Saturday, February 27, 2010

I Don't Read Like I Used To

I told Cody a bit about Mistborn (by Brandon Sanderson) today, explaining the ideas of how the magic works and why I like it so much. It's unique; it's magic in a way I've never seen before and instantly wished I could be a character in this novel just so I could use this form of magic.

But then I started telling Cody about my broader opinions on the novel. Sanderson has the typical oddly matched band of heroes-with-flaws who are seeking to overthrow the evil tyrant. Like David Eddings often does, he has the people sit down in a room together near the beginning of the book and thoroughly discuss their plan of attack, literally making a list of the obstacles they're up against and their plans to overcome them.

What should be a rather boring meeting of talking heads more designed for the author to get to know what needs to happen in the story than necessary for the reader to know in advance of the action becomes an interesting development of characters and an introduction to the rules that govern this world. It's a plot ploy that requires a certain level of skill, one where the author can clearly see the difference between self-indulgence/self-exploration of the world and actual crucial elements to the story.

Which was about as far as I got in my discussion with Cody before I startled myself into silence with a thought: I don't read like I used to. I don't sit down and read a novel and just get lost in a world. I'm analyzing it as I go, watching technique and character development, paying attention to the tricky (for me) third act.

I said as much to Cody, and he laughed and agreed. I no longer talk of authors with the same rapture of a world that fully captures me and takes me away from this one. There's always a part of me that is reading a book as a writer, watching and looking and learning and critiquing.

Is this a bad thing? The me ten years ago or even five would probably say yes. That books should be enjoyed for the stories themselves. Not everything has to be a learning tool. But the me now disagrees. Watching authors' skills with the craft doesn't take away my enjoyment of a story. In fact, it does the opposite. Now I enjoy more than the story: I savor the layers of advice and examples of what to do and what not to do, appreciating the intricacies of the myriad techniques used even as I take delight in the tale.

Friday, February 26, 2010

A Funnel of Creativity

I've never had a problem coming up with ideas for stories. Normally I amuse myself during car rides and before falling asleep with fanciful images that often spark entire story lines. If I don't want to get too caught up in developing a new story before falling asleep, I'll pick somewhere along the thread of a current story I'm working on and just walk around the space in my head—climb the trees at the temple, play tag with the cats, explore the streets around Aria's home.

But this last week, I haven't been able to allow my mind to wander. Each time I purposely engaged my imagination, thumbing through ideas for short stories or longer ones, it was like coming up against a brick wall. Nothing. It was like all my creativity had been washed away. Frankly, it was unnerving.

I didn't panic. Barely. I've got a lot of non-writing things going on in my life right now, and I decided that was what was blocking the flow of ideas. I wasn't actively working on Aria, so it wasn't crucial that I be in her world and I also didn't need to think of new story ideas because I have enough on my plate.

None of which mattered. There was still that little voice in the back of my head questioning me, asking, Are you sure you have more than these two stories in you? Are you sure you're creative enough to be a writer?

Last night, I lay awake, listening to my cat purr herself to sleep beside me, and I decided to see if I could force creativity. I can't. But what I discovered was that an idea for a book that I've been purposely ignoring wouldn't leave me be. Hours came and went with just me, the darkness, and thoughts of this book. It was like having a hangnail—I didn't want to fuss with it, but every time I thought I'd turned my mind to something else, there I was, picking at this idea again.

Eventually I got up and wrote down some notes. Five handwritten pages (front and back) and a hand cramp later, I was able to return to bed. The idea was out there. Every angle and every nuance that insisted on being thought was down on paper.

