Sunday, October 31, 2010

Suspense and M. Night Shyamalan

Like Janet Reid I am now posting multiple blogs on Sundays. At least for today when I am thinking about techniques for suspense.

In passing today - and the other night - I caught The Happening on television. Have you seen this movie? I actually saw it in the theater. I love M.Night Shyamalan and I know many people just don't get his work. So...I want to talk about it a little. Here are my reasons for liking his work:

1) He spins light horror and the classic fairy tale in a whole new way. Everybody loved The Sixth Sense - it was a ghost story at its best - and I love ghost stories. It had the then uncommon twist that the guy didn't know he was a ghost. The Village which came out after Signs, (which I will discuss in # 2), was seen as just not up to the same standard as the previous two films which were filled with suspense and spooktacular tension. The Village however is a deft commentary on modern life, societal anxiety, and the power of story telling. The same happened with The Lady in the Water. People hated it - I loved it. But it was a modern day fairy tale that was both suspenseful and heart warming.

#2 Masterful direction - in every Shyamalan film his talent as a director is clearly exhibited. He is not being arrogant when he parallels himself to Hitchock by making cameo appearances in his films. He is as talented - if not more- that than great master of suspense. To examine this I ask you to consider Signs and The Happening. In both of these films there the viewer never sees the monster. In signs there are very brief glimpses of an alien and in The Happening - the monster is the wind in the trees. Yet, he is able to make the view tense and jumpy with just implication. In The Happening when they figure out that it is coming from the plants - suddenly a beautiful shot of the wind blowing tall grass in a field becomes ominous. Run! The wind is coming. I also love his use of color both symbolically and as a means of distraction or direction. Often his scenes are beautiful and sinister at the same time.

# 3 Comic relief/ Satirical commentary. This is not in every film - but in most. Shyamalyn's ability to incorporate humor between tense moments, or to utilize light and bright moments of human tenderness to contrast darkness and fear is masterful. The Happening - I believe - is quite satirical. It is a funny movie. The over the top violence is ridiculous in places - but it again is showing something about human beings. The underlying theme that we are destroying the planet and it is going to get back at us is noble, timely, and scary. The humans stupidly offing themselves is not plain gore - it is exactly what we are doing every day by destroying our planet. Shamalyn also uses television and radio background broadcasts or newspaper headlines to underscore his points about society. Watch and listen for them and what seems inconsequential or funny is often a jab at what you might be missing all along.

#4 Use of Allegory and Archetype - this is scene in Unbreakable and The Lady in the Water the most - but it is in all of his stories. The Lady in the Water used allegory and archetype to present its tale of humanity. It was akin to Melville's Pequod in that that little apartment complex was the ship of the world - it represents the path we all share as human beings and the very essence of the human struggle: peril, doubt, cooperation, belief, and unity. It also had a mermaid -type lady so I loved it even more.

And he is a story teller of the best sort. He is writing High Concept stories and then bringing them to life in films that leave on thinking long after the screen goes black. Or at least they should if you are paying attention.

His work is inspirational to me in my own writing and if I could choose a director for DISTILLATION (if it ever were to get published and then made into a movie - hey I can dream) I would pick him. His subtlety and sophisticated treatment of the genre of suspense, horror, and fantasy is some of the best we have from today's creative minds.

Literary Cretin

Happy Halloween! To celebrate the transition into the dark time this year I decided to read a horror story - a real classic. Stephen King's The Shining. I had never read this book before, though I had seen the movie a thousand times. The first time was when I was eight or nine years old and my friend's aunt let us watch it - and this was no edited for tv version either. I think it scarred me for life - so much that I went on to read quite a bit of Stephen King throughout my teenage years and now write books about...ghosts and murders.

