Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Teaser Tuesday: The Children's Book

I'm elbow deep in A.S. Byatt's recent novel. The story begins in the 1890s and surrounds the Wellwoods, their family, and friends. Olive Wellwood is a children's book author whose son finds a runaway named Philip in a museum basement on a trip to the city. Thus, the story is set into motion. Byatt paints a landscape of artists, revolutionaries, and dreamers, their lives intertwining and changing at the turn of the century. Teaser:

The Palace of Electricity was set about with warnings. Grande Danger de Mort. It was death without tooth, claw or crushing. An invisible death, part of an invisible animating force, the new thing in the new century.
page 355

I'm enjoying this novel better than her Possession. Though it can be a bit slow at moments, it is an enjoyable pace. Instead of sprinting toward the next action of the plot, Byatt allows the reader to stroll-- drinking in detail and getting to know the characters' internal life along the way.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Writing like it's my job... because it sort of is

Hooray! One of the pieces I submitted to a periodical this month has been officially accepted for publication. I've been trying to send at least one inquiry and one story per week. Some editors have been very slow at getting back to me.
This particular editor rejected the first story I sent (see below), but has accepted a review I wrote. The best part is, I'll be getting paid ten cents per word-- not a bad rate. The worst part is, I won't be getting paid until November when the issue is published.
Oh the life of a writer: work your tail off now, starve, get paid later. I sent off a story last week that I'm really proud of, to another magazine. I hope that I hear about it soon.

I've also decided to start more seriously seeking an agent now that the second round of edits on my murder mystery are nearing completion. I've also been feverishly working on the sequel. There's some really exciting mysteries for my main team, Victoria and Jacquelyn, to solve, not just one single case as in the first novel. There also may be a new romantic interest for one of them. I wasn't planning it, but the characters just seemed to have chemistry when I was writing a scene the other night. It will lead so well into the third story where I have major things planned.
The best part about this project is that I just enjoy spending time with my characters. Hopefully other people will too. If other people ever get the chance to read them.

Monday, May 23, 2011

My kind of party

I love the summer books sales at the local libraries. Love.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

My First Rejection Notice

Totally expected. I feel like a real writer now. One of the freelance articles I submitted was rejected. However, the editor gave me a very good reason why which gives me something constructive to work with. It needs, very simply, to be tailored more to the level of familiarity that readers of that magazine have.
He said he looks forward to hearing more from me, so apparently my overall writing style was acceptable, I just need to adjust my level of content.
This, I can do. I have a few book reviews to send in and perhaps I can get to work on a new article that will fit better.
I'm still waiting to hear about another article for a different publication, so hopefully that one will be accepted. Quite honestly, I need the money.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Atonement by Ian McEwan

I found a paper-back copy of this novel for $1 at a used book store. A very good deal.

It's a hot summer day in 1935. The Tallis family has three young cousin's from the north coming to stay while their parents divorce. Briony Tallis, a budding writer at the age of 13 has composed a play for the cousins to perform. Her older sister, Cecilia, eagerly awaits the arrival of their elder brother Leon from the city. He brings along with him a wealthy candy maker named Paul Marshall.
Cecilia is back from college where she attended along with their cleaning lady's son, Robbie. They avoided each other at school and now back on the family estate together seem to do nothing but make each other anxious or annoyed. They have a scuffle by the fountain in the garden which Briony observes from her window and misinterprets.
The events of the dinner party that evening are complicated by what Briony believes she knows about Robbie.
The second part of the book picks up five years later and follows first Robbie and then Briony through their experiences during the war-- Robbie as a solider and Briony as a nurse in training. It shows how one day and one mistake shapes their entire lives from that day five years ago.

The book combined several different style elements. The first part of the story takes place mainly in the course of one day. Each chapter jumps into the perspective of a different character, but remains in third person. Later in the story, Briony tries writing in a stream of consciousness style made popular in that era by Virginia Woolf, the first part of the novel mimics elements of that style discussed later in the second part.
All of the characters have a rich internal life and it is interesting to see how they intertwine. The style changes in the second part of the book, following one character at a time and stretching over longer periods of time, condensing them.
The epilogue changes again. It is told in the first person, reflective like a journal entry.
Atonement is a beautiful, but heartbreaking story. It balances both intellect and emotion and brings a startling reality and clarity to both the trials of family relationships and the trials of war. Some of the descriptions of injury and illness in the second part of the book may bother more squeamish readers.
Ultimately, it becomes a meditation on love and forgiveness. What it means to work toward being forgiven and forgiving yourself-- spending a lifetime atoning for a sin of childhood. And the epilogue may leave tears in your eyes.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Thoughts on Series 6 of Doctor Who So Far...

I know we're only for episodes in, but this has been an eventful opening to the season. If you're not caught up on your viewing yet then tread carefully, spoilers lay ahead. It also may get a bit long.

In the first fifteen minutes of the series opener, "The Impossible Astronaut," the Doctor gets killed and then killed again in the midst of his regeneration rendering him completely dead. Though we find out that it's the Doctor from 200 years in his own future the two part premiere fails to prevent/explain who kills him and why he dies. I also think the little sequence from the beginning of the Doctor leaving Amy and Rory messages throughout history may prove important.
Clearly the build up to his death or the prevention of his death is going to be an overall arch of the series. As is Amy's phantom pregnancy. With the presence of two Doctors and a woman who is simultaneously pregnant and not pregnant, I can only assume there is some sort of duel timeline or undecided reality taking place. I believe this has something to do with the Silence (or Silents-- grammatical ambiguity in their name).
Amy's pregnancy (to me) seems to be a plot of the Silence. The Silence tells her to tell the Doctor 'what she must not tell him,' and when they capture her they say, "We do you honor, you will bring the Silence." Amy is also being followed by a strange woman in a metal eye-patch that makes comments to her or about her and seems to exist in another layer or dimension.
In this week's episode, "The Doctor's Wife" we see a physical manifestation of the TARDIS (who thinks Rory is pretty). It was an interesting study on the relationship between the Doctor and the TARDIS and asks who exactly stole who away from Galifrey. Though it seems to stand by itself in the series arch, there are two points to raise. The first is that since the Doctor is so attached to the TARDIS and it is sentient and has some choice in where it lands, why is the future Doctor from "The Impossible Astronaut" without TARDIS?
In the end, Idris with the TARDIS in her tells Rory "The only water in the forest is the river." I'm wildly curious about that. It seems to be an obvious allusion to River Song, but forest and especially water imagery keeps coming up in the show and has since the mid-Ten years.

