26 November 2012

Poor Little Ideas

I hope everyone had a lovely, lovely Thanksgiving.

If yours was like mine, it was filled with too much food, a couple of family get-togethers, and no actual work.  I guess that’s one of the benefits of having family close by during the holidays.

I’ve been mulling over a statement by Brandon Sanderson lately.  I’ll share it with you and then tell you my thoughts on it, and then if you feel so inclined you share with the rest of us.

Mr. Sanderson says: “A bad idea written well will almost always be superior to a good idea written poorly.”

I figure he knows what he’s talking about, considering his books are brilliant and he’s a writing professor at a university and all.

It’s difficult for me to even think of a book I’ve read that was a bad idea written well.  I don’t think I can even think of a book that was a truly bad idea.  There are no bad ideas, just as there are no stupid questions.   (Didn’t you ever hear that in school?)  There are only ideas I, myself, don’t like.  So, here’s what I thought of that fit in that category:  

“The Messenger” by Markus Zusak.  Summed up, the book is about a no-account young man, about nineteen, who is going nowhere, doing nothing, and only interested in footy and his best friend, who is a girl he happens to love.  Suddenly, he begins getting messages, telling him what he should do.  Sometimes the messages leave the doing up to him.  He begins doing these things.  SPOILER ALERT It turns out at the end, that Mr. Zusak drops the fourth wall at the end of the book and let’s us know that he was the one sending the messages just so he could tell the story.  

I really didn’t care for the surprise at the end.  It wasn’t someone sending our young man messages, it was all a plot twist.  Blech.

But the writing.  Ah, the writing!  I felt like I’d meditated my way to nirvana, if there could be a lot of cussing in such a place.  Every line in that book was brilliant.  Genius.  Beautiful.  I would read it again just to get into nirvana a second time.

As for the other end of the spectrum, there is story after story I could list where the idea was good, but the writing detracted from it.  I won’t give examples of this because one never knows who is reading, and I’m sure my meanness would get back to someone, somehow.  Suffice it to say, I know some.  You probably do too.  (P.S. I don’t count what I said about “The Messenger” as being mean because I wasn’t insulting the man’s skill.  He’s got skills!  I was disagreeing with his idea.  Big difference.)

Oftentimes, like with Louis L’Amour, the storyteller is a good enough writer to make the writing invisible and the story looms large in our minds.  Other times, like with Charles Dickens, his writing gets out of the way long enough for a story to be compelling.  

So, the big question a lot of people like to ask is: where do you get your ideas?  But I would like to submit this alternative (Lots of colons in use today):  How do you get your ideas to tell a well-written story?

19 November 2012

Poetry Pals

I am not a poet.

Let me just get that out there first off.  

But I occasionally write poems.  I used to write them regularly, but then I discovered this thing called fiction and I haven’t been as versey since.  I’ve let my poetry pals go the way of memory.

I was thinking of my old friends that sit in a dusty Moleskine next to my out-of-season clothes and got them down to look over them.  Maybe dust off my innermost thoughts from years past.  After all, my innermost thoughts are exactly what I’ve contained in that battered notebook.

I found a sampling as I re-lived the joys and pains these friends inspire that I thought I could and would share.  Don't judge me because my poetry doesn't rhyme.  That's not the point.  It doesn’t seem too personal, and yet, it sums up so much about me.  I wrote it 15 December 2002.


I write because I have nowhere to go.
I write to better myself.
I write to express my thoughts.
I write to expose truth.
I write when I need a friend.
I write to be a friend.
I write in joy, pain, sadness, peace.
I write from the depths of my soul
The words of my heart.

Why do you write?  Or if you're not a writer, why do you create?

13 November 2012

First Lines and Titles

Has anyone read the first page of a book and known immediately that you were going to love it?  Or perhaps the reverse is true, that you read the first page and put it down because it’s not what you wanted it to be.

So many authors agonize over that all-important first sentence.  It has to grip the reader and hold on tight, commanding them to read more while giving them enough information to pull them in voluntarily.  

I thought it might be fun to list first lines from a few books.

“She scowled at her glass of orange juice.”  The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

“If it had not rained on a certain May morning Valancy Stirling’s whole life would have been entirely different.”  The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

“When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow.”  To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

“I didn’t know how long I had been in the king’s prison.”  The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way -- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”  A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens   (Perhaps one of the longest first sentences in all of literature, and certainly a run on sentence.  But oh, oh, so stirring.)

“There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.”  Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”  Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

“She was born Anidori-Kiladra Talianna Isilee, Crown Princess of Kildenree, and she did not open her eyes for three days.”  The Goose Girl by Shannon Hale 

If you’re like me, there are a few standouts among the above list.  A few that feel to my brain the way brownies taste on the tongue.  That jumbo-sized sentence by Dickens honestly does something to me.  It’s magic.  And I think Jane Austen wrote the most recognizable first sentence.  Is there any English speaking person that hasn’t heard it?

There seems to be two camps when it comes to first lines.  At least, in the tiny sampling I’ve done here.  Some authors seem to want to punch out that first line, a quick jab to the jaw, just to get your attention and push you on to reading the second sentence before you realize you’re doing it.

The other camp seems to relish those first words, lingering on tongue and mind like a delectable cheese, wanting you to find as much fulfillment in those opening lines as they found in writing them.

I find I much admire the second camp and wish I could be one of their number.  They are the kind who take great care in the selecting and feeding of words for their stories.  They are the kind that smack my gob and keep me coming back for more smacks.  (I had a sudden vision of “Kung Fu Panda” saying “Wooaaaaah!”  Like his mind had just been blown.  That’s me.)

I understand the first camp quite a bit because it seems they are anxious to get into the meat, to the middle of the story, to take you on a journey.  That’s how I feel as I start reading.  I’m ready for adventure, for romance, for angst, for whatever is in store for me, and I’m ready now.  So, jump in.

I don’t know if anyone else is interested in this, or if it’s just me.  (Hello?  Hello?  I’m all alone?  Oh.  It’s so cold.  So.  Cold.)

05 November 2012

Welcome to the Meeting

On our agenda for this post, we have three items to discuss.

First:  Last week, I had my last book signing in a grocery store.  For this book.  Unless they ask me again.

When I expressed my embarrassment to a former classmate at selling my work at the end of the bread aisle, she said she thought it was wonderful.  She said she was impressed.  After she left I sat back in my eye-level chair and thought.

No one had said anything to me about how weird it was to see an author next to the on-sale-today chocolate milk.  Anyone who stopped to talk, or even spoke to me in passing, seemed genuinely congratulatory.  So, evidence suggests that I was the only one who cared that I was selling a book in a grocery store.  It was my own insecurities causing my embarrassment.

Another way of saying it:  I was embarrassing myself.

Isn’t that just typical.

Item two:  I’m gearing myself up to submit another manuscript for publication.  My last attempt at this was a big, fat failure, so I admit to being a little anxious about the response.  From what I gather, being an author is just begging for experiences such as these.  So, if you want to write, welcome to the rejection table.

Lastly:  Big news.  Wonderful news.  News that has been too long in coming.  (No, I’m not pregnant, nor do I have any further books to announce at this time.  Sorry to get your hopes up.)  My husband got a job. 

Wait.  Let me say that again with an exclamation point.

My husband got a job!

Paychecks are wonderful things.  I could get used to them.

Meeting adjourned until next time.  Thank you for attending.