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Archive for November, 2009

Another week, another 7,000 words down. Not so bad, really considering I was swept into the maelstrom of vacationing with family in Arizona for the Thanksgiving holiday. By the way, happy Thanksgiving! Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday – all about food, family, fun, and gratitude. You can’t do better than that for a holiday.

My two sisters and I and my parents all went to see New Moon again (second time for me and my older sister) on Thanksgiving night after glutting ourselves on the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and pumpkin chiffon pie.

While we were sitting in the theater, my older sister, who we’ve decided is a confirmed “momager,” was checking people’s Facebook status updates on her iPhone, or whatever similar gadget she’s got. Everyone was writing in and saying things they were thankful for. Being the jaded, world-weary sophisticates we are, we spent the minutes before the previews making fun of them. After the movie, we agreed we were all quite thankful for that one part where Taylor Lautner takes his shirt off. (Not that Taylor Lautner is anywhere near as hot as my husband, of course.)

I always forget how beautiful Tucson is. I’d been thinking about Tucson a lot because the first half of my book that I’m working on now is set there. Strangely, that makes it feel a bit like research, to be on vacation here.

In any case, Friday we all went for a hike up Romero Canyon, and there was water in the black pools at the top. It’s a bit tricky getting over from the trail’s end to the pools, with all the steep rocks around them. On the way out I had a dramatic fall and barely caught a handhold to keep myself from sliding down the rockface and hitting my head – it was like in the movies when someone falls from a ledge and you think they’re dead, but then the camera shifts and you see they’re still just barely holding onto the ledge by three fingers. Now I have some badass scratches on my ribs and hands and shoulder.

We were all panting and dusty and bedraggled by the time we got home. Then we went out for dinner at Cafe Poca Cosa, which I highly recommend. My parents took home two pints of their fresh salsa.

Afterwards my sisters and I went out to this bar called Plush on 4th Avenue, which I’d never been to before, but liked a lot. It was full of hip-looking people whose conversations I wanted to eavesdrop on. It felt like forever since I’d actually gone out to a bar for drinks and conversation with other grownups. I don’t think I’ve done that since Amandine was born, and it felt great, the only depressing part being that we were probably among the oldest people there.

Then, bright and early this morning, we went on an expedition to Kartchner Caverns. Taking the tour reminded me of how, in high school and college, I always loved it when a teacher or other smart person would sit down with me and explain to me a complicated film or novel or poem or painting or piece of classical music, so that I could see better what was so special and beautiful about it. The tour was kind of like that. We went in there and I was like, “Yawn. A cave.” But then we learned all kinds of fascinating things about the rock formations, which had cool names like “bacon” and “fried eggs” and “soda straws.” So I really enjoyed it, along with the drive through the beautiful Tucson desert.

Tonight we’re eating at one of my favorite restaurants here, Primo. Yum, that definitely puts me in a thankful mood.

I’m also thankful because, in writing news, I entered my first novel in the St. Martin’s Press contest for New Adult Fiction last week (“new adult” is a freshly invented category of books that fall between young adult and old adult fiction, and doesn’t have anything to do with the subject matter of “adult” films).  Although I didn’t win, I did get a referral to a really good agent out of it and got to send off some chapters and a synopsis. So, many thanks and a big shoutout to Georgia McBride and her site, YALitchat.

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One of my mom friends (Ms. Connect-the-Dots) and I are going to see New Moon tomorrow morning. And I am not ashamed. I know Stephenie Meyer has her share of detractors, but I think it’s an amazing accomplishment on her part to have tapped into a fantasy that so many people can participate in. What’s not to love about years-long emotional foreplay?  Plus, I think that the pacing in the last three books of the series is superb.

Pacing is not something I ever used to think about when reading a novel, but since I finished writing a novel of my own this past August, it’s become something I pay a lot of attention to. A couple of literary agent blogs I read regularly, Pub Rants and Nathan Bransford, both have had some great posts about what pacing is and why aspiring writers should be obsessed with it.