One final thing that has caught the attention of several Who-bloggers are the messages encoded on the BBC Doctor Who page. In the section on the site "The Fourth Dimension" there are facts about The current episode. In those facts are italicised words. When you line up all the words in italics it forms these sentences:
Ep. 1: "All the secrets you seek can be found here on the Webb."
Ep. 2: "We found your message! You're alive! But what secrets 'D'you mean my friend?"
Ep. 3: "I mean I glimpsed him! And may the gods help him. Perhaps you can."
Ep. 4: "To see what I saw, click on the spot beyond the Doctor's home planet."

It seems to be a conversation between two people. After this week's message you can click the period or "spot" after the word "Galifrey" (the Doctor's home planet) and it links to this video entitled "Analysis Lessons." Make of it what you will.

Friday, May 13, 2011

An American Childhood by Annie Dillard

At the recommendation of my advisor, I checked this book out of the library. Annie Dillard is a well-known nature writer who won the Pulitzer Prize at 27. This memoir is about her childhood growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s.

Dillard explores her young life from about the age of five to her early teens. The oldest of three girls, and the child of two eccentric parents, she traces her changing interests and growing consciousness in these formative years. From her description of the mysterious creature floating across her walls at night (the light from passing cars she would later realize), to her obsession with the microscope she received for Christmas one year, to discovering boys, religion, people, Dillard's story of her childhood is rich with detail.
Not all the chapters are perfectly chronological, but are more arranged by subject. In spite of the many decades between my own childhood and Dillard's I found it easy to connect to her process of discovery and growing up. She has a knack for zeroing in on those significantly insignificant moments that shape thinking and perspective in a child's life.
Beyond the easy, metaphor-rich writing style, the book is also full of humor. Dillard's mother had a tendency toward practical jokes and Dillard's description of her odd habits and use of her children as straight-men will likely gain at least a smile from readers. Other incidents also stand out: Dillard describes throwing snowballs at passing cars with the neighborhood boys in winter. On one occasion a man stopped his car, got out, and chased Dillard and a friend. The anecdotes all blend seamlessly into one narrative about the process of growing up.
All in all, it's an excellent memoir. Great for a lazy afternoon. Dillard's style is accesible, but not dumbed down. I will certainly be reading more of her work in the future.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Pen Name Question

As I'm preparing several pieces to submit to different journals for summer freelancing, I'm faced with a question. I've always been planning to publish my novels under a pen name, simply so if on the off chance they become popular and I have a few nutty fans it will be harder for them to find me and kill me. And because I've always wanted a new name.
However, these magazine articles fall under journalism, which I've already started doing on a college level under my own name. So, should all my journalistic pursuits happen in my real name and all future novel publishing occur under the pen name. Or, should all professional publishing happen under my pen name?
Any advice or opinions?

Monday, May 9, 2011

10 Things I've Learned from Hitchcock

I took a class on the films of Hitchcock this semester and if my interest in mysteries and the crime genre haven't make me paranoid, this class certainly did. I compiled a short list of the important life lessons Hitchcock has taught me through his movies. Feel free to contribute what he's taught you in the comments.

1. Wanted killers make the best boyfriends
2. Never trust anyone you meet on a train
3. If there’s no one else staying at the motel, you should leave
4. Don’t go up the stairs-- bad things happen there
5. Murder schemes are incredibly common in everyday life
6. Avoid: carnivals, dinner parties, vast fields, national monuments
7. The police are not to be depended on-- investigate yourself
8. Close your curtains
9. Birds in large groups are plotting your demise
10. There’s no such thing as the perfect crime, but it's fun to try

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

I'm Free At Last

Though I still have one final paper to surrender on Friday, I am officially free from classes until the end of August! So here's what I vow for the summer:
I will post book and film reviews, writing updates, Doctor Who speculation, and (hopefully) humorous anecdotes on a more regular basis.
I will do some creative writing every day.
The freelance writing will come to fruition and I will update you lovely people when it does.
Travel. I must. Just a little.
Reading books I have chosen which I will update you with through aforementioned reviews.
I will spend ample amounts of time outside.
I will go mad in a good way.
Though the amount of coffee I consume will be considerable, I will eat healthy to balance it out.
I will actually get to go fishing this summer.
I will get up the courage to start looking into literary agents.

This is going to be a more spontaneous summer. I don't have a reading list or an hourly job. I have some tentative travel plans and the style sheets for several periodicals. Most of my income will be from writing and selling soap at farmers' markets and on Etsy. So it will be low. But this leaves me with time. Time to write and work on finding my voice. Time to have the adventures I'm always talking about having. I'm getting too old to have many opportunities for such madness left. Before I have to settle into respectable responsibility (as settled as I'll get anyway) I'd like to be distinctly unsettled.
Maybe I'll find a literary agent. Maybe I'll finish another novel. Maybe I'll fall in love with a stranger. Maybe I'll get a tan (biologically nearly impossible). Maybe I won't be so devastated when my best friend moves away in the fall as she's planning.