I am almost done reading the book now and I am loving it. As well as a good read, I am appreciating the horror writing techniques. It is really well written and it is really scary. A few items I have liked: Danny sees the woman in the bathtub -all gross and dead - and she comes out and follows him and strangles him. Jack - the dad - goes to investigate and at first sees nothing at all, but when he turns away he hears the sound of the shower curtain being pulled closed. He turns back and he can see the shadow behind it - but he does not actually see the ghost at that point. I loved that. The sound of the shower curtain closing was the scarier element - more than actually seeing the woman. Also - the topiaries - which are not in the film. They move - but only when the observer looks away. My initial thought when reading the first of these scenes was that it was a little silly, but then it was a little scary, and now just thinking about animal shaped topiaries is giving me the heebie jeebies.

I think Stephen King is a good writer. Some of his work is better than others - and some of itI actually consider literary horror or just plain literary. So why do some people think he is a low brow writer? I am an English teacher - a high school English teacher who teaches the classics - and has begun incoporating YA lit into my classroom at least on a self selected read basis. King's writing is a lot better than much contemporary fiction. Of course, much contemporary fiction is considered low brow too.

So what is good fiction? What is literature? Shakespeare? Well he was a low brow writer. He wrote for the uneducated masses and his work is rife with dirty jokes - some very dirty. Sure he also wrote about the human condition - but name one story that doesn't. What about Steinbeck - or Melville - the great American writers - who also wrote about the human condition - but also wrote about the poor and desperate and adventure stories (respectively). Or Faulkner or Joyce? Is that literature? So bizarre it is nearly impossible to read?

What makes something "literature"? And, are we, who read - and/or write - with and/or for the masses, Literary Cretins? I don't think so, but you tell me.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Finding time to write

My writing ladies met today and we had another good round of critiquing. One thing that came up, as I am sure comes up all the time for writers, is that we have trouble (especially this time of year) finding time to write.

Family, school, jobs all make finding time difficult. Right now I am feeling really cramped by my day job. I am a high school English teacher and it is both rewarding and absolutely draining, emotionally and physically.

Many people do not understand the job of a teacher. This is made more apparent by the things politicians, parents, and film makers say. This is the superjob that goes completely underappreciated. It is believed that a teacher should make up for all that a family situation lacks and advance a child intellectually despite exterior influences. This is very difficult, but almost every teacher tries their hardest to make it happen. But when you have a student who comes from a family that does not have an educational foundation with books in the home and an interest in learning new things (ie. closed minded), that feels teachers are worthless, and who encourages their child to "hit the easy button" by cheating (it does happen), it is a difficult job. Not to mention the constant onrush of 20 or more children (whatever their age) needing answers, needing support, not waiting their turn, hitting each other, engaging in typical behavior, but behavior that is unexceptable in a classroom nonetheless, and the bizarre disconnectedness of administrators is various applications of nonsupport and uninsightful micromanagement, it becomes a VERY difficult job.

After eight years I still find myself drowning at times. I have a student teacher this year and right now is a difficult time for me to feel like I am leading her into something worthwhile. It will change. October is the month where it all catches fire and right now I have a lot of fires to put out. Things will settle down. There will be amazing moments in learning and growing. But right is consuming me.

It goes without saying that I am not doing much writing. How can I? I want to get back into the world of DISTILLATION and LADY SLIPPER (the continuation of the story) - but it takes a while to get my mojo on. Once I do get back into novel mode, it can only last so long - then, when I have to come out and grade papers or deal with a tough day of student defiance and apathy - I am angry - yes angry  - about having to do that. About having to step back into the muck of real life rather than create a ficitional one.

Is this a writer's illness? Are we escapists who would rather live in an imagined world? How does one overcome the emotional drain that life brings and easilly step in and out of the writing mind without it feeling like it is a gigantic leap that - in itself - is disruptive?

How do you find time to write? How do you make the jump to the writing mind from the reality mind? I know it is an escape. I have said so myself. But I am finding it to be an escape accessed only by traversing an tremendous divide.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I've learned to link, Back to it, and the Lonely Quest

Hello from my corner of the world. First off I would like to congratulate Matt Rush for having been linked in Nathan Bransford's "This Week in Publishing" post last Friday. How cool is that? As an English teacher, I will be talking about banned books more than usual this week. So many of the books on my classroom shelf have been banned. It is scary though that a lot of parents are afraid of what is in those books. At open house two weeks ago - I put up a power point that had hooks for the books we read in my class and I headlined Hamlet as "Ghosts, Murder, Sex and Suicide!" One mother paled at the sight of this tag line. I bet she's never read it. But we wouldn't ban Shakespeare would we?

