Monday, September 27, 2010

People really do love books.

I went to the National Book Festival on Saturday. I was impressed. I knew it would be big, but I didn't know it would be this big.

Due to delays in the Metro system, we got there later than I had planned. I missed the first panel of authors I wanted to see. I stuck around the children's tent, though, long enough to listen to Margaret Peterson Haddix and Linda Sue Park speak about the 39 Clues Series. They talked about the joys and challenges of writing a series with a lot of other authors.
One young person asked them their advice for future authors. Linda Sue gave one of the best and most original answers I've heard. She suggested aspiring authors attach themselves to a losing sports team. The constant cycle of hope at the beginning of a season and disappointment at the end is good practice for the life of an author.

After the presentation I headed over to the book signing area, where they were both signing books. They were to be in Tent 8, over there on the left. See all the people standing in lines?
That's not the whole line. If we turn to the right, you can see some buses back there. That's about where the lines ended. I decided I didn't need my books signed that badly. We went to the Pavilion of the States tent instead, stopping to peek in a few other tents along the way. I said hello to Fran Cannon Slayton, who was representing both Virginia and West Virginia. The crowds were so dense I waited in line to say hi, and then moved out of the way for some other folks who wanted to talk to Fran. She looked like she was having a great time.

By the time we finished at the States tent, we were done with the crowds. So we retreated to a nice, quiet museum with flush toilets and air conditioning. (The high in DC on Saturday reached 97!)

I'm glad I went to the Book Festival, but I much prefer the intimate setting of writing conferences.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Repeating relationship

I just finished reading an interview with Dan Harmon, the creator of the show Community. Both the interviewer and Dan talked about having "every relationship between every character different".

Now that's interesting.

For those of you who don't watch Community, it's a show with a large cast, and it would be so easy to have repeating relationships: multiple friendships between characters based on common interests, several mentoring relationships, or attraction between peers, etc. But it isn't that way at all. I should take more time to describe the show, but I'm going to move straight to writing.

I realized- in a blinding flash of insight- that it's easy for me to do that with the secondary characters in my MS. I might have several pairs of characters that relate the same way towards each other. Guess who's going to go back, look at all the relationships she's created, and make sure she's not being lazy with how her characters relate to each other?

One of the things that pulls me further into a story is surprise. Shouldn't the way my characters interact be surprising as well? (Not surprising as in: "Golly, Jane, I had no idea you enjoy roller derby in addition to your work CPA." Instead, the surprise should come from a weak person exhibiting strength, or from discovering a stoic character has a well developed sense of humor.

My story will be so much stronger if a character is strong with one person and vulnerable with another. That's the way we really are. I have people I'm cheerful around, and a few who will know if I've had a bad day. I might be serious with one person and never have any substantial sort of conversation with another.

Yes, the concept of non-repeating relationships is pretty basic, but it stood out to me. Had anyone else ever thought of that before?

Friday, September 24, 2010

It's National Punctuation Day!

I would be remiss in my duties as resident grammar geek if I failed to mention National Punctuation Day.

How should I celebrate?
I know!
I'll write a blog post-a brief one.

Anyone can participate in Punctuation Day; you could write a haiku. (See the website for details.)
There are other ways to celebrate: reading up on punctuation, decorating with it...
I have some ! and ? magnets in my office, of course.

What would we do without punctuation?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The end of the beginning?

This one is not about a story. Well, it is a story, but it's not my story. It is the publishing story.

Yesterday I visited the Library of Congress for the first time. We took the guided tour. All of it was beautiful and fascinating, and it contained far fewer books than you might expect. In total, we saw two books up close. Just two.

The first was the Giant Bible of Mainz. It is hand scribed on vellum. It is illuminated. It was written in 1452 and 1453 and the work took fifteen months. It was produced in or near Mainz, Germany, right around the time of the Gutenberg Bible.

The second book we saw was the Gutenberg Bible. It too was produced in Mainz, Germany in the 1450's. It represents the massive revolution in books that came as a result of Gutenberg's use of movable type. In the same amount of time it took the Mainz scribe to complete one copy of the Bible, Gutenberg printed about 180 bibles. A massive revolution.

The Library of Congress calls the Mainz Bible "The End." It calls the Gutenberg Bible "The Beginning."

Standing there, looking at these books, I couldn't help but recall Stephen Roxburgh's talk at Chautauqua about digital books, e-books, and print-on-demand publishing. And I wondered when the Library of Congress is going to look at the Gutenberg Bible as the end of the beginning. Given that most people can view it, as you may have just now, online, perhaps they already do.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Is anyone going

To the National Book Festival? I plan to. I have never been, but I've wanted to go for a couple of years now. In my likes-to-be-prepared way, I've printed out the schedule and highlighted the authors I'd like to see speak. I'm going with a friend, and I hope she chooses some authors she'd like to see as well. We may visit the Library of Congress. I've never been there either.

