Thursday, September 30, 2010

On Ideas

I got a new idea this morning, this one from a dream. For me, dreams ares not an uncommon place for ideas to come from--I would put it at fifty-fifty--but I still haven't decided whether or not the idea is workable. In that fuzzy place I wake up in, I can think the worst ideas are golden, but come noon I stomp it down into my subconscious because I'm so embarrassed to have thought of it in the first place.

However, this one has survived the noon critical point, so maybe it is. I'm still in the midst of editing another book and don't want to lose momentum, which means it will be around a month before I get around to this new idea. Who knows what I'll think of it by then? And let's not forget the twenty or so other ideas I have rolling around and waiting to come out. When I decide what to write next, it's usually easy. I look into my idea file and see what still interests me, what I just have to get out now. This one...I want to get it out now, but I have doubts about its staying power.

It's a horror story, something I've never written before and am not sure I could execute well. As you may have read, I have been reading horror since I was seven or eight years old. Even younger than that, I started with the Scary Story books (although the pictures were more terrifying than most of the stories), then Steven King, Lovecraft, and anything else I can get my hands on. But writing it...hmm. I've written fantasy, action, violence, suspense, and a few pretty gruesome scenes. But none of that is horror. It can approach horror, but e^-x approaches zero. Go look it up and find where it crosses in.

Still, I'd like to do this. The story is forming in my head, the ending is in mind. Details still need to be created, but they're lurking around somewhere. We'll see.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Still editing...

I don't know if I'm just being careful or if I'm merely worried about sending out queries, but I'm still editing my book. I really like my book, but I always really like my books, even the one that will never, ever be shown in public. I may be humiliated about how bad it is, but I can't bring myself to hit delete.

But that's beside the point. I need to be concerned about the book I'm currently working on. I really want it to be good, but as several previous attempts have shown me, I am not a good judge of my own work. About others, I can't say other than I'm objective.

Eventually, I will get to the point where I realize I really am just stalling. Until then, I have plenty to do. And self: don't go dragging it out!

Everyone else: good luck with your own trials.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What makes a reader a reader?

I have got to remember to switch my pictures to my laptop because I am getting sick of looking at those books. Although I have to warn you: it will probably be cats.

So, it's banned book week, where everyone reads banned books as an ethical bitchslap to everyone who claims to be the voice of morality. I've gone on ad nauseum about banning and censorship, so instead I'll write about my love affair with books.

I come from a family of readers. We all have different tastes that rarely overlap, but my parents read, my siblings read, I read, and I can't remember a time when I couldn't. When I was young, my favorite books were the Little Mermaid (the Disney version...don't look at me like that! I was four!) and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Doctor Seuss. Of course, almost everyone had a favorite Doctor Seuss book growing up. The man had a way with structured rhymes.

My next books were comic books. Not the superhero variety, but from newspapers. My favorite was Garfield and say what you want about the strip, I still enjoy it. And that's enough. But while I loved pictures, they weren't a match for the ones in my head. I was around seven when I first picked up an "adult" novel, The Shining by Stephen King. And I never looked back.

Yes, they were a bit over my head. I didn't understand most of the sexual things and sometimes I never heard of certain words, but I felt what the characters were going through, I saw what was going on. I complained about a lot of homework assignments in my time, but I never balked at books. It was the only time I ever considered homework not to be work.

What makes me a reader, I wonder? Learned behavior? Something in my genes? What about you guys? Are your families big on books? Or were you just captivated by the first black squiggles you came across?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Contest fever

Sorry, nothing interesting to blog about today. I'm pushing through to finish revisions so I can get my book out to beta readers, revise some more, and then get it out. Speaking (or writing) of which, if anyone actually does read this and wants to read my YA/Dystopian, leave a comment. I'm sure I'll have more luck with twitter (well, I hope so).

There is, however, another contest going on. Elizabeth Briggs (Lizwrites on twitter) is giving away a bunch of books from San Diego Comic Con. Anyone interested, enter here. Super cool of you, Liz!

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Good news for writers! Angela Ackerman, the bookshelf muse is having a contest where she is not only giving away five first page critiques, not only two first chapter critiques, but a special three month mentorship! Don't tell me that's not awesome. She'll help you learn the tools of the trade--Angela Ackerman! Help with queries, blogs, getting an agent, your manuscript...excitement overload!

