Monday, November 30, 2009

You Must Be This Tall to Understand the Ending

So I've wanted to be a writer since ever, but I haven't always wanted to be a writer of young adult fiction. Not until I started heavily reading YA books as an adult did I experience the attraction one feels when she meets her soulmate--in art form.

These days most of the books I read are YA fiction, but occasionally grown-up fiction (Adult fiction sounds creepy.) slips into my reading list. Reading an adult book always makes me meditate on the difference between adult and YA fiction. Last night I pondered endings.

See, YA novels sort of have to end positively. It's kind of a rule. In her Wall Street Journal article on YA fiction, Katie Roiphe explained that writers of the dreariest YA fiction "are careful to infuse the final scenes of these bleak explorations with an element of hope."

I love that hope. I wondered how Ellen Hopkins would create it in Tricks, if Laurie Halse Anderson would be able to do it in Wintergirls. They did, and with a style that seemed to my outside eyes effortless (which means it took TONS of effort).

After I read most novels intended for adults, I dwell on the endings for days. I ask myself: What really happened? Anything? The character changed, so I suppose that's something, but I just can't say exactly...

So, are endings of adult books supposed to be more complex than endings of YA books? Not so easily understood? More thought-provoking for our gigantic, well-aged brains?

Sometimes I read an ending a second time and I still don't get it. Sometimes I think a book is remarkable despite its ending. And it's not because adult fiction depresses whereas YA fiction brightens. Endings in most YA novels are just clearer in my opinion.

Let me be unmistakable about what I love about most YA fiction endings: The main character's catharsis happens in such a way that I can explain it to someone else without sounding like a dumbass. I believe there is something in the average YA reader that will not accept ambiguous finales, and that YA fiction writers respect that.

Here's one of my all-time favorite quotes about YA fiction:

"Teen books are like adult books, without all the bullshit."

New York City librarian Jack Martin said that during a panel that explored where exactly YA belongs in my mind, in bookstores, on library shelves, etc. But are cloudy endings bullshit? Or something beyond my ability to comprehend? Or just not my taste?

My meditation on endings breeds new questions:

Do YA novels need to end hopefully, positively? What are the requisites for endings in general?

I'd love to hear how the rest of you approach your endings, be they YA or adult or anything else. And am I the only one who doesn't "get"
some endings?

What makes a great ending?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Yep, I'm Going There.

I don't usually talk about that famous vampire saga because mentioning an opinion on it seems to polarize people. There's the raging beast made up of shrieking girls and this annoyed mob made up of critics and jealous guys, and in the middle are people like me. I loves it, but I'm not in love with it, you know?

Anyway, I am in love with the New Moon Soundtrack

Here's how we met: I heard the first notes of "Hearing Damage" when I went to see New Moon, and my audio-self couldn't turn away. I knew I must own the soundtrack as soon as possible.

At home I searched for the track list and saw "Thom Yorke," and I was all, Like Radiohead Thom Yorke?

I received a burned copy yesterday and have been ingesting almost every track ever since.

I've already added Lykke Li's CD Youth Novels (The title alone tells me I'll love it.) to my Christmas list. I love how "Possibility" sounds like what it means. I suppose all songs try to do that, but this one actually succeeds. She perfectly captures the feeling of the realization:

"There’s a possibility--
All that I had was all I'm going to get

So there it is. My stance on the entire Twilight Saga and all that comprises it: decidedly positive. What say you about this massive international franchise?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Found: Insight

I could blog or I could write.

Really, how many words can I write in the 40 minutes I have before I must leave for work? Wouldn't this time be better spent, I don't know, doing something? I'll write when I have copious amounts of silent, unhindered time.

Then I open my quote journal, and find this:

"You will turn over a many a futile new leaf 'til you learn we must all write on scratched-out pages."

Mignon McLaughlin

So I'm writing and wishing you happy travels down your own imperfect road.

Monday, November 23, 2009

From: "Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan"

"Got a blank space where my mind should be."


