Friday, December 30, 2011

You Know You're a Writer When...

Excerpts from the book You Know You're a Writer When... by Adair Lara

You were nine when you started writing poems, twelve when you moved on to tragic stories. 

Case in point: when I was 12, I think I wrote a story about a young woman alone in her apartment when there is a mysterious stranger who knocks on the door. I believe that was the same year that I tried to emulate Gone with the Wind and write a tragic Civil War-based novel. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Downton Abbey PBS Q&A

The second series of Downton Abbey will begin on January 8 here in America. Some of the cast came over recently to do some promo.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Basic Primer on British Noble Titles

I keep alluding to "Lord This" and "Lord That" on this blog because of the period I am currently writing in and because I like to read Regency and other historical settings where there are British people running about who happen to be titled.

And, of course, there's the small matter of my little Downton Abbey obsession.

Americans don't have these titles. We abolished them during our revolution. Other countries may still retain such honorifics, but they are probably different to the British styles. I've come across a few instances of mistakes when reading Downton fanfic lately... and really, who else has such arcane knowledge in their heads except authors, writers, Regency fans, Anglophiles and actual peers?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

Jane Austen, a great reason why I'm so fascinated by the British Regency era, an author whose works I adore, was born on December 16, 1775 in the parsonage at Steventon, Hampshire.

Today is her 236th birthday.

Jane was the seventh of eight children born to the Rev. George Austen and his wife Cassandra. Jane had five older brothers and one older sister, Cassandra, who was Jane's best friend. A younger brother followed in 1779.

Jane died in 1817, at 41, leaving the world with only six completed novels and two incomplete ones as well as her letters and her Juvenilia, the works she wrote when she was in her teens.

I think the first time I heard of Jane Austen was sometime in the 6th grade. I didn't read Austen until junior high, when I took a crack at Pride and Prejudice and couldn't quite get through it. This is the same time that I tried reading Jane Eyre and threw that to the side about 150 pages in, but read all through Wuthering Heights multiple times.

I have read P&P, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and Emma now--and I've seen a lot of the movie and TV adaptions of these books--and they move more deeply as the years pass on and I've developed the patience and insight to read and enjoy Jane's works. I think of them as quiet genius.

Does anybody out there have a favorite Austen? When did you first read Jane Austen's works? What was the impression they made on you?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Is This Plausible?

Once upon a time, there was an evil scientist. 

One year, sometime in the mid-1980s, in New York City, there were twin girls born, despite the fact that the girls were in fact eight months apart in age. Anyhow, the twins were plump, healthy and identical. Then the evil scientist 
separated the twins and made them different races and added them to separate families in neighboring boroughs of New York City, never to know that they were, in fact, really sisters. 

This is the origin story that my childhood best friend came up with to explain our friendship. Snowflake (not, in fact, her real name) was always super good at coming up with elaborate backstories for the characters she created for stories or even when we just played Barbies. 

She can tell you more about some of the wacky backstories and backgrounds she came up with for her characters, should she choose to drop a comment here. Most of them were soap opera worthy, I swear. 

In a sci-fi/ fantasy setting, that sort of origin story could absolutely make sense, depending on the parameters. 

My WIP is not sci-fi or fantasy, but historical fiction, which demands a certain level of realism. When I first conceived of the Keegan girls, sisters eight months apart in age but who are different races, they were born out of my sense that historical romance did not have enough diversity. Even in olden times, different races and cultures mixed with each other to trade, to fight, to marry. In Global history, we were forced to call this "cultural diffusion."

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

NaNo Stats

The Office of Letters and Light Blog has posted some stats on this year's NaNo.

The Number One NaNo city was New York. I wonder if that's because I kept updating my word count every five seconds...

NaNo's gasp-inducing 2011 stats

Friday, December 2, 2011

Post NaNoWrimo Pep Talk

This, the last of the 2011 NaNoWriMo pep talks, came in my mail tonight. It's written by Audrey Niffenegger, the author of The Time Traveler's Wife.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Writing Female Characters: A Dilemma?

I came across a thread on the NaNo forums that gave me some pause for thought. It's called Trouble Writing Female Characters. If you care to peruse the thread, it's linked right there. To summarize, it's a thread that's mostly female writers expressing that they have trouble writing convincing female characters. Some say their women are too cardboard cut-out stereotypical, others say their women are too strong and bitchy because they don't want to write simpering women. Other posters noted that they don't get along with or have many female friends in real life and therefore, have trouble writing women. Others say that all women they write are merely subsets of themselves.

Some jumped to internalized sexism or the Madonnna/whore complex or think of feminism with a negative connotation.

And others feel that writing females brings pressure, as if one female in a novel populated by mostly men must represent all womankind instead of being her own character. It's kind of the same problem as having one character of a different race or culture who is symbolic of all peoples of that race or culture. Really, people?

My 2011 NaNoWriMo winner's shirt came in the mail yesterday afternoon. Isn't it cute? NaNo is officially over now on the East Coast. I'm sad. 

I'm going to finish up the last dregs of my novel and then begin to educate myself on a logical way to revise an entire novel. I'll be reading up on that sort of thing and blogging about it, of course. Stay tuned. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Thanksgiving Weekend

Now that I am done (done! done!) with NaNoWriMo, I can get back to a more normal blogging schedule, which is lovely.

As part of NaNoWriMo, Writer's Digest was offering free e-book editions of a few writing and publishing related books, which I snatched up because they were free. So, this December, as I'm editing, shaping, rewriting, inserting research, writing better and hopefully, you know, actually revising and completing a viable second or third draft,
I'm going to read through my free ebooks to see if I can glean any novel writing knowledge on what to do when revising.

This ain't over yet. I'm not actually finished with my NaNo either; I have a few scenes left before I run out of time to validate and win. After that, I think I might bury it for a few days or a week, maybe give it to a reader, and then figure out how to revise the hell out of it.

Any of you have any revision tips? 

NaNo: Day 28

I have hit 50,000 words. That is, I actually hit 50,081 words two minutes ago. I'm going to finish this scene, write the last sequence, and then validate my word count for NaNoWriMo, likely sometime tomorrow.

I finished! I won!

Editing, here I come.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

NaNo: Day 27

Current word count: 47,381

I am 2, 619 words away from the 50,000 necessary to win NaNoWriMo. That's not going to finish my story, by the way. I still have a few events waiting to be written.

I'm actually ahead, but my diligent daily word count of 1,667+ words has fallen slightly (hence the orange spots in word count calendar), due to Black Friday and Saturday. I worked a very long shift on Friday (and survived) and then basically slept most of Saturday and was too groggy to write much. So I won't finish early and I might not hit the 60,000 words I was hoping for by the end of the month. Boo.

