Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The scattershot method of submissions

I have decided to approach publishing the way I approached financial aid for college: send out everything you can, and you'll have to win sometimes.  I just wish I had as much energy now as I did then.  Well, we shall see how this goes.  No more excuses.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Composition arguments and teaching cynicism

I am having a cynical thought.  The shock!  Sorry for surprising you like that.  :)  I watched a training video at work where once again only evidence supporting the management's policy was shown, and the management openly concluded, "See, we were totally right!"  I thought back to some of the arguments swirling around college composition over the last decades and had to smile a bitter little smile.

I think maybe when I teach composition I won't use the reasoning, "We're teaching you how to make proper arguments, addressing both sides and proving your point, because you will surely need to exercise this skill set wherever your job takes you no matter what your job is!"  This is a lie.  A huge, huge lie.

However, I think it helps you to know how to make a good argument, so you can recognize a bad one your employer is making, so you can feel a little bit superior to those suits making tens of thousands more dollars than you from their corporate ivory towers . . .  Yes, a cynical moment.  Ahem. 

I am prepared for the smart aleck reply/question from a student challenging this belief about the benefits of composition classes in college.  It really is in your best interest to know how to spot a bad argument, not just for the feeling of intellectual superiority it gives you but also because bad arguments are everywhere.  People are constantly trying to persuade and convince you, and you need to know you need to know how to stand your ground and push back.  Unless you want to be swayed by the mindless beast of opinion, you need to know how to sift through what's being flung at you and arrive at an intelligent, reasoned decision. 

Your employers do not.  Your employers do not have to convince you.  You have to do what your employers say because they pay you, and unless it's morally objectionable (ASIDE: If I get stalked and killed, please sue my employer because it's their fault for making dumb and dangerous policies they don't have to carry out in the field), you have to bend to their arguments. 

But, no matter what, you have to keep thinking, or you'll be drowning in a sea of bad arguments you can't even see, suffocating for lack of reason both at work and outside of work.  I think it's better to see the world burning up around you than to be someone who blindly sprays gasoline around or throws more wood on the flames.  Maybe if you pay attention, you'll be able to help others around you by reminding them to stop, drop, and roll or stay low to get the better oxygen until you can find your way to fresh air again.

What explanations did your college composition teachers give you about the purpose of college comp?  Did anyone even ask about it in your class?  Have you ever thought about it?  What are your thoughts about composition's place in liberal arts education?

Monday, September 28, 2009

How to fail successfully (or, at least, artistically)

I have been thinking of how to tell the story of a failure with a happy ending.  I can think of all kinds of stories about those who start out winners, experience a period of being losers, then overcome that to become winners again.  I can think of plenty of stories about those who start out low and pull themselves up somehow and end up high.  I can't really think of any books where the protagonist keeps trying and failing that are ultimately uplifting and not cheesy and unrealistic.

Can you think of any?

It's true that I'm not very widely read, so maybe I've never come across anything that fits this description. It's also true that I have an extremely spotty memory that's getting worse the longer I go without good sleep, so maybe I have read some great examples and just can't remember them. 

Any help you can give would be appreciated on both a personal and artistic level.  :)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

God and Grammar Snobs

I wonder if another reason people feel comfortable believing that the church is full of ignorant people is the grammatical errors in worship songs . . .  It's kind of hard to ignore when you're not only hearing it but seeing it in print and obviously incorrect.  Sometimes it's so distracting, I can't sing and have to close my eyes until the next slide shows up.

It's true that I can be a grammar snob, and the new book I Judge You When You Use Poor Grammar cracked me up, but the reason why poor grammar writ large on a projection screen is particularly irksome in church is because it distracts me from praising God.  If I'm trying to figure out what the song means, so I can decide if I agree with it and want to sing it, and I just can't, I'm afraid you've lost me with your song.  You are not helping me engage in praise.

I'm aware that I'm too sensitive about this, but what are your thoughts?  Has poor grammar or lack of sense in lyrics tossed you out of a song that's supposed to be drawing you in?  What do you do about it?

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Escapism and fantasy

"Escapism is one of the places where morality comes from." - Jason Thompson

I read this quote, and then I read it again.  Ah, I thought, this is one of the reasons I read fantasy and science fiction, or speculative fiction as it is sometimes called.  It's the what-ifs, the what-would-I-do-in-these-situations (even though it could never happen because this is the real world) that atrract me.  I like the ways speculative fiction shows me what humanity is in its essence, what wouldn't change about the nature of human beings even if the setting and environment change.  What is right and what is wrong (and what depends on the situation)?  These are things I think about when I read or watch speculative fiction, which some would call escapism.