Thursday, November 19, 2009

From: "Father and Son"

"From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen."

Cat Stevens

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Writer in the Front; Biz Dev in the Back

Occasionally, I get burnt out. I lose interest in reading, writing, and talking about reading and writing. This used to scare me, as I thought I'd lost "it" (it being my muse, my talent, my ambition), but it doesn't anymore. I know "it" will return, so I focus on something tangentially related to writing so I get a break while not actually taking a break.

Lately, I've been attending free online business classes. I am working on a writing career, not a writing hobby, so I have to train the marketing department of Marie, Inc.

Right now I'm learning about strategic planning and execution--or envisioning my ideal future writing career and building a plan that will lead to realizing that vision. I even found a quote worth online course-napping:

"You are either writing the story of the future or you are living inside the story of another. There can be no other possibilities."

Apt for us writers, no?

If you're feeling the burn or fretting the loss of your "it," I recommend visiting SmallBizU, which I found by searching the University of Scranton Small Business Development Center site. As someone who's considered pursuing an MBA, I can say that the classes I found there saved me a few tens of thousands of dollars.

Are you writing the story of your future? Do you train your inner marketing dept.? How? Where? Why?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Time to murder and create"

The voice in my head chides me regularly:
  • Why did you trust her? You should’ve known better.
  • Hey dummy, why don't you keep that thought to yourself.
  • Is this a game of how many was-es and thats you can fit on a page?
The voice is smart, snarky, and quick. When it goes off on me, which is often, I get a taste of all the hurt I’ve laid on others over the years in the name of being funny. I can be a real bitch, but I’m working on it.

In my lifelong quest for inner peace, I’ve been reading a lot of hippie new-age stuff--I read everything--and this one hippie in particular recommends talking to your anger, finding out why it’s so, well, angry.

My anger rolls her eyes when I approach. She taps her foot impatiently and asks, “What now?”

But I walk right up to her and ask, "Whats your damage, Heather?"

The rest is personal, so I won’t go into it. I mean, it’s embarrassing, and even though my anger is kind of a bitch, I don’t want to sell her out. I’m trying to teach her about trusting people and being nicer, especially to me—so I lead by example.

Here she comes again, yapping about my low nano word count.

There will be time, there will be time…” I tell her, and get this—she smiles. She remembers college when we used to skip class to sit around our dorm smoking cigarettes and reading poetry out loud with passionate inflection. She remembers writing 600 poems in the style of "Prufrock" because we couldn’t get that haunting voice out of our head--and how all that useless, horrible writing made us the wordsmith we are today.

These days, me and my anger are tight, yo. Still, she leaned in close this morning and said, “Staring into the distance is cool, but it’s November 17, and I really want to know what you-know-who is going to do about you-know-what. If you don’t start writing that scene, we’ll never know.”

And my anger is totally right, although I’m glad she’s found a nicer way to express herself.

Describe your inner voice. Give it an adjective, and tell me about it in the comments. If it’s a negative adjective, have a conversation with your inner voice. The world has enough mean people. Be nice to yourself.

Monday, November 16, 2009

From: A Certain Slant of Light

"I thought if I could read you what I wrote, you could give me some advice."

He was struck silent, rarely having heard these words from a student's lips. "Of course." He motioned me to sit in the front row. "Is it a poem?" he asked.

"No," I said, letting my bag clunk onto the floor beside the chair as I sat. I cherished his attention so much, but now it was difficult to bear. I kept my gaze on the paper in my hands. "Not exactly."

"A short story?"

"Well, it's short."

Be bold, I told myself. "A Letter from a Muse to Her Poet," I read. He leaned back in his chair. "Dear sir, I was called away and couldn't bring you, but now I feel haunted." He was staring at me, which made my cheeks prickle. "I know that sometimes you felt I was a part of you and that losing me would leave a hole in your heart, but that's not true." I looked up now, knowing the rest by heart. "I liked to pretend I was the core of your talent, but it wasn't me. Everything you do, the ideas you weave, the lines you write, the words you choose, it was always only you." He was still as a statue. "Please forgive me," I said. "I'm sorry that I didn't say goodbye."