Trying to get back on the wagon of 1,667+ words a day!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

NaNo: Day 23

Current Word Count: 44,121

Received another amazing pep talk, this time talking about writing habits that NaNo can instill. Love all the points about thinking about your character during mundane moments like doing laundry.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Downton Abbey Predictions, Part Deux

Edited to add: Servants' Ball Pictures

Continuing on with my previous ruminations on the fate of the characters of Downton. What do all of you think is going to happen? If you know more about the history of this time period (1920), then how do you think it'll affect the denizens of Downton Abbey?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Downton Abbey Predictions

This post is pure speculation. Feel free to contribute to my wacky ideas via the comments down below (click on the  lavender link that says "Comments."Seriously. Do it. Good things will happen.)

I don't know what the plot of the upcoming Christmas Special is or what kind of stories we can expect in Season 3. So let's go character by character.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

NaNo: Day 17

Current word count: 33, 274

Another pep talk appeared in my NaNoMail today. I find it the most inspiring of the bunch so far. I tweeted about it, too, and Chris Cleave, who wrote the pep talk, replied to me to wish me good luck.

What do you think?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

NaNo: Day 16: Dancing Through

Current word count: 32, 448.

I'm finding that I have a real affection for the gossiping trio of Mrs. Henson, Mrs. Brown, and Mrs. Thomas. They are the old biddies of the village, who love to talk about everyone.

I finally finished Emma by Jane Austen late last night. I love the way the village of Highbury and its citizens are depicted, the way the social hierarchy is lived within the book. And of course, there is Mr. Knightley. I've decided that he surpasses Mr. Darcy for me.

I finished writing a ball scene yesterday--an event which the trio of biddies were gossiping about today, of course. Apparently, Lord and Lady Banston throw a huge Christmas ball the day after Christmas every year and people come from miles around to attend.

I used to think that dancing at the time was very graceful and decorous and intricate. Yeah, it's all of those things, I suppose, depending on the dance.

Maybe it's because I was reading Emma and watching the recent miniseries version of it, but this dance scene stuck in my mind as I was writing my ball and its country dances: Emma 2009

Looks like fun, no?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

NaNo: Day 15

Today is NaNo's halfway point.

I am past 30,000 words as of right now. My story is taking a really exciting turn. This character that I had the old biddies of the village referring to early on in the story is finally taking her important place within the novel. I gave myself fist pump in the air today as I was writing a scene.

Writers. We get so excited by the littlest things. Foreshadowing, for instance. I seem to really adore foreshadowing.

Also, I wrote 3,000 words today! Am so psyched!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Nano: Day 14 Another Pep Talk

Third week's pep talk:

Fellow Writers, 

I’m hoping your words are spilling out in fully formed plots, intriguing dilemmas, compelling characters, and sentences that feel vital and precise. But I well know that novels are unwieldy and that getting them under control can be like trying to herd planets into a line. 

NaNo: Day 13

I had no time to write today. I worked late last night and then basically fell into bed, woke up and went to work a 6 hour shift during the day, where it was very busy and I came home exhausted and not in the mood to write.

You know how many words I wrote just after midnight of Day 13? 52.

I just finished the daily word count--the bulk of the 1,667 words was written in the last hour. I hit 1,682 words for total words written today. I'm still ahead by about 2,500 words or so and I hope to increase that margin during the week.

And now, being very sleepy, I'm going to bed. Good night!

Friday, November 11, 2011

NaNo: Day 11

It's Veterans' Day. Today, at 11:00 am, the Armistice that ended World War One came into effect.

I suppose, for me, having watched Downton's second series already, the show naturally comes to mind when thinking about WWI.

There's a challenge going on on the NaNo forums today, to either write for 11 hours or to write 11,111 words. I'm going to try for the 11,111 words, but we'll see.

In addition to the excellent Write or Die, I'm finding that having my Word doc on Full Screen view hides the mounting word count. Which means that I'm not staring at the word count and calculating it against the NaNo stats over and over again.

In my trolling of the NaNo forums, I came across a few topics about Nano'ers not feeling supported in their writing.  It might be Week Two downslide, but those kinds of topics break my heart a little bit.

I have my moments of "God, this sucks" and "Who the hell is going to read this?" while I'm writing anything, even this blog. It tends to come out of nowhere, that attitude, and it serves no purpose.

Yeah, it sucks. It's a Shitty First Draft. It's supposed to suck. When I finish this come November 30, I'll go about figuring out my revision process, which is the part of the writing process that I haven't figured out for myself yet because I tend to become impatient with my ms. I don't really know how to revise an entire book as opposed to a 7-page essay, okay? These things take time.

As for "who the hell is going to read this," well, no one, except maybe a few trusted people, should they feel accommodating. I actually feel a great deal of comfort, knowing that no one is going to see the first draft and maybe not even see the second draft. It's still my baby.

As for lack of support and snarky individuals, I say fuck 'em. I have a small support system, so small that it often feels like they've disappeared off somewhere. But in order to write and afterwards, even attempt to get published, you won't do any of it if you don't support yourself. You have to write your novel, short story, term paper, brief, blog post, snarky answer on a stupid sales model form...yourself. Nobody else will do it for you and as nobody really thinks or sees things like everybody else, your approach and ideas are unique.

I think for me, writing is part and parcel of who I am. Take it or leave it. Believe it or not. It comes with the package. It's a developing package, however. I think it might feel tiresome to some people to hear that someone is writing or participating in NaNoWriMo or ScriptFrenzy or something like it, but what are they going to do with it? It's just a lark. It's only a hobby. It's totally something I can devalue about that person, they think

The publishing process is not easy. It's probably as soul-destroying in some ways as job searching. Have I attempted it yet? No. Why? Why not? Why bother writing so much and having a blog and ranting and dealing with these complicated historical time periods and doing Nano and revising and doing all this to yourself for so long? Why aren't you published yet?

One, I think that shows a profound lack of knowledge about book publishing. Two, because of the state of the publishing industry, it's likely that I could just e-book it and have it sold on Amazon. But most importantly is Three.

I want my work to be the best I can make it with my current writing and editing abilities. And if I say it's not ready, I'm not being modest. It's really not ready yet.

All right. Rant over.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NaNo: Day 10

Yay, we have word count widgets now. My word count widget is here, on the right sidebar.

Also, re-reading the last scene I wrote yesterday, I realize that the dialogue, as its playing in my head, sounds like Maggie Smith as the Dowager Countess in Downton Abbey.

Just got Pep Talk #2:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

NaNo: Day 9

No names for Mrs. Braddock yet?

Anyway. Was catching up on other people's blogs (this after writing over 1,000 words in an hour in an effort to make Day 8's word goal before the clock struck midnight) and read a short blog on how rules didn't apply to the peerage/ aristocracy of England and another on illegitimate children. Both are pertinent to my WIP.

Because the rules didn't apply--or because they were powerful enough to break them--the nobility were a fairly dissolute bunch. There was a lot of gambling, drinking, scandalous affairs and the like going on. And my MC is a product of that nobility, though he's gone his own route. He can do anything he would like to--and that's not false confidence.

