Friday, January 30, 2009

First steps are an amazing thing to watch.

Today, Bronwen was leaning on a box of Owen's legos. She was sorta standing by herself and giving little bounces. I clapped with her. She smiled. And then she stood by herself. Something in her eyes told me that she was ready.

For the last couple months she's been holding hands and walking. She's stood a couple times by herself, but not for very long and she freaked out when she realized she was on her own. When I say 'freaked out' I mean yelling, shaking, 'how could you betray me by letting me go!?' kinda fits. Red in the face. Pissed off.

But this morning she was happy and smiling. The cutest of cute times for any kid. She just leaned on the box and then stood up.

I asked her, flat out, "You wanna try?" And I walked over to her and sat down with my arms open and said, "Come on, come here."

Here's the part that gets me: she knew what I was asking her to do, and she did it. With all that earlier freaking out and panicking, she went for it. Three steps on her first try. (Before I grabbed her in paroxysms of joy and ruined all forward progress.) Then she did it again. Soon she'll be doing it all the time.

But it's not the walking that hits me, it's seeing that she knows she can do it and she's willing to try. It's such an odd expression, one that only shows up at certain times in a child's life (first words, first steps, first bike, first successful creative endeavor--"Look at my picture!"). Like the knowledge has been there the whole time and was only just uncovered.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Revision...it's the pits

Last night was Ali's big thesis critique, and judging from her blog I think she thinks it didn't go so well.

So I think that maybe I didn't get something across that I meant to.

She put a lot of work into those revisions--the new stuff was obvious. It was thougtful. It was a new slant. There were new angles and glances. That's what revision is for. I think it was Helen Sellers in Chapter by Chapter who said something along the lines that revision it to re-vision, to re-see what you've got. Ali saw something different, something extra for her work and put it on the page. Whether it works or not, well, that's not really the point. It's about seeing what works best. That's the point. And sometimes we've gotta do it a few times before it hits.

I've got the same thing in FJR. I thought I was doing one thing, I was hoping to get it across. Not everyone got it, and I overdid some things, but I do have something there and need to keep chisling away until the whole story comes out. Kinda like King's archeology analogy in On Writing--every new piece helps explain the whole. Dig out the dinosaur man, dig it.

After Ali left to avoid the weather that was annoying all of us, (stupid snow!), Deb, Shane, and I talked about the Round Story that's going on in the other group. Here's an interesting situation where there's nine different authors, nine different visions of how things should go. Deb said she wondered how much of what the writers thought was in there was actually there versus what was just in their heads, and I think that's a consistant problem whether there's one author or nine.

That's why writing is considered a process. If you're not willing to do the 'work' (that's the creation of draft after draft....) then you shouldn't be writing. If you're not willing to make the best story possible--whether it's what you originally envisioned or not--then put down the pen. You're not gonna get it. Eventually, with enough practice, I believe that you learn the techniques that help you get it closer with your first swing...but then you're gonna have to swing again, no matter how good you get.

Luckily, I write with some really amazing people who understand the purposes of drafting. Ali showed me that last night (or, I guess in the month I was reading her stuff up until last night). Even though I told her to cut a lot of things, I believe that those things had to be written, there was no way around it. Through the pages, the worlds became more real. Maybe it wasn't what she wanted to hear (because we all want to hear: "It's perfect! You're done!") but I think she did a really good job and think she's on the right track.

And ignore Juan.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I believe goals should be fluid. They should ebb and flow according to your abilities but not necessarily your mood. That being said, I am revising my goals for 2009 as the first month proved to be a pain--in the heart and in the head.

1. My wonderful dog Charlie had to be put down this month. He was eleven years old. Finally the legs that almost betrayed him at birth gave out and he couldn't walk anymore. Dealing with this loss has stolen a lot of my energy...the parts that weren't stolen by my wonderful children.
2. The job that I'm doing at work takes a lot more creative energy than I anticipated...and I'm already a little drained after working on my last novel for so long. Plus I want to be able to market that novel in a month or two...so creating multiple 'brand new' things is gonna be hard.

With the knowledge that unexpected shit happens and the awareness of my own limits I revise my 2009 goals to be these:
  • work on my YA novel for UGWP
  • finish a rough draft of La Llorona novel
  • query agents for FJR

And I'm hoping after our discussion on Sunday, that the round story will be in an editing state soon....

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

How'd You Like to be That Speech Writer?

The inauguration is today.

I have to say that I have never been under the pressure to write something as monumental as an inauguration speech. Think about it. We quote Washington--and both of Lincoln's. Kennedy is quoted left and right as well. This is the speech that sets the tone for the future of the administration. Lincoln's second was down right prophetical.

And here is a moment that demands a certain gravitas.
1. The first African American president. That demands something in and of itself. Automatically compared to brilliant speakers such as Martin Luther King Jr.--especially when brought in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
2. A well-spoken man coming up on a crisis comparable to the Great Depression's start. Hello Roosevelt, fireside chats, and 'days of infamy'-type speeches.
3. Following a man who was known for his speeches--and even had books written on the subject: Bushisms. No flubbing allowed.

