Writing Away And A Book Cover

This is just to say that I’ve been working away on my novel and my lecture and cooking a ton of food from scratch so I don’t have as much time right now to blog about anything particularly interesting. My advisor really loves the new third person I’m playing with, which I’m very pleased about, and she wants me to keep moving forward in the story for now, so that’s what I’m doing. We need to have 75 pages of our creative thesis to graduate and right now I have about 95 pages (I am trying to get through the whole draft for my own sinister purposes). My goal is to get to 30,000 words by the end of the third packet. We’ll see how that goes. It feels really good to move forward at this point because it gives me a glimpse of the bigger picture of the story, the structure, as it were, instead of only writing and revising in smaller chunks. I’m trying to just speed through right now to get the words down (because it is so tempting to stop and edit every single word) and then I’ll go back and to get those same words to suck less, lol.

I really need to spend some time on my lecture, too. I’m toying with the idea of using powerpoint and it’s been ages since I’ve even looked at powerpoint, so I think some brushing up is in order. I have a rough draft/outline of my lecture written out, but I’d really like to get a more final version done. I’m going to be using a lot of exercise examples, too, so I’ve got to write those out and then hope my lecture doesn’t end up being two hours long 😉

Anyway, that’s all for now. But before I go I just wanted to show you all the official cover for my dad’s new short story collection coming out through Tagus Press this fall. Doesn’t it look lovely?

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Experiments in Point of View

Okay, so I know I’ve been very bad and skipped another week of posting, but I’ve been swamped with rewriting everything (again) after getting some awesome feedback from my advisor (and a few other people). I haven’t even had a chance to work on my lecture yet and my next packet is due a week from today so there has been a lot of panicking. But I didn’t really think I could get away with skipping two weeks in a row, so here I am!

I’m trying an experiment this time around in my rewrites. I’m writing everything in third person instead of first. Why? Because I was curious to see if it might help me get a better grasp of my characters, especially my protagonist. I know that sounds a little strange. It seems like the usual advice is to use first person as a way to get more deeply inside the head of one’s protagonist, but the difficulty there, I think, is that it can be hard to capture a character’s voice when you’re not really sure who that character is. And one thing I like about third person is that it lets me see that character from the outside as well as the inside. Lately I’ve been feeling so locked inside my protagonist’s head that I’m stumbling my way through the story like a blind person. I don’t know if that makes any sense. Anyway, I thought, why not? Let’s try it in third and see what happens and honestly the result has really startled me.

I’d forgotten how much I love third person. I won’t even go into how much I love omniscient because I’m trying to steer clear of that POV for this story. I haven’t yet figured out how to write an omniscient voice that really works and I don’t want to make this harder than it already is. But third person in general is a POV that I feel comfortable in. It’s familiar and welcoming, like an old friend. I grew up reading mostly varying degrees of third person because I read so much middle grade fantasy as a kid and it’s been odd to see how much first person has infiltrated the current YA market. Not that there’s anything wrong with first person, but, my god, it is everywhere. It is inescapable! And sometimes I really do want to escape from it, especially when all those first person teen voices start to blend into one voice.

Of course, I’m not entirely sure what I have now works. I’m not sure the story’s actually better in third than it was in first. But it feels so much more like a story! I don’t know how to explain that. It feels like a real world with people and places I as the narrator can describe, instead of constantly being tangled up in the inner workings of my protagonist’s mind, especially when I’m not even sure half the time of who my protagonist really is. Maybe third person is a way for me to tell myself the story so that I can then translate it for other people 🙂

The irony of all this is that the story didn’t start in first person originally. This whole novel started as a messy short story/sketch of a novel that was written in a pretty distant third person. I wrote it a few years ago and realized it really had to be a novel, that it was way too complicated for a short story. And when I decided to make that transition in my second semester at VCFA (I can’t believe I’ve been working on this for a year!) I thought it would be a good opportunity to practice first person. After all, I never wrote in first person and I came to VCFA to learn and try new things, and so many YA books were written in first, and my protagonist was a writer so I thought I could make the voice lyrical and poetic without sounding forced, and anyway I was having such a difficult time writing third in the novel I worked on first semester. So I tried it and it was fun and I do think I learned a lot. I think the third person I’m writing now is so much more solid than what I was writing first semester. I’m much more able to get into my protagonist’s mind with all that first person under my belt, but maybe this story just wasn’t meant to stay in that POV.

