Tuesday, July 27, 2010

something awesome with Jane Austen

So, thanks to Mark Charan Newton I came across this:

And, if you're interested, here's the original Fight Club trailer for comparison--its even more funny after watching both:

Monday, July 26, 2010

dream on

And of course . . .

Inception (SPOILER WARNING--this whole post might be teeming with them!) was a pleasure to watch. It was captivating, thought-provoking, and epic. It had a good storyline, good writing, and some pretty good acting, as well.  In fact, some of those things were much better than good, they were great.  Fabulous, even.  The movie overall was a huge success, as thrilling as it was intriguing.

That being said, I don't think it was perfect.  If anything, I think it stopped achingly short of the absolutely INCREDIBLE film it had the potential to be.

But, it was still an awesome film.  Here's some reasons why:
  • It wasn't an action film (per se), and this was a pleasant surprise (although considering the nature of The Dark Knight, I should have known better).  It had action in it, of course, but this action felt needful, and appropriate to the film.  (I'll admit I am an occasional fan of inappropriate and unnecessary action, but I don't think it generally contributes to well-crafted and inspiring films.) The main action scene I recall involves Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a crooked and gravity-less hotel hallways, and it was Matrix-esque in its quirkiness and innovation.  Indeed, overall the action was a positive component of the movie, and its relative scarcity certainly helped, ironically, leaving room for the (far more important, in my opinion) intellectual and emotional aspects of the movie.
  • The acting.  First of all, Leo is turning into a very respectable actor.  I was particularly impressed with his role in The Departed, and I've heard good things about what he did in Blood Diamond as well (which I have yet to see, although its on my Netflix queue . . .).  I thought his acting was worthy in Shutter Island earlier this year, and his role in Inception as a gritty, mentally unstable widower was in the same tradition and equally profound.  Ellen Page did a fantastic job in the film--her gigs in Juno and Whip It were cute and well-executed, but she shows herself capable of some real acting in Inception.  But, surprisingly, I was most impressed with Joseph Gordon-Levitt's performance.  I think he really stole the thunder from Di Caprio, and I would go so far as to say his role was Oscar-worthy (he's come a long way since the days of 3rd Rock From the Sun).  Ken Watanabe, Cillian Murphy, and Dileep Rao deserve nods for their performances too, and--oh-- Marion Cotillard's performance as Leo's wife was simultaneously heart-wrenching and highly disturbing.  In fact, my only qualm with the acting was that Michael Caine wasn't in more scenes (really, can anyone ever get enough Michael Caine?).
  • The world-building in Inception was fantastic.  Although I didn't find the film as mind-bending as it was advertised, and I anticipated most of the "twists" from early on in the movie (I have a dreadful knack for that), what did blow my mind was the depth of the dream-worlds Christopher Nolan created.  Shiny golden props to him for creating such a fascinating world.
  • Christopher Nolan himself.  With such films as The Dark Knight, The Prestige, and Memento under his belt, I expected quite a bit from him with Inception.  He delivered.
  • Ambiguity.  I'm a sucker for ambiguity, and Inception had loads of it.  The final scene with the spinning top* quite literally tops the movie off (no pun intended, please).  But everything from character motives to in-world rules to the meaning and interpretation of the film itself oozed obscurity, and thats my bag of tricks, baby.  It was delightful.
So, those were some things I enjoyed in the film, among a great many others that I'm probably forgetting.

Now, why do I think it fell short, you ask?  Well, I'll tell you.  First of all, it was supposed to be this mind-bending, surprising, innovational film that changed things.  Well, it didn't do that for me.  As I've already mentioned, the dream world(s) it(them)-self(ves) surprised me, and bent my mind in a few new directions.  I appreciated that.  But the plot itself, and therefor the film as a whole, did not.  It was relatively predictable.  The twists were anticipated, if you can call them twists at all.  The movie does a lot of make-up work for these shortcomings with its deep and surprising characters and its ambiguity, but the holes are still there (at least for me).