I find it heartening that this kind of festival is going on right now. In the midst of all the buzz about some guy in Missouri calling Laurie Halse Anderson's book Speak "soft pornography," followed by panicked book banning in schools, it's reassuring to know people are still embracing books. Of course, if you've read any kind of book blogs this week, you know the community of authors and librarians has jumped up to support Speak and everything it represents, which is basically the ability to stand up for yourself.

Just by coincidence, I've been listening to Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 this week on audio. It's about--get this--book burning. Yup. A dystopian world in which firefighters don't prevent or end fires, they start them. To burn the books. I can't help but wonder what Bradbury thinks of all this nonsense of one man trying to censor the books of a community.

Banned Books Week
is next week. I bet every one of you reading this has read something that was banned in the last decade. Speak is already on that list, by the way. So if you can, celebrate by reading a banned book. Or even better, attend a book festival!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Objectification of writers

I don't know about you all, but after this week, I needed a blog post like the one I found tonight:

Apparently, some folks had twenty reasons why writers were great folks to date. I'm a writer, and I'd say I'm fairly date-able (on good days ... if you give me enough warning). However, these folks gave all the wrong reasons for dating a writer.

Enjoy! And if you have any thoughts/anecdotes on dating writers or just being one, please share!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Where do you write?

I'm one of those people who needs a routine for things. I don't sleep well if I'm not in my own bed, and I need a dark room. I've never been able to sleep on airplanes, and the first night in a new place is often a restless one.

Writing is the same way. I like to write at home, at my desk in my office. Preferably with the windows open for some fresh air, but I only get to do that in spring and fall. If I even take my laptop down to the kitchen table, I don't feel as productive. If my desk is too cluttered, I can't work well until I clear it. I think it's a Pavlovian thing. My brain perceives this space as a work space.

Sarah is different. She likes to write in cafes. I'm amazed by her ability to do this. I'd find that so distracting. I'd be eavesdropping on conversations and constantly pulled out of my writing by the sounds and movement around me. I can't even read in a cafe. If I'm alone and need something to do while I drink my coffee, I can knit. The most writing I seem to be able to accomplish in public is postcards. I'm a big fan of postcards.

When we were in Chautuaqua, of course, I had to write somewhere other than my own desk. Fortunately, our inn had several porches to which we could retreat. I found the smallest, most secluded one on the side of the house, facing neither the street nor the lake. The one with the fewest distractions.

I've heard of people who make a playlist for writing. That amazes me too. I know I'd be singing along with parts of the music. My only playlist is crickets. And sometimes the dog barking.

Are you a routine kind of person, or can you write anywhere?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Can you relate to Beaker?

You know the first thing I thought when I saw the video? This is what I do to myself sometimes. I swear there are times when I can feel the barbs pop up around me.

I am not saying that we shouldn't work on our craft. We should. Always.

However, there's a big difference between "I need to tighten the last three chapters" and "What am I doing? I'm embarrassed to even read this."*

This video was a good reminder for me: the best way to end up burnt out and weeping over my computer is to pay attention to the harpies. We gain the strength to improve when we refuse to listen to them.

Sometimes ... that means telling our own self to shut up.

Now let's go give Beaker a hug.

*I was sitting at Barnes and Noble, hammering out the first draft of a scene and praying that no one could read over my shoulder.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Research and the right word

Last night we were watching television, and the host of the show used the wrong word. It has been bugging me ever since. I'm not going to mention what the show was, because I'm not a television critic, and I have no idea whether the host or a producer or a writer chose this word, and all of that is beside the point anyway. If you figure out what the show was, good for you!

My husband and I went to high school in Syracuse, and he is a graduate of Syracuse University. We know the area.

Syracuse sits on the edge of Onondaga Lake. This is what Wikipedia has to say about Onondaga Lake:

Today, Onondaga Lake is a severely polluted lake. Onondaga Lake has been described as one of the most polluted lakes in the United States, primarily due to industrial dumping and sewage contamination.

I know Wikipedia isn't the most reliable source for information, and you shouldn't use it as a primary reference. But pretty much anyone who has lived in Syracuse in the past half century would agree Onondaga Lake isn't their first choice for a place to swim.

During the opening shots of the show, a photo of the lake flashed on the screen, while the host described Syracuse as "known for its...pristine lakes." Wrong. Word. Choice.

There are other lakes in the Syracuse area which may be more accurately described as pristine. Skaneateles Lake and Green Lake come to mind. But no Syracuse resident would ever use that word to describe Onondaga Lake. Even given the massive efforts to clean up the lake, once spoiled, it will never be pristine.

This underscores for me the importance of good research and good word choices. If you have a setting you're not familiar with, it is important to get the details right. Get a local to check your work. If you're writing about a sport you don't play, a profession you're not in, or a place you've never visited, make sure the people who know the ins and outs aren't going to immediately see that you don't. You don't have to be an expert, but you have to look like one.

And as for the word choice, I might have gone with "picturesque." Pollution aside, there's a nice park, and it's still pretty to look at.