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The Society of Unicorns & Other Exotic Goats

31 Aug

Society of Unicorns coverI’ve been at it again. Well, at a couple things.

One, I’ve turned back to my original novel and am about to embark upon a great restructuring. I think people are getting tired of hearing me say I’m going to turn it into a trilogy. It’s probably a novice move. But, hey, did you know I’m turning it into a trilogy? Yeah. I am.

Meanwhile, I’ve been using the stock/resource section of DeviantArt as a box of crayons and Photoshop as a coloring book. I made a temporary cover for book one using a fabulous tree background by Smoko-Stock and a vintage “fairy” photo. Ain’t it cute?

I’m also dipping a toe into the critique pool again by joining YouWriteOn, a UK site where you can post opening chapters of your novel and have them reviewed on a one-for-one basis. Each review you do for another writer earns you one credit. You use credits to “buy” a critique for your own chapters. The divvying of assignments is random, there are eight areas on which you can rate the writing with stars (narrative voice, plot, dialogue, etc.), and they require at least 100 words of written review after that. It all seems quite organized and fair. I’m not a UK citizen, and I didn’t even consider that when posting, but so far so good. I’m still waiting to have someone balk at my Americanisms, though.

I’ve also posted chapters to DeviantArt and requested critiques, but radio silence over there, although I’ve had views.

See, this is where you all come in. I know I have some awesome writers who read the blog, some avid readers, too. I’d love it if folks would visit my DeviantArt or YouWriteOn pages and take a look. Leave me a comment, even if only to say hello.

Please and thank you and all the best.

Now Put Those Two Hands Together

11 Apr

Yesterday’s post was about The Hunger Games and my story board using Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat method.

Last night I found the two combined — a beat sheet created by analyzing The Hunger Games. Very useful and fun! But don’t look at it if you haven’t read the novel — spoilers (by necessity) abound.

P.S. — I asked Mr. Untitlement to read the first volume last night. He started it after 8:00 and could barely put it down, although he had a perfect excuse to do so — tired and wanting to relax with his beer. At one point, he muttered, “You’ve made it very difficult to go to bed.”

I fell asleep.

Around 11:30, I heard him drop the book and leave the room. He said, “I have to stop reading.” I thought it was because he was going to bed.  A short while later, however, the light clicked back on. He strode to the book and grabbed it, grimacing. Said, “I’ve calmed down now. I can read again.” He finished it at 1:30 then read my blog entries, Samantha’s review, and the Hunger Games beat sheet.

I love my husband. He’s better than a thousand Peetas.

May the Beats Be Ever in Your Favor

10 Apr

Jennifer Lawrence will play Katniss Everdeen in the upcoming film

Okay.

A little embarrassed by my fangirl squeeing over Hunger Games last weekend.

But…

Yes…

I read the whole damn series again this week.

Josh Hutcherson as Peeta

In my defense, this time I was reading it with a critical eye, looking for technical elements — how she set up the plot, her sentence structure, et cetera. I’m still amazed at how well she grabs the reader and never lets go, not for an instant. There’s always a sense of peril. Safe times are found only in retrospect, in that, “Okay, I guess it really was okay after all,” kind of way. But you don’t believe it at the time because everything and everyone is suspect. Blake Snyder talks about how a character’s goals and stakes must be primal at their root — love, survival, hunger, protection, sex… It doesn’t get much more primal than this!

It took me until the second book to realize the story was written in present tense. Unbelievable. That’s usually something I notice in the first paragraph and have to grit my teeth to get past.  She executed it perfectly, I think, and it could not have suited the anxious, fast-paced immediacy of the story better.

On second reading, I was equally engrossed. Only in the third book did I start skimming. Exposition galore. Necessary, though, I suppose. We’re in a new place with new rules.

I do wish the last bits of the series were a little more fleshed out instead of summarized, but I guess it couldn’t go on forever.

M. Howalt — you asked in the comments last week what made the series compelling. My friend Samantha wrote an excellent post on the series here. Check it out. I agree with everything she says (and am clearly still fangirling because I got happy chills reading the title of her article, heh).

***

In my personal realm, I remain a foggy-headed, migraine-laden hermit. Gotta snap out of that somehow, someday.

