Monday, February 27, 2012

Reading List

I'm doing something a little different this week. That might be because I just turned in my thesis 100% and now have nothing to do but wait for graduation. I feel I have earned a week of rest. Well, physical rest. Mentally I'm still writing like crazy. I heard about someone whose allergy takes away his sense of taste. I think there are all kinds of awesome things to do with that. What if this someone had to eat at a bad cook's house? Or, what if this someone was a spy who could identify poisons by taste? So, basically, I'm keeping my eyes open for anything that could spark a story. It's been a good week for that...sometimes I wonder how I got lucky enough to know the interesting people in my life.

Anyway, the title of this post is "Reading List". I have a lot of friends who ask me for summer reading lists and then I always forget. I decided to post my list of worthwhile and fun books, perfect for summer reading, on this blog and then if someone asks me to share my list I can refer them here. I've been doing a lot of reading lately and really appreciate a book's ability to affect emotion as well as inspire dreams for the future. I also like learning how to write better from the books I read.

Beauty by Robin McKinley
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
The Giver by Lois Lowry
Holes by Louis Sachar
Heist Society by Ally Carter
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare (or anything by Shakespeare)
The Squire's Tale by Gerald Morris
Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C. Wrede
The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Anything about Sherlock Holmes
Silent to the Bone by E.L. Konigsburg
Jake, Reinvented by Gordon Korman
Anything by Rick Riordan

Well, that should do it. For now. This is just a fraction of the full list of my favorite books. I'll spend the rest of the day thinking up other books I should have put on it, such as anything by Tolkien. The list is a mash-up of my favorite classics, favorite fantasies, favorite authors. I tried to include literary gems, like Peace Like A River and the classics, as well as the fun pool-side reads like Heist Society (girl is an art thief and her friends are great!). This is what I would recommend to someone who wanted a list for summer. I can't always put my finger on what I like about these books. Sometimes it's easy - the characters are clever and realistic, sometimes the plot is excellent, but sometimes there's an essence of magic behind the writing, like with Holes. Something mysterious and powerful.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Thesis: Moving Onward

Sorry I didn't post yesterday - I had a crazy group project. But, as you can see, I'm here now. The most exciting thing to happen to me last week was that I had my thesis defense. I passed! It actually turned into a workshop. My thesis novel is the one about magic, Sarah, Thomas, The Shifting, etc. The three men who did my defense gave me lots of advice on how to make it better. They also said a lot of really nice things about my writing, such as I had a good drive through the book, the use of the 2 POV (points of view) is actually a good thing in how they balance Ryan's character, and my writing is very clean. They also said my scenes are realized (physical, you're there with the character) and that I did a good job of remembering that a novel has two stories: the external and the character's internal journey.

But before I get a big head, I also learned that I have a problem with character consistency and I sometimes fade into Sarah's voice when I'm writing in Thomas's. Some scenes with my characters my mentor, referee and representative didn't believe based on who I made my characters to be. AKA, if Sarah is strong and capable she shouldn't have a problem with confidence. Along with this, Thomas should also be a stronger person. (They did mention that a possible conflict for him would be that he kind of knows what will happen to him at the end and is fighting it. I like it.) They also said my pacing is off, which I knew. I struggle with pacing, especially when I have to use exposition to explain the fantasy world I created.

So what now? Well, I'm going to print up and turn in the thesis by the deadline so I'll have a bound copy at graduation. And then, well, the thesis committee (for lack of a better term) recommended me fixing the novel - The Shifting - and taking it with me to the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers conference in June. They think that if I apply myself, I'll have something worth selling. Will I go? Maybe. Probably. I need to look more into it and decide if I have the opportunity and the means to make it there.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Gray February

I'm not going to lie, this past week has been hard. I got a rejection letter (yes, another. You'd think I'd be used to it) that I wasn't ready to handle. I DID get back to writing, but right now my writing feels like slogging through ankle-deep mud; not much there to make me feel like I'm making any progress. That might be because the majority of what I've done is revision, and not terribly rewarding revision. I'm getting rid of the adverbs in "Nightshade", and that's just embarrassing. Three adverbs in one sentence! I ask you! I'm somewhat angry at me-in-the-past for making me-right-now work so hard to clean up her mistakes. But I guess that's just the process of becoming a better writer. Just so you know, the first 5 chapters of "Nightshade" are now much better.

I also have been working on "Once and Future" using what the editors recommended. We have some differences of opinion I need to work out (they think I have no form, I think I do), but I'll deal with that later. My story is convenient in the way I can easily rearrange the form if I have to. This week I strengthened my characters, making them more consistent, and did a little world-building. The story is a science fiction and while it made sense to me it didn't to the readers. I had to emphasize what kind of technology the world in the story has as well as what powers my protagonist Martha has. For the record, she CAN change the future, but only because she can see what actions in the present will spark that future. I had to make that clear.

