Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Longest Day of the Year

"Don't you always look for the longest day of the year, and then miss it?" Daisy Buchanan asks in The Great Gatsby.
Daisy never had CNN to remind her.
The garden was gorgeous this morning and we have hummingbirds the way some people have mice.

Monday, June 13, 2011

3rd Person vs. 1st Person

With 3rd person, you're the movie director. You're a master of sleight-of-hand, showing the reader this scene, withholding that bit of information, moving from person to person, building tension, jumping across continents, moving through space and time. You are the Author. You can do anything you like.

1st person, on the other hand -- and I know 9/10ths of YA is written in 1st person -- is messy. You're in the middle of everything, plopped down in your character's mind, wading through the long grass of distraction. You don't know the half of what's going on. Forget the well-tempered sentence: you drown in a sea of "anyway," "sort of," "kind of," and "I mean." You're not sure when to stop and so you keep going on and on, until you're sick of your character and just want out of his/her head.

OK, maybe you can tell I'm just a little bit prejudiced in favor of 3rd person. Frankly, I think that 1st person is (sometimes) a writer's crutch. It lets you do more with less. But before anyone who loves 1st person gets upset, let me just say that I'm willing to look at both sides of the subject:

3rd person is cold. It's remote. You're up in the sky, looking down on the characters. Good luck getting close to them as they wander through their lives while Mr./Ms. Author , who seems to be on a serious ego trip, tells you all about the history of some other place or person.

1st person is focused. It's you, telling your story. It's you living your story. You're witty, intelligent, sarcastic and flirty all at once. Everyone loves you. You have VOICE.

My challenge this time around, since I'm writing first person from two different characters: make them sound different.

Monday, June 6, 2011

That feeling

Forgive this post for self-indulgence. Yesterday, in the middle of the hot-water-heater crisis, I had a semi-mystical experience while watching an earwig. Actually, I don't think the earwig had much to do with it; it was just there on the floor of the garage while I stared, thinking deep thoughts, and somehow got mixed up with them. Although if things work out maybe I'll mention him in the acknowledgements.

The deep thoughts were about my WIP and what came out is that story is going to be in first person instead of third, and told in alternating chapters by two characters. I got "that feeling." You know: the road is open, I can see this, I know exactly how this is going to work. And I could hear Janette's voice for the first time, though I created her as a character months ago.

The book is set in Las Vegas in 1964 and Janette, one of the narrators, is a 16 year old art student:

"John would have been an artist, if it wasn’t that he became a Beatle first. In pictures he always looks slightly apart, slightly more serious – not sad, like Ringo – but as if he sees through the press and the cameras and the screaming girls, as if he keeps something in reserve, apart from them. As if he’s waiting for something, almost.

I zipped up my art bag and slung it around my shoulder and then I remembered I’d bought a new tube of cadmium orange and it was…somewhere in my room. I finally found it in my school jacket. It’s a bad habit, leaving paint everywhere. One day last fall I threw my jacket on the floor and later I walked across it and there was a paint tube in my pocket and it burst open. I didn’t even notice until the next day when I put my hand in the pocket at school. Mom wasn’t happy, about the jacket or the carpet.

I threw the cadmium orange in the bag and zipped it up again. Then I opened the window, pushed the screen out, and slipped out it feet first, landing among the weeds and the bleached, warped boards my father still intends to build a shed with. It’s juvenile, I know, but it avoids Janette can you go to Safeway for me, oh, and take your little sister too. If Mom had her way I’d spend my entire Sunday pushing Betsy on the swings at the park.

Rachel’s mother is not like anyone else I ever met, never mind anyone else’s mother. She’s a good model, generally; she sits still without complaining and questioning me. She’s never asked to see the picture, either, which is good because the picture is pretty much a disaster.

But her house is so…not dark, exactly, but dim. And silent. There are never any women sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee and goading each other into eating the last piece of cake. And there are too many things in the house. The first time I saw the living room I recognized, somehow, that every statue and picture had a particular reason for being there, that Mrs. Rosenkrantz wasn’t just hoarding stuff like a madwoman. But there’s just so much of it. It’s like a house under occupation by an army. I can hardly stand to sit there, scraping Mrs. Rosenkrantz’s head off the canvas for the hundredth time or re-working those damn glasses (I don’t know why I ever thought to put them in, and yet every time I paint them out the picture just seems nothing.) I feel like they’re all watching me – the stuffed trout, John F. Kennedy, St. Bernadette – and they know I’m going to fail."

This is just the middle of a passage so I'm sure a lot of it will go away or change. But one of the great things about writing for me is that feeling that something's there, something I can use and make something of. I feel like a cat, watching the mouse play and thinking, you're mine, baby.

Kindle, take me away

One of the secret pleasures of Kindle for me is that you can get for free almost any book published in English before 1923. Since the copyright has expired, these books are in the public domain. Yesterday I woke up early and instead of thinking about 1) work, 2) various medical crises in my extended family or 3) our broken hot water heater and the mildew smell downstairs from the resulting flood, I thought, my God, think of all those old books you've always wanted and never could get...now's your chance, girl...be glad you've lived long enough to see this day...19th century literature FOR FREE!

A long-supressed wishlist tumbled out. Lord Dunsany, the Irish fantasy writer (he actually died in 1957, but his early weird stuff is available.) The Country of the Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett. Mr. Britling Sees It Through, a WWI-era novel by H.G. Wells. The Golden Age, Kenneth Grahame's other children's book. A couple of Victorian classics: Three Men in a Boat and Diary of a Nobody. Oh, and I threw Moby Dick in as well. I've read it, but I figured it was worth a second look.