Tuesday, June 29, 2010

MFA programs

Its been a little too long since my last update--I'd like to have a new post every 1-2 days.  I'll try to work on that.  I have a lot of things I would like to talk about on this blog, but my own writing always comes first.  Sometimes after a day of writing I just don't have the energy or desire to blog.  (I don't blog in the morning for the same reasons--I don't want to drain any energy I could be putting into my own fiction writing).  That said, I would still like to update more.  A lot of it just comes down to discipline--something I need, perhaps more than anything (except tenacity) as a writer.

If you're paying attention to my progress bars, you may have noticed that I recently finished the first draft of my first nonfiction project.  WOOHOO!  I'm actually very satisfied with how it turned out.  There will definitely be some things to fix and address in revisions, but I think that its a pretty compelling piece, especially being my very first nonfiction.  We'll see how I feel about it in a few weeks, but I feel okay about it right now.

Also, as of today, the progress bar for "Sleep of Death 1.0" has also reached 100%!  Which means . . .

I'll be moving on to my second novel project--an attempt at a YA novel.  I'm pretty excited to get back to a novel--it is a lot easier to quantify my progress compared to shorter projects, and I feel like I'm accomplishing so much more.  So I'm pretty excited back into that project, starting tomorrow!

But, in the meantime, I'd like to talk about MFA programs.

This Fall I'll be starting an MFA program--that's a Masters in Fine Arts, in Creative Writing--at BYU, with a focus on fiction.  I'll go into more detail about this program specifically in a later post, but for now I'd like to talk about my experience applying to MFA programs, as well as some general ideas about them.

Two years ago (starting in the fall of 2008), I applied to four MFA programs.  Three of them were very competitive, one was not.  I didn't know anything about the application process, I barely did any research, and I barely spent any time applying to them.

I was rejected from all four of those programs.

That was the major reason why I took a year off between programs (something worth another blog post entirely).  I spent that year working and writing, as well as re-applying to some other MFA programs.  Thirteen MFA programs, to be precise.  Here they are, in list format:
  1. University of Iowa
  2. University of Michigan
  3. University of California-Irvine
  4. Syracuse University
  5. University of Washington-St. Louis
  6. University of Alabama
  7. Arizona State University
  8. Ohio State University
  9. Brigham Young University
  10. University of Nevada-Las Vegas
  11. Sand Diego State University
  12. Portland State University
  13. University of Utah
A lot of high-end schools, some mid-listers, and a few wild cards and lesser-known programs.  But this time around, I was much more prepared.  I spent dozens of hours researching each school, preparing my personal statements (tailored to each program), filling out applications, studying for and re-taking the GRE, organizing letters of recommendation and, of course, working on my writing sample--the single most important component of the MFA Creative Writing application process.

You see, the selection of MFA students is incredibly subjective.  While med programs and dental programs and law programs and others all rely heavily on test scores (and/or GPAs, letters of recommendation, and personal statements), the writing sample is everything.  So, of course, I spent most of my time on that (my writing sample, if you're interested, was "In the Details," a story I wrote in early 2008--I may, if I feel so inclined, post it on the blog at some point, so keep your eyes open for it).

To make a long story slightly less long, I was rejected from 11 of those programs and accepted to two (BYU and Portland State).  Again, I'll elaborate on BYU's program and why I chose it in a later post.

So, you may be wondering:  Why did I spend so much time, effort, and money on these programs?  Is an MFA degree really that necessary in order to become a writer?

Well.  No, its not.  In fact, I don't think an MFA degree is at all necessary to becoming a published author.  The best education a writer can get is 1) by reading and 2) by writing.  In my opinion, those two things (along with tenacity and time) are the only necessities for becoming an author.  You don't need to take writing workshops or classes, you don't need to buy self-help books or special magazine subscriptions or anything, and you certainly don't need an MFA degree (although I won't deny the potential helpfulness of all of those things).

So, again you ask, why would I, Christopher Husberg, want an MFA degree if it isn't necessary?  Why spend all that time and money?

Well, for me there are two major reasons.  The first is derived from the fact that an MFA is a teaching degree--not a writing degree.  By obtaining an MFA I could technically teach at the University level--although I'll more than likely use it as a spring-board into a more "collegiately acceptable" PhD program--because, in all honesty, I've wanted to be a teacher, specifically of literature and writing, since high school.  My desire has always been to be a writer first and foremost, but teaching appeals to me as well.  So an MFA, in a way, is a tentative (and admittedly unreliable) form of job security (the second reason I applied).  If my writing career doesn't work out, or if it takes longer than I would like to get started, I have something else to fall back on (and an excuse to keep writing until I get something right).

