Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Doing my research

As mentioned in my last post, I have a new story idea floating around in my head. It's a great idea. Huge! Massive! Enormous! Perhaps a touch out of control...

Since I'm a visual kind of gal, I like to see what other people have created with advancing computer graphics skills. I especially like the severe weather shows that depict the big one earthquake that leaves CA in the ocean. Or that show the nasty effects of what would happen to our planet if the earth's rotation slowed. Or worse, stopped. I love this kind of stuff--the more drastic the better!

Being the community supporter that I am, I started at my local library's website and struggled for the right magical combo of search terms to yield the bounty of inspiration I was certain lay just beyond my fingertips.

International Space Station
What do I look for?

Life on Earth? No, that makes no sense.

Post-apocalyptic Earth? No, it's not the apocalypse that will wreck havoc in my story.

Radical effects of global warming? Mmm, maybe. We're getting closer.

But then I started to explore living in space. We have an International Space Station, right? Surely, some cable channel has produced some show or series about the trials and tribulations of living in space? PBS? Discovery? BBC? Anyone?

Alas, when all else fails, turn to the blogosphere. I'm just starting my research/inspiration-semi-fact-finding mission, but I can't be the only one who does this.

Any of you writers look for visual research/inspiration before you start writing? Where do you look? More specifically, anyone know any shows about living in space? Or better yet, how the Earth is going to suffer from a massive environmental catastrophe, leaving us all relatively defenseless, just one notch above a Mad Max-esque future?

And finally, just because I'm still riding a little bit of a post-concert high, here's a pic of a little concert from a little band you may have heard of... Hello, U2 and your freaking awesome 360 tour. The show was on Saturday night here in lovely Minneapolis and while the show itself was crazy good, it reached a new level of awesome when the rains came. A few people ran for cover in the stadium concourse, but the rest of the 59K+ audience sang louder, clapped and whistled with wild frenzy, and the band played on. After my pic is a You Tube link of Sunday Bloody Sunday. The first ten seconds can give you an idea of just how much rain we had. (And no, that wasn't me taking the video or else y'all would've heard about it by now.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Potential sour grapes and the beauty of writing

I might be committing a blogging faux pas, we'll see...

I recently blogged about dealing with my first writerly rejection. In the grand scheme of life, I have accepted this and am already thinking of ways to improve my application for next fall's course consideration.

All that being said, please allow me a very minor sour grapes moment. When leafing through the course catalogue for the local writing center where I had applied to teach my 2-day NaNoWriMo course, I noticed they offer a relatively similar class. My concern is NOT with the class; the teacher is likely well-respected, published, and has taught this class many times before. The writing center is smart to keep going with a tried and trusted model.

But the class is offered two ways: online in a 12-week format ($500+) or a two-day intensive ($180+).

I would've been happy to lead a section over the course of two Saturdays for free, just to introduce people to the world of NaNo and to get some experience leading a group discussion under my belt.

Five hundred dollars for a 12-week online course blows my mind and makes it immediately out of the question. Sadly, I wonder how many other people will be unable to take advantage of the online courses for the same reason. Until I have more funds, I will continue to take a few Saturday classes and meet with my crit group.

Speaking of my crit group, we met last night. Instead of having sections to swap for review, we used the time to write.

That's right. Pure. Writing.

It was heavenly.

And as a result, I have this three-pronged giant of a story twirling around in my head. The scope is SO out of reach but right now, this is okay. It's allowed to be wild and unruly. Hopefully, a few more hours of dreaming, brainstorming, and mapping out possible What if scenarios will help coax the real plot to life. But for now, I'm dumping everything into the funnel. Kidnappings. Fuel needs. Space. Land. Medications. Double crosses. Hope. Family. Faith. Bartering. New technology. Old ways. Lotteries. Rations. Tablets. Restricted areas. Bunkers. Adventure.

There's more to come, I can feel it in my head. But that's a taste of everything that came out last night in only ninety minutes of dedicated writing. Imagine the possibilities if I did that every day...

