Monday, November 28, 2011

"Twilght" Redux

As an aspiring author of young adult sf/f novels, it behooves me to read what's popular in the genre. For that reason I just acquired the Hunger Games trilogy through the Science Fiction Book Club. I also attempted to read Twilight earlier this year. Not only is it a best seller among YA readers, it's set in the Pacific Northwest.

I couldn't finish Twilight. I could not generate any interest in Bella, supposedly the main character. And I found her relationship with Edward to be unhealthy even beyond the thirsty vampire aspect. She was passive, he was controlling -- the classic set up for an emotionally abusive relationship (not to mention the potential physical abuse of turning her into a vampire).

Needless to say, I haven't bothered to see any of the Twilight movies at the local multi-screen. However, when the first movie in the series aired on television I decided to give it a try.


It was as bad as the book in my opinion. The dialogue was lame. Bella was still passive. Things happened to her. She didn't instigate the action. The exact opposite of everything I'm learning in fiction writing workshops!

So count me out of the Twilight Camp.

The Harry Potter series may not have been great literature, but at least Jo Rowling made me care about the characters and Harry was the driving force in the novels. The characters formed healthy friendships, maintained their integrity, and didn't give up worthy goals against malignant forces.

Bella -- not so much, at least as far as I could stand to read and watch Twilight.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Elevator Pitch

You're in the elevator with Steven Spielberg or Donald Maas and you have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pitch your script or novel. You have mere seconds to describe your project. How do you succinctly express your concept?

_____ meets _____

So ---

My young adult science fiction adventure, Galactic Empress, is:

Indiana Jones


Princess Leia

Monday, November 21, 2011


I didn't sign up for NaNoWriMo because on November 1st I was still developing the novel that had drawn me off onto a tangent. But a week into the month I had a nine-page summary of the story complete with sub plots and an opening scene.

So I started writing.

As of this morning I'm at 8,328 words -- so I obviously won't reach the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words by November 30th.


I have applied the NaNoWriMo philosophy of write at any and every opportunity without stopping. And this made the light bulb pop on.

The advantage of participating in NaNoWriMo is MOMENTUM. Keeping the story foremost in your mind and focusing on getting it down in thirty days or less. Not getting sidetracked (at least, not for too long). Letting things that can wait, well, wait.

Thus, even though I won't finish Galactic Empress (working title only) by November 30th, maybe I can complete it by December 31st.

I just need to maintain the momentum!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Book Club: "Can't Wait to Get to Heaven"

Fannie Flagg's Can't Wait to Get to Heaven was the most recent selection of our little book club. Flagg is best know for Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe which was made into a popular movie. This book continues the story of several characters introduced in Standing in the Rainbow.

The story centers on Elner Shimfissle and the residents of Elmwood Springs, Missouri. Elner is an active octogenarian fretted over by her niece, Norma. Elner falls from the fig tree in her back yard when attacked by a swarm of wasps and she is pronounced dead at the hospital. News of her death spreads quickly as family and friends recall how she touched their lives. When Elner unexpectedly wakes up at the hospital, a frightened nurse runs away never to return to the profession and the residents of Elmwood Springs are left wondering what to do with all the "funeral food" they had prepared.

As Judy stated it so well, this is not a "message book" but it is a message book. Flagg makes us aware of how we touch so many others during our lives and how simple kindness builds a network of mutual care.

Elner, the widow of a farmer, left the farm to live in town at the insistence of Norma. She is a robust, independent woman with a mind that doesn't stop working. Elner is awed by the wonders of the universe and full of questions. She admires Thomas Edison and celebrates his birthday by turning on every electrical appliance in her home.

Elner has a near death experience in which she travels down hospital corridors, goes on an amusement park elevator ride, and ends up in Heaven where she is met by the Supreme Being in the shape of her former neighbor, Doc Smith with his wife Dorothy. Elner's Heaven is Elmwood Springs of the decade following World War II populated by friends who passed before her arrival. When she returns to the present and tells Norma about her NDE, Norma insists that she tell no one about it. The doctors will surely institutionalize Elner if they hear her tale.