I also wanted to note that the Author!Author! blog got me thinking about Author Pics just this evening. If only I had an agent I would start thinking about one. I wouldn't want to be caught off guard without one as she says often happens. So, just for fun, what about this one?

Just kidding. That's a little scary. It would bring 'newest female horror writer' to a whole new level. That's me last summer taking a break from writing.

Anyway...I am back to it. I have read through DISTILLATION twice in the last four weeks. I made significant changes to the pacing and I worked hard on character continuity. Making sure dear Alice keeps her emotions straight. I think I was successful. When I finished the second go through today I felt really good about it. Even though I've read the thing so many times now (changing it a little or a lot each and every time) I am taken aback by how much I like my own story. It makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it even scares the bejesus out of me at times. I like that the best.

Someone commented on some blog last week (sorry I can't remember which) that the query process is like wandering through the desert. I totally agree with that assessment. What a lonely quest. Even with the writing group (thank goodness for them) and the blogs, it is still so bizarre. We send stuff out - maybe it gets a response - maybe not - and the consistency is nonexistent. One never knows.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Check it out

There is a fun contest over at

and the prizes are really fun. Now I want to collect Agatha Christie books.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A double rainbow sort of day

If you do not follow Bransford's blog - here is a great video - what ever that guy is on - I want some.

If it is cuT off - here is the link!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Great White Whale of an industry

Every day I am seeing posts about "the state of the [publishing] industry". My mother even has soap box lecture when it comes to how the publishing industry is shooting itself in the foot. Granted there are multiple perspectives here: that of the agent, that of the writer, and that of the reader.

As far as the agents go - it is a scary scene. They go on at length about how self publishing is going to destroy the industry, and E-books are its death knell. For example, albeit more optimistic than most, Nathan Bransford ( today about Mike Shatzkin's prediction that by 2015 at LEAST 50% of the book market will be through E-book publishing. Bransford goes on to comment about how this will affect "the industry" even beyond the "brick and mortar" bookstore which will of course be a fossil by then (according to the prediction.)

To quote Bransford,"it will have huge implications for the way books are planned, marketed, acquired, published, and discovered. Everything from the seasonal publishing calendar to print runs to marketing campaigns will be in for reevaluation." He does, as I said before, put an optimistic spin on it. Again from Bransford's blog: "[P]eople are still buying and reading books. The ease of access afforded by e-books might even mean they'll buy more when they can download a book at home rather than planning a trip to the bookstore...Authors will still write books, publishers will still be the go-to place to put a book together and market it, there will be self-publishing for those who want to go it alone, and readers will have still more choice and ease of access." But still, as he says, "there is lots still to be worked out on the author side, including paltry royalties and more reliance on authors for platforms and buzz-making."

What I wonder is - where do the agents fit in? Certainly I believe they will still exist, but will they lose their position as gate keepers? After all, as of now, they sit high atop their summit of power - authors bending and begging based on their every whim. I read their blogs and many complain about how tired they are of seeing the same thing over and over again. They make examples out of wannabe writers who have (gasp) made an error in their submission format. Of course - I know it is important to read the directions and people should follow them if they want to play the game. But it seems that there is a lot of buzz out there that the game will change and there are a lot of sharp words about how it will be the end for us all. Be warned, they tell us, you writers don't want this. It will mean no money and more work for you. But that then means less money and maybe less work for them too, right?

But what Bransford says does make sense and if this happens, maybe there will be a recalibration of the industry, evening out some of the ...let's say idiosyncrasies of the game. Or maybe it won't. I hope it is true that for readers at least, the self publishing through E book ease(although they are not the same thing)will give more choice to readers. But, how will those choices be measured? How will one find the books they are looking for? Genre search? If everything is digitized will that make it easy to locate the Women's supernatural mystery I have been looking for? Or will there be an overload - too much supply - with not enough quality?

