June 30, 2015

Again We Come to the End

A month ago, I announced I was almost done revising. If you're familiar with my history of similar announcements, you might not have believed me, especially if you were aware that when I did in fact reach the end of the manuscript a couple of weeks later, I immediately went back to the beginning for another pass, claiming it wouldn't take long.

Well, I worked my way through the novel again in short order, reading the text aloud to myself and taking care of some final tightening, and I am now proud to say this novel is DONE! I mean, it's done until I'm under the guidance of an agent or editor who asks for further revision, but believe it or not, that's a future I dream about. But for now: DONE DONE DONE!

With that novel off my plate, I've gone back to the one I've been gradually planning out. I'm attempting to figure out the whole story in detail before writing it, a completely different process for me that I'm enjoying. I'm at about the three-quarters mark in the outline, so it's almost time to face the issue that I have no idea how any of the plotlines should resolve. So that gives me a project for the summer.

As another project, I'd like to write at some point about how I approached a revision with the goal of making the manuscript significantly shorter. Consider this another one of my bold proclamations, and we'll see how soon I can follow through.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ On the Melville House blog, Zara Sternberg interviews Harvard University Professor Daniel Donoghue on his investigation of the theory that "until the late Middle Ages, most people were only able to read aloud and silent reading was an anomaly."

June 26, 2015

Fifth Grade Book Covers and More

We're almost done exploring the adventure-laden elementary school era of my childhood writing. Before we move on to angst-filled middle school, I have some remaining miscellany from fifth grade to share, including a couple of illustrated covers for book projects.

First off, I did get an early start on the angst in fifth grade for at least one piece of writing. In late 1985, I was assigned to write a haiku about my fears or hopes for 1986. Forget all those online lists and quizzes purporting to prove your legitimacy as a child of the 80s. This is the real deal:

Haiku About My Fears

Such a scary thought
Nuclear war is dreadful
It could kill us all

I also had less disturbing obsessions in fifth grade, such as Greek mythology. (On second thought, most of Greek mythology is pretty disturbing.) For what I imagine was a big final project for the year, I put together a pretty impressive report, complete with a cover depicting "Mount Olympus, home of the Greek gods":

June 10, 2015

The First Bay Area Book Festival

I'm pleased to report I had a wonderful time at the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley this past weekend. The event was well-attended and by all accounts a great success, so I look forward to seeing it continue as an annual tradition.

I spent all day Saturday at the festival, attending author sessions, browsing the art and booths, and hanging out with family and friends. I made it to three of the many scheduled panels, and they were all excellent.

New Views of Narrative: How Technology Interfaces with Story was moderated by Robin Sloan, author of MR. PENUMBRA'S 24-HOUR BOOKSTORE, a novel about books and technology that I adored. Sloan did an exemplary job of moderating, using his extensive knowledge of bookish technology to draw out intelligent discussion from the innovators on the panel. Lise Quintana, CEO and founder of Narrative Technologies (and one of my NaNoWriMo buddies), talked about her company's ebook platform, Lithomobilus, which enables multi-threaded storytelling. The first stories launched on the platform, published by Zoetic Press, build on familiar classics such as the Grimm fairy tales and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, but the authoring tools will soon be available for any purpose. In contrast to Quintana's reusable platform, Eli Horowitz and Russell Quinn have collaborated on a number of interactive books that were each developed separately, including THE SILENT HISTORY and the forthcoming THE PICKLE INDEX, which will also be published as a traditional paperback. I haven't tried out any of these apps yet -- partly because they're all only available for iOS, a limitation the creators discussed during the panel -- but I'm fascinated.

The presenters at Lit Camp's Writers-Conference-in-a-Panel set out to share their most valuable advice during their allotted seven minutes. It was a cool idea and well-executed within the obvious constraints. Tom Barbash spoke on short stories, Robin Rinaldi covered memoir, Janis Cooke Newman talked about novels, Jordan Bass offered an editor's perspective, and agent Danielle Svetcov addressed query letters. Naturally I was most interested in the section on novels, and I appreciated Newman's thoughts. She made a great point about backstory, saying the writer has to earn its use by making the reader curious, and cautioning only to deliver those background details once the reader is in the position of wanting to know them.

The panel on Futurism, Fatalism and Climate Change, moderated by book columnist Mike Berry, featured authors of novels about cataclysmic climate change. These books appeal to my post-apocalyptic interests, and I loved the entertaining discussion among the smart and funny authors. I've already read and enjoyed Edan Lepucki's CALIFORNIA, which follows a young married couple in the wake of widespread environmental and economic collapse. I can't wait to pick up Paolo Bacigalupi's new novel, THE WATER KNIFE, about an all-too-plausible drought-ravaged future. I was excited to see John Scalzi, author of numerous books including the recent LOCK IN, after encountering so much of his thoughtful writing online. Antti Tuomainen was the one participant I wasn't familiar with, and it was fascinating to hear him talk about his experiencing publishing the THE HEALER in his native Finland, where apocalyptic and dystopian fiction is apparently an unfamiliar genre.

