Write What Scares You.

Photo credit: iconriot on livejournalThis is old advice. It’s stuff I’ve been hearing and wanting to follow for years.

I say wanting, because… well, I can’t say that I’ve ever been particularly good at it.

It’s not that I avoid the stuff that scares me, exactly, just that it doesn’t come to me naturally. My main characters and their backgrounds and their personal demons—that’s cake.

But, bad guys.

Bad guys are not my forte. It’s not that I’m afraid of them, exactly, it’s more that I don’t know how to handle them very well, so I avoid it as best as I can.

Except you can’t exactly write a lot of genre without having to deal with one or two bad guys.

I admit, this is a reason why it has taken me so long to get where I’m going. Because I knew that this story needed a better bad guy. But. But I did not know how to do this thing.

A friend of mine ended up giving me a very basic bit of advice just from hearing the background of what my story was about—not to put too fine a point on it, she basically gave the advice that instead of inventing a wholly character-driven tale for my villain (note that I said wholly character-driven), I should use elements of the bigger themes in my story—in this case, namely, magic.

And as soon as that little suggestion was made to me, a lot of what needed to happen involving my bad guy suddenly made a lot more sense. I knew how and why magic was a part of what made him bad, or why and how he was involved with magic, anyhow. And the way things do in stories when you’ve found the right idea—things sort of fell together with what I already had.

But I was still a little afraid to actually get to the writing of it. This new angle involved not only interspersing scenes throughout the novel from the villain’s POV, but also inventing and introducing at least two whole new characters (I was going to do three, but now I think I’m good with two) and altogether altering a lot of my book.

Still, this is what I need to do to get it to where it needs to be—which is great. (I know not every book has to be great, but can you blame me for wanting my books to be?)

This post is meandering a little bit, but I won’t apologize for it. I’m also getting away from my posting schedule, but I thought a non-post-day post was better than no post. I’m still a long way from my goal of having my first round of edits done by the end of the year, but we’ll see. I have a new fire under my feet now, and that’s always a good thing.

On the Terrifying Notion of Change

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Sorry for the lack of updates lately. I’d say I’ve been busy (because I really, really have) but I’ve also been a little bit overwhelmed by something that I am just starting to really wrap my head around.

I recently returned home from a writer’s conference with a buzzing sense of clarity on how to fix my novel. My novel that is 80,000 words and “completed” but just not done. Not ready.

I was already going to have to rewrite it to pretty it up, but I’d been putting that off until I figured out what I needed to do to strengthen it into what I really needed it to be. Now I feel as if I have a good strong idea as to how to make this book as good as I can truly make it on my own, but And here’s the kicker: I would have to change all of it.

Okay, not all of it. My story really in its basic form is almost exactly the same. But I am working to rewrite it with more conflict, higher stakes, and stronger motivations.

And while it was a little bit terrifying, when I got home from that conference, I ignored my 80,000 word document and opened up a new, utterly blank one.

I’m not going to lie, I don’t think this will be easy. I don’t know how long it will take. But I’m thankful that I knew what I was doing well enough to know that I wasn’t doing it well in the first place. If that makes sense.

Right now I have some 1600 words in my new document. It is… nothing. So far I’m working from my head and my heart and rewriting things word for word. Soon I’ll get to patches that I can more or less transcribe, but right now it’s a whole new terrifying ballgame. I feel a bit like I’m freefalling. Which isn’t new for me on this project.

But you know what else? For the first time since I finished the first draft? I’m thrilled to be working on this project. For he first time, the freefalling is actually fun. Is another project still distracting me a little bit? Yes, I have to admit that it is. But I’m not too worried about that.

This is a big change for what Isabelle Santiago calls my “heart story,” but if it takes it closer to becoming something that will last in the hearts of others, I’m all for it.

Have you ever had to start something over completely before? Where did it take you?