And, of course, there's the oft-repeated maxim of writers that I came across today. It's ridiculously true:

I've said it before but it's worth repeating: If you don't take your writing seriously, no one else will either. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

NaNo '11: Day 6. Name My Character!

NaNo Day 6 is going pretty well, though I'm not sure that I'll hit the 12k or so I was hoping for.

Anyway, I have a question to ask of you. Please give all answers to this question in the comments below. Just click on "comments" at the bottom and write it in.

I have a character in my novel named Mrs. Braddock. She is in her late twenties to early thirties, white, English, of the gentry class. She has just come out of full mourning for her not-so-lamented older dead husband, with a decent fortune of her own and a nice house with not much land, but enough, near the river in the countryside.

She has brown hair and brown eyes. Has evidently spent time being cosmopolitan in London. Is very seductive.

She's a merry widow. And she grows in importance as a character. But she has no first name!

So, what kind of name do you think would fit this lady? Keep in mind, it's 1800, so she would have been born in the 1770s.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

NaNo '11: Day 5

I am currently at 9,136 words. I started writing today at about 4:30 pm (after I got back from work) and have been writing, watching a documentary on scary Stuyvesant students with my dad, writing, eating, writing, watching TV.

I had a little moment yesterday, after I finished up the ballroom bit: "What comes next?"

Then I remembered where I was in the timeline. September 1800. It's Mady's birthday. Soon, Alexandra will ask for a pony and Miles will train her. Then, of course, winter sets in.

I'm finding this one easier to get into as I'm writing. It feels easier, right now, to write this than last year's NaNo project. Whether that's because last year's was kind of made up as I went along...or because the research was driving me crazy...or because, let's face it, I've been immersed in this story for the better part of this year...who knows.

Aiming for 10,000 words tonight. 10,000 words is tomorrow's goal. Some Wrimos on Twitter are going for 15k by Sunday night, but, um...we'll see.

11:00 PM: 10,000 words made. Currently looking up info on milliners. Mady wants a pretty bonnet for her birthday.

Friday, November 4, 2011

My 1st pep talk of NaNo '11:Erin Morgenstern

Erin Morgenstern is an author. Her book The Night Circus is a current bestseller and was drafted during NaNoWriMo.

This is her pep talk, which arrived in my NaNoMail tonight.

I can't work ninjas into this book though. Too bad. I kind of feel like a ninja once in a while. I think it's a side effect of wearing too much black.

NaNo '11: Day 4

12:28 AM: Day 4 has begun well. I've gotten a sweet "you can do it!" message from a friend and a really nice "Your plot sounds intriguing" from a new NaNo Writing Buddy. Day 4's word count goal is 6,666.

2:43 AM: Well, without being too distracted, I have hit 6,667 words, which is past the word count goal, but not the daily 1,667 words--because I started ahead of daily word count on Day 1. Since I have a day off from work, I'd like to  write maybe a 1k-3k ahead.

2:38 PM: Let's sprint against the dryer. 30 minutes, go!

5:44 PM: Words written today: 2,333!!!! Total word count: 7,818. May try to get a little more in, at least to wrap this scene up. It's a ballroom scene.

11:07 PM: Through writing on and off for most of the day, I have written 2,999 words today. My total words written is 8,484, which means I passed tomorrow's word count goal :D 80,000 words, here I come!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

NaNoWriMo: Day 3

I was doing my usual midnight to 1 or 1:30 writing, since I don't have the ability to sit for hours on end trying to make word count...and no matter how much I wrote, it doesn't seem enough.

That's not to say that the scene I'm writing is like pulling teeth, because it's not. And the story's pacing is moving along nicely, too.

I just couldn't get enough words out and I didn't really feel like...writing. So I better stop blogging (and reading the NaNoWriMo forums) and get to work.

I'll never be a publishable author if can't seem to write more than 2,000 words a day, right?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NaNoWriMo '11: Day 2

Day 2 began with about a thousand or so words written between midnight and 1:30. Pre-planning here, folks, since I have work tonight and won't be here to write during the day. Granted, I didn't write straight through. I took mini-breaks to check Twitter, read the NaNo forums (fascinating, as always), and watch Mr. Knightley being awesome (YouTube).

I got up to a word count of 3,130 words. Day 2's goal word count is 3,333. So, as of now, I have written 1,077 words today.

I love all of NaNoWriMo's charts and graphs that tell me how much to write. If I could write with NaNo all year long, it would kick my ass into high gear.

I'm really aiming more for 80,000 words rather than the 50,000 required. 80,000 words would actually finish my novel.

And so far, Buzzy (my Inner Editor) has been behaving herself. I'm finding that writing something I've been working on is not actually slowing me down at all. It's making me consider new scenes and think of my characters in a different way. I promise, it'll be better than last year's NaNo.

All right, it's 12:30 PM and I've passed Daily Word Count, but have not written 1,667 words today. This is because I started ahead yesterday.

And it is 12:48 PM and I have finished the 1,667 words, topping out at 3753 for Day Two.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Nanowrimo '11: 13 hours in

Yes, it's 13 hours into the NaNoWriMo and I have written 1, 915 words. Which means that I am already 249 words ahead of the daily word count of 1,666 words. The word count widgets aren't available yet, but when they are, I'll add it to the blog.

Edited to add: As of 10:49 PM, I have a Day One word count of 2053.

Also, I'm a NaNo Rebel because I'm working on a previous work. The great thing about NaNoWriMo is that even though the rules say that coming up with something from scratch is best, it's not a hard and fast rule. In fact, to quote Captain Jack Sparrow, "they be more like guidelines."

There is even a forum for the Rebels--people working on previous work or revising previous NaNo novels or working on non-fiction or academic pieces. You could, conceivably, write your thesis by NaNoWriMo.

Monday, October 31, 2011

NaNoWriMo '11

November 1st is the start of NaNoWriMo--November is National Novel Writing Month--where people from across the globe will gather together, drink lots of coffee, forsake any kind of social life during the dreary month of November in a quest to write 50,000 words of a novel.

I participated (and won) last year--with Iggy, the child of a monk and a nun. While the story itself turned out not-so-great, I had a blast doing it and it taught me some valuable things about the writing process.

I wasn't sure what to do during this November. After all, I've been puttering away on Miles's portion of the Great Regency Adventure for the better part of this year and I've not really got anywhere. Granted, I think it's more crafted a first draft than any of the others, but it's a long way from done yet.

But NaNo is really meant to be about writing a new novel--the rationale being that continuing on old projects will only make meeting the daily word count of 1667 words difficult, because you're already in the process of researching and possibly editing bits as you write.

So I was thinking of writing one of the daughters' stories instead. But I don't know, I really want to finish the story I'm working on and 50,000 words or so should finish it. So I'm kind of cheating this year. If I finish the WIP before the deadline and word count are finished, then I'll move on to the sequels.