And another reason:  I think the movie didn't delve into the Limbo concept as much as it could have.  I think it could have taken things a lot further down there, have made the movie even more epic than it was, and it just didn't quite make it there.  It is still epic, of course, but it could have been that much deeper.  I wish, in a way, the film would have taken its own advice (both in regards to creation and "going deeper").

But, those are minor issues when compared to the whole.

In the end, I thought the film was a blast--and not only a blast, but a quality film too, worthy in just about every respect.  I'm already looking forward to Nolan's next venture, and Leo's next role, and Gordon-Levitt's future as an actor--and, of course, anything involving Michael Caine (seriously).  I wouldn't even mind a sequel in the Inception world--I think it could be done in good taste, and I'm still itching for the deeper aspects to be plundered.

My Rating:  ****** (6/7 stars)

*  I'll mention briefly my opinion on the end of the film (and hence this footnote will be SPOILER-ridden).  My heart tells me that the top toppled.  It fell over, and Leo's character had finally come home in the end.  My mind, on the other hand, insists that the top continued indefinitely, and that he was still in a dream, and that his wife had been right all along--in fact, the whole movie itself seemed to be an (failed) attempt at Inception in Leo's own mind.  He rejected the inception, and chose to live his own reality.  And I think there is actually a lot of evidence that supports this--the whole movie itself, even the supposedly non-dreaming sequences, seemed suspiciously dreamlike (Leo wedging himself through an increasingly narrow space to escape strange pursuers, reminiscent of the security-pursures in Murphy's subconscious, among others).  But there is also something to be said on the fact that, in the end, Leo DIDN'T CARE--he set the top spinning, and instead of staring intently to see whether it would fall or continue, he leaves it alone.  This signifies enough change in his character that the movie can end with a feeling of accomplishment and contentment, whatever ending one interprets as canonical.  Its all about the ambiguities.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

ups and downs

Some of you may still be curious about a certain post that I slipped in a week or so ago, discussing some changes. Others may have noticed that the progress bar for my YA Novel project has been suspiciously stagnant recently (and that it has now been reset to zero).  And it is obvious that I haven't been as consistent at getting posts up in the past week as I have been in the past two months.

Yeah. Well, all that can be traced back to one initial fact:

Writing is hard.

Seriously. It can be really hard sometimes. I'm looking back at my original novel, The Rising, and I'm wondering HOW I DID THAT. I mean, really. That thing is huge. And even though most of it sucks, there are some okay parts in there. And I wrote them. So that is good, right? I did all that.  Its something to be proud of, and I'll be honest, I feel pretty fabulous about it.

But, now that I'm trying to do it again, I'm having a hard time of it.

A lot of the difficulty, I think, comes with beginnings in general. The more I write, the more I realize that (at least for me) the hardest part is almost always just getting started--getting the beginning down on paper (or on the hard drive) and then going on from there. When I think back on TR, I sometimes forget how hard the beginning was in lieu of how easily the rest of the thing seemed to flow (which is not to say that the project itself was easy, because I don't think it was, or even that words easily came to my mind to write down every day, because they didn't). But the point is that the beginning of TR was difficult as well. It took me about the same time to write the first fifty pages as it did for me to write the last half of the book. So I'm no stranger to difficult beginnings.  I just think that those difficulties just get lost in the euphoria of what went well--a selective memory as it were.  And, now that I'm trying to get through another project, I'm having a really difficult time of it because I'm only remembering the good parts of my latest writing experience, and none of the bad parts.

Which brings me to my current project.  ORIGINALLY it was supposed to be an experiment in the urban fantasy genre, with "young adults" as the intended audience.  Well . . . to put a long story into a short container, I think that that particular idea just lost its momentum in the past three months.  And, honestly, I'm okay with that.  I think it was a necessary casualty in finishing TR*.  Which is sad in a way, I do think it is a pretty good idea with some potential, but I've concluded that now just isn't the time to write it.

So I've moved on to something else.

It is another YA Novel, of course.  But instead of an urban fantasy, its more of a "straight-up" fantasy.  It takes place in its own world, with its own rules and religions and geographies and peoples and so forth.

Basically, its about heroes.  And prophecies.  And the expectations of the public for said heroes because of said prophecies, and what happens when those expectations aren't fulfilled.  There's also an elitist school, monsters, a quest or two, some really mean kids, and much more.

