Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Gobi Desert

About 150 pages into her last novel, The Buccaneers, Edith Wharton wrote in her diary,
What is writing a novel like?
1. The beginning: A ride through a spring wood
2. The middle: the Gobi desert
3. The end: A night with a lover
I am now in the Gobi desert.
Honey, I'm camped there with you, and I think the camel ran off.

One plus to meeting tête-a-tête with Dream Agent at RWA National is the immediate feedback on the current projects. One minus is the conversation in all its nonverbal communicative glory...the facial expressions that disabuse you of any hopeful notion you might have concocted from an email exchange or even a phone call. That, alas, was the result. Instead of WIP 1, we're shifting to WIP 2...the one that's stranded in the Gobi sans camel. Urk.

WIP 2, aka "the baseball book," died the death before the end of my second go-round with NaNoWriMo. Great premise, not enough steam. Rereading said WIP during the train ride home, I realized that it suffered from several flaws: the backstory dump. The excessive navel gazing (all women's fiction has a degree of navel gazing, but...). The trips to nowhere. The pointless scenes.

Thankfully, the idea engine is slowly cranking to life. The endless construction project next door to Daddy's house gave me an idea for my foil character. I was able to extend a surprise metaphor and make it work better. The characters are becoming rounder and less cardboard. Okay, so I have to rewrite the whole thing. It can't get sold if I don't, right?

Sadly, Wharton never finished The Buccaneers--she died when she was about 3/5 of the way through. Let's hope the same won't be true for me.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ten Favorite Sounds

  1. The wind in tall North Carolina pines
  2. Rain on a tin roof
  3. Dixieland jazz
  4. Bagpipes. Seriously. Best if you're actually in the Scottish Highlands.
  5. "I'm home."
  6. Night sounds: tree frogs, cicadas, owls
  7. Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring and Vince Guaraldi's "Linus and Lucy"
  8. That groany-snuffly sound your dog makes when you scratch him just so under the ear
  9. My children's laughter
  10. My husband's giggle when he's really tickled about something

Monday, July 27, 2009

Reading Lists: Another 100 Greatest?

