Monday, February 17, 2014

Divergent Book Review: Three Years Late to the Party

Paul does NOT like for me to read. Says it gives me ideas.

Since I haven’t read for fun in forever, I was excited to dive into the Young Adult book, Divergent, by Veronica Roth. And any time a book gets turned into a movie, I take that as a challenge to read it before I see the movie. So far, I’m batting about .000001. I read Divergent over the course of an evening, which
freaked Paul out. He seriously can’t let it go. I think it’s weird NOT to read a book in one evening, Paul! I do wish the content had been a little meatier, but the audience was thirteen-year-olds, not full grown adults who aren’t ashamed of their love for YA.

Guess her faction. C'mon, guess.
The book’s premise is interesting. There are five factions within dystopian Chicago—Amity, Abnegation, Erudite, Candor, and Dauntless. Each faction embodies their namesake’s trait. So those who are Amity are full of sunshine and rainbows. The kind of person you want to avoid before you’ve had your morning coffee. Abnegation is the class of servants—not because they are less valued than the others, but because they value self-sacrifice. Members of this faction also occupy all the governing roles because they are considered most trustworthy. Erudite are the smarty-pants faction, the Ravenclaw of the Divergent world, if you will. They are also kind of a-holes—as people who think they know everything tend to be, myself included. Candor are the people who, when you ask if you look fat in red, they oink at you. Dauntless are goths + steroids. They’re the muscle of the society. And they, much like junior highers, will jump off of buildings and moving trains to prove their self-worth.

The plot is centered on the protagonist, Tris, who is plagued by that age-old YA heroine question: Where do I belong? As a member of one faction who controversially transferred to another, she is in an unusual position. Even more rare in that society, she doesn’t necessarily belong in any of the factions according to her creepy placement test.
I know, girl. I make the same face when I think about your life choices.
Throughout the novel, members of the society are also slowly coming around to the idea that hey, maybe it’d be neat if we could be more than one thing in this life. The reader will see the attributes of the factions and by about page 15 will say, “Um, why wouldn’t you want to be all of these things, all at once?” The characters in the novel take decidedly longer to get there. But hey, Lake Michigan has been turned into a nasty, brown marsh. Times are tough—too tough for critical thinking.
One of my main eye rolls occurred when the protagonist, Tris, faces her greatest fears in a virtual testing ground. One of those fears happens to be going “all the way” with her surly bf. Sound familiar? If Book Two leads to a girl-child getting married and getting pregnant on her honeymoon so she can start her Mormon mommy blog, I will not be happy.

Okay, but only in cheese dog emergencies.
I would recommend this book to anyone who liked The Hunger Games or any other dystopian YA novel. It was good for what it was. Now I’m on to read Book Two. Maybe I’ll read it in one hour, Paul. You can’t control me!

Friday, February 7, 2014

MASH: Harry Potter-style

Much to my delight, J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series are back in the news cycle. In a recent interview, Rowling has admitted that pairing Hermoine and Ron at the end of the series was not the most “credible” choice. Now, I love J.K. Rowling almost as much as I love my own face, but I agree with her assessment and would take it further. The woman knows how to build a magical world from the ground up, but I do not think matchmaking is her literary strong suit.

Here’s where I come in. Like most fans, I have all kinds of opinions about how the heroic trio should’ve been matched up in the end. Am I saying I could’ve done a better job than Rowling? No, that’s heresy. But now that the canon has been set, other options or roads not traveled can be dreamt about.

Sure, Ron could handle all that. Suuuuure.
First up, Hermione. Who could be good enough for the brightest witch of her age? Certainly not a guy whose main accomplishment seems to be having sat in the right compartment on the Hogwarts Express. I know the world has its Ron lovers out there, and yes, he’s proven himself to be a true friend throughout the series. But since when is being a good friend (most of the time) qualified someone for marriage material? (Ask any butt-hurt friend zoned dude. Oh wait, you can’t because they NEVER STOP WHINING). Ron’s a good person, but that doesn’t make him the right match for Hermoine. 

What sorcery is this?
So who is? Neville Freaking Longbottom. That kid has had stones from day one. (Recall the extra points he won for Gryffindor in The Sorcerer’s Stone for trying to stop his friends from being egotistical boneheads). I’m not just saying Neville and Hermione would make a good match because the actor who plays Neville got weirdly hot in the final films. Neville was never the brains of the operation, but who could match Hermione in wit and cleverness? He is, however, a genius at Herbology. Neville is extremely intelligent, in the subject that holds his interest. In addition,  he has, what I and others consider, to be the greatest amount of character in the books. He stands up for what he believes in. He is a pure blood, so life with Voldemort could’ve been quite easy for him. Instead, he shows courage, selflessness, and bravery during the Battle of Hogwarts. Of course other characters have shown bravery, too. But when we compare Neville to Harry, for example, you’ll notice that much of Harry’s achievements are a result of being the “Chosen One.” He fights because he has to. It was written in his stars from infancy. Neville was not chosen, but instead, chose to fight. Now, isn’t that the kind of person Hermione deserves?

