Friday, May 25, 2012

Define "Work"

I couldn't take a "proper job" this summer because I'm leaving in July for foreign shores. Instead I've been spending time working on my writing. I've been editing existing work, drafting new ideas, getting articles together for magazines, etc.
Still, many of my friends and family are of the opinion I'm not doing anything. I guess working as a writer looks a little different than working does for most people. Just because I didn't pull a nine to five shift today doesn't mean I've been wasting my time. He's a guide to how people can tell when writers are working.
-If I am grumbling while sorting through a pile of pages, especially with post-its and highlighters at hand: I am working.
-If I am tapping away at my laptop keyboard, occasionally taking an agonizing pause: I am working.
-If I am browsing agent and publisher websites, jotting notes and book-marking pages: I am working.
-If I am reading reference books or even novels (especially from the genre I'm currently writing in): I am working.
-If I'm just sitting on the porch in the dark, in the rain, listening to depressing or bizarre indie music: I am probably working.
-If I'm staring into the steam rising from my coffee cup: I am probably working.
-If I'm talking to that weird old wino standing at the bar: I am working.
-If I'm watching people in public place, catching snatches of their conversations: I am working.
-If I went ambling in the woods for an hour: I was working.
-If I'm watching television: Okay, I'm not working.

I think that in most creative fields, everything you do is working in some ways. Some days you go out and get inspiration from unexpected sources. Other days you have to toil through edits and queries. It is a different kind of work than many day jobs. In some ways it's harder because you don't get paid for all the hours you put in, at least not until much later when someone publishes something you wrote.
Starting next summer I won't have the luxury of dedicating so much time to my writing anymore. I'll have to be looking for something with a steadier paycheck. I just hope that whatever it is, it allows me to be creative.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Writing Life

I'm on summer break at the moment. Right now I'm scoping out new locations to write in, cheap and cozy are preferable, and a tolerant staff who'll let me nurse a green tea for an hour while I scribble are an absolute necessity. Right now I'm figuring out what to do with my novel.
There are certain moments in my draft that I think were just to get me to the next plot point. With limited time to work with I didn't have the leisure to fully unpack and sort through more difficult plot conundrums. With my outline fairly complete, I knew where I had to get to, so in some cases I just hurried up and got there. Now that I have some time to look back over the piece as a whole I know where there are weak spots and where I need to work on the plot.
I also had a brain burst the other day about the structure of the novel. I would actually love to incorporate some of the sketches I've been making for the prequel into the story. However, I wonder if that would unnecessarily complicate the book. Part of me thinks it would really add something to it and perhaps even make the focus more on the relationship between the characters which is my intent. If instead of just hearing vaguely about how the two met, we saw it. We saw the people they were before they met and then we can see the difference they've made in each other.
I'd like to try it. I'm still waiting to hear back from my professor about her thoughts on my manuscript. Part of me is terrified that she is tactfully working out a way to tell me it's not very good. Mostly though I'm just a little impatient. I never share unedited work, so I'm very curious to know what she thinks about the book and what she'll think about my new ideas.
For now I'm planting in the garden and trying to do some work on new stories. A magazine feature I wrote will be in a magazine the end of this month, so some money will also be coming my way. That is a blessed relief: my account has been cleared out to pay for my England trip so I'm almost entirely without cash.
Now I'm starting on my reading list for Oxford and daydreaming about European travel. Daydreams are an inexpensive luxury that make life much more bearable.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sherlock in America

Finally, finally, Sherlock series two has landed in the US. Last week "A Scandal in Belgravia" premiered. I joined in on the PBS Twitter party under the hashtag #SherlockPBS. Yes, I have a Twitter. I know. It's a very efficient was to get news feeds from the NY Times and Washington Post. I'll just stop defending that now...
You can join me tonight for the US showing of "The Hounds of Baskerville" at 9 pm. I'll be tweeting along @TeaCupsSaucers.
This is my Sherlock series 2 master-post. Here are where you can find my reviews from January:
Scandal in Belgravia
Hounds of Baskerville
The Reichenbach Fall

Review: Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Jackson Brodie, now semi-retired, returns in Kate Atkinson's latest literary mystery. This is the fourth book featuring Brodie and the only one not yet adapted for the screen by the BBC.

