Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Too many dicks on the dance floor

...Except substitute "books" for "dicks," and, um..."various surfaces in my apartment" for "dance floor."
This is what my apartment looks like. Dancing, singing...books.
Does this happen to anyone else? I think it happens to me when I'm having a particularly strong run of good reads. I start to get cocky. And I crave more and more, until I honestly think I can read ALL THE BOOKS at pretty much the same time. And I check out half a dozen from the library and wind up sending most of them back unread, or half-read, because my focus gets fucked when I have too many good books staring at me.

And today it will get worse because I'm getting Neil Gaiman's new book in the mail, and Stephen King's Joyland, and I still haven't finished my books from the library (or the last several from the road trip), but I literally don't know how to hold a new Neil Gaiman novel in my hand and not read it. I don't think it can be done. And I'm avoiding all my favorite book blogs today because they've all got reviews of it and I don't want to be spoiled. I basically need to take care of all my errands and productive things before the mail comes, because once it gets here, I mean to be Occupied.

But anyway! In the interest of not letting myself stagnate too much on the blog front, I thought I'd share this article. It's titled "Feedback From James Joyce’s Submission of Ulysses to His Creative Writing Workshop," and there are some gems in there. 
"Show us how these characters process memory, language, abstractions, and the urban landscape through stream of consciousness, don’t just tell us."
"Caught some allusions to The Odyssey. Nice."
"“History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” So true."
...and hee! Literary humor ftw. Check it out, if you're so inclined.


Monday, June 10, 2013

I'm the One that I Want, by Margaret Cho

Sometimes I am just not on board with those dust jacket reviews. I mean, seriously..."Savagely funny?" "Refreshingly, uproariously raunchy?" "Funny and compelling?"

I can only assume The New York Times, Chicago Sun-Times and San Francisco Chronicle were talking about Margaret Cho's stand-up routines and that they didn't read this book. Because this book? Not funny. Not unless you're the type to crack up over someone spilling a vein onto the page. No, this book is painful. Margaret Cho is unflinching in telling about her experiences with racism, body-shaming, sexual assault, drug and alcohol abuse, and a career that took years to get off the ground (due in part to racism, body-shaming, and drug and alcohol abuse).

But the painful stuff is easily the most compelling and best-written part of the book. The rest has its funny moments, but falls far short of her stand-up routines without her voice and comic timing to boost it into the stratosphere.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Homeland, by Cory Doctorow

I've been sitting on my review of Homeland for the better part of a week now. I'm feeling kind of intimidated, to be honest. Because there's a lot to say about this one. And what with all the nifty NSA surveillance coming to light at the moment, the book feels particularly prescient.
It's the sequel to Little Brother, which was probably my favorite road trip read. We meet up with narrator Marcus Yallow about two years after the events of the first book. We find characters (and, you know, the world) still reeling from those events. Marcus is clearly suffering from PTSD after being tortured, and the country is in economic turmoil. Kind of like reality, except worse.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Joe Hill's N0S4A2

I adore Joe Hill. I love his comic book series Locke and Key. I think I love it even more than Sandman, and that's saying a lot. I think his collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts, is brilliant, and I don't particularly like reading short stories.

I saw Joe (we're tight like that, so I can call him just Joe) speak at Beachwood Library last year. My mom used to work with the librarian who had set up the talk, and this librarian told us Joe was really nervous, because he hadn't spoken in front of such a big crowd before.

That's fucking endearing right there.

This all sounds like I'm gearing up for one big BUT about his newest novel--he's so great, but this book was shit--but I'm really not. I loved it.

A lot of reviewers are making much of the fact that this book contains a lot of overt references to his dad's books. And there are a bunch--I counted references to It (I mean, obviously--it's my favorite book of all time, so I wasn't about to miss those), The Stand, The Dark Tower series, homages to Christine...I don't have to specify who Joe Hill's dad is, right? It feels like something everyone should know now. Saying it would be like specifying that Daniel Radcliffe played Harry Potter in some films when he was a kid. We all know.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Running myself in circles

I'm stuck on the story I'm working on. I've been trying like hell to get it off the ground after it's been too long in the drawer, and it's just not working.

Last night, I figured out why.

I do this thing where I have mysterious things happen to my main character. And she spends a lot of time being all what the shit is happening?! until she finally runs into a character who can enlighten her. And then there's this massive conversational info dump. And then I stall out, because I don't actually like massive conversational info dumps. They're no fun to write, and usually they're no fun to read. And my MC is usually demanding answers from this dude who's being kind of smirky and withholding, so half her questions don't get answers anyway, and she's just asking and asking and asking and it's really no wonder I can't write these scenes, because they're horrible. I've done this to myself with the last three books I've worked on.

HELLO PATTERN, I'VE SPOTTED YOU! It's pathetic it's taken me so long to realize what I keep doing to myself, but whatever. I'm there. The question is, how do I break out of this self-defeating rut?

I think about authors who get it right, that's how.

In Stephen King's It, the kids figure out what's happening to the kids in their town because they experience it for themselves, barely escape, and draw their own conclusions. There are conversations, sure, but there's never the dynamic where one character knows everything and the others know nothing. So the talking actually gets somewhere. (This might be key.)

In Harry Potter (a series which contains some of the greatest plots ever), Harry often gets hints from other characters about what's going on, but then he has to figure it out for himself.

In Neverwhere, nobody explains much of anything to Richard Mayhew. He has to figure it out as he goes along, and adapt to London Below by experiencing it.

I think my mistake is trying to make my main character a stand in for the reader, and then not giving either of them enough credit. My MCs wind up being too passive--things happen to them, other people need to explain it all to them. I write myself into this inevitable corner and these unwriteable scenes.

I'm not sure if my current project is salvageable. It might be, but I'm feeling so frustrated with it right now, I'm not sure it wouldn't be better for me to stick it back in the drawer and try something else for awhile. Make use of this new batch of self-knowledge, try to break my pattern.

At least I see the pattern now. Finally.