Here's hoping you and yours have the finest of days--and that Santa brings everything your heart desires! Merry Christmas!
Here's hoping you and yours have the finest of days--and that Santa brings everything your heart desires! Merry Christmas!
For me, reading definitely isn't about bragging rights or ego or keeping up with the Joneses. I find, rather, that picking up a certain book feels more like choosing the right brand of coffee for that week's brews or picking a particular ale to go along with my steak dinner, of an evening.
Still, I think it's a useful exercise to re-examine where I've been once in awhile. I've seen this list of the BBC Top 100 Books floating around and was curious how many of them I'd read--especially in the last year. Here's the breakdown, with the ones I've read bolded:
1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee (this year)
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare (benefit of a BA in English)
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy.
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding (this year)
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth.
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt.
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell (on my nightstand presently)
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
If history is any guide, this little exercise will generate a trip to the used book section of Amazon--although I should hold myself in abeyance at least until Christmas passes. :)
What about you? How many of the Top 100 have you read? What authors do you think are missing from this list?
One of the biggest things I struggled with in NaNo--and one of the biggest surprises--was getting to the heart of the conflict between my two main characters, Daisy and her father Kodi. This was a new experience for me.
As you may remember, I tested a new approach for NaNo: I pretended to be a pantser for thirty days, just to see how the other (better?) half lives. In practical terms, this meant I didn't do many of the preparatory activities usual to my plotter approach, such as character background sheets, bios, and conflict identification (where I strive to identify points of friction between my characters).
It really affected how I wrote, to a degree much greater than I would have ever imagined. For my 50k words, I wrote nearly forty chapters in total. Of those, about fifteen are unfinished--and almost all of those were Daisy/Kodi scenes.
Throughout NaNo month, I tried again and again to get Kodi and Daisy to interact in a way that felt right, that possessed some depth and/or purpose, but nothing ever gelled. (I wrote loads of scenes between ancillary characters, some of them pretty key to the main action of the story, and I am happy with those for the most part). Since the Daisy/Kodi tension was the primary conflict of my novel, I was and still am less than pleased with the current disposition of my work.
I have been slow to recognize the central cause of my main character conflict troubles, but I think I've finally hit on it: If my characters are meeting for the first time on the page in the draft I'm writing at the moment, I'm gonna have a heck of time getting them to act like they've known each other for most of their lives. Maybe that's obvious or overly simple, but it's a revelation to me.
Though I'd been thinking about Daisy and Kodi for almost a year, I'd not written anything down about them--and that made all the difference in the world. Bottom line: I'm returning to my plotter ways, and one of the first things on my Daisy to-do list is to develop character profiles for Daisy, Kodi and a few other key players.
What about you? How do you get to know your characters? For NaNo participants, how are you going about "picking up the pieces" after November 30th?
Whew! I am so glad to be done with NaNo. It was a blast, and there were plenty of twists and turns throughout the month, so I'd thought I'd share them with you, picture-style! Without further adieu:
NaNo 2010: A Pictorial History
In the early morning hours of November 1st, I was awake and ready to write. Like many of you, I'd been mentally girding myself for weeks and was truly ready for battle.
And he's off! Finally, I was typing the first words of my new manuscript! Within seconds, I was being carried along by a writing fervor. I was more thrilled and excited than I had been in months. This was the moment I'd been waiting for. Writing this novel was my purpose, what I was always meant to do.
OK. So that lasted twenty minutes or so.
(Hot boiling oil was included in the rent, BTW). Eventually two weeks hence we would find something promising, but in the meantime the days passed slowly and our super-busy schedule began to take it's toll. Though my wordcount continued to rise, I often looked and felt like this guy.
--only with a laptop instead of a...you get the picture. For the first time, the specter of failure raised it's ugly, fur-covered head. Dude, I was gonna bite it hardcore, wasn't I?
AND. HE. COULD. GO. ALL. THE. WAY!!!!!! :D Needless to say, I was surprised and relieved and self-proud (being different from house-proud) and--did I mention I was relieved? I was one happy cat.
That's why I want to bring your attention to a great event happening today. Talli Roland's new novel, The Dating Game, has just been released for sale on on Amazon. In fact, The Hating Game has already reached number 32 on Amazon UK Kindle and number 25 in Fiction!
And Talli needs your support! Help The Dating Game hit the Kindle bestseller list at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk by spreading the word today. Even a few sales in a short period of time on Amazon helps push the book up the rankings, making it more visible to other readers. You can do that at one these links below:
No Kindle? Download a free app at Amazon for Mac, iPhone, PC, Android and more. Coming soon in paperback. Keep up with the latest at http://www.talliroland.com/.
