About Me

Thursday, May 28, 2009

When In Doubt

I've found six things to be helpful to me in continuing my fiction writing:

(1) Writing.

(2) Reading quality books about both writing technique and revision.

(3) Joining a workshop or finding other writers willing to read your work and give you kind, but honest feedback, so you know what is working, what may need more work, and whether what you thought you were describing is coming across to the reader.

(4) Re-reading scenes or chapters of pieces you’re working on, over and over, and revising, expanding, and contracting, at will, until you feel you've got it right.

(5) Listening to feedback, but only using what is helpful to achieve your own vision.

(6) Reading a variety of authors to expose yourself to all the possibilities in story structure, characterization, description, dialogue, and point-of-view.

Workshops are optional, but often, what they achieve, if you’ve found the right group, is to learn that you are on track and your work is appreciated. Much of the critique addresses technical matters, and every writer works to improve their craft. Even iconic writers like Joyce Carol Oates talk about asking readers to review their work prior to publication.

I wrote a post called Recommended Books on the Craft of Writing a while back, where I list and discuss sources I've found helpful in my journey to become a better writer. For Fantasy, SciFi or Speculative writers, I also wrote Writing Fantasy Fiction: A Short Bibliography.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Living the Dream: Cindy Pon

Here's another great Cindy Pon interview where she discusses her writing process, and her journey from idea to publication:

Cindy queried 121 agents before she found representation, and now her new novel is an amazing success. I wish Cindy all the best!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Interview: Fantasy Writer Cindy Pon

I read a great author interview at Headdesk for Writers. Creative A (AKA Mandy) interviews Cindy Pon about her just published first novel, Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia, a Young Adult fantasy set in ancient China. Cindy talks about her book and gives insight into her writing process: http://headdeskforwriters.blogspot.com/2009/04/10-questions-with-cindy-pon.html

Booklist Online, a prestigious book review source published by the American Library Association, named Silver Phoenix one of the Top Ten 2009 Fantasy and SF Novels for Youth: http://booklistonline.com/default.aspx?page=show_product&pid=3516193

This is an impressive debut!

Speculative writers will enjoy this statement at the top of the Booklist article: "Debut novels make a strong showing on this year’s roundup of the top 10 science fiction and fantasy titles for youth, all published in the past 12 months. Also included are the Newbery Medal winner and two Printz Honor Books, reinforcing speculative fiction’s continued status as one of the strongest genres in youth literature today." ~ Booklist Online (May 15, 2009)

Cindy is also an artist. She is working on a children's picture book, and a sequel to Silver Phoenix is scheduled for release by Greenwillow Books (Harper Collins).

You can learn more about Cindy Pon at her web site: http://cindypon.com/

Here's Cindy's About Page: http://cindypon.com/about/ where I've discovered we share some favorite authors and books!

Here's a link to illustrations from what will be a beautiful picture book. I love the bunny, the chick and the toad, and the quality of light: http://cindypon.com/picture-book/

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tehanu, Le Guin, and the Writing Process

I finished Tehanu the same day I started it. I felt there was more to the story, and now I know why. In the forward to Tales from Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin explains how she got from the "now" in Tehanu to the "now" in The Other Wind, and why "The Last Book of Earthsea" was not the last:

"At the end of the fourth book of Earthsea, Tehanu, the story had arrived at what I felt to be now. And, just as in the now of the so-called real world, I didn't know what would happen next. I could guess, foretell, fear, hope, but I didn't know.

Unable to continue Tehanu's story (because it hadn't happened yet) and foolishly assuming that the story of Ged and Tenar had reached its happily-ever-after, I gave the book a subtitle: 'The Last Book of Earthsea.'

O foolish writer. Now moves. Even in storytime, dreamtime, once-upon-a-time, now isn't then.

Seven or eight years after Tehanu was published, I was asked to write a story set in Earthsea. A mere glimpse of the place told me that things had been happening there while I wasn't looking. It was high time to go back and found out what was going on now.