Not to be outdone by their rivals at Time (see my post on their list here), the good folks at Newsweek have compiled what they call their "meta-list" of the Top 100 Books, using rankings from lists as diverse as the New York Public Library System, the Modern Library, and Oprah to determine their choices. This list was interesting because it included nonfiction, poetry, and drama in addition to novels. There are some quirks: all the Shakespeare selections are grouped together, they seem to love ancient history (Thucydides, Herodotus, Homer, etc.) but not Greek drama (Oedipus? The Orestia Trilogy? Hello??), and some children's books pop up as well. It's also startling for its omissions: No Dickens? I'm not a fan, but what's up with that?? Moby Dick didn't make the list (no big loss, IMHO), but what's puzzling is the two Toni Morrisons and an Alice Walker, but no Their Eyes Were Watching God--the novel that paved the way for them both. Plus, there are a couple of titles I've never even heard of, so clearly I'm not swimming in rarefied Ivy League circles. Whatever. Faulkner's the top-rated American writer, so I'm happy. Here's the list. I've boldfaced the titles I've read.
  1. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
  2. 1984 - George Orwell
  3. Ulysses - James Joyce
  4. Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
  5. The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner
  6. Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison
  7. To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf
  8. The Iliad and The Odyssey - Homer
  9. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
  10. Divine Comedy - Dante Alighieri
  11. The Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer (most of them)
  12. Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift
  13. Middlemarch - George Eliot
  14. Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
  15. The Catcher in the Rye - J. D. Salinger
  16. Gone with the Wind - Margaret Mitchell
  17. One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  18. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald
  19. Catch-22 - Joseph Heller (I've tried, but I cannot finish this book)
  20. Beloved - Toni Morrison
  21. The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
  22. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
  23. Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
  24. Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
  25. Native Son - Richard Wright
  26. Democracy in America - Alexis de Tocqueville
  27. On the Origin of Species - Charles Darwin
  28. The Histories - Herodotus
  29. The Social Contract - Jean-Jacques Rousseau
  30. Das Kapital - Karl Marx
  31. The Prince - Niccolo Machiavelli
  32. Confessions - St. Augustine
  33. Leviathan - Thomas Hobbes
  34. The History of the Peloponnesian War - Thucydides
  35. The Lord of the Rings - J. R. R. Tolkien
  36. Winnie-the-Pooh - A. A. Milne
  37. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C. S. Lewis
  38. A Passage to India - E. M. Forster
  39. On the Road - Jack Kerouac
  40. To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
  41. The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version (most of it)
  42. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
  43. Light in August - William Faulkner
  44. The Souls of Black Folk - W. E. B. Du Bois
  45. Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys
  46. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
  47. Paradise Lost - John Milton (portions)
  48. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
  49. Hamlet - William Shakespeare
  50. King Lear - William Shakespeare
  51. Othello - William Shakespeare
  52. Sonnets - William Shakespeare
  53. Leaves of Grass - Walt Whitman
  54. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain
  55. Kim - Rudyard Kipling
  56. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
  57. Song of Solomon - Toni Morrison
  58. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kesey
  59. For Whom the Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemingway
  60. Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut
  61. Animal Farm - George Orwell
  62. Lord of the Flies - William Golding
  63. In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
  64. The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing
  65. Remembrance of Things Past - Marcel Proust
  66. The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler
  67. As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner
  68. The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
  69. I, Claudius - Robert Graves
  70. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter - Carson McCullers
  71. Sons and Lovers - D. H. Lawrence
  72. All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren
  73. Go Tell It on the Mountain - James Baldwin
  74. Charlotte's Web - E. B. White
  75. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
  76. Night - Elie Wiesel
  77. Rabbit, Run - John Updike
  78. The Age of Innocence - Edith Wharton
  79. Portnoy's Complaint - Philip Roth
  80. An American Tragedy - Theodore Dreiser
  81. The Day of the Locust - Nathanael West
  82. Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller
  83. The Maltese Falcon - Dashiell Hammett
  84. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman (Sort of. I read The Golden Compass, but didn't get excited enough to read the other two.)
  85. Death Comes for the Archbishop - Willa Cather
  86. The Interpretation of Dreams - Sigmund Freud
  87. The Education of Henry Adams - Henry Adams
  88. Quotations from Chairman Mao - Mao Zedong
  89. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature - William James
  90. Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
  91. Silent Spring - Rachel Carson
  92. The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money - John Maynard Keynes
  93. Lord Jim - Joseph Conrad
  94. Goodbye to All That - Robert Graves
  95. The Affluent Society - John Kenneth Galbraith
  96. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
  97. The Autobiography of Malcolm X - Alex Haley and Malcolm
  98. Eminent Victorians - Lytton Strachey
  99. The Color Purple - Alice Walker
  100. The Second World War (The Gathering Storm; Their Finest Hour; The Grand Alliance; The Hinge of Fate) - Winston Churchill
Forty-five out of a hundred. Not bad for a list that includes so much nonfiction! It's weird, but it'll get people talking. About books, better yet. Check out the list and comments here.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Carolina in My Mind

Ahh....mountain air. There's something refreshing about escaping the ridiculous humidity in Florida and enjoying cooler days and nights in the Blue Ridge. Driving up from Atlanta, you can totally understand the scriptural reference "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help" (if I may go all King James for a moment). The Appalachians don't have the jaw-dropping vistas you see in the Rockies, but there's something about them...probably the fact that they're the oldest mountain range on earth.

At any rate, we'll enjoy a few days in NC before collecting up Frick (who's been on a trip with the middle school youth from church) and Frack (who's been in the mountains for a week, visiting the grands) and heading back home. It's a nice reset button for the summer, now that we're on the downhill slide toward the new school year. I just wish it were closer...that loooooooooooong drive through middle Georgia on I-75 is surely the Devil's handiwork.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

RWA National Recap

Whew! One more RWA National Conference in the rearview mirror. This was a networking year for me, so that meant fewer workshops to report on. Here are some highlights from some of the workshops I did attend:

Outwitting a Muse Who Just Won't Behave - If the girls in the basement (as Barbara Samuel O'Neal is likely to call them) or the squirrels (as I'm likely to call them) are misbehaving, try a vacation. Try an artist's date, listening to music, taking a vacation from writing, and reading in different genres from what you normally write. Eventually, your creative monkeys will be dying to get back to work.

The Serendipitous Spark - What thoughts bring you delicious feelings and joy? Listen to them. Read Malcolm Gladwell's Blink for an appreciation of instant recognition and how you can trust it. Self-care is vital to the creative process and enabling you to hear your inner voice.

You Say Tomato, I Say To-Motto - Determining the motto for your central characters can help you with other story elements like setting, behavior choices and actions, conflict, theme, and character growth. For example, what happens when Mr. Do the Right Thing meets Ms. Life's Short, Eat Dessert First? Distilling your character's motto will help you craft backstory and provide heft and believability to their decisions.