The moment I laid my head down on my pillow, images began to flow again. I fixed a plot problem in a story that's not even in the queue to be written yet. I had a vivid picture of a scene for another book. Aria's world was right there for me to explore again. It was like that one book idea, the one that I didn't want and didn't completely want to care about, needed to be gotten out first. It was the gum in the funnel, blocking all other ideas from coming through. Once it was removed, the regular, steady flow of creativity was released again. What a relief!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympic Fever

I've caught the fever a little late, but I've caught it for sure. I stayed up way past my bedtime last night, lured along by each clip of an Olympic event and the promise of others just a few minutes away. I dearly wish in moments like that that I owned a DVR. I do own a VCR and tapes, but I'm too lazy to set those up. It'd be really nice to have all the Olympics recorded for my easy viewing pleasure at much earlier hours than the network airs it.

I was most captivated by the Alpine skiing event where the women raced four at a time down the mountain. It looked like so much fun! And of course, they made it look so easy. I've been skiing all of once in my life when I was 13 or so. It wasn't pretty. I spent most of the day with my legs cramped in a V, trying to slow my downward decent. (I'm no better at snowboarding.) I had to keep reminding myself as I watched the Olympics last night that the women I was watching were the best in the world, so of course they made it look easy. And even they made mistakes and crashed.

Still, there's that small part of my brain that thinks, It doesn't look that hard. I'm sure if I just got on the skis at the top of the mountain, I'd figure it out.

The rest of me is wondering how to partition and exterminate this suicidal part of my brain.

It's not only skiing that that small part of me feels I could do. That same small margin of complete arrogance imagines bobsledding with ease, shooting targets dead center every time, and even ski jumping with grace. I've been ice skating often enough to know that I don't have what it takes to do a jump on blades. I don't think I'd even make a 180 turn and be able to skate backward without falling.

But watching these amazing athletes, I get, for that moment, to put myself in their shoes and imagine that I can do all these incredible activities. It's a heady experience.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Forever Editing

I'm back to editing Madison. I took a mini break to work on some Aria and appease my creativity, but then I was starting to lose my place (in my head) with Madison edits, so I had to switch back.

I'm close to done with reshaping the beginning for the fifth or so time. I like the way it turned out. It feels truer to my writing. The leftover beginning bits from the first draft are gone. The final piece is streamlined and, I hope, more interesting.

It has occurred to me, though, that I need a better saying in my profile box here on the blog. I'm not currently querying (waiting on responses) and I'm never really done editing. Once I finish Madison, I'm going to move on to editing and rewriting Aria. But I'm afraid to jinx myself by putting something down like "forever editing," even if it feels that way.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Entranced by Blokes

I have, in the last month or so, become enamored with the now off-the-air McLeod's Daughters. This Australian ranch drama was recommended to me by Netflix, and I suspiciously watched the first episode. It was slow. The pacing was off, and the director had decided to do some literal slow-mo shots on random events, like a character turning around (not during a dramatic moment, but just when she was walking by) or horses running.

It was the horses that drew me back to watch episode 2. I love horses. I love them enough that Cody sings half-mocking songs to me about my love of "ponies" when we pass one by the road and I stare at it longingly (and usually shout, "Look, a horse!"). If there's a horse on TV or in a movie, I'm usually watching it rather than the action of the people. I grew up with horses, and I miss them.

I don't miss the daily care of them, nor could I afford it, since I'd have to board a horse because one surely wouldn't make it up the two flights of stairs to my apartment, let alone fit on my balcony. But I miss the camaraderie with a horse, and I miss riding them. I miss the horses I had. And there's always going to be part of me that's a horsewoman at heart.

But I was talking about McLeod's Daughters. The second episode was the same. Slow. Sllloooowwww. I thought I'd delete the show from my queue and carry on without it. But something stopped me.

I watched one more episode, and I was hooked. Without noticing it, I'd gotten to like the characters (and the accents!). Now I'm almost done with the first season (which, gasp, has 23 episodes, not the paltry 12 or so that a lot of programs seem to have lately). When I found myself thinking of Cody and his friends as blokes, I knew that I was addicted to the show.

