Monday, February 28, 2011

Location, location, location!

I'm currently reading the novel _Raven Black_ (by Ann Cleeves), which is set in the Shetland Islands (north part of Scotland). The setting really makes the story unique, and I'm enjoying all the foreignness of the landscape, dialogue, and customs (lots of Viking references). Also, now that I'm nearing the end, I'm realizing how much of the scenery and customs are linked to the plot and theme of the book.

It makes me think I'm not using setting enough in my WIP. My story isn't set anywhere that fascinating (southern-ish US), but I think I still need to add in more elements of location to make it feel real...after all, we're shaped by where we grow up and live, right? So should my characters be also.

What book(s) have you read where the setting really made the story something special? What about the location really connected with the tale itself?

Friday, February 25, 2011

20th Follower Celebration!

Well, I am very pleased to be able to celebrate the acquisition of my 20th follower on this blog. Thanks, ladies and gentlemen, for your interest!

I must also thank the Writers Digest Community group "Today I blogged about" for the increase in readership--I think that's how many of you found this blog.

So, let me pose a question to stimulate some conversation with my fellow writers out there. My local writers group had an interesting discussion about the issue of taboo or controversial topics in writing (yes, even fiction writing), and how they affect sharing your work with other people. Have you ever had this happen to you, or been on the other side of it as a reader/critiquer?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Ultimate POV Change

So today I had jury duty. That wouldn't be that interesting of a fact, except that I'm a prosecuting attorney. (Yes, we have to serve as jurors too.) Normally I'm one of the lawyers at the table, eyeing the prospective jurors with skepticism and scrutiny. But today I got the experience from a totally different viewpoint, and it really opened my eyes.

It was like being a secret shopper--I have all this inside information, and I know most people who work in the building. So, as I waited in the hallway, I'd get lots of smiles, nods, and funny comments from passing attorneys, cops, and other staff. But to the other jurors I seemed just like them--bored, tired of standing (we don't have much seating outside of the courtrooms themselves), and wondering when they'd call us into the courtroom.

I've had jury duty before, but have never been called into a courtroom before (I just languished in the big waiting room until they ran out of cases needing jurors for the day). But today, I not only got inside the courtroom, but seated in the jury box to be questioned individually by the judge. The judge knew me too, of course, and made some comments to that effect, which caused my fellow jurors some whiplash trying to look at who he was referring to. It was like being a minor celebrity trying to go incognito for a few hours. Kind of fun.

But as I sat in the box, watching things in the courtroom from this very different perch, I noticed a few things. First off, I was nervous! Even though I knew my setting and that it was very unlikely I would be left on this jury panel--it was a bit unnerving to answer questions in front of a group of strangers, knowing that the lawyers were staring at me. Secondly, it really is difficult to think straight when there's pressure and the formality of the courtroom. I suddenly felt more compassion for those jurors who couldn't quite remember how many children they had (yes, this happens), or how long they had worked at their current job, or when they'd served on a previous jury. Before, I realized that it wasn't easy for an average citizen to appear on a jury panel, but now, I saw how rough it was from a first-person perspective. Lastly, I saw how focused the pannel is on the defendant's table. You're staring right at the person on trial, and his or her lawyer. That's a very different viewpoint from where I normally sit, facing the judge and witness stand. It kind of makes more sense how scared jurors get to make the wrong decision, and how they often seem to err on the side of the defendant, even where most lawyers would agree there was sufficient evidence to prove a case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Of course I got kicked from the panel by the defense, but I really am glad that I had the chance to see this from the eyes of a juror.

And, unfortunately, I recently was served with a subpoena to be a witness in a case (in which hopefully I won't have to testify), so perhaps I'll get the POV of the loneliest chair in the world, being questioned and cross-examined as a witness. Who knows.

This all makes me think of POV in my writing too. Maybe it's time I shook the book I'm kind of stalled in up--maybe write a bit of it from a different character's POV, just to see what light is shed on the story. And maybe I need to put my protagonist in the witness chair and cross-examine her until I really understand the ins and outs of what she's thinking. That could be just what I need to regain my momentum!

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Craters in my mind

Working on my novel-in-progress has really hit home to me how very difficult it is to write a book. I know, DUH! But seriously, how many of us as readers zip through books and yet fail to understand how much blood, sweat, and tears (and time!) went into their creation?