You tell me: was that sour grapes of me? I don't think it was, but you never know... And when starting a new story idea, do you throw everything and the kitchen sink into your brainstorm in hopes of finding something that sticks?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Read it or watch it?

Song of the Day: Whatever (Butthole Surfers) you tube link

I know, I know. The book is always better than the movie. Got it.

But sometimes, it's way easier to spend 2-3 hours watching the movie instead of 3 months (sometimes more, sometimes less) to read the books.

clearly from Amazon
This is my latest conundrum with Game of Thrones. It's a great read, really. I'm enjoying the plot lines and the author does a great job of keeping the action going and forcing me to read another chapter. And another. And maybe just one more before I go to bed.

However, my poor attention span! I'm approx 130 pages into a 640 page book. And that's only the first book. There are four more after this (4? 5?) to read. Alas, I will finish. Just maybe not by the end of the summer.

As you all have likely heard, HBO just wrapped up the first season of their adaptation for Game of Thrones. I kinda want to watch it. I want to see each episode after I read the appropriate section so I can have a visual. I like to see what the creative teams see when they set the text to film. I enjoyed the hell out of the entire Lord of the Rings movies because it made something that lived only in my head come to life before me. And don't get me started on the Harry Potter books and movies and how much I loved everything about the world JK Rowling created--both in film and on paper.

If only I could find a GoT episode guide that lined up with the chapters in the book... now THAT would be handy. Because I don't want spoilers, but I really want to see Sean Bean. :)

But sometimes, the movie adaptation can be too much. As posted over on the First Novels Club blog yesterday (hey gals, nice background!), two short videos were released for the upcoming Hunger Games movie. I devoured the books earlier this year, yet as I watched the film clips, I found myself looking away, disturbed. Perhaps it was seeing the violence in all the gore it was intended versus the watered down version my brain created (I don't do gore very well). Or maybe it was because my mental image of the Hunger Games wasn't so real and dark. I'm not sure. But I like the Hunger Games: TL Conway Mental Version better right now.

How about you? Any film adaptations you prefer not to watch so as not to sully the book's setting in your mind? Or have you seen a book turned to film that helped you visualize the book better?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

My first bitter taste of rejection

As a hobbyist writer, or even as a professional one, it was bound to happen sooner or later.


That bitter feeling of being judged. Of being deemed not worthy enough. Ouch.
As some of you may recall, I submitted a course proposal to our local writing center to lead a two-Saturday course on NaNoWriMo.

Writing the proposal for the course was relatively easy. I took all the things I wish I had known before starting NaNo and massaged them until they became a working syllabus.

But writing the justification as to why they should choose me? Yeah, that was hard. I don't sell myself very well to begin with, but knowing that I was going to be rated on my non-existent qualifications? It was difficult but I kept reminding myself that someone was going to have to take a chance on me sooner or later.

I asked in this email for any feedback:
"Thank you very much for letting me know about the status of my proposed NaNoWriMo course for the fall. If you have a few moments to provide any feedback on how I can improve my proposal, I am eager to learn as much as I can. Was there something specific that stood out as a problem, or was it simply considered a redundancy since you already offer a Book in 30 Days course?"
Here was the response:
"My primary reservation is her lack of qualifications: no fiction publishing credits (or any other publishing credits), no teaching experience and she’s only done NaNo twice. I think her course objectives look good, her syllabus looks pretty good, the exercise seems okay BUT it assumes all students must prepare an outline even students who identifies themselves as a “pantsers” (so why even ask students if they’re pantsers or planners?). I do think a single or double session class on NaNo is a good idea."
Sigh. The class proposal wasn't the problem; it was the person proposing the class.

But, this writing center is top-notch. As a student of their courses, I have high expectations of their teaching artists, so I am going to reconcile my emotions, use this as motivation to improve my writing resume, and try again next year.

For now though, you can understand if I'm going to wallow just a bit longer. Don't judge if I self-medicate with chocolate chip cookies.


