like that at all.

I have been making lots of mistakes lately. I wrote a whole post about this a while back and didn’t publish it. The post started out with me apologizing and then I drifted into the whole idea of blogging personas and me getting a little uppity, taking back my apology and saying that I’m planning on making more mistakes. Hence the not posting. Maybe that was a mistake.

Difficulty making decisions. Hence the reading How to Decide by Jonah Lehrer.

I also just started Liar by Justine Larbalestier.

Writing update:
I tried to read the manuscript last night but the words were ugly and malformed. I put it down by page three. Not the right mindset. So no revisions just yet.

And I have been writing. Just at the beginning of something that I have been thinking about. But I wrote it down, not sure what was next, and it happened sort of of its own accord, an inciting incident and some conflict. A good way to begin a book. Maybe the whole thing will flow out of me easily this time, that first book just the unfortunate attempt of trying to internalize the form. Now that it is internalized everything from here on out will be a piece of cake. That is a declaration.

As Always (oh, why is it always so painful?),

Monday, December 14, 2009

What does Princess Amidala have to do with it?

I only gave out my manuscript to two people for this first round of crits. I don’t know exactly why I have been keeping this a secret. I think I didn’t want them to feel like the burden fell on them quite so much. Maybe it makes me seem vulnerable relying so heavily on just two people. But here was my plan. I was going to send it out to one person who had never read it. And to Andy who has read the whole thing in small pieces. From those two I would find out how it stood up all-together, no one had read it in one fell swoop. But my reader who didn’t know my work, I didn’t know his reading style and still don't. I know the books he likes, ones that I like too, but I don’t know how he reads. And this is critical in a reader. You want to play t peoples strength. You don't want to torture people who are doing a kind thing for you (sorry if I am!). I myself, tend to read for the big swoop. I read for themes and arches and pace but my grad school girlfriends(at least two of them anyway) read for line editing closeness, so I was saving them for after this reading. Perhaps that is also why I was being so private with my reader choices. I’m hording. My strategic plan is suspect. Am I just using this early group? Honestly I’m not sure Rachel and Terri could get past my f—ked up prose. I am a herky-jerky writer at times (have you already noticed?) and that makes the reading uncomfortable. Then, after my line editing readers, I have a couple teen readers and my librarian reader friend offered. And the list goes on (I think).
But, one of my writer-readers got back to me last night. And the short report is the book changes in some critical way around chapter six (I haven’t seen the marked up draft yet. I will by the time my sister comes home. She is the draft passer, like it's some sort of illicit substance that makes its way through the underground to my reader’s doorstep and then back again.) Reader Andy says the manuscript chugs along nicely and then something happens and it becomes too chewy compared to how tenderly it began (those are nearly his words if not exactly his words). And the last two chapters are nice again but because the substance in the middle is so hard to digest, the end loses some of it’s effect.

Okay. I hear that. Since I was really worried about not being able to get the beginning up to snuff, this is feedback I can work with. I’m scared to look at his marked up draft now that I know this. I read last night that too much information can really bog down your amygdala(this word always makes me think of Princess Amidala and it’s kind of nice to picture someone so calm and regal as Natalie Portman at the front of your brain making the decisions). I’m reading/skimming How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer. I seriously want to make the hard decisions. Take a slash and burn approach to these words and cut my manuscript into something that works. Make it run like a cheetah (Andy DID say cheetah). I want to read it myself and see how the change feels to my eyes, before getting to the nitty-gritty, of which I am sure there is plenty. I'd like to focus on that simple piece of the equation, changing the big thing that is broke,  maybe it is as simple as cutting out something extraneous. I’m not sure that I can do this well. But thankfully I have had time to get some distance.

As Always (Any advice on reading your own manuscript???),

Thursday, December 10, 2009


I want to welcome Heather Lane as follower 15. She has a beautiful blog where she interviews the most interesting people about their writing achievements and chronicles her own writing process. She really encourages reader interaction by continuing interviews in the comments of her blog and I love the idea of Monday meetings, where she makes a commitment to the work she is going to do for the week.  I may just have to copy her sometimes.

