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50 Books Starting Over

I decided I'm going to start, appropriately in January. I know, I know . . . all those books that no longer count. But it will be a lot easier to track this way. And I even have a spreadsheet!

So far:

1. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin

I loved this book. It was a slow read, but definitely worth it. I particularly liked the first person POV shift between Genly Ai and Estraven. I'm glad I'm not the only one who does that!

2. In the Woods by Tana French

God. Another heart-wrencher mystery. It was very different in pain from Special Topics in Calamity Physics, but similar in that there's definitely a central mystery plot along with the part that is depressing. The main difference is that the major incident of pain in In the Woods happens earlier, and progresses into a heavy depression, while in Special Topics in Calamity Physics, you have a building depression that's followed by a knife to the gut. Anyway, the book was exquisite. I just don't want to ever read it again, because I'm not that much of a masochist.

3. Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

In the Woods was a hard crime novel at times, and I wanted to keep that atmosphere, so I went with Dresden and the strange urban fantasy noir effect I get from it. Very fast paced with lots of good humor. I'm already looking for the next one, which seems to have mysteriously disappeared from all bookstore shelves.

No idea what next, but I'm craving something. Give me books!

Update on Writing and Books

Writing:
Well, as usual, the writing is going well. I haven't had motivation problems with first drafts in a long time. Plundering Freedom is sitting at 64,477 words after a writing marathon at Forward Motion this week-end.

The problem is the revision. I spent 30 minutes on it on last Monday. That's all I've done for the entire time that I've been off school (last day was December 14). I'd sign up for Edit Marathons at Forward Motion, and not actually do anything. I know it's partly because I'm on a tedious part (noting every single change that occurs to a character or place throughout the entire novel), but I think there's something larger, more psychological going on as well. Even though I keep telling myself to think of it in terms of smaller steps, I think I'm still overwhelmed at the thought that, somehow, I have to turn this mess with brilliant parts into something actually good. And that, when I'm done with that, I'm going to have to share it with people.

Part of the problem is that the idea behind the story is still amazing to me, and it seems like it will be impossible to live up to it. No matter what I write, no matter how I fix it, it feels to me that the idea itself will be better than the finished product. I think there's a part of me going, "Why bother trying to improve it, when it will never be good enough?" It might sell, it might be praised, but will *I* ever be happy with it? And if I'm not -- is it worth all this work?

At the same time, someone else at Forward Motion was complaining about having troubles dealing with rejections. I haven't posted on her thread because I'm insanely jealous. I wish I had something that I could submit, that I could gather rejections on. I wish I felt good enough about my own novel that I could feel bad about rejections. And it's not that it's bad. As first drafts go, it's amazingly clean. It's just . . . mediocre. And the only way to lift it from mediocre to great is revision.

I feel like I'm going in circles in this entry. I know revision is the key to making it more, to getting it closer to my original vision. But I'm still disappointed that it won't ever *match* my original vision. And it won't, because reality never matches ideals. The best we can do is come as close as we can. I'm having troubles over the fact that the best I can do will have to be good enough.

***

As for books, I just finished reading The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin. Excellent book. Just amazing. But tell me -- why do all my favorite characters have to die?

Special Topics in Calamity Physics

As I promised, here is a review of Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. This book is amazing. The comments by other writers in the front of the book mostly consider it a cross between Catcher in the Rye and Nabokov, but as I've never read Catcher in the Rye, I really cannot say anything about that. It's far more emotional than anything by Nabokov, though it does have the same linguistic fluency and a slight bit of the insanity (though not nearly as extreme).

The format is a course description. Each chapter is the name of a work of literature, and the epilogue is a Final Exam. There is also an introduction, that sets up the rest of the book and is necessary to read. Two things are mentioned in the introduction: first, that Blue (the narrator - first person) felt the need to write this as a life story of how her life unraveled; and second, that she found someone named Hannah Schneider dead, hung from a tree. The fact is that there are actually two novels hidden here, not just one.