Can you imagine, as a writer, being the one to have to put the words together for something like that? It's not quite as important as, say, Gettysburg or December 7's Days of Infamy, but it's still historically significant. Pressure, pressure, pressure.

I'm sure Obama will be doing the lion's share of the writing, but nowadays there are advisors and whatnot to water down some of the more stirring things. But I hope it's stirring. I like to be moved.

Friday, January 9, 2009

I believe I'm making an understatement when I say that the news from the economic front hasn't been looking good. Everyday I hear about another place shutting down, I watch the applications come into my work by the hundreds from people who have been laid off. They say this is the worst crisis since the Great Depression. Billionaires, who put far too much stock in money (says pretty poor me), are throwing themselves in front of trains--an ironic turn of events: killing yourself with one of the greatest tools of the Industrial Revolution, the basis for a great deal of the wealth and issues that we see going on today.

It's hard not to get depressed, especially as a creative soul--what the hell do books matter when people are starting to freak out about being able to eat?

Books are a luxury...and that's why they matter. They are an easy luxury. Fairly cheap. And they take you away from the depressing reality that is, well, reality.

During the Great Depression, throughout all the bread lines and the iconic photographs taken to document the misery, writers wrote. And some really great literature came out of that time period. For your viewing pleasure, I have gathered up some of those writer's bibliographies...just to show that when you're writing alone in your room, wondering whether you'll ever make a dime, that great literature can and should be created. Without all the horror and devestation of the 1930s we would not have:

John Steinbeck--say what you will about him, that he was depressing or long winded (even though a lot of his work is pretty short)...but he wrote some important work and he actually started his career during that good-luck-getting-published time period:

Cup of Gold : a Life of Sir Henry Morgan, Buccaneer,
with Occasional Reference to History. – 1929
The Pastures of Heaven. – 1932
To a God Unknown. – 1933
Tortilla Flat. – 1935
In Dubious Battle. 1936
Of Mice and Men. – 1937
Of Mice and Men : a Play in Three Acts. – 1937
The Red Pony. – 1937.
Their Blood Is Strong. – 1938
The Long Valley. – 1938
The Grapes of Wrath. – 1939

Ernest Hemingway--started publishing 6 years before the Great Depression hits, but a lot of key novel written:

Farewell to Arms 1929
To Have and Have Not 1937
The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories (including 'The Snows of Kilimanjaro' and 'Hills Like White Elephants'.) 1938
For Whom the Bell Tolls 1940

William Faulkner--who wrote prior to the Great Depression, but again, lots of major works written in this time period:

The Sound and the Fury 1929
As I Lay Dying 1930
Sanctuary 1931
Light in August 1932Absalom, Absalom! 1936

F. Scott Fitzgerald--had been writing for a couple decades and the Depression was towards the end of his prolific writing period, but still produced a couple goodies:

Tender is the Night 1934
Taps at Reveille 1936
The Last Tycoon 1941

I have lists of other authors who came into their own or produced work around this time period, like Robert Penn Warren and his group, Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair (pretty much anyone with the name 'Sinclair'), but I think I've sort of made my point. Even in the worst financial period in history books were published and distributed and guess what? Some of them are classics.

And some of them are really depressing too...think that's a coincedence? Writers need to write about what's in front of them and then elevate it. While I find Fitzgerald tedious and Hemingway way too manly and Steinbeck as a pretty much downer (ditto Faulkner), they did good work. They wrote their experiences, were honest about it, and they made art out of some really crappy time periods.

So, just write. And you can still make a career out of it...even if times are tight.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Of all people, my brother informs me that my blog is talking too much about my reading habits and not my writing habits.

I am writing too. Just not an incredible amount. I've already forgiven myself for the NaNo goal that I will be missing this month.

Here's the reason why:
I have determined that I should just write for fun and to see where the hell the story wants to go. Just ride the wave and not push it. The technique is actually working. I manage to write a page or two at work or in the spare moments at home (there's actually more spare moments at work...who knew?) and that's just fine and dandy by me.

I've also determined that I will, however, try to write enough to where I can submit this new project to the UGWP for review and revision every month for the next five months or so. Around fifteen pages a submission equals about 75 pages this month to make a good go of it. That's pretty simple compared to 200. (I have to get this done so that I can focus on the necessary CWC pages for March...those people are demanding.) Then I figure I'll use my November NaNo to finish up the January NaNo.

It's just a little cheat.

Friday, January 2, 2009

I'm glad Christopher Moore is coming out with a new book soon. Between The Count of Monte Cristo and the book I just finished reading, The Reader by Bernhard Schlink, my reading list is looking to be a tad on the depressing side.

Not that Reader wasn't worth reading. I think it gives a valuable point of view after reading books like Night by Elie Wiesel. Basically, no one got out of WWII okay. Every single person was damaged, including the generation that followed. So, definitely worth reading, but better to be prepped for troubling perspectives (should we blame the executioner for doing what he viewed as his job?--it's nothing personal after all. See? troubling perspectives...) and a doomed relationship.

I really want to see the movie version of this--the book is pretty straight to the point. I'd like to see how actors like Kate Winslet and Ralph Fiennes handle such topical matter.

But I'm definitely looking forward to Fool, Christopher Moore's take on King Lear.