Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Reading in bed

The first half of December was hard. I got the flu during finals week and had a stack of grading waiting for me to heal. I managed to get my grading done (miracle!) and then I got what's likely food poisoning, but I'll never know for sure.

In any case, I spent about a week in bed, total. I finished The Lovely Bones, which was a good read up till the end. I felt like it wrapped up too nicely and certainly too quickly. Then I read The Glass Castle, a memoir that had me wanting to kill both parents for neglect. And then for my birthday (on the 23rd) I got Cormac McCarthy's The Road. Wow. It's not a very long book, so I devoured it quickly.

The Road is one of those books that grabs you and haunts you. Great books tap into our fears, and this book did just that. How can a parent protect a child? How can we fight death? And how can we do both when the world itself is dying? This is a book I'll read again.

Next up is Vonnegut's Timequake. We have a storm coming in--and I love to nestle in bed and read while the rain pours down.

What about writing? Ah yes. I'm doing a bit of that, too. I'm excited because I'll be spending four days of writing--alone--in mid-January. Lots of work to do, but any progress is good progress.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


November was Nation Write a Novel in a Month, and the Nanowrimo group sets out to write about 50k words in a month.

I was all set up to work on my book, but then life got in the way. My son broke his ankle. Then I got involved in a CSU protest in Long Beach. If you search for CSU Board of Trustees meeting November 15, you'll find two 9-minute clips. I make an appearance in the second clip. Oh, and I was threatened with arrest, but that's all a long story.

The short end is that I got a few brief moments of writing, but most of my writing efforts went into complaint letters (to the police department) and other organizations. My lesson here is that most organizations count on the laziness of the public. If you want action, WRITE!

Now, I need to heed that advice with my novel.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

East of Eden conference

Thanks to everyone who attended my sessions at the East of Eden Writers Conference. I had a great time and got motivated.

The speakers were fantastic. I laughed with Chris Reich, Betty Auchard, and the self-depricating Tod Goldberg (who gave an equally funny workshop on dialog, he ejaculated emphatically!). Then there were the serious speakers: Jean Auel, James D. Houston and Dorothy Allison. Wow. Adrienne Barbeau spoke about her new book, but I missed part of her speech because she was one of the morning speakers--and I don't do mornings well. I was there, but I was out of it after just over 5 hours of sleep. (I drove home after midnight and then returned by 8am--it's just over an hour drive each way.)

I'm working on structure of the novel now. The hardest part is the beginning. I have a few ideas, but I'm going to need a lot more work to get it right.

I'm teaching The Kite Runner in class. The first chapter is only three paragraphs, but the entire story is right there in that first chapter, that first paragraph, even the first line:

I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.

Not much else to say other than I'm making baby least it's forward progression. Onward...

Thursday, June 01, 2006

finding time to write

I started this post and then left to do some yard work. You see, with a house, kids, a job, volunteer work, and whatever else, I find it very hard to set aside time for writing.


I have made some slow progress on my novel. I know a bit more about Carrie, my protagonist. Perhaps by summer's end, I'll share an excerpt of the novel.

I've finished teaching, have all of my grades in, and now I'm preparing our house for Teagan's birthday party. I have a review to write this weekend, and then I have a bit more planning to do for our house because...

We're going to the UK and Greece for the summer!

I'll be taking my laptop and writing another blog--something much more detailed and frequent than this one! I'll include photos and details about our trip. More on that later.

The best part is that I'll have lots of time for writing. I'll take my notebook to the beach, and then do writing at night on my laptop. I hope to make significant progress in the 6 weeks we'll be gone.

I'll write at least one more post before we leave (20 June - 1 August).

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Feeling schizophrenic

The novel writing is going more slowly than I planned, but I have sent a few pages to my writing group for their first reactions. I'll let you know what they say.

One thing I think many writers experience is this odd feeling of schizophrenia when we read material we wrote a long time ago.

I read some old emails I sent about 5-6 years ago. Nothing seemed familiar. I don't remember the person I was replying to, and reading my own words gave me an odd feeling like looking in a mirror and not recognizing the person staring back.

On the one hand, reading past work (whether it be emails, stories, or journal entries) is seeing the you who existed at that time. You can objectively review your material because it is foreign; the mind has forgotten it and treats is as new.

On the other hand, creative work seems to come from some other entity, a not-you. Artists talk about the muse, and that works for some. Is there another person living in me? Am I just a more rational, functioning schitzophrenic who can tap into the writer-persona at will?

During a recent writing session, I saw the images of what was happening to my characters. I resisted at first, because they took me to a dark place, but I went ahead and let them show me the way.

