Friday, March 30, 2012

A Yank in Oxford 2012

I've recently been accepted to a summer writing program at Oxford University. Reactions to this news have been varied. Many fall within "Oh my gosh! I'm so happy for you!" A few have said, "I hate you." I don't think they really meant it. One reaction was a slightly alarmed, "You're not moving to England are you?" And one met my news with a rather disappointing "So what? Isn't that like saying 'Mom, I got into summer camp?'"
I take the last remark with a gigantic grain of salt. She didn't even know what Oxford was, not really. In fact, it was a fairly comprehensive application process involving writing samples and recommendation letters as well as the standard transcripts and such. Not to sound defensive, though I certainly felt a bit defensive when she initially said it to me.
Now I'm just trying to get scholarships and other monies together. Then I can start worrying about booking flights and such. I won't be leaving until fairly late in the summer, the end of July, so I have a bit of time. I have a full list of things I need to do in preparation so I won't forget the little things. This will be my first trip out of the country and I want it to go well.
My father made me watch Taken last week, but I can't honestly see myself being stupid enough to give all my information to a stranger, nor can I realistically see myself attracting the attention of a teenage prostitution ring.
So, intrepid followers, here's what you can expect from me over the next few months as this event looms in my future.
1) It is my resolve to do the background reading like any good English major. Oxford has been one of the most frequently used settings for murder mysteries in Europe. That certainly suits my interests. I intend to read and watch as many stories set in Oxford as I can get my hands on. Suggestions are welcome!
2) A travelogue when I do cross the pond, so you can live vicariously through me. That's what my father told me he planned on doing anyway.
3) Pretty pictures of places I stay and visit. I just have to get a new camera card reader before I leave.
Now, I have just a few people left to tell. Specifically some family members that might not be thrilled at the prospect. I'll just have to bring out my salt shaker again.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Pedantic, Socially Repressed: Bookish Stereotypes

The awkward intellectual has always been a common figure in pop-culture. For a modern example we can go to a prime time sitcom, Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory. Reason and fact has often been set up as opposition to emotional and sensual life, connection to other people. In fact that's what D.H. Lawrence's scandalous Lady Chatterley's Lover is really about.
My first instinct is to combat this stereotype, but I see it in my colleagues and I definitely see it in myself. I'm intellectually extroverted, I like to talk, discuss, debate, but I don't make deep personal connections easily. I often avoid making romantic connections; I am emotionally introverted. Many intelligent women I know have similar issues to varying degrees. Sometimes I think that we should have "Anyone Can Whistle" as our theme song. I can't whistle actually. This leads to the Neil Gaiman having to write a brief guide to seducing writers.
I've been feeling very socially awkward lately. Perhaps it's because I've been wading through the swamp of my own thoughts to write this novel and that can become a self-centered process. I spout off fun facts and use archaic vocabulary and three or four syllable words in common speech. My humorous (I thought anyway) allusions to literature and film in conversation go by unnoticed.
When you spend your days forcing yourself to analyze and think about everything's significance, to think deeply about words and their implications; it can make casual interaction difficult. Especially with people from different disciplines or mind sets. Of course there's always the odd male that finds this attractive:

He is a beautiful rarity. Maybe I'm overstating this, many intellectual men and women have perfectly normal lives-- even love lives. But this stereotype is definitely out there and I can see some of the reasons behind it even in myself. What about you? Bookish ladies and gents happily social or misanthropic? Can you turn off lecture mode or do you talk about the mythological significance of the hero's journey after the movie?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Halfway Point Celebration

So, I've reached about the halfway point of my novel for my independent study. The middle is, of course, the hardest part. My worries about not having enough plot are somewhat allayed. I'm so glad I made an outline before I got into the heavy drafting. Even though I've had to make some adjustments, it has been so helpful.
To celebrate my word count, here's a song for you all. Thinking ahead (way ahead: about three books, a publishing contract, and film rights from now) I think this is what I'd want the theme song to be if a series was ever made based off of my book(s).

The song is "One Tiny Thing" by 8 in 8, the bizarre super band made of Amanda Palmer, Neil Gaiman, Ben Folds, and Damian Kulash.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

My (Bad) Habits

Since I am in the midst of my Independent Study in which I am writing a mystery novel, I thought I do a little post about my habits and quirks. All writers have them. You might not notice them, but trust me, your friends and family do. In a way, my project is a bit like NaNoWriMo, except it's spread over a whole semester and I have to document my steps along the way and let someone read it at the end. This, I built into the project to help me overcome one of my quirks: my reticence to share my work.
I may make vague and cryptic references to it, I may even ask people random questions like, "Where would you hide a body?," "What's a good name for a coroner?," "How easy is it to make GHB?," etc. Still, I rarely will hand over a piece of work (other than a school essay)for another human's perusal. Especially if it hasn't been meticulously edited by me about three times.
Music is also really important to my writing. When I'm writing at home, usually sitting at the end of my bed or on the couch, I like to have music playing. I also find it very useful to create specific playlists for individual stories, scenes, or characters. I think this helps put me in the right mental attitude so I can create an atmosphere. My favorite public place to write is a nearby coffee shop (see my ecstasies about that below). One of the best parts about that place is that it's fairly quiet, but that they always have music in the background. None of the patrons are especially noisy either, so it forms the perfect soft sound bubble. If it's too quiet my mind starts to wander.
I can never write first thing in the morning, unless it's about a particularly interesting dream I just awoke from. If I'm going out to write, the mid-afternoon is best. I always have a notebook of some form or other with me to scribble thoughts and outlines whenever the mood takes me, but when I sit down to type things up or machete my way through a particularly difficult passage, it's always at night. Often I'll be writing in bed until around one am.
For most writers, I believe some stories come more easily than others. With any story, there's always going to be moments that are hard to get through, holes you realize in your plot outline, characters you aren't so sure about. But some stories incubate in your mind and come out of you almost whole- editing is always necessary, most of us are not Mozart with a perfect first draft of our composition. Other stories can take years to become fertile. I've been tossing around one particular idea for about three years. I'll make notes occasionally, do research, but ultimately it's not ready for the page yet. I haven't found the right way into it yet. Maybe I never will, but I'd like to think that when I'm more experienced with the novel form it will be ready.
I think the most important thing is to keep writing, every day if you can. Even if it's a poem, a journal entry, or a character profile for another story I write something every day. Of course, I might just be compulsive. Maybe I'll be prolific by sheer necessity. I'm just a baby in the scheme of things, still in my writing apprenticeship, but I think I'm quickly maturing. I'm becoming more disciplined and improving my ability to focus and edit. Maybe in a year or two I'll be something more: a published novelist.
Now, if it's not too windy, I'm going to spend a little quality time with my bow on the archery range.