Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Two Novels Diverged on a Messy Desk

How is everyone’s April coming along? How are the A to Z bloggers and non-A to Z bloggers holding up? I’m still working on revisions and am moving slowly through RhyPiBoMo. It’s a good kind of slow, as I’m fascinated with all the things I can learn in the field of poetry, rhyme, and verse… Now, onto my post!

Recently, I began reading two novels at the same time. No names. I read the first few chapters of Book A. Then I began reading Book B. If Book B hooked me more than Book A, I was going to continue on with Book B. Book B hooked me a little, but Book A was a much better read. So I returned to Book A and finished it. 

Before I continue, I should add that my intent behind this post isn't to openly knock on an unidentified book or author, but for me to show an exercise I did where I reflected more carefully about my reading experiences so I can be a better writer.  

So here's what distinguished the beginning of the two books from each other:
-The language: Very pretty prose filled Book B. I imagined the author using a thesaurus to replace all the ordinary words with more sophisticated-sounding words to gloss up the language. (For the record, glossed up language doesn’t improve an undeveloped story.) While one could argue that the fancy word choice was intended to reflect voice, I found this particular pretty prose distracting me from the story itself. The language of Book A, on the other hand, was strong but easily melted away while I read, clearing the way for me to visualize the story past the dark print on the page.

-The characters: Both authors applied the character cookie cutter in some way. In Book A, the cookie cutter characters were not leading characters. They seemed to be there to establish the setting and perhaps connect the reader to the story. That worked for me. Yes, I know people like that from this environment.  In Book B, the leading characters seemed...a bit predictable. 

That said, now that I'm done with Book A, I might still give Book B another chance someday.

Side note...Admitting that Book A is commercial fiction and that Book B is considered literary might paint me as a shallow reader. But there are obviously such things as high-quality commercial fiction and mediocre literary fiction. But from my observations, I find that commercial fiction is often considered "guilty pleasure" reading while literary fiction is what people want to brag about liking, even if they found it tiresome to plow through certain parts. This time, I preferred the story of commercial fiction over the literary one. 

What book have you read where the print on the page melted away as you read? 
Would you be comfortable sharing you like a story of commercial fiction over a literary one?

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

IWSG: RhyPiBoMo 2015

Today is IWSG day, a monthly occasion Alex Cavanaugh started to get writers sharing about their insecurities and other things. Today is also the first day of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, with currently over 1,600 sign-ups! I’ve done this challenge before, and it’s a great way to meet other bloggers. I’m not doing A to Z this year, but I’ll still be around.

What I plan to do in April is work on my revisions for my novel and picture book. I also signed up for Angie Karcher’s RhyPiBoMo, which stands for Rhyming Picture Book Month. I’m in awe of writers who pull off rhyme so smoothly. Perhaps a month of reading expert posts, doing exercises, and reading examples of rhyme done right can help me improve on the craft .  

I’m going to keep today’s post short as I’m sure you A to Z folks have many, many blogs to visit today…and for the next 30 days at that!

If you are doing the Blogging from A to Z Challenge this month, what is your theme? If you are not doing A to Z, what are your plans for April? 

Monday, March 23, 2015

When Evil Triumphs Over Good

Awhile back, when I was enrolled in an online YA writing class, I transferred my observation of the world as I saw it during my youth into my writing. For an assignment, I submitted a story outline where evil triumphs over good. My classmates disapproved of this conclusion. But it’s not fair that the villain doesn’t get their comeuppance! But the protagonist’s good deeds don’t pay off! I struggled with this feedback for awhile because I believed that my story's conclusion depicted reality.

I don't think there's any industry, community, or age group that's completely immune to people who don’t play nice, who bully, who are narcissistic and two-faced, who loudly assume causes for blatant self-serving motivations. Unfortunately, sometimes I see people like this thrive. At times, I’ve also seen generous and good-natured people get mistreated or exploited.

Growing up, I’ve read many stories where good behavior is rewarded, and I feel this paradigm in kidlit sets up a false expectation for young readers that life will always be fair if you play by the rules. I intended to show readers that life might not be fair, you might not get what is due to you, but you can move on….like the way I learned to move on during times in my life when I wasn’t treated fairly.

Still, I let my classmates’ and teacher’s feedback sink in. So I thought for a long time and finally decided I could try a different approach to my story.

Before arriving there, I also considered my feelings as an adult about consequences for good and bad behavior. So while I'm aware there are still terrible, unjust things that happen to many people around the world, I can't deny that sometimes the universe does come through, that things go around and come around, both the good and the bad, in twisted, unexpected ways.  Sort of on this topic...Years ago, author Nathan Bransford wrote a post called Doing the Right Thing that I found optimistic and enlightening. 

Have you ever needed some time to process feedback about your writing?  What got in the way of immediate acceptance of the feedback?

How do you feel about stories where evil triumphs over good? 

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

IWSG: My Current Revisions

It's IWSG day.Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about writerly insecurities and other things. Like last month's post, today's post is also up a teeny bit late today.

I didn't work on my YA novel for a few weeks. But just because I wasn't actively working on my novel, it didn't mean I wasn't thinking about my story. I'm revising a part of my story where a certain twist I threw into the story is rather predictable. So I've been brainstorming how to approach this plot point from different angles. I finally figured out a solution. 

This means I'd have to go back to the beginning and weave in additional scenes. I'd also need to consider how this revision will affect what happens in the rest of the story. 

While I'm excited that I found an alternate route to telling my story, the insecure writer inside me wonders when my story will ever see the light at the end of the tunnel with all my backtracking. But the optimist in me asks, how many opportunities do we have in life to undo a past action? Revising my fiction could be the closest I'd ever come to time travel.