It reminds me of something Tim Wynne-Jones said to me when I was working on my critical thesis last semester. I was writing about intrusive narrators and I kept talking about narrators as if the authors had chosen them out of a box. Like, hey, I’m writing a silly MG novel about a governess. I’ll just pick a voice that reflects the theme I’m writing about and be done with it. But Tim pointed out that a narrator is the voice of a story and that implies something heard by the author. Many of us when we start writing hear that voice and write accordingly. It isn’t necessarily a cerebral, intellectual thing. It’s instinctual. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read an interview with an author writing in first person who says they clearly heard the character’s voice in their head begging them to write their story. I never had that with this project. The voice I heard when I was first writing that short story was the traditional once upon a time, fairy tale voice. I’ve only heard the voice of a story in first person a few times. So maybe there’s something to that. Maybe I ought to just stick with my gut instincts. Now I just have to wait and see what my advisor thinks 🙂

My VCFA Lecture: Freewriting and Characterization

So the graduating class at VCFA have to give a lecture in their final residency. Sometimes people use their critical thesis as a basis for their lecture, but I’m choosing to do something completely different. I’m going to be doing a lecture on characterization, more specifically, on using freewriting to get to know one’s characters.

What do I mean by freewriting? Lots of different things. You might interview your characters, for example, or write about your protagonist from the perspective of a secondary character. You might describe the contents of their wardrobe, their refrigerator, or their trash. If you have a character who writes songs or poems, why not try writing a few examples of something they’ve written? There are so many possibilities here, but the point is always to learn more about your characters.

I have a lot of trouble figuring my characters out in general (especially my protagonists), which is why I picked this topic. And while I don’t think everyone needs to chain themselves to their desks right now and do all these exercises or their story/novel will fail miserably, I do think they can be useful tools when you’re getting started or feeling stuck. I think the better we know our characters the less floundering we are likely to do and god knows I have done a lot of floundering.

Anyway, if anyone reading this has any suggestions for freewriting exercises I would greatly appreciate all the help I can get. What do you do to get to know your characters?

In Which I Reveal My Not So Secret Secret Plan

So I thought now would be a good time to talk about what I’m doing this semester, besides the critical thesis. If all goes as planned I am going to write an entire first draft of my novel by the end of the semester. The goal is 15,000 words every month through December.

Current WIP word count: 15,029 words!

I can’t believe I’ve managed to get this much done in one month. Basically what I did was work on my thesis until the 15th (the due date) and the second half of August I tried to write at least two single spaced pages a day. Now that I met my word count goal I’m going back to working on the second draft of my thesis and then I’ll have to write another 15,000 words of my novel by the end of September.

So far it’s proving to be a pretty amazing/helpful journey. I spent so much time last semester trying to figure out what I was writing, what this story is really about, and because I’m a perfectionist I spent a lot of time revising the first fifty pages. After workshopping the beginning this summer at residency I realized there was so much I was ignoring–backstory, character motivations, the rules of the fantasy elements/magic, etc–that I decided to step back and dig deep into these issues. I haven’t figured out everything yet, but I feel much closer and I’m really excited about what I’ve got. Unfortunately, it does mean I’m mostly rewriting everything.