To cap off my day, I attended what was billed as A Very Special Evening with the Remarkable Judy Blume, and it really was a memorable event. Growing up, I read most of Blume's books, and I admire what an important influence she's had on children's literature. She turns out to be as awesome as I've always imagined. Local librarian and storyteller Walter Mayes, a longtime friend of Blume's, conducted a wonderful interview about her career and her latest book, a novel for adults. IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT puts a town full of characters into the midst of a real event that happened during Blume's childhood, when three unrelated airplane crashes occurred in Elizabeth, New Jersey in the span of three months. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Between events, I made several visits to Lacuna, an art installation at the center of the festival constructed with donated books. Visitors were encouraged to browse and take home a book, and over the course of the day I saw the shelves gradually emptied. Many photos of Lacuna, as well as of the Judy Blume event, appear in the festival's photo album.

The festival provided an opportunity for me to meet up with several cool people I know, some by design and some serendipitously. Getting to talk about books with friends made an already fun and book-filled day even better.

The one low point of the festival was a problem with ticketing logistics. Due to an enthusiastic level of attendance, I didn't get into a session despite having procured a ticket a month in advance. I wasn't the only person facing this disappointment, and it happened at more than one panel. I've submitted feedback, as I'm sure others have, and I expect the organizers will improve the ticket system for next year. I'll definitely be back!

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At Flavorwire, Sarah Seltzer wonders, Why Do We Re-Read Our Favorite Books as Kids, and Why Do We Stop When We Get Older?: "The last Austen novel I re-read was in early 2010 -- two apartments, three jobs, and five years ago. Until this week, I hadn't sat down and re-read a favorite book for pleasure since, and my re-watching had slowed to a trickle, too. I have given up a treasured part of my cultural life, a staple since I was in elementary school."

June 5, 2015

May Reading Recap

May was a busy month, so I only had time to finish two books, but they were both great! I'm still in the middle of the also-great A GOD IN RUINS, which I'll report on next month.

THE TURNER HOUSE by Angela Flournoy isn't really a ghost story, but it opens with the family legend of the haint who appeared one night to young Cha-Cha, the eldest of what would eventually be thirteen Turner siblings. When Cha-Cha believes he sees the haint again fifty years later, it raises unpleasant questions about his mental health and his upbringing. Meanwhile, his youngest sister, Lelah, has troubles of her own. She doesn't want her siblings or her daughter to know she's been evicted, so she moves back into the family home, which is unoccupied and facing repossession. As their stories unfold in 2008, occasional chapters recount the early part of their parents' marriage, when the Turners came north to Detroit in the 1940s hoping the city would offer a better life for a black family.

Telling the story of an enormous family presents a challenge, and Flournoy handles it well by focusing on the oldest and youngest siblings and letting the other family members play roles with varying degrees of importance. Every character, no matter how minor, is fully developed, and the family dynamics are clear and realistic. I found this a very satisfying family story.

It's also an excellent novel about a particular place. The story is specific to the economy and culture of Detroit, and it's clear Flournoy has done her research. Detroit's economic decline plays an important role in the plot, since it revolves around the fate of the devalued house. The city's black-white relations are also explored, especially the way these have changed over time, as well as the different forms of racism encountered in the North and South. All these details of the setting are incorporated seamlessly into the story and provide a fascinating portrait of a city over time.

I admire Flournoy's strong depiction of both a family and a place (something I've set out to achieve myself), and I definitely recommend THE TURNER HOUSE.

OF NOBLE FAMILY concludes Mary Robinette Kowal's Glamourist Histories (at least for now), and Kowal really outdid herself in this book. It was a delight to be back with the beloved characters in the wonderful Regency-era-with-magic setting, but this installment takes the familiar elements somewhere new. Jane and Vincent travel to Antigua after learning that Vincent's terrible father has died and the affairs at his plantation must be settled. There, they encounter the horrors of slavery and are confronted by unsavory family secrets and reminders of the past.

Kowal put a great deal of care into both the real historical details of this story and how these might interact with her magic system. As always, she's crafted an intricate and exciting plot, and glamour is tightly woven throughout, providing a surprising array of complications, obstacles, and solutions. The introduction of new cultures reveals that glamour around the world has broader possibilities than the British characters realized, and this is handled with sensitivity and cleverness. In this episode of Writing Excuses, Kowal talks about how she approached research and worldbuilding for the novel. (The discussion doesn't focus on many plot details, so you can listen with only limited spoilers or confusion.)

You could read this fifth book in the series without having read the others, though you'd miss out on some of the emotional impact without the background of the main couple's history. I'm a big fan of this series, and I love the skill and inventiveness with which Kowal assembles a story, so I look forward to her future work, in this setting or any other.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Ben H. Winters explains why he works on two books at a time: "I like to be doing two things at once. I sort of need to be. One thing in active motion and one in the starting gate, warming up, ready to come out swinging--something else I've started to play around with, to make notes on, maybe done a wild first pass on."