Thats the basic premise.  And, in case you haven't caught on, that's the big change I was talking about in this post.  (If you're not a writer it may not seem like much of a change, but if you are then perhaps you know how drastic changing ideas mid-project can be.)  And, to be quite honest, I'm much more excited about this idea than I am about the previous one.  The previous one is good, like I said, I do think it has potential, but it just wasn't cutting it right now.  This new idea, I think, will (cut it, that is).

So, what does this mean for my own personal NaNoWriMo that I was so excited about a few weeks ago?  Well, it does mean that there is really no way I'll be able to have my NEW YA NOVEL PROJECT done by the end of July.  Really, there's just no way.

But, starting on Monday**, I'm (hopefully) going to get heavily into the New YA Novel Project.  My hope is to re-start my NaNoWriMo goal, and ideally be finished with the first draft of this project by around this time next month.  I think I just need to press through these beginning parts, do my best and hopefully gain enough momentum to start propelling me the rest of the way.  I really think that this (beginnings) is one of the most difficult things for me when it comes to writing.  I'm always so picky about what I want that I'm never satisfied with what I produce at the start of a project--and unless I push myself onward, I get stuck on those first few chapters, or even paragraphs, for days (or, when its really bad, for weeks).

So, thats whats been happening with my writing lately.  I've been in a bit of a funk, and it hasn't helped that my writing time has been severely diminished in the past few weeks (not necessarily a bad thing, but when it seems to happen too consistently it gets frustrating).  But I'm going to get back into it now.  I'm motivated, I can do it.  I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.

*  For those of you who don't know, I wrote the first two or three chapters of the ORIGINAL YA NOVEL PROJECT back in April sometime, right in the middle of when I was writing TR--then I set it aside and didn't touch it, thinking I would come back to it later this summer.  Well, I did, and things just didn't work out.

**  I've already done a great deal of world-building and character exploration for the new project, as well as something sort of like a first chapter.  But, starting Monday, my plan is to take a serious dive into it, and hopefully not re-emerge until I'm through the "beginning blues" I've been suffering.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What I meant was...

So, in my last post I said this:
Thats all for now, folks.  Look for one of the aforementioned posts (or a completely different one), full-blown style, on the morrow.
What I meant was something more along the lines of:

Thats all for now, folks. Look for one of the aforementioned posts (or a completely different one), full-blown style, in the next few days, maybe even week, or so.

(Just in case you thought I was dead or something . . .)

Monday, July 19, 2010

some random things

First of all, the hair follicles on my head were shortened tonight, and I'm not exactly excited about it.  I'd been growing my hair out for almost a year and I was rather attached to it (physically and emotionally).  But the time had come to dice it all off, apparently.  Such is life.  (Life = paying people money to cut off your extremities.)

In other news, my readership for this blog (according to trusty Google Analytics) has been pretty steady lately, so I'm looking for ways to expand it, and to make it a better blog in general.  Any suggestions?  I have some ideas, but I'm always open to help.  That's a lie--I'm not always open to help.  But in this case I think I am, so try me.  More about this, perhaps, in a future post.

And, as a teaser of sorts, here are some things I'd like to talk about at some point in the near future:
  • Reviews, expectations, goals, and finding a voice for this blog (yes, all in one post)
  • BYU's MFA program
  • Creative Writing PhD programs
  • Taking a year off
  • Apple products
  • Harry Potter
. . . and a few others that are still in the works.  So look forward to that.

Thats all for now, folks.  Look for one of the aforementioned posts (or a completely different one), full-blown style, on the morrow.

The BYU Symposium on Books for Young Readers

Thursday and Friday of last week I had the opportunity to attend the BYU Symposium on Books for Young Readers--an annual symposium put on by BYU for teachers, librarians, parents, and anyone else who wants to attend.