I wonder if that's what Thompson was talking about.  Any thoughts?

Friday, September 25, 2009

More dead characters

So, continuing yesterday's morbid thoughts on character mortality . . . 

Some authors go out of their way to bring mortality into the story early.  It's part of the world they're building.  They want you to know that in their world bad things can suddenly happen to anybody, that sometimes people die by accident or for stupid reasons, that good things can be smashed and destroyed between eye blinks.  Brent Weeks mentioned that he learned from George R.R. Martin that killing off a main character early on shows you're serious and gets people to pay attention. 

Or, as my sister points out, it makes some people stop reading.  Her philosophy is that the world is dark and sad enough, thank you.  Why spend additional time reading depressing things?  She doesn't like to start watching epic shows unless they're over, so she can know who dies and who lives.  She wants to know who she can safely attach to. 

Don't we all.

However, in real life we have no guarantees.  We can't take anyone for granted because we could all die really at any moment.  To take it down a notch, we don't make friends only with those who we foreknow will stick with us through life.  I frequently strike out in this area.  I befriend people and enjoy their company immensely and think they enjoy mine just as much, but then they drop me and leave. 

It's true that I am more cautious about investing in people now, but I seem to have transferred that fearless befriending ability to characters in stories.  Shows where everyone dies in the end?  Bring it on (and bring the tissues).  Books where everyone pretty much dies in the first chapter?  Hit me.  Stories set in dark and horrible worlds full of unexpected mortality, cruelty, and the evils of humanity?  Yup. 

Sometimes experiencing works like this is like being spiritually pummelled.  It's like having your face ground into the broken fallenness of humanity.  Of course no one likes that!  That's not what I like about these works. 

What I like is hope.  I have become a bloodhound of hope.  I sniff out the faintest traces in the story, the smallest whiffs of grace and mercy and God, and when I find them, it's like He's whispering in my ear, "See what I can do?  I love you."

I think maybe most of us in American are too used to being comfortable and having things our way.  We like nice things.  We don't like to think about things that aren't nice.  We are self-deluding and blind, aren't we?  We like to imagine the world is a nicer place than it is, and so we try to only listen to stories that make us feel good and safe and happy.  We only want our children to know about nice, safe, happy things.  But is that what's best for them?  For us?  Is that's what's best for the world we live in?

It's not that I like pain.  I think maybe I love pain transformed.  I want to write stories like that.  I'm sad that I will lose a lot of readers who aren't willing to go through the grit and dirt and sludge to see just how amazing that hope is, shining like a diamond in a swamp. I wish more people would brave the swamp for the chance to see the beauty.

I wonder if this is part of my wishing for the last lines from the story "Aftermaths" from Bujold's Shards of Honor to be true: 

"Yes, he thought, the good face pain.  But the great--they embrace it."

How do you react to character mortality in stories?  Do you try to avoid the sad ones?  Do you try not to read anything too dark and gritty?  Too graphic?  Do you read just about anything?  What will make you stop reading a story, and why?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kill 'em all, etc.

I am sort of in awe of the show I have been watching.  I think it will be 26 episodes long, and the first five were intriguing, atmospheric, nuanced, stylish, and a lot of fun.  And then everybody died.  Seriously.  Hello, episode 6, aka, the episode of slaughter.  I think a grand total of two characters will carry over for the rest of the series.

What audacity for the creators of a story to build all these great characters and then just slay them all.  I wonder if that could work in a book?

P.S. ST, you would maybe not want to watch this.  But you kind of might . . . if you knew not to get attached.

Have you read or seen anything like this, where the cast just gets taken out suddenly all in one episode or chapter very early is the series/book?  (I'm kind of still reeling.)

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Maliel gives me a laugh

 I keep seeing this car everywhere.  It's creeping me out.  The first time I saw it, I was stuck behind it for a while, and I looked at the model name as I usually do.  It made me laugh.  Maliel?  I thought.  It sounds like an evil angel.  Who would make a car and name it that?

Chevy apparently.  They also make those new cars that look like hearses, right?  Chevy Maliel.  Snort.

Then I realized it was a really old Chevy Malibu with letters partially missing due to age and rust.

I still call it Maliel, and I keep ending up parked near it.  This means I get a laugh frequently.  Thank you, Chevy Maliel.

Ever seen something transformed by rust into something else (particularly something funny)?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What's so bad about Ohio?

I read The Patriot Witch by C.C. Finlay (it was pretty fun and based on an interesting idea: that all those unexplained bits of the Revolutionary War were because of the battle fought between Patriot and Redcoat witches). 

