Archive for September, 2010

Out and About on the Internet

I am up to my crossed, bloodshot eyes in SiWC contest entries at the moment. I should, in fact, be reading them right this minute. This is what is known as a sanity break. Not that I don’t enjoy the reading. I do. But it’s an intense, exhausting process reading them all back to back, so sometimes, a little break is in order. I’ve done the get-some-fresh-air break, the do-a-load-of-laundry break (_that_ one was exciting), the lunch-with-the-family break, and, of course, the I’ll-just-take-a-tiny-peek-online break. You’re all familiar with that one, right? It’s the one you promise yourself will only last five minutes, but then you get caught up in all the things you really should get caught up on, and a few more than five minutes goes by.

This has been a good one, though, that’s turned up some good stuff.

Caught up a bit on John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever, where I came across this wonderful post. If you’re someone who wants to write when you can find the time, read it. If you’re a writer who finds excuses not to put your butt in a chair and get the work done, read it. Neither? Read it anyway. It’s great.

Incidentally, the surgery he mentions in the post – Jay Lake’s – went very well, apparently. Jay’s a new presenter at SiWC this year, and we’re all sending him all our positive thoughts for a cancer-free outcome. (touch wood.)

Have you noticed the trend towards movie-style video trailers for books? I saw a couple of great ones today, both for books I’m looking forward to reading. Check them out while I dive back in to the contest entries…

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You Say It’s Your Birthday…

9/11 memorial blog posts, retrospective TV shows, and new articles are all over the media this week, as I knew they would be. Many of them mention the “almost ten years” since the day we watched live as what we first thought must be a tragic accident turned into an act of terror we could scarcely comprehend, even though it happened right in front of our eyes. I can only imagine what the coverage will be like next year, when it really is the ten-year anniversary.

It’s also my birthday. That 9/11 was my thirtieth birthday. I’ve written a little about that before, here.

It’s a strange day to have a birthday. In the post-9/11 world, celebrating anything today always seems a little disrespectful, somehow. Kind of like having your birthday on Remembrance Day, I guess.

But being an introspective person, my birthday is also about reflecting on where I’m going, where I’ve been, where I am. And I can – and do – give a nod of thanks to those who lost their lives that day for pushing me to live mine the way I want to. So I’ll do that, and celebrate, too, because I can, and when you think of all the people who can’t, that’s as good a reason as any. I think they’d understand.

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Work – in the form of my position as conference coordinator for the Surrey International Writers’ Conference – has been nuts, and is likely to stay that way until after the conference in October. I knew that would happen, but in a bid to at least keep a little piece of my head churning away on the book, for when I get back to it, I thought I’d talk a little about writing. Seems like I’ve encountered a bunch of people lately who don’t get the writing thing, and would like to. Some of them pop by here occasionally. So, with apologies to all my writer buddies for whom this won’t be anything new, I thought I’d start with a peek at the question I’ve had no fewer than six times this week, the one all writers cringe to hear: “where do you get your ideas?”

Writers are an odd, nosy breed of humans, sponge-like in their absorption of the world around them. I’ve yet to meet one who doesn’t mine every experience, every person met, every trip to the ER and every beautifully presented meal, every glorious view and every bug-ridden hotel room… everything… for what it can offer his or her writing. We all do it. Any writer who tells you she doesn’t is lying. Of course, we lie for a living, so you never know…. I’ve often heard it described along the lines of having a tiny part of our conscious mind that thinks “So this is what it feels like to…” no matter what the experience may be, whether it’s a hot air balloon ride or an emergency root canal. With the details, of course, carefully tucked away to be brought out later, someday, in some bit of prose somewhere. That’s not to say we’re not present in the moment, living our lives like everyone else, because we are. But it all fills the research well, too.

“Where do you get your ideas” has to be the most common question non-writers ask writers, and I know they get frustrated when we say “everywhere”. But it’s true. I think it’s just a matter of how the writer mind works. We see stories everywhere. Sometimes whole novels pop into being out of nothing more than a couple, seen from a distance, parting, their hands reluctant to let go until that last instant when the space between them exceeds their collective reach.