Although that brings me to my personal reader and writer view of "the industry" and this is something the agents hate hearing. Why is there so much crap out there? When I look at the new books shelf I laugh out loud at some of the stuff that is being published. But if it is what sells - then I guess more crap in the on-line market place will be exactly what people want. And it will be cheap. Think I-Tunes for books. $3.99 is my guess for new fiction.

So where does this leave us writers? I secretly hope I will get published under the old ways before this predicted transformation is complete. I have never believed self-publishing was an answer to the writer's struggle. To get in the door and to get a book "traditionally" published has always been a badge of honor. Now it is even more so. As far as E-books are concerned, I have nothing against them - although I see there is a diminished revenue because the cost is smaller. So how do we value the craft of a writer in these digital times? I don't know.

But, I am against total; E-publishing. I think to myself - without that book to hold in my hand - why bother? And I don't just want to hold it - if so I'd go to a vanity press. I want to walk down the book isle at the grocery store (yes the grocery store) and see it right there on the eye level shelf. I want to see it in people's beach bags. I know...big dreams. But without that as a possible reward - never mind the money - why would anyone publish for people beyond themselves and their close friends and relatives. (I know, I know...according to agents family and friends are a valueless audience.) I will certainly agree to publish an E-book - through my traditional publisher after the hardcover is out. Even if only libraries buy that hard cover - hey it's there. I want a physical book to my name. So what ever else these changes bring - I hope that does not change - at least in my time.

That's brings me to the last point. If what they say is true (and not necessarily Bransford here) and the number of books taken on by publishers diminishes to almost nothing, and the market is flooded with self-published junk, and avid readers can no longer find what's good anymore, well then there is only one thing to do: Go to the library and begin devouring all those classics you didn't get to. Re-read the ones you've already read. Thus we will fill the drought with the rich waters of that which is old, noble, and reminiscent of a better time when the "industry" was strong and proud.

Monday, July 12, 2010

I received an award

Wow - thanks Piedmont Writer. I am not really sure what to do with such an award because I am - as you said - a freshman here.

But thanks for the

award. And now I need to pass it on to someone else.

I will give this lovely "Bloom of an Idea Award" to Perri - because she is not only a writer - but is also a farmer and a mom and wow - she impresses me all the time.

And do I have to say some things about myself or is that just for certain awards?

Well - IDK - but I haven't done an about me - so I'll say seven things anyway - even if it is against award protocol.

1)I am a high school English teacher and have my summer off. I love teaching Hamlet, the Iliad, and All American Literature. My students are Juniors - aged 16-17. Oh what a job.

2) I am named after a wood sprite in Shakespeare's the Tempest (not that little mermaid)

3) I have three cats (Pedro, Lydia, and Simone) and 8 chickens (Helen, Clementine, Red, Agatha, Martha, and Gertrude [the 3 witches], and Elenore and Ophelia.

4) I love water - because I am a Cancer (but on the cusp of Gemini)

5) I am 33 and 5' 0" tall (on a good day)

6) I have only one sibling - a sister who is twelve years older than me

7) I grew up on a lake and when I was 14 my dad gave me a canoe and it was my trasportation for a long time.I have many fond memories of meeting my friends at the town beach and spending days island hopping and swimming

Thanks again Piedmont Writer - and maybe someday I will have more than 50 followers - but I have to admit - I am not as dedicated a blogger as many. I really just want to share my writing thoughts - because my husband can only listen to so much. I read them much more than I write them. I love reading everyone's posts very much.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Books and Summer Reads

I just finished Margaret Atwood’s The Year of the Flood, which is a follow up to Oryx and Crake. If you have read and loved, as most do, her Handmaid’s Tale, you might like this dovetailed pair. As with Handmaid’s, these take place in a dystopian, not too distant future world where animals have been gene spliced to create new species and the social ills of civilization are taking their toll on everything. It is a fast forward look at where our consumerism, vanity, corporeal and corporate corruption might take us.

