September 30, 2015

Fall Forward

Rain made an appearance today in the Bay Area, so it feels like an actual change of seasons as we head into October. My excitement is building for the fall literary events I wrote about last week. When I'm not too distracted by anticipation and precipitation, I've been busy with various projects, and I can report forward progress in several areas.

You may recall that in June I once again finished that novel I keep saying is done. You may have read the series of posts I made in August about how the latest revision led to a significantly shorter manuscript. You may wonder what's happening with that manuscript now. I've resumed sending query letters to agents, which means I tell them about THE EXTENT OF THE DAMAGE and share the opening pages in hopes that they'll be interested in reading more. I don't talk much about querying here because the process moves incredibly slowly, and there's nothing really to say about it until that glorious time when there might be something to say. But now you know that's in the works.

In that same June post, I also mentioned the novel I've been planning out in detail before writing, which is a new strategy for me. I reached a point in the outline where I discovered the plot was heading in a direction that didn't work, so I've returned to the beginning. A little at a time, I'm changing things around to make it all fit together better. Yes, I'm doing a revision of the planning stage and still haven't written a word of the actual novel. That means everything is going as intended, because so much less time and agony is involved in redoing an outline than in producing multiple drafts. I'll write this novel when it's ready, and in the meantime, finding the right version of the plot is satisfying and instructive.

That said, I've found myself itching to really write again, so I'm thinking of getting started on something else. It's been a while since I embarked on a first draft, with all the freedom and frustration that entails, and I could use the practice. Stay tuned.

This has nothing to do with writing unless I come up with a metaphor about stitching ideas together or something, but I've recently been spending a lot of time and attention on knitting after one of my occasional dormant periods with the hobby. (If you're a member of Ravelry, find me there.) Over a year ago, I finished knitting all the pieces of a sweater, and now in anticipation of cooler weather, I'm finally tackling the less fun work of assembling them. Yeah, there's definitely a metaphor in there somewhere.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ Stephen Sparks at Literary Hub looks at novels written in invented dialects and some variations on this theme, "works that similarly inhabit languages unique to themselves, whether through dialect, an attempt at capturing the singular nature of consciousness, or in one case, unique because it is essentially alien."

September 24, 2015

Upcoming Literary Excitement

It's fall (supposedly -- the heatpocalypse continues in Silicon Valley), and I am excited about so many literary happenings coming up this season. I've been counting the days until some amazing book releases and movie adaptations, and I'm delighted to be heading to a big book event in November. Here's what has me full of anticipation:

Book releases from favorite authors: October 6 will be the best book day of the year for me, because it's publication day for two authors I adore, Ann Leckie and Rainbow Rowell.

ANCILLARY MERCY is the third and final book in Ann Leckie's Imperial Radch trilogy, an epic, universe-spanning tale with a fascinating protagonist who was once the artificial intelligence of a spaceship. Last year I enthused about the first book and then had even more praise for the second. I'm expecting more of the vivid characters, clever worldbuilding, and tense adventure in the final installment.

In 2014, I devoured everything Rainbow Rowell has published after I read and loved FANGIRL. That novel features a main character who writes fanfiction based on the Simon Snow series, a sort of Harry Potter analogue inside the world of the story. Rowell's upcoming release, CARRY ON, is about Simon Snow and his magical world, based on the imaginary book series she created while writing FANGIRL. It's a strange and meta concept, and I'll admit it wasn't something I was hoping would exist in the world, but since Rainbow Rowell is writing it, I'm sure it will be fun and unexpected and emotional and great.

Movie adaptations of books I love: On the whole, I'm pleased when good books are turned into movies, and while I have seen some terrible film adaptations, I've found many to be good or even excellent. I have high hopes for two movies coming this fall.

I really enjoyed THE MARTIAN by Andy Weir, and the book's fast-paced plot and cinematic setting scream for an on-screen depiction. I've been excited since learning that a movie was being filmed, and my anticipation has grown with each publicity video I've watched. These cleverly report on the mission to Mars as if it were real, and even Neil deGrasse Tyson got in on the act. I can't wait, and I don't have to wait much longer, because the movie opens October 2.

Emma Donoghue's ROOM blew me away, but I wouldn't have picked it as a good candidate for movie adaptation because of its extreme interiority, in two senses: the story takes place inside a single room, and much of what makes it fascinating is the five-year-old mind of the narrator. However, Donoghue wrote the screenplay and was very involved in the production of the movie, and that bodes well for the results. I'm intrigued to watch this film, which will be in released in select cities mid-October and widely in early November.

Book Riot Live!: I follow the Book Riot media empire (a site, several podcasts, and so on), and when they announced their first convention, I thought it sounded cool but didn't intend to travel to New York City for it. But months later, while planning an unrelated New York trip, I realized the dates lined up. I'll be attending Book Riot Live November 7 and 8, and I'm just thrilled.

The lineup of speakers is amazing. I'm especially excited about two of them: Margaret Atwood has long been a favorite and is coming out with another of my anticipated fall releases, THE HEART GOES LAST. N.K. Jemisin wrote the fantasy duology I read last year, THE KILLING MOON and THE SHADOWED SUN. I hope to read the work of several other participants before the con. Or maybe I'll just run around squeeing for the next six weeks.

