Monday, May 18, 2015

Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, and Just About Every Parent in Middle Grade Fiction

First, a little tip of the cap to Nathan Bransford, for his post today, which is right on track with how I happen to be looking at and working on my own writing projects right now.

Last week I started really digging into a third draft of one of my WIPs. This round involves heavily paring down a lot of superfluous bits of the first two drafts, from settings to world building to whole characters that aren't going to be strong enough or important enough to the story to leave them all in. I'm a noted panster, and I love working on first drafts, where all the ideas can just pour out into one big bucket of book soup. The real work is in slowly simmering that vat of words down into a tasty, manageable, and most importantly enjoyable treat of a novel.

Sometimes characters leave your book, and you easily forget about them as you revise. And sometimes characters are important, but must stay mostly in the background. For instance, almost all parents in middle grade fiction. Of course there are exceptions, and parents who play a larger role, but in so many children's stories, the parents must be predisposed in order to serve the plot. Which makes perfect sense, as so many tales couldn't happen if anyone's sensible mother or father was paying attention to the children in the first place. The story isn't about the parents, except for the background they provide to the protagonists. Mom and Dad remain largely off stage while the kids get to be the stars of the show, and I have no problem with that. Except that another manuscript of mine includes a set of parents with a really fantastic backstory that has no place in the book itself, and their epic relationship will probably remain just a collection of notes in one of the dozens of books of other notes about the story of another character.

One of my favorite plays is Tom Stoppard's Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead, which explores the perspective of two minor characters from Hamlet as the events of the main story unfold around them, with hilarious results.
Unfortunately, not every character in every story can have their whole tale told in full, or even expounded upon Stoppard-style for a few hours trespass of the boards. But I can say, just as with Hamlet's dear departed schoolmates, my unsung characters' biggest mistake was getting on a boat.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The First Bee of Spring


Forget the robins. It's spring when the first bees return, because bees mean - Flowers!
And the first fat, fuzzy bumblebee of spring appeared this week, as I repainted the front deck railings.
It's time to open windows (yay) and pull weeds (boo).
I know a lot of people love this time of year, but I remain ambivalent. I love seeing the new plants, getting back out in the garden, seeing the world outside again. But something about springtime always makes me feel as if I'm not getting enough done. There's suddenly all this Outside work to do, as well as Inside work that gets put off in the winter doldrums. And these are the last few weeks of school before kids are back for the summer.
I always love having my son home, and I always get a bit down when school starts up again in the fall. Right now, though, I'm in Finish All the Writing mode, because there are only a few more weeks of quiet mornings, and I need to make them all count!

What about you? Does spring somehow awaken that flurry of motivation to Do All The Chores, and Make All the Things?


Film Count 2015 : 97
Watched this week:
(*not first viewing)

The Book of Life*
The Boxtrolls
Avengers : Age of Ultron
Moonstruck* 
The House at the End of Time
The Sad and Lonely Glow
The Lost River
Rush
The Judge


Things that are technically TV shows even though I only watch them streaming on the computer: 18
New this week:

Under the Dome

Books of 2015 : 17
New this week:

The Last Wild
The Bone Gap
(Intended to start a re-read of His Dark Materials, then realized that I lent out my copy of The Golden Compass, and whoever has it, well, still has it.) 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Films About Writers

Arg. I thought this would be a quick, fun little post about a few of my favorite films about writers. But then there just kept being more and more and... well... I really love movies about writers, and there is a long, long list of fantastic movies about writers, whether it's about the process itself, or just a study of the kind of character who likes to study characters.
So, here's the first ten (eleven) that popped up in my interior Films file, in no particular order -

Wonder Boys - Based on a book about writers, so this one is a double threat.

Becoming Jane - Are hipster guys dressing like Mr. Darcy yet? Because I would have no problem with that.

Sideways - Every one of us is a little bit Miles at some point on the writing journey. Hopefully our id is a little more controlled than Jack

Listen Up Philip - He should have listened. But at least watching him not listen makes for a great movie.

Kill Your Darlings  - Ah, the Beat Poets. You set a high bar for literary inspired debauchery, gents. Well played.

Midnight In Paris - Still waiting for my letter from Hogwarts, and a magical cab to whisk me off for a night of drinking and dancing with our finest artists of the roaring 20s.

Adaptation - Because its important to have those moments, when your manuscript is giving you fits, to say "Hey! I'm in charge here! I'll do what I want!"

Last Night - Only secondarily about writers, but one of the most beautifully crafted films I've ever seen.

Young Adult - A much more realistic portrayal of the glamorous writing life? Maybe not all of it, but we'll each recognize a choice moment, and be thankful that no one films us looking or acting like that.