I will admit that, if I weren't married, I probably wouldn't have made as much of an effort to get into an MFA program.  If I were single and only worried about myself, I probably would have tried to go straight into publication (which would have been good in some ways, and bad in others).  But I'm not single, I'm married, and although for now its just me and Rachel, I still have that responsibility.  I have a family that I need to (help) provide for.  I like to think that an MFA degree is a profession of my commitment to that responsibility.

But, also, an MFA program will be instructive and educational.  I do think that it will help me become a better writer.  Do I think I would have grown as a writer without an MFA program?  Yes.  But probably not in the same ways, and perhaps not as quickly.  One of the best things about an MFA program is that I'll be able to spend so much time writing.  And I really think that writing is the single most important thing a writer can do (I know that sounds idiotic, but if you're a writer you know exactly how true that statement is).  I'm sure I'll learn a great deal from workshops as well, and forays into the genres of nonfiction and poetry, and writing a thesis, and taking other classes.  But most of all, I'll be able to write.

And, of course, that's what I'm most excited about.

So.  There's some of my thoughts on MFA programs.  If, by chance, anyone reading this is thinking of applying to any Creative Writing MFA programs, I would highly recommend Tom Kealey's Creative Writing MFA Handbook.  I normally don't put a lot of stock into books of that type, but this one was genuinely helpful and informative, and an easy read.  I would highly recommend it to anyone considering applying to MFA programs (you could also check out the blog run by the same guy here).

Well, thats all for now.  Some things I'm excited to blog about in the near future:  Harry Potter, gender diversity, more about nonfiction, Apple products, and more.  Look forward to it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Two (very unrelated) reviews

Leon:  The Professional
I've been hearing about this movie for some time now, mostly as Natalie Portman's acting debut.  I finally watched it the other night, and pleasantly surprised does not do it justice.  More like delightedly dumbstruck.  Rapturously amazed.  Exultantly astounded.

It was a really good movie.

The acting, first of all, was superb.  I didn't think Portman would be as believable as she was (her only other young performance I was aware of was in Phantom Menace--not known for its acting by any means), but I was with her every step of the way.  Her portrayal of the abused, disillusioned, neglected, infuriating young girl with nothing to live for was touching at times, funny at others, and often surprising.

Jean Reno's performance was impressive as well, both lonely and enigmatic, but it was Gary Oldman's portrayal of the villain that caught me most off-guard.  He was terrifying and despicable, and but strangely alluring.  I have nothing but respect for Oldman.

The story was surprising as well--when I thought I was in for a long assassin-in-training montage, I got some unexpected character development.  When I thought betrayal was imminent, I saw a strange friendship.  The ending was somewhat predictable--it is the type of story for which I can only conceive three or four possible endings off the top of my head, all of them very similar--but it was tastefully done and kept me interested in the film and the characters.

Overall, I would highly recommend it, especially if you're a fan of any of the three main actors in the film.  A very well-done, surprising movie.

My rating:  ****** (6/7 stars)

The Next American Essay
Edited by John D'Agata
And, of course, my first official foray into the world/genre of nonfiction.

D'Agata arranged the collection by taking a different essay, from a different American essayist, from every year from 1975-2003.  Each year is preceded by a segment of an essay that D'Agata himself wrote, weaving in and out of each author and each year, connecting them all together.  Indeed, D'Agata's essay was one of the most compelling components of the compilation--not only was it a great connector between each collected essay, but in and of itself was a thought-provoking and informative piece about the genre of the personal essay.

I've discovered that the personal essay (and nonfiction in general) is really a hit-and-miss category/genre for me.  I loved some of the pieces in the collection.  Some of my absolute favorites included the prologue by Guy Davenport, "And;" Annie Dillard's "Total Eclipse" from 1982; Eliot Weinberger's "Dream of India" from 1984 (which, incidentally, was the inspiration behind the current nonfiction piece I'm working on regarding perceptions of Mormonism); "Notes Toward a History of Scaffolding" from 1990, by Susan Mitchell; and from 1997 David Foster Wallace's "Ticket to the Fair."  Each one of these essays either informed and educated me, mystified me, emotionally provoked me, intrigued me, or all of the above.  They were delightful samples of the genre, and pieces that genuinely inspired me to venture my own attempts in the genre.

But there were a few other essays, ones I won't mention by name, that I found boring and overly presumptuous, if not utterly useless.  Whether they're more of an acquired taste or the type of essay that I simply will never appreciate remains to be seen as I continue exploring the genre.