I also wanted information on various things that had happened back then, before Ged and Tenar were born... In order to understand currrent events, I needed to do some historical research, to spend some time in the Archives of the Archipelago.

The way one does research into nonexistent history is to tell the story and find out what happened. I believe this isn't very different from what historians in the so-called real world do. Even if we are present at some historic event, do we comprehend it -- can we even remember it -- until we can tell it as a story? ...

When you construct or reconstruct a world that never existed, a wholly fictional history, the research is of a somewhat different order, but the basic impulse and techniques are much the same. You look at what happens and try to see why it happens, you listen to what the people there tell you and watch what they do, you think about it seriously and you try to tell it honestly, so that the story will have weight and make sense...

So these are reports of my explorations and discoveries: tales from Earthsea for those who have liked or think they might like the place, and who are willing to accept these hypotheses: things change: authors and wizards are not always to be trusted: nobody can explain a dragon." ~ Ursula K. Le Guin, from "Foreward" in Tales from Earthsea (Harcourt, c2001)

I love reading Le Guin's thoughts on writing and her generosity in sharing the way her mind works as she tells her stories. Being one of those writers who writes to find out what will happen next, I identify with the concepts she expresses, and I wanted to share this excerpt on how she constructs a story world.

My first entry about Tehanu is here: http://anniekingwrites.blogspot.com/2009/05/tehanu-last-book-of-earthsea.html

Monday, May 11, 2009

My Secret Crush

I’m in love with Billie Joe Armstrong. There, I’ve said it. Not the man, I don’t know the man, but the man he represents in my mind. I’ve written about him before, though I kept his identity hidden.

If you don’t know his music, you may remember the uncharacteristic ballad, The Time of Your Life, also known as Good Riddance, written by Armstrong and performed by Green Day, played at the end of the closing credits for the final performance of the TV show, Seinfeld. Or you may know him from the successful rock opera album, American Idiot. He has been my inspiration for three-novels-in-progress (one realistic and two speculative fantasy), one lengthy short story, one play, and what I call a “character study” poem.

How can all of these men have black hair and green eyes? How can they all be strong, flawed, yet achingly vulnerable? How can they all share the same face, and yet have different back stories, different patterns of speech, and different ways of functioning and moving about in this world (well, the worlds of their stories). How can they all have the body of another man who shall remain nameless, because I can’t remember his name, the athletic, muscled body of a gymnast (unlike the real man, I suspect, though during the American Idiot tour, at 33 years old, Billie Joe Armstrong, lean and dynamic, was in his prime; and at 37, he's fit for the next). How can they all have a voice, diction, and mannerisms, completely different from the real man (except when he’s performing on a stage)?

My husband and I became interested in Green Day, after hearing the song, and then the rock opera theme album, American Idiot, during some of the worst days of the Bush administration (weren’t they all the worst days?) after 9-11 and the “war” had been declared. We never listened to Green Day in 1994, when they became famous for songs such as Basket Case and Longview and When I Come Around, focusing on teenage angst. We had never heard of them, and had nothing in common with them, or so we would have thought, those “boys” of 21 and 22 years old, and in 1994, I was busy giving birth to my son, then nursing him through traction and then surgery for dislocated hips. In 1994, what did we know about “dookie” except for changing diapers?

Grammy Award, Best Alternative Performance, 1994

August 26th, 2005, right after Hurricane Katrina buzzed South Florida with a near miss (and no one knew yet the horrors it would cause New Orleans), to celebrate our wedding anniversary, my husband and I saw Green Day perform at a terrible venue, then called The Bank Atlantic Center (coincidentally the same venue where we heard Barack Obama speak while he was running for president, generating the same energy as a rock concert). After Katrina, we were one of the lucky ones, with power and air conditioning. The roads were clear, and a friend without electricity came to our house to stay with our son, then eleven years old.