But, hey, it hasn’t been a total waste. Besides falling in love with a series (which is such a great feeling), I also managed this:

My novel! All in one place! All the pieces! (Although some are vague [solves problem] or drawn in broad strokes.) Redoing  the major beats on red cards was a treat. I’m an office supply junkie and a visually-oriented person. The red cards make it feel concrete and prove to me that it’s not all an amorphous smear of a cloud. It has the bones! Look! Right there! 😉

Look at Act One — so many cards. Look at the second half of Act Two, so few cards. Not that big a deal, I think. The second half of Act Two is where I’ve drawn in broad strokes, labeling major elements. I think I pretty much  wrote the entire first act on the cards up there! Lots of details that don’t need to be there. I’m still figuring all of this out, though.

The pirate ship was already there, an unintentional metaphor for how my sons like to shoot cannons of distraction at me at all hours of the day.

I. Am. Freaking. Out.

4 Apr

How twelve am I?

I began shaking and crying just a few pages into the third volume of The Hunger Games, and now I’m seventy pages from the end, still shaking and haunted, and I can’t get back to reading for a few hours. I’m heartbroken. And if they don’t fix what I want fixed very soon (and don’t even hint, if you know), I am going to be a wreck.

For me? The hype? Merited!

What a  story.

ETA: Whew. All better now.  Started Saturday afternoon with book one; finished entire trilogy by Monday night. Shall I loop back and start again? 😉

It Got Me

3 Apr

Dammit, Hunger Games.

I resented you, resisted you, got sick of the hype.

Then I opened you this afternoon and read  you in one sitting. Om-nom-nom-nom!

It’s two a.m.

And I’m fighting the urge to download the next volume right now.

(Samantha, I partially blame you for weakening my nonsensical resistance! Heh.)

Breaking up Is Hard to Do / You Are What You Eat

18 Feb

What do novels do to you? I’d love to know how other people feel after turning that last page.

I’ve been trying to figure out why I am so wrecked after I finish reading a novel. It’s worse than The Day after Christmas Blues — far more distracting, disorienting.

One obvious answer is that a novel is a heck of a lotta information for your brain to process: tens of thousands of words, meanings layered on meanings, emotions, scenery, and a side of curly fries to boot.

It’s more than that, though.

Books grab you, drag you into a new world.

Novels are convoluted high-speed rollercoasters that, instead of returning you to a sparkling popcorn-scented amusement park, deposit you directly into your drab office cubicle in the middle of a work day, leaving you as blinking, disoriented, and exhausted as a bodysnatcher or medium who just finished convening with the dead. And the phone is ringing, and your boss is coming down the corridor, and you still have cotton candy on your fingertips, and you have to pee. Or maybe not that last part. But sometimes you do feel a little sick.

The transition can be as happy and gentle as a mother lowering a baby to its crib.

It can be as dismaying as seeing your entire family and everything you own receding into the distance on a departing train as you chase it through an empty station.

Sometimes, it’s just a rough kick on the seat of your pants and the sound of a slamming door.

For me, it’s never a clean break.

Books possess me, weave barbed vines into my psyche, use my emotions as marionettes, and shape the way I view the world and express myself, sometimes indelibly.

Maybe that’s why people don’t just set aside books they hate. They hurl those suckers across the room. The wrath isn’t about time forever wasted; it’s about exorcism. That book was trying to slide its nasty, slimy vines into your brain, use you like a puppet. So invasive, so unwanted. You can’t just turn your back. You have to smite! Destroy! (Lest it creep from beneath your bed at night to grab you by the ankles and mark you for life.)

When the cable channel Sprout premiered (2001-ish?), they played episodes of Sesame Street from the early 1970s that hadn’t seen the light of day in decades. My friend was visiting that weekend, and we — both children of the seventies — sat transfixed for hours, looking at each other, first with discomfort, then fearful delight, then gleeful laughter, as our mouths moved on their own, reciting old rhymes, singing old songs — things we didn’t know we knew. We heard jokes and silly inflections that existed in those episodes and those episodes alone. They were elements so ingrained in our minds as Something Funny that we each thought we’d invented them or that they were a native part of our personas.