It wasn't too shabby.  Being a writer, of course, I wasn't the ideal attendee for the symposium, but ultimately it was worth it.  And I must say I'm surprised at the ease with which writing/book events in Utah can obtain top-notch writers and guest speakers.  At this particular event I was impressed to find Brandon Mull (author of the NYT-bestselling series Fablehaven series) and Laurie Halse Anderson (author of the popular--but controversial--Speak, and a number of other very interesting YA novels), as well as a number of other National Book Award finalists and others.

The structure of the symposium was different than the general structure I'm used to from local conventions such as LTUE and CONduit--instead of a variety of panels and classes and activities, the entire symposium consisted, for the most part, of lectures.  There were some smaller break-out sessions with individual authors on Friday, and some signings, and one or two other presentations, but other than that it was one person speaking in front of a large number of people for an hour or so, a break, and then listening to another person speak for an hour or so.  So, for me, that structure wasn't exactly ideal.  Luckily the speakers (usually the guest authors/illustrators) were interesting and entertaining, for the most part.  But I have to say I prefer the structure of the convention/conference format more, I think.  I'm not sure whether I'll attend next year--I suppose it depends on who is coming!

Also, an interesting side note:  I didn't expect 95% of the symposium attendees to be female.  Of course, it makes sense when I think about it--computing librarians, teachers, parents who are free during the day, and the population of Provo all together will equate to a very large female majority.

Anyway.  The symposium was . . . okay.  Nothing special, but not terrible (and, looking back on it, so is this description of it . . . its fitting, right?).

More to come (on other things) later . . .

Thursday, July 15, 2010

in which I talk about what I don't know about nonfiction (part 5)

I've talked about my basic impression of the genresome definitions and the concept of fact vs. truthsome more definitions and the importance of the "attempt", and most recently one of the major barriers of nonfiction . . . but, at least for now, I think I'm going to wrap things up.  (I'm sure I'll have more to say on the subject as I experience my nonfiction workshop class this fall, or read some of my much anticipated nonfiction reading-list*--but until then, this will be the not-quite-final-word.)

So:  here's some thoughts about John D'Agata's over-arching essay in his compilation The Next American Essay, which I found particularly interesting and insightful--specifically these quotes:
. . . despite the obvious abundance of documentation in nonfiction, some of the literature in this genre challenges that very presumption of fact.
This sums up exactly what I've been learning about nonfiction.  Nonfiction may be a lot of things, but it is not always factual.  It can be, of course, but the direction the essay is going right now is not towards the factual side of things--even though I think it is still an effective form of documentation. Where is it going?  Well, he goes on to pose these questions:
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?
So instead of going towards the factual side of things, the essay is going towards the imaginative, the emotional, the purely expressive.

And here we get to the creative process--one of the reasons I started creative writing in the first place, and one of the reasons I stayed away from nonfiction for so long.  But now I'm realizing that nonfiction can be just as creative as fiction (if not more so, in some ways).  It can be just as metaphorical, just as allegorical, just as exciting, just as lucid, just as stereotypical, just as boring, and just as emotional and crazy as fiction.

But, back to facts.  Here's more D'Agata:
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"? 
Whatever a fact is, I don't think it is necessary for a piece of nonfiction. I think, instead, the only requirement is that--whatever it discusses, whether it is an emotion or an event or a lie or a misconception--it has to exist, or have existed.  And even that connotation is ambiguous.  Especially as nonfiction becomes more artistic, ethereal, and lyrical:
The lyric essay inherits from the principal strands of nonfiction the makings of its own hybrid version of the form. . . . 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.
The essay (and by extension nonfiction) is the neglected step-child of the writing family.  It doesn't prove anything with exactness, not like academic or scientific papers do.  Nor does it create something as wholly and with such wild abandon as fiction or poetry does.  But it does have one foot in each camp, and thus, in a lot of ways, the best of both worlds.

I found the following quote of interest because it was an afterward--despite discussing the title and, at least in my eyes, the overall significance and meaning of the compilation itself:
By "Next" is meant those essays that will be inspired by these.  By "American," of course, I mean the nation.  And by "Essay," I mean a verb.
The "next American attempt," or the "next American trial," or assay, or experiment, or conjecture.  Nonfiction, I think, is all about attempting to convey the human experience, in whatever way possible.  It is about trying to describe personal or terrible or terrific or ineffable things with a limited language--knowing that you'll fail, but succeeding just in the attempt.  Thats a big appeal of nonfiction to me, and that is why I think it is something I'll keep turning to as the years go by.