Finlay's author's note mentions that he was born some place exciting and then exiled to Ohio.  In the book, when the main character is given the chance to go lay low in Ohio or stay close by and risk getting killed, he quickly and enthusiastically agrees to risk getting killed, er, to help his country because, "Anything's better than going to Ohio."

I like Ohio.  Some really great authors I like were born or live there (Lois McMaster Bujold, John Scalzi), so it isn't exactly a sucking dungeon of anti-creativity.  In fact, Bujold's most recent works were partially inspired by the Ohio River.  So there.

Anyway, I'm gearing myself up to submit a longish collection of short pieces that center around one of my favorite places in Ohio as a child: The Ditch in my closest friend's back yard.  I also talk about how my part of Ohio was so flat we had to have an artificial sledding hill created from all the dirt when they were building the county hospital in the next plot of land.  (Quite convenient, if you think about it.)  I also talk about its former status as The Great Black Swamp and friendship and trees and ditch creatures and some other stuff that is neat.

Yeah, you think, how interesting can a ditch be?  You may even think ditches are gross.  Well, I'll show you; I promise to let you know if it gets published.

And now I think you are laughing because it seems a tad odd to say "Where I come from is cool because of ditches!"  Some day you'll see . . .

What landscapes did you own in your childhood that you miss and would like to recreate?  Have you ever tried writing about them?

Monday, September 21, 2009

A little quote about discipline

It seemed appropriate. 

"Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man's training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly." - Thomas H. Huxley

 Now, then, I'm off to meet a self-imposed deadline.

Do you agree with the sentiment expressed here?  Do you think this is still the case with education?  Have we lost sight of it?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Plot summaries and other challenges

Have you ever tried to give a plot summary of something you really like?  I've read Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan books over a dozen times, and I have a long, deep relationship with them.  I find it nearly impossible to give an elevator pitch about what makes them so great.  (It's the same with most books I love and have read multiple times.  It's also the same with books I've just discovered and read once recently.)

Often, I'm reduced to mentioning a scene that I think will make someone interested.  "You should read this one," I say, because it has a zombie dinosaur.  Or "There's a beautiful scene in this one, one of the best I've ever seen that shows (instead of telling) the characters getting so drunk that they eventually drop a bomb in a lake, so they can 'fish' successfully."

Some books, like The Name of the Wind, are slightly easier to describe because you get such a strong feeling/impression from them that you can say, "You should read this book because it's written beautifully like the most tragic, adventurous ballad ever told by one of the best storyteller's you'll ever meet."

How do you summarize books (or movies or musical groups or whatever else you try) to recommend to people?  Do you go for concise and pithy?  Talk about character?  Plot?  Ramble on and on hoping your passion will be contagious?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Book I am too stupid to read but read anyway

The Prisoner by Disch

Rarely do I read books that make me feel incredibly stupid, but when I do, they are usually science-fiction books.   That was the case with The Prisoner, which is based on the British television show of the same name.   I think this show originally aired in the sixties, and it was something of an enigma even then.  

The Prisoner chronicled some days in the life of a man known only as Number 6 who lived in a village full of other people known only by numbers.   The viewer picked up the idea that all of these people had at one point had very high security clearance jobs.   When these people had wanted to retire from their secretive lives, the people they worked for wanted to make sure that the secrets in their heads remained secrets.

Number 6, played beautifully by Patrick McGoohan, was not very happy with suddenly finding himself in some weird village with crazy architecture and even crazier people when he thought he was going off to a happy retirement in a seaside village (it was by the sea, I guess).   Despite subtle and not-so-subtle warnings from the townsfolk and the mysterious people in charge of The Village, Number 6 decided to try to escape.  

With its unique visuals (you really have to see The Village to believe it), heavily philosophical themes, openly political commentary, and Rover, The Prisoner was definitely not your same old run-of-the-mill TV show.

Since I'm dictating this using voice-recognition software, I don't feel that I am accurately able to get across to you exactly how cool and bizarre and confusing and fascinating the show was.   I caught it in reruns on the Sci-fi Channel, I never even saw more than half of the episodes, and I never understood half of what I was seeing, but I was still drawn to the show and the idea of the show and the underlying theme of what it means to be a prisoner.  

When I saw a novel titled The Prisoner, I picked it up in the interest of finding out exactly what happened in the parts of the series that I had missed.   (I could've simply gone out and purchased the series, but it is still insanely expensive even in the boxed set.)   I was intrigued when the marketing copy on the book cover stressed that this was not a novelization but was a novel based on the series, so I ended up checking it out and giving it a read.  