It was wonderfully disturbing fun, and when the marathon ended, I went about feeling haunted and melancholy. A small window had opened on my formative years and then closed again in a whoosh of dust. I was left not just missing the experience but wondering how much of me was me and how much came from snippets of Sesame Street with a sprinkle of Stephen King on top for added sparkle.

This is fiction for me. Each book leaves its own tattoo. Afterward, there’s a healing process. I often skim the entire novel a second time, if I liked it, and sometimes a third. If it’s going to be a part of me, I need to know what it all meant. You are what you eat, as they say.

So, how about you? Can you just close a book and move on without a second glance? Am I overly impressionable?

* The latest book to possess me is Donna Tartt’s Secret History. More than 500 pages of lovely, if disturbing rollercoaster that’s left an aftertaste of scotch and cigarettes and India ink, as well as a fascination with how she got me to love these often-horrible characters, seducing me along with the protagonist. I thank my husband for introducing it to me.

On Ravens & Writing Desks

12 Feb

How is a raven like a writing desk? Well, in my case, they’re both glossy black and perch high, staring out at rooftops. Also? They both steal and hide all my shiny treasures.

It’s a funny thing. I bought a writing desk two weeks ago, and now all my shiny muses have gone MIA. I sit at the pretty little thing in the corner of my bedroom, surrounded by glorious windows, snowcapped mountains, miles of blue sky, and sunshine, and my mind is blank.

Then I start eyeing my old desk.

My old desk was my bed, pillows piled high behind my back, every spring in my ancient mattress jabbing me in most painful fashion, and a rather inadequate plastic bedtray holding my wheezing overheated laptop above my trapped legs. In this exalted spot, I wrote hundreds of thousands of words — many of them perfectly cromulent — but it was ergonomically lacking, and it often led to mountains of papers and books stealing my husband’s spot beside me. Furthermore, I couldn’t rise without the back-straining fun of lowering laptop and tray to the ground, so I rarely did. I wrote late into the night, woke in the wee hours with thoughts of my stories, and the first thing I did in the morning was lift that burden back onto my legs.

Since getting this desk, a strange transformation has occurred.

My bed is now…a bed.

I sit at my desk, and…oh, look at that cozy bed…  I lose the urge to write. I just want a nap. And, when I’m not napping, I find myself reading. I’ve read like a fiend from this intriguing new land of Bed. It’s been glorious, but when I wake in the wee hours now, my thoughts are full of these other novels. It’s kind of disconcerting. There’s absolutely nothing I can do about those words or characters. Three a.m. is not the hour for literary analysis or technical comparisons.

Damn if my mind isn’t trying, however.

(Especially since The Rejectionist inspired me to read Elizabeth Hand’s novella Illyria this week. It’s beautiful, haunting, and there’s a note of magic/mystery that I can almost but not quite get a grasp on. My mind keeps going around and around on it, and I don’t know if there’s any final destination to be had, or if it’s even important. But the wee hours are good for that circular sort of anxiety and confusion. Aunt Kate… Emerald rings… Sob-inducing voices… Theaters…)

And my own words. I have none. I’ve sat on the rug and made index cards for my storyboard. I’ve made one or two blog posts. I wrote a one-paragraph message to an old friend. But I’m just not feeling it.

I am a creature of habit. Change really throws me off-kilter these days. And apparently my muses are terrible at reading maps. Hopefully they’ll pull over for directions soon, reach this new desk, and this old dog will learn the trick of a new workspace.

Do changes in your routine throw you off, too? Do you have some sort of constant that eases transition for you (music, lighting, a space, a picture, etc.)?  Do you prefer variety? Do you know of a good GPS system for slowpoke muses?

Beating the Cat (That You’ve Saved)

5 Feb

I have been absent.

I have been pondering a question.

If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can’t I paint you?

No, not really. (And sorry to display my embarrassing familiarity with Bread lyrics.)

I want to know, if a picture’s worth a thousand words, then how many words is a single page of screenplay worth? In a novel, that is.

My fascination of late is Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting That You’ll Ever Need. Forget screenwriting — it works for novels, too. The book is brilliant for distilling the myriad bits of storytelling wisdom I’ve heard over the years into a concise, easy to understand format. I hesitate to say formula because blah blah blah yeah we’re all too artistic to cram our masterpieces into a formula, etc. But, really, this book is magic to me.