I think I'll even write a few pieces myself.

So watch out America.

Including, but not limited to books by David SedarisJohn ScalziDavid Foster Wallace.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

a (potential) change in plans

I'm pretty sure a change in plans is taking place.  I'll confirm if/when it actually happens, but for now I just though I would taunt everyone*.  That's all.

* Whoa whoa, don't get all excited, just because there's taunting involved.  Its really nothing that great, just a slight (and by slight I mean major) and very unexpected (and by unexpected I mean unexpected) twist in how some things have been going.  I thought something would happen one way, and its starting to happen in a totally different way, that's all (forgive the ambiguity).  The only reason I'm not disclosing full details now is because I'm not sure if the change is permanent or not . . . hopefully it is, but I don't quite know for sure.  We will see.

Monday, July 12, 2010

weekend hiatus (part 1).

It's been a few days since I've blogged.  That's because I've been doing some ridiculously awesome things, like this:

(thats me catching a tree that nearly fell on me while hiking in Zion National Park this weekend, and then heaving it off the trail.  true story.)

And also, this:

(thats me nearing the top of Angel's Landing and looking over one of its many heart-squashing cliffs.)

And hiking things like this:

(Angel's Landing is that giant cliff in the background . . .)

And through things like this:

(The Narrows)

. . . check out the next post for more . . .

weekend hiatus (part 2).

So, as I was saying . . .

And I did some cool things like this:

It was fabulous.  I may not have gotten a lot of writing done, but it was good, ah, research . . . and worth every minute.  If you'd like to see (my first attempt ever at) a slideshow of more pictures, go here, or check out my wife's blogpost on it here.

Otherwise, happy trails . . .

Thursday, July 08, 2010

in which i talk about what I don't know about nonfiction (part 4)

Aaaand we're back--to nonfiction.

Our neighbors--with whom Raych and I are great friends--read "nonfiction" books almost exclusively.  For them this mostly means auto/biographies and memoirs.  I've discussed their preference of nonfiction over fiction with them a few times, and the general answer is always something along the lines of "most of these stories are just as interesting and exciting as those that happen in novels, but they happen to real people"--and somehow, that makes it better, although I've never quite been able to understand why.

Admittedly, I do agree with them to an extent.  There is a certain something about reading someone's story and knowing that it actually happened.  Nonfiction stories such as Gifted Hands and And There Was Light come to mind for me.  There's just a certain quality . . . I'm tempted to say its magical, but my gut tells me thats not the right word.  I mean, its more the opposite of magical, right?  Not the opposite of magical in that it is dull or boring of course, but the opposite of magical in that it is real.

And yet I can't help but think that by focusing on the "reality" of a story--meaning the factuality, the historicity of it--you lose something along the way.

Take Jesus's parables, for example, from the New Testament.  They're parables for crying out loud, not histories.  Of course there very likely existed in reality a samaritan who was mugged, and a sower who . . . sowed . . . at some point in time, and someone who sold all they had for a pearl, or someone who found his one sheep after leaving the other ninety-nine.  Whether Jesus had these specific people in mind is unclear, but what is clear is that the parables themselves are overwhelmingly considered fictive.  Whether they have any base in fact doesn't really matter--they're fiction, and their power doesn't lie in their real-ness.  They've been some of the most instructive stories (or short-shorts [or microfiction if you will--now thats an interesting concept]) that have ever been told.

And yet, if Jesus had told a story--
"And this really happened, guys," He said unto them, "And behold one of my best friends Henry had two sons, and the younger one said to the father . . ."
. . . and so forth (that's the [modified] beginning of the parable of the Prodigal Son, in case I've lost you--for the full parable you can look here or here), I don't think the parables would be as morally educational as they are.  "Poor Henry," we would say, and feel depressed at how much he suffered because of his wayward son Hubert, or how much Hubert himself suffered, or the neglected older son Haggus, or whatever.  But in many ways the lessons wouldn't quite hit home.  We would still see the same story, of course, and I think many of us would get the point.  But I don't think it would be as personal.  What I'm getting at is that nonfiction is inherently personal--but only for that one person whose story it is.  Whereas fiction is impersonal at first, when we understand that it has never happened to anyone really, but then as we get into it we start thinking "well, maybe this has never happened to anyone, but it actually could happen to anyone."