Some of the writing was kind of annoying but it yielded some pretty good work. Some flecks of gold in the dreary gray of February, you might say. Here's a few samples of my improvements:

Martha stepped forward and General Drakesson’s eyes widened with fear. Martha could see decades-old stories flashing through his mind, stories of the power of a Changeling pushed to the limit. Let him fear. This arrogant general, used to getting his way, had forgotten who he was speaking to and needed to be reminded.

She took another step forward as her presence swelled to fill the room and Drakesson stumbled and fell, hand raised as if that could protect him. She spoke, her voice thunder. “I am your Changeling. Do not think you can threaten me! I will not help you do this evil thing!”

I added some threatening aspects to Martha's character. Changelings, especially Martha, are feared and respected by the people. When Drakesson asks for her help in his seducing of her best friend, Martha is not happy. This is an improvement over the original because it shows Martha's power and forces Drakesson to respect, if not fear, her. It sets Martha apart as someone very different and powerful.

Can good come from evil? Martha holds the infant in her arms. His blue eyes are his father’s, his dark hair his mother’s. He cries like he knows his mother will not survive his birth, like he knows his father will never know he lives.

“His name is Allan,” Ellie says with her last breath. “Take care of him.”

No one else will, if Martha does not. If he knew, that fool Drakesson would not recognize this boy as his son and heir. Not when his blood has been polluted by his mother’s inferior genes. Yet despite his common genetics this child is the first hope Martha has had for over a hundred years that the future could again be bright.

The boy, Allan, sleeps and now so does Ellie. Martha looks at the mortal remains of her only friend and holds the child tighter. “I will,” she promises.

This is a short but complete scene. In the first draft I had Martha simply promising Ellie that she will care for Allan. Now, I explain why General Drakesson will not care for Allan, necessitating Martha's involvement, as well as show some of Martha's motivation for taking on Allan. Her friend has just died, Allan is a hope for the future as well as the last Martha has of her friend. It shows more of Martha's ability to love, which isn't as visible in other parts of the story. It makes her more human, even as the last sample I showed makes her more alien.

So, that's how I'm making the story better. It's still a work in progress, but I think it's better than it was a week ago. In the coming week I will keep writing (if I don't go nuts over my thesis defense) and we'll see if I dig up any more gold.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Hearing Back (and Gearing Up)

This past week I heard back from an editor I hired to look over my short story I wrote last semester as part of my grad school application package. The overall things - voice, prose, characters, and dialogue - I did well on. They also said my concept of a dystopian science fiction based on the story of the Sword in the Stone was sophisticated and intriguing. But it looks like I have some work ahead of me. Hence the "gearing up" in the title. The story has a lot of plot holes and places that need polishing. Because my protagonist sees past, present, and future as the same the story is made of a series of scenes in no real chronological order. That makes it confusing for the reader. Also, the editors would like to see another scene or two to set up my second character Allan better. It's not exactly an overhauling of the story to make these changes, but it will still be a lot of work. Last week was a busy one for me; I had lots of tests and shifts at work. But this week should be more laid-back.

Which is good, because I really need to work on "Nightshade." I've been procrastinating because I know it's going to be a long, annoying process. I've learned so much about writing for young adults since I last looked at it. About a week ago I went through my first chapter and saw so many places where the writing was okay, but could be so much better. With my time this week, I can sharpen the prose and get rid of all those adverbs. (I searched the document for the letters "ly". I found way too many.)

I do have one major paper I need to write this week. It's applying critical theory to the book of my choice, and I picked "A Wrinkle in Time" by Madeleine L'Engle. The reason? I think I critique it based on Dante's four levels of a text: literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical (this last one refers to how things are beyond human knowledge, usually, the afterlife.) I was surprised by how well it works as an allegory. In one scene Charles Wallace has asked to be read Genesis for a bedtime story, and if this clue is applied to the text we can see Charles Wallace's temptation and fall on Camazotz as referencing Eve's taking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in the Bible. It doesn't hurt that Charles Wallace falls because he wants to know more.

I'll admit, I don't know authorial intent on this one. But it is interesting. The search for allegory continues. If Charles Wallace represents Fallen Man, then is Meg, who saves him, a Christ figure? She, of the three, is the closest associated with their Father and she does rescue Charles Wallace with her love....

Tentative, and again, I don't know if L'Engle intended any of this. But I'm looking forward to writing this paper.