I'll return again to D'Agata's own essay (again, without a doubt on an equal level of the favorites I mentioned earlier, and one of the more delightful sections of the compilation).  Portions of his last entry I found particularly interesting, especially in light of my current thoughts on nonfiction.  To quote D'Agata (p. 435-6):
"Some literature in this genre challenges [the] very presumption of fact."
"What happens when an essayist starts imagining things, making things up, filling in blank spaces, or--worse yet--leaving the blanks blank?  What happens when statistics, reportage, and observation in an essay are abandoned for image, emotion, expressive transformation? . . . There are now questions being asked of facts that were never questions before.  What, we ask, is a fact these days?  What's a lie, for that matter?  What constitutes an 'essay,' a 'story,' a 'poem'?  What, even, is 'experience'?"
"Facts, in these essays, are not clear-cut things.  What is a lyric essay?  It's an oxymoron:  an essay that's also a lyric; a kind of logic that wants to sing; an argument that has no chance of proving anything."
I'm loving (and appreciating, as this volume is the one that made me seriously question my understanding of "nonfiction" in the first place) the blurring of fact--"statistics, reportage, and observation"--and nonfacts--"image, emotion, expressive transformation."  That, to me, is one of the most appealing aspects of creative nonfiction.  It is nowhere near as confined as I once considered it, and this collection (among other things) has taught me that.

My rating:  **** (4/7 stars)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

in which I talk about what I don't know about nonfiction (part 2)

First of all, thanks to those of you (there were a few, more than I had expected! [but admittedly less than I had hoped]) who commented on my previous post.  I appreciate all comments, big and small!  And, if you do come up with any impressions on the subject, I am still open for suggestions.  Just comment on the same post here, or shoot me an email if you wish.  The first draft of the piece is nearly finished (as you can see in the progress bar :-)), but it IS only the first draft, and there is still much to work on, cut, and add.

And now, back to my musings on the genre of nonfiction.

I just want to cover some definitions and my opinions of them as I contemplate the conundrum of "nonfiction" (bolded terms and phrases are my own emphasis--things I found interesting). . .


From the OED:
A.  n.  Prose writing other than fiction, such as history, biography, and reference works, esp. that which is concerned with the narrative depiction of factual events; the genre comprising this.
B.  adj.  Of, relating to, or consisting of non-fiction; non-fictional.

Webster's is much more simplistic:
:  literature or cinema that is not fictional.

From Dictionary.com:
1.  the branch of literature comprising works of narrative prose dealing with or offering opinions or conjectures upon facts and reality, including biography, history, and the essay (opposed to fiction and distinguished from poetry and drama).
2.  works of this class:  she had read all of his novels but none of his nonfiction.
3.  (esp. in cataloging books, as in a library or bookstore) all writing or books not fiction, poetry, or drama, including nonfictive narrative prose and reference works; the broadest category of written works.

And, of course, trusty wikipedia:
Non-fiction or nonfiction is an account, narrative, or representation of a subject which an author presents as fact.  This presentation may be accurate or not; that is, it can give either a true or a false account of the subject in question.  However, it is generally assumed that the authors of such accounts believe them to be truthful at the time of their composition.  Note that reporting the beliefs of others in a non-fiction format is not necessarily an endorsement of the ultimate veracity of those beliefs, it is simply saying that it is true that people believe that (for such topics as mythology, religion).  Non-fiction can also be written about fiction, giving information about these other works.


So.  Non-fiction is not fiction.  Okay, obvious.  Right?  But even that simple term might go somewhere deeper than we think it does (or, rather, deeper than I ever thought it did).  It is not a dichotomy of fact vs. fiction.  It is far more accurately a label:  "everything that is not fiction."

Which is not to say that nonfiction must be FACT.  According to dictionary.com it can offer "opinions and conjectures upon facts and reality."  Ah.  Opinions and conjectures.  Well, those aren't fictional.  But they certainly aren't always factual, either (usually aren't, in my experience).

And, of course, wikipedia introduces the concept of accuracy--whether the opinion, conjecture, or "fact" is indeed an accurate representation or not.  But then the question itself is unnecessary, at least when determining nonfiction.  Whether its accurate or not doesn't matter; it is still nonfiction.  (I'm especially drawn to the last statements from the wikipedia entry.  The current nonfiction project I'm working on regarding views on Mormonism and its folklore, is not "an endorsement of the ultimate veracity of those beliefs, it is simply saying that people believe that" [not the most eloquent way of putting it, but it does express the basic premise of my project, and its validity as nonfiction].)