If you like a more British-paced show (I've no other Australian show in my repertoire to compare it to) and you like strong female leads, give McLeod's Daughters a try, and hang in there for a few episodes.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Soothed by Names

I've been reading Baby Names Made Easy: The Complete Reverse-Dictionary of Baby Names by Amanda Elizabeth Barden off an on for the last month or two since I purchased it. At first, I thumbed through with specific goals. I looked up the names of people I know—for instance, my name means "knotted cord" or "God's servant"; Cody's name means "cushion" or "helpful person." Then I looked up names of my favorite characters in novels and TV shows.

Then I looked up names by category, getting serious about it, looking for names for characters in my novels. I found some, but more often than not, I'd end up thumbing through the book as one name would spark an idea for another, one category would lead me to another.

Lately, as nothing else (especially not novels) seems to be able to hold my attention for long, I've found myself reading Baby Names Made Easy as I would any nonfiction novel: in snippets while eating breakfast, brushing my teeth, or while idly watching Cody play a video game. And, oddly, it's a very soothing thing to read. It captures the attention of my creative mind without demanding my full attention. I can bounce around from page to page without "loosing my place" and I can set it down without marking my page. It's been just what I've needed to satisfy the part of me that needs to have a book to read.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hollow Reading

I recently finished Sunny's Mona Lisa Awakening. As I read, I debated over and over again if I would write my opinion in a post when I was finished. I teetered on the edge of no right up until the point in which the main character orgasms from a tongue thrust in her neck wound. As I realized that Sunny had pushed me past my comfort zone (forcing me to skip several pages to catch my breath and distance myself from that scene) I also realized I wasn't stopping. I didn't set aside this book. And it wasn't because the rest was so good I could overlook the character's delight in wound-play during sex (I'm sure there's a more technical term, and I'm not sure I want to know it). The reason I didn't stop reading was because it was so bad.

Sunny (who did not get on my good side from the get-go with a one-word name that screams overinflated ego) has a dedication in the beginning of the novel that thanks Laurell K. Hamilton and Anne Bishop "whose wonderful stories inspired my...series." The acknowledgments intrigued me. I've read both those authors and liked both their works. Their mention had a lot of promise. The reality fell short.

The world Sunny created was a mixed fan fiction of Hamilton and Bishop's worlds, mashed together by their most primary elements, filled in with knock-off cast members from both novels and a main character, Mona Lisa, who reads like a flat character sluiced off the leftovers of the larger-than-life heroines of Hamilton and Bishop's novels.

Mona Lisa is where everything fell apart to me. I might have forgiven the plagiarism/homage of the world Sunny created if her main character had the meat to uphold her own tale. She didn't. A dozen bizarre and dangerous situations happen around her, and she accepts them all with aplomb. She falls in love in less than twenty-four hours, almost all of it off-page and unbelievable. She accepts her remarkable heritage—which comes complete with the magical ability to feed from the moon, shift to other creatures, manipulate humans' minds, and heal with an orgasm—with grace and dignity, always perfectly genteel to the good guys, merciless with the bad guys. She focuses only on the current situation, her thoughts rarely farther than the man in front of her, with nary a thought to the very large problems lurking in their future, including danger to the people she loves.

Above all these problems was a major flaw in the overriding theme: Sunny sets up a world corrupted by people who've held power too long, learned to kill off those with more power and enjoy torturing the rest (usually with rape). A world without love, without compassion, where all the men are broken, longing for a woman they can respect but finding none. And along comes little Mona Lisa, who shows unprovoked, bottomless compassion and intense love with little prompting, and who merely has to be in the same room with a broken male for him to fall madly in love with her (unless he's already insane, in which case, he wants to use her for his own gain).