About THE HATING GAME:
When man-eater Mattie Johns agrees to star on a dating game show to save her ailing recruitment business, she's confident she'll sail through to the end without letting down the perma-guard she's perfected from years of her love 'em and leave 'em dating strategy. After all, what can go wrong with dating a few losers and hanging out long enough to pick up a juicy £200,000 prize? Plenty, Mattie discovers, when it's revealed that the contestants are four of her very unhappy exes. Can Mattie confront her past to get the prize money she so desperately needs, or will her exes finally wreak their long-awaited revenge? And what about the ambitious TV producer whose career depends on stopping her from making it to the end?
Having read some of Talli's work in the past, I have nothing but great things to say--and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy myself. Don't hesitate! Go get it today!
I thought you should know. :D
I like the way the title of this post rolls off the tongue. Reminds me of Hot Tub Time Machine for some reason (an entertaining flick if you've not had the pleasure).
The link between writing and music has been a subject of endless fascination for me. The first novel I ever attempted--set in the Spain, if you must know--was written almost exclusively to the sounds of Dave Matthew's first album.
In Iraq, my I-Pod was never far from reach, and it became my cheer-leading section as I churned out pages. Dragonfly, my favorite short story to date (at least in recent memory) was written as I listened to Switchfoot's On Fire over and over again.
NaNo appears to be no exception. As I work myself through the first several chapters of Daisy, I've decided on a theme song for Kodi, our dear hero, who finds himself in so much trouble and must dig himself out.
The lyrics aren't necessarily literal when compared to the story, but I think the flavor of a chance lost--as captured so perfectly in this tune--is a feeling I don't want to lose as I write. It may even be possible that Kodi saves things in the end--but I've found that opportunity's favorite brother is regret, so I push the play button over and over again.
Have a listen to Kodi's theme song: Keith's Urban's Stupid Boy. Oh, by the way, what's the main character of your WIP's theme song?
We as writers are no strangers to the advice: "Do something different!" We hear it everywhere from writing how-to books to forums to blog posts to writing conferences. Originality is a pretty key element of good fiction, and arguably--although in film rather than fiction--Hitchcock was the master at finding original approaches to familiar story elements.
Here are a few examples:
**In Psycho, he kills off the main character halfway through the film, something never done before. The genius is, of course, that this is the last thing the audience suspects, so the rest of the film feels untethered and eerie--the very effect Hitchcock was no doubt going for.
**North By Northwest upped the stakes when Hitchcock turns what could have been a run-of-the-mill chase scene into something truly memorable by substituting a biplane for a car. Those scenes where Cary Grant runs across the flat Illinois scree being buzzed by a crazed pilot in a Stearman biplane are downright iconic--and tremendously dramatic too. The chase scene across Mount Rushmore at the end of the movie is equally memorable. Reinventing the usual movie chase scene by changing one element to something unexpected, he raised the tension and drama to the next level.
**Lastly, The Birds set the standard for transmogrifying an ordinary element in the everyday world into a truly terrifying phenomenon--long before Stephen King and his ilk picked up that baton. Who'da thunk it, that someone could take the most ordinary everyday creature and turn them into a terrifying plague? Hitchcock, that's who.
Yeah, Hitchcock had the mojo when it came to flipping assumptions on their heads, and there's a lesson for us all. The next time you're working on a scene and it feels unoriginal or flat--a problem that comes up often as I plug away at my NaNo project--ask yourself: "What Would Alfred Hitchcock Do?" You may be surprised with the results.
What about you? Do you have any similar tools that help you keep your fiction fresh and interesting?
~Richard Wright, American Hunger, 1977
So on this bright new NaNo month morning--first day! Yeah!--Summer is hosting a "Show Your Space Blogfest." What a cool and simple idea to get to know your fellow writers better, right?
I call it the final frontier because it is the last room in the house to get cleaned after moving in (hmmm....could it be that it actually got cleaned up, if only a bit, for this here blogfest? Enquiring minds would like to know, wouldn't they?).
Actually, because of the newness, it's kind of clinical and generic right now, and certainly doesn't have the it-factor and joie de vivre of my last writing space, which doubled as a music recording studio. Give it time.
I find that the writing space that works best for me can't be manufactured or put together in one day. Rather, it becomes a potpourri of various elements, notes and pictures tacked up, forgotten reminders pasted nearby to add to the general ambiance, nicknacks of inspiration crowding the space.
BEHOLD! My left foot! Or more correctly, my left foot in a cast.
Yeah, I went and done it. I am a bit of a jogger--more an athletic dilettante--and I've run on roads all over the world while managing not to fall down (I've discovered, the not falling down part is pretty key).