I'm coming to realize that therein lies the genre's beauty.  Nonfiction doesn't have to be fact, it doesn't have to be true.  It just has to . . . be.  It has to exist, prior to its conception in words.  Whether that existence itself is a lie or inaccurate or whatever, simply doesn't matter.

I've more thoughts on nonfiction, but I'll save them for another day.  Pica pica, as they say in Sicily.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

help me out here

So, if there IS anyone out there listening to this here blog, and willing to respond, I'd like some input on something . . .

The nonfiction piece I'm working on right now has to do with Mormon/Latter-day Saint culture and how it is viewed, both from within and without the Mormon church, as well as some aspects of Mormon folklore.

So, if anyone would like to tell me what they think about the Mormon/LDS Church, I would love to hear it.*

They can be true or untrue, outrageous or plausible, ambiguous or certain, or any number of things.  Really, I'm just looking for opinions, and as many as I have, even I run out of them sometimes.  So if you have a few to spare, or have heard an interesting one or three, let me know.

Some broad examples of things I'm looking for:  Mormons as polygamists, Mormons have horns, the three Nephites, Johnny Lingo, Mormons can't drink alcohol, Mormon Missionaries, Mormons go to BYU just to get married, brainwash their children, etc. . . .

If you are a member of the LDS Church, what are some interesting aspects of Mormon culture?  They can be funny, serious, controversial, or whatever.  Or what are some memorable Mormon folklore stories, or odd expectations, or anything?

If you are not a member of the LDS Church, what impressions do you have of Mormons in general?  What rumors/interesting facts/strange beliefs have you heard about them?

Or, if you haven't heard of the Mormon church at all, tell me that, too.  That is perfectly acceptable (and useful to me as well).

So . . . if there is anyone out there actually following this blog, I would love to hear some ideas.  If not, I'll survive.  I just thought I'd ask!

And, incidentally, if any of you are interested in what the heck I'm talking about or what Mormons REALLY believe/do/practice/whatever, the best sight I could direct you to is this one.  You can ask questions there, find out about our beliefs, and a lot more.

*  Here's some fine print:  Although I'm interested in all anecdotes, rumors, impressions, and what have you (really anything is valid), the point of this post is not to start a debate on any number of issues.  I will be including some things regarding Prop 8 in the piece, but I'm not interested in debating the topic right here, right now.  However, if you do have something interesting to say on the subject that you think I might be able to integrate into the piece, then by all means feel free to tell me it!  Controversial issues are, duh, controversial, and sometimes that is what makes them worth talking/writing about.  Thanks in advance for your input.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Movie Review # 1: The Karate Kid

I don't plan on doing a lot of movie reviews on this blog, but I just saw the new Karate Kid movie with my wife's family in California, and I was very pleasantly surprised.

If you don't know the basic story of The Karate Kid then I'm ashamed to call you a fellow human, but here's a basic rundown anyway:  Little kid is weak, gets beat up all the time.  Little kid meets old chinese martial arts master.  Training sequences.  Little kid beats up rivals in an organized martial arts tournament. The end.

This new version of the 1984 classic was pretty true to that basic storyline, but with some interesting twists that, in my opinion, allowed this film to surpass its predecessor(s) by great lengths.  Moving the setting to China was one of the most intelligent ones.  This allowed the movie to tap into a lot more of the mysterious, ancient kung-fu feel that the original only hinted at.  Even simple, brief additions such as a field trip to the Forbidden City added so much to the film's atmosphere.

There were some surprisingly intense and exciting action sequences.  Many of the scenes towards the beginning, where Jaden Smith (Will Smith's son--Will Smith is also one of the producers of the film) was getting his trash kicked, were gut-wrenching.  I expected the rest of the film to follow Jaden's training and righteous revenge cycle . . . and it did, but with some very unexpected surprises.

First of all, the movie was actually pretty funny.  Whether because of banter between Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan, a dance-off in a Chinese arcade, or a number of other scenes, I found myself laughing along for much of the way.

But what the new Karate Kid did that was lightyears ahead of its predecessor was to make me forget about the physical conflict in favor of an emotional one.  I'll freely admit, I enjoy a good fight scene in a movie or literature as much as (and usually more than) the next guy.  But emotional conflict, involving relationships and people's feelings, is where the meet of any story really is.  And this movie surprised me by making me forget about the physical conflict for a time and focus on the relationship between Jaden and Jackie Chan's character (which, in my opinion, is one of Chan's best performances to date).  The way the two characters interact and grow together was pleasantly surprising, and both actors did a great job at showing the progression.  There were one or two parts where the movie was trying too hard to emphasize the emotion, but overall I thought it worked very well.