Writing a novel changed the way I read in a lot of other ways besides the fact that I’m now hyperattuned to pacing. I used to love to just let myself get lost in a story, and I only noticed the writing when it was either phenomenally beautiful (e.g. Cormac McCarthy) or bad enough to distract me from getting lost in it (e.g. Robert Ludlum). Now I find myself paying attention to things like how much the author uses dialogue as opposed to paraphrasing, how much description she includes of the settings and the characters’ looks, and how much “showing” versus “telling” he does.

So, for everyone out there who’s doing NaNoWriMo this month, take heart. Even if your novel turns out lousy and unpublishable, you will still benefit from finishing it. If your experience is anything like mine, it will help you become not just a better writer, but a more sophisticated reader as well. (I didn’t do the official NaNoWriMo myself, but did my own personal NaNoWriMo in the month of August. Thank you, Chris Baty, you are a national treasure.)

Everyone seems to say that you don’t get good at novel-writing until your third one. I read an interesting book called 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might, by a guy who had worked for an independent publisher for years. His press focused on discovering new fiction writers, and one year, if I recall correctly, they had something like 30 first-time novelists. Interestingly, in the case of every single one of those novelists on the roster, the book they were getting published was the third one they had written. So there’s another advantage of having written one novel right there: it gets you closer to that third one which might actually turn out to be decent.

Stephenie Meyer is an example that supports this third-novel theory. It sounds as though she started on a novel once before writing Twilight, so that Twilight was actually her second book, depending on how you look at it. And from a purely technical standpoint it’s clear to me, thanks to my new amazing magical technicolor writer-vision, that Twilight was not all that well-executed, and the pacing in particular was only eh. But from New Moon on, she really gets it. She has mastered pacing, and she has the whole novel-writing thing down pat.

Right now I’m about 20,000 words into my second novel, and I feel a bit resigned and fatalistic about it, given that the odds are so clearly stacked against its being any good. All the same, it’s another step closer to that magical Novel #3. Plus, it’s something I’ve had in mind for a long time and it’ll be nice to get it out of my system and then move on to something else.

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I don’t know about you all, but I loved The Road and can’t wait to see the movie. Just read the recent interview with Cormac McCarthy in the Wall Street Journal. McCarthy says:

Creative work is often driven by pain. It may be that if you don’t have something in the back of your head driving you nuts, you may not do anything. It’s not a good arrangement. If I were God, I wouldn’t have done it that way. Things I’ve written about are no longer of any interest to me, but they were certainly of interest before I wrote about them. So there’s something about writing about it that flattens them. You’ve used them up.

I suppose this is kind of a roundabout way of saying that writing about painful stuff can be therapeutic and helpful, although his way of saying it is much more awesome and writerly. I love the image of “flattening” things by getting them into writing. Although maybe you have to be a genius like Cormac McCarthy to really flatten things effectively. The way I write, I’m probably just plumping things up.

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Hi there. I’ve decided to launch this writing blog/website to link to my published writing and give more information about my unpublished projects. Years ago, I used to do a blog called Strange Violin Music, and I liked that title and its rationale, so I’ve decided to revive it here. I’ve also imported a few of my old (old) posts from that blog, just so I won’t be starting out all naked and post-less. In the past when I used to blog I found that blogging, while fun, took up a lot of time and creative energy. Since I’m now putting most of my energy into more formal types of writing projects, I’m not sure how often I’ll be posting, but I’ll try to give an update at least once a month. Just thought I’d announce that in advance so no one gets all excited about reading this blog and then has their hopes dashed.

This obviously isn’t an anonymous blog, since my name is in the URL and the whole point is to link to my writing, but I do want to make a token effort at protecting my family’s privacy, so in case I blog about them, for the purposes of the blog my husband  ex shall be known as “Jean-Marc,” and my two-year old daughter as “Amandine.” Those are not their real names. Anyway, thanks for reading!

Update: I think I’m going to try for one post per week. Any more than that, and I’ll get too distracted from “real” writing. Any less, and my brain will get all clogged up with unused ideas for blog posts.

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