Pretty much from page-one, I began to feel my ignorance very strongly.   It was not just the fact that the literary and philosophical references were being scattered roughly every other word.   It was not just the fact that the banter was going nearly faster than I could follow despite the fact that I could stop at any time at read it again.   It was not just the fact that they were setting up a fascinating and tragic relationship from the beginning.   It was not just the fact that I felt like a kid eavesdropping on the adult table at the graduate school faculty's Christmas party.   Let's just say it was a lot of things.

Any books you enjoyed even as you knew they were going way over your head?

Who is Hannah Montana?

While on the topic of how Disney bought Marvel Comics, a co-worker and I started talking about good crossovers.  My favorite one of his: Hannah Montana is really Miley Cyrus, but did you know about her third alter ego?  Bruce Banner.  Yes, Hannah Montana as The Incredible Hulk. 


Every so often, I'll be reading and think, man, I wish this series could cross over with X.  Most recently (so it was a while ago), I was reading Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments series, and when they were spending a bit of time with the Fey, I thought, "I wish this world could cross with the Jim Butcher's Dresden Files for a short story."  Impossible, of course.  The worlds don't quite mesh, but I would have liked to see one anyway.

How about you?  Any crazy or not-so-crazy crossovers you wish you could see?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Rogues, wusses, and humanity

Sometimes, you come across characters in stories that give you mixed reactions: you love parts of them and other parts make you crazy.  (People are like this, too, as I'm sure you've noticed.)


There's a character in that baseball show I've been stuck on.  He's pathetic in both the traditional and modern sense of the word.  Sometimes, he makes you so irritated you just want to smack him (even if you come from a family where physical violence is not natural at all).  Other times, he just makes you want to cry and hug him.  Sometimes, you want to do both at the same time. 

In a lot of ways, there are perfectly good reasons for him to be neurotic, and these reasons are explained from the beginning so you can't just hate him, but whenever you try to think of how to "fix" him, it frustrates you more.  When people are this damaged, a band-aid just isn't enough to instantly make things better.  People change slowly, and this show respects that, but it doesn't make it any easier to not want to smack him upside the head metaphorically.


Another character that's pretty popular in stories is that roguish character.  In a series I'm reading right now, there's this sort of weary/wise character who's also something of a reknowened skirt-chaser, and the alternating of wisdom and lechery sometimes jars me. 

I'll think, "Man, he'd be such a great character if he'd quit with the lusty obnoxiousness."  Then I'll remember that he's led a life of violence and is pretty sure he'll die young.  It still bugs me, but I can understand how fatalism can lead to acting like you take everything lightly because you know you can't hold onto it even if you want to, so why waste the energy?  I can't write him off as a character.  It's like he's given blood for that wisdom, and you can tell he has, and you wish he'd be a little more serious, but he's sort of earned some goof-off moments.  I'm pretty sure he isn't going to make it to the end of the series, and I will cry when he dies, crude jokes and all.


I'll catch myself thinking, "This character would be perfect if he wasn't like this!"  Then I remember that most people think "perfect" people are boring, especially in fiction.  It is our flaws and bad decisions that make for better plots.  I've got to remember this, so I can avoid the pitfall of trying to make my characters too "perfect."  I'd rather make them more human.

Any characters that make you want to alternately hit them and cheer them on?  Any really great flawed, realistic, human characters you've come across that you want me (and others) to meet?  Do introduce us, please.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Japanese baseball and other curiosities

I should so be in bed right now.  It is criminal to make a single baseball game last that long.  I loved every overly-analytical, hyper-dramatic minute of it, but it really messed with my plan to be in bed by 10.

If you are ever in Japan, you should go see a professional baseball game.  In fact, it doesn't have to be a professional game.  It could be a regular high school game.  It's one of the best ways to realize how very different Japanese and American cultures are. 

It's the same game, right?  Except that it's really not.  What they play on the field is mostly the same, except for the bowing and a few other things that may have changed since I was obsessed with the sport too long ago.  (Dude, if you're tagged by the catcher before you touch the plate, it doesn't matter if you knock him over as long as he holds onto the ball, right?) 

What you should be watching is the stands.  If you are at a game with an audience and a cheering team, they are the people you want to have a good view of.  It's kind of unbelievable.

I was reminded of this experience (my dad and I visited my sister in Japan this April, and we were lucky enough to get great seats at a game in a new stadium) as I was watching this Japanese baseball show.  Even in high school, they take their cheering very seriously.  If you want to be in the official cheer squad, there are uniforms, protocols, hierarchies, cheering routines, songs, and all sorts of things you must know, remember, and perform.  I swear they must practice as much as the baseball teams themselves. 