To be honest, it was missing some of the pith and zest of the earlier books. Her books have been (in my opinion) increasing in quality. The third Jackson Brodie novel, When Will There be Good News, was by far my favorite. It was surprisingly Jackson-lite, but featured such fully realized beautifully strung together characters that it didn't matter. Jackson was merely part of the ensemble. This novel more heavily featured Jackson Brodie, but he shared the narrative fairly equally with Tracy, a retired cop, and Tilly an elderly actress. Atkinson strings their stories together through moments of shared experience and strange similarity in their lives. On the same life changing afternoon, Tracy finds herself buying a child from a prostitute she encountered when she was still a police officer, and Jackson takes a dog from an abusive brute of a man. Atkinson uses snatches of poetry, old rhymes and cliches to draw her story's themes to the front. She will repeat several times throughout the story the fact that "no good deed goes unpunished" and also draws one back to the old rhyme "for the want of a nail".
Though these seem to be a significant commentary on how the story will turn out, it actually feels rather anti-climactic by the end. The dog and the child, while changing Tracy and Jackson's course, are incidental to the overall plot. In the mid-seventies Tracy and her beat partner Barry found a prostitute murdered in an apartment. Her four year old child had been locked in there with her for almost three weeks. The murder was pushed to the back burner by Tracy's superiors and never solved.
Jackson is hired by a woman named Hope to find out about her birth parents. She was adopted as a little girl and then taken to New Zealand, never knowing about her past. When it seems as though Hope's adoption never legally took place, Jackson begins an investigation that becomes more dangerous than he anticipated. These two seemingly separate stories intertwine in disturbing ways.
Overall, I was a little disappointed in this novel. There were a few moments that were very strong in terms of their suspense and there are one or two surprising little twists that are elegant in their simplicity. It still wasn't as strong as the earlier Jackson Brodie novels. The character of Tilly was interesting and intriguing, but it felt like she was in the wrong novel. She didn't quite belong and it was a bit of stretch to make her connect to the overall story in the end. The ending wasn't completely satisfying. There were still a few unanswered questions that seemed like they were going to be highly significant, but fade out into nothing.
I'm an Atkinson junkie, I actually just picked up one of her earlier novels Emotionally Weird last week, but I did find this novel to be a little less satisfying. It's still worth the read for a Jackson Brodie fix, but not a luminous or as neatly plotted as her previous work. I still greatly admire her style and am not ashamed to say that she is a major inspiration to me as a young writer dancing around the edges of the crime genre. I hope she comes back to Jackson Brodie (and brings back Louise!) in a future book. This isn't  the way I want him to go out. I think there is a better ending for Brodie and I hope it's on its way soon.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Coming to an End and a Beginning

I'm officially done with classes. All that is left is one final and I am free for the summer. Oxford is less than three months away. I have to book my flight (almost immediately), get a new suitcase, and start working my way through the reading list they sent me. I'm not going to lie, I've been using my forthcoming trip to justify marathoning episodes of Inspector Lewis. Hey, it's set in Oxford and I believe much of it is filmed there.
I also tried a European style beer with a higher alcohol content the other night and ended up with the worst heartburn of my life. I'm am not fit for pub crawls apparently. I'm fine on wine and American beer, but not European beer. Alas. At least there is little chance of my becoming a drunken wastrel ambling about England and neglecting my studies. There was never much chance of that though. Many of my friends couldn't seem to understand why I was going abroad over the summer to actually study. ("You're actually planning to spend your time in classes?")
Last week I surrendered my manuscript to my advisor. Already I'm thinking of the million little and not so little things I need to change about it once it's back in my hands. Before I turned it in I gave it a once over for major mistakes and fixed my chapter numbers (they got a little wonky along the way). Now I'm thinking back over that reading and simply analyzing how my story works out, trying to put myself in the reader's point of view. I actually feel embarassed by one plot device now that I've thought about it. It needs to go and be replace by something that uses my character's brains more than her feminine wiles.
Ugh, I wrote it under the influence of insomnia and deadlines, that is my only defense. I feel like she comes off as too manipulative and calculating, but also too confident and experienced in her dealings with the opposite sex. It's just all wrong. I hope my Professor isn't totally put off by it.