Why I’ve been MIA

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This is not what my laptop looks like, but at the moment it might as well… it has decided to stop reading its battery, and as I do not have a proper desk at the moment, it’s hard to situate myself in a place where I can work on my laptop and not be wobbly…. which holds dangers of the wire coming loose.

It’s a drag, to say the least, and funds being what they are, it might be this way for a little while. Which means working on paper for me for a while! It’s not a bad thing, really… just something I have to get used to for a little bit.

In the meantime, this weekend is the LDS Storymakers Conference, so I’ll be furiously taking notes and making fun connections and learning. Hopefully I’ll have some seeds of wisdom to share with you!

For now, though, I’m going to share a picture of tulips from Temple Square in Salt Lake City. Went there with The Mr last week. So pretty! I loved it.

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Finally looks like Spring!

April is Poetry Month!

bleedys-icons-teaandbooksAnd in celebration, this month I’m going to share some poems with you. The first is Emily Dickinson (#704), because she is one of my absolute favorites, and always a treasure. If you only ever want to read through the life’s work of one poet, I recommend Dickinson a hundred times over.

No matter—now—Sweet—
But when I’m Earl—
Won’t you wish you’d spoken
To that dull Girl?

Trivial a Word—just—
Trivial—a Smile—
But won’t you wish you’d spared one
When I’m Earl?

I shan’t need it—then—
Crests—will do—
Eagles on my Buckles—
On my Belt—too—

Ermine—my familiar Gown—
Say—Sweet—then
Won’t you wish you’d smiled—just—
Me upon?

I love everything about this poem. The sass. It is a perfect example of how sassy Dickinson could be. And, I’ll admit, a poem dear to my own heart. Because I’m still working my way up to Earl, too. Aren’t we all?

My Year of Favorite Authors

bleedys-icons-dockjpgI have a terrible habit.

I’m not talking about anything dark or sinister… just something that is self-frustrating. On the surface, it doesn’t even sound so bad, really. It is this: I like to save the best for last.

This is something I learned at a young age, as a dessert loving foodie. If you save the best bit until last, you don’t have the memory of that taste marred by something lesser.

Unfortunately, though, I don’t always leave this philosophy to food, and it makes much less sense in most other forms. For example: books. Every book lover knows that as readers, we work on a sort of hierarchy  and that hierarchy looks more or less something like the following:

  • Books I have to read right now
  • Books I want to read
  • Books I should want to read
  • Books I want to want to read (You know what I’m talking about. “Why don’t I want to read this?”)
  • Books I have to read (Okay, maybe this is just in school)
  • Books I don’t particularly care to read but that everyone else are reading that I don’t want to be behind on

You all have a hierarchy something like that, yes? Is that just me?

Anyhow. I have, many times, kept books from my favorite series or by my favorite authors in reserve after books of a lower order, as a sort of “treat.” In fact, this started out in school when I had to read books. I would read a “fun” book alongside it and allow myself the pleasure of something I wanted out of the fiction world after reading a chapter or two of what I was supposed to be reading. Somewhere along the path, it morphed into me reading something I sort of wanted to read alongside the book that I really wanted to read, so that I got both books done.

And then it flipped into something I can’t really explain… me keeping books by beloved authors beholden in some sort of guilty way, because I had so many other books that I hadn’t read yet, so I felt as if I didn’t deserve to read the newer books that I really wanted to read. Yes, I became a reader weighed down by her (unspeakably huge) to be read shelf. I was getting to the point where I was barely reading anything. The last handful of years I have read fewer books than ever before in a year, just passing twenty last year.

Just recently I decided this sort of practice was, in a word, ridiculous. It has led to me both being behind the times on books and authors I care about, and has dragged down the enjoyment of reading anything less than stellar. Not even that. Anything that had less than a stellar expectation point for me. Meaning I was stopping myself from discovering new book and author loves that really were stellar.