The details are here if you've gone temporarily insane and not clicked one of the above links already. And it ends Wednesday, so go now!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Revisionist History

Ah! Didn't miss a day yet! Tempted though I may be.

I'm in the middle of editing my current book, which got me thinking about editing in general and how different it is for everyone. On twitter, I asked if anyone else did an outline after they finished the story like I did. Didn't get many answers, but one said he did a detailed one for his first book, so-so for his second and for his third, hasn't thought of it yet but maybe. Another asked what this strange "outline" was.

It's one of those things that everyone has to do differently, not unlike writing itself. Hell, I usually do it different for every book. My first (may it never see the light of day) I would write and then go over what I wrote. When I finished, I did quite a few passes. Sadly, it didn't make it any better.

For the current one, as I indicated, I made an outline of the important events for each chapter. With it all condensed on a few pages, it's easier to look at it and pick out what should go, what I want to stay but might have to go, and what isn't important to the plot, but is to the characters. I'm hoping I'll be able to cut out about ten thousand words (it runs almost 80,000), first from removals and then from going through and snipping out individual words that are causing trouble. Then I'll probably catch more when I do the read through.

But still, there is a problem: I can't catch everything. Editing out little words is one thing but I for one can't always tell when a plot line or a character is working. Sometimes I'm convinced a word or a phrase or an event is vital to the story, but you know what? It's not. That's what beta readers are for. It's true that you can be your own harshest critic, but that doesn't mean you're right.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Censorship, concluded (finally)

I told myself I wasn't going to do it. After Monday, then Tuesday, and finally yesterday, I figured enough was enough.

But I just...couldn't...stop!

Okay, the preamble is done and I want to say censorship, whether in the form of suppressing newspapers, removing books from libraries or, heaven forbid, burning them, is bad. I understand keeping things age appropriate--no eight year old should be reading Speak, no matter how well-written it is. Besides the fact that he or she would not understand it, the child has not yet come to realize the true nature of the world, i.e. bad things, really bad things, can happen to anyone, but probably won't. When I was six, I firmly believed that every person lived exactly one hundred years and died on their birthdays. So, yes, there are some things that are inappropriate for an age range.

But burning Harry Potter for promoting witchcraft? Okay, the line? You left it in the dust two miles back. Despite what says, Harry Potter is a fantasy novel, plain and simple. Kids, even little kids, know that. True, they might imagine it to be real or have it firmly lodged into their mind that it is real for a short while, but rarely do they believe it is real. Children have the gift of an unencumbered imagination. They should be allowed to use it while they can.

Besides, does Harry Potter even have anything to do with witch craft, real or otherwise (Clarification: by "real" I mean Wicca and other earth-based religions; by "fake," I mean Satanism)? I don't think so. And no matter how much they love a book, most children aren't going to "live" it. True, it might open their minds to new possibilities, other ideas--ones you might not even like! Is that bad? No. No-no-no-no-no-no-no. Just no.

Reading a book rarely makes someone a communist-satanist-homosexual-socialist-liberal-conservative-progressive-whatever you have a problem with. And when it does? Usually because the deviance was already there in the first place. You really think John Lennon would not have been shot if Mark David Chapman hadn't read Catcher in the Rye? I assure you: he was as messed up before as he was after.

Powerful as they are, books are not, in themselves, violent. They can stir up violence, incite hatred, but the act has to be committed by a person, and that person will most likely be influenced by a lot more than a book. My influences include my parents, my siblings, my aunts and uncles, my teachers, my friends and many others, all appearing before any book does. Because these are the people who raised me, shaped me.

And that is the point of these last four days. Books are wonderful, magical tools to the imagination! They are scary, they are sexy, they are fun, they are boring, they are meaningful, they are forgettable. But you are the chief influence in anyone's life, friend or relative. So next time you hear about banning books, ask yourself: right or wrong about the content, is itreally a big deal?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Bad Words

Okay, so this apparently will be part three of the Censorship series. Day one was pulling books out of school for being "inappropriate" and day two was the restrictions on sex and sexuality in television. Today will deal with curse words in both literature and television.

There are several words that are barred from anything kids might happen to look at. I mean, if you read a middle grade book, you're not going to see a character blurt out a string of curses, even if it's appropriate for the character or if the softened dialogue seems inaccurate. The same goes for childrens' television. But keeping children from being exposed to the word "fuck" is one thing. Refusing to allow God, demon, gun or bomb is another.