Now that's a guy who needs to dip below  his peer group
Next, Ron. Oh Ron, you red-headed mess. Ron would never be happy with Hermione because he’d never surpass her in any way. His greatest fear is being overshadowed by others. What Ron needs is a young witch, never involved in the Battle of Hogwarts, who can look up to him like the folk hero that he is. Anyone who fought alongside Ron against Voldemort wouldn’t revere him for his actions because they, too, fought bravely. Ron has never had anyone look up to him, even Ginny, who was too enamored with the legendary Harry Potter to give much notice to her older brother. A young, starry eyed witch would finally give him someone to take care of and someone to stroke his ego, which is apparently necessary for him to function.

Look at this cute, socially-conscious muggle.
And lastly, Harry. Harry should’ve married a muggle, a lovely, kind-hearted muggle who used her own humanity to make a difference in the world instead of magic. A muggle would allow Harry to be a person instead of a messiah, something he’s never had but truly deserves. A muggle would help him build a normal, happy family, which Harry has craved since childhood. Also, Harry is an agent for social justice. He fights for equality and survival of all, not just witches and wizards. As one who was raised in an abusive home and knows what it’s like to be mistreated simply for existing, he has a keen sense of what all creatures—house elves, half bloods, gremlins, and even muggles—are due: The right to live their lives in happiness and peace without being lorded over by a dominant race or people. A muggle with that same mission would be the perfect match for our hero. A muggle whose selfless heart reminds him of Lily, or his conjured memory of her--red hair or not.

Um yeah, she'll do fine.
Okay, so that leaves Ginny without a match. You know what: Ginny has had no trouble finding wizarding tail throughout the series. She will be just fine if Harry doesn’t fulfill her childhood crush. How many of you married the guy or girl you were super into when you were ten years old? Are you all fine? That’s what I thought. I like Ginny, but I don’t necessarily need to know what happened to her after the series. I think The Chamber of Secrets wrote a check Ginny just couldn’t cash. Whatever Rowling’s intent, Ginny never really jumped ofF the page like other characters did. Luna, for example, was a minor but extremely well-written character. I’d like to know what Luna’s up to. She’s probably the wizarding version of a freegan, but I’d still like her anyway.

Any other Potterphiles out there? Want to play MASH Harry Potter-style in the comments. You know you do!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I’ve Been Busy, OKAY!!!!

No updates on whether Anne the Agent is any closer to selling 
A FEARFUL THING, which might be
I need more stars, you lazy human turd!!!
why  I haven’t written much since…a while. I finished the final (for now) draft of A FEARFUL THING back in May 2013, planned Book Two over the summer (using Prezi), and took fall semester off to teach eight classes and gestate a fetus. While I’m still cooking this baby, I’m not nearly as tired as I was the first trimester. I’ve also cut my courses down from eight to six (which is still a lot), but I have a goal, y’all.

My goal is this: to finish a first draft of Book Two (approximately 100,000 words) by the time the baby comes, ETA—May 17, 2014. In order to reach this goal, I will need to clock 4,000 words a week. My Christmas break goal was to finish Section One of Book Two which should’ve been 20,000 words. I wrote 9,000. Actually, I wrote 9,000, had Paul make me a chart with 100 boxes so I could put a star sticker in a box when I hit 1,000 words, then promptly stopped writing to participate in Christmas festivities. 

He's looking for Die Hard 6. He'll find it, don't worry.

I will say this for any of you working on a sequel or thinking about working on a sequel—way easier the second time around. (Is this why we have so many Die Hard’s and Fast and Furious’s…Furious’…Furiouses?) This could be because I planned out this book in a more visual way using Prezi. This could be because I already have established characters and narrative goals that have carried over from A FEARFUL THING. Or maybe it’s because I already know I’m capable of writing a book, so the only thing standing in my way is all-consuming laziness instead of all-consuming laziness + extreme fear of failure. Also, sitting down and writing 1,000 words in one sitting is not terribly difficult, especially if you have an idea about where you’re going. I never had a daily or weekly word count goal with A FEARFUL THING. I was basically just wandering around the page trying to find my own butt when I was sitting on it the whole time. 