Last year, my goal was to read something more challenging. I picked up Bleak House by Charles Dickens, but I am a faithless lover when it comes to books, so I also picked up Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Suzanne Clarke, and The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky… and I overwhelmed myself. I’m pressing pause on two of the three, because I am still, yes STILL in the middle of all three of them. I’m some three-fifths done with Bleak House and honestly enjoying it, I just cannot read Dickens fast and enjoy it.

So this year I am going through my books and I am reading first and foremost the unread books I have by authors that I love, like Maggie Stiefvater and Jasper Fforde and series that I really enjoyed the beginning of like Colleen Houck’s Tiger’s Curse, and anything else that I’ve been eyeing. I will still keep Dickens by my side for glances when I feel like it, but I’m not pressuring myself when it comes to reading things I don’t particularly care to this year. Maybe next year I will feel differently, but that is to remain to be seen. For now, I’ve finished one book I’d been dying to read for an age (The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, more on that later), and am looking forward to more.

Do your reading habits change? Do you ever find yourself resenting the book you’re reading, because you want to be reading something else?

Tarzan of the Apes, or Why my Mother and I Like Different Books – And also, a winner!

tarzan-of-the-apes-tpThe past few weeks, I’ve been listening to Librivox audiobooks of the Tarzan books. Partially because I’ve always meant to, and partially because they go down easy at work, and heavier stuff, not so much.

And I have a confession: besides being fairly sexist and a bit more than fairly racist (it was just how thought processes were in the day), I actually have been really enjoying these books.

In case you haven’t read them, let’s get one thing straight: the “Me Tarzan, you Jane” version of Tarzan from the movies is not from the books. Tarzan is the son of an English Lord, who teaches himself to read with the books left in a cabin built by his dead father. He wins himself the kingship over the Bull Apes (not gorillas, these are a fictional species Burroughs thought up that were smarter than gorillas, though not as smart as man).

He manages all of this due to his “higher-than-average intellect.” And of course he is faster and stronger and has better hearing and vision than any normal man, because of his upbringing with the apes. In fact, they use the words “super man” to describe him more than once.*

Now… this is once in a while seems a little contrived, sure. This might have been a problem, if not for his higher-than-average intellect. Okay, this might be a bit of an exaggeration, but that is how most problems in the first two books are solved. I can forgive this, though because usually there is a good explanation. For example, he doesn’t just automatically teach himself to read. He spends staring at “little insects” on the page (letters) and starts to figure out that they make names for things because of an illustrated dictionary. And he doesn’t go from learning how to read English words to knowing how to say them. In fact, he learns French first. Of course.

But there is a lot of action, there is a lot of Escapism (um, hello, dark African jungle full of dangerous animals?), and the hero takes action. I know I’m using the word action twice, but it is relevant. There is fighting AND decision making! And all of the above makes the books very fun to enjoy.

And while reading through the first book, I had a realization. This was a book my mom read when she was a kid. She read a lot of the Tarzan books, actually. There are two dozen of them, after all. But my point is, this is the type of hero she grew up with. The strongest, smartest, bravest guy around who goes out and gets things done, and who always knows more or less what to do.

This is not the type of hero I grew up with. Most of the books I read when I was young were about fairly normal people, facing huge obstacles. They were usually not the strongest or bravest, and while probably a lot of them were pretty smart, some of them weren’t even that. They didn’t always immediately know what to do, or if they did, they didn’t always choose the right thing first.

And let’s be honest, in my moonier times, I read and loved a lot of books where nothing earth-shaking happens on a big scale, they were all about character – losing friends, and what not. Judy Blume books.

So it’s not too much of a surprise that my mother and I don’t really enjoy the same books. It’s not much of a surprise that she reads action- and plot-driven stories, and that I lean more towards character-driven novels. We learned what made a good story in vastly different circumstances. By the time my mom was the age I was when I started reading feels-y young adult novels, she was reading adult stuff—because young adult novels didn’t exist.

It’s interesting, though, because at the moment she and I are somewhat reaching out towards each others’ reading habits. I’ve been reading Tarzan, and she’s been reading Les Mis (which I haven’t read, but I’m sort of considered the Classics reader in the family). And surprise, surprise, we’re both enjoying each other’s worlds.