The first, I'm sure, is not allowed for fear of offending people who don't want their children to hear blasphemy. The second I've never understood, although I suppose demon can have religious connotations, association with such is not the first thing that comes to mind. Gun? This is getting a bit ridiculous, especially when I know of parents who take their children out hunting. Yes, I know there are school shootings, but they aren't caused by anyone, from four to forty, hearing the word gun in a cartoon. Interesting: the word weapon is okay. Bomb is in pretty much the same boat. While I'm not advocating shows about weapons and explosions, if a serious-minded childrens' show mentions a bomb somewhere, I don't think it will traumatize anyone. I mean, it's a kids' show. They're already forbidden from showing death.

Is this a case of taking protection too far? Or is it trying to shield children from harsh truths? Words can be powerful, devastating even, whether in the form of a threat, a cruel barb, or a simple joke. But will...can seeing a cartoon bomb in an unrealistic situation cause irreparable damage? I'm sorry, but I just don't believe that, especially when other countries allow their children to view/read these situations and no harm comes. I just don't believe hearing of bombs and violence will desensitize children even a small amount. Hell, I started reading Steven King when I was eight and violence still horrifies me. I think they're looking in the wrong place if they want to protect their children.

There are words that should be legitimately banned, but these are words of degradation, not actions. If a child hears the n word in casual conversation, s/he will believe it's okay to use that word, that there is no history of violence and disenfranchisement surrounding it. In the same vein, children should not watch/read about heroes who bomb or kill (mentioning is different from actions) because then they'll think that is acceptable. But how far is too far?

We must constantly question that. And we should not rely on others to make that judgment for us.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Censor, Censor

This is a bit of an extension on yesterday's spiel about the censorship of books. Now I'm going to talk about censoring in American television, which I often find to be as ridiculous as the people who ban books.

It's strange what will create an uproar, a demand for censorship. The United States is a country that made freedom of speech the first amendment, and yet people ban books, ask that episodes of television shows to never be repeated or ask to ban the show completely. And let's not forget the "watchdog," the FCC, which inspects episodes for indecent material.

And by indecent, I mean sexual. Violence rarely raises a red flag, unless there is too much blood. Go ahead! Let someone get shot in the stomach! Just don't dare to show the actual consequences! But if a woman's skirt be too short or two men happen to kiss...then we have a problem.

And sixty years ago, the television taboos were so much worse! Married couples couldn't be shown in the same bed. Until the biggest television star in the country became pregnant, pregnant women weren't allowed to be shown, either. Even the word "pregnant" wasn't allowed! And do you know why that was? Because everyone knows in order to become pregnant, you have to have [looks around furtively] sex. And we can't have that. 

Then there were the complaints about "appropriate dress," again mostly for women. I Dream of Jeannie had to keep their female lead's belly button covered after someone casually mentioned you could see it. On The Dick Van Dyke show, people were scandalized by the capris Mary Tyler Moore wore. They weren't a dress! And let's not forget, the original character was deemed too Jewish.

Flash forward to the nineties, when the two reigning shows were Seinfeld and Friends. Lots of sex there, including the first admission that people actually do masturbate. But I can count on one hand the number of black characters on each show. Asians and Hispanics? Maybe a few. Gays? What are you nuts? Perhaps it's interesting to note that the character of Chandler on Friends was originally meant to be gay. If he was, I wonder what would have happened in the gay movement? It may have jumped forward a few years, and not needed Will & Grace (which my uncle found offensive) to bring it into people's homes.

Like sex (but really not), homosexuality is a touchy subject on TV. Will & Grace brought it to the fore, but how often did you see Will kiss a man as opposed to Grace? And the first same-sex couple kiss wasn't even on this supposed barrier breaking show. It was on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Of course, it created a small storm, too, although when I saw it, two females who had been dating for a while exchanging a simple kiss of affection, I didn't think twice about it. I didn't realize it was an issue (and neither did Joss Whedon, apparently). Maybe it wasn't until other people made it one.