Now, with my beloved Evanovich novels, I don't expect a lot of character depth, and I don't need a lot of time spent on the main character's motives or reactions—they're action novels meant to be guided by the plot. Sunny's novel was developed around a character, and for me to believe that this character can inspire such devotion and flourish so easily in her new, bizarre world, I need to understand her motives and her reactions and they way she thinks and the leaps in logic she makes. Sunny left me dangling. The novel leapt from action to action, Sunny's attention as tunnel-focused as her main character's. I was struck halfway through the novel with the thought that the book felt like a world Sunny knew so well, had built so clearly in her head, that when she saw it on paper, she was filling in pieces in her head that she never bothered to type. The thought remained true to the last page.

In the end, the novel felt hollow. I'd traveled through a miraculous week with Mona Lisa, and I never grew to care about what happened to her, because I always knew she'd come out unscathed, and if she did get a scratch, she'd just have to have sex with the nearest man to heal. The world felt like snapshots of scenes from Hamilton and Bishop's novels, as if Mona Lisa's tale had been lived out in the backgrounds of these more well-written novels, and a publisher had picked it up simply because it came with the rest of the territory.

Of course, Sunny is a nationally bestselling author, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Pitter Patter of Little Feet

No, I didn't just give birth or adopt. I'm talking about the delicate sounds of twenty pounds of geese pounding about on my roof every morning.

I live on the third floor of a three-story apartment building, and every morning a flock of geese greets the dawn atop the peek of my roof. They fly in softly, land with the delicacy of a toddler running across hollow logs, and carry on a conversation at the top of their lungs with the geese over a hundred yards away atop a different building. Then, after about an hour or so of carrying on, they swoop down off the roof (usually frightening me and my cats) and fly off into the greenbelt, honking and squawking at full volume.

I love it.

This morning, when I took out the trash, two waddled to the very edge of the roof and eyed me the way of birds the world over, head cocked a little to the side. They were clearly enjoying their lofty position. As I walked away, they honked softly at me, then louder and louder the farther away I got, reminding me of an insecure bully, who only taunts you when he knows you're too far away to do anything about it. When I walked back, they grew quiet and still, watching me intently. Once I was out of sight, they started honking amongst themselves again. I wish I'd gotten a picture. They were so cute!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Full Circle: A Writer's Journey

When I first started thinking about marketing a novel, not just writing one, I was shocked to learn that most of the publicity for my novel would likely fall smack dab on my shoulders, not my publisher's shoulders. It seemed grossly unfair. After all, I'm the person who has toiled away for years creating something that people will want to read. I'm the one sitting at my desk after school, after work, on the weekends, and early in the morning, while the rest of the world is enjoying their time off.

Shock morphed to righteous anger. This method of publishing and promoting was clearly a byproduct of lazy publishers looking to capitalize on my profits without having to spend a penny of their money to do so. Above and beyond publicising my own novel, I was going to have to hunt for an agent to sell my work, creating pitches and blurbs about my own novel so that first an agent then an editor could sit back on his or her haunches and thumb through offerings like bloated gods, randomly picking a lucky winner here or a catchy-titled novel there. It was all enormously unfair. I wanted to rant at the publishing industry. I wanted to rant at the general public to demand more access and more knowledge of more titles.

I did rant for a while. Then I did some research. I gradually wrapped my mind around the vast number of novels that exist already on the shelves of bookstores across the country, the rapid rotation of those titles, the steady stream of new novels from big-name and midlist authors squeezed into limited square footage. Anger gave way to despair. How was there any room left? And there was bitterness, too. These big-name, well-known authors were getting tons of marketing money thrown behind their novels. What about us little people, the authors just starting up? If I had the amount of money in a marketing campaign behind my debut novel as Dan Brown or Jayne Ann Krentz gets for one of their novels, I'd be a big-name success in no time, too.

I plodded on through research, receiving another slap in the face as the world of want-to-be-published authors crystallized and I realized that for every author already on the shelf, there are at least two more waiting, writing, perfecting their craft, querying, and planning to become published authors. The playing field was full, and I was standing in the stadium, one in a million of want-to-be players, yearning to push my way past the barricades for my time on the turf. The agents and editors were the muscle-bound gatekeepers, easily holding the throngs back, selecting only the most prime candidates to be allowed through.