Of course, anything I write during November will be in a different document and the word count updates will only reflect what I've written during NaNo and not before.

Last year, it was more about stamina--I had never written that many words so consistency. I'm a slow writer--50 words there, 500 words there--so having the statistics and graphs on the NaNo site to show me what I was doing was amazing.

This year, my main challenge might be finding the time to write so much, as Real Life has come to fore in the past few weeks.

I'll be posting throughout November, probably to complain or to share the excellent pep talks that are emailed to participants. And if you're participating, feel free to commiserate here or NaNo Buddy me.

It really is easier if you're doing it among friends :)

Bachelors of Highbury Quiz

I've been reading Emma by Jane Austen to get a feel for an English country village and because I haven't made my way through Austen's canon completely.

I think, so far, Persuasion is still my favorite of hers, but Mr. Knightley is quickly becoming my favorite Austen hero.

I've been sneaking peeks at the 2009 miniseries version of Emma, starring Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller. It's available on YouTube.

Lo and behold, I came across this quiz.

And this was my result: Boo-ya!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Character Deaths

In honor of Halloween coming up, let's talk about something I loved to do to my characters when I was a teenager.

Killing them off.

In the days before I bothered to finish my stories, I would often grow tired of characters and then invent ways for them to die. There was the ever-popular consumption, car accidents, death by war, drowning. One time, I wrote a story about a girl who had eight siblings, all of whom were killed one by one by their psycho estranged father. That one didn't really go anywhere because I gave myself nightmares.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Soldiers of Downton Abbey

War changes things. So they say on Downton Abbey, so they say in books and on TV. It's the feeling floating around in the air as the war begins, that this'll change things in a profound way somehow.

This post was requested by a reader. She wanted to talk about how the rank of the solider becomes relevant--during wartime and beyond--and how others, at home or outside of the armed forces--can start to assume that because a man is serving his country, that he is being noble or heroic and not unscrupulous and taking advantage.

What triggered this? Major Bryant on Downton Abbey.
Major Bryant and Ethel

Monday, October 24, 2011

I made a very short submission to another blog: Downton Abbey History at tumblr. Here's the link.

Someone had asked about people being interested in Downton Abbey because of any family history they might have, i.e, was your great grandmother a maid? Was your grandfather a lord?

I know for sure that one of my great grandmothers was a maid, here in America. Both of my great-grandfathers fought in World War One. Supposedly, they went back to Ireland after the war to take part in some shady dealings in the Irish republican cause--though what they did and what stances they took is something I don't know yet.

Monday, October 17, 2011


I've come across this phrase "OTP" while trawling around fandoms on the Internet. Apparently, it stands for One True Pairing (shades of the One True Ring?). The OTP is a fan's particularly favorite romantic or possibly romantic pairing on a TV show or a movie. 

When one thinks a couple is an OTP, you "ship" them. As in, you want them to have a relationship. 

I've found that in most shows, there's the main couple who gets all the attention or a couple that is will-they-won't-they for ages and then, maybe, secondary characters who are coupling up or should be, but aren't because writers like to torture their viewers. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Lies My History Teacher Told Me: American History Edition

When I was in junior high, the Social Studies classes we took focused on American history. Now, the events are pretty standard: The Bering Strait. Native Americans. Jamestown. The Pilgrims. 1776. The American Revolution. The Constitution.

The personalities are indisputable, too: Washington. Jefferson. Franklin. Madison. Lincoln.

History is not just dates, battles and events. It's not just things that happened in olden times and long dead rich white men making decisions that we now have to live with. History is also about biases and perception, different connections and angles.

As an example, a slight digression:
In high school, in the one day it took in AP World History to cover World War One (because we were running out of time), we came upon Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points, which later became the basis for the League of Nations (which was the prototype for the United Nations). One of the bits in the Points was about nations under colonial rule having the right to self-determine their freedom.

That's wonderful, if you lived in the Balkans, Austria-Hungary or the many European colonies of Africa. Not so wonderful if you lived in Ireland, which at the time was ruled by Great Britain. In order to not offend Britain, whose ally the U.S. was in the war, Wilson did not support Ireland's efforts to gain its independence during this time.

I suppose that being Allies and Wilson considering Ireland a "British internal matter" would fly with some, but when you're descended from ardent Irish-Catholics (some of whom fought for the Americans in the War and then scurried back to Ireland to fight in its War of Independence)...I didn't exactly buy what the teacher was trying to impress upon us.

See what I mean about biases?

Anyway. That junior high textbook was written oddly. Instead of being a straight narrative of Americana, with pictures, maps and graphs, it felt the need to dissect most major events or eras from the perspectives of "women" or "blacks" or "slaves" or "immigrants."It would tell you about the event or era, then tell it all over again, like a bad version of Rashomon, from the perspective of Women and on down the minorities list.

Basically, it sucked to be an American woman. And it was even worse to be a slave. And all Americans hated immigrants.

I don't object to the effort of trying to tell history from a mixture of perspectives. It's the generalizations of those perspectives that I couldn't stand, because just as today America is a teeming mess of too many opinions, not every woman would have experienced the suffrage movement or the Civil War or the Industrial Revolution in the same way either. And of course, education isn't about teaching anymore, but learning by rote enough to pass a test/ write a report and pass the class/ pass 8th grade.

I also remember this book trying to illustrate "daily life" for the average American at whatever time or event we were reading about. First of all, that is impossible to distill into four paragraphs. Second, while I find daily life details interesting (perhaps even more interesting than the larger events themselves), once again, it was too general.

This is the textbook that taught me (though I knew better) that the French won our Revolutionary War. Or that the British were big bad meanies for burning down the White House during the War of 1812. Or that the Mormons were worthy of an entire chapter (I mean really, nothing against them, but do they rank up there with Lewis and Clark and the Civil War?)

I don't particularly remember American history class, high school style. Stay tuned for the scattered memories of Social Studies, the world history version.

Downton Links

                              T  G   I   F
What do we have this week?

Downton Abbey

Allen Leech and Phyllis Logan - This Morning from marlene on Vimeo.

Will Downton only last three years?

From Tumblr. S2E4 Deleted Scene: Branson's apology.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


I've been trying to give myself a quick primer on farming.

Yeah. Farming.

This is in service to the current Mess-in-Progress, of course. I wasn't originally going to involve any farming at all. My protagonist is an estate owner and a new one at that. He doesn't actually do any farming.

That is, until I read this while I was researching:

In war-weary England, wheat was four times what it was at the start of the war; the 6d loaf had risen to 17d.

This is a reference to England's harvest in 1801. I'm writing about 1800 and in reading about the time period, found that 1799 and 1800 had bad harvests. Very bad harvests. Apparently, it rained too much and ruined the crop. 

I've been searching and digging for more evidence. Was it really that bad of a harvest? And what could a landowner do to alleviate his tenants' hunger? 

I found a source to confirm the bad harvest and famine in 1800. 