Beyond the Basics: Differences Between YA and Adult - If you're thinking of writing for adolescents, be sure you're asking the right questions. The main thing is to remember that teens are not adults, but don't underestimate them! They are very savvy readers and thinkers. If you think you want to write YA because "those kids today" need some straightenin', then the YA market is not for you (they won't buy what you're pushing). A surprising fact: the YA build for titles is slow, and the publishers expect that. The handout for this is excellent.

Our Favorite Flavors - This workshop compared similarities and differences between romantic suspense, historical, romantic comedy, and paranormal books. Unfortunately, it was cut short because we had to evacuate the building! Fortunately, they had a terrific handout that highlighted their major points.

Although I was pleased with the sessions I attended, the number I attended was down from previous years, partly because I was full-on networking, and partly because the workshop list didn't really blow my skirt up. Guess I need to put up or shut I'll be submitting ideas of my own for next year's conference. Wish me luck!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Now That's What I Call Feminine Protection!

Now I've seen it all. Normally, the host hotel for RWA National commandeers a men's bathroom to handle the high number of female attendees. I've always thought it was kinda cool to penetrate the inner sanctum in all its masculine glory. But not the Marriott Wardman Park. They were so kind as to arrange this:

It's not like we're going to run screaming from the loo at the sight of a couple of urinals, but this is really going above and beyond to preserve our feminine sensibilities.

Friday, July 10, 2009

mimi Does Monuments!

I am one tired puppy, let me tell you. I wish I'd remembered the pedometer, because I have no idea how much we walked. I only know it was a lot. After a yummy breakfast at Afterwords Café near Dupont Circle, we hoofed it down Connecticut Avenue to Lafayette Square, then over to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. I've been to DC before, but my memories of a lot of these places are from a tour bus. How great to walk up! I only wish we could have scored tour tix, but alas, the denizens of Chez mimi do not, in themselves, constitute a school group. We'll have to settle for a Capitol tour Monday instead.

After the White House, on the Museum of American History. We took our time (First Ladies are the coolest! Julia Child is my new hero! They need more artifacts in the pop culture section!), did some experiments in the science lab, played on the Chicago streetcar, and basically wore ourselves out. Then, because we know how to prolong a good time longer than sane people, we toured monuments. All the monuments.

No tickets for the Washington Monument, so we walked and goggled, then down the Reflecting Pool. The new WWII Memorial is gorgeous, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial as moving as I remember (I saw it the first year it opened), the Korean War Memorial lovely, but I wonder if there's a monument for WWI, and if so, where is it?

We spent some reflective time with Mr. Lincoln, then took a slow walk around the Tidal Basin while the sun went down. We got to see the new memorial to FDR. Let's just say that he seriously deserves his spot in the top five of all U.S. Presidents. And also that the bounds of American tackiness don't exist. I don't know what exactly to say about people who pose for pictures, grinning and clowning, in front of a line of bronze statues representing a Depression-era breadline. I'm not sure there is anything to say except go read The Grapes of Wrath and then come back and apologize. Epic American fail.

I confess, I had a total squee fangirl goosebump moment in the Jefferson Memorial. He's my all-time favorite president, and I have to say that reading the selected Jefferson quotations in the memorial and the info in the exhibit reinforced exactly why he is so awesome. Erudite and passionate, Jefferson loved life (including things that illumine life, like poetry, music, and literature) and liberty (personal liberty and the freedom to choose and learn your own path). Incredible.

Considering Lincoln, FDR, and Jefferson back to back to back really makes you wonder where today's statesmen happen to be, if there are any anymore. I'm not sure anyone walking the halls of Congress today would deserve a monument. Think they're wondering about their historical legacy in between cozying up to lobbyists and working so very, very hard to get re-elected? I doubt it. Maybe they need to spend a little time at the monuments themselves, just to remind them why they're here in the first place.

Friday, July 03, 2009

The Bed List/The Dinner List


We don't watch much TV at Chez mimi (not having cable will do that to you), but we're lined up and ready on Wednesday nights for
CSI: NY. And let me just say it's no hardship whenever Det. Flack walks by, usually spouting some smart remark. The twinkly eyes and hard bod don't hurt, either. Yum.