Pity, large swaths of self-pity, lakes and oceans of self-pity. I wallowed. How, in this incredibly impacted market, was I supposed to compete? How was I supposed to get my novel that I thought was so great published? How was I supposed to raise awareness of my novel in a market deafened with the shouts of big-name authors and movie-tie-in novels?

I don't know what made the self-pity, the bitterness, the anger and the frustration and the despair abate. Perhaps it was the one truth that had remained throughout it all: I want to be an author. I want people to read my novels.

With that truth, was the realization that if I was the person who has to do the legwork to spread the word of my novel, I will. I will research how to market it. I will leave my safe, quiet world and make public appearances to promote myself. I will work the online angles to drive traffic to my website and to the online stores to buy my novel. I will continue to write and perfect my writing after each rejection, continue to write when I'm tired from working my other job, write when life wants to push it aside and tell me to give up.

I no longer think of the publishers as spoiled corporate giants, of agents and editors as ego-inflated gatekeepers. I understand the parts everyone plays in this vast industry. I understand my part, and I'm willing to do the work to my myself a success.

Because being a published author is one of the first things I wake up thinking about. It's one of the last things on my mind when I fall asleep. I want, with soul-deep clarity, to be a published author, and nothing's going to stop me.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Reader's Block

I have been at an impasse with my to-be-read shelves for the past week. Nothing has worked. Novels I know I will be enthusiastic to read soon look as exciting as encyclopedias now. I've tried my usual method of reading the first lines of novels and still nothing leapt out at me.

Which meant I moped a bit and spent far too long cruising the Internet through blogs I cared and didn't care about and generally disrupted Cody's life and anything interesting he might have been doing. Me without a book doesn't make for a happy household.

Fortunately, I broke my reader's block today. I found Sunny's Mona Lisa Awakening and it hooked me. Hooray! And hooray for a new-to-me author!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Heeding the Call

I sat down today just to write a blog and then leave. Then I read Lilith Saintcrow's post on Deadline Dames and was galvanized to write. If you don't go read it (and if you're a writer, I think you should), the gist is to get off your butt and just write. Don't write to be pretty and perfect. Just write. Write crap, write something good, write something bizarre or crazy, but write something.

So I did. I wrote a page and a half for Aria. I didn't feel like editing Madison. I felt like forward progress. And I know editing Madison is forward progress, but it didn't feel like it would be today. Today it felt like work. And I wanted to let my imagination play.

If nothing else, hopefully this helps me fall asleep faster tonight. Not lie awake and wonder if the world of Aria has too many magic-wielders or if Aria's quest is true and good. Not write scenes that I've already written, rewriting them to perfection in my sleep-addled brain.

What I wrote today wasn't much, but I think it was good. It was forward progress. Even if I cut it, it was still forward progress. It's helping me shape young Aria into the woman I know she'll be, and it's helping me find her voice, knowing the woman she'll be and figuring out how she would view her young self. Confused? Me too a little.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Finding Bliss

Seventeen months ago, I gave up dairy. I never determined whether or not I'm lactose intolerant. In fact, I've never bothered to look up exactly what lactose intolerant is. I just knew that my body was unhappy and needed some time to relax without dealing with foods that I knew I had at least a mild allergy to.

I expected to go without dairy a month or two, then reintroduce it back into my diet. To my surprise, I felt so much better once dairy was removed from my usual foods, that I didn't want to add it back in.

After the initial cravings for cheese faded and I learned to be very careful when eating out, I've gotten along great without dairy. The only thing I've missed, is all the dairy desserts. Specifically, frozen yogurt, ice cream, and gelato.

A wave of yogurt and gelato shop openings seemed to coincide with my choice to eliminate dairy, making my decision that much more difficult. It was like the very city was mocking me, each shopping center testing my resolve to remain dairy-free.