From History of the consulate and the empire of France under Napoleon:

"The harvest of the year 1800 having again been deficient by one-fourth, the present scarcity had followed."


I think that's really all I need to know about farming in that time period. Which is good, because I'm a city girl and I don't even really know how farmers farm now. Never mind two hundred years ago. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Passage of Time

Sometimes, when I'm writing, I forget that I'm allowed to skip time. I've often found myself writing the most boring minutiae in a scene, realizing that it's boring, then thinking, "Wait... that does nothing for the plot...I can skip over this month, can't I?"

But sometimes I can't remember the timeline exactly--I know it's 1800, for example, and it is summertime, but is it late June or is it July already? I tend to write it into the text just so I know. I may or may not take out the indications in a later draft.

When I wrote my soul-swapping story, Last Request, I had a fairly tight timeline--two weeks, I believe--on one storyline. My protagonist, Eva, was in a coma and through research, I'd learned that two weeks is about the time someone can stay in a coma and still wake up with all their brain functions intact. To widen the scope of the story, there were a lot of flashbacks, ranging about fourteen years. I wrote in clear indications about what Eva was doing or how old she was in those chapters.

But oddly, it was a more recent flashback that confused my two readers. Eva recalls a memory from the previous month. I received comments saying, "August. Last August? I mean, the August the year before?"

So, even comparatively clear indications of passing time can be confusing.

I watch Downton Abbey and though I am enthralled with this second series so far, I admit to being puzzled by the timeline. It's not quite on a Lost level of confusion--flash sideways, anyone?--but it seems odd to have the same characters in the same positions emotionally for two years. The timeline is lurching forward into 1918 (which we know because it says "1918" at the beginning of episode 4), but the plots are continuing on from the previous episode, which was 1917.

So, really, shouldn't Mary have long decided on Carlisle already? As much as I love them, why do Sybil and Branson keep having the same conversation? A year is enough time for one of them to flirt with a solider or a nurse. Why is Bates' matter with Mrs. Bates taking so long? Still love the show--obsessed, actually--but it's an awkward time jump where time might change, but nothing in the story indicates that it's gone on by much.

That's the other thing about passing time in fiction. It's not enough to say or show that the seasons have changed, but your characters must change appropriately.

What I'm doing in my current Mess-in-Progress is that, as the summer rolls on and we get closer to harvest time, Miles's tenants inform him that their crops are failing because there is too much rain. This actually happened in 1800, the harvest was terrible. His daughters are friends with the local children they were being introduced to a few chapters ago. Letters have been written and answered. Visitors come and mention the duration of their stay and then leave.

But the prejudice the daughters face hasn't changed. Miles isn't exactly integrated into good English country society yet.

I think I'm finally getting the difference between the long plots--a book length--and the smaller plots that fit into that long plot.

Also, not to get too fanfiction, but I would've started Downton 2 in 1915, when German zeppelins were bombing London and other parts of southern England. Then perhaps I would have moved on to spring 1916, when the Easter Rising was happening in Dublin. To paraphrase Chekhov, if you're going have an Irish chauffeur in act one, then you ought to use the major Irish event of the time period in act two--at least enough to see said chauffeur assimilate the information he's getting and his position and his own beliefs and create angst.

Because otherwise, we get the Irish guy's reactions to said event a year later and it seems odd.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Too many adjectives"

There's a great bit in Becoming Jane where Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) is writing to her sister Cassandra. She's describing Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy).

The scene ends with Jane's writerly verdict: "Too many adjectives." 

I once read, in some writing craft manual, that adjectives are lazy writing. Also, in writing class, I was taught that the word "just" should never be used. 

Really, where do people come up with such wacky declarations anyhow? 

How many adjectives are too many adjectives? Sometimes, it feel like there aren't enough. How can you describe the tone of someone's voice, for instance, when you hear it but don't know how to describe it? Is it husky or sweet or rich? Is it low or loud? Is there a scratch in it? 

Is it really even that important to a reader that they hear or see the character the way the author imagines them to be? Jane Austen describes her characters thoroughly--but not how they look or sound, but how they think. I'm reading Emma right now and I'm getting her psychology--spoiled rich girl, a bit naive, thinks she's a matchmaker--but I'm not sure what she looks like. 

For plot, the motivations and thought process of a character is important. But I think I tend to meet my characters from the outside in and while I don't do long paragraphs of "her hair was raven colored and thin, her eyes were large and limpid," there is a fair bit of physical description thrown in. That includes the way they move (I have one character currently described as getting off a horse "stiffly" because he's a sailor not a landlubber) and the way they speak (the more aristocratic characters have that very precise, very clipped way of speaking--to be honest, I have no idea if that's how they spoke the King's English in those days--but it's the way they speak it now, isn't it?)

I suppose this would be the blog question: 

-How important is description to you in terms of characters? Do you really care what they sound like or even what they look like? 
-Are adjectives annoying? 
-How many adjective are too many? 

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"That's what happens when an English teacher has you reading Hamlet for four months. I kid you not. Four months."

Once upon a time, when I was a snarky high school student--long before I became a snarky adult--I used to think that what my English teachers told me was pure myth. They used to say that all that symbolism, the rich metaphors, the characterization in the works they fed to us was written like that on purpose.

I disagreed. I mean, yeah, sure it took a few drafts to get something like that and a lot of thought and some planning, but did Salinger seriously sit there for hours and hours just to plan that Holden Caulfield's hunting cap was symbolic of his hunt for...whatever?

I thought this because a) I was, as I mentioned, a snarky teenager and b) no matter how much I planned something I felt the urge to write out beforehand, it was only later on that I saw the clever turns of phrase or good dialogue. Surely, I thought, it's impossible to plan every little bit of your piece and some things just come about by accident.

I still think that my English teachers were overzealously reading into the works they taught. It's the reason why I didn't (ironically) like literature classes much, even in college. Once a professor wants to dig into Coleridge's motivations, you really ought to put the brakes on the whole interpretive thing. Just give me some context, help with the obscure references, help me figure out what the bloody thing could mean or why it was written, and then give me the essay question. Thus was my attitude.

That's what happens when an English teacher has you reading Hamlet for four months. I kid you not. Four months.

Now, no doubt, Shakespeare took a lot of craft and care with his works. You don't get verse without drafting the verse to see if it works. I imagine that his dialogue would be fine-tuned as the players rehearsed.

To be honest, of all the Shakespeare I was force-fed in high school, I actually found Hamlet the easiest to simply read and understand. It had nothing to do with having to deal with it for my last semester in high school either. My teacher asked some question while we were in the first act and I was able to answer it easily. Five acts, I thought. Maybe five weeks, then we'll move on to something else...

 But that's Shakespeare. I certainly didn't sit there back then and plot with any real serious care. I was kind of a pantser, a seat-of-the-pants writer, who let whatever roll out as I wrote roll out and then discovered, later on, that were some goods bit buried among the usually unfinished work.