It's bizarre, ridiculous, and utterly compelling.  I cannot describe to you how seriously they take it, and nothing can replace the experience of being there while it happens.  Especially during the seventh inning stretch and that thing they do with the balloons.  Words fail me.  Seriously.  (Actually, if I try to describe it, I will laugh too hard to finish, and I will need my inhaler, which is bad before bed.)

If you want to get a glimpse of this and aren't afraid of Japanese animated TV shows, check out the second part of season one of a newer show called Big Windup! Oofuri in the U.S.  What you'll see there is pretty tame (it's the first round of a high school tournament), but as you watch the game unfold, pay close attention and notice that you almost always hear music in the background this entire, rain-soaked game.  (Did I mention it's only the first round of the tournament?)

You really have to experience it some time.  Please.  Then you can try to write about the balloon thing, if you dare.

If you've been to Japan or another country and been astounded by how differently they do something (rock concerts are another interesting experience) than the way we do the "same thing" in the United States, do share.  What activities that you expected to be familiar caused massive culture shock instead?

Quotes, roads, and home

A quote that seems really appropriate for this blog (considering the source of its title ["Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening" by Robert Frost]):

     "I always did like this road," I said out loud to Mr. Potter and Murphy. "I always liked where it took me."
     Mr Potter nodded. "I suspect that's the highest compliment you can give a road."
     "That's the only road worth driving on," Murphy agreed.

It's from Frances O'Roark Dowell's Where I'd Like to Be. (Page 126 of the hardcover)  This book stars a bright, young female protagonist who is searching for the meaning of home and family.  As a foster kid, she finds the search to be a special challenge.  This book was sweet but not sappy mostly because the protagonist has a very straightforward voice, and she's frank about her weaknesses as well as her strengths.  The characters were each distinct, and their interactions with each other rang true.  It really held me while I read it because I wanted to know what happened to all of the characters (who were closely involved in the story and the resolution).  It was dramatic but not melodramatic.  Of course, I cried at the end.  I liked it.  One of these days I should definitely read the other book this author wrote that won an Edgar Award (Dovey Coe, I believe).

And now for the quote again because it's so great.

     "I always did like this road," I said out loud to Mr. Potter and Murphy.  "I always liked where it took me."
     Mr Potter nodded.  "I suspect that's the highest compliment you can give a road."
     "That's the only road worth driving on," Murphy agreed.

Monday, September 14, 2009

6 books in the queue (patience)

I did it!  I waited until two different trilogies were out before starting them!  This is what can happen when you pay attention.

John Twelve Hawks' third book came out recently, so I'm ready to start The Travelers

C.C. Finlay's alternate history fantasy trilogy was published using the new trilogy-published-in-a-three-month-span strategy people are trying out. (Brent Weeks' Night Angel Trilogy from Orbit was the first big success story of this kind, I think.)  Finlay has multiple degrees in history, and he loves to write, so he decided to combine the two loves, and we have the Traitor to the Crown series as a result.

There are apparently a lot of historically inexplicable things that happened around the Revolutionary War, so Finlay grabbed those and came up with a plausible explanation: there was a magical battle going on behind the scenes of the war with British and American magic users tearing at each other.  Kind of fun.  The Patriot Witch is the first one, and I'm looking forward to reading it soon.

Any other trilogies published at once that you've taken note of or read?  Do you like the idea?  Only if it's published in cheapie paperback?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Something like a hope song

I'm trying to pull together something like an essay for The Other Journal's Economy and Hope Issue.  Usually when I see themed issues, it frustrates me because I have nothing to say on the themes, but I've been doing a lot of thinking about hope and struggling with the economy for the last several years, so if I don't have something to say about it by now, I haven't been paying attention.

It's exhilarating to be working towards a tight deadline like this.  There's a very real fear that I won't be able to pull together something new that's polished enough to submit, but I'm trying anyway, partly because I have a lot of poetry I could send if this new essay doesn't pan out.  (Hope lends itself well to all forms of poetry. :)

I've become preoccupied with what we mean when we say the word hope in our culture, especially during that last election.  Two quotes have stuck with me through much of my writing about hope.

"Hope is only as strong as the object of that hope."

" . . . and hope does not disappoint."

Hope is not a vague thing that rhymes with dream or wish.  It is solid, anchored to something or someone.  That anchor chain sometimes nearly strangles us.  Hope is not tame; it can be dangerous and must be attached to something strong enough to keep storms from dragging us away or battering us to pieces.  Sometimes I think there's a reason it was in Pandora's box with all the evils in the world:  maybe it's a necessary evil? 