As with Handmaid’s Tale, Atwood’s imagination brings to life women who patiently navigate their way through dangerous situations that threaten their individuality, bodies, and mental states with hushed tones and secret conveyances while planning a way to escape and/or to survive. Oryx and Crake begins with a man isolated in a world recently wiped out by plague, in which the boots of guards dead outside biological engineering companies still bake in the sun, and where compound animal species (such as rakunks) roam the forest that is taking over what was once civilization. He tells the story of the man who was responsible for the destruction of everything and in the end finds others who are still alive. The Year of the Flood tells a parallel story of a group of subversive “greenies” who are called God’s Gardeners and who seek to live an anti-consumerist, ecologically friendly life and to spread the word before the “waterless flood” destroys the world. This story ends at the same place the other one does, except from the other side of the camp fire, so to speak. I really liked the way the two books were not a series in the traditional sense, where one story follows another. Instead, they are concurrent stories that converge in the same spot.

Other books I can recommend: If you have not already read The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe, it is a great summer read. It is a modern day Salem witch story that oscillates back and forth between a young woman discovering her heritage in Salem today and the story of a real witch from the Salem Witch Trials. I actually just added it to a list of choice books in my upcoming American Literature class. In an attempt to actually get kids to like reading, we try to assign enjoyable, contemporary novels that pick up on themes or subjects from the canon, as outside, independent reading and I thought the kids would really like in connection to the early New England works we read in class.

In relation to Howe’s book, I can also recommend if you like witchy women and historical fiction: Daughter’s of the Witching Hill by Mary Sharratt. This is an excellent piece of historical fiction that takes place in the early 17th century in England – centering on a “cunning woman” trying to make ends meet with folk magic mixed with the then forbidden Catholic faith. It takes place during the reign of James I, and his Daemonologie, which was the basis for interrogations and examinations precluding the various witch trials across Europe and New England.

I also recently read Joe Hill's Horns. This was a very interesting new type of "horror" story - I guess, written by none other than the son of Stephen King. For some bizarre reason, the agent I met with at the conference I went to recently suggested I compare myself to Joe Hill. By this comment, I am not sure if she even read my pages. But - this book - about a guy who wakes up one morning with devil horns on his head - is a unique and good read.

I am interested to hear in books others have to recommend. As school is getting out soon, I will be reading probably two books a week, so bring it on. I just returned from the library and, as always, came away with an armload of books. One I just picked up that seems interesting is a nonfiction book on the history of poison and chemistry. The chemical revolution is something I researched for DISTILLATION - from alchemy to modern day pharmaceuticals and my brain is ticking away at some ideas for the new story I am writing.

I also plan on reading some classics this summer – which I always plan – but do not always actually get to. Currently, I have Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (just coming off Hamlet at school and this is a must) and Scott Fitzgerald’s The Beautiful and the Damned on my list.

Monday, May 3, 2010

So you are afraid to go to a writer's conference?

A few weeks back, when reading some of the blogs I follow, there was a discussion about the fear of Writer's Conferences.

Well, if you want to immerse yourself in the world of writing - a good writing conference is just the ticket. I am so glad I went to the Muse and the Marketplace in Boston this past weekend.

Saturday started out giddy. I ran into my writing group friend and met some of the people she already knew and everyone was so excited. Of course we were a little nervous too because some of us, me included, had our agent meetings first thing.

The agent meeting: was okay - not great. My agent wouldn't shake my hand because she was sick - which did not seem like a fortuitous beginning. She looked tired and claimed that since this was her first time at the conference she wasn't really sure what her role was. But... she gave me enormously helpful feedback on my Query, even if some of it was different than the pointers I have read before. She offered advice on genre - telling me "Women's Fiction with a supernatural thread," which was interesting and something I had not thought to call it.