Thursday, July 7, 2011

Few random things and a question for you

A random collection of things in this post today, folks.

First, what’s the deal with the word verifications I see some people put on blog comments? I have no idea what this is. Can someone please explain the goal? I hate feeling like I don't know what's going on. Let's not even talk about how Twitter is working out for me...

Second, did anyone else see this article in TIME magazine? It appears the State of Indiana has deemed cursive an archaic lesson (my term, not theirs) and are instead suggesting teachers teach (that feels redundant) typing skills to grade school students. Does this make anyone else wince and reach for a pad of paper and pencil? And how many writers do you think are now crafting a story about a day not so far in the future where paper and writing instruments are forbidden in a technological universe? No one else? Great, my idea! No one steal it!

Third, I had a happy happy surprise in the mail on Tuesday. Here is a pic of my proof copy of my 2009 NaNo. The working (horrible) title is Journey to Andryea, but coming up with titles has never been my strong suit. Check out this post over at Jen’s Bookshelf for her take on titles. It sucks. (clarification: coming up with titles sucks, NOT Jen's post. Her post is quite lovely and you should check it out. I'll wait...)

Finally, my real question for all of you… I’m still working on my story idea for this year’s NaNo and it involves transporting the MC to another time/place. Perhaps I have CS Lewis and his wardrobe on my mind, but do you have other suggestions for stories where the MC was taken from this world to another via “ordinary object” means? Magic telephone booth? Stepping into a book? Board games (Jumanji, anyone?)… I would like a list of books to read or movies to watch where this technique is used, but the more I try to think of examples, the more my brain shuts down.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Which came first, the theme or the plot?

Happy Day After the 4th of July!

I trust we are all well-rested and appropriately grumbled on our way into work this morning? No, just me? I had a wonderful weekend and returned home yesterday afternoon drunk on sunshine and lake water, my sunburn just starting to slightly itch and turn tan. Well, as tan as this Irish lass can get, but I'll take any color over pasty Minnesota white.

After I unpacked and got organized, I sat down and finally began transplanting the seeds of a new story from my head, planting them down on paper. At this point, there are a helluva lot more questions than answers, but at least my ideas aren't stuck in my unreliable head any longer. It was that mad rush of brainstorming where your hand can't keep up with the ideas flowing from your mind. Where you start a new paragraph of ideas before you could finish the last one and you draw arrows connecting the plot points as they develop across the pages.

It was awesome and it's the part of writing I love the most.

However... as my pages grew, I noticed a problem. I had a plot line, but there was no theme. No real point to the story. Ack! I spent another full page trying to come up with my theme. It was so hard. It felt forced, like I was trying to come up with the recipe for a best seller when all I really wanted to do was tell my story that had been brewing in my mind.

I felt like I was doing it wrong. Clearly, the "good" writers sit down gracefully at their computer with a mug of steaming tea by their side and classical music gently dancing through the air. They sit, close their eyes for a moment while they grasp the ideas in their heads, and get it all down on paper. First the over-arching theme, then the plot, and then these "good" writers flush out their characters. Once it's all done, they open a new word doc and bang out a 75K book and call it a night.

I, on the other hand, gnash my teeth, pull out my hair, become OCD about my music choices, need a tray table for all my beverages (tea, water, coffee, beer? WHAT TO DRINK?), and stare at my paper, praying the ever-elusive "point" comes to me.

Because really, if you can't find the point to your story, why write it, right?

Wrong. I have to write this story just like I've had to write the others. I realize it's a learning process and already my craft has improved greatly over my first story. But the crushing need for a theme, for a point to it all, the pressure of knowing my story is missing its purpose is driving me nuts.

So, I will continue to brainstorm but I am very eager to know how you all do it. Do you sit down like the "good" writer and make it look so lovely and easy? Does your theme come, then your plot, then your characters? Or do you just throw your words up and see what sticks, hoping a theme emerges?
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