Without my Hope, I wouldn't care about beauty or meaning or art or communication.  I want to send in something that conveys at least some of what I want to say about the terribly splendid thing that is hope.

What does hope mean to you?  How do you use it in conversation, and what does that reveal about what it means to you?  Do you say hope when you mean something else?  (I sure do, but I'm working on that . . .)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

What do you do when a character dies?

If you reread books, what do you do when you're coming up on a character's death?  Some books I've read dozens of times, and when I know someone will be dying again soon, sometimes I start crying earlier in anticipation (The Warrior's Apprentice is especially rough if you read it again after reading Shards of Honor and Barrayar).  Every moment that character is "on-screen" seems more momentous and precious (or maybe just more valuable somehow) because I know the end is coming.

The recent spate of parallel novels has given me a new way to re-experience a character's death, and it can be pretty hard.  Ender's Shadow by Card had me reeling.  More recently, Zoe's Tale by Scalzi was really hard to get through.  A character who was peripheral in The Lost Colony became a main character because of the change in point-of-view for Zoe's Tale.  He turned out to be a really great character.  The more I got to know him, the more sad I felt, anticipating his tragic loss.   It was a bit like making friends with someone with a terminal illness.  Their time is strictly limited, and you have to be present every moment you have with them.

How do you prepare for or deal with a character's death on re-reading?  Does the foreknowledge of death make the next read-through more poignant for you, or does it just make you detach?

A question about likable protagonists

When you read a book where a bright child is the main character, what do you like and dislike?  What makes you hate the child and what makes you love him/her?  Any good/bad examples?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

How to begin an ending

I just finished reading a fantasy series that was firmly grounded in the real world, and at the end, I was crying.  I'm pretty sure I wasn't crying just because it turned into an alternate history series. 

Alternate history "What ifs" are difficult to pull off, and I think maybe the twist shouldn't have worked in this particular case because the series was so well-grounded in the time period, and it used foreshadowing and built momentum for the inevitable ending so thoroughly that I should have felt let down when history changed, but I didn't.  Instead, I felt a keen sense of loss because the alternate history the books ended on didn't happen in the real world, and I wish it had.  I look forward to rereading the whole series knowing the ending to see if that changes how I read as I go along. 

Some books and series don't have much reread value once you know the end; others do.  Sometimes it's because the writing is so excellent, the ending didn't really matter that much.  Sometimes the characters are so great, you just want to spend time with them again.  Sometimes, though, you read because the momentum of the plot propels you toward the ending, and once you reach it, that's all.  Now you know what happened and can go on with your life.

I've been observing this as I'm trying to figure out how to start a particular story.  In the end, someone dies, but it's not the person you spend most of the book thinking it will be.  In most western (genre) fiction, spoiling the ending means saying who dies or who did it in the beginning.  If you know that, why read the book? 

I've heard and viewed and read alternate arguments about Japanese storytelling (novels, anime, manga).  Knowing what happens in the next episode or at the end of the book doesn't matter to them; it doesn't spoil things, necessarily.  How things lead up to it are equally if not more important. 

I've been considering starting the novel with the end, partly in deference to my sister, who wants to know who makes it to the end so she can avoid getting attached to those who don't, but partly because I don't want to be accused of one of those crappy twist endings that irritate modern readers so much.  Other people argue that if I tell it well enough, it shouldn't really BE a surprise, but since I'm the sort of reader who never thinks ahead to try to figure things out, I would be surprised unless I'm so obvious about it that it's lame.  Sigh.

So, any books you really liked reading but will never read again because you know the end?  Any that have particularly great reread value even if (maybe because) you know the end?

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Something Great Someone Else Said about Procrastination and Recommending Books

I promise I'll stop doing this soon, but I wanted to share another link.  I promise when I do it's always relevant.  Somehow.  If you put a little thought into it.

Anyway, Patrick Rothfuss wrote a post about liking/recommending books that is more than vaguely related to something I wrote back in August, and I felt like sharing it.  It's nice to know I'm not alone in my particular procrastinatory habits.  Sometimes you like something, and you can't explain why, but that isn't very helpful to people unless they share your exact reading habits.

Do you ever not talk about something you enjoyed because you're afraid someone will ask why?  Anything you inexplicably loved and want to share here since you don't have to explain why you like it at all?  :)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Authors who make me happy

You know how there are some people you know who make you happy?  For example, you pull into the parking lot at work and see X's car, and you know you'll be working with X, and suddenly the world is a brighter place?