As Always (grateful to you all),

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Cruddy by Lynda Barry, also What It Is

Cruddy by Lynda Barry

Just so you know, published in 1999 and I'm pretty sure never classified as YA, despite the fact that the protagonist is 16 in present time and 11 in the back story. Not the book for everyone. In fact most of my bookclub could not palate it. But it is a book for me. Murders, blood, stench, alcohol, smoking, drugs and a little sex. But really, if you can get past all that, what I liked was the character of Roberta. All of the horrible action was interpreted through her eyes and Lynda Barry stayed there with her. Roberta was smart and interesting, sometimes surprising and mostly tough and distant.

Lynda Barry has a writing book that I really love called What It Is. Essentially it chronicles her writing life through cartoons and examines what an image is at the same time and experiments with how to find one for yourself. It culminates in a grand writing exercise. For me, it has been really useful, a beautiful resource for writing and teaching. And because Ms. Barry refers to her own childhood in it, it provides some insight into her fiction. Which is perhaps necessary to appreciate Cruddy when everyone around you doesn't like it much. (I myself don't bother to finish reading things when I am not getting much out of them, so I can hardly fault my fellow bookclubbers for not getting past the shock value in this book. But I did respond defensively to their inability to see through it. I have to examine this judgment of mine....)

As a teacher I am interested in writing as a therapeutic exercise particularly where mindfulness is concerned. And as a writer I think mindfulness and creativity go hand in hand. I have uses Lynda Barry's writing exercises with a teen writing group I lead, where we write Natalie Goldberg style (practicing mindfulness) and take turns reading. This is always extremely fun and everyone comes back for more. Listening to each other and resonating with something from their piece is also a practice in mindfulness, an exercise in responding to others' work and I believe it breeds creativity and voice. And perhaps speaks to how Roberta from Cruddy was made.

In Cruddy I felt the dream-state Ms. Barry had entered, a over-the-top world that Roberta responded to with aplomb, humor, and we get a sense of her pain despite her hard exterior. I hope to someday make a character that is so interesting.

As Always(not doing justice to my feelings),

First, business and then The Lost Conspiracy

As is the habit over here (totally copying a Paul Michael Murphy tradition), I want to welcome Davin Malasarn as follower number fourteen. He has two blogs which I recommend highly, The Literary Lab (I've already pointed over there several times in the short time  I have been reading it, totally useful writing advice that apparently strikes a chord with me) and The Triplicate, a blog about science. I'm very curious how MIT harnessed the power of the internet to win the Red Balloon Experiment, if they did. I love when art and science meet. And that makes me think of music: Jeremy Messersmith's song "Scientists", The Flaming Lips' "Race for the Prize". And They Might Be Giants have a whole new album about science (of course I haven't heard it yet). There's another song that I can't quite think of right now, blast it. I'm sure there are a million other songs equally as good. Can you think of any?

The Lost Conspiracy by Frances Hardinge

I read this one aloud to my son. It took me a while to get into it. I was frustrated with the world building, I wanted the story to get started. But probably because I was reading it aloud, we stuck with it and eventually the story took us over. I heard about this book first from Betsy Bird at Fusenews. Who wrote about it with such passion that I put it on my list. I am always looking for books to read aloud. Because that way I can be working on two books at once. And because my son likes it. And because then I read middle grade too.

Frances Hardinge writes a complicated narrative about post colonial fantasy world. And she does it by only showing. I think that is why it took so long to get into. Frances Hardinge went out of her way to introduce Gullstruck Island as a personality itself. Because it had grown with these different cultures and knowledge at cross purposes, and come to know themselves only in this way. My son had at one point noticed that the way the culture was unfair to the Lace (the islands indigenous tribe who are being set up in the story). Everyone ready to believe the worst of them. Hardinge's story displays how sources of things get lost, like a song that shows a way through the mountain, and how with it a whole culture can be misunderstood. At one point in her review Betsy Bird articulated that she waited to write about the book, hoping the right words would come to her. And I have also not known what to say about it.  I point you her way if you want to read a better review. The end of the book had my son crying, because although the intense story line is resolved, the world on Gulstruck has totally changed and our heroine(Hathin) has changed with it. There was a lot of loss in the book and not the least of which is life as Hathin knew it. And there is both good and bad to that. The story is complicated in the best ways. Many characters are not truly good or truly bad and even the end is not cut and dried. Wrapping it all up neatly would have done a disservice to Hardinge's portrayal of a complicated situation. When I mentioned this book to My Lovely Librarian Friend, he reminded me of The Remarkable and Very True Story of Lucy and Snowcap a book he reviewed with similar elements. I've never read this but I  felt I should.