And, once Chan and Jaden overcome their obstacles, there are some pretty sweet mini-kung-fu fights, albeit overshadowed by a ridiculous Street Fighter-like big screen scoreboard and replay screen.

I'll mention again the surprisingly good performances from Chan and Jaden Smith--I think these two really carried the movie to new heights.  Jaden's Chinese crush-interest doesn't do too shabby of a job, either.  The writing was already not half bad, but they made it even better.  And, although I can't help but feel that the movie was one big birthday present for Jaden Smith, it was still a fantastic remake.

I'm worried about the damage sequels may do to this surprisingly good remake, but for now I'll just bask in the movie's success.

My Rating:  * * * * * (5/7 stars)

Book Review # 1: I Am Not A Serial Killer

I've been hearing Dan Wells's voice for about two and a half years now*, and finally got around to reading his book.

Overall, I'm impressed.

I'm not big on summaries during reviews, so I'll keep it simple:  its about a teenage sociopath who struggles to NOT be a serial killer, even as his small town is ravaged by one.  The premise itself deserves some respect--although it is slightly Darkly Dreaming Dexter-ey, the teenage twist actually put a very different perspective on things--better in nearly every way, as far as I can tell.

One of the most interesting sides of this novel was reading the first person sociopath pov.  I thought that trying to feel empathy for the character or even relate to him at all would be difficult.  And because the main character feels almost no emotion, it was hard for me to empathize with him, in some ways.  And yet . . . in the end, I realized that I had.  I think part of it has to do with John Wayne Cleaver's (one of the best protagonist names I've ever heard) desire to be normal.  Even though I can't relate to Cleaver's specific freaky-ness, I've felt like quite the outsider once or twice in my day and that much at least I can relate to--wanting to be normal, and failing miserably at it.  Dan does a great job with that, specifically by letting me into Cleaver's head.  I'm disturbed more often than not by what I find there, but just as often I'm intrigued and sometimes even sympathetic.  Pretty good for reading about a potential serial killer.

I've heard Dan Wells say multiple times that he feels one of his strengths in novel-writing is his beginnings.  I'll certainly agree as far as IANASK goes.  I was drawn in very quickly, intrigued by both the action and, most importantly, the thoughts in Cleaver's own head.  Dan's prose is also a pleasure--not too flashy, but often beautiful in a brutal, disturbing fashion.  And he captures Cleaver's voice fantastically.  But the ending was surprisingly satisfying for me as well.  He satisfied just enough of my emotional need from the story, answered some questions, and raised new ones.  As far as I'm concerned, any ending that includes all three of those is a good ending.  (The trick to great endings is including just the right ratios).

A few things I wasn't fond of:  the closing lines of many of the chapters, for one.  An extremely asinine thing to point out, I agree, but they did bother me often enough to mention (also, I figure I should say at least one bad thing about the novel, and it was pretty difficult to think of anything else).  My only other complain was that the book was slightly predictable (SPOILER ALERT . . . I mean, Mr. Crowley?  Come on . . . END SPOILER).

But other than that, I really think it was a very tight success, especially for a first novel.  Congratulations to Dan, and I'm looking forward to reading the sequels, Mr. Monster and I Do Not Want To Kill You.

My Rating:  * * * * * (5/7 stars)

Visit Dan's website:

Or buy His Book on AMAZON:

*  I've been hearing Dan's voice on the Writing Excuses Podcast he puts on with Brandon Sanderson and Howard Taylor.  They do an amazing job at creating a podcast for inspiring aspiring authors--if you're one of those, or just want to hear these guys talk, I highly recommend checking it out.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

in which I talk about what I don't know about nonfiction (part 1?)

I've always enjoyed fiction.  Grew up with it, loved it.  And when it came to reading assignments for school, my least-hated of all of them were always novels and short stories, fiction of any kind.  And I've enjoyed writing fiction since I was a kid.

But nonfiction is something very different for me.  When I think of nonfiction I think of, first of all, memoirs.  I then think about autobiographies (and a few biographies).  My eyelids then start to droop.  I get sleepy.  Or bored, or frustrated, or depressed.  Don't take this the wrong way.  I've read some phenomenal memoirs and autobiographies (most of them, now that I'm thinking about it, come from the WWII era): Primo Levi's Se questo e un uomo (known in english as Survival In Auschwitz) and  Jacques Lusseyran's And There Was Light are predominant among others.  I think both of those works, and many others I've read, are wonderful, well-written, honest, and even (in Levi's case) horrifying or (in Lusseyran's case) inspiring.  I don't want to downplay the auto/biography.  I'm not as well read in the genre as I would like to be, but most of what I've read I have enjoyed, or at least found worth reading.

