Wednesday, November 24, 2010

ARC Giveaway!

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us here in the US. I, for one, am looking forward to the sweet potatoes, and the cranberry "sauce" that comes from a can. And I would describe that as jelly, not sauce.

Sometimes my family participates in that "go around the table and say what you're thankful for" thing, and I have a lot to be thankful for. One of those things is you guys-- who are excited about the book and make me feel like I'm not sending my blog posts into Nowhere and always show up to get excited about things like book-deal-getting and contract-signing and foreign-rights-selling and all that wonderful stuff. You guys mean a lot to me.

So, in order to express my gratitude: I'm giving away 3 ARCs.

!!!

And I rarely use exclamation points, so you know this is exciting when I whip out THREE of them! Look, another one! THEY'RE EVERYWHERE!

(I AM SO EXCITED FOR YOU TO READ! AHHHH!)

Look, here they are!

And I am going to put little post-its in the ARCs of my favorite scenes and fun facts about the writing process and the songs that sometimes go with certain parts, because I always find that interesting and I suspect you might, too.

And all you have to do...is tell me you want one.

In the comments. Oh, and leave your e-mail address in the comments so I can contact you easily, please!

I will choose randomly.

This contest is open...to everyone.

Everywhere.

Even if you have no idea what this whole Thanksgiving thing involving cranberry jelly is all about, because you don't live around here.

It closes in a week, on December 1st. And if you don't get one, don't worry! I'm going to be doing a smattering of small giveaways throughout the next few months. YAY.

(Yes, that's me making a cheesy little heart with my hands. Shhh.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Planet Full of Narrators

I am reading an essay by Karen Brennan called "Dream, Memory, Story, and the Recovery of Narrative." (from Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life, edited by Charles Baxter and Peter Turchi)

Basically, it's about what Brennan has learned about the importance of narrative since her daughter's traumatic brain injury, which affected her daughter's memory. And not just her memory, but her ability to connect one moment to the next: "I did this, and because of that, I did this next." Something I never realized was so important. It's what writers do all the time, of course, but more than that, it's what human beings do in order to function.

What I'm taking from it is that stories are essential-- and actually, instinctual. We're hard-wired to create narratives. What does that mean for writers? I have no idea. I'm going to let it all percolate. But here's a good quote from the essay:


Memory, according to Bergson, occupies the space between mind and body. It conveys mind to body and body to mind. It gives us our quality of life—makes possible, in other words, the narratives that keep our lives going forward to the next thing. If the thing is not next it loses its richness—isolated and unlinked to a history, it becomes meaningless, even ridiculous. Biologically and neurologically, we are creatures of context, of narrative.

Consider, for example, the activity of the neurons or brain cells. Unlike the body’s cells, which divide and multiply, microcosmically illustrating the propagation of the species, neurons are systems of communication. Their most salient features are a clutch of dendrites, which branch out to receive information across the synapses between cells, and a long, single axon, which reaches to the synapse—literally the space between neurons—through which chemical and electrical information are conveyed to the next cell.

By nature, then, the activity of the neuron is narrative, metonymic, associative. The information conveyed by each neuron accumulates along a complex circuitry of neurons and produces a thought, a corresponding action in the mind-body.


Oh! And also, this one's pretty interesting too:


Memory is always configured on a gap-- to re-member suggests the forgetfulness, the loss upon which it is founded.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sonnets = Discipline + Constant Failure

I am writing sonnets.

Yes, that's right. On the one hand you have me, who barely got through my required poetry writing class alive. And on the other you have sonnets, which are a very difficult form of poetry to master. And now those two hands are coming together. In a...clap-like gesture.

There are several reasons for this sudden plunge into poetry. Among them is that in the absence of constant instruction about craft, which is the sad part about not being in school, I feel like it's important to work on the actual writing part of the writing again, when I have been so focused on the structure.

I don't care if you like poetry or not, if you dabble in poetry or not-- if you're a writer, you should try this sonnet thing. And here's why.

Sonnets require discipline in a way that novels do not-- that is, novels do not have a definite structure, though they certainly have elements of structure in common. Also, while you're writing novels, you're so deeply involved in what you're doing at the moment that you can't even see the whole structure until later. That's not the case with the sonnet. It is completely rigid. Every line has a set amount of syllables and patterns of emphasis, and must end with a rhymed word. Groups of lines have to relate to each other in a specific way. And the poem itself must be a complete unit-- an idea first expressed, and then complicated, and then resolved-- maybe. This is an insane level of organization. And mostly, you have to stick with it, or it's not really a sonnet.

What this means is: you constantly have to think of new ideas and then discard them, moments or hours later, when you realize they won't work. You have to write lines that you love and then cross them out when they don't fit. You have to fail, over and over and over again, and when you revise, a problem in one line might cause problems for the entire poem.

Constant failure: it's good for you. I promise. Because you will fail repeatedly in your struggle to get things right-- in writing as in life-- and part of improving as a writer is learning how to work through that feeling of inadequacy. Maybe even learning how to ignore it.

This also forces you to be more resourceful in your writing. If you have something you need to say, you have to think of half a dozen ways to say it before you'll find one that works. That means constantly reinventing your idea, which means coming to a greater understanding of what you're thinking and all the ways in which it can be viewed and explored. If I did this while writing a novel I might never use another cliche or idiom. Imagine that.

Beyond all this, though, what I find most helpful is that sonnets are small. They require a lot of focus. Writing them is like dropping each word into place with tweezers. And if any of the words aren't working, you can see it-- the error will be staring back at you, no matter which line you're working on. It's a huge strain. But it's like when you train a muscle: the gym is a foreign environment in which you strain yourself beyond your normal capacity. After you've been going for awhile, though, you probably notice that it's easier to do things in your normal life, like walking up a flight of stairs. After a few sonnets, working on the novel seems easier, like I can breathe better.