As Always (thanks for visiting),

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Oh, and...

Read this.

Not so many books listed. I haven't read Charles and Emma yet, but that is the only one of Jonathan Hunt's list that I haven't read and I really liked the others. I'll admit that I am intrigued and if it has me reading compulsively, than I'm up for it. I just like that he said, Young Adult Literature has been transformed from the redheaded stepchild of the literary world into one of the most dynamic and exciting niches in publishing. I believe it, but I still kind of like red hair.

As Always (keeping you posted),


My seven year old daughter has never taken to listening to books in the way my son has. I would call her my reluctant reader despite the fact that she clearly has no decoding issues and he has loads of them. I have spent the last few years checking out anything and everything I could think of to grab her attention. Looking for the "gateway book" (I just read that term over at the Literary Lab, very apt) for her. She has always been less then interested and the sole one to complain about listening to books on our car trips. But finally I had given in and not worried about it so much. A week ago I checked out a Felicity American Girl Story on CD because sometimes she falls asleep listening to books and I still try to keep ones around that she may like. So the other night it was on, and as she was listening,  or (I thought) trying to go to sleep, I crawled in next to her.  Felicity was in a finishing class where she was to learn proper manners. She was pouring tea for her friend and holding her pinky out correctly. It seemed to be taking my daughter a long time to fall asleep. Eventually I suggested that we turn the book off.

"No," she said, "I can see the pictures of what they are doing in my head."

And like that, it was as if a light turned on for me, like possibly it has for her. I think it is brilliant how everyone learns things in different order at different times. She had never learned to make the pictures before. Well, we'll see if it changes anything, but it is still cool.

As Always (must finish Cruddy by bookclub tonight),

Monday, December 7, 2009

Fantastic Mr. Fox

We went to see it yesterday afternoon with the kids. Having sat down all four of together on Friday afternoon making lists of what each of us would have to get done in order to earn the treat of watching the film. It made for an unbelievably pleasent weekend. Mom didn't have to hassle too much. We went into it knowing the schedule and we are starting out Monday, semi-prepared for the week. (Except my daughter, poor thing, was sick in the night and managed to throw up in three different beds, so there's laundry.)

We left the theater giddy. All of us a little in love with Foxy. My husband clicking and whistling in the Foxy trademark. And I was definitely in love with Wes Anderson's brain. I had never known Roald Dahl had a book entitled Fantastic Mr. Fox until I started to hear of the movie. I read that Anderson stayed true only to the middle section of the book and that this movie is more upbeat than Dahl's grim story (I tend to like Dahl's grimness, but I like Wes Anderson's playfulness more). And I guess I don't much care how close to the book he stayed. I'm more concerned with what sparked Anderson's interest and where inspiration took the story. Can't wait to see the movie again. And my kids too (which is a rare treat).

Here's a review if you like.

Plan for the week:
1. Put things back in the closets
2. Sort organize and rearrange
3. Blog

As Always (off to buy foam for the bench),

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Lips Touch by Laini Taylor

I have been liking the short form lately and there are three novellas here. Very different worlds. And I thought really well formed. I especially loved the set up of the first story, Goblin Fruit. That character was so perfect and her temptation so compelling. Very rich in a small space.

And the last story, The Changling, dark painful, mysterious, epic storyline. Here there are some similar paranormal elements to Meyer’s vampires. Beauty, coldness, living a long time, no sparkling as far as I can tell. Her deamons do have speed and shapeshifting. In this story I loved how Laini Taylor used structure to build tension, each character's story out of chonological order, the flashback interrupting the present narration.

Also the set of illustrations by Jim Di Bartolo before each novella built tension as well. Sensual and dark.

I love how Laini Taylor is so generous with her writing advice. Now that I have read her lovely prose, I want to go back and reread how she comes up with those worlds of hers.