But generally, I just don't enjoy the genre as much as a good old-fashioned fiction.

Essays are next in my stream of nonfiction-thought.  And when I think of essays, I think first of 5 paragraphs and then of AP tests and then of college research papers.  And then I break into a cold sweat because, as much as I love writing, one of the most important things my undergraduate career taught me was that I didn't want to write academic papers for a living.  I've written some papers, essays, and theses I'm proud of.  I've even enjoyed the process a few times.  But, for whatever reason (and this is a topic for another post entirely), I don't find it as rewarding as the fiction-writing process.

Essays, of course, have other meanings, too.  In fact, in my experience almost any form of nonfiction that isn't strictly an autobiography or a memoir falls under the ambiguous form of essay, and they can be much more organic and unfettered than my original thoughts of the form.  In fact, they're what have come to monopolize most of my opinions of nonfiction.  I'm currently reading The Next American Essay, a collection of essays from America's past 30 years or so, and as boring and useless as some of them seem to me, there are a surprising number that make me feel good things and think interesting thoughts.  I'm a fan of that sort of thing when I read, and to have it happen while I read "nonfiction" was like eating broccoli and finding out it tastes like european chocolate.  It was delicious, but slightly disturbing.

And I must return briefly to the memoir.  The autobiography without context.  The scene from the life of fill-in-the-blank.  The significant moment, or the insignificant one.  Can't take the memoir out of the equation.

And what about all the other forms of nonfiction?  I'm sure there are some I'm not even considering, of which I've never heard.  Travelogs?  Journals?  Histories?

And then the lines just start to blur in my head--not only between auto/biography, essay, memoir, and other, but also between nonfiction and fiction in general.  I mean, really.  What is the difference?  Where does fact come into play, and fiction?  Is there really much of a difference between the two?  "Don't be an idiot, Chris," you say, "its easy--the difference between nonfiction and fiction is that one is FACT and the other is FICTION."  Uh-huh.  But I'm not so sure in some cases.  In The Next American Essay I've come across a number of essays that I can't help but assume are fictional, and the realization has jarred my view of nonfiction as a genre.

Of course I'm not talking extremes, here.  I think there's a fact-fiction difference between a science fiction novel and an essay discussing the mating habits of butterflies (although there are even similarities on that extreme a dichotomy that I'm tempted to argue).  But what about the short story based solidly in personal experience (write what you know, right?)?  Or what of an essay written about the mating habits of hippogriffs?

And, in my opinion my most daunting question:  does one tell the "truth" more than the other?  Is one form more honest than the other?  Does the distinction really matter at all?

Hmmm.  These are some questions that have been on my mind lately.  What do you think, loyal readers*?  What defines nonfiction?  How does it compare to fiction?  Is one more enjoyable than the other?  More truthful?

I'll discuss this more in a later post, but I also want to talk about some books that I've read, my opinions on the iPad as a tool for a writer, MFA programs, and a bunch of other stuff in the meantime.  But I'll get to it soon.  This was more of a warm-up of sorts.

Until then, I'll keep reading this nonfiction stuff, hoping I get a grasp on it.

*  This is, for the most part, a rhetorical question.  I realize that I could probably count the number of people who have read anything on this blog on one hand, and I'm not sure if any of those people are even interested in nonfiction.  But I could have a readership large enough to say things like that one day, right?  Might as well start those habits now.  And of course, if you are reading this and DO happen to have a comment or answer to any of my questions, spit it out!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

People Have Book Habits?

Pilfered this from Speculative Horizons who I think, in turn, borrowed it from someone else, and so on.  I won't lie and say that I don't normally do this type of thing because I actually enjoy these things immensely.  Also, I figured it would help you as readers get to know me and my "book habits" (really?) a bit better?  Maybe...?

So without further adieu, I present to you the Book Habits Meme!

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack:
 Rarely.  Snacking just gets so messy, especially for me (I'm eating-impaired [or maybe just cleanliness-impaired]).  Also, I'm trying to cut back on the snacks.  But if I absolutely HAD to I would choose some hard-shelled-candy type, e.g. peanut butter or crispy M&Ms or some delicious flavor of skittles.  Although really any smallish candy with chocolate would suffice as well--Whoppers, anyone?  And those new Twizzlers, the sweet and sour with the filling?  Delectable indeed.  Okay I'm overdoing this I know, so I'll just add one more things:  eating food items such as Flaming Hot Cheetos (or any kind of Cheetos), Doritos, flavored Pringles, and anything that leaves a musky powder-goo on your fingers while reading is offensive.