I buried my intense cravings for these creamy good desserts under reassurances that my body was much happier without them (it is), and pretended that I didn't miss them (I did).

Then I read about LaLoo in February's edition of O magazine.

Ice cream made from goat's milk. I started drooling just looking at the picture. I dreamed of ice cream that night. I haven't dreamed of eating dairy products since October of 2008. I drooled over LaLoo's website the next day.

Yesterday, Cody and I made a special trip to buy some. Last night, I had my first bowl of ice cream in 17 months. The first bite of LaLoo's Deep Chocolate was bliss. So was the next, and the next. It's a wonder I didn't eat the whole mini carton in one sitting. It was so delicious! Thank the universe for happy goats!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Logic vs. Creativity

I've been out of my writing groove. I took the weekend off, as has become a trend now that NaNo is done. Then Monday I didn't have much time, so I only worked for 15 minutes on Madison. Yesterday, I did nothing.

Last night, not terribly coincidentally, I had a hard time falling to sleep. All the story and creativity that I hadn't given myself time to express yesterday balled up and wanted to be worked on at bedtime. I wanted sleep. Neither of us truly won. I refused to get out of bed to work on a project, but I also didn't fall asleep until sometime around 2 am.

Today, I didn't write again. I didn't make the connection between loss of sleep and not writing until midafternoon. I'm not going to have time tonight to write, either, and I can feel all the creativity building again. The only problem is that it doesn't want to finish the latest batch of Madison rewrites that I'm over half done with. It wants to go back to Aria. And I don't know if I should indulge myself or not. I'm afraid if I leave off with the Madison edits, I'll lose my place and the pacing. But I want to use this Aria energy while I have it, too.

Creativity doesn't like to listen to logic. It can be forced. Sometimes forcing is the best thing I can do and sometime that's just an energy drain. If only I could tell in advance.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

First Lady Inspiration

I have been reading The Secret Lives of the First Ladies on and off for the last year and a half, and it only just yesterday occurred to me to put it on my Shelfari bookcase. It's been my standard go-to book when I'm between novels or nothing else sounds good. And it's been fascinating.

In six to eight pages per lady, Cormac O'Brien gives a glimpse into the key events of the 43 first ladies (Michelle Obama is not in my older edition). I found each woman's tale captivating. All these women have gone through the same general experience—been a wife to a president—and not a single one was alike.

I think part of the appeal is seeing how each woman dealt with her position. Not counting Hilary Clinton, not a single woman had designs on politics. Each fell in love with a man who was driven (or compelled or in the right place at the right time) to become president. None set out with the ambition of becoming America's first lady.

What's even more remarkable is the influence these women had on a nation—an influence that, much as the subtitle claims (What Your Teachers Never Told You About the Women of the White House), I never learned in school. The agendas they pushed through congress, the organizations they backed, the lifestyle choices they made that influenced a nation are remarkable. The sacrifices they made are just as astounding.

Over and over again, I find myself impressed and inspired by all these women were able to accomplish. It's been a good reminder for me in my daily life: When things become overwhelming, I remind myself of these women who were able to juggle children, political events, press, their personal organizations, nearly constant White House remodeling, campaigning, and their personal lives with aplomb. It makes my troubles balancing work and writing and blogging and life seem quite manageable.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Reality-based Romance

This morning's Publisher's Lunch email featured a blurb on HCI's newest imprint, Vows, in which romance authors like Judith Arnold and Julie Leto will write "reality-based romance," producing novels "based on personal interviews with real couples whose love stories read like the best in romantic fiction."

My first thought was a brilliant, Huh? I haven't gotten a lot further than that with it. I can't decide if this imprint is a good thing or not. Do I want to read about real-life romances? How much is going to be fictionalized to make the story fit an appealing arc for the reader? Does it make it better if I know that the story I'm reading is in some way real? Does it make it worse? Does this open the door to all those people who have a "really great idea for a story" but just need someone else to write it? How is HCI verifying the truth of people's stories?

