Friday, January 28, 2011

Clubs of note

About two years ago I started a book club at my job. There are two other main members, both faculty members and PhDs -- a woman who grew up in Morocco and was educated in France and a man who immigrated from Russia after the fall of communism. Others drop in and out. We're very informal. Anyone can suggest a book, anyone can come to the meetings. The only rule we follow is that we do non-fiction one month, fiction the other. I can be a bit snobbish about the books I read, so one of the reasons I established the anyone-can-suggest rule is to get out of my comfort zone, and I haven't been disappointed. I wouldn't have read Eat, Pray, Love or Where Men Find Glory on my own, but I ended up enjoying both.
This month we're reading Hush, by Eishes Chayil, a YA novel which was nominated for the Morris award. It's a story about the consequences of silence about sexual abuse in a small community -- in this case, a Hasidic Jewish community in Brooklyn. When I lived in Brooklyn I lived in the very neighborhood in which the book is set and I recognized quite of bit of it, so perhaps that gave the book an extra interest for me. Who knows what the others in the group will think?
By the way, I've suggested a couple of YA novels to the group, and the one book they loved was The Hunger Games.
As I've mentioned already, last fall I found a SCWBI crit group in my area. We meet every other Saturday at a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf near UNLV, and recently we've grown so much we hardly fit in the room anymore. I am really amazed by the talented people in the group and I just want to celebrate a bunch of recent successes. First, Nancy won honorable mention in a Tommy Di Paola-judged contest illustrating "Heidi." Second, Sharon won a Meegenius e-book contest and will have her picture book published on that platform. Third, Michael won honorable mention (26th out of 1000s of entries) in a contest sponsored by Writer's Digest. I so enjoy meeting and socializing -- and reading to -- these guys twice a month.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Short stories and graphic novels

Last year I wrote two short stories. Well, they were sort-of short stories. To be honest, I don't consider myself a natural short story writer and I don't even much like to read other people's short stories (Chekhov excepted.) The process of writing for me is getting to know a character in the long term, building them up, leading them into encounters with other characters, and you can't really do this in a short-story format. And these particular stories were surface pieces, once-upon-a-time story telling.

And then it occurred to me, as I tweaked various words and phrases for the hundredth time, that both these stories would work well as graphic novels. They were both visual and I could see how the pictures would tell the story more successfully than words.

My first question was, how do you write a graphic novel? I didn't intend to do the art, but I wanted to block out the size of pictures, relation to the text, and so on. So I went on one of the forums at Critique Circle as asked if there was a kind of software that graphic novelists used, something that would help with that. To my surprise, the replies I got were the graphic novels are usually written in a screenplay format, something like:


Mickey Mouse is seen with his hands up as Donald Duck points a water pistol at him. Minnie can be seen running away in the background, her flowered hat coming off.

Donald: Prepare to get wet, Mickey!

Mickey: But -- but --

Apparent the more description of the scene, pov, etc., the better. So for the past few days I've been tentatively re-writing these short stories in this format and having some fun with them. It's been a nice stretch for my brain. And I like to dream about what the finished art might look like. I've just finished reading Steve Westerfeld's steampunk novel Leviathan, and I just love the fact that it's YA and illustrated. Love the art, also, which reminds me one of my favorite books from childhood, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken.

Anyone out there up to any new projects for the new year?

New Year's Post (late)

As far as I'm concerned, the grimmest day of any year is the Monday after New Year's. Once again you're up at an ungodly hour when it's not even light yet, eating cereal with your son, neither of you speaking, both of you thinking how quickly vacation ended.
So maybe you can tell I'm not much of a resolution maker. But in keeping with New Year's goal-making, I wanted to share something from a book on Jesuit spirituality which I read a few months ago and which has really helped me. This is from the chapter on "Making Decisions."

1. Beware of getting bogged down in what-ifs and if-onlys when you think about the future or try to make a decision. Deliberately causing yourself anxiety and fear won't help you make a better decision.

2. Never make a decision during a period of desolation. Your motivations will be unhealthy.

3. Ignore I-wants and be aware of your weak points.

4. Learn from the past -- wrong decisions you made before and what the consequences were.

I know that #2 really resonated with me. I've done that a lot -- just fallen into despair and said, "Since I can't...I'm just going to..."

And may all of your New Year's Resolutions come to pass!