All of the long-time residents of Elmwood Springs have been touched by Elner. Her selfless gestures ranged from minor thoughtfulness to guiding young Luther Griggs, who was headed for delinquency and worse, toward productive adulthood. These tales uplifted all of us and made us realize how even the smallest kindness may have significance to the recipient.

Flagg is a comedienne, and her books have laugh-out-loud moments as well as thought-provoking stories. The hospital administrator and legal counsel are convinced Elner and her family will sue the hospital. The attorney interviews Elner about her erroneous diagnosis, and she tries to keep her promise to Norma about not revealing her NDE while also answering truthfully. She leaves out Heaven, but mentions floating above the hospital and spying a brown golf shoe on the roof. The shoe becomes the obsession of the attorney in a subplot that ends well -- as do most of the other subplots.

We all enjoyed the fact that Flagg left the tale of the golf shoe and a heavenly piece of cake open to interpretation by the reader. The discovery of a loaded gun at the bottom of Elner's dirty clothes hamper has a shocking story behind it that is resolved satisfactorily but allows the reader to consider the moral dilemma of the characters.

In Flagg's novels, the characters are everything. She portrays them with foibles the reader can relate to and gives them obstacles we can identify with. In a small town, everyone knows everything about everyone else. I grew up in Portland -- so it was Judy, Christine, and Rhonda who discussed their youths in small towns. Childhood in their small towns was free ranging, with entire days spent outside the home. However, by their teenage years they found their home towns stifling. For them, Flagg's portrayal of Elmwood Springs rang true.

During her brief visit in Heaven, Elner gets to meet Thomas Edison. We discussed historical figures we would like to meet:  Eisenhower, Jane Austen, Churchill, and Darwin. We added Helen Keller, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Mother Theresa. People who touched many lives and who drew on inner strengths during challenging times.

I had both Standing in the Rainbow and Can't Wait to Get to Heaven on my bookshelf, so I read the set. I highly recommend both books. I read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe years ago and, per usual, the book is more dense than the movie (although in this case the screenplay written by Flagg made for an excellent film). I also highly recommend Flagg's Welcome to the World Baby Girl. Her books are easy to read, they are funny, yet they make the reader ponder serious issues. 

Our next book is The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry. We will discuss it in January after the holidays.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thirty Day Novel?!

If it's November it must be National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Chris Baty is credited with creating or at least promoting the effort to draft a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. Lots of folks daydream about writing a novel and seeing their book on the shelf at a bookstore or in the library. But daydreaming is a far cry from actually writing. And it is off putting when we hear stories about people spending years writing and editing a novel -- so most wanna be authors move on with their real lives and never write that book.

Baty determined that, "The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. It's the lack of a deadline." Hey, if a deadline works for cleaning the house before guests arrive, why can't it work for a novel?!

Andi Erickson recently presented a workshop on "How to Write a Novel in 30 Days" for the Wilsonville Library's Dewey Speaks series. A previous winner of NaNoWriMo, Ms. Erickson summarized the effort in three simple steps:

  • Have something to write with,
  • Have a plan,
  • Write.

Okay. See ya!

Of course, there's more to it than that. As we learn in all novel-writing workshops, good fiction is about conflict. The main character has a want and there is an obstacle to that want. Publishable novels require a plot, defined as conflict + action + resolution. Plot is developed around a basic structure, the classic being the three act format:

  • Act I = set up the conflict (beginning),
  • Act II = conflict and escalation of conflict (middle),
  • Act III = resolve the conflict (end).

There are a variety of approaches to developing a publishable novel and Ms. Erickson emphasized that no one method works for all writers. Find what works for you and run with it. But she summarized plot development questions that pretty much work no matter how one goes about creating a long work of fiction.

  • Who wants what?
  • What gets in his/her way?
  • What does she/he do about it?
  • What is the result?

These questions not only work in developing the entire story arc, but also apply to each scene.

Wants _____ but _____ so _____ and then _____ ... but then _____.

The character has a desire, but there is an obstacle to obtaining that desire, so the character acts, and then there is a result of that action. We are carried into the next scene with "but then...."