He lays out the basic elements of plot, talks about how they relate to one another (Act II is often an upside-down funhouse version of Act I, and Act III is a synthesis of the two), and tells you a precise order and proportion in which to use them. Again, I knew most of it, but it was loose, bouncing around in my head — much like my plot. I really needed a graphic way to examine my novel and all its bits and pieces, and he offers one with his fifteen beats and The Board.

This is not a proper review. There’s some horrific noise going on down the street right now. They seem to be using  bumblebees the size of 747s to do construction on the empty lot. Fills every gap in the air with sound. I may start screaming soon.

Anyway, I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to be able to see my entire novel in one place, see where it goes off track, and see where it fits. I now know how to fix it!

The one thing I am not yet sure of is how to apply screenplay page numbers to a novel. He bases this on a 110-page screenplay. Can I turn the pages into percentages of total pages? Can I be lazy and turn each page into a thousand words (knowing a 110k-word novel is a wee bit too long)? Or does the catalyst HAVE to happen on page 25, even in a novel? Probably not. It finally occurred to me this morning (because, yes, I’m that scatterbrained sometimes) that I can Google “Save the Cat Novels” and see actual answers. Or opinions. Or articles on losing weight and how to buy prescriptions overseas.

I’ve only found one article so far (bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz says the neighborhood), but I’ll keep looking and perhaps share my wisdom on the blog later.

Meanwhile, do give the book a glance or two. I really loved it. And, if you’ve read it and used it for your non-script writing, chime in here and let me know how you did it and how it turned out.

(bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz)

I Require an Aslan Doorknocker

21 Jan

Dear Certain Moms at My Sons’ School,

I look like Attila the Hun in sweats or basic crewneck t-shirts and jeans. That’s why I don’t wear them like everyone else. You’re younger, thinner, and richer. I’m older. I get to dress weird. So don’t give me those looks.

Also, the reason you have to honk at me to move forward in line while dropping off my son is not because I’m stupid and using the phone or texting. It’s because I’ve been idling for twenty minutes and started reading my Nook and got pulled in by the pretty writing and forgot where I was. So I’m stupid and using a device — but literarily. You see the difference now. And don’t give me that look.

Thank you for your time

***

- NarniaWeb.com

My first grader is reading The Chronicles of Narnia right now, and I’m just giddy. Mr. Untitlement read the first few books to them at bedtime, and my son read Prince Caspian on his own. Now he’s on to one of my favorites: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I took him to see the movie the other day.

Which leads me to wonder…

Why is there no Voyage of the Dawn Treader play set? Where is the toy ship with the plastic people and talking mouse? Where is the plastic Eustace As Dragon figurine?

Thimbles and thunderstorms!

All the toys are from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Prince Caspian. They have a plastic version of every critter in the battle from PC, but no Dawn Treader? Come on!

I fell in love with a set of Aslan/White Witch bookends during my shopping quest, however. Must save up. Gollum and the Watchers of Rauros are getting lonely. (I’m entering my forties. It’s mandated by law that I collect figurines as I age. I’m going to make mine as strange as possible, though, and imagine them lurking in dark corners of an imagined future home library where all the books have gilded spines. If The Stand had figurines, I’d… Well, I’d probably avoid those. M-O-O-N — that spells nevermind.)

Weeklong migraines are not good for me.

Shorter, more useful posts soon.

What Were They Reading When You Were Born?

10 Jan

A fun dealie-bobber, courtesy of the fine folks at the Office of Letters and Light today. We’ve all seen the site where you can find out what the number one song was on the day you were born. Now there’s a literary version!***

If you go to Biblioz and enter the pertinent data, you’ll find out the fiction and non-fiction bestsellers from the week you were born. (Be sure to use the correct date format of DATE-MONTH-YEAR, not MONTH-DATE-YEAR.) Then your job is to come back here and report your findings in the comment section below.

I did it. I was imagining happy little families out in the happy little maternity ward waiting room, reading happy little stories, awaiting my birth.

Which books were they, I wondered.