She then went on to my ms and told me she loved haunted house stories, which was encouraging, but she didn't understand why I didn't start with the house. I did originally start with the house - but that got changed based on workshopping. She then said she wanted more back story. I had more back story - but based on workshopping removed a lot of it. So - that made me cringe. I agreed with the changes my writing group suggested (eventually) and I think the beginning is a lot stronger. But, not for this agent and the agent is what matters.

In the end of our 20 minute meeting - she said - make the changes and "query me." Not the same as send me the pages directly with a big bright red "Requested" stamp on it - but still it's something.

She was not scary at all. I felt comfortable with her even though she didn't shake my hand and I was able to talk to her just like a regular person. Which is probably because she is one.

After that, on to a panel of agents and editors explaining the terms and procedures of the publishing industry. Very informative. They did seem like an unreachable club - but they were friendly and funny and made it very clear they were in the business to sell books. "We don't like to crush people's dreams," one of them actually said, "what ever you do, write from the heart." This was funny is a sick sort of way.

They stress over and over that good writing is what wins the day. But, they also made no bones about how subjective it is. 'If your mc reminds me of my ex-boyfriend, I stop reading...If you wrote about a house fire, I stop reading. My house burned down last year and I can't love a story about one, and an agent should love your story, otherwise they won't be a good representative.' I am paraphrasing, but these are actual things they said.

I think the lesson I took from this is that perseverance is key. We all know that of course - but in the face of rejection it is hard. What one hates another might love. I also saw this again and again in the Agent Idol sessions where a reader read the anonymous first pages of peoples' manuscripts submitted then and there. The agent was told to raise their hand at the point during the reading that they would have put it down. There was wide variety - sometimes one would put up a hand - but the others wouldn't. Sometimes all three would refrain, or if there was a major point of confusion - all three hands would go up. It is very subjective.

From this I also heard again and again how important it is to find agents who represent your kind of book. All of them said - from multiple panels - that they LIKE you to compare your book to other works. But don't just pick the most recent best seller, and be accurate. Say what it is that makes your book similar to another book. Don't pick the ones that are cliche at this point from Harry Potter to Janet Ivanovitch. So that is useful - but not as easy as it sounds.

Also genre - do pick a genre - but there was SO MUCH variation on genre definition. Not what a genre is - but what a book's genre is. It all depends on what an individual focuses on in that book. And it can change with marketing ideas. So even though you might say your book is historical fiction with a supernatural thread - someone else might call it a paranormal thriller - or women's fiction with a supernatural thread. Also - good to know - but not very easy to get right.

And of course - the query, the query, the query. That is the most important thing. Get it right in the query. I was encourage to learn from my agent that my query, though in need of work, did leave her intrigued.

So - those are the first lessons. It was enormously enlightening overall. And it was really nice to hear them talk about it in person. To see them agree or disagree. To make them explain themselves and people did.

Later I will write Conference Re-Cap # 2 on meeting authors and how authors got their agents.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


On Saturday I head east to Boston. This western MA writer will be in the belly of the beast for the Big Conference: The Muse and the Market Place hosted by Grub Street Writers.

I am a small town girl living in a small town world and to go into the city is a big deal for me. Not to mention that this conference will be 500 people strong - all eager writers looking for feedback. There will be some big shot agents and editors there - and a number of best selling authors. All of whom I am hoping to hand my little business card to.

I have run the scenarios over and over in my mind and who knows how it will all go down. But this is the moment where I have to overcome my fears. I have to be proud of what I have written and let it speak for itself.

I know I will come away with new insight and some helpful feedback. I know that I will see the playing field.

What I don't know is how what I have to offer will be hold up. If nothing else I will come back with some solid ideas about what to do next. Since I have not queried one agent yet, I count this as a blessing. This is a check point.

I will be meeting with Rebecca Oliver - the agent who signed Brunonia Barry - author of the Lace Reader. She works at the same house as a woman who signed Katherine Howe another author who I consider to be in my genre and who has had wide success with her fabulous book The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane. It is exciting to know that at least one person from that agency will be there and I am meeting with her.

