Thursday, June 28, 2012

In Which the Author, Tired of Bulletin Boards, Gets Crafty

So, a few chapters into my current revision, I realized that the necessary new structure was clear enough to me now that instead of just fumbling around with my pages, I could chart it all out on index cards. I did so, on my office floor... then realized that I didn't actually want to pick them up. I wanted to be able to see them just like that, spread out in order, my overall structure plan, the entire time I'm revising. But I can't really keep them in the middle of my office floor. It creates navigational challenges. AND, I'm sick to death of buying and hanging up bulletin boards. I'm always working on more than one project at once, and I already have SO MANY filled-to-capacity bulletin boards in my office. What I really need is an enormous magnetic wall, but since those can be tricky to come by, instead, I assembled: a skinny 36-inch-long aluminum tube and similarly-dimensioned wooden dowel (procured from my local hardware store); some fabric and quilting pins (procured from the EXTREMELY ADORABLE fabric/yarn store at Lee Street and Broadway near Central Square, Gather Here -- go there! Take classes!); and a big ratty pile of twine (of mysterious and forgotten origin).

I didn't end up using the wooden dowel, so ignore that. But don't ignore the fabric. The fabric was super cute!

Anyway. So, first I threaded the twine through the aluminum tube. BY THE WAY, I feel it is my duty to inform you, in case you've never tried to run a thick piece of twine through a narrow, 36-inch-long aluminum tube, that it's nearly impossible to do so without resorting to some sort of trickery. I recommend you first thread a needle with lightweight thread and drop that through. Then tie the end of your thread to the beginning of your twine and use the thread to pull the twine through.

There now. I have just taught you how to get twine through a narrow tube. Don't anyone ever intimate to me that I don't run a full-service blog here.

Anyway. Slap the top edge of the fabric over the aluminum tube, pin or stitch it in place, tie a knot in your twine, hang the damn thing on your wall, then use the quilting pins to pin your cards in place.

Voila! It's cute! It's enormous! It's colorful! It's reusable! It renders one with a deep sense of accomplishment! (Also, it's (unexpectedly) much easier to write on/add to the cards than it would be were they tacked or magneted to a bulletin board.)

*looks around for the next project that will allow me to procrastinate actually having to revise*

Monday, June 25, 2012

"Why must it be a truthiness universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of an existence must be in want of a mate?"

A friend wrote that delightful, Pride-&-Prejudice-referential question to me in a recent e-mail. She was frustrated with the assumption in our society that single people are incomplete. Are in search of another person. Are waiting. Have failed in some way. Have been unlucky. Have all kinds of happiness in their future, as long as they're patient and never give up hope.

Today, I would just like to point out quietly -- because hardly anyone ever does, and maybe it would be useful for more people to talk about it -- that while there are indeed many single people who are in search of a mate, there are also many single people who aren't in search of anything. Who've chosen to be single. Who have, in fact, found the secret to their own happiness. Maybe they have other dreams that take precedence, other priorities and passions. Maybe they love to be alone, cherish other kinds of relationships, relish in the freedom of being single. People are different. Announcement: People are different.

Here is my promise: I promise that if I ever meet you and you tell me you're single, I will not assume that you're open to being set up with one of my friends; I will not make a sad face and tell you never to give up hope; I will not assume, if I see you talking to another single person, that you're hitting on them; and I will not make mental generalizations about the richness of your life.

That is all.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

An Interview, Plus Views of and from Manhattan

Award-winning fantasy author Helen Lowe sent me a bunch of great questions all the way from New Zealand, and I answered them.  They're now up on her blog.  Thank you so much, Helen!  Writers always ask the best questions (and never ask the worst ones ^_^). Now I need to go put Helen's books on hold.

Also -- here are some photos from my BEA week.

View from the Top of the Standard (Washington and 13th) looking south to downtown.

From the Top of the Standard looking west (sort of) across the Hudson River to the lovely shores of New Jersey.

Northish view from one the bathroom stalls at the Top of the Standard.  V. surprising bathroom stalls.

Eastish view from the Top of the Standard...

I enjoyed this little walkway with glass floor and glass banister.  I like vertiginous stuff.

On a panel (I am on the right) with (l-r) Naomi Novik, N.K. Jemisin, and Catherynne Valente at the NYPL.

Okay listen, I went to the Met and took a thousand pictures, but I'm going to be nice and only show you two.
First, the flags in my favorite room, the knights-in-armor room.

Second, in the musical instrument department, which has the best
views of the knights-in-armor room (see the colorful flags in the
reflected glass?), this funny bell guy.

In the American Museum of Natural History (where I needed to do some fact-checking) I beheld a scene of terror.

I liked this poem in my subway train.

Murals seen while walking on the High Line. The best new way to get from points
between Gansevoort Street and 30th-something Street on the West Side.

And check out that sky!

Central Park -- nice day for a ballgame.

Finally... my hotel was in Times Square.  I lived in NY for several years and have visited
the city countless times, but never have I spent as much time in Times Square (or "the hell
portal," as a NY friend calls it) as I did during BEA. Being on the ground was a bit intense.
I have a strategy that involves pretending I'm the only person there, and looking not at
people but at the spaces between people; it's oddly calming. Try it.

OTOH, being above the ground, in my hotel room, looking down, was just fine.
These last few pics, including the one above, are from my hotel room, looking down.

And looking up.