At the resolution of the novel the goal is obtained, or the attempt fails, or the goal is reached but it turns out not to be what the character really wanted, or the character fails but it turns out to be okay.

Ms. Erickson drew from her own experience plus Baty's book to provide various aids to help writers through the four week effort. But what I scribbled on a sticky note that I have applied to the front of my Mac was the scene/story arc summary. Even though I've heard it before (or variations), it takes several times before it sinks in. I can only absorb so much at each workshop I attend or from each book I read about creating fiction.

Most comforting is the reminder that a first draft (no matter how long it takes to complete) is not expected to be good. Per Baty, Ernest Hemingway said "The first draft of anything is shit." I've even heard and read of writers who label it "shitty first draft" to give them the freedom to write without interference from the inner editor.

So, if it's November (or any time you choose), write often, write fast, just write.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Sunday Stills: In the Dark

I've never tried taking photos at night but in thinking about the challenge I wondered if I could capture some Fall color and some dramatic lighting using the street lights. With that in mind I grabbed the camera for Indy's final walk of the evening and came up with these:

Hmmm. No wonder the new NBC program Grimm is filmed in Portland!

To see how others met the dark challenge, visit Sunday Stills.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Okay, Okay -- It's Fall

Getting ready to take Indy on his morning walk reminded me of suiting up an astronaut. Me:  jeans and turtleneck, fleece jacket, waterproof Ariat barn boots, waterproof zip-on pants and hooded jacket, Kerrits baseball cap, gloves. Indy:  waterproof "turnout sheet."

We've had some wet days already this Fall, but temperatures were in the high 50s or low- to mid-60s. Recent frosty mornings gave way to sunny afternoons. This week we finally got the first of the wet cold fronts that will be with us until June. Snow levels have dropped and the furnace started early this morning. Not conducive to jumping out of bed except for an insistent Sheltie.

As if suiting up for Indy's walk wasn't bad enough, peeling off the wet clothes when we return is, well, ishy. Everything is drippy and uncooperative. Indy at least waits patiently for removal of his doggy coat because it means I will dry off his paws and give him a tummy rub with the towel.

The calendar says it's Autumn, but it's hard to give up on the pleasant transitional days that are comfortably warm with cool nights. However, this morning I had to admit that it really is Fall. Clammy wet leaves cover the ground, the walnut trees are bombing unsuspecting pedestrians, and the sky is a monotonous shade of gray.

Okay. I give.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Off on a Tangent -- Again

Artwork of Francesco Paduano
Non-writers often ask where the ideas for novels come from. For me, the story ideas are everywhere. From news stories, novels and movies, to daily observations. Take the evening news, pick one story and ask "what if...?" Add a twist to the reported facts. Dig deeper into the story. Add or subtract a character to the factual story.

My most recent tangent away from Curse of the Blood Stone occurred while watching a typical adventure movie. The hero and his sidekick rescue a beautiful damsel and foil the antagonist's plans. Granted, the beautiful damsel in this case was brainy and resourceful. But the little lightbulb went on and I asked, what if...?

What if the "rescued" damsel turns the tables on the pair of adventurers and uses them to achieve her goal? And what if the damsel falls for the sidekick instead of the dashing hero?

I already had the seeds for a heroine planted with the working title Galactic Empress. I tried folding in the adventure tale twist and actually came up with a story that has a doable main plot with feasible subplots. The main characters are young adults in the 15-17 age range. The setting is a space opera. The plot is a bit of Indiana Jones meets Princess Leia. Hmmm.

Just in time for NaNoWriMo. Although -- I don't think I'll commit myself to 50,000 words  this November. But I do hope to attend the local library's session on writing a novel in 30 days. Any hints on speeding up the writing process will be appreciated! I'm still applying the Six Core Competencies and Snowflake methods to developing my latest novel. I've been scribbling ideas in a grid-lined composition book and I have a binder full of research. I've even settled on pictures of the main characters (some well-known actors in their younger years)!

So we'll see where this tangent takes me.

I am such a Gemini! *sigh*