But the basic question is this: Would I read a Vows novel?

Possibly no: This imprint is touted as the novel version of reality TV. I don't watch a lot of reality TV, which makes me think I wouldn't like to read reality TV. The reality TV I watch is limited to Wipeout and the occasional American Idol, neither of which would translate well to print.

Possibly yes: I like hearing friend's "how we met" stories. I like learning about how two people grew to form a partnership. I like the idea of reading memoirs (I've only read two in my life, but I enjoyed them).

However, if you've got a great romantic story of love, HCI is running a contest and you could make a little cash off it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

What Constitutes Heroic

As I've mentioned before, I've been paying more attention to other author's third acts in the past year, once I realized that my own needed a lot of work. (Mainly, I needed to make sure they existed!) The third act is usually when the story changes to a different goal for the hero. The original evil is vanquished, or a large portion of it is, and the hero realizes that they're not done yet; they have one final mission to complete. After completing it, they return to their ordinary world wiser. If the story's done really well, the return also wraps up the theme, bringing closure to the problem that opened the book.

I'm especially interested in what I consider nontraditional arcs or third acts. By that, I mean stories in which some (or most) of the arc is emotional or a psychological shift for the main character, or stories in which the hero isn't necessarily the person who vanquishes the evil. The Hero and the Crown fell smack dab into the first of those "nontraditional" arcs.

Since this was my second read of the novel, I wasn't as overwhelmed by the story, and I could dissect it dispassionately as I read it. The novel starts with Aerin's main problem being that she doesn't fit in: she's the witchwoman's daughter but also the king's daughter, granted a role of authority but not respected for it and in many ways feared. And she's very aware of this. Her problem is not a physical one (like, say, needing to destroy the one ring that rules them all). Instead, the physical challenges she faces give Aerin emotional/psychological strength, but tend to exasterbate her problem, making people fear her more.

Despite the fact that she slays a dragon (a very stereotypical climactic fantasy element), it's only the end of the second act. The third act is all about Aerin facing her personal demon (in the form of her uncle who looks so much like her). When she returns with the "elixir" to her homeland, even the physical act of bringing back a magical sword and the Hero's Crown, turning the tide of the battle and saving her homeland, isn't the end of the hero's cycle. She may have physically saved an entire nation, but it's the fact that her battles have taught her to accept herself for who she is that gives her the wisdom to gain the people's acceptance, too.

(I also find it interesting to note that I had very clear memories of the book through the second act from my first read when I was 12, but not the third act. How telling!)

The Hero and the Crown was a very tightly woven novel of character growth explored on multiple levels, with a strong theme. The hero's arc was a complex weave of physical and emotional growth. To contrast, look at any Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum novel. There's rarely a lot of character growth to Stephanie, and nearly all the arc is explored through escalating physical danger. What I find fascinating is that Stephanie is always rescued and is never her own "hero," yet I never feel cheated by the story conclusion.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Not a Flying Dream

I was watching Modern Family today on Hulu, and one of their advertisements was that you can watch all the Superbowl commercials on Hulu after the game. That's right, you can sit down at your computer and spend an hour or so watching those snippets that you usually fast-forward through or skip or leave the room and grab a snack during. You can waste your time staring at advertising gimmicks.

Is this sounding crazy to anyone else?

I sneer at Hulu having once been one of the people who watched the Superbowl for the commercials. Only it took a few years for me to realize that there aren't that many commercials during the Superbowl that are entertaining. Companies are shelling out huge amounts of money to place their product in front of a large audience, but a lot of them aren't putting in the effort for a new, funny or touching commercial, not like I remember when I was a kid. Not for the last ten years, at minimum.

I think great commercials are the marketing equivalent of a flying dream. If you've had a dream in which you get to fly, you know how incredible it is, how free you feel, how limitless the world around you seems. It's a magical feeling. They're also, for the majority of people, incredibly rare, memorable, and much sought after for years after the original dream. Which is why it took me years of watching boring football games with worse commercials before the hope of something entertaining popping up between breaks in the game died.