Good Stuff Out There:

→ At Book Riot, A.J. O’Connell interviews cartographers who make fictional maps for books about their process: "For the second book in Blake Charlton's Spellwright series, Spellbound, [Rhys] Davies and the author worked together to create a map of a city, and Davies found that he needed to make the city believable; he and the author had to decide on a workable street pattern and Davies had to draw buildings that corresponded with the income of the inhabitants in certain neighborhoods."

September 10, 2015

Behind the Eye-Mirrors of a Teen Poet

Our most recent look at my childhood writing explored a survey of poetry I wrote for my seventh grade English class. I mentioned that I also kept a personal poetry journal during that time, and today I cracked it open and winced my way through. Unlike most of the other early work I've shared, these poems weren't written for school assignments, so it's possible they've never been seen by anyone else until now. Exciting, huh?

The journal is a cloth-covered blank book I probably received as a gift from a relative, perhaps at holiday time, since the first poem is dated shortly after the beginning of 1988. In fact, it commemorates the start of the year:

Yelling, screaming
Hugging, kissing
Trumpets, whistles, laughing, singing
In the dark,
All alone,
Without a sound
The new year comes in

The structure of this poem seems influenced by the forms we were studying in class, particularly the diamond poem, but here and throughout this collection, I experimented with different styles. Incidentally, I likely spent that New Year's Eve either watching a Marx Brothers movie marathon or sitting in a wood-fired hot tub surrounded by snow. Either way, there was definitely no kissing involved, but there was certainly some singing.

I continued writing poems in this book throughout 1988, the year I turned 13, but the entries are sporadic, and the vast majority of the pages remain blank. I expect I knew even then that my path to literary fame didn't lie in poetry.

The next poem is the one I retained the strongest memory of and most dreaded facing, though I'm sure I was very pleased with it at the time:

An empty face,
With grief behind the eye-mirrors,
Reflecting back on happy days that bring no smiles.
A sad sigh,
Of sorrows and times gone by,
Ne'er to come again.
An ache of longing,
Of crying though the tear-well's dry.
A black dress of mourning.

That's an Extremely Serious And Weighty Composition right there. You can tell by the "ne'er".

As it happens, I distinctly recall my inspiration for this grief-stricken poem. I'd heard that a neighborhood dog was hit by a car, and later that day I saw one of the kids from that family at school, staring into the distance. Sure, I realized he was probably thinking about lunch or homework, but I connected the look on his face with his recent loss, and I was visited by the muse.

September 3, 2015

July/August Reading Recap

The middle of the summer was too busy for book reviewing, so I'm covering two months of summer reading in one big post:

THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS by Elizabeth Gilbert: Alma Whittaker is born in 1800 to a wealthy Philadelphia couple, experts in the field of botany. She grows up on her family's estate surrounded by visiting scientists and other intellectuals, an upbringing that isolates her from the usual pursuits of young women but soon turns her into an accomplished naturalist. The novel follows Alma through the century as she investigates the world around her and strives for a better understanding of both plants and humans.

I adored this novel, which contains so much more than I want to reveal in a description of the story. It's full of wonderful eccentric characters, fascinating historical and scientific details, love and loss, and unexpectedly thrilling botanical intrigue. At each stage of Alma's life, she faces a new set of mysteries and embarks on a different type of adventure, and every one of these was a pleasure to share in.

I was surprised to realize that a good deal of the story is presented through lengthy passages summarizing stretches of time and that these sections are as gripping as the scenes that play out on the page. Gilbert pulls off this impressive feat by making the summaries vivid and specific, including only the interesting bits, and injecting whimsy into the narration. Since Gilbert is better known for her memoirs and inspirational writing, I'll admit I didn't expect to have so much admiration for her skill at crafting a novel, but this is a book I'll be studying in hopes of improving my own work.

THE SLEEPWALKER'S GUIDE TO DANCING by Mira Jacob is a wonderful exploration of how the past shapes and haunts a family. This is a common theme for novels (including my own), but this book stands out with its unusual situations, vivid characters, and perceptive narration. It joins my list of recommended heartbreaking family stories.

Amina is a photographer in Seattle who earns her living shooting conventionally gorgeous wedding photos but fuels her passion by capturing the ugly moments her clients would never want to remember. When her mother calls with concerns about her father's mental health, Amina returns to her New Mexico hometown to investigate. Flashback chapters present important events in the family's past, starting with a disastrous visit to relatives in India when Amina and her brother were young. As the story shifts between time periods, the reader comes to understand how a series of tragedies changed the lives of Amina and her parents.

Near the beginning of the book, I was less engaged with the story of adult Amina and her career issues, but once she reached New Mexico, the story became more compelling, and I was soon fully invested. I loved the characters, who are all well developed, with strong personalities and distinct ways of speaking. The family relationships are believably loving and frustrating, and there's a good sibling dynamic, which I always appreciate. While the overall story is quite sad, humor and beauty are sprinkled throughout. This novel is full of moments I'll remember.