*Interesting fact, Tarzan of the Apes was published in 1914 while Superman was introduced in 1932).

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In other news, I have to send out a late THANK YOU to everyone who participated in Books are for Lovers and bought a book on Valentine’s Day. I bought A Tiger’s Destiny by Colleen Houck, and The Mr bought Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, which we’d been looking for in hardcover for a long time.

And last but not least, we have a winner for the Books are for Lovers giveaway thanks to random.org, and that is SHELLY BROWN! Congrats, Shelly! :)

What I’ve Been Up to this November

 

That lovely group of ladies are who I spent the first few days of November with, on my first-ever writer’s retreat, in a cabin outside of Heber, Utah. There were a whole bunch of awesome talented ladies there, including Karen Hoover who organized the event, the illustrious Ali Cross, master of the Writing Dojo, where I sometimes write, CK Bryant, a rising star in the Indie-publishing world, and so, so many more. (Can you spot me? I’m right in the middle of things, in the teal top!)

It was beautiful there—and cold!  But I have to admit I did not spend a lot of time taking in the surroundings. Instead I did a lot of this:

Except with less smiling at cameras and more typing. (I also listened to wonderful, inspiring mini-lessons at mealtimes by Annette Lyon, which were an awesome boon to the experience!) I won a paperback copy of Ali Cross’ Become, by the way, which I’ve started and is gripping so far!

Anyhow, most of the ladies there were there to get a great kick-off to their NaNo Novels, understandably, and there was some awesome progress made by some—we’re talking tens of thousands of words! One gal wrote an entire 35K novella and started work on something else!

Me? I had one goal in mind, and one goal only: finish the WIP I’d been working on for oh, long enough that it would be embarrassing if those years hadn’t been interrupted by a marriage, out-of-work stress and a stay-at-home job working my butt off to try and pay the bills, and several (I’m not kidding, SEVERAL) cross-state-lines moves. I have been “close” to being done for probably a year now, but I needed one final push. And guess what?

I FINISHED MY WIP

In three days, I wrote 13,500+ words and finally got to write THE END. Now, I still have a lot of editing to do, but after that, I decided I needed a reward. And I decided my reward was going to be to NOT try and win NaNo. I’ve “tried” to win NaNo the past four or five years, though the closest I’ve ever come was 35K or so. (Which by the by, was this same manuscript). I decided this November I was going to take it easy and actually enjoy the holiday season a bit, rather than lock myself away in a room and ignore The Mr. all month long. Instead I was going to step back and enjoy my accomplishment for a little bit.

But now it’s time to get back to work. And I have to admit… I’m looking forward to it as much as ever!

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Thanks to Donna Weaver for the photos. :)

Don’t Forget to Vote!

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Hey everybody, don’t forget to get out and vote today, if you have the option! I went out early this morning and cast my vote along with The Mr. You have a say in the movement of this nation, so don’t waste it!

For tomorrow I have some really exciting news, so check back!

In Translation: The Devil, as Always, is in the Details.

Dostoevsky vs. Dostoevsky Photo by Lisa Asanuma, Creative Commons License.

Recently (or not recently at all, really, if we’re being honest, or you look at my Goodreads) I’ve taken it upon myself to read through all of Dostoevsky. All of him. Everything I can find that he wrote. Or, all his fiction, at least, as I don’t really know if he wrote essays or anything like that.

A little background: I took a course in college about Dostoevsky, mainly because I had read Crime and Punishment in high school and loved it. LOVED it. C&P is one of my all-time favorite novels. For so many reasons. None of them being that the main character is sympathetic. Which is another reason I love that book—because he really, really isn’t.