Would I go to Hulu after the game if they guaranteed me a flying dream that night? Hell yes! Will I go to watch lame commercials in the hopes that one will make me laugh? I think not.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Haven't I Already Done This?

For the last week, I've been working on Madison again. Reworking Madison. Specifically reworking the opening of Madison. It feels like deja vu.

I struggled with this decision for a few weeks before I leapt in. I talked it over with myself and then with Cody to make sure that it made sense. It did. It still does.

The story needed to start faster, sooner. Just by a little bit. But to do that, I need to rework the first twenty pages. Again.

It started off slow. I was in Aria mode. I was building another world. It took a moment to reawaken my inner Madison. And then it took a little longer to tweak my image of a secondary character to make them fit my new vision.

Now it's going along pretty well. I like the changes. I'm saving the old draft, but so far, I'm liking this new one better. But it all boils down to a big sigh every time I look at my calendar and see my writing notes once again saying "Madison, Ch 1/2 edits."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Memory Lane

Cody and I went hunting tonight through photos for a baby picture of Cody. Which meant that we had to pull out all the old photo albums and the box of photos that have never been put into albums (it's a large box).

We set into our task with a purpose, but with all those memories right there in front of us, it was hard to stay on task. What should have taken a few minutes turned into an hour as we slowly perused each page in each album, telling each other stories of our childhood and reliving shared memories together.

I think that's the one aspect I don't like about digital cameras. I have all my current photos on the computer. If I need a photo, I go to the appropriately named year or month or event (if I was ambitious and on the ball with my file naming). I don't sit down and idly flip through memories like we did last night.

I'm filled with the desire to scan all the pictures onto the computer and make photo albums through Flicker of my favorites (because somehow this seems easier than just putting the photos away in physical albums). The feeling will fade. Quickly. But it was a lot of fun to go through all those old pictures. When was the last time you saw a beer shirt on a five-year-old? A Marlboro jacket on a ten-year-old? A pegged pant leg? Maybe it's time for you to go through your old photos too.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Returning to My Roots

I've been at a loss lately for what to read. I've started several novels, gotten twenty to one hundred pages into them, then realized that I wasn't at all invested in the story. It's helped narrow down my to-be-read shelves, but it hasn't helped me relax. Finally I hit upon the idea of rereading something I know I'll like. Something that I loved at one time but haven't read in years.

It's been a long time since I've intentionally selected a book to reread. I've been doing research before, hunting through various novels, and caught myself hours later halfway through a novel and ending up finishing it—an accidental or unintentional reread. But to pick a book on purpose...that had the appeal of the unusual.

I automatically gravitated to The Princess Bride, one of the few books I have reread intentionally. It didn't feel right. Neither did one of Jacqueline Carey's novels, which read like a balm to my muse, I'm so familiar with the stories that it's just the beauty of the language that compels me along. But those didn't feel right either.

And then my eye fell upon The Hero and the Crown. A YA novel, which for long-time readers, you know I typically don't read YA. In fact, the last time I read The Hero and the Crown I was twelve. Maybe eleven.

I picked it up and I'm loving it. McKinley has a great, quiet style that sneaks up on the story, one where you're immersed in the fantasy before you were aware it was fully constructed.

I was surprised to recognize some of my earlier work in it. My preteen subconscious had soaked it up and reused it a few years later in my first stories without me knowing it. From character names to pacing to even some minor plot points, I recognized them in my very early works. It was shocking and a bit amusing.

I'm enjoying The Hero and the Crown so much, that I think I'll hunt down a copy of The Blue Sword at my local used book store and see if I find any other unwitting plagiarisms in my early work. I guess the polite term is "influences." I'd be pleased as punch if my work reflected that I'd learned something from reading Robin McKinley, just so long as I'm not unconsciously stealing ideas.