What is it about sex that puts people on edge so badly when they could just turn off the TV? They don't want their children exposed to it...then don't expose them. If they look it up, which they're bound to do because adults are making a big deal about it, maybe you should tell them why you think it's inappropriate rather than demanding it be taken away from the people who enjoy it and don't have a problem with it. Maybe you should throw out your freaking TV! But this is the United States. People can say what they want, and that includes when they're on TV. Whatever you think of a show, it has a much a right to be heard as your complaints.

And people: sex is just sex.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Speak now, or...

If you aren't all ready aware, a man in Missouri called Laurie Halse Anderson "soft pornography." And because of that, he feels it should be banned. This is a man who is disdainful of fourth grade sex education curriculum, which mentions reproduction. And don't get him started on eighth grade, which has the audacity to mention homosexuality and condoms. Laurie's book Speak is being taught in English class--the movie has even been shown!--and he is disgusted by what it shows: sex, including two scenes of rape (he doesn't come right out and say it's the victim's fault, but his contempt for a girl who believes sex his a part of the high school experience is apparent; basically, his words indicate that she brought it on herself for being a slut). Some of the specifics he claims to have read in Speak I certainly don't remember.

He's demanding this book and others be removed from curriculum, for things like daring to show sex, the use of condoms, and speaking negatively of god. If I had to guess, I would think this man wasn't a very good literature student, or else he would understand that harsh (gritty, if you will), sexualized or blasphemous scenes taken within the context of the novel are used to make a point. If you focus on that one particular part, yeah, you might think it bad because you can only use yourself and your beliefs as a frame of reference. But if you look at the novel as a whole...

Honestly, I don't like the idea of pulling books out of curriculum or off library shelves. It's one thing to keep a place age appropriate. It's quite another to remove it because it has scenes you don't like. People refused to let their children read Huckleberry Finn because of the gratuitous use of a certain word, ignoring the fact that 1: Mark Twain believed in racial equality; 2: a lot of people talked like that during the nineteenth century (they didn't have much consideration for those of African descent...and apparently, Twain couldn't have been making a point about that), and 3: the character of Jim is ill-treated to say the absolute least, yet he is the kindest, most caring adult in Huck Finn's life. He puts himself in danger of capture to keep him safe. So why are people looking at one word, no matter how many times it's repeated?

I think Speak should be taught to high school students. It's about finding courage and strength when it has been taken away from you. It's about how staying silent about something horrible happened is just as bad as the horror. I believe these lessons are important ones to learn. Anyone who reads Speak, or Huckleberry Finn, or Slaughterhouse-Five, might be drawn to what makes them controversial, but that won't be the only think they take away from them. In between what makes their parents uncomfortable (because they have not yet learned why they themselves should be uncomfortable), maybe they'll learn about courage or kindness or making their own fate.

And damn anyone for trying to take that away under the guise of "protection."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Arg, mateys. Arg.

Yes, it's National Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day.

You know you want to.

In other news, I'm not sure if it's just me, but everything on the internet seems to be broken. My twitter isn't working, some tumblrs I've been to are "under maintenance." It's kind of one of those "everything digital is out to get me" days. Or weekends, since I accidentally screwed up my computer. It's running normal now, but last night AIM wasn't working and there were issues with saving stuff in Word, not good for a writer.

So. I'm not going to write much here today. If you want to view the inner workings of my mind, you'll have to wait until tomorrow. I hope that by then, things will be back to normal. Either that, or I'll have clicked on the wrong folder and made my laptop blow up. But if that happens, you'll probably read about it on the news.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

True Grit

I was thinking today, I'd write of grit. By that I mean the ability some works to show a particular harshness of the world that is undeniably true. Grit is raw emotion; the skin has been rubbed away so the weeping flesh underneath is exposed. It is vulnerable. It is weak. It is painful. A gentle touch induces screams.

Grit is more easily shown on television and in movies, where actors are there to react. You can see how it affects "real" people, which makes it easier to feel. What of books? Can they be gritty as well?

Of course! But in my opinion, it is more difficult thing to achieve. You have to bring the reader into your world and show them an often unpleasant reality, and then invoke the feelings of shock, despair, regret, whatever the affected character is going through. But you can't tell them what it is. It must be crafted from sights and sounds and smells and most importantly, reactions. You build it and if it's sound, they will enter on their own.

But grit has to be believable (in the context of the story and in the context of people's lives) to be real. But to be believable, something does not need to be gritty. Only realistic. This leads to the question of why there should be grit in the first place.

