Monday, July 19, 2010

Timelessness

Sometimes, when I read books, I don't understand why authors make specific pop culture references. Sometimes they got into great detail about the make and model of a phone or car. Doesn't that immediately date their books?

I'm not a big fan of saying exact times and products in my books. It’s obvious that my story takes place in New York and New Hampshire after September 11, 2001. There is the internet and websites like Facebook and Twitter, which I never explicitly name, and my characters all have smart phones. Beyond that, I don't want to tie my book down too specifically.

I think there are a couple of reasons why authors do this. They know that shows like American Idol and technology like the iPhone are all the rage and they write them into their books to make them feel more relevant to the moment. I would argue that this tendency to write about what are essentially very transient things is dangerous because it will lead to their book being outdated very quickly. Won't there be a time, fairly soon after their books are published, that librarians will start skimming through them and say something like, “This book is too dated.”

Maybe this is part of our culture. Some books have become disposable, like a newspaper or a magazine. Maybe it's the authors trying to use specific details to tell us about their characters. Maybe it’s for the money. Most books don’t make any. But a product placement might pay some bills.

With most books, their place in time is clear—the past, the present or the future. But there are different ways of doing that. When you read Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder doesn't talk about the brand of candy that Pa brings home. We just find out that Pa brought candy. And it was delicious.

My Writing Anniversary

It's been three years since I started writing again. What do I have to show for it? Two completed first drafts of manuscripts and a mess of re-writing to do. And then after that, hundreds of letters to agents and no guarantee that one will even send me a rejection letter. If I ever sell my book, I think my pay will be about 1 cent per hour. But if I was doing this for the money, I clearly wouldn't be writing.

Despite the daily frustrations and the highs and lows, I'm extremely happy that I'm writing again. I wish I had never stopped. The process of getting back into it was very frustrating. I remember plotting out my book with great excitement, drawing maps of my narrator's boarding school and making a character list. My characters were very clear in my head. I just couldn't translate what I heard in my head to the page.

About a year into the process, I announced to my writing group that I was able to write like I had when I was sixteen. Two years in, I felt like I had when I was a senior in college. Back then I had unlimited time to write. Now, I squeeze my time in after work and on the weekends.

I feel like I’m getting close. I know what I need to do to turn around Quads, the first book in the series, so that it jibes with Living Little Women, the second book. I've got the third book plotted out. I feel like I've got a handle on the process of getting an agent, although I'm well aware this won't get me an agent. And I have business cards with my name and my blog on them. It made me feel super professional. The other thing I have—and this may be the most important one—is hope.

Magic Phones and Why I Don't Write Fantasy

I was recently reading a copy of Sarah Mylnowski's new book, Gimme A Call. It's got a neat premise: a girl who just graduated from high school is able to call her fourteen-year-old self and try and save her from some of the mistakes that she made. The biggest one is getting involved with the guy who ends up breaking her heart.

While some of my favorite books are fantasy books, it's not a genre that I ever see myself writing in. As a reader, I can believe that there's a Platform 9¾ and that it's possible to walk through a wardrobe into a different world but I can't apply that belief to my own writing.

I think that my job is a big reason for this. I’m a financial journalist. The parts of the financial industry that I write about are partially about the present and partially about what people think that the future will be. If I do my job well, I can separate the facts from the marketing spin and get to the best view from my sources.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Interlocking Events

Drucie McDaniel, my high-school drama teacher, gave us an excellent lesson on interlocking events on the first day of class back in tenth grade. It was Drucie's first day teaching at my school and, when she walked into class, she informed us that she had been mugged on the way in. Her purse was snatched off of her arm as she walked to the train.

Was she freaked out? Yes. But Drucie had poise and was also an excellent teacher. She decided to use her experience to teach us about the importance of interlocking events for a writer. That morning, a whole series of small things had led to her purse being stolen: she had gotten to the station a little earlier than intended (right at the moment the mugger had been choosing a target) and the straps on her purse were loose (making her purse easier to take). She instructed us to write a short treatment in which a series of small events leads to one major one.

The treatment that I wrote that day was about two brothers who didn't like each other and who, through a variety of events, got stuck in an elevator together. I don't remember a lot of the details but I know that it evolved into a one-act play that was my project for the year. Over the next few years, the characters that I created in that class became the focus of a short story that I wrote for my senior thesis and now are both in my Living Little Women books. One of them, Alex, is my narrator's crush.

I wonder. Would I have written about Alex if I hadn't taken Drucie's play writing class? And would Alex be the character he is today if I hadn't written about him when I was in college? Where will this series of interlocking events end?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Summer Book Giveaway #2 - Your Favorite Movie

There are a lot of summer movies out there this year. So, this week I'm going to give away a copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters to one lucky person who can tell me which movie (that was adapted from a book) is his or her favorite. Getting into the contest is easy.. just follow the steps below. As you probably guessed from the title of my series, my favorite is the 1994 version of Little Women.

I like it because the movie kept with the spirit of the book and only deviated from the plot when necessary. Several of the characters were exactly like I imagined them, particularly Christian Bale in his role as Laurie, Mary Wickes as Aunt March and Kirsten Dunst as young Amy. I was less sure of Winona Ryder (I liked her interpretation but I feel like she's too pretty and cute to really be a perfect Jo) and Susan Sarandon as Marmee (too preachy and almost too sensual for the role).

I feel like the trend toward classic literature-paranormal mash ups is just another way of adapting a well-known book. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is clever, preserving some of Jane Austen's writing and adding the sea monster twist and lore to it. It's a fun read. There are also about twenty pages of drawings that do help to illustrate more far-out episodes of the plot.

Here's what you have to do to get in on the competition:

1. Follow me on Twitter @livinglittlewomen

2. Join my facebook group

3. Post your favorite movie adaptation in the comments section of my blog below.

I'll announce the winner on Friday.