You have two optons: Watch or get punched in the face by me.
That being said, writing a book is never really effortless. I still have to re-find said butt, stick it in a chair, and tell it to stay put until I’ve got my word count. Watching Netflix, napping, or eating leftover Christmas candy is much more appealing. So, hopefully this post will be a little accountability declaration. I will get my 4,000 words a week. Yes, I’ll grow more and more tired the more mass I acquire. (I rhymed-ish!) Yes, the grading will be like laundry, a never-ending cycle. And yes, Parks and Recreation’s 100th episode airs tonight, so I should be watching the previous 99 episodes to really commit to the occasion. There will always be a reason not to write, not to create. The question is: Can I find my butt and plant it in my work chair for 4,000 words a week? And you know what, I think I can find my butt. I really do.
Found it!!!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Fan Mail

Whatchu been up to, DJE?
So I did something pretty nerdy last week. Almost as nerdy as hanging a signed photo of David James Elliot from the geriatric hit JAG on my bedroom wall. I fan emailed an author. I don’t think I’ve ever done this before, but I could’ve sent a heartfelt missive to Laura Ingalls Wilder back in the day without realizing she’d been dead for decades. (I hope she’s in heaven playing with a pig’s bladder as I type this).

Taylor Stevens is the author I fan girled all over, and you can check out her stuff here. She writes thrillers starring a female protagonist, Vanessa/Michael Munroe who is very similar to Lisbeth Salander of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo fame. I actually like Stevens’ books better than Larsson’s for a couple of reasons. First, I am a little uncomfortable with a male author writing very voyeuristic sexual violence scenes featuring women. Maybe that’s sexist of me, but it makes me question the writer’s intentions when he is male and spending countless pages describing a very graphic rape scene. I also prefer The Informationist, Stevens’ first novel, because of the pacing. Larsson had some clever turns in his book but he was not an efficient, concise writer. Stevens spends time on the moments that matter and keeps the plot moving at an engaging pace. She also has a very interesting personal backstory. Stevens was raised in the Children of God cult and was only educated through the sixth grade. You’ve gotta love someone who can overcome crazy odds like that and successfully pursue the American Dream.

Gross excuse for a human, excellent director
While I enjoyed her first book, The Informationist, and am about to dive into the second, The Innocent, that’s not really why I emailed her. I did so because she’s who, in the best of all possible worlds, I’d hope to become. We write similar types of books, although mine have more of a supernatural twist, we’re both younger women, and we are both represented by Anne the Agent. If I could be in her position 5-10 years from now, as a New York Times bestselling author whose books have been published in 20 languages and whose first book has been optioned by James Cameron’s production company, I’d pee my pants right now in anticipation.

But that’s not where I am right now. I’m at the beginning. I’ve written a book I’m proud of, signed with an agent I admire and trust, but that’s just the first two steps out of dozens. And I’m not guaranteed any steps past the ones I’ve already taken.

Taylor (um yes, I’ve decided we’re on a first name basis) was very encouraging when I told her how hard it was for me to be patient with the process, especially knowing that a book deal is still a longshot. She told me, “If Anne is representing you then all I can say is that you’re in the best of hands. If there’s one thing I’ve learned to trust, it’s her judgment. She knows the industry, she knows books, she knows timing, and she knows negotiations. It’s hard, when you’re waiting to see if a book will sell, but if it’s any consolation, she sat on The Informationist for almost a year before she tried to sell it. I take that back, she had done a very limited submission at first—then the economy tanked and she basically yanked it off the market. Then she waited a long, long time before trying again. I took her advice on good faith seeing as she was the one who knew the business, and I have never regretted it.”

Don't you dare, Angie. Just walk away. Walk away!
I also asked her if I should be working on Book Two more consistently. Writing, both on the blog and on Book Two, has taken a seat so far back that…(I was going to make a Rosa Parks joke, but I just couldn’t. Probably for the best). I’m reading hundreds of pages of student papers every week. I just don’t feel like I have any creative, productive juices to spare. Unlike me who wrote a cliffhanger for A Fearful Thing, Taylor said she didn’t realize her first book, The Informationist, was going to be the first book of a series. When her contract came for two books instead of one, she was suddenly tasked with writing a series.

While she said technically there is time to write between inking a book deal and that book actually hitting the shelves, “If I could have done anything over or picked my battles, I would have continued writing. Even if it was a different book with different characters or whatever—even if I didn’t finish it—because what happens after the publication machine finally kicks in is all that time you used to have to write gets eaten away by other things and you never have that unmitigated freedom to just create. So my advice would be to create now. Get down drafts, work on projects—even different projects.”
So after hearing from Taylor, who was so kind to take the time to email me back and help provide some momentum for the first time in a while, I’m excited to dive back in soon. I still don’t have the creative energy to write just yet, but I’m planning on using school breaks like Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas break, to get that first draft out of my brain and onto the page.