And finally, looking west, over 46th Street, at a pretty sunset.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Some Tips if You're Revising

(Chinese cover of Graceling, published by Yongzheng --->)

Have a manuscript that isn't working? Might these suggestions help?

1. Divide it into its smallest components.
Print out your manuscript. Sit down with a big pile of paper clips. Then, start pulling the manuscript apart and dividing/clipping it by scene. (Is your beginning more of a mess than your end? If so, maybe start from the back and work to the front.) When I do this, I jot a little explanation in the upper left-hand corner of each scene, so that I can flip through my big pile of clipped pages and get a quick sense of what each section is about. Simultaneously, I work with a pile of index cards, jotting down each scene on an individual index card as well, so that I have an even smaller, more mobile way of flipping through my story. The idea here is to give yourself an easier way to see both the forest and the trees. Forest: if you divide your manuscript into scenes, suddenly it's easier to examine the structure and see how it's all fitting together; it's also easier to experiment with changing the order of things. Trees: when you've isolated a scene from the rest of the manuscript, it becomes easier to determine what purpose that scene serves, whether parts of it are unnecessary, whether it's missing something, whether the scene has any point whatsoever.

2. Play devil's advocate with your characters and plot.
What are the absolutely most essential characteristics of your characters? What are the critically important aspects of your plot? In other words, what are the things about your story that you have absolutely no intention of changing? Well, take each of those things and ask yourself, What if that weren't true? What if Charlotte the spider doesn't know how to read or write -- where does this leave Wilbur, and how will it change the reader's opinion of Charlotte? What if Leia becomes the Jedi instead of Luke -- what else in the story will change as a consequence? What if Tim Riggins from Friday Night Lights were ugly, instead of what he is -- how would this impact every other part of his life, not to mention the viewer's connection with him? Or, take Tami Taylor out of the show. What's left? My point is, don't just be pushing at the parts of your story you intend to change. Push at the parts it's never occurred to you to change, too, and push at the parts it would kill you to change. It doesn't mean you actually have to end up changing them; it's just an exercise. It will help remind you of the reasons why you're writing the story in the first place; it will show you your story's bones; it will challenge you to prove to yourself that the heart and soul of your story rings true.

3. As you begin to rewrite, focus on plot and character and forget about The Greater Meaning.
I've been running into some snafus with my current revision, because in addition to trying to sort out the appropriate plot structure and how it affects character development, I've been thinking a lot about themes. What are the themes of this book? What does it all mean? This can be a death trap for your manuscript, seriously. It's possible to get trapped in a vortex of themes, it's possible for your themes to start being the boss of your revision, and what happens then is that the believability of your characters and the oomph of your plot begin to suffer. Forget about what the book means. Think about plot and character; use your plot to tell a compelling tale; use your plot to reveal your characters; use your plot to change your characters. I promise that if you do this, themes will arise. Might they be messy? Yes, they might, but (I hate to tell you this, but) this will probably not be your final revision. Once your characters and plot are carrying this manuscript, you can go back to poke and prod a little bit at the other stuff, including stuff having to do with themes.

4. Remember that this feeling will pass.
Writing is going to create a lot of uncomfortable feelings for you. In my experience, one of the most uncomfortable feelings is, "I can't figure out how to fix this." I think one of the reasons that's so uncomfortable is that it's only the tiniest step away from, "I will never figure out how to fix this." But you will. If you keep facing it, then getting distance, then facing it, then getting distance, then facing it again, you'll figure it out. This unsettled feeling will not last forever. I promise.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Good Is The Enemy of Great

It's raining here today in Cambridge. I'm listening to DMX's "Lord Give Me a Sign;" José González's "Storm;" and The Cinematic Orchestra's "To Build a Home."

I wonder if there are any TV fans out there so fanatical that you can tell from these songs (and maybe from my subject heading) what I've been watching?

I've been watching Friday Night Lights. I've fallen kind of hard for this show, for all these people, and I could blather about it for some time, but this post is about something else. In an episode I watched last night (S2E7), Julie's (kinda slimy, but anyway) English teacher told her that when it comes to writing, "Good is the enemy of great."

I feel like this morning, at least for these few minutes, I have a grasp on one of the things we need to do if we want to plow past good and get to great. It has to do with acknowledging the possibility of failure. I'm working on some revisions right now. I feel like there's a decent chance I can beat this new book into something good, and I've been trying to push away the voices of self-doubt. But this morning, it occurred to me that by pushing those voices away, I'm closing myself up. If I want this book to be better than good, if I want it to be great, I need to open myself. I need to acknowledge that it could be a huge flop. I need to open my heart and let the possibility -- even the likelihood -- of failure in. I need to let failure sit close to me while I'm writing; I need to lean into it. Never forgetting about failure -- but never giving up to it, either, always trying as hard as I can -- maybe I can achieve something great.

Maybe this is psychobabble and y'all are going to revoke my right to give writing advice, or even say things... but you do whatever you need to do. My head is clear now. Time to get to work.

(NY pictures coming soon!)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Jay Smooth on What Isn't a Double Standard

I love what Jay Smooth has to say about language, communication, the "N-word," our society's rules about the use of that word, what a double standard is, and what a double standard isn't. Thanks to Jay Smooth for seeing the complications and expressing them well -- as he always does.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Team

On the left is my stupendous agent, Faye Bender. On the right is my stupendous editor, Kathy Dawson. We are at the Penguin Young Readers Group cocktail party at the Top of the Standard, where the views are amazing. Hopefully I'll have time to put together a little post of New York views. It was a great party!