What is your favorite drink while reading?
Umm.  Water?

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I'm a mark-er.  I'm all about the marking.  Underlining, making notes, its all good with me.  I do it much more frequently in books that I read for academic purposes, but I mark up any other books I may be reading often enough as well.  I find nothing wrong with it.  And, honestly, it makes me feel like I've actually used the book, like I'm proving to myself that I've actually read the thing and I didn't just imagine it.  So, yes, I enjoy a good mark or two in my books.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
I dog-ear my mass market paperbacks, and some times the trades as well.  I know some people think thats a crime but, well, I don't give a camel's pooper what some people think.  I treat my books well, but a little dog-ear gives them some attitude.  Also, I lose bookmarks like its my job, although I always use them (or something akin to a bookmark) in hardback books.  And, I admit, I'll leave any book flat open if I think I'm coming back to it in the next few minutes.  Thats just how I roll.

Fiction, nonfiction, or both?
Fiction 99% of the time.  I will be taking a nonfiction creative writing class this Fall, however, and I'm reading a number of books to become more familiar with that whole genre (as of now I know more about the procreational habits of those fish that live so deep underwater they have little lamps hanging in front of them like a horse-baiting carrot contraption).  I do otherwise enjoy a good nonfiction book every once in a while--looking at the tiny nonfiction section of my bookshelf I'm now realizing that most of them are either WWII-era autobiographies or have something to do with politics.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?

I can stop anywhere, but of course I prefer to read to the end of a chapter.  Even more than that, I prefer to read to the end of a book.  But who has that kind of time?

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you?

 Never done that.  Perhaps I will one day, but so far a book has not upset me nearly enough--although I am a rather mellow person.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?

I like to do that, and with senior iPhone its much more convenient now.  But its never a necessary thing for me to do.

What are you currently reading?
Dreamsongs vol. 1 (George R.R. Martin), I Am Not A Serial Killer (Dan Wells), The Next American Essay (ed. John D'Agata), The Essential Tales and Poems of Edgar Allen Poe

What is the last book you bought?
A whole bunch from Amazon, most for my nonfiction class:  The Art of the Personal Essay, Reality Hunger:  A Manifesto, Leaping:  Revelations and Epiphanies, I Just Lately Started Buying Wings, and Dreamsongs vol. 1 and 2

Are you the type of person that reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one?

Obviously I can handle more than one.  In fact I usually prefer it that way:  I usually like to be reading at least one novel and one short story collection at a time.  Obviously nonfiction has been in the mix lately as well.

Do you have a favorite time/place to read?
Anytime, anywhere.  But big armchairs are nice, as is the lovesack in my living room.  As far as times go:  any time in which I will not imminently fall asleep.

Do you prefer series books or stand alones?

I enjoy both, and prefer neither.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?

The Things They Carried, because that may very well be the best fiction I've ever read; Good Omens, because it was entertaining and witty and hilarious, and George R.R. Martin.

How do you organize your books? (by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.)

 A) by major divisions (Fiction-Nonfiction) and B) Author's last name.

Goals for the Summer

Here's what I'm planning on accomplishing this summer:

  -  Reading all the books assigned to me for my two workshop classes in the Fall (YA Novels and Nonfiction)--if you want to keep up on how my summer reading list is progressing, along with all of these goals for summer, check it out here.

  -  Finish "Sleep of Death" 1.0

  -  Write "Chronosingularity" 1.0

  -  Finish the first draft of my YA Novel in preparation the YA workshop class

  -  Finish the first drafts of two nonfiction pieces in preparation for the nonfiction class

  -  Finish The Rising 2.0 (the first round of revisions for it)

  -  Glance over my other main short stories, make revision notes on them, and start thinking about sending them in for publication

The Point

Some clarifications:

This blog exists, mostly, for my writing.  I'll be using it to express my goals, hopes, desires, accomplishments, and (inevitably) failures and successes as a writer.  Thats the idea.  I'll talk about things I'm working on, future projects, things I've learned, my opinions about the whole process and little things that may help me or motivate me or that I do or do not like about the whole thing, and my path to publishing.

I'll probably do some book reviews now and then.  I'll keep you updated on the progress of my MFA program, and what I'm reading/watching/thinking/experiencing in general.  I'm sure I'll express more than once how much I love Apple products.  So expect to see anything on the blog.

But, mostly, I'm going to try to talk about writing.

Every New Beginning . . .

. . . comes from some other beginning's end.

And thus I finish my first novel.  Ever.  And simultaneously begin my first real blog.

OK, technically I finished the novel last week, but I took some time off.  Sue me.  And I'll talk about this blog and its purposes more later.  For now, the novel.