Certain authors' books are like that for me, too.  When I see (or saw) new books by the following authors (or old books I haven't read), I get a little giddy-happy inside:
  • Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Orson Scott Card
  • Jim Butcher
  • Megan Whalen Turner
  • Madeleine L'Engle
  • Fumi Yoshinaga
  • Susan Cooper
  • Tamora Pierce
  • Naoki Urasawa
  • Kristen Britain
  • Kate DiCamillo
  • Chris Crutcher
  • Terry Pratchett

The list goes on and on.  I am so easily entertained that I will never be bored.  :)

So, what authors make you happy like that (or made you happy like that once upon a time)?

Monday, September 7, 2009

The cricket chirps alone

It's only been a few days, but it's another bug-related post.  A cricket is trapped in the elevator shaft of my building, which is located on the other side of the wall my headboard is against. 

The good news is that the stairwell between us eats the sound of the cricket. 

The bad news is that I don't think the poor thing can get out. 

If bugs can be scared, I think it is, what with the random coming and going of the elevator and the footsteps and doors slamming and darkness.  If bugs can be confused, I think it is because it's started singing in the daytime because no daylight gets to it, so it sings when it's awake and in the dark.

Anthropomorphizing is a wonderful thing because it means I can think stuff like this and not have to actually cry for the bug because it is a bug and has a tiny bug mind and doesn't think about this stuff at all; I'm the one bringing the sadness to the table here.

The chirping makes me sad because it's pointless because no mate can hear it or get to it and because eventually the chirping will stop because the poor thing died alone.  But I feel sort of guiltily encouraged, too, because with all that, it still sings. 

Somehow, I don't think this would make a good children's book . . .

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A little bird told me (some things about point-of-view)

I'm always interested in practical point-of-view (POV) questions, and I'm trying to work out what POV to use for several different stories I'm working on right now.  Good examples show up around you of you look.  I found one today.

I'm reading a new manga (Japanese graphic novel) series called Black Bird.  I have to say that I'm impressed by the author's use of restricted point-of-view. It works well here.  Really well.

It seems like a close third person.  We're with the heroine, so we see only what she is present for.  This POV works well when paired with a mysterious character. 

They were friends as children, and he had to leave ten years ago, but he promised to come back and marry her.  Awww, what a cute childhood promise.  Beautiful memories of first love. 

Ten years later, he's back.  Only he's not human, and it's obvious from pretty much everything he says and does.  Where did her beautiful memories of first love come from, and where did they go?  In between her fighting off his somewhat aggressive advances and him trying to save her from lots of other inhuman creatures trying to eat her, we learn that he's been thinking of her all the years they've been apart, and he wants to marry her yesterday.  She's not interested in marrying anybody, especially not someone who only wants her but doesn't love her.  Only he may actually love her; we just can't tell.

In this case, the love interest can only be known through what he says and does when the heroine is there.  He's not one for long, soul-searching monologues, either, so we're scratching our heads trying to figure him out from short lines of dialogue and baffling actions.  He's not a human; he doesn't think like a human.  He acts, but his motives are somewhat unknowable because they don't come from a human mindset (obvious from what we see and hear).  The only framework we have for interpreting him is the main character's experiences/memories and our experiences as humans.  It's pretty brilliant.  The author is showing us, not telling us and bludgeoning us over the head to be sure we're "getting" the character.

I'm impressed.  I want to try it.

When a book makes you fly (The Tiger Rising)

I read The Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo in 32 minutes.  It was like a dream. 

DiCamillo does not belabor things in her books.  She sketches the story in a way that makes it live, and then, when it is over, she leaves you, and even if it's only been 32 minutes of your life, you are in a different place than you were when you started. 

I want to be a writer like this.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Death of a Butterfly

At the state fair, they have an exhibit called the Butterfly House. From outside the building, through a window you can see row upon row of unborn butterflies attached to what look like towels. In this display, you can also see the butterflies that have just been born and are in various stages of drying their wings off so they can join their flying kin in the rest of the exhibit where they are free within the confines of the building, and people can interact with them like lawn furniture.

Looking at the newly hatched butterflies at first brought me joy. Some species I had never seen before.  The colors were so vibrant, the patterns so startling.  Entranced is the word I am looking for to describe me and all the kids looking at these stages of butterfly birth.