Several years ago, I bought classroom subscriptions for The Nation and National Review to use so my students could identify political slant. Because of those, I receive lots of political mail--and one of those was a fundraising letter for Senate candidate Al Franken. The letter began, "Dear Person I'm Asking for Money." I laughed out loud. How many incumbents would be that straightforward? Now that Mr. Franken has been certified as Minnesota's Senator-elect after a loooooooooong process, it'll be interesting to see what happens when a very smart man with a very sharp sense of humor joins the stodgy house. I'd love a sneak preview of that!!

Thursday, July 02, 2009

#writerfail Redux

For all I adore technology, I'm not a first adopter. It took a couple of years before I finally bought a cell phone, and I was practically the last person I knew to start texting. Although I belong to several email loops, I was a Facebook holdout until recently. I'm still on the fence about Twitter. After reading Jennifer Weiner's post about Alice Hoffman and how not to use Twitter at Huffington Post today, looks like I won't purchase my tickets to the Twitterverse anytime soon.

The short version: well-known novelist Alice Hoffman (Practical Magic, Here on Earth, and many more titles) erm, disagreed with her hometown paper's review of her latest novel, The Story Sisters. Maybe disagreed isn't the word, for her response went way beyond mere disagreement. After unloading on the critic and the paper in a series of tweets, she finally tweeted the critic's name and phone number and encouraged her readers to call up Mean Ms. Critic and complain. Vociferously. Then she nuked her Twitter account and sulked off for some pasta with a chocolate chaser. (I guess. Okay, I'm projecting here. That's what I do when the mean girl hurts my feelings.)

The lesson to be learned from all this, writer friends, is that you don't have to be unpublished to suffer from a classic #writerfail. Unlike the yet-to-be-published crowd I carped about in my earlier #writerfail post, Ms. Hoffman has "made it." She's a bestselling, multi-published author. A couple of her books have been made into movies. She's allegedly reaping the glorious benefits of publication, yet her Twittersnit proves that on the inside, she's no different from the rest of us when it comes to her work. She's defensive, cranky, and willing to lash out to protect the baby.

And that's the problem, isn't it? I marvel sometimes that I, and fellow writers, get so bent out of shape when faced with conclusive proof of our lack of universal acclaim (rejection, bad review, hack-and-slash critique session, etc.). As readers, we're quick to reject and belittle writers and genres we just don't care for, so why should we, as writers, take everything so freakin' personally when faced with the fact that some reader out there just doesn't like us? We can't all be the popular girl at the dance. Right now, all the cute boys (NY publishers) are dancing with the hot goth chicks (the paranormal/urban fantasy writers) and the edgy techno boys (e-publishers) are making out with the erotica gals while we romantic comedies/chick lits/Western historicals sigh at the ceiling at the edges of the publishing gym. Our lack of dance partners doesn't make us any less wonderful, just not the flavor of the month. And seriously, people who get all cranky about getting their coffee just so don't have any business acting like spoiled brats when someone else expresses a preference.

Perhaps that kind of reaction is self-inflicted. We writers go on about how our current WIP is our "baby" and then react like tigresses when we realize someone thinks it looks like a lizard. Someone will. That's the nature of the beast. The big question is, are you writer enough to write for yourself? If so, a bad review won't be the end of the world, or the beginning of an online snit that will last into time and all eternity. If you're writer enough, you're already worrying about the next project.

So what have we learned today? Write what you know. Write what you love. Learn the Southern belle's secret weapon: the indulgent smile. Practice saying, "Bless your heart" instead of "F you." And for goodness' sake, eat the pasta and chocolate before you tweet.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Sinfully Tagged

"Sometimes you can learn more about a person by what they don’t tell you. Sometimes you can learn a lot from the things they just make up. If you are tagged with this Meme, lie to me. Then tag 7 other folks (one for each deadly sin) and hope they can lie."

Pride: What is your biggest contribution to the world?
I'm breathing, aren't I?
Envy: What do your coworkers wish they had which is yours?
My shoe collection.
Gluttony: What did you eat last night?
Coq au vin. In Paris.
Lust: What really lights your fire?
Depends on the day of the week. The men just come and go. You know, "If it's Tuesday, it must be Gerard Butler."
Anger: What is the last thing that really pissed you off?
The overwhelming intelligence of the American electorate. I mean, how dare they be so thoughtful?
Greed: Name something you keep from others.
My solution to world conflict. I'm holding out for the best offer since I am, after all, me (see PRIDE).
Sloth: What's the laziest thing you've ever done?
Convinced all the neighborhood kids to paint my house, inside and out, while I drank lemonade on the porch Tom Sawyer style.

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