Was it surreal, you ask?  Yes.  Invigorating?  Absolutely.  Motivational?  Indeed.  Everything I dreamed it would be and more?

Not exactly.  But it will do.

I've spent 3-6 hours/day of the past 6 months working on this thing, writing every weekday and as often as I can on weekends.  I don't do mathy things, but thats a lot of hours.  And as much as I absolutely loved it, I admit that sometimes it was like wrestling greased-up giant eels.  That are poisonous.  And swim in burning lava.  In other words, it was difficult and sometimes painful.  And just motivating myself to DO it was a task in and of itself--setting deadlines and goals for yourself can be tough stuff when there's no one but yourself to enforce them.

But it was worth it.  I've heard a lot of writers, both published and unpublished, say that the first novel is inevitably a "practice novel"--something in which they begin to realize how to enhance their skills as writers and storytellers, but that usually ends up being quite unpublishable.  This novel may very well be that for me.  But even if it does turn out to be my "practice novel" and no one even sneezes in my direction because of it, I'll be OK with that.  I learned a whole heap writing this thing.  I learned some of the best ways for me to motivate myself.  I learned a lot about what works and doesn't work for me in preparing to write a novel, and then actually writing it.  I got to know some really intriguing, mysterious, dangerous, heartbreaking characters--many of whom revealed sides of themselves to me that I never saw coming when I started this thing.  Loved that.  And the experience taught me that I can DO this.  I can write novels.

Of course, there is a small percentage of authors who DO publish their first novel.  Depending on how revisions go with this thing, I'd like to think that there's a chance (however small) that I could be one of those guys.  Chances are, five years from now I'll look back at this post and shake my head at my own naive ambition.  But there is also a chance (however tiny) that I'll marvel at my foresight and ambition, too.

Of course, as amazing as I think this novel is, it is also a rotten chunk of excrement.  Here's my doublethink:  for the most part, this novel is ROUGH.  There are whole scenes missing.  A few chapters, even.  I changed things later on in the text that I haven't bothered to go back and change in earlier parts yet.  There is even a character or two who I decided I didn't need, so partway through the novel they literally cease to exist.  And some of the writing is atrocious.  I know six-year olds who could do better.  That's just how this draft went.  And for those of you saying "hey that would make a great postmodern novel," shut up.  You're wrong.

All that being said, I think this novel has a LOT of potential.  And that's why I think its amazing.  There are some OK parts in it right now, to begin with.  But I see so much more in it.  If I can get some of those things to emerge in revisions, I'll be quite blissed out.  I don't know if that will be possible, but I'll give it a try.

Lets see some stats.

Some Stats:
Total Word Count:  184,654 words
Total Manuscript Pages:  877
Chapters:  58, not including Prologue and Epilogue
Viewpoint Characters:  3 major, 5 minor
File Size:  3.3 MB
Start Date:  4 January 2010
End Date:  4 June 2010

Yikes.  If you're at all familiar with MS formatting and how it vaguely converts to real bookly pages, you might now be wondering what on earth I'm thinking.  185,000 words.  That's a lot of words.  And I admit, the length in and of itself may make the thing unpublishable as a first novel.  Perhaps some of that will come out in revisions.  But, honestly, it could just as easily inflate itself even further.  So we'll see how that roles out.

And, finally, you may be wondering what its about.  Well.  I think I'll try to post some of my pitch ideas in the future (one-sentence, one-paragraph, and two paragraph pitches all to come--I know the following would never do as a pitch, so don't hate on me, I'm just giving a taste), but for now I'll just tell you that its a fantasy novel, on the darker side of fantasy I would say.  Its about a man who lost his memory.  Its about a woman whose new husband left her on their wedding night and doesn't know why. Its about a priestess whose sister and best friend--and eventually her entire family--is accused of heresy.  Its about a little girl who is hundreds of years old.  Its about finding truth and recognizing when its not worth finding.  Its about changing.  Its about recognizing one's own strengths and weaknesses and trying to figure out how to deal with each of them, especially when they happen to be the same thing.  And its about understanding how minute one life can be in the face of history and future.

Or, at least, I like to think its about all those things.  The more likely scenario is that its about a bunch of flat characters who travel to boring places and fight really awkwardly with other people whose motivations don't make sense.  And most of them have really weird-sounding names.

But I'll admit, I'm proud of those flat characters and their blundering battles with senseless enemies as they try to figure out what they hell they're doing in this ridiculous world in the first place.  Because its mine, and I wrote it.

So . . . there's the rub.  One novel down, a whole lot more to go.