A Certain Slant of Light
Laura Whitcomb

P.S., A friend of mine is reading a certain vampire book and of course she loves it, but her main qualm is an interesting one. She gets perturbed when the vampire speaks with incorrect grammar. The other characters' bad grammar doesn't bother her, but as she put it "THAT IS NOT HOW HE SPEAKS! HE WOULD NEVER SAY THAT!"

Secret: long ago, when I only dreamed of being a writer, I convinced myself I did not need to pay attention to all that grammar stuff because "my peeps talked real." I was really limiting myself, I later realized, by not even learning the tools required to write intelligent characters.

Why am I telling you this? Because bibliophiles and grammarphiles will love A Certain Slant of Light because the main characters speak so well. It's their very nature. Plus, OMG, IT'S SO GOOD!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

From: A Room With A View

"Though you fly to Greece, and never see him again, or forget his very name, George will work in your thoughts till you die. It isn't possible to love and to part. You will wish that it was. You can transmute love, ignore it, muddle it, but you can never pull it out of you. I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal."

A Room With A View
E. M. Forster

Answer Key

Did you see what I did there?

I surrounded my post about not having time to do anything with parentheses of days with no posts. I thought it was very meta.

This has been a lesson in post-modernism.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Metaphor Salad: What is this "satisfaction" thing I hear so much about? I can't get none.

Clip art licensed from the Clip Art Gallery on

In college, my friends and I developed a theory about the three main aspects of university life:
  • partying
  • sports
  • classes
Our theory held that every student must choose two of these aspects. Attempting to balance all three led to certain failure. You'd no doubt eventually wake up on a Sunday with a hangover, a morning game, and a test the next day. You'd theoretically go crazy, drop out, and--I don't know--die on Skid Row, or something.

It occurs to me as I try to squeeze in home-cleanliness, responsible pet ownership, career, writing, family (both extended and immediate), socialization, recycling, reading, bill-paying, car upkeep, health, pop-culture junkiness, and a host of other responsibilities--that I can't have it all. I didn’t even mention sleep. Starting Monday, I cut into sleep a little bit further each night, so that by Friday, sleep has grown into a giant beast that hates accomplishment. Sleep pushes away my laptop and doesn't care about my dirty dishes, my unfinished chapter, Project Runway.

I don't even remember sleep from college, but it must have been there. The sleep urge seems to get stronger with age, but even it is not invincible. Certain books challenge sleep, and occasionally I get so into writing that everything else cowers: the gym is a den for the self-obsessed, my house is an important observation site for dust growth, and I don't know what happens to the rest of that stuff. I guess it evaporates.

Anyway, I am noticing a pattern:
  1. I come down with an inspiration-virus, which hits me with the mistaken notion that I can do everything. It's all a matter of following lists and not reading Perez Hilton.
  2. I create a color-coded schedule of tasks: solve world hunger, dust curtain rods, write a poem.
  3. The next few days I try valiantly to do it all, then settle for most. A battle ensues between the inspiration-virus and the growing strength of sleep beast. They fight. Sleep wins.
  4. By Thursday, I am a petri dish of self-hatred. I've completed 50% of my plans; yet I feel like 100% failure. To coddle myself, I read all the Perez I've missed and grow angry as I count typos and realize that most of his posts are a whole lot of nothing described in sensationalistic language intended to make me think it’s important… AND I AM FALLING FOR IT!
  5. I flog myself metaphorically, continue to tread the quickly rising water of my life, cultivate the inspiration-virus, and repeat.
How annoying! College offered less choices--sports, partying, classes--but I learned the mechanics of finite time. Still, I attempt to force 300 pounds of stuffing into a 10-pound bird.

I am Atlas, only I carry the world in a lumbar-supportive backpack. It doesn’t fit, but I squeeze the planets and shove them in, latch the bulging flaps, and reattempt my climb.