So, because I'm not such a fan of Shakespeare's sonnets, I'm going to leave you with one by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who is famous for that "how do I love thee? Let me count the ways" line (but I like her other stuff better).

XXII-- Elizabeth Barrett Browning
When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curved point,—what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us, that we should not long
Be here contented? Think. In mounting higher,
The angels would press on us and aspire
To drop some golden orb of perfect song
Into our deep, dear silence. Let us stay
Rather on earth, Beloved,—where the unfit
Contrarious moods of men recoil away
And isolate pure spirits, and permit
A place to stand and love in for a day,
With darkness and the death-hour rounding it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Blog Hiatus

Hey everyone--

I'm going to be taking a blog hiatus for the next few weeks or so. I will come back to announce the winners of the subrights contest, but other than that, I'm going to hold off on posting for awhile.

In the meantime, here are just a few of my favorite blogs for you to check:

For your writing needs...

Coffey, Tea, and Literary
YA Highway
GotYA
Janet Reid
Sarah Enni
Kate Hart

And for your humor needs...

Hyperbole and a Half

See you guys soon,

Veronica

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Midwest Enthusiast Speaks (About Writing the Ordinary)

Hello, residents of lands far and wide. I am a Midwesterner.

I was born in Mount Kisco, New York, but I don't remember it. I have also lived in Hong Kong and Germany, and I do remember that, but that's neither here nor there. Because regardless of where I've been, the Midwest is where I'm from.

Sometimes I feel like we get the reputation of being dull and small-minded people, and our surroundings get the reputation of being cold, ugly, and miserable. Certainly there were moments in my youth that I longed for mountains and warmth in the midst of Chicagoland's flat, winter frigidity, but ugly this place is not. It just depends on what you think is beautiful.



(All taken within fifty feet of my home, with my old, crappy camera.)

The Midwest, at least from my understanding, is practically synonymous with "ordinary." And I didn't want to write about ordinary, so I used to write about places I wasn't in. Places that didn't exist, maybe, or mountainous places with lush forests and gentle winters. But I started to get frustrated, because I knew that I had only a vague knowledge of what it was like to live in those places, so whatever descriptions I generated felt false to me. Too easy, too convenient to feel new. And it is the writer's job to make everything feel new.

I am not arguing for writing exclusively what you know, because if I believed that, all my stories would be about young white girls from comfortable backgrounds from the suburbs, and that would be a shame, both for the literary world at large and for me as a human being. It is important to stretch yourself. But don't forget yourself.

I started to write about the Midwest for the writing program at my school. I took my characters to Macomb, Illinois, where I spent a week each summer for a few years, at a music festival. I wrote about the long drive through miles of empty land, and how the sky hit the fields at a straight line. I had never realized before I wrote about it that there was something stunning about that emptiness, and how much of the sky you could see, how huge the clouds looked.

And when I finished Divergent (which was not related to school at all), I realized that the whole time, I'd been picturing Tris's city as a dystopian Chicago. In the months that followed, as I worked more and more of Chicago into the manuscript, I got a chance to explore the city I've lived adjacent to for most of my life. I acted like a tourist. I went on boat tours. I rediscovered my home.

And speaking of home-- for the past two years, I've noticed a little part of me is always waiting for winter. Winter is something we're famous for around here. It gets cold, and it stays cold for far longer than you'd expect. I'm not immune to occasional bouts of seasonal depression, and I get stir crazy by the time April comes around and it's still painfully cold outside, but I'm learning to love the winters here. Everything starts to look stripped of life, and it turns the same color-- gray skies, gray trees, gray roads. I think that's the ugliness some people see, and sometimes I see it too, but not lately.

Last year I read Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson, which is this intensely poetic literary novel that takes place in a tiny town called Fingerbone. First of all: Fingerbone is supposed to be in the West, not the Midwest. But the way Robinson describes the cold reminded me of home anyway:

"The room was dark. When Sylvie put the light on, it still seemed sullen and full of sleep. There were cries of birds, sharp and rudimentary, that stung like sparks or hail. And even in the house I could smell how raw the wind was. That sort of wind brought out a musk in the fir trees and spread the cold breath of the lake everywhere." (Pgs 143-144)

"I sat down on the grass, which was stiff with the cold, and I put my hands over my face, adn I let my skin tighten, and let the chills run in ripples, like breezy water, between my shoulder blades and up my neck. I let the numbing grass touch my ankles. I thought, Sylvie is nowhere, and sometime it will be dark. I thought, Let them come unhouse me of this flesh, and pry this house apart." (Pg. 159)

Sure it gets cold here, and it gets empty here, but I used to think that there was nothing new to find out about coldness and emptiness, and that's not true. The ordinary-- as opposed to the exotic, as it's traditionally seen-- is worth examining simply because so many of us stop looking at it after awhile, like a painting in your house you forget is there because you see it every day. And the interesting thing is, the closer I look at all the regular, average, and normal in my surroundings, the more I appreciate it. And I start to lose the itching longing to go somewhere else, and do something else, that I had when I was younger. I start to feel deeply satisfied with where I am and what I am doing.

A few weeks ago when I was boiling water for tea, my stepfather was in the living room reading, and my mother was rushing around getting ready for her art class, and the dog was curled up on the rug, and I thought, I'm moving soon, and I'm going to live alone for a few months, and I won't see this anymore. Other people waking up. I won't get asked how I slept. I've been having the same morning conversation for over a decade and only now do I realize how nice it is.

Anyway, what I'm saying is, don't forget where you are. And when your hands are performing their usual routine, in the morning, or right before bed, think about what they're doing. Reinvent the gestures in your mind. See what's right outside like it's for the first time. Even the cold and the empty are worth examining.

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