The Basketball Diaries - I saw this before Leo was Leo. That's how old I am. And him. We're both old. Sigh.

Shakespeare In Love. Yes. This.  Shakespeare, writing, guys with soulful dark eyes, fancy outfits. Perfect. Thank you.


So, what else? What brilliant, writing inspired films would you heartily recommend?


Film Count 2015 : 88
Watched this week:
(*not first viewing)

Home
Girl Most Likely
Obvious Child
The Big Lebowski*
Houdini
Life After Beth
All the Light in the Sky
While We're Young
Spirited Away 
Searching for Sugarman
The Pact
Kicking and Screaming




Things that are technically TV shows even though I only watch them streaming on the computer: 17
New this week:

Louie

Books of 2015 : 15
New this week:

The Scorpio Races (finally) 

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Deadly Serious Advice for Writing

I'm not saying this is the only way to do it. I'm just saying this is how I do it. So if you find anything helpful here, I welcome you to add it to your routine.

1. Buy Track Pants.
They are just as comfortable as pajama pants, and you can wear them from bed to your desk and back to bed again, and also pretzel yourself in your chair as you work - thus the basis of the appeal of pajama pants in the first place - except that you can also go out in public, without changing your clothes, and you won't look like an antisocial slob. You will, in fact, look like there's a possibility you've just been working out.  Or you're in the mafia. Either way, more respectable than old hello kitty pajama pants with cheese dip stains on them.

2. Get a Cat.
Let it get accustomed to sleeping in your lap. Then, when you start to get distracted and think about wandering off to do something besides productive writing (all those random projects and chores that become super high priority when it's hard core procrastination time-  I need to deep clean the carpets! We need to fix that sink that's been broken for six months RIGHT NOW. Are those venetian blinds a little dusty? Well, we can't have that! What if the Queen of America stops by for tea? What then??) No need to worry with a warm cat trapping you in place. You'll feel too bad about moving the adorable sleeping kitty, and you'll be stuck sitting there, but hey! you're already at the desk, so might as well write a few words. Genius.

3. Get a Coffee Lad.
This is not an appliance. It's a real guy. One who will refill/reheat your coffee on request. For practicality, I repurposed my husband for this job. He works from home, as do I, and every 90 minutes or so, he'll wander into my office to chitchat about whatever he just read on his fb feed while filling his own coffee mug. So while he's up, he warms up my mug, too. Gotta love him.

4. Build a Garden
You can't get a book written without actual time sitting down in front of your computer (or with your pen and notebooks). But it turns out that sitting down all day, while good for your books, is probably utterly terrible for the rest of you. Exercise has to be included somewhere. Jogging is good, or joining a gym, or finding a yoga studio, but no matter what you pick, most of us will get bored with it eventually. My solution to not enough outdoor acting like a human time is my garden. I have things planted all around my house, and we're adding and changing it a bit every year. It is a lot of manual physical labor to build, weed, water, plant, clip, mow, trim, clean, rake and sweep, but that's the point. It's outside, it requires a lot of different movements and muscles, it's inspiring and meditative at the same time, and I get a beautiful view out the windows for all the work. (sure, other exercise might make me look better, but how often do I get to see myself? And would I want to stare at myself all day, or the beds of flowers outside my office windows? )

5. Do Not Take Yourself Too Seriously, or Not Seriously Enough.
This one's actually about the work. Do not worry that your idea is too serious. Do not fret that it is not serious enough to warrant your time and effort. In short, don't justify why you write what you write. Write what you want to write. What inspires you to buy those track pants, get that pet cat, build that garden and start conditioning your significant other to bring you the coffee carafe like a diner waitress.

And that's about all I have for the moment. You are now fully prepared to write a book. Or at least, no more or less so than anyone else who's set out on this baffling, challenging, winding, weeping beautiful calamity of a road. Good Luck, fellow travelers.

Friday, April 3, 2015

It's A to Z Time!

So, it's been a kind of nutty month for me (details soon, I promise) and there's no way I can keep up with the A to Z challenge this year (again, boo) it is still a fantastic way to find new blogs to follow. There still may be time to join, if you get moving like, right this minute, but go. Now. Go Here. And then come back. 

