Tuesday, November 23, 2010

An impromptu strategy session in the children's library

How cool is this—I visited a local public library this morning and mentioned my YA novel-in-process to the children's librarian. She got so interested in the project that she pulled another children's specialist from the back room and we sat around talking about it for a good 15-20 minutes.

I am at the point in my book where my heroine is going to seriously start "booking"—a verb I've made up for visiting scenes in books via a magic bookmark—through four books, and I hadn't finalized my list of books as of this morning. As I told the librarians, if I had a year to research this, I could take the time to read all the books (again) that I want her to visit.

She is booking through books that Ellen, another, older girl is supposedly lost in. My heroine, Sarah, and Mrs. Reid, the librarian who gave her the magic bookmark (and Ellen's mom), are trying to find a commonality among the four books. That's where I was stuck. I didn't want them just to be books that I knew about, but time is of the essence since I am writing the book for NaNoWriMo, and only have seven days left to finish it.

We finally determined that my original choices weren't so bad; the obvious commonality they share is water (though I also know that's not the reason that Ellen chose them).

I also asked if either of them knew of a book with the same kind of themes, characters, plot, etc., as mine. I have been worried about this since I have been so writing quickly and wondered if some of my ideas might be coming from something I'd already read. Fortunately, they hadn't.

How wonderful to have a fictional work taken so seriously—and what serious fun.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

NaNoWriMo Day 21

Today, on my 21st day into National Novel Writing Month, I am 28,499 words in—which might sound impressive until I hit the Stats bar on my NaNoWriMo Profile Page: I am 6,501 words behind. My suggested cumulative word count for the beginning of the day was 35,000 words.

It's not from lack of interest or idea on my part; life has gotten in the way. My kid's two full days and two half-days off from school this month, hubby out of town for consecutive weeks, and a half-day visit to the ER with E-girl for a broken arm, has meant that I haven't been able to sit alone and write at the computer for the two or three hours I need every day. Desperate, I have taken to writing paragraphs as multiple text messages on my cell phone or scribbling into a tiny notebook whenever I am sitting waiting anywhere or watching kids at play.

I have guiltily set E-girl in front of the TV on the schools days off, but I just can't put her there for more than an hour and a half. She needs fresh air and friends and interaction.

So I really want to write this book—all this time away from it has made me desperate to put it down, which is a wonderful thing, if you think about it. Without the pressure to finish it within a certain time frame, it might still just be another one of my good ideas I've never made time for. The less I am able to write it, the more urgent it has become for me.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

"Oh hi!" and other awkward ways to get your characters into a room

A chance encounter with the cult classic, "The Room," reminded me how hard it is to get fiction characters smoothly transitioned into a scene.

"The Room" is celebrated in various compilations and snippets all over YouTube for its poor acting, editing, and writing. In the 30-second edit above, someone has taken some of the most awkward entrance dialog from the movie. [This will probably be taken down from YouTube soon, so if it's blank, that's why.] I'm not sure that I'm not guilty of some of this in my current project, a hastily written novel for NaNoWriMo.

Another scene from "The Room" that is also available on YouTube (inserted below) should be Exhibit A for writers wanting to know which scenes to cut from their fiction. The scene—which zips by in 19 seconds!—lacks meaningful dialog and description, doesn't seem to move the story along, and doesn't give each character a distinctive voice.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

How can we read good prose when we're reading so much junk?

As my daughter and I stood in line at the grocery store yesterday, facing a display of magazines including Us, People, and The National Enquirer, she asked: "Why are people interested in reading about all these celebrities and made-up stuff?"

"Well," I said, unloading food from my cart onto the conveyer belt, "I think people like to read about celebrities for a couple of reasons. Making fun of how the celebrities look or what the celebrities wear makes people feel better about themselves."

"That's not very nice," E-girl said. "And it's dumb."

"Yeah, it's dumb," I replied, "but what's dumber is when people read about celebrities and think they really know something. That's what they know and share with people."

"I don't want to read about it," she said simply. I would have given her a big hug and kiss at that moment if the cashier wasn't ready and the grocery cart wasn't between us.

Would it be hypocritical at this point to confess that I read People magazine whenever I'm sitting in a doctor's waiting room? Reading it occasionally is like a trivia challenge, trying to guess why people are it in. I can recognize rock stars and most actors. But Snooki and all these "real" housewives? I don't know why they are important enough to merit my time, or a magazine cover. What have they done besides appear on TV?

Women's magazines used to publish short stories, but now they fill those pages with celebrity profiles. Sigh.

I looked at the rack of magazines and wondered at how much effort had gone into producing them—the writers, photographers, editors—and how, as far as I was concerned, it was all for naught, for no real value. Was there one paragraph with valuable information, one sentence of beautiful prose, in the entire rack of them?

Where are the writers who once might have written the short stories and essays for national publications? The lucky ones have retreated to literary magazines, the luckiest to The New Yorker and a few other journals that actually pay. The rest of us, to blogs.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Things I've learned from NaNoWriMo, five days in

As promised in a previous post, I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month. Here are some things I realized in the last few days because of it:

• Writing under a timeline/deadline pushes words out of me. I am writing words I would never have put down on paper, in a genre (young adult fiction) I had never much contemplated before.

• When you're writing this fast there is no time for poetic description or nuance. The storyline is the thing, the pursuit of reaching the next page.

• Writing for a purpose, for a pursuit with a recognizable name, has brought my writing more out in the open. I am a participant in NaNovWriMo—I said so here and on my Facebook page. I rarely mention my writing in process.

• Since I must write at least 1,664 words a day, I can sit at my desk guilt-free, not worrying about the dishes in the sink, the pile of laundry in the corner. Otherwise, given my limited free time, it just won't get written.

• In an effort to reach my 50,000 word count, I'm already contemplating the longest possible way to describe and name things.

• I prefer writing short stories. I'm 19 (single-space) pages in already—a short story, done. And 25 luxurious days to edit it.