Many stories might not need grit to be good. In fact, some stories would suffer from a violent/disturbing/generally unpleasant scene. But in many cases, you need a harsh view of reality to explain why a character is/acts a certain way or what catalyzed them to change/go on a journey/take the sword from the stone (yes, it's backslash day, apparently).

Imagine this: a happy, sociable and well-balanced middle aged man insists upon removing all closet doors, even the ones in his childrens' bedrooms. Because he is a tad on the claustrophobic side, his wife doesn't think much of it until the day they get trapped in an elevator and he freaks out. Later at the hospital, he has no explanation other than "I don't like enclosed spaces." She can tell he's telling the truth, so she drops it. But buried deep within his mind, is some trauma relating to his phobia, one he's suppressed so much he doesn't even remember that he's forgotten. A gritty scene of the man as a child, four years old and wondering through the nettles in his backyard. His mother heard there was a boarded up well, but doesn't know where it is or if it even exists. She keeps a close eye on him anyway, but no parent can watch their child every second. He stumbles on the exact wrong place and falls down to the bottom, dislodging a rock in his scrabble at the side that breaks his leg and firmly wedges it into the mud. The eight hours he spent trying to push it off as he called for help not only explains things, but will make the reader feel what he does when he's in a tight spot, trapped back in that day where he hurts, develops a cough, just wants his mother to pick him up and keep him warm.

A powerful scene will emotionally resonate with people for years. Maybe the next time they go out for a walk, they'll make sure that old well they heard about really was filled in and isn't waiting to swallow them up.

There it is. Grit. Emotion. Use it wisely.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Yes, it's an essay on the Simpsons; deal with it

I had several ideas for my new post, which is good because I want to keep it once a day for as long as I can before the inevitable forgetting and "I'll do it tomorrow." For now, I have ideas and intend to use them.

Now up: The Simpsons.

True, not books. However, I feel looking at a television show that has been around for more than two decades will give quite a bit of insight into the creative process behind both televised and print media. The Simpsons has taken a lot of hits online for being stale, unfunny, and no longer the edgy comedy that shocked and intrigued a nation. With regards to the latter, it's not. There is no denying it. Certain other shows have gone much further than the Simpsons ever did or would, thus neutralizing the family that George Bush senior once gave much disregard to in a speech.

As for "stale" and "unfunny," both are more opinion than fact. Because I have watched the show, found there are still humorous jokes and still interesting plot lines. So what, in an objective sense, makes the show boring? For one, there isn't much territory to cover after twenty-one seasons have passed. Another is that many episodes, though different in the details, suffer from boringly similar plots. Some of the most common examples seem to be: Homer and Lisa at odds; Bart's prank backfires; Marge gets a new job; one family member has to help another Springfieldian/guest star. In a show where the characters don't age much less change, it can seem like watching the same episode even when it's not.

In the end, it's still a good show. I'll turn it on when it returns, maybe enjoy a laugh. But if something else is on, I'll probably turn to that, or else enjoy my DVDs of the earlier seasons, when things were wacky enough to seem original even when it was not.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day One

I suppose I'm not quite sure what to say, perhaps because nothing I say hasn't been said before. A thousand monkeys typing for a thousand years might reproduce the works of Shakespeare, but a single writer most definitely will. Not on purpose, not even consciously. But it does happen. Is that necessarily a bad thing? No. Not if the writer is good.

Back in high school, I was taught there were only five types of stories: man vs. man, man vs. himself (or woman versus herself...I'm a terrible sexist! and a bit lazy), man vs. society, man vs. the natural, and man vs. the supernatural. If I've forgotten one or more, forgive me. It doesn't matter anyway as my point is that reducing stories to man vs. anything is a gross oversimplification. You can say The Scarlet Letter is a person versus society and miss the point entirely, because it isn't about Hester bearing the punishment for adultery. It's about Hester. It's about morality. It's about love. And it's about a million other things.

There are other stories that are man/woman versus society. Are they The Scarlet Letter? No! Are they even in the same genre? Nope! Because the real story, the real writing, is in the details, not the one sentence summation. That's the reason why John Steinbeck could write the story of Cain and Abel and have it come out a book completely different from the book of Genesis.

So, how was this for the first post? Maybe once I get some followers, it will be a bit more impressive. Maybe.