I was always a reader, but only in the past decade have I become a writer (yes, unpublished writer, of course). So now I want to give props to ten (in no particular order) of the fiction books that really made an impact on my brain:

1. The Sound and the Fury, by Faulkner. I read this book in high school and was blown away. Then in college I took a course that compared Faulkner and Garcia Marquez, and was even further impressed.
2. 100 Years of Solitude, by Garcia Marquez. See above. But also, it was recommended to me by my cousin, who is always a good source for cool books! Plus, magical realism, anyone?
3. Corelli's Mandolin, by Louis DeBernieres. I credit my husband with tipping me off to this read--I fell totally in love with this story (and my hubby) while reading this book. It has it all, like Casablanca: war, love, revenge, honor, beauty...
4. Classics of the Macabre, by Daphne du Maurier. A collection of wonderful short stories. Take a look at the illustrated version, if you can get it. This helped me want to write short stories myself.
5. Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. This book has my very favorite atmosphere. Creepy, mysterious, yet compelling.
6. Farenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury. I wrote an entire post about this book (see below). The man is a genius poet with a mad sense of humor. Wow.
7. Pigs in Heaven, by Barbara Kingsolver. I loved her voice so much. She is also a good one to watch for how she uses setting.
8. The House With a Clock in its Walls, by John Bellairs. Young reader mystery--loved it. Plus, Edward Gorey and I were introduced through his book covers. See the weblinks to the right for their fan pages.
9. Curtain, by Agatha Christie. I grew up loving all her mysteries, but this book showed me that you CAN kill off your darlings.
10. The Turn of the Screw, by Henry James. I love haunting tales, and this one really stuck with me. Great use of suspense and subtle tension.

What are your favorites?

Monday, February 07, 2011

We have a title!

Maybe it was the summer I spent working at a video store. Or perhaps my love of cheesy horror films. But whatever the root cause, I get such a kick from goofy movie titles! I used to cruise the horror aisles reading the boxes, giggling at the wordplay on display--even (especially?) on low-budget movies.

For example, SyFy (yes, I am annoyed that they now misspell their own name) Network's films Mansquito (about a man-mosquito hybrid monster), Caw (about evil crows), and Carny (obviously about Carnies, right? With the added tagline, "Death becomes the main attraction"). The other night I was flipping channels and came across Husk (yes, as in corn--a kind of Children of the Corn flick, with the awesome tagline: "Prepare to be stalked.)

Then there's the "classics"--Bride of Chucky, "Chucky gets lucky." Or Final Exam, "Some will pass the test, God help the rest."

Now that I'm writing, I appreciate these titles even more. Coming up with a great title is more difficult than I ever imagined!

How about you? Any favorite movie titles or taglines?

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Top 10 Ways That Writing Is Like Driving in a Snowstorm

(or, Ode to the Snowpocalypse That Wasn't)

10. Some days you just don't want to do it.
9. Staring at that much white (be it blizzard or blank page) can give you
a headache.
8. It can be terrifying. See numbers 4 and 3 below.
7. It can also be exhilirating! (Come on, admit it: fishtailing is fun!)
6. It takes serious focus. Note: coffee may help. Then again, coffee may spill, causing treacherous conditions (since, unfortunately, neither gearshifs nor laptops have the ability to appreciate a fine Guatemalan blend).
5. Your progress may seem small in proportion to how much time you spent at it.
4. It's hard not to notice others on your same path--especially the ones who whiz by you even without 4 wheel drive. See you in the ditch, bub.
3. Sometimes you can't see where you're going.
2. It is possible for the experts to be wrong about how it will all turn out.
1. Though success may be due in some part to innate talent, it's mostly due to much practice and a willingness to learn from your mistakes.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Flak jacket

As I was watching an episode of the TV show "Castle" (a mostly cheesy crime show where a fiction writer (portrayed the poor man's Jason Bateman) is assigned as a police consultant), I had a revelation. It was sparked by a scene where the lady cop was busting in on a suspect, wearing her bulletproof vest that read "POLICE". Castle (the writer) followed, wearing a bulletproof vest that read "WRITER" in white letters. It made me laugh out loud.

Then, later, thinking about yet another contest that I didn't win, I thought about how another name for a bulletproof vest is a flak jacket, and that flak has another meaning as well. We writers really do need flak jackets--in order to protect our writer-ego from being murdered by flak: criticism, rejection, and even self-doubt.

Now the flak jacket is not intended to prevent one from being wounded--only killed (or else it would be a flak bodysuit). So, in the same way, our writer's flak jacket shouldn't keep us from hearing criticism or rejection (thus allowing us to hopefully grow and improve from that feedback), but it should keep us from falling into despair due to criticism or failure, and declaring our writer-self D.O.A.

What, you may ask, constitutes the protective element of our writer's flak jacket? I'd say the encouragement of friends, family, or your writing community (or all of the above, if you're blessed enough to get that!). Also, the fire deep in your soul that keeps pushing you to continue to write. And the quiet, whispery voice that now and again says, "This is brilliant!" right before your brash self-editor comes in and makes ugly red marks all over what you've created. These comprise the metal that protects our writer's heart.

So, fellow writers--suit up with me in your own personal "WRITER" flak jacket, and boldly kick the door in to the dark and scary world of sharing your work! I've got your back.