Well. Lemme tell ya.

THIS:

AND THIS:

Is it any wonder I turned out the way I did?

What were your books? I look forward to the answers.

*** Brilliant reader M. Howalt pointed out that BibliOZ can be used as a tool for writers who are researching a particular time period for their stories!

{Insert Whooping & Hollering & Cartwheels & Somersaults}

29 Oct

A miserable week just got much brighter!

I just received the coveted email announcing that my NaNoWriMo novel has been selected for the semi-final round of 30 Covers in 30 Days.

Wheeeee!

Hello,

We are excited to let you know that your 2010 NaNoWriMo novel may be receiving a cover designed by an amazing designer. Our design dream team has agreed to try to bash out 30 NaNoWriMo book covers in November as part of our “30 Covers, 30 Days” project, which you can read about in the official forum: http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/node/3699349.  We’ve listed the designers participating here: http://www.nanowrimo.org/eng/node/3700248

We loved your title and synopsis. If you give us the okay, we’ll send them to the designer team, and the designers may use them to create a cover design for your novel-in-progress (we say “may” because we’re sending the designers a few options to choose from).  Plots will be sent throughout the month, so be sure to stay on pace with your word count!

Every year, professional designers donate their time to create covers for thirty of the tens of thousands of novels born of the contest. I’ve been coveting one for ages! Not only does it feel awesome to know that people are looking at my work, but I’m in love with book design. As big a reader as I am, I’ve bought many books just because I loved the cover so much, including my Bartlett’s Roget’s Thesaurus with a retro yellow design. [Edited to add that Kelly Blair, the designer of said thesaurus, is one of the designers for this contest. Spooky!  I had no idea when I first posted this.]

Now it’s down to ninety titles. Each designer gets three to choose from. I looked through the list of designers, and they are amazing, indeed. Lots of eye candy and blogs to add to my Google Reader.

I don’t know when I last smiled so much. I may not be selected for the final round, but this feels wonderful.

I think it even cured my headache.

The Bellowing of Crickets

23 Oct

I spent the last four days in the clutches of a crushing sinus headache. At one point, while climbing out of the car, I realized I must look like Patsy or Edina from Absolutely Fabulous, staggering, bent, squinting, and clutching a drink. In my case, it was Diet Coke, darling, and I didn’t have smeared lipstick and rumpled party clothes, but I’ll bet my hair was plenty askew. And I was holding my keys like Patsy holds her cigarette.

I really should call a doctor about these things, but when I’m ill, I can’t remember or bear to perform such superhuman feats as think or dial a phone. (Do people still say dial?) When I’m better, I forget — in large part because I’m terrified the thing will return just by thinking about it or speaking its name.

So my headaches are like Voldemort (Don’t say that name!), only they have a nose (being of and related to my sinuses). And Ralph Fiennes is nowhere to be seen. Alas.

But now a break! A tentative moment of clarity.

I’ve enjoyed my reprieve by spending the evening eating gummy bears and reading P.G. Wodehouse. It’s my first foray into Wooster & Jeeves — at least as a reader. I shelved the books over and over again in the various libraries and bookstores of my employment. If I didn’t know who wrote them, I’d know his or her last name started with a letter at the end of the alphabet because I can still see where they sat on the long wall of fiction at one particular store which we shall refer to as Barns & Stables.

I can’t remember to get a medical solution to debilitating pain, but I can remember where individual books were shelved fifteen years ago. And the lyrics to obscure Ambrosia songs I haven’t heard since I was in the single digits but which are now playing faintly over the speakers at a loud brew pub.

Anyway, lots of laughs from the books…

  • On Jeeves’ seeming ability to appear as if from thin air (apparate): “I’ve got a cousin who’s what they call a Theosophist, and he says he’s often nearly worked the thing himself, but couldn’t quite bring it off, probably owing to having fed in his boyhood on the flesh of animals killed in anger and pie.” (Those last five words got me.)
  • On a trip away from Manhattan: “The days down on Long island have forty-eight hours in them; you can’t get to sleep at night because of the bellowing of the crickets.”

One week until NaNoWriMo. Gots me a book on Vaudeville. I’ll do a little light research tomorrow.