Are you following me on this?  Here's another example, although its a little biased on my part.

I'm Mormon (or, more properly, LDS).  As you may or may not know, the reason we have been labeled "Mormons" is because of the existence of the Book of Mormon.  I won't go into a full explanation of the book right now (although if you're interested, why don't you start here), but basically:  we believe that its similar to the Bible--a record of God's dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the American continents, inspired by God and written by prophets.  They key word in that description, as far as my current discourse goes, is "record."  We do believe that the Book of Mormon is an actual historical record of people who really existed two-to-three-thousand years ago.  In fact, I would say that a lot of Mormons's faith is somewhat reliant upon the idea that the Book of Mormon is "historical fact."

I had an interesting conversation with my father in-law the other day about the possibility of the Book of Mormon not being fact at all, but being more of a parable--still inspired by God, but not a historical document.

Honestly, I think a revelation like that (if it were to happen, which it has not) would shock a lot of Mormons, perhaps even snuff out their faith entirely.  If that's true, it's kind of both saddening and disappointing, as it means that a lot of people have placed far too much emphasis on the history of the document rather than its content. They've gotten so excited about the idea that it could have happened to real people that they forget that it is still meant to apply to us.

Now, I'm certainly not saying that nonfiction has no educational/moral/instructive value, because I truly believe it does.  And I'm not saying that fiction is inherently educational/moral/instructive either--because I don't think it always is, nor that it should be.  But I am saying that sometimes we get so excited about nonfiction being nonfiction that we forget what the actual story is, and/or what we could learn from it.  Whereas with fiction, although we have to get over that first barrier of realizing that it has never technically occurred and that it is not fact per se, we can realize its potential application to anyone.

My point is this:  sometimes fact, even if its just the pretense of fact, gets in the way of the inherent value of a piece of literature*.  We find it so interesting that this thing actually happened, or someone actually said this or thought these thoughts or felt these feelings, that we forget that the piece in and of itself is beautiful, inspiring, terrifying, or whatever.  What at first seems like a positive point of nonfiction, I think, becomes a negative if you look at it more closely.

Thats all for now, folks.  I'll finish up my thoughts about nonfiction shortly.

*  Of course, the same can be said of the suspension of disbelief found in varying degrees in fiction.  But thats a discussion for another day.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Review: The Hunger Games

The popularity of Suzanne Collins's book The Hunger Games has spread like wildfire since its release in 2008.

And now, having finally read it myself, I can understand why.

First of all, her world-building is top-notch.  The post-apocalyptic, dystopian setting she has created is as impressive as it is haunting.  There is one major political force in the accessible world (located somewhere in the western U.S.) called the Capitol that rules its twelve satellite-districts with an iron fist, the culminating example of its power being the Hunger Games, a sort of Gladiator-meets-Survivor Man with teenagers held between the twelve districts, supposedly to discourage rebellion.  I found Collins's approach to the post-apocalpytic/dystopian world refreshing and innovative, with elements I've rarely seen before (or at the very least, elements presented in ways I've never seen them before).

Her second strength:  characterization.  The main character, Katniss, is shockingly real and well-rounded.  She was very well written, and I felt I came to know her better and better as the book progressed.  Katniss had some beatiful conflicts, both internal and external, and the ways she dealt with them were real and believable.  Other characters that I thought were particularly well-written were Gale, Rue, and Haymitch--even Peeta, who I think is one of the weaker characters, still has his shining moments.

And then there are the Hunger Games themselves.  I have to say, I haven't read a sequence this engrossing since, perhaps, the Army battles in Ender's Game.  The way Collins describes the fighting and survival is true edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting action.  She also integrates her world-building into the Games seamlessly, revealing interesting facts and histories in the world as she adds conflict and intensity to the Games.  And although I found much of the Hunger Games slightly lacking in some descriptions and imagery, the effect nevertheless seemed to contribute to the brutality of it all, the stark reality and immediacy of the Games.