But it turns out the roads here in Sicily are pretty bumpy, and yeah, I happened to be suffering from foot-in-pothole disease last Friday. I fell down. :(
The doctors tell me I sustained what is called an avulsion fracture. Of course I told the guys at work a wild story about getting chased by jewel thieves and having to save some bikini-clad princess in distress. They bought it hook, line and sinker. I do write fiction, after all.
Still, it's a pretty big bummer, especially considering our house has three flights of stairs. When told I'd be in a cast for six weeks, my ears almost fell off. No flying for me either, which is the part I suppose I hate the most. But hey, roll with the punches, you know what I mean?
Perhaps at this point you've also realized there's a silver lining: I should have plenty of time for NaNo! If I didn't feel like such a horse's patoot, I'd be right excited about that. But my momma also taught me that when life gives you a broken foot, make broken-foot-ade. Or something like that. Never mind. The point is, in other words, I think I've thought of a way to turn this spot of bad luck into some fun.
Wanna sign my cast? :D
Yeah, I mean YOU wanna sign my CAST? Yeah, really sign it? It's like a big white canvas around MY ankle screaming YOUR name!
Except by "sign", I don't mean actually "really" sign, unless you wanna buy a round trip ticket to Sicily. No, I'll let you "sign" it if you want to. All you gotta do is leave me something witty in the comments--you can even tell me which little strip of plaster real estate is yours!--plus tell me the color (red, blue, or black) and we'll get it stenciled on for you in a jiffy.
All you writerly folks can think of something cool or interesting or profound to say, can't you? And if you think this whole thing is only a stunt to curry sympathy and get some attention, you're absolutely right!!! Pictures to follow!
Stay groovy guys, and for those of you gearing up for NaNo, good luck Monday morning!
When we paid a visit to Rome in July, I snapped this picture of an outdoor stone staircase near the Colloseum.
The wear and tear on those steps, the way the curves seemed to speak of a several hundred years-long process of people walking up and down them and wearing them down, really fascinated me. If my travel companions hadn't been tugging gently on my sleeve--"Come on," they urged. "We have a ton to see!"--then I probably would have spent the morning taking a million and one snapshots of this set of stairs.
Many images and objects I come across in daily life make me think of writing, and the writing process. My environment gets me thinking, or, rather, I puzzle at the writing process utilizing an objet du jour--a set of stairs, for example!--as a sort of lense through which I filter my thoughts.
In this case, the steps made me wonder about the stages involved in writing, in the step-by-step process of taking the barest seed of an idea, developing it, first-drafting, marching right through Revision Hell (sometimes more than once!), getting beta and second-reader eyes on it, querying, and if everything goes really well, maybe even finding an agent and getting the durn thing published. What we all hope for, right?
The staircase becomes a metaphor. What could be simpler. But looking at that staircase, another set of thoughts hit me. As the steps led from the most ancient part of the city to the Colloseum, no doubt they were heavily travelled. Over the years, countless travellers on their way to Gladiator Games or Chariot Races must have climbed or descended them with nary a thought as to their construction, or with any true understanding of their utility.
Yet there must have been a certain class of citizen--perhaps the Colloseum workers or the Senatorial runners (whose job it was to run messages back and forth all over the city--the ancient equivalent of e-mail)--who knew those steps better than anyone, who knew every crease in the stones, the measure of every riser, the missing knots and blemishes worn slick by sandal and shoe, who knew the spots to avoid, the safe passage.
After all, they'd been up and down those steps a whole lot more than the average bear, fallen a few times, picked themselves up, dusted themselves off. They'd successfully traversed those stairs in darkness, sometimes when the rains blew in, or in the newday light of morning when the stones were slick with dew. Those few had skipped the tricks of the trade and learned the trade instead, a process which granted them a wisdom not shared by their peers.
Their continued success was built on that wisdom.
As writers, I think we share the same challenge. The best way up the hill may not be the fastest, or the safest, or the easiest, but it's up to us to discover what works, to uncover our own set of rules. As I thought about this, and tarried to marvel at those majestic stone steps, I realized when it comes to writing, my stairway looks a lot like this:
Clearly, I have plenty of work to do. :D But I am committed. I want to keep building, learning, discovering. Someday, I want my writing process to feel as weatherworn and understood and real as those beautiful Roman steps.
_ _ _ _ _ _
But wait! The story's not over yet! Hours later, over a beer and in a goofier state-of-mind, I wondered what the stairs for different types of fiction would look like. I mean, would Horror look different from Science Fiction?
After some snooping and hunting around on the intertubes, here's what I came up with. Enjoy!