Anyway, sitting down and just writing out the story without worrying about making everything pretty, or getting every detail exactly right, is so freeing. I have such a hard time looking at the big picture with my stories. I love to focus on the intricate details, ie., all the pretty words. Writing out large chunks at a time gives me more of a sense of the arc, of pacing, of who my characters really are outside the pretty words. In other words, I feel like I am figuring shit out. And I am well pleased. Hell, I’m even letting my characters TALK to one another. A minor miracle! They have conversations. They interact. They do things!

My current advisor once told me in my first workshop at VCFA that when we are writing a rough draft we are telling ourselves the story. That’s what I’m trying to give myself permission to do. What’s nice about this attitude is that I know that if there is too much backstory in the beginning, if I give away too many secrets or mysteries too soon, I can always go back and move things around. It’s not static. And once I have the whole story I can look at the whole arc and see what needs to change, and only at the very, very end focus on all the pretty words 🙂

My Critical Thesis and a New Poem!

Whew! I finally finished the rough draft of my critical thesis. Now I can breathe again. I have never written a paper this long (35 pages! Eek!) and I’m still a bit shocked I managed to get through it all. It was…challenging. I won’t lie, but it helps to be writing about something I love: Omniscient Narrators. Many of my favorite middle grade books feature an omniscient narrator, and the more intrusive the better, in my opinion, but there’s a fair amount of animosity towards omniscient narration nowadays. So I wanted to explore the various ways in which intrusive narrators can actually pull a reader into a story instead of pulling them out (as many who argue against omniscient narrators claim).

And, of course, I got to read some awesome books like Maryrose Wood’s The Mysterious Howling and Pseudonymous Bosch’s The Name of this Book is Secret. I would have happily read all of Lemony Snicket, but sadly there wasn’t time. And I got to include some books I had already read that I absolutely adored like Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and Adam Gidwitz’s A Tale Dark and Grimm.

After struggling through most of my school days writing papers in literature classes it was wonderful to write from the perspective of a writer and not a literary critic. And after years of convincing myself I couldn’t write papers it’s pretty awesome to say I wrote 35 pages that are mostly coherent. So hurray! Now I’m going to give myself a little break for a few days and go back to my novel.

Last, but not least, I’ve been terribly remiss about posting the link to my poem Said the Satyr to the Wood Nymph that was published in the Summer edition of Goblin Fruit! Hurray again! You can even hear me read it aloud, if you so wish.

http://www.goblinfruit.net/2011/summer/poems/?poem=satyrtowoodnymph

I’m so excited to be in yet another issue and with such wonderful company 🙂 And I’m sorry it took me so long to post this. Anyway, if you haven’t already, you should check out the whole issue. You won’t regret it.

Goodbye Semester 2!

Whew, so it’s been a crazy few months, but I turned in my last packet for the semester on Thursday and sent in my end of semester evaluations yesterday so I am all done at last! It’s kind of amazing to me that I survived this semester with all the ups and downs health-wise, but I seem to have managed okay. Now I get to catch up on the rest of my life, lol. Can I also say how terrifying it is to only have a year left? One year and then I’m out on my own again, trying to find employment! Eek!

Next semester is critical thesis time so I’m doing a lot of brainstorming about what I might want to do. I’d like to do something focused more on middle grade books since I’ve been reading so much YA recently. So I’m thinking of doing something on omniscient narrators in middle grade fiction. I love omniscient narrators. Let’s hope I love writing a thirty page essay about them.

I’m also trying to figure out what to do with the very messy twelve chapters I have of my new YA novel. Do I forge ahead with the draft? Do I revise to save the sanity of my next advisor? Do I take a break from writing for a month because, hey, how else am I ever going to get some time to relax? Do I work on something entirely different like the new short story idea tossing around in my head? Honestly, I do not know, and by the time I figure it out it will probably be time for the summer residency.