My husband and I sat in our rafter seats, as far from the stage as a body could get, trading a pair of Leica binoculars, when we both became mesmerized, energized, couldn’t stay in one place, singing the words at full volume, as Billie Joe Armstrong took control of the audience. (If you’ve ever seen the DVD, Bullet in A Bible, of Green Day’s concert at Milton Keynes in England, performing in front of 130,000 faithful fans, you’ll know what I mean.) And, I became aware, that this man, for a man, is near as small as me. (By some accounts he is 5’4’’ tall and I am 4’10”, about the height of his wife.) He stood on boxes, he jumped, he gyrated, he ran across the stage, challenging the apron, and he admonished the hungry audience to roar.

Because of the hurricane, the audience was down by a half, but he, and Mike Dirnt (Mike Pritchard) the bassist, and Tre Cool (Frank Edwin Wright), the drummer, friends and band members since they were twelve and thirteen, played as if they were at Milton Keynes. And that is what I have read about them. From the time they were teens, playing to an audience of five, or fifty, or twenty-five, they played their hearts out, like the Beatles at Shea Stadium. And that is what we witnessed, what impressed us, that these men gave their performance 6,000%, and they wanted to connect with their audience, and give them the best experience they could possibly share.

For American Idiot, Billie Joe Armstrong wrote Wake Me Up When September Ends, about his father dying when he was ten years old. So, even though Green Day allowed a video of the song to become an emblem for loved ones separated by the Iraq War, don’t you believe that when you hear Armstrong sing the song. He’s singing for his father, he’s singing for himself. When you know that, and hear it, you can feel it in his voice, you can see it in his face. He writes virtually all of Green Day’s songs, and just like my poems, most of his songs are inspired by autobiography, even if the details change in the rendering.

Do I have anything in common with the details of his life? No. I’ve never been on drugs. I don't smoke. I’ve never been an alcoholic and gone to rehab. I’ve never been a young child who lost a parent. I don’t have a single tattoo. I’ve never been the youngest of six siblings (though I am the 4th of 5). I’ve never been a pop punk rock star. Can I relate to the emotions he portrays in his music?: Self-Doubt, Disillusionment with Government, The Desire for Fulfillment, Love, Anxiety, Hope, Knowing You’re On the Cusp of Something Grand but It Just Hasn’t Happened Yet.

Well, it happened in 2004, for him and his group, with the release of American Idiot, when he won the Grammy for Best Rock Album, and in 2005, Record of the Year, for Boulevard of Broken Dreams. And now they have a new album coming out in May 2009: 21st Century Breakdown, reviewed favorably by Rolling Stone. I hope he succeeds with this album, and in the tour that accompanies it, or I will personally “ache” for him. (Armstrong, and his bassist, Mike Dirnt, came from hardship and poverty, and for their perseverance, I can also admire the members of Green Day.)

One of my favorite Armstrong songs appears on Warning (Reprise, 2004), a lesser known album with acoustic influences, panned by some of his punk rock fans. The song is called Waiting, and there is an upbeat video to match it. Amazingly, the song is a cross between Mary Tyler Moore’s optimism in the intro to her ancient show where she lands a job at a TV station and throws her hat in the air, and Petula Clark’s performance of the song, Downtown. And here is an excerpt of his song: “I’ve been, waiting a long time, for this moment to come. I’m destined for anything…at all... Downtown, lights will be shining, on me like a new diamond, ring out under the midnight hour. I’m so much closer than I have ever known…Good luck, you’re gonna need it, where I’m going, if I get there at all.” The words are simple. It’s the melody, Armstrong’s singing voice, the bass and drum line, and the pure passion, that makes the song live.

Above all, I relate to the emotion in Billie Joe Armstrong’s songs and in his voice when he sings them, accessible, energetic, and lyrical. In 2006, at a pre-game show in New Orleans to officially re-open the Lousiana Superdome, Armstrong had the pleasure (I’m sure he would term it in this way, though I do not know him) to share a stage with Bono of U2, doing a duet with Bono of The Saints Come Marching, a single for Music Rising to benefit musicians in New Orleans.