Oh wise blog-readers, this is a call to your collective knowledge. The sleep beast is a kitten compared to the unhappiness monster that will overtake me if I continue this pattern. But what stays, what goes? And how to battle the feeling of not doing enough despite doing all I can? Explain, please, how you achieve balance.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

From: "The Black Art"

"A woman who writes feels too much,
those trances and portents!
As if cycles and children and islands
weren't enough; as if mourners and gossips
and vegetables were never enough.
She thinks she can warn the stars.
A writer is essentially a spy.
Dear love, I am that girl."

Man, I love me some Anne Sexton.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Truth about November

Sometimes I am a stickler for the rules. Here are some examples:
  • when I make the rules
  • when the rule is "no butting in line"
  • when rich people (not just money-rich, any kind of rich) break rules at the expense of poor people (not just money-poor, any kind of poor)
NaNoWriMo is not about the rules. I hate the daily word count. Some days, even in November, I am just not feeling it. I hate seeing my short little bar next to the taller bar in the progress graph. I want to tell the graph to bite me.

The truth is that I write 50,000 words a month anyway--even if it isn't November. Between work, emailing, novel-writing, blogging, journaling, list-creating, I probably write more than 50,000 words a month. However, because of all those different outlets, I rarely write 50,000 words on a single project in a month--except at work. For me, NaNoWriMo is an exercise in focus.

Yesterday, someone told me she couldn't believe I was writing a novel in a month. But I am absolutely not doing that. That's ridiculous! I'm writing 50,000 words of a novel in a month--I know I won't have a complete novel on November 30. THE INTERN is revising a novel this month--as is Frankie Diane Mallis. Do you know about NaPiBoWriWe, picture book writers? How 'bout HANOWRIMO? The ways to make this month your own are unlimited.

YA writer Justine Larbalestier says: "Use the month of November to explore. Whatever you wind up with—on paper or in your head—you’ll know more about yourself as a writer."

Have you changed the rules of NaNoWriMo to fit your style or needs? How are you making NaNoWriMo work for you?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Welcome... but shouldn't you be writing?

I'll keep it short so you can get back to meeting your word count.

One of my local region nano buddies directed me to a great article about removing Internet noise so we can actually write. I'm tempted to give up blogging this month, except that I think blogging helps my writing rather than hinders it--but so much else hinders it. Here's my favorite quote from the article:

"The hounds are out this month, guys, and they smell your fear and self-doubt. So, shovelbloggers will be offering you a tantalizing Vegas-style buffet of endless writing “help” that will range from the indispensable to the stupid to the unconscionably poisonous."

Now, here are various ridiculous reasons I've put off writing in the past:
  • I need a new laptop.
  • What’s the point of revising before my thesaurus arrives?
  • I will write when everyone is silent.
  • No one’s writing anything until this house is cleaned.
  • Has anyone seen my muse?
I am giving up excuses for the month of November. What are you giving up to make sure your writing gets done?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Um, What Month is It?

My friend has a sign in her kitchen that says, I'll get my shit together tomorrow (we're a classy bunch). This motto sums up my preparation for NaNoWriMo. Despite the fact that E. Darker, a cool writer girl I met at the NaNoWriMo kickoff party, told me "the trick is to plan ahead," here it is November 2, and my word counter still says:


I planned to have a comprehensive scene list by yesterday, and I sort of do, but it's in my head, out of order, and still a little fuzzy. However, I checked the NaNoWriMo site this morning and saw that my betas are still at zero words too: Proof that betas are good for not only motivation, but also for making me feel better when I flake out.

I'll tell you what I do know. My main character has an awesome family. I have this picture of them, and I can't wait to see how they interact. Once I post this blog, I'm going to go write some scenes with the fam and make my pictures of them even clearer.

As you can see, I'm sort of a pantser in planner's clothing. I make big plans. I break big plans. I somehow emerge with a finished manuscript. I have no idea how it happens.

What about you? Do you plan ahead for your writing? Are you unaware how your magic manuscript gets completed? Got any tips to amp up my word production?