So, to do this job, we have to truly see the world around us. Not only feel what we feel, but catalogue the feelings, remember the good and the bad so that we can write honestly about whatever we’re writing about. Because joy is joy, whether or not you’ve ever had the same experience as your characters. If you know joy, if you’ve paid attention to what it feels like and what it looks like when others have it, you’ll know how your character feels in that moment, experiencing something joyful you’ve never even dreamed of trying yourself. Same goes for sadness and anger and fear. You get the idea. So no, I’ve never watched in my rear view mirror to see if my blind date was still following me, like the main character in my first novel does. But I have driven down creepy streets in the dark, making sure the doors were locked and carefully checking my mirrors and even the back seat for imagined invaders. So I apply that feeling, and others like it, and I know how Jane feels.

So that’s a start… next time I’ll tell you a bit about my current WIP.

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The Language of Relationships

I’ve been wanting to write a post about this for awhile, but somehow it never happened. It’s been in the back of my mind for long enough that I actually searched through my posts before I wrote this, wondering if I might already have said what I’ve been thinking about. Ever have that happen in a conversation, when you’re not entirely sure whether you actually said something or only thought about saying it when you were rehearsing the conversation in your mind? No? Maybe that’s just me… Forget I said anything.

So the Language of Relationships. Yes, I know. Unnecessary capital letters. That’s just the way I said it as I was typing it. This is sort of a combo life/writing topic, because I think it’s something we need to be aware of when we’re writing, especially with dialogue, and all too often, I think it gets overlooked. Writers go to endless lengths to get the jargon in their books right, whether their characters are police officers or doctors or computer geeks or florists or maids or milkmen. And I’ve seen both brilliant and obvious efforts to get dialect just so, even to the more-than-slightly-painful point of characters explaining their use of it, along the lines of “No, it’s a boot, not a trunk. We’re in England now.” But what about the personal influences on the way we speak and think?

Relationships of any length and depth, whether they’re close friendships or marriages or family ties or love affairs, develop a language all their own. It happens effortlessly, over time and with shared experiences, and I love that. I think it’s a lovely reminder of the depth and history of a connection every time you automatically use a phrase that no one outside the relationship would understand, or, if they did, wouldn’t know the significance of within the bounds of the relationship.

Sure, there are all the nicknames, the pookies and sweeties and dears and honeys. But what interests me, what always makes me stop for an instant of gratitude for having someone of such long-term importance in my life, are the everyday bits and pieces, the phrases and quotes and ways of expressing things we’ve absorbed and re-use over and over so that they become part of the fabric of our relationship.

If my family or my best friend’s family happens to be roasting a chicken for dinner, our answer to “what’s for dinner?” is always, “I cook a chicken,” said in the slightly staccato tone her grandmother, whose first language was French, would use to say just that when she was roasting a chicken.

In my house, there are a handful of pop culture quotations that have become part of our everyday language. Some of them may make sense to you, others not. But even if you know the source, the associations, the memories associated with them, are the thing that make them part of the common parlance at our house. A few of those? Thirty-four fifty. I do not think it means what you think it means. Death by tray….

And of course, there are the more personal ones that develop all on their own, ranging from the romantic to the ridiculous. The people I share them with know what they are, but I’ll keep them to myself here. Too difficult to explain, for one thing. Too silly, if they’re not yours, for another.

So how do you bring something so personal to your characters’ relationships and still have it make sense to the reader? Maybe the difficulty of doing so without tiresome explanations is why I don’t often notice much of it in the novels I read. But I think it’s something to consider including, in small amounts, where context would lend enough understanding to avoid explanation. I think, done well, it can lend authenticity and depth to your characters’ relationships. It certainly adds depth to the real ones. The challenge, of course, is not alienating the reader by locking him out of the POV character he’s going along with on the story. Can it be done? I think it can, with care. What say you?

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