When he is quoted, Armstrong doesn’t have Bono’s silver tongue, and it is obvious he is not as well read. He dropped out of high school, and by all accounts, never sought a higher education. But you can’t do what he does without being intelligent. I sometimes wonder how his lyrics would soar, if he’d ever expanded his horizons, but what anyone can relate to is what he’s been through in his life. Who hasn’t experienced a sense of loss and betrayal of trust? Who hasn’t wished for something more?

Armstrong has been married to his wife, Adrienne, for fifteen years. The day after they married, they found out they were pregnant with their first son, born just a year younger than my son, in 1995. A few years ago, when his son was twelve, Armstrong was quoted (in an article I can’t locate) as saying, in effect, what can his son possibly do to rebel, considering he’s the father. (By all accounts, Armstrong is a good father, but his point was, I dropped out of school, I’ve done the drugs, I've got the tattoos and the crazy hair…)

Armstrong may not be the perfect role model for my son. But he is a role model for me: giving 6,000 %, believing in yourself, learning from your mistakes, and sharing your life in ways that matter. It’s not his performance at the live concert I saw that inspires me to write the characters that look like him. It’s not reading about his life. I wrote my first story involving a character with his face after looking into his eyes and expressive (air brushed) face on this cover of Rolling Stone:

Rolling Stone, Issue 987, November 17, 2005

If I get stuck writing a story involving characters inspired by Armstrong, I just look at his image on my opening computer screen, and gaze into those green eyes. I may not know what my character will do next; but I know how my character is feeling, and how my female lead feels about him.

Of the three novels-in-progress, featuring a variation on the themes of alienation, indomitable spirit, and the redeeming power of relationships, the one that will be published is the one I finish first (so that I’ll just have to give the male character a radical makeover in the novel I finish second). He is not the only main character; there is always a flawed and innately powerful young woman, equally challenged by potentially crippling circumstance. I know the story I finish first will be good because I won’t submit a completed manuscript to any publisher or agent until I’ve given the book my 6,000%.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Inhabiting a Role

I've been thinking about the actors in the new Star Trek movie, and about William Shatner "inhabiting" his role as Captain Kirk in the original Star Trek series (See my May 8th capsule review). The actors in the new movie successfully capture the spirit of the established characters they are portraying, instantly convincing the audience, despite the physical differences, that they are indeed Chekhov, or Uhura, or Scotty, or Spock; yet, they each carry their own nuances. They are not clones, or automatons; they are people. They inhabit their roles.

I'm reminded of one of the major assignments in the Fiction writing class I took a little over a year ago. We were each assigned to write a chapter in a collective novel. The class discussed and tossed around a few ideas, and one poor sap volunteered to write the first chapter. He created a wonderful main character, an assortment of possible secondary characters, and enough of a setting, a back story, and a premise, for the next writer to continue the thread, the tone, and the characterization the first writer had established.

Then, came the next writer, and the next writer, and then came me. For those first four chapters, and the one that followed, though the technical skills of the writers varied, we each built on what came before, and I was amazed at how exhilarating it was to write in the voice and point of view of characters I never would have dreamed of, in a scenario I never would have considered, and it was fun!

At some point the story took a turn, and then it took a couple more turns, but for those of us who stuck to the original premise, I know, at least for me, I learned something about writing, and collaboration, and the unique feeling that I could inhabit a universe not of my own making (which is a different feeling from creating your own characters, who, in some way shape or form, represent some aspect of yourself- of course, I'm sure I brought some of myself to these characters, too).

Maybe it was like that for the actors in Star Trek: The New Movie. They were not the first actors to inhabit those roles, but inhabit them, they do, playing on the mannerisms and the vocal quirks of the original actors, but not stifled by them.