Sunday, March 31, 2013

Flaws

I meant to blog this about a week ago, but I've been on vacation doing a whole lot of reading and relaxing and it's like all the noise turned down enough to hear the signal. In other words, I have an ending for the worst first draft ever. (It's not the worst first draft ever, but it's headed into that gross bit known as The Middle when everything seems like the worst idea and probably will never actually get finished. When it's just easier not to bother, so it's that much more important to keep digging.) Anyway, the important bit is: I. Know. How. It. Ends.


This is Bastille's Flaws, which I found after listening to their new single Pompeii that Maggie Stiefvater shared on Twitter a while back. They have an album out. (At least in the UK.) I may have imported it despite not having bought a physical CD in probably three years. It's a deep mad love for this song, really. As you can see on the pinspiration board for this story, it's one of the theme songs. That's the truth of music and writing for me; until I find the soundtrack for the book, the songs that connect to who the characters are, I have a hard time getting anywhere with the draft. Many writers don't outline, but I have to know the ending so that I know it will end. An ending is what makes it a story instead of a collection of ideas bound together by thousands and thousands of words.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Reading the backlist

Midnight the evening of my last blog posting I remembered what I had originally intended to post about, because that's how my memory functions or doesn't function as of late. A thought gets dropped somewhere, I spend time looking for it, and then once I've decided to leave it lost... I trip over it. Or it comes back and whispers its idea to me as I'm trying to fall asleep.

I read books for many reasons, but ultimately because I enjoy reading. (Sometimes, given part of what I do as my job, I read books that I don't enjoy but need to be aware of.) When I find a book that I love, I want to read everything the author has written. I've always been this way, but trial and error and years of being this way have taught me that there's a difference between a favourite book and a favourite author. There are books I adore, but I don't have any interest in reading the complete works of its author. There are authors whom I don't unequivocally love everything they write, but I would read it regardless because I enjoy the way they write and construct stories.

Usually, there's one author each year who I go and read through her/his backlist. Previously, I had done so in an unwise way and read exclusively through that backlist in a short period of time. It's a great way to burn out on an author—read nothing but their work and see only the things they do again and again.

Last year, I tried something different. I was introduced to David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas by a friend. I was so impressed by it. Enthralled by its structure and the very language that was used to write it. I then read The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet—less impressed by the story, but still very much enthralled by its words. I've also read number9dream and recently finished Ghostwritten. Just have Black Swan Green to go.

There's this section in number9dream called "The Language of the Mountains is Rain," and it's possibly my most favourite thing he's written. It's beautiful and mythic and dream-drenched. Out of the context of the book it's in, is still beautiful, but it's likely the reason that number9dream—an imperfect second book has impressed me more than his more recent The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet. (Also, I'm less of a historical fiction fan.)

But I would recommend reading David Mitchell in publishing order. He does things with characters walking in and out of books, and I didn't see it as clearly because I read them by interest instead of by chronology.

As I'm almost finished the David Mitchell backlist, it's time to pick a new author. This year it's going to be John Green. I really enjoyed The Fault in Our Stars, so much that I forgave it being somewhat manipulative. I've had Will Grayson, Will Grayson (co-written with David Leviathan) for a year now, and Brunch Book Club is doing An Abundance of Katherines for March. Someone else asked if I'd Paper Towns with them. And I always meant to read Looking For Alaska, and Let It Snow will keep until this winter season. So the stars align, and it also accomplishes my goal to read more contemporary titles this year.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

This is post is not about sharks


So I was going to write a blog post. It was a really poignant post about….something. Not sharks. Definitely something other than sharks. And I logged into blogger to write this post, because the idea grabbed my hand and was like “please write a post about me! I am so important” and I was like “ok, idea, will do.”

Only, I got distracted wondering if someone had read my teaser Tuesday snippet and left a comment—but I got distracted again by noticing that someone had found this blog looking for "papal daleks." I didn't think this was an unusual thing to search for. Somewhere on this blog is an image of daleks with pope hats photoshopped on them. I distinctly remember this is a thing that exists and that I created it.