In completely unrelated news, I’m trying to figure out what do with this livejournal, what I want it to be, etc. I’m hoping that if I set goals like a post a week I’ll actually show up more often instead of letting things languish. But I’m also trying to figure out what I want to talk about. I’m thinking more writing related stuff and less private stuff? But I do want to keep talking about my health issues to some extent in the hope that it will help anyone who stumbles across this part of the interwebs who also happens to have a less than functional body. Such a difficult balance.

For now, I guess, I will focus on cleaning my moldering gingerbread house before it collapses around my ears in dismay. Or before it decides to move to somewhere warm without me.

VCFA and Novels of Epic Length

I believe that I owe you all a livejournal post. Or ten. So much has been happening around here I’m not sure where to start, but I’ve been meaning to talk about my experience at Vermont College of Fine Arts so I guess I’ll start there.

My first residency was in July and I loved it. On the flight there I was reading Mistwood and the woman sitting next to me turned to me and said, "I’ve got that book, too." I said, "really?" And somewhere in the back of my mind thought: I wonder if she’s going to VCFA. Then I saw she was reading Bones of Faerie. But being the wee shy girl that I am, I didn’t ask her if she was also a student. When I got to the airport I took a shuttle and who should be in the shuttle with me? Franny Billingsley!!! The author of that wonderful book I was raving about with the seal maiden and the redheaded lad! I tried to tell her how much I loved her book, but I was nervous and am not sure I gave her a clear idea of just how much I enjoyed it. Ah well. We had an awesome conversation about writing and the program on the trip to Montpelier because it was her first residency as a faculty member. Then when we got to the dorms who should get out of a cab at the very same time? The woman from the plane. Apparently, she had been wondering about me, too. What a small world we all live in. It turns out she loves fantasy novels and is writing a very funny, clever one herself 🙂

I can’t go into detail about everything that happened for those twelve days because it felt like a lifetime crammed into about two weeks, but I can say it was amazing. I’ve never been surrounded by so many people who know and love the same books that I do, and who love to write and take the craft of writing seriously. I felt like I was part of a wonderful, caring community of writers from all over the country. There were people there just beginning their writing journey and others who have already published fifty books, but they wanted to learn more and that’s what makes VCFA stand out. There’s no competition, no popularity contest, no pushing people to write blockbusters and earn wads of cash. It’s about learning how to write well and when I was there I felt like I was part of something bigger and more important than myself.

I learned so much. I suspect it will take a long time to unpack and process everything I learned and that was only my first residency. There are, I think, about thirty one people in my class and we all went into the program feeling fairly confident, but when we had been there just a few days we realized, each of us, that there was so much we hadn’t thought about (in terms of writing) before. It was a fascinating change to watch, because I could see everyone around me opening up to new ideas and possibilities.

I think the highlight of the experience for me was fantasy day (Holly Black’s lecture on constructing a magic system in fantasy was amazing) and the auction. There were some ARCs of some very talked about books being auctioned off and there were real writers and agents there. I felt like a real writer myself. An equal. Maybe that’s odd, because I’m certainly not a real author. Yet. But, I guess, I realized that we’re all just people and I wanted to be a part of that community so much. It felt so right. Like coming home. I tried to win a copy of The Replacement, but alas… I did, however, peek at the first page and my god! I was blown away. I’m a little leery of hype since books like Twilight get so hyped up, but I suspect I am going to love that book.

BUT my favorite experience by far was seeing and hearing MT Anderson read from his latest Pals In Peril book set in darkest Delaware. OMG! I have not laughed that hard in a long time. The man is a genius. And he sang for us. Check it out:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sn5hRfCA-mU&feature=related

In summation, I am so glad I applied to this school. I loved everyone I met and know I’m going to have some awesome lifelong friends. I feel like my life is moving forward. One of the graduating students asked me at one point if I was working or if I was a full time writer. I stammered a bit, saying that I was currently unemployed and she said something like, "Well, then you’re a full time writer." I wanted to hug her.

I’ll try to post soon with an update about the novel and the numerous revelations I have had about it both during and after the residency, but this is getting long, so boa noite!