I’m sifting through ideas and have little to say. I’m also trying to finish several short stories. When the stories are done, I’ll have to decide what to include in my MFA application… If some of you have the time and inclination, I’d love to have a reader. Let me know if you wouldn’t mind helping me polish a few stories. Thank you all.
Do you read book reviews? Sometimes I read a review that makes me want to read the book–like this review of Her Fearful Symmetry–and also fills me with despair. Or maybe it is jealousy. Hard to tell the difference.
I tell my son that he should worry about his own work and not everyone else’s, that everyone is different with different talents and skills, that if you compare, you will always find someone who can do things better than you, that this doesn’t need to hold you back, that someone may well be comparing themselves to him and find themselves wanting too, and on and on with what may or may not be advice and which he may or may not listen to.
I try to follow my own advice to convince my son that it works… but sometimes this is all show.
Do book reviews inspire you or hold you back? Maybe you don’t care about them at all? What do you do to stop them from getting the better of you?
What review have you read lately that made you go buy a book (or perhaps it made you gnash your teeth)?
“Yes, I know,” he said and smiled, slightly embarrassed and charming. “But, it was very hard for me.”
I smiled back. “And you didn’t have the book for the first four weeks.” This was week five.
“Yes, but I been busy, it was Ramadan and…” he shrugged. “I study hard but I been sick.”
“I know. I know.” I put my hands on my hips.
“I didn’t understand the part with past perfect and past perfect progressive. What was I supposed to write?”
I like this student. He is polite and wants to do well.
But some students don’t seem to know how to study. They think that a modicum of effort is hard work. They look blankly at the page when I ask them to check their work. “It’s fine,” they say.
How do you know you’ve worked hard enough on your writing? Is it the best you can do? How much work is a lot? Of course, other students overwork everything. They over think the grammar questions and wring their essays to death.
Today a student was asked what he would change about himself if he could anything with a snap of his fingers. He said he wouldn’t change anything.
Some people might say this if they have accepted themselves flaws and all. Some people might say this if they believe themselves right. They can’t conceive that anything about themselves would need changing.
This particular student had already said he hadn’t come here to make friends and wasn’t going to change just because he was in a new culture.
When do you know to change your work and when do you know to stand by it? How far are you ever willing to change your work? A few words here, a verb tense there, a character’s name, a plot point, a theme, the whole idea you thought you had?
Could you be blind to what needs changing or too insecure to stay true?
On Friday morning went down to IF+D where my art is for sale. Kristen, the owner and fellow crazy coffee drinker, reminds me of the woman who had spent the last month reading my novel over her lunch hour. Once or twice a week, this woman was coming into the store and reading a bit more of my novel.
Well, Kirsten said, she saved up her money and bought it.
This copy of my novel was handmade because I have no publisher. I made a front cover and a back cover, taped, pasted, and stitched it all the pages together. Probably it took ten hours or more–not counting the actual writing of the story (editing and printing too). It wasn’t cheap. And this person spent her hard earned money on it.
I’m in shock–flattered, humbled, anxious, and happy. It is like magic coming real. Forgive my blather, but as one friend likes to say, “It’s a banner day!”
I had these Let’s Pretend records when I was little. I’ve kept them because for the art. With tracing paper I’d try to copy pieces of the covers.
My father read me fairy tales even though he’d only recently learned to read. I recorded The Wizard of Oz from TV onto tape player and play it while I waited for sleep.
My father told me the abandoned house behind trees on our road was a witch’s house. He told me elves were the in hot air balloons over our house and Indians were across the lake sending him smoke signals.
My mother gave me Tarot cards, spent the night in a cemetery, and lived with a man who taught a class on death and dying.
For a long time I believed in all of it.
Perhaps I should be less worried about embracing the label of fairy tale writer.
What were passions and beliefs in childhood? Are they still with you today?
A new radio station decides to play one song for its first day on the air. It plays the R.E.M song, It’s the End of the World as We Know It (and I Feel Fine) all day. Over and over again. My roommate and I are washing our cars and we leave the station on. I don’t know why it doesn’t fry our nerves. We sing along as best we can and dance in the driveway.
“Leonard Bernstein!” It’s the one part we always get right.
I feel like I’m repeating myself. Writing, writing, writing… hard, hard, hard… Really, do we need another wannabe writer complaining? Just get to it already!
Then there is the writing itself. I see images over and over again in my stories. New characters, new plots, but somethings never change. I don’t even realize it half the time and I think I’m describing something new. Maybe the inside of my own head needs a good wash.
What images do you repeat in your writing? What gestures do your characters tend to make? What particular turns of phrase are said too often? Is this repetition always bad?
(Just note that while I like R.E.M well-enough, I’m not a huge fan. You can though listen to the song here.)
I still have stories to tell. I can’t decide whether I want to tell them. You might not like me anymore.
Perhaps I fail at writing well-rounded complex characters–but I do try. Do you listen to your characters? Can you be sympathetic to fictional characters if you can’t manage it for real people? There seems to be an amazing mount of not listening that goes on in the world after all. And no one ever thinks it is him or her. Always the other person isn’t listening. It reminds me of the statistic that 80% of drivers believe themselves to be above average at driving. Or, you know, all the kids are above average.
I believe I can’t be a truly great writer until I can understand the guy I hate. That’s not the only criteria, of course, but it is on the list.
Writers are often labelled–horror writer, fantasy writer, romance writer, literary writer… You know how you feel when you hear that label. You attribute all sorts of things to this person even if–especially if–you haven’t read anything this person has written. We all do it. This is why I resist taking on a label. I’ll be rejected on that alone. Should that matter? Probably not.
So by telling certain stories, I’ll be put into a category–one of those people. And I’ll be judged accordingly. A brave person wouldn’t care and who can change human nature?
How much do you self-censor? Do you think you’ve ever encouraged (unwittingly or otherwise) self-censorship in others? Would you really want to live in a world where the only voices you heard were ones you agreed with? Lots of people I know answer of course not. But they don’t go out and act that way. When was the last time you read something by a writer you disliked/disagreed with–for whatever reason–and found you agreed with something that person said?
(I’m not going to say where the picture posted here was taken so you can’t jump to conclusions about me. As a very wise writer once said, “Don’t jump to conclusions. You’ll get wet swimming back.”)
The MFA program I’m applying for wants a screenplay. I’ve never written a screenplay, and so I thought that taking my novel and turning it into a screenplay would be the easiest thing to do.
More the fool me.
I’ve cut the first chapters. Three or five? I’ve lost count. Characters are deleted. Scenes relocated. And it makes me wonder if these scenes should’ve been cut from the novel in the first place.
If you have ever criticized a movie for butchering a novel, pick up your own cleaver and give this process a whirl. See how much blood you spill.
So, for those of you who have read my novel The Labyrinth House, here are the butchered bits. Instead of beginning in the house with Mercie and her housemate, we begin in front of the aunt’s house with the mom and dad. The horrible cousin is gone. The grandmother is no longer upstairs, but downstairs. And the mother’s promise is broken before Mercie goes into the woods instead of after.
But, you know, the spirit is the same. Right?
What movie do you think does justice to the book it is based on? And what movie was a travesty? Why do you think one adaptation works and another doesn’t? What book would you love to see turned into a film?