Also contributing to the feeling of immediacy is Collins's use of first-person present tense as the main method of telling the story (from Katniss' point of view, of course).  I found it an interesting and, ultimately, a very wise choice for the book.

Another refreshing aspect was the love triangle.  Don't let the terminology throw you off, this is no vampire-werewolf-clumsy teenage girl love triangle.  It felt much more real, much more believable, and much more in depth than any other attempts at the cliche I've seen lately (I'll name no names).  Admittedly, it is a cliche, but Collins handles it responsibly and creatively.

Quite honestly, one of my biggest worries is how the second (Catching Fire) and third (Mockingjay) books in the series will be.  Now that the Hunger Games are out of the way, I wonder if Collins will be able to keep me as interested as I was in this first book.  She certainly has her work cut out for her, and I'll find out soon--I have the second book on hand and will read it as soon as I finish the YA novel I'm reading right now (Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters).  But I must say, as engrossing as Ender's Game was, I've always thought that Speaker for the Dead was a better work in just about every way (except, perhaps, on the excitement level).  I'm not sure if Collins has the same miracle inside her or not--The Hunger Games is a phenomenal book on almost every level, with only a few micro-flaws--but it will be interesting to find out.  I'll let you know what I conclude.

My rating:  ****** (6.5/7 stars)

Saturday, July 03, 2010

on beginnings, and my own personal NaNoWriMo

So I'm back to work on my YA (young adult) novel--a project I started briefly in April on a whim, and then set it aside, as most of my time and energy was going into finishing The Rising.  I wanted to flesh the idea out enough that I wouldn't forget it, but put it aside to resume work on TR.

Things are going well.  I already had about 2.5k words done, and now I'm working on pushing that up, slow and steady.  At my high points while working on TR, I was writing 4-5k words/day.  I would love to get back into a groove like that with this YA project (as yet untitled), but I've forgotten one thing . . .


For the most part, I'm a discovery writer.  That means that, although I'll do some world-building and some very vague and sparse outlining, I really just start with an idea and run with it.  I generally have an idea of where I want things to end up, but more often than not that idea gets blown out of the water by other, bigger, better ideas as I'm writing.  Its a very organic process, and I love it.  But it also makes beginnings very difficult.  I can write a first chapter, no problem, but then I am strongly tempted to go back and revise that chapter, change it, make it better, or whatever.  Sometimes I even completely re-write the first chapter(s).  And then go back again and revise, change it, make it better, whatever.  And then rewrite them again . . .

It can be a very tedious and, more importantly, a futile process.  It doesn't get me anywhere.

So my biggest challenge in starting a new project is to just keep going.  I can't allow myself to go back and worry about whatever crap (and, for the most part, it is usually crap) that I write in the beginning.  I just have to persist and push myself forward until I start getting to the really good stuff (or, at least, the better-than-crap stuff).

Then, when I finish the whole project, I go back and start revisions.  (Anything [almost] can be fixed in post.)

Of course, I could dedicate an entire blog-post to my writing process and quirks--and perhaps I will--but right now I won't.  I just want to let everyone know that I am working on a new novel, and so far its going well.  I'm really excited about the crisis I have to start the thing out, and then, well . . . we'll see where it goes from there.

Also, in order to motivate me to press forward in the process and not worry too much about what I've already done (and, probably, screwed up), I'm declaring the month of July my own personal NaNoWriMo.  NaNoWriMo = National Novel Writing Month.  Its a challenge and/or contest held in November, where writers all over the US attempt to write (the first draft of) an entire novel in one month (here's the official website).  50,000 words is the general word count consensus, which aligns quite nicely with the word count goal I have for my YA project.

So . . . I'm taking the challenge!  50,000 words in a month!

Think I can do it?  Thats quite a few words to write in one month, if you aren't aware.  About 1.6k words/day (although I'm planning on writing only 5-6 days a week, so it closer to 2k/day for me).  Nothing I can't do, as I've demonstrated with TR, but I just have to get into the groove.