But I have no idea why I created it or what on Doctor Who inspired me to do such a thing. There must have been a reason, because I know the image is old enough that I wouldn't meaninglessly photoshop it. Do I meaninglessly photoshop things now? No, but tumblr exists now so someone else has probably created a GIF for 80% of the jokes I'd make. This was back in 2011, when we had to make our memes.

Eager to solve this mystery, I searched "papal daleks" on a search engine and I did not see my blog come up in the results. Nor did I see any images of multiple daleks in pope hats, which is another keyword search that brought someone here.

Then I had a phone call. So I haven't managed to find out why I photoshopped pope hats on a trio of daleks. I know there was three in the photo. It was like a holy trinity of papal daleks. (I'm also not surprised I just wrote that. I'm really tired right now.)

Ok. I searched this blog for daleks in pope hats. I found this. It doesn't explain why I made papal daleks. It was apparently funnier than a joke about the new daleks looking like iPods.

So basically:

1) I don't remember what I was going to blog about.

2) I once photoshopped pope hats on Daleks and it had something to do with Doctor Who episode The Victory of The Daleks.

3) I still hold the opinion the not-so-new daleks look like not-so-new-anymore iPods.

Anyway, if you happen to know what I was going to blog about tonight or why I photoshopped pope hats on daleks, feel free to enlighten me.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Teaser Tuesday

"A hunting party formed of possibly the only ones in Wishing Falls foolish enough to risk the forest home of those who had been living around and preying on the town since its inception. While sounding like an ancient ominous balance, it wasn’t one. Not really. Wishing Falls was a young town, one still at risk of vanishing in the night."

Monday, March 11, 2013

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

According to goodreads, which has a better memory than I do about these things, I finished this over a month ago on February 7th. A month ago? Do I even remember what happens? Yes, I do. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is not a story made for forgetting, although it is a story that features forgetting. It's a tale about a lot of things, deceptively full given the slimness of its ARC.

Arguably, this is the tightest book that Neil Gaiman has written; it has the emotional honesty of The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury and is terrifying for the reasons that adults find Coraline terrifying. When you're a child and something frightens you, you locate it on another frequency once you're an adult. It's not necessarily more or less unsettling, it's just different. That subtle perspective shift in looking back versus living through is what makes this book so heartbreaking to read.

This is dark, but all of Gaiman's books are dark. What makes The Ocean at the End of the Lane so unsettling is that it's just one-step away from reality. It creeps over and breathes on your neck and you feel it still behind you even when you try to duck it. A lengthwise kind of fear with long arms adept at slipping around corners and walking in shadows until it finds you.

Of course, there can't be shadows without light. I don't want to minimize the whimsy and the moments of beauty that have been woven through the story, as that balance creates a book that is more than just horror or an account of horrible things happening. This is a book that reads like it has a point, which it deftly makes, then bids you good-night.

I go to Neil Gaiman's books when I need something—be it a reminder of the basic life lessons of The Graveyard Book, or the beautiful descriptions of Stardust, or the complicated tangle of tales and lives and gods in the ambitious long-con of American Gods. That's what makes someone your favourite author, isn't it? That we connect with their stories, and willfully surrender bits of our brainspace to keep those tales alive. To keep them with us, because there is something in them that speaks to us—even if it's just something we're pulling out through the personal mirror that is reading fiction.

I do the impossible on a daily basis, and I'd forgotten the confidence of knowing that when I read this book. That's what The Ocean at the End of the Lane gently reminded me—after kicking me in emotional equivalent of my kidneys first. (This is a book out to metaphorically break your bones, because they didn't set properly when you thought they'd healed.) We do the impossible, each of us do, and sometimes we forget that others are also doing their own version of impossible, and you can't judge how well you're accomplishing yours by measuring it against theirs. (Honestly, I have no idea if that was in the book. But it's what I got out of it, because it was what I needed at the time.)