In college, I tried to purposely write a certain way; maybe this setting symbolized the character's inner struggle. Or maybe this object was imbued with the character's longing. Then I went with what my fourth grade teacher called the "Sloppy Copy." Sloppy copy was her term for the first draft, when you were supposed to take whatever you'd brainstormed in step 1 of the writing process and then just write whatever came out.

Neither of these methods worked for me in college. The purposeful symbolism, for instance, felt insanely forced, as it did the intentional heavy-hitting plot in one short story that went nowhere. And the purge-and-dump, sloppy method resulted in a lot of irrelevant crap.

When I began this blog, I was determined to finally write a book. I'd been talking about it long enough, I had the time, I had an idea. And it rolled out a little bit pantser-style, though there was a theme I wanted to explore and I had the characters in mind and there were a few other pieces that were very specific and intentional.

But for the most part, the things that came out of the writing felt natural to the character and the plot. That was what I was happy with.

I was writing last night and feeling quite pleased at how my protagonist was finally meeting a character who would grow to play a major part in his life. He's also grappling with a new problem, one which came out of some research I did into the year the story is set in, and I thought, "Oh! I actually planned characters and a conflict and look what the research did to make this feel more realistic!"

To that end, I feel like I can still be a bit snarky toward my old English teachers--who, after all, were really there to teach us how to write a coherent enough essay to pass the New York State Regents' Exam.

 A great deal of a book can be planned. Eventually, the language and word choice will get crafted and shaped and become intentional, as the English teachers used to argue. I'm not quite there yet in my evolving process though; my second drafts, so far, still circle around bigger issues. You know, like endings that trail off, plots that make no sense and unlikeable characters. That sort of thing.

But I will also argue that there is still much that just appears on the page as one writes. At the best of times, it feels as if the words are being channeled from somewhere.

So I guess my writing process--to a second draft level, anyway--is part outlined, character sketch, historical research (the deliberate) and the other part is simply whatever comes out of the situation or the people you created (the inspired).

-What kind of lies did your English teachers tell you?
-Do you have a specific method for writing or studying or taking notes, for instance? How did you learn that method?
-Did you have to read Hamlet for four months?

Leave a comment below.

Edited to add: 

A little contribution from a reader:

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"What exactly does he do?"

When my friends settled with some popcorn and Downton Abbey a few weeks ago, it was the first time one of them had seen it and I could tell that while she wanted to see it, she wasn't wildly enthusiastic about it. But as my friend got into the plot and characters, she asked that vital question, when realizing that your historical English nobles seem to have a lot of land, big houses, and lots of time on their hands---

"What exactly does he do?"

"He manages his estate."

"Yeah, but what does he do?"

It's question I found myself asking quite a lot of, when I read Regency-set romance after Regency romance because these lords, they sure had an awful lot of time to be worrying over their future wives. Some of them actually did manage their lands--they would sign and read papers, talk to their stewards, visit their tenants, or talk about being in the House of Lords in Parliament. A few books would manage to convey the power the upper echelons had, whether it was influence in government or influence socially or diplomatically.

Now, Downton is set about a hundred years after the Regency, but it wasn't that different for those kinds of people. They still had land and titles and servants. It was a mark of the very rich that they didn't really do anything--as in make a living. The aristocracy didn't work. Often, the younger sons of a family would go out and earn their living (in the military, the navy, the church or they became MPs or trial lawyers), but that was because they didn't get the title or the money or the land.

This is why the heir to the title in Downton, Matthew, a lawyer, is considered very middle class. He works for a living. His father, a doctor, worked for a living, too, it seems.

I gave this question to a character in my book: Miles's old friend and employee, Anthony Hinshaw, is an American Quaker. He's currently visiting Miles in England. Now, Anthony is a wise man and understands that Miles must, to a certain extent, integrate into the local gentry society of his new home village, not only for himself, but especially for his young daughters. But Anthony is a sea captain, likely the son of a middle class Quaker shopkeeper, and doesn't understand the English aristocratic lifestyle.

So he asks Miles, as they ride through the village to Lord Banston's estate, "What exactly do they do all day?"

Miles explains.

Hinshaw replies: "What a wasteful lot."

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Coming Off a Mini-Block

I've coming off of approximately a week, maybe more, where I just couldn't put a word down. It's been a long time since I've had any kind of writer's block problem. I would sit and type a line here, delete a line I hated there, but couldn't get into the story or the characters and would go and read Downton Abbey fanfiction instead.

I felt unmotivated and a bit bored with the story, too. And I couldn't seem to come up with anything to jog a blog post out of me. Part of this lack of motivation stems from the lovely autumn allergies I've been encountering as we head toward the official start of fall, part from scheduling at work, and the rest of it was just disinterest.

I managed to write a whole page last night, though, so I guess I'm coming through this mini-block.

I introduced a new character who grows in importance as we go on. Introducing new characters are always amazing ways of getting more words out.

I have Miles, the father, concerned about his daughters' recent encounter in Bristol with a snobby bigot as well as the corn crop failing because it's too rainy.

And I'm thinking about this year's NaNoWriMo and whether or not to break one of the rules of NaNo (don't write existing pieces of novels you've already written) and use November to finish this draft. Will have to think about it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11/01

I wasn't going to write anything about September 11, 2001 on this blog. But it being the tenth anniversary and being a New Yorker, it's not a date that is easily ignored. It's a watershed date for my childhood, one of those dates where there was a clear difference between the before and the after. If one was writing a novel, it would be the moment that the story turns.

Ten years ago, I was 15 years old. I was in the car with my mother, who was driving me to school early because I had to change my schedule. We were listening to Z100, as we did most mornings, when one of the DJs suddenly said, "Hey, I think I saw a plane go into the World Trade Center."

Mom and I thought it was a joke. I got to school, couldn't get my schedule changed that day, and since there were a few periods between my actual school day beginning, Mom took me home for a little bit. I turned on the TV. Only CBS came in and they were already on news coverage about the plane that had flown into the Tower One.

Then my school day began and it was surreal. I don't remember learning much that day, only the confusion and suppressed panic that permeated the air as each shift of kids came in, bringing more news. The other tower had been hit, too. There was a hijacked plane heading toward the Pentagon or the White House or the Capitol.

It was in ninth period World History that our teacher set the record straight for us. By that time, the towers had fallen down. All flights had been grounded. "So why am I hearing planes?" One boy asked.

"Those are fighter jets." They were even flying over Queens, over our high school. I felt profoundly unsafe, in a way I never did before or since, because even then, our government didn't know what would happen next. The subway into and out of Manhattan was canceled. My father's office building was evacuated. My cousin had to walk home to Queens. In Chicago, another cousin was turning 9.

When I got home, I finally saw the footage of the towers coming down. I couldn't believe it; it seemed like a special effect in a disaster movie. Because the TV transmitters had gone down with the towers, my house only had one channel for the next few months. And they always talked about 9/11. Always. That footage of the plane flying into the tower and bursting into flames is one that I can never forget.