As I am trying to build my own, I want to know what comes first, situation, world or character. Here is what Suzanne Collins says: I’ve learned it helps me to work out the key structural points before I begin a story. The inciting incident, acts, breaks, mid-story reversal, crisis, climax, those sorts of things. I’ll know a lot of what fills the spaces between them as well, but I leave some uncharted room for the characters to develop. And if a door opens along the way, and I’m intrigued by where it leads, I’ll definitely go through it. The end of my book kind of came together the way she describes. I kne what was going to happen and what came in between, but I left room also to follow my fancy. And I would like my experience writing the end of that book to influence the writing of the next. Post first book (no mistakes, I'm not done with it yet, it just that now it is what it wants to be. Perhaps I can still fiddle with it and make it work better, but short of totally rewriting it--I've rewritten it several times already--it is what it is) my instinct is to approach it as Scott describes at The Literary Lab, quoting John Gardner's explanation. His post struck a chord with me, both as a reader and a writer. It is a elusive feeling, that writer's dream state. First relying on my imagination to get the world right, and then experiencing that world in my head, and returning to it each time I face the words. But I'm no good at transitions, I fear them and yet isn't that the writers life? Shifting from one world to the next and then having to go back again.

As Always(I have been practicing daydreams. Now if only I could remember my night dreams.),

Saturday, December 5, 2009

the eye(candy) of the beholder

Just now I read  Read Roger comments on the controversy from the recent SLJ cover of librarian bloggers at a bar. As an example of unpredictable complaints folk have, he posted this 2000 cover.

Which garnered this objection.

I kind of had to post it here because I totally feel don't mind having this in my house. He's beautiful.

As Always (must disseminate),

The Diary of Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

My son has been reading this series over the past year or two, but I had never read any until now. My son is incredibly literate when it comes to listening to books. He started paying attention to stories at a very early age and he has an amazing auditory memory. And where that literary dream-state is concerned, he can lose all present time and space as long as he is listening. The world of the book becomes his world. But for him, the decoding is hard. And there are few things that he has sat down and lost himself in without audible help. But Diary of a Wimpy Kid worked. I think it is the density of words on the page. He's able to handle a much denser story but it's too much for his eyes to communicate to his brain. Although Diary of a Wimpy Kid is simple, I think the characterization of Greg Heffley and his interaction with the reader is complicated. I can see what my son likes. Greg Heffley's cluelessness in making friends and gaining popularity is never far from home. And I admired Jeff Kinney's skill in making the reader feel smarter then the protag. That is exactly what preteen boys need(in my opinion anyway), to feel like an expert at something, all the better for it to be sensitivity to fellow wimps.

As Always(in lieu of doing something else),

Friday, December 4, 2009

I don't write easy.

It has been an odd couple weeks for me. Best laid plans, you know. I had expected to foist off my manuscript on the poor people who offered to look at it and then have a relaxing vacation, where I lay in the sun (there is no way to do that in Minnesota in November--I'm prone to delusions), reading novels while they toiled away, reading my broken one. Although, in my mind, reading it would be a breeze. I had fantasies that it would be an easy read, a few problems of course, but easy. And I would have a brief vacation from cruel manuscript, where, not only I would relax but I would whip my chaotic home life into shape and maybe write a few words on the next project.
The fazes since foisting off manuscript:
1. relief and illness = time to read (3 days)
2. dreaminess about the other projects I may start (3 to 5 days, still phleamy)
3. not actually starting said projects, just wandering around the house in a funk, sorting through piles of papers and making those past due phone calls (3 days)
4. finally cleaning the closets and delivering stuff to the thrift store (3 days)
5. insecurity (too much thinking makes Tina a dull girl)

Now, I've come to terms with the fact that I've tortured people that I really like with my inept attempt at fiction. Sorry folks. And my house is still chaotic, and perhaps even messier because the closets are empty and everything is piled all over the house.

So I have been thinking about blogging. Admiring other folks' blogs. I have a few things I want to do in my blog. Make a few friends. Have fun and keep track of things I like: videos, books, internet whatnot. Process some of my process (is that what I'm doing today?). It's time for me to inflict some kind of structure upon myself.

As always (you may ask yourself: does this girl think too much?),

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

OK Go, because I like them.

This is so fun.

OK Go - WTF? from OK Go on Vimeo.

All the beautiful colors!!! Never heard of OK Go before.

Thanks, as always, to Jason Kottke. He has got my number.

You have to go here to see OK Go on treadmills. The treadmill one reminds me of my husband. I am so lucky to be married to him. Oh the beauty and the silliness. My life in a nutshell.

As Always(not counting the chaos and impending chickens in the back yard),