Are you back? Great! 
This has been a movie heavy week. Why do I watch so many movies, you ask? Well, it's the nightly ritual of Mr. Cate and I, once the little son is in bed, and we pry ourselves away from our many projects, to watch a movie. Neither of us really watch any tv anymore, at least not regularly. We don't even have cable anymore, as no one was watching it. We do, however, both loooove movies. This past week, we even made it out into the world of the normals and saw It Follows in a real live movie theater. 
I actually liked it more than Mr, and horror is really his thing. Oh, and romance. He really loves almost any movie where love happens. Exhibit A - Twilight. I hadn't actually seen any of the films before the original appeared on Netflix recently. 
So, we watched it. And then the next night, we found New Moon on Amazon. And then Eclipse. And Mr. has actually asked when we're watching the other two. And I'm realizing that it would have been a blast to see those movies at the midnight screenings, with a packed house of superfans. At least I'll know for next time (oh yes, there will be a next time. You won't know when, and you won't know where, but the next phenomenon is right around the corner, just wait) 
Can you guess what it is? What will be the next humongous ginormous thing?? 

Film Count 2015 : 76
Watched this week:
(*not first viewing)

The Armstrong Lie
What If 
It Follows
New Moon
Eclipse
Breathe In
Save the Date
This Thing with Sarah



Things that are technically TV shows even though I only watch them streaming on the computer: 17
New this week:

Doctor Who 

Books of 2015 : 14
New this week:

Impatiently waiting for Scorpio Races to show up. It is rushing through the night to get here, I am assured by UPS tracking. But still. I want to read NOW.  

Things I am Eagerly Awaiting in 2015 
The new Noah Baumbach movie, While We're Young. And the Rolling Stones at Summerfest. 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Who Would You Choose to Read Your Book?

Aloud, that is.

Today I ran across the recording of Sally Gardner's The Red Necklace read by one Tom Hiddleston, who, it turns out, has not only the most beautiful speaking voice, but is also a pretty impressive voice actor, with a good range of accents at his disposal.   (and he was in a few superhero movies, I have been informed)
And, I wondered, who would I pick, if I could have any beautiful voice in the world, to read my current WIP when it eventually becomes a real manuscript, and, hopefully, an actual book?

This was trickier than I thought. I love playing the casting game, picking actors to play our favorite characters thought I have gotten in trouble with a few fellow writers for my unconventional picks. Sorry, fellow scribes, I stick by my choices!
For my last manuscript, I have no idea. But the one that's on the drawing board right now? That would have to be Tilda Swinton. In fact, if I could get her to read me the passages as I write them, that would probably get this written a lot faster, so let's see if I can hook that up.

How about you? Who would you trust, with your words?


Film Count 2015 : 68 
Watched this week:
(*not first viewing)

Skeleton Twins
Jamie Marks is Dead
Waking
Earth to Echo
Holes
How to Train Your Dragon 2*
Frances Ha*



Things that are technically TV shows even though I only watch them streaming on the computer: 16
New this week:

Penn and Teller

Books of 2015 : 13
New this week:

Nothing as of this posting. Working on my own writing and rewriting for the past few days. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

On Finding Your Genre as a Writer

So, why do you write what you write? Is that the simplest hardest question in all of the writing world? 
Many writers work in multiple genres, of course, but they almost always have a foundation genre, the one they are known for, the one they totally own. And as we all know, one of the major obstacles (okay, THE major obstacle?) of going from wanting to write to actually writing is figuring out just what in the world we're going to write about

For me personally, it happened somewhere in the year after college, when I was working in a bookstore. 
I had been a writer since the first grade, and by the final semester of earning my BFA (in sculpture, of course) I had decided that I was going to start writing again, and taking it seriously. But what to write? 
Well, spending 50 hours a week surrounded by books is a very good way to go, if you're a little shaky on what exactly you want to write. 
That's where I found Middle Grade. Ah, my people! 
I love reading every genre, from memoirs to cozy mysteries to high fantasy to fussy literature, but when it came to writing, there was something about the middle grade category that seemed so freeing, and open, and inspiring. I thought of all the books I loved to read when I loved to read the most - as a kid. Suddenly, I had all the ideas in the world, and all the energy to work on them, hour after hour, through the many years that would follow, while I learned what an agent was, and how submitting to publishers worked, and how fantastic and supportive the kid lit community can be even across the country or the world, because they told me all these things, and read my earliest, cruddiest work. 

So, when did you find your genre? Did you always know what you wanted to write? Are you still looking?  





Film Count 2015 : 61 
Watched this week:
(*not first viewing)

Listen Up Phillip
Magic in the Moonlight
Twilight
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2*
Top Gun*
Ferris Bueller's Day Off*
Somewhere*
Marie Antoinette*


Things that are technically TV shows even though I only watch them streaming on the computer: 15
New this week:

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Books of 2015 : 13
New this week:

The Map to Everywhere
Wonder at the Edge of the World