I avoid 9/11 coverage on TV around anniversary time. I don't need that to remember and I don't really like to dwell on it. Only months later, our country went to war--a war we're still fighting--and my view of my country changed forever.

The scale of what happened is still incomprehensible to me. I watched a few minutes of the reading of the names and the moments of silence this morning. I thought about what I was doing on the day and how much had changed, how much had remained the same.

I took this grainy shot of a table at work, in the mall today. It's a table with LED candles and American flags, surrounded by photos of the carnage of that day.

I heard a little girl ask her mother as they passed by, "What's that for?"

Her mother said, "For the people who died. Ten years ago."

The girl looked about 8 years old.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Childhood Games; or, Writing Out Loud

I spent the Labor Day weekend with my family and more specifically, my nieces, who are 3 and 1. The 1-year-old is doing the usual 1-year-old thing of toddling around, eating everything, grinning, and drooling. The 3-year-old wanted to show off her Halloween costume (Princess Tiana, if you're interested), then played on the playset outside loudly and very imaginatively.

She said it was a spaceship. They were flying through space to Planet Monster. Her engine was dying, it had bugs in it.  Hysterical, and some proof to me that children born in this very digitized age do still have imaginations.

I spent my childhood doing the same thing--and really, what is it but telling ourselves a story, making it up and acting it out? It's writing, but in acting form.

I still do this, to some degree, because I have a habit of talking to myself. I think it's an only child thing. I'll talk out dialogue or do both sides of a conversation (with myself, granted, but it's in character, dammit!). In order to "project" the character outside of my head, I used to talk to the air beside me, as if the person I was writing about was sitting there and I was merely recording what they were telling me. But really, that kind of thing starts to border on the insane after a while and when your mother asks you a few times, "Oh, who were you on the phone with?" it starts to get awkward.

When I was a tween, my best friend and I spent hours on the phone with our secret game. I guess it was role playing, basically. We each had characters we'd made up, with families and spouses and milestones. Being somewhat self-important--and because we had terrible memories--we started to write down the backstories we'd made up, each more twisted than the next. And we'd play our game, describing where we were, which characters were there, what they were doing, what they said.

No wonder I wanted to be a writer. Also, now, it sounds like a great way to brainstorm. Or a great way to write a play.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

How women inherited in the olden days

This post was inspired by this one: Heroines in an era lacking women's rights

In Pride and Prejudice, the reason the five Bennet daughters must be married is because there is an entail on their father's property, they will not be able to inherit it, and without a marriage and a husband, they will be dependent on their father's heir.

That, in summary, is how we think of nineteenth century women. They were under the control of their fathers and then their husbands. They could not own property, did not seem to inherit it much, could not vote or work, and were constantly pregnant.

If a woman remained single (as Jane Austen did), she could run the land she inherited (if she inherited any) and keep her own earnings and inheritance. When the woman married, she ceased to be her own person. Beforehand, however, if she had conscientious parents, guardians or lawyers, a marriage settlement could be drawn up to ensure that whatever she brought into the marriage would pass to her children, for example, or that if her husband died first, there were provisions made for his wife and children's care.

A widow could inherit property and money from her husband and administer it. If she remarried, however, all of that would be controlled by her new husband. And if the husband stipulated in his will that his wife was not to have custody of their children, then so be it. A woman did not have a legal claim on her own children in those days.

If you've ever seen the movie Duchess starring Keira Knightley, you know that this applied even to a powerful woman like the Duchess of Devonshire--her husband threatened to take away their children and not let her see them (which he could) if she didn't break off her affair with Charles Grey.

What often confused me is this thing called an entail. It's a legal term that I have come across in many a Regency-set book. It's an obscure estate law thing and only applies to the upper middle class and upper classes.

To use Downton Abbey as an example. The Earl of Grantham likely owns many estates. His largest is Downton Abbey. When the Grantham title was created, it was specified to be inherited by heirs males, so none of his daughters can inherit the title. But can they inherit the estate, in addition to the money they are guaranteed under Lady Grantham's marriage settlements? The estate is entailed.

Entailment is when a property cannot be sold, willed or messed with by the owner and automatically passes to the next male in line. It's meant to keep the land in the family. For a titled lord, the estate was supposed to pass to his heir to provide them with not only a place to live but an income to support the way of life they felt a title would require.

The Bennets are not titled, but their estate is entailed. Entailments are binding: sometimes they are made in the creation of a title or an estate or in wills, but they are damn hard to break. In Downton, it's mentioned that to break the entail would mean an Act in Parliament.

How This Relates to the Keegans
When I first became acquainted with my characters, the Keegan family, I had to imagine what sort of inheritance Alexandra and Madeline Keegan would get. Alexandra is illegitimate. That carried a stigma. The good thing is, Alex is raised by her wealthy father, who acknowledges her as his own and raises her. However, illegitimate children did not inherit unless they were specifically specified in wills.

Miles Keegan builds up a large shipping company. He is wealthy, owns an estate, owns a townhouse and several ships. He has investments. Once I realized that not all English estates were entailed, then I figured that since Miles is buying a place for himself to settle, he could leave the place to whoever he wants to and we can ignore entails.

From what I've researched, it seems that one son could supersede daughters. So, if Miles had a son, the son would inherit the estate and the girls would get money and personal possessions. So, no son. Daughters often inherited land together. So Mady and Alex and their younger sister and stepsister would inherit the estate together, but the money they inherit would have to specified (in Alex's case). With the amount of wealth I want them to have, the girls have lawyers and trustees looking after the money and looking closely at their future husbands.

I imagine that Lord Banston, their guardian, would be pretty strict about their marriage settlements and how much remained under the girls' control. If the girls are still unmarried at age 21 (age of majority), then I wanted Alex and Mady to gain control of a portion of their inheritance; the rest of it will be saved for investments, provisions for widowhood and children, and their annual income.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


An interesting post from the blog of the Office of Letters and Light, the lovely people who brought the motivation and madness of NaNoWriMo into our lives. The post is called "What Do You 'Do' To Your Books?"

Books are physical objects. You can curl up with them (as I do), smell the new-book (or musty old book) smell. You can takes notes and highlight and underline in them. You can pass them along to others. You can dog ear them. You can stick stickies in them.

And, in the meantime, you can be educated, informed, empowered, entertained and gain insight, wisdom and quiet.

It's that relationship with a book as an object that cannot be replaced by an e-reader. Yeah, the content might all be there, but it's not the same experience.

I, for example, never used to write in my books. I wanted my books to remain pristine. Sometimes I used bookmarks, but I usually just bent the top corner of the page I was on. Still do. It's fun to re-read something and see that some pages have worn corners or that the spine is definitely well-cracked.