I think see glimpses in The Ocean at the End of the Lane of most of his other novels. My mind might be taking smoke and making it into shapes, but I like the shapes it makes—doors and borderlands and a farm with a great old tree. They're familiar places, well-visited, and therefore comforting even if they aren't things that offer comfort. They're from some of the books that taught me how to write.

I won't say that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is the best Neil Gaiman's ever written, because "best" is a subjective term. It's easily one of the best books I've read. If you know me, you know those words are not said lightly—they carry the weight of an ocean.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Feed starving artists

I was at an amazing author event today. So much fun! And as the author was doing a Q & A, she was asked the always asked question of advice for young writers. Sometimes this is phrased as advice for aspiring authors or new writers, but I like young writers. Not as a reference to age—as the person who posed the question meant it—but young as in unseasoned and wide-eyed and hopeful. It's a mindset that has nothing to do with age.

Paraphrasing: The author mentioned how certain aspects of the author lifestyle gets idolized in ways that may not be healthy. I don't know what the author meant, so what I'm about to comment on may not have anything to do with what the author intended. (Thus why I'm not naming her.) I infer that the author advised this young writer to enjoy writing and to enjoy living.

I don't believe the author was talking about writing being fun versus being thematic. It was a comment on the self-destructive elements of being a writer that too often get romanticized. She lost me when she sounded like she meant alcoholism and depression, because it's an oversimplification to imply these are lifestyle choices connected to professions.

What I don't like people romanticizing is the archetype of the starving artiste.

The starving artist archetype undermines the value of creative work. Most creative professional are over-extended and lower on the wage scale, because there is a lack of value attributed to creative work. (Translation: On average, we work harder and longer to make less money.) When society romanticizes the starving artist, we're internalizing that the arts shouldn't be profitable. That it is ok for members of our society not to be able to meet their needs because they supposedly enjoy what they do for a living more than the rest of us.

We should not have to decide between health benefits and doing the thing that makes us feel alive. But many of us do. Hopefully, we're choose with an awareness of the potential impact. But I don't think many of us are considering the practicalities of regular dental check-ups when we're dreaming of fulltime creative careers.

We're told to treat creative work delicately because it's special and magic. Joy is special and magic. Believing what you do to be meaningful and fulfilling is special and magic. These are not things that exist only for people doing creative work, and they are not trade-offs for choosing to have an unconventional career.

It's like saying to a small business owner that it's ok to be on the verge of bankruptcy because at least they're their own boss.

I've struggled and I've had to watch so many of my friends and colleagues in various creative fields struggle. When you're young and the Vow of Bohemian Poverty is this romantic dream you've been fed and so many people tell you to just keep eating it... There's gotta be a balance. I'm not suggesting we kill the dreams of the hopeful young artist, but could we stop the disservice of treating them like they won't understand the realities of art as your job?

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Is this thing on?

A friend sent me this link today, and it contains probably the simplest but truest writing advice ever. "I will write again. It feels great!"

I wish there was a profound or at least exciting reason for my blogging absence, but I don't really have anything. I don't like the winter much, and February was hard, and I sort of decided that I didn't want to blog unless I could be inspiring. Because what's here is here always. (I know I've blogged about this before, the digital sense of evernow and how whatever you read when you read it forms your opinion of my current feelings.) So I journaled a bit instead because it was private and honest and you can fill a pretty notebook with ugly thoughts just to get them out of your head.

Also, I've got to stop reading Adult Fiction. It's rotting my brain. Said in jest, but only half-so. I have been reading a ridiculous amount of books. It's disgusting. I should stop. Not completely, mind, because that's impractical given my job—but I've got to cut back on this decision to read instead of write. I've read almost a third of the total of books I read last year, and we're not even two-and-a-half months in.

It sounds weird to profess that reading is a bad thing, but reading as avoidance of writing is a bad thing. Because writing feels good. I'm going to make an effort to do more of it.