Wednesday, May 19, 2010

There's a Low that's Moving Through...

Tulsa is starting to have that permanently dreary, rainy look to it. Forget the tornadoes, which, actually, is sort of a crazy idea, but they are beginning to feel less dangerous than the perma-gloom. Rain is great. LOVE IT, especially in this part of the country where it can come all too seldom in summer.

The perma-gloom that comes with day after day after day of dreary weather because we are getting more than our fair share of rain all at once, however, is starting to wear.

The worst part is that the mood it throws me into makes writing feel like the ultimate challenge. Okay, anything cerebral right now feels like the ultimate challenge, but writing is really hard. Honest. I think I may have to escape to a windowless room and paint bright yellow suns all around to fool my brain into believing the weather is really really gorgeous out there.

Do you think it will work?

If not, I can always crawl into that book I'm reading right now, The Spying Heart, by Katherine Paterson, and hope that by the time I finish, the sun will have found its way back into the Midwest (if not back into my writing mojo).

Here's to hoping! Now where is that book....

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tornado Alley

I foolishly put off blogging on Wednesday because I was finishing a manuscript and all I could think about was said manuscript. Hopefully, I'll think of something to blog about by tomorrow, I hoped.

I think I hoped too hard. Tomorrow has come and with it, a majorly intense blog theme--high winds and tornadoes!

The sirens went off at 5 a.m. this morning just as we lost power. For the first time in our lives, we grabbed the kids and headed for the storm shelter we had dug under our garage floor about seven years ago. That is an almost unreal feeling, huddling together, listening to the winds howl just outside the garage door (which suddenly seemed very flimsy), feeling the kids shake, hearing the dog pant, and seeing nothing but pitch blackness.

Fortunately, we came out unscathed and the house is still standing, but in a direct line with our house, only a street away, three huge, 150 year old trees were ripped out of the ground and laid crosswise across the road and front lawns of our neighbors. They missed the houses, by inches, but still, they missed.

And these were, theoretically, only high winds. I have a feeling someone at the weather station missed a rotation, but who knows. I'm just glad we're all still standing.

I have experienced a tornado once before in my life--right behind my car as I was driving home. I wouldn't suggest trying this at home. I had just returned from Houston and had spent the better part of an hour in a holding pattern over Tulsa until the storm moved out. The landing was super bumpy, but okay. I hopped in my car to head home. Minutes from my house, the storm, which had abated, revved back up. Hail pummeled down. The sky was pitch black. And behind me I heard the sound of a jet engine. I have never been so scared in all of my life. I was right next to the river, where tornadoes like to strike in this area. I could barely see anything, the rain was falling so hard. By the time I got home, I was shaking. I think I know how Dorothy felt now.  

If you're looking for a little weather excitement, look no further. Oklahoma is the place to be. Me? I'd settle for calm and sunny right now. I've had about all the excitement I'd can handle for a while, but oh the story ideas!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Book Review Club - Leviathan

Scott Westerfield
young adult/steampunk


Already skeptical? Or intrigued? 

Westerfield's romp into the on-again off-again genre of steampunk will definitely leave you thinking. Granted, the complicated web of alliances that led to the first World War could be something tagged as, dare I say, dry and boring? However, by bringing in the fantastical, Westerfield makes a complicated but important era of history a little more accessible. How many students will groan, however, when they learn that Darwinist fabricated creatures did not, in fact, exist. Oh well. Whatever it takes to grab their attention and get them interested, right? 

In short, Leviathan is the story of Aleksander, sole heir to the Archduke of Austria who is being hunted by Franz Joseph and Germany to be done away with quietly, and Deryn, young Scottish girl passing as a boy in order to serve in the Royal Air Force. Their paths cross when the airship Leviathan--part whale, part a thousand other creatures--that Deryn is assigned to is shot down by German planes over the Swiss Alps, where Alek is hiding out. The two join forces to battle a common enemy, the Germans.

If you like science fiction, you'll enjoy. If you like history, you'll have fun pulling apart the real from the alternate. If you like finding new tools for writing, well then, you may actually secretly (or not so secretly) whistle for joy. 

Narration is probably one of the hardest aspects to incorporate into writing without killing a story's pace. We demanding readers want action, not a bunch of telling, right? Westerfield has his work cut out for him with this piece. Not only does he have to get in the usual suspects-character appearance, character backstory, historical setting, setting-he has to explain his fabricated creatures, how they work, how they came into being, and all of that alternate history. It's not small feat. 

Westerfield tackles the weighty challenge by combining narration with other story elements, such as action, dialogue, and emotional responses. Much like the Darwinists in his story combine life threads of various animals to create fabricated war animals, Westerfield combines to create wholly new show-tell and tell-show “beasties” that turn a potential pace killer into a pace maker.  

It's marvelous work, if a writer is looking for a few new tricks. How do I work narration into dialogue without it becoming an information dump? It's here. How do I distract with action while getting across narration? In Blake Snyder's words (Save the Cat) pull a Pope in the Pool? Westerfield uses a sword fight. Dissertations could be written on that sword fight alone. It's narration. It's a segway from Act 1 into Act 2. It's a symbolic cutting of the last strings of etiquette so that Alek is free to strive to leave his mark on the developing war. It's just plain good writing. How do I make narration a pace maker? Ah, it's here too. Nothing like using the divulgence of information to spark a romance between two main characters. 

So, if you are looking for a little narration helper, look no further. Westerfield has a few tricks I will definitely use in the future. There is much craft to learn here, and even a few fun facts. It's well worth the two or three nights it takes to get through the book. Well, well worth it. 

And when you're done with that, hop over to Barrie Summy's blog for more interesting reads!