Maybe I will be pleasantly surprised - or maybe I will be thankful I have not yet put that manuscript out into the world yet and that I still have time to work on it.

Only time will tell. Until Monday - which is when I will be back...wish me luck.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cover Art Dream

I know that I am far from even considering this - and even if I do get my novel published it is most likely that I will have NO say in the cover art - but I wanted to share the artist that I feel embodies the look I would like to put with my own work. You may recognize her syle as she is the artist who is responsible for the images in the opening to the show Ghost Whisperer.Her name is Maggie Taylor and these are her images and I LOVE THEM.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hello out there

I sent out my first twenty pages to Muse yesterday and it left me feeling a little insecure. On Friday night I spent a lot of time thinking about this process and how stunned I am that I am even at the point of putting it out there - and how exhausting this editing process has been. But, I am about to be knocking at the door of the writer's club and hoping I will be let in so to speak.
After the conference - no matter what happens there, in terms of feed back or reception, I will begin the Summer of the Slush Pile. I cringe at the thought of it -but what else can be done? I do have some finish work to do on the rest of the ms - which I think I will get done over April vacation. After that - it is time to brace for rejection - and hope for a little luck. I also plan to work on my next story over the summer - which I am tumbling in my brain now.

One goal I do have for Alice in the next book is for her to discover her family history.

I created Alice Towne's family name from my husband's paternal grandmother's line - the Townes. This is taken from my own family's interests in the subject as well as that the Townes actually are descended from Rebecca (Towne) Nurse of the Salem witch trials. We were told a while back - but just recently we actually saw the genealogy ourselves- and it is her brother Jacob they are descended from. (Thanks for that btw). With this view of the genelogy we also discovered some bizarre coincidences that I had no idea of before - there was an Ariel Towne (male) and his great grand daughter was named Alice Towne.

I have a whole ficitional genealogy I wrote at the start of the novel tht shows Alice's line. In my story, Alice is the rationalist who doesn't believe in the family lore and her mother left the life behind for what she thought was security - and I ended up focusing on Alice coming to terms with her supernatural inclinations (through the ghost story element) and accepting her mother for who she is - but due to editing - did not end up including the genealogy. The two women, as far as Distillation is concerned, are removed from other family members and when a letter comes from an aunt at the end... well... we have a transition point and an opportunity to find out more about the family, find out things Josephine has either stopped talking about, never knew, or never told.

For the record, I am not actually writing about the real life people in my husband's family. And my mother recently asked me if I were going to ever write about Italian witches too - the strega. I don't know where it will go yet - but I have it all rattling around in my brain, and I also want to remain true to the "New England magic realism" genre I intended to write from the beginning.
By this I mean, unlike some other stories with "real" magic in them - my stories also leave room for doubt. There is more than one kind of magic in the world.

I have also been working on the glimpses into the history Alice uncovers in Distillation. This is the finish work I need to do over April vacation. They are not historically detailed chapters, but rather 500 word glimpses into specific moments adding context to what she uncovers - but with an ear toward fairy tales and poetry. The plan is to intersperse them throughout the novel's 30 odd chapters and combine each glimpse with one of the seven stages of the alchemical process of transmutation.

The plan, the plan, on with the plan.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

How many licks does it take?

I have been revising and revising and revising. Writing group met last Saturday and I spent the rest of the day reworking my first three chapters - again. I have to confess - I try to be a good workshopee - I try to take criticism well - but it is so hard sometimes when you have spent so much brain power to do it one way and then it is suggested to do it another way. But this is the name of the game and any writer needs to be able to take it - and enjoy it. Which is easier said than done of course. After initial frustration and denial that removing altogether the second chapter which gives the back story of why Alice is heading to Ashfield - I realized it was what I should have done long ago. I always hated that chapter and I had said many times before. And now - with a little outside wisdom to help me - I can see that there was never any reason to show that argument. Maybe I needed to write it so I knew what happened - but my readers don't need to read it. I have taken the advice of my writing group and a number of writing web sites and have now sprinkled in the back story in small doses in other places. At least that was what I set out to do - but soon I realized that most of it was already in there in some form or another and that I didn't even need to add more in. What a liberating feeling to delete much of the Steven scene. I am happy to have done it. In the same stroke though I had to move much of the initial view of Josephine - which I did find ways to sprinkle in. And I think it works better now.