I did not remotely make it through most of his books during my college course, though. In fact, all I can confess to actually finishing is his short stories (I think) and again, Crime and Punishment. Getting through two short-story collections and three whoppers of novels is intimidating at best—much more so for Russian Lit. (Have you SEEN The Brothers Karamazov? My copy is well over 600 pages.) (That said, it reads like a Whodunnit mystery. Still, I didn’t finish due to time-constraints.)

I decided also, to start on what was to me, the least enticing of his novels. The Idiot. Actually, I was very curious about The Idiot because of a little fad I like to follow in my classic reading. I like reading novels about characters that the novelist themself has deemed as remarkably good. For example, Anne Elliot in Persuasion, or Mary Garth in Middlemarch, another monolithic tomb I love.

So I set out on The Idiot. But I did so when I couldn’t get my hands on a physical copy, and at the same time, was experimenting with the Kindle app on my phone. Needless to say, my progress was slow-going. Dostoevsky is hard enough to swallow when it’s on a few hundred pages, not to mention 12,000+ tiny screens pages. Even if the quality of the writing is the same (my example of this is 13 Little Blue Envelopes, also read half on my phone, half in real book form).

In this case, though, the quality of the writing was not the same. Dostoevsky is Dostoevsky, right? Wrong.

This is actually another something I learned in that same college course: the quality of the translator is, while not everything, a lot. In fact, when I took classes where books were read in translation (EG: my Dostoevsky class and another Russians class*… what? I like Russians) I would often purposefully check a copy out of the library rather than buy the one prescribed for class, because then I got to see and hear some of the differences in the text that the translators made (also I was dirt poor, but anon…)
I had come to the conclusion in that class that each translator offered a somewhat different portrayal… but often they were just as rich in different ways. This experience with The Idiot, however, did not match up, and it’s all down to the fact that when I went to Kindle to test the book out, I naturally tried the free edition. Dostoevsky’s not around to collect a royalty check, so I didn’t feel too bad about it.
I picked the book up and put it down a lot, then put it down for a long time when I didn’t really have enough space for the Kindle app on my phone, then checked the book out from the library, and tried to go back to swapping back and forth between the two.
It would not do. And I’ll tell you why.
Here is an exerpt from my library copy of the book translated by Constance Garnett (my own is still tucked away in a box somewhere in Southern California):
Nina Alexandrovna looked about fifty, with a thin and sunken face and dark rings under her eyes. She looked in delicate health and somewhat melancholy, but her face and expression were rather pleasing. At first word one could see that she was of an earnest disposition and had genuine dignity. In spite of her melancholy air one felt that she had a firmness and even determination. She was very modestly dressed in some dark colour in an elderly style, but her manner, her conversation, all her ways betrayed that she was a woman who had seen better days.
Now compare this to the description in the Kindle version, translated as you can see above by Eva Martin (a note on this, my professor knew the translators by name, and could tell us a little of their histories and his preferences, which I still find most impressive. Garnett, now that I see her name, was his favorite, I think):
The lady of the house appeared to be a woman of about fifty years of age, thin-faced, and with black lines under her eyes. She looked ill and rather sad; but her face was a pleasant one for all that; and from the first word that fell from her lips, any stranger would at once conclude that she of a serious and particularly sincere nature. In spite of her sorrowful expression, she gave the idea of possessing considerable firmness and decision
Her dress was modest and simple to a degree, dark and elderly in style; but both her face and appearance gave evidence that she had seen better days.
Not only is the first excerpt more concise, it has a lot more in the way of aesthetics to it. When I went from reading the passage in the Garnett version to reading the Martin translation, and I was surprised by how much the Martin didn’t measure up.
So if you’re reading something in translation, don’t just pick the first copy you find. Sit down for a minute and browse… make sure the translation you get is the one you want. It will make for a nicer experience, and maybe stop you from prematurely thinking that some author who wrote in another language had no idea what they were doing.
*I also took a class on Hungarians, but didn’t check out Hungarian stuff from the library because let’s face it, there wasn’t many options to choose from (Read: that was the only translation there ever had been, or probably would ever be).