So here goes NaNoWriMo, July edition.  Wish me luck.

Friday, July 02, 2010

something awesome

Couldn't help but post this:

Yes I'm a fan of So You Think You Can Dance (its way better than American Idol, especially lately).  And, believe it or not, its actually because I love dancing.  Long story short I was pretty heavily into ballroom dancing for a while, and dabbled in some other forms as well.

But the above performance is INCREDIBLE.  And I can't help but post it.  I don't know if the link/embedding will stay active; sometimes they take sytycd performances down from youtube.  But hopefully they don't take this one, because its freaking amazing (also, Adam Shankman, the last judge, cracks me up--he's awesome).


Thursday, July 01, 2010

in which i talk about what i don't know about nonfiction (part 3)

Ah, nonfiction.  We have come so far, in such a short period of time.

Its amazing what reading a few books, perusing some definitions, and just pondering a subject for a while can do.  I feel much more intimate with the genre of nonfiction than I ever did before.  And overall it has been a pleasurable experience.

Let me briefly explain why the genre has been so prevalent in my mind lately.  I'm taking a creative nonfiction workshop class this fall--one of the first workshop classes I'll be taking officially as part of my MFA program (along with the YA Novel workshop class).

I was hesitant to enroll at first, mostly because I had hardly read any nonfiction--ever--let alone having tried to write something in the genre.

But I think I've come a long way.  Reading The Next American Essay and having started another nonfiction compilation entitled The Art of the Personal Essay has been very helpful.  Reading what some professionals think of the genre has helped me incubate my own opinions much more effectively.  I've even attempted my first (conscious) nonfiction piece--and I don't think its that terrible.  I have some ideas for other nonfiction projects that I'm excited about, hopefully they'll emerge from the darkness of my encephalon and see the light of my computer screen later this year.

So I feel like I've been learning a lot.

And now I want to talk about the personal essay.

It seems to me that the personal essay is the heart of creative nonfiction.  Auto/biographies, histories, etc. make great nonfiction, but I (personally) am much more concerned with the creative aspect of the genre--which seems to be aggregately piled under the heading of "personal essay" (although memoirs, debatably, exist there as well--sort of one-foot-in-the-creative-and-one-foot-in-the-general of nonfiction).  So I thought I'd look at the OED defenition of "essay" (again, I've bolded statements I found particularly interesting) . . .

OED, "Essay"
I. The Action or process of trying or testing.
1. a. A trial, testing, proof; experiment. b. The trial of metals.
2. A trial specimen, a sample, an example; a rehearsal.
3. a. assay. b. The part of a deer in which trial was made of the 'grease'; the breast or brisket.
4. A taste, or first taste, of food or drink presented to a great personage.
II. A trying to do something.
5. a. An attempt, endeavor. b. The result of an attempt.
6. A hostile attempt.
7. a. A first tentative effort in learning or practice. b. A rough copy; a first draft.
8. A composition of moderate length on any particular subject, or branch of a subject; originally implying want of finish, 'an irregular undigested piece', but now said of a composition more or less elaborate in style, though limited in range.

So.  An essay is an attempt, a trial, an endeavor.  I like that.  The idea of the essay as an attempt at addressing something (an issue, an emotion, an item, a person, a location, an idea, a religion, whatever) is intriguing, and humbling as well.  An essay is not definitive.  Its certainly not fact.  Its just a sincere attempt.  They're an effort made towards understanding.  And therein lies one of the most valuable qualities of nonfiction.  I don't know anybody who couldn't be more understanding or sympathetic in some area.  Many essays, in my opinion, are created to help the understanding (or at least the exploration) of a given topic, and thats a worthy objective--and quickly becoming one of my favorite attributes of creative nonfiction.

I also found the "rehearsal" and "rough copy/first draft" definitions interesting.  A "first attempt" at understanding things, as it were.  Hmmm.  So all of these musings about nonfiction I've been mulling over could be their very own personal essay, right?

Anyway, the point is:  Yoda, eat your heart out.  There sure as hell is a try, and its called the personal essay.