Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Unexpected Side Effects

Since my last year has been filled with intense reading, analyzing and writing, I have wondered what, if any, the effects have been on my world outside of writing. As always, the side effects appear least where I expect them.

The movies.

My husband and I decided to catch up on actual movie-going since the kids are in Germany this month. When we were young and poor graduate students and living in Germany ourselves, every Wednesday night was movie night because the theaters had half-price tickets. There was hardly ever a lack of things to see. Sure, there were lulls, but for the most part, Wednesday night was a night away from reality in someone else's enchanting story. 

This last week has not been as enchanting. We went to see Killers with Katherine Heigl and Ashton Kutscher, Sex and the City 2, and Letters to Juliet. You can guess who was picking the movies. But even if my husband had had more of a say, the only one we'd have added to the mix is Iron Man 2. Without having seen the last one, still, of the other three, the only one that held my attention was Letters to Juliet. I knew Sex and the City 2 would be a walk down memory lane, but I was actually checking my watch during the movie! Me. A diehard Sex and the City fan. During Killers, I checked my watch, too. I have never checked my watch in a movie. What is wrong with me? Have I studied plot so much that now I cannot get lost even a little bit in a mediocre film?

I think maybe. 

The upside is that I've seen Letters to Juliet twice, and would see it a third time. The writing is smart, the acting good, the storyline plausible, with good A and B arc-ing stories. But why is there only one such movie out there at the height of summer? Granted, I'm waiting for the kids to come back before I go see Karate Kid, but that's got to be good. The original was already super and the new actors should spice up the latest version. I do not think there will be any watch checking. 

However, if there is any truth to the adage that there are no new stories, only new ways of telling them, then I am worried about the movies. Of the movies listed above, only 2 are originals. Of those, I only got caught up in one. I know the movie industry is suffering, but there is good writing out there. Remakes are fun, but the real rush (and dollars) comes from fresh, innovative, exciting writing combined with sharp acting.

Now if I can just apply what I've learned to my own writing!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Another Semester Complete!

I finished my second semester at Vermont College.

Amen! Hallelujah!

Where's the Tylenol?


It has been an incredibly full semester of writing. I took apart one manuscript for experimentation purposes. Yes, how fun, right? I got to try out varying POVs on the poor little thing. It survived. If I am being honest, it...well, it got better even. But it was a rough five months for that guinea pig of a work in progress.

I also wrote a second manuscript. Finished a rough draft even. Very satisfying. When I forget the sleepless nights and zombie like way I walked around the house some days completely stuck in my story, but I'd be like that with our without the MFA program. This way, I got to finish a draft with someone standing on the sidelines directing me when I got too offsides. Truly satisfying.

And then there were the umpteen critical essays I wrote, books I read, craft pieces I chewed on, and existential angst moments I went through trying to figure out how to make my writing better.

In the end, the big question remains? Was it worth it?

For me, yes. I realize I could do this to myself without the aid of an advisor, but I like the input. And I am not sure I would be so diligent about struggling with issues of craft if I didn't have to write those glorious ten page papers. And finally, I know for a fact, I wouldn't take an MS apart and play with one aspect of it just for the heck of it. It's like taking a car apart and not being sure it will still be the same model when you put it back together but having some vague notion it will run better, just not how. It isn't exactly a comfortable thing to do. Worthwhile? Totally. But better done for me with a little guidance.

But did it make me any better?

In a word, yeah. I am finally learning how to take raw information and transform it into something more than description, into story, and control the process while I am doing it. Granted, I keep creating new problems and sticking points for myself with each work, but I think that may be par for the game. Learning how to self-diagnose has been helping there. I still am a firm believer in a second set of eyes looking over my work before I send it out. I cannot always see the forest for the trees, and it is the blind spots that often need the most work for me. But I am learning. And that is what this whole process is about for me.

Hold on. Wait a minute.

I am learning!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Growing Pains

Summer has arrived in Oklahoma, which means my two girls left a week and a half ago to attend school in Germany for the month of June. Last year was the first time they went, and there was lots of nervous uncertainty attached with the going. This year, there were less tears...on their side. I have a deep dark confession to make. I don't like being an empty-nester with an 11 year old and an 8 year old.

That is the selfish part of me coming out. I know this is so great for them. They're German gets sooooooooo much better during the month. They have new friends their age in a German school. The family that they stay with is phenomenal. My husband and I have been friends with the parents since graduate school (which is starting to make me feel old!). So they are in good hands, having great experiences, and doing things I, as a kid, would have given just about anything to do. But I miss my babies.

I know you can get used to just about anything. I'm not sure I'll totally get used to this, so I've decided to cope by burying myself in my WIP and rewriting until the cows come home. Literally. Since I don't have to take off to run carpool, gymnastics, swimming, and a million other errands, there is nothing stopping me from obsessing until those tinkling bells start a'ringin' (which actually sounds a lot more like a garage door opening when my husband comes home).

There is something to be said for obsessing now and again. I've learned a lot about my writing just from simply not having to stop mid-thought and fly out of the door. How this will translate into regular life once the girls come back, I have no idea. But, it is a journey, right? I'm on the road to'll be interesting to find out where that is.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Book Review Club - When You Reach Me

When You Reach Me
Rebecca Stead

middle grade

I thought twice about reviewing this book. It's always hard when a piece wins an award to write a review about it. The prejudice that goes along with an award as weighty as the Newbery is that the book is phenomenal.

Only, I had some serious issues with it.

Of course, making such a statement requires serious justification, and let me say that I think the premise--time travel--and the writing are phenomenal. They are what kept me reading.

However, I had some serious problems with the fact that Stead rested her story so significantly on L'Engle's, A Wrinkle in Time. A professor of mine in grad school told us--as a way of more or less taking the burden off our shoulders of coming up with new ideas for term papers and later, our own research--that we should build upon the ideas already out there (upon the shoulders of giants), not think we have to come up with brand new ones. So, I'm all for building upon the idea of time travel that L'Engle entertained in A Wrinkle in Time, which also happens to be one of my all time favorite books.

What I had trouble with in Stead's piece was that she built the whole book around L'Engle's when she didn't really have to. She set the book in the 1970s, made the main character obsessed with L'Engle's book, kept referring to it and debating the time travel issue as L'Engle explained it in her piece. I'm not sure why. Stead took L'Engle's idea and reshaped, built onto it, like many many writers do, and made it something clever and new. So why the need to incorporate A Wrinkle in Time into the very thread of When You Reach Me? The end result was distracting and placed Stead's groundbreaking thoughts and concepts in the very long, very gigantic shadow of L'Engle's own work.

In the end, if you are looking for amazingly good stylistic writing with strong characters, this piece has them. A new idea on time travel? The book has that too. If only it didn't have such a long shadow interwoven within its very fabric.

For more amazing reads, see Barrie Summy's blog this week!