In the meantime, I encourage all you writers out there who are feeling stuck or uninspired, to embrace your inner nerd and write emails to those you admire. Maybe you’ll hear back and maybe you won’t. If you don’t, at least you’ve put out some good writing karma by encouraging another author. If you’re lucky like I was, you might get an extra boost when you’re feeling alone, discouraged, and unimaginative. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Motivation Station

It took me a year, but I wrote an entire book on my schedule. No one told me to write it. No one gave me an advance and, therefore, pressure to complete. I had no editor or agent checking up on me to make sure I was writing a certain amount of words a day. But even without any outside accountability, I wrote a freaking book. And now that I’ve written it, I just don’t feel like writing another. That’s going to be a problem considering Anne the Agent is out there pitching A FEARFUL THING, which cannot stand alone. I sealed my own fate with a cliffhanger.
Alec says you should always be closing. But it's not that easy, Alec!

My hard drive will show you how bad I am at finishing what I’ve started, writing wise. I am the opposite of a closer.  Write a poem a day for a year. I have a file folder devoted to this project. It has four poems in it. Write a novel reworking a fairy tale. One doc. that has a rough outline. You get the picture.

Before A FEARFUL THING, I’d never really completed a writing project on my own without an outside deadline. Writing on a real deadline with a potential angry person (a newspaper editor, a professor, an agent) on the other side of that deadline is a completely different experience than writing without an official timeline. I need those angry people sending me terse emails, rolling their eyes at me during their office hours, and threatening to dissolve our contract if I don’t get my proverbial mess together. Those deadlines I abhorred when working for my university newspaper or writing for my coursework are part of what I miss the most in my writing life. So what do you do if you don’t have a fearsome authority figure pushing you to meet your potential?

Larry the Cable Guy's pretty sure you can do it, man!

Helpful tips for Gittin’ R Dun (which I hope to follow myself soon here): (blue collar comedy)

-Be okay with writing not being your top priority

I have a lot going on right now. Not in a bad way, just in a “life is full” kind of way. I have a husband who I want to spend time with. I have a new house that is empty and unfinished. I am teaching eight courses this semester at four different colleges. I try to run 4-5 days a week. I’m an active part of my church community. I have a binding commitment to watch at least 30% of all television that has aired in the past decade. Writing is sometimes a priority; but a lot of the time, it isn’t. And that’s okay. I don’t have to feel bad about not locking myself in some crumbling garret until I finish 1,000 pages. That's how you get the consumption and all manner of plagues.

Do I have this book on hold at the library?
None of your business.
-Don’t use other priorities as an excuse to not write

I’m busier than I’ve ever been...but I absolutely have time to write. Do you know how many people have book ideas that never make it to the page? Like everyone. And Snookie’s had two books that haven’t just made it to the page but have been published and, presumably read. Snookie found time in her busy baby-making, hair poofing, tequila-swilling schedule to write two gorilla juicehead novels. What’s your excuse?

-Create accountability

I haven’t done this yet with Book the Second because I know how powerful it is. If you promise pages to someone (especially if that someone is the workhorse whom you fear) and you don’t deliver…uh oh. This does mean you have to acquire a reader (or several, hopefully), but don’t do this until you are ready to produce. If you have a WASPy fear of putting others out like I do, this tip will work wonders for your efficiency.

-Give yourself consequences or rewards      
This nutbag could be your therapist someday.

My lame-o sister, who is getting her PhD in Psychology, is the queen of measured consequences. Maybe consequences isn’t the best term. Restrictions, let’s say that. When she’s got a chunk of dissertation to work on, she limits her web activity. She’s told herself she’s not allowed to visit certain time-suckpages until she reaches a certain point in her writing. I’m more of the reward type, myself. If I finish 10 pages, I get another cup of coffee. If I revise these three chapters, I get to watch an episode of Sister Wives (which may seem like a consequence to some). You know your personality, so reward or restrict as needed.

-Divide your project into intense, brain-heavy parts and lighter busy work parts

I’m still in the planning stages of Book the Second right now. But even within that planning stage, I can divide my work into the brain-heavy category and the lighter fare. I’m doing a Prezi (fancy PowerPoint) to map everything out instead of the usual scrawls in various notebooks. As I’m working on this Prezi, I have sections where I really have to take time and think about where I want my plot or characters to tentatively go, and then I have other sections where I’m basically just copying and pasting from Wikipedia to build up my researched sections. (I know; I should know better. But it’s faster, you know it is!) For your work, maybe you want to split up research, writing new sections, large revisions, and copy edits. Let different parts of your brain work at different levels of intensity. Save the major work for when you have the time and mental energy, but you can also accomplish some easier work on your off days.

Any other suggestions writers? (Other than “suck it up and do it, you little baby-punkface.")