And then down in the very left-hand corner, I saw a dying baby butterfly. Somehow it had fallen too far forward and gotten its still-heavy-with-moisture wings trapped underneath the towel that lined the bottom of the display. It kept struggling to get a hold of the glass and pull itself out so its wings could dry straight, but for whatever reason, probably because most of its weight was in its crumpled up wings, all it could do was struggle, increasingly weakly between longer rests. No one could help it; I could see that from the way the display was constructed.  A little bad luck had doomed this newborn critter, and because of that and because it just wasn't strong enough, it was going to die there, trapped.

I had to walk away before I started crying beside all those happy children just because I noticed that one little butterfly stuck on its back like a turtle, dying instead of drying so it could fly away.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Building Blind

I wonder how world-building works for other writers.  Right now, I'm working on a 12-year-old girl in the Midwest in the early 90s and a fantasy world trying to find a comparable historical time period, so I can do some research.  Since the story about the young girl is semi-autobiographical, you'd think it would be much easier, but my memory is so poor, and I hate to fictionalize if I can factualize.  As a result, I've been thinking more about the fantasy world. 

Most writers I know talk about an image being the first thing that happens to them, and the world grows from there.  I don't have that option because, for whatever reason, my mental lens cap is on, so I can't visualize like that.  Images don't come to me; words do.  All of my major advances in building this world (Napkin Epic World in honor of its humble beginnings in college) have come in the form of either dialogue explaining some action or me wondering what led to certain actions I know are part of the plot.  They just are.  It's my job to find out why, I guess.

What's your catalyst when it comes to world-building/writing?  Do you just write in your world and let the details come, or do you plan/plot things out carefully in advance?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Meeting Authors at the State Fair (and Humiliating Myself Unaware)

I met an author today at the State Fair.  It was unexpected.  I was wandering around before my shift volunteering at a booth, and I saw that the Library had a tent set up that day.  Will Weaver was supposed to be the guest right then.  I've been reading his books for a really long time (like, decades), so I was tickled. 

Check out the movie Sweet Land, based on a short story he wrote, ("A Gravestone Made of Wheat") and the anthology that he contributed to called Guys Write for Guys Read.  (Even adults get a kick out of the anthology, especially that story about the car trip . . .)  Will's books and short stories are an easy recommend for kids and adults, alike; he is a quality author and he evokes place like he owns it.  (They somehow managed to convey this in Sweet Land almost impossibly well.  I really wish you could have seen those skies on the big screen.  Wow.)

Back to the fair.  A librarian took me over to where Will was sitting under the bridge to the grandstand with his concept car and crew.  He signed and gave me a free book and explained that he was currently writing a series aimed at boys who like race cars but not English class.  A little boy came up and asked how fast the car went, and Will waved goodbye and talked to the kid for a bit.  (80 mph, if you were curious.)

Only later did I find out that I had ice cream all over my lips.  Fabulous.  At least I didn't give him my last name.  Ah, well.  I guess I didn't look much different than his other fans.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Few Books that Look Interesting

There are always a lot of books that I see that catch my attention that I'm too poor to buy but that I want to check out further.  Here are a few recent ones.

  • Retail Hell. I live it, and I enjoy reading a good rant about it.  This book will definitely fall under that rant category.  After reading the introduction, which is full of profanity and has a more dishy tone, I know I won't like it nearly as much as Pretending You Care: the Retail Employee Handbook by Norm Feuti.  I wonder if that's because Norm's complaints are cathartic and useful (or would be if any people in management would read the book), as shown by the fact that his book is in the business section rather than the humor section.

  • Shelf Discovery.  For those of us who still read and re-read and love young adult novels of yore. It's a blast to read short essays written by people who love books and remember what it was like to love them back when they were members of the target audience.  I like reading people who are excited and passionate about something, and I love books, so this is a fun collection even if I've only read about half of the books mentioned.
  • The Unlikely Disciple.  Ivy League college journalism student goes undercover at extremely conservative Christian University (as a study abroad credit).  But first, he has to figure out how to stop swearing . . .  it's kind of an intriguing idea, and it sounds like a great read for people who aren't sure that Christians are people too as well as for Christians who sometimes wonder what they look like to those on the "outside."
  • Ophelia Joined the Group Maidens Who Don't Float: Classic Lit Signs onto Facebook.  I am a casual Facebook user, and I get a huge kick out of this book. I can't imagine how much funnier it would be to alert major who is a hard-core Facebook user.  I have skimmed the book thus far and direct your attention to Wuthering Heights, Jane Austen, Dracula, and Oscar Wilde.  And everyone else. If you love literature or know someone who majored in it in college, this is a book you should share.  (What is with so much great literary criticism stuff coming out all at once?  It's an embarrassment of riches!) 

Have you read any of these?  Any comments?  Have you seen anything recently that you wish you had a couple days off to read right now?