I don't understand the process, but it's very intriguing.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Developing characters: Hemingway to sci-fi TV

Writers have to study how characters are developed. Typically we study an author's approach. Hemingway, for example, gave us very little description of people. In his story "Cat in the Rain" we get only one piece of physical description: the wife has short hair and wants it long so she can braid it. We are left analyzing the characters given the situation, dialog, and action.

The couple is in Europe on their honeymoon. The girl/wife talks about what she wants: first she mentions the cat that is seeking shelter from the rain, and then she moves to silverware and candles. It's clear she wants to settle down and start a family. Her hair is short like a boy's, a reminder of the 1920s style and the time when Hemingway was writing, but her short hair is also a reminder of her youthful days. She wants the long hair and round bun that is symbolic of motherhood; she projects this mothering desire through her actions to save the cat. (Notice she calls it a kitty.) The husband, however, spends his time reading the newspaper and half listening to his new wife.

Hemingway's story is a mere two pages long, but we clearly understand these two characters. Afterall, what should a honeymooning couple do when the weather turns? Certainly not read the newspaper. Writers can see how Hemingway uses everything but physical description to develop his characters.

I want to shift gears a bit and talk about interesting characters on the Sci-Fi TV shows: Stargate SG1, Stargate Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica. I'd rather not spend time explaining the shows in too much detail, so my apologies if what follows doesn't connect with those how are unfamiliar with the shows.

I think SG1 and BSG are both reflecting strongly on our culture. SG1 is looking mostly at religious fundamentalism and how and why people believe in the things they do. Every once in a while they'll make some lame (IMO) apology for those believing in "real" gods, ie gods w/o corporeal existence. Other than that, I think their take on the Ori is fabulous.

As for BSG, they are focusing more on the mechanisms of propaganda and roles of gov't vs politicians in protecting the people. Their recent approaches to abortion and election fraud were interesting, mostly because we saw people trying to do the right thing and then giving that up for personal power. We know Gaius Baltar is the wrong president, but we also know that election fraud is wrong. So far, we're seeing these machinations from the inside. While we occasionally see the "average" person in the fleet, our focus is on those in power.

I wish I had paid more attention to the first season of BSG. It didn't hook me immediately, mostly because I couldn't tolerate the directing. Since they've nuked the crappy camera shoots and toned it way down, I'm more able to focus on the storyline and the characters, both of which are great.

I love Starbuck. Her character is so interesting. She has talent and brains, but she fucks up enough with drinking and men that we see her as a real person, flaws and all. Baltar runs a close second for me. He's going crazy. We have no idea how he is connected to the cylons, but he is. We've seen him move from doctor to politician to corrupt power-hungry cylon supporter without the balls to admit his flaws. For some odd reason, I like to see him sweat.

As for SG1 and Atlantis characters, I love Rodney. Like Starbuck, he's gifted (scientifically speaking) but he's an ass. He has no social skills to cover up his arrogance. His quirks, like eating all the time to maintain his blood sugar levels, make him an interesting person to watch. I used to like Samantha Carter, especially when we saw her dating and getting involved in things other than her work, but now she's become too flat: she's all about her work. I love Vala. You can tell she had a very shitty life, which is why she lives trapped behind emotional walls so thick she can't focus on anything other than surfaces. However, we've started seeing her break through those walls and admit (albeit not consciously) her connections with the SG1 team, especially Daniel Jackson. Her entire life has been lie after lie to cheat her way through situations. She's never been emotionally attached, and yet now, she's pregnant, doesn't know the father, and I think the last person she had sex with was Daniel, but that was long ago. This pregnancy seems to be turning her character around. We love to see characters redeem themselves, and that's why I find her so intriguing.

Too often when writers introduce characters, they start with the physical: "His stocky frame barely fit through the door", or "her skin was smooth like silk but her hair was curled tightly like wool." We don't connect with characters because of their looks; we connect with them because of their actions and reactions to the given situation.

In my own writing, I'm struggling with making my protagonist strong and likeable and interesting. She has hurdles to overcome, and she goes into deep depressions, but how can I get her to those depths without losing my reader? I need you readers to connect with her so that you'll follow her through those dark times and then stay with her to the end.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

researching and planning

I've been working on index cards. The idea is simple: on each card, you write about a scene or a character. For scenes, I'm listing something simple such as, "Carrie meets Ruth @ Ruth's home/office". I don't have all of the scenes organized, but I've got a solid start.

With characters, I'm listing their names, DOB, and any background info I have to know but that may or may not come up in the novel. Example: where did they go to school, what is important from their childhood, what is their goal/motivations in the novel.

What I'm doing now is picking a few scenes and writing them as I get time. Right now I have more than enough to write, but as I come up with ideas for other scenes, I jot them on a card and quickly get back to writing. Still, the writing is going ever so slowly, but I'll get there eventually. The important part is that I keep moving.

It's all about the baby steps. At least that's progress.