In high school, I finally encountered books that I loved so much that I HAD TO underline certain lines or passages because of their brilliance. I don't underline much and I only ever seem to do it in paperbacks (perhaps because hardcovers are expensive) of books that I know I'm going to read a few times over and over.

The lines that I underline are random and scattered. It's a manifestation of the personal relationship with a story and with characters; those lines or passages meant something to me at a particular time or struck me as elegant or made me see something in a different way. Or it was put so well that I wanted to be able to find it again.

Yeah, highlighting would fulfill that function, too. But highlighting is so ingrained in my mind with college and academia that I would rather just lightly underline something in pencil and mull the line over as I read.

For example, these are some lines I underlined in my very well-read copy of Atonement by Ian McEwan:

And Cecilia would not speak to him or look at him. Even that would be better than lying here groaning. No, it wouldn't. It would be worse, but he still wanted it. He had to have it. He wanted it to be worse.

Her worries did not disappear, but slipped back, their emotional power temporarily exhausted.

The problem these fifty-nine years has been this: how can a novelist achieve atonement when, with her absolute power of deciding outcomes, she is also God?

Do you underline, highlight, tag, take notes in your books? Has the relationship one can have with a paperback translated over to reading on an e-reader or not?

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

One Day

So in addition to an earthquake shaking us up in New York for thirty seconds, I finished this novel the other day and I want to tell you guys about it, because, as usual, it has spawned an idea. And it's really, really good and you should run out and get it right now.

The book is called One Day by David Nicholls. It is about Dexter and Emma, who meet at their college graduation on July 15, 1988. The book then follows Dex and Em through their lives--their friendship, careers, mistakes, drunken nights, relationships--every July 15th for the next twenty years. So basically, chapter one is July 15, 1988 and chapter two is July 15, 1989.

What I loved about this premise is that there is a great deal of reality, despite the clear fictional structure. Some years, it seems, Dex and Em have been talking and hanging out a lot and so, when July 15th rolls around, they are hanging out together. Other years, they've lost touch with each other or are plain busy, so they are living their separate lives.

I underlined a few lines that I loved (in pencil. I only do this in paperbacks and only in books I really adore.)

From July 15, 1993:

Sometimes, when it's going badly, she wonders if what she believes to be a love of the written word is really just a fetish for stationery.

I think what I loved about this and really connected with, was the truth of the characters and their adult lives. Emma is a bookworm and an aspiring writer who spends some time working in a truly horrid Mexican restaurant, where it is mentioned that the music there is on a loop. Utterly reminds me of my job, that did. Beyond that though, I felt chills at the simplicity of the writing and it made me think about why I was trying to be so over elaborate in my own stuff at the moment.

I'd been warned that the ending was "something else." Yeah, it really was. It kind of sucker-punched me. I wouldn't say it was as shocking as the ending of Atonement for me but it certainly came close.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Because sometimes it's nice to borrow other people's characters instead of analyzing your own.

So I wrote this after re-reading some old fanfiction on my computer and online. Because sometimes it's nice to borrow other people's characters instead of analyzing your own. 

Author's Note: I want my season 2 of Downton Abbey now. I saw this clip and of course, my mind spun off into directions. Also, I can't remember the last time I wrote a fanfic based on a show or a movie, so….be gentle.
Disclaimer: I don't Downton Abbey. Obviously. If I did own it, it would be the Branson and Sybil show.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The rant about race

Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help on cover selection:

I've been thinking about race a lot lately anyhow, but reading and finishing The Help has me ruminating on the topic, so just bear with me for the epic length of this post. A lot of this--most of it--is because of my book, which is not nearly as finished or polished or as complex, as of yet, as The Help. And of course, since The Help is set in the American South in the early 1960s, when Jim Crow was still the order of the day, it's a familiar setting to American readers because we all had to learn about it in school. It's part of American history, one that is still definitely very much felt till this day. 

Remember in 2008, when President Obama was running to become President Obama? Remember the outright racism on the part of some pundits, the inappropriate remarks, the dissecting of exactly which race he belongs to more? (since, after all, President Obama's mother was white). Is he black enough? Is he too black? 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I'm sure you've all heard of this book or the upcoming movie starring Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Emma Stone. 

It is about three women living in early 1960s Jackson, Mississsippi: Aibileen, a longtime black maid who has raised seventeen white children; her outspoken friend, Minny, who is just a too opinionated for the comfort of the white ladies of Jackson to employ her as their maid; and Skeeter, a white girl, a recent college grad and aspiring writer, who wants to write about Jackson and its people--but from the perspective of the help. 

I've only just gotten up to the part where Skeeter begins her project by interviewing Aibileen and Minny, but with three different narrators and a beautifully written and detailed narrative--you can literally read the different voices these women have--it's a surprisingly gripping read. Kind of reminds me of The Secret Life of Bees a little bit, but the similarities are really just that it's Southern, the '60s, and about relations between white and black people. 

Entertainment Weekly had a cover story last week on the film, the book, and the reaction to both, since the author is a white woman who grew up in Mississippi and was raised largely by an African-American maid. 

I knew the book was selling a lot, that it was very popular, but I don't often read a lot of more recent fiction and in particular, I don't necessarily read a lot of popular fiction. It's not a literary snobbery thing, only that there is only so much time to read--time that I could be spending writing, of course. 

But reading is important, too. It lets me get of my head and jump into someone else's for a while and see how much more I can improve, how much more in depth I can become. 

Any of you read The Help yet?

Edited to add: I finished it. Loved it. Cried at a few parts. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Meet Mr. Tops

Ladies, gents, followers, lurkers and dinosaurs---

I give you, Mr. Tops--the traveling triceratops.

Seriously, Mr. Tops has traveled about extensively in the Northeast. Check out his blog:

You can look for updates in the sidebar with the other blogs I follow.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Practical Tips on Writing a Book from 23 Brilliant Authors

Found this list via Twitter (thanks @NaNoWriMo)

Practical Tips on Writing a Book from 23 Brilliant Authors

These authors write non-fiction, so I think their advice on not reading similar subjects while writing may work for them, but doesn't necessarily work for me. I would think that non-fiction, non-memoir involves a ton of notes as well, so I'm ignoring the organizing of interviews and research. I did a bit of work in that direction when I was ruminating over Iggy, by using wikispaces as a more comprehensive way to organize myself so I could really see what I had. 

I'm not normally one to go with advice given by published authors, oddly enough, but I can relate to a few things on this list:

Ben Casnocha
Entrepreneur and author of My Start-Up Life
  1. Shitty first drafts. Anne Lamott nailed it! But with books, it seems to be more like “shitty 20th drafts.” So shitty, for so long.
  2. Develop a very serious plan for dealing with internet distractions. I use an app called Self-Control on my Mac.
  3. Develop a very, very, very serious plan for dealing with internet distractions.
My plan for dealing with internet distractions? Turn the Airport option off on my laptop. And yeah, I write Shitty First Drafts. And Not-so-Shitty Second Drafts. But still shitty.