How do you revise? What other ways are there to time travel?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

ISWG: Going to Bed Angsty

Today is IWSG day.Thanks to Alex Cavanaugh for organizing this monthly event where writers share about writerly insecurities and other things. My post is up a little later today.

Growing up, I sometimes had trouble falling asleep at night. Part of this was attributed to my asthma and the other part of it had to do with how, sometimes at bedtime, my head would be supersaturated with the following: random thoughts and ideas, what-if questions, stuff I was studying about at school, analyses over both recent and not-so-recent incidents, and hindsight over what I should’ve said or done in an incident, even one that could be quite trivial, but was still keeping me up nonetheless.

And before you ask….no, counting sheep didn’t usually work.

When I got stuck in this cycle, I would try to coax myself to let it go and sleep it off. Sometimes I succeeded. At other times, the later into the night it got, the more irritated I got with my busybody mind for ignoring my physical exhaustion. 

As an adult, I usually sleep much better nowa-nights (a word I just made up). But there are still exceptions.

In the past few weeks, my mind fought sleep during two nights. The trigger for the first miserable night came from the ongoing analysis of a situation, and for the second night, an echoing what-if question. The good news it that before drifting off on both these nights, I made a quiet pact with myself to take action the following day. The results of my “taking action" have been positive.

The bad news is that the hours I wasted mulling over these things took its toll on my body. As I'm typing this post, I feel a cold coming on. 

When was the last time you had trouble sleeping at night? What was going through your head then?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Author Interview with Phoebe North

For my first interview of 2015, I bring to you Phoebe North, author of the YA science fiction books STARGLASS and its sequel, STARBREAK (Simon & Schuster).  In the first book, we learn that Terra’s forebearers left Earth 500 years ago so that the future generation, one that Terra belongs to, can find a new home planet. So the only world Terra has known is one inside a small city contained within a spaceship.  

Terra’s mother was murdered years ago. Her father is cold and uncaring.  She is engaged to a boy who is aloof and unaffectionate toward her. What Terra has going for her is an apprenticeship where she learns about plants, and she brings knowledge of this subject with her when the spaceship lands…  

Where were you born, and where do you live now?  I was born and raised in New Jersey, and now live in New York State, after sojourns in both Florida and Northern Virginia.

How did your MFA in Poetry that you received from the University of Florida influence your fiction writing?
The MFA I received in poetry was the first step toward seeing myself as a professional writer. I'm very grateful for the time and dedication of my professors there, even if the experience was mostly instructive in teaching me the kind of writer I'm not--namely, a literary poet!

Was there a part of your childhood or adolescence that you weaved into your writing of STARGLASS and STARBREAK?
Sure. Like Terra, I lost a parent when I was young. I was also prone to falling wildly in love with boys who were all wrong for me. It wasn't until I met my now-husband (like Terra, at a fairly young age) that I realized that love should be healing, rather than damaging.

The vivid setting of STARGLASS and STARBREAK came with parents having children through artificial wombs, telepathic dreaming, and a planet of interesting plant life. What tips do you have for effective world building?
Do tons of research, but don't feel obligated to let it all show. Reveal your world slowly and deliberately; readers will fill in the gaps, and your universe will feel much richer for it.

I’ve heard industry professionals say they’re not interested in books with religious content. As for myself, I liked the way you wove references to religion into STARGLASS and STARBREAK because it gave the story additional depth. How did incorporating Judaism into STARGLASS and STARBREAK affect interest of your book among agents and editors?
It seemed to be a real draw, in part because many professionals in New York publishing have Jewish backgrounds that are somewhat motley, like my own. Of course, I wouldn't call either book in the Starglass sequence "religious" per se. They're not preaching or trying to teach a lesson. But the religious background of the characters is grounded in real life religious identity. That sort of complexity of approach really helped make my books stand out, I think.

Who were your favorite authors/books to read while you were growing up?
I loved books with messy girls: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.

Are there upcoming projects you’d like to share about?
Too soon to say! :)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mistakes

Whenever there are many "rules" coming from different voices governing how a certain art form should be performed, it opens up an abundance of opportunities for an artist to “make mistakes.”

Whether they’re stated or implied, rules are dished out for all walks of art and creative genres…. Dancers need lean figures. An action movie must have at least one high-speed car chase. A fancy meal should be garnished with fresh herbs when plated.  Female protagonists ought to be likeable, be relatable, and always make smart choices.

Sometimes what a person calls a rule, I just regard as a suggestion. And sometimes what critics regard as a mistake is what I see as the artist experimenting, taking a risk, and/or making a genuine and good faith effort to do the right thing. 

So just because someone deviates from the rules, it doesn’t mean that the outcome of their work must necessarily be bad.

Recently, I read an article about a woman who once tried knitting a winter hat for herself, and she unintentionally left a hole in the back of the hat. Long story short, she put her ponytail through the hole and wore her hat out this way to “amuse” her family. Then, people around her began asking about getting a hat similar to hers, and a business was born.

So this woman’s success stemmed from her boldly showing the public her “mistake.”

Yes, sometimes a creative endeavor can lead to unmistakable mistakes...There’s another article I read about a woman celebrating not-so-successful crafting projects by launching a website and creating a book. On what the author describes as her “friendly fail site” are images of neat and polished finished projects that one might see on Pinterest, and images of how such a project someone attempted actually turned out. From her interview, it appears this woman wants to help people find humor in their mistakes, and to think about how to improve.

I like this idea of a safe haven for people to go to where they can show off their mistakes. I wish there were more safe places like this out there, especially on the Internet. 

How do you handle mistakes, real or perceived?