Having done all of this - I was then able to pull forward yet another chapter into the first three. Now all of the main characters are introduced in those first three chapters and the stage is fully set. I have erased all time shifts - even if that means Evelyn leaves the day Alice moves in - which I hated the idea of originally when I combined the two coming to Ashfield chapters. But now it doesn't seem so bad. I kind of just let it be .

I am intending to send my manuscript to the MUSE on Monday. I have a little tweaking to do on the letter and the synopsis - now that I have taken out the Steven chapter - but that shouldn't be hard to do. Famous last words.

In other news. I checked out of the library a short novel by Stephen King that I had never heard of until I was doing a recent google search on the subject of what is planned to be my next novel. In an article on the subject - the murder of a girl on an island off the coast of Maine - it said that Stephen King had written about the incident in the afterward to his story The Colorado Kid. So I checked it out and sure enough he beat me to the punch -sort of. I have not read his story yet - but it is the story of a boy who is found dead on a beach on an island off the coast of Maine. As far as I can tell he did not use the original circumstances as much as I plan to.

So I don't know if this is a good thing or not - but at least I am picking ideas that Stephen King also thinks are good. And I think my story though inspired by the same event - will not be the same story at all. But I still have to read the rest of the book. So we'll see.

Otherwise - grading papers is on going - but I use my writing as a reward. Once I have met my quota of papers for the day I can work a little on the ms. That is where I am at now - so onward.

Last thought - it is utterly flabbergasting how much I have edited this novel in the last two months. From the 7,000 word cut - the count is now 96,500 - down from 103,000 - to the trimming of the first three chapters . I can liken it to pruning a rose. Prune more than you think you should and it will blossom into something beautiful. (I hope)

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday and Stephen King

Stephen King says in his book On Writing of the days when he was a high school English teacher and trying to write on the side, that by Friday afternoon he'd felt as if he'd spent the week with jumper cables clamped to his brain. "If I ever came close to despairing about my future as a writer, it was then. I could see myself thirty years on...with six or seven unfinished manuscripts (in my desk drawer) which I would take out and tinker with from time to time, usually when drunk. If asked what I did in my spare time, I'd tell people I was writing a book - what else does any self respecting creative writing teacher do with his or her spare time? And of course I'd lie to myself, telling myself there was still time, it wasn't too late, there were novelists who didn't get started until they were fifty, hell even sixty."

This is how I feel today.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Real life vs. Writing life

Snow day today - but yet I did not spend any time on my writing. I spent so much over February vacation that I am resting - although always it is like an addiction. As soon as I open that novel I am in and I am lost in novel land. I can say I will just take a peek - see if the edits are ringing true and the next thing I know I have been entrenched in the world of Alice, Kyle and Evelyn for eight hours. Obsession is an issue.

Also - as March looms - so do "real life" responsibilities. I will be teaching an MCAS course at night in March - and there are the research papers and the leaking sink, and the window installation to consider. I look at my calendar and I realize that except for my writing group meeting two weekends from now - and the subsequent tweak of the 1st 3 chapters - which will follow their critique - I will not be "in my novel" again until April vacation - and that is just one week before the Muse.

I have not dared to consider the POV situation since posting the question. I think my ladies might give me some feedback on that possible change however - and I dread the possibility of switching it all - which is how I might spend April. But then again - I want it to be the best it can be.

Real life vs. writing life - I envy those who have been able to make writing their day job - but alas that is rare. Even if I were to catch lightening in a bottle - I most likely wouldn't quit my day job. But love the escape of being "in my novel" and I eagerly await the input of the writing ladies and the hiatus of April - and most of all the scary, exciting challenge of The Muse.

Now begins the march through March - let's get it done