The first read is breathless and amazing. While there is a lot going on in Blue's life, the main focus is centered around the mystery that seems to surround a teacher, Hannah Schneider, and a group of students she cultivates. It is a whodunnit in the classic sense, and it comes to a satisfying conclusion . . .

Which shows that the book was not really what it seemed to be in the first place. Suddenly, everything takes on new meaning, and the second novel comes to the forefront. This is a life story, not a whodunnit, at its very core, and her life really did completely unravel in the course of the story. It is emotionally visceral and extremely painful. I was not expecting things to turn out as they did. It hurt so much I had to ignore the book for a week, despite having a paper due on it, in order to regroup, and when I tried to start again, I hardly got into it before tears were streaming down my face all over again.

The book is an intellectual challenge, a literary game, and a delight for anyone who likes linguistic play and puzzle-solving. It is also a heart-breaker. It is exquisitely painful and brutal in its conclusion. The reader at the end is raw, bleeding, and wondering what just happened -- and left with a Final Exam full of questions of the deepest complexity.

Read it.

Tags:

End of NaNo. Books.

Well, I won NaNo with 52,946 words, but the novel is not finished yet. Probably have another 50k or so to go.

I also wanted to update the books I've read. As of June 5, 2008, I had 19 books since starting the 50 Books a Year thing. I have to say, I haven't done so well. I haven't really read any books for pleasure since starting school (although I enjoyed most of the books I did read for school). Here we are:

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Amazonia by James Rollins

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Lady Audley's Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

The Story of an African Farm by Olive Schreiner

The Beetle by Richard Marsh

The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Four Saints in Three Acts (opera) by Gertrude Stein

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire by Karen Elizabeth Gordon

So, we are to 29 books this year. I'm planning to review a couple of these, particularly Special Topics in Calamity Physics and The Deluxe Transitive Vampire both of which I loved.

Tags:

Progress

This week has been hard on the writing front. First, I had a lot due this week for school: test on Tuesday, presentation Thursday, and 2 papers due Friday. Thankfully, one of the Friday papers has an extension, so I'm finishing it up tonight.

Second, I got sick. Again. Back in mid-September, I had an attack of Traveler's e. coli. This is not the dangerous kind, but apparently my system is particularly sensitive to it -- to the point that a CT Scan of my small intestine made everyone concerned about Crohn's Disease. Thankfully, a blood test showed that it is NOT Crohn's, but unfortunately, I didn't entirely heal. After two weeks of feeling miserable, I was fine for about two more weeks. Then, I had some greasy hamburgers and it all came back around the beginning of October. Things were fine again for about a month, but on Tuesday night, I ended up having some greasy pizza and WHAM! Sick again. So, no greasy food for me! I was in bed all day Wednesday (when I wasn't in the bathroom), and very tired on Thursday. I did manage to get caught up on all my homework, but NaNo was out of the question.

I did 5,657 words before Monday, but due to the election and then sickness . . . and then homework -- it stayed there until Friday night. I got some more words in before bed Friday, and then went crazy this week-end:

Friday night: 6,622
Saturday: 11,106
Today: 13,423

Now, it's off for more homework and then maybe some more writing! Thankfully, I've never been one to have a Week Two slump -- if any week is my slump week, it's usually Week One. So, I should be able to catch up without too many problems, especially since my parents will be out of town Wednesday through Friday.

NaNo Nostalgia

I got inspired by a blog entry by David Bridger, and felt a need to post something myself.

For those who don't know (although I'm fairly certain there are few if any of you), November is coming up, and November means NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month.

I've been spending most of my non-scheduled hours poking around the forums and getting back into my writing. There's just something amazing about the enthusiasm permeating the entire project.

This year, I don't quite know why I signed up (well, I do, but I'll get to that). I'm living at home with family responsibilities, working two part time jobs, and going to school full time. Granted, one of my part time jobs is really just sitting there doing what I want to do, but it's still scheduled time. Despite my success in the past (2005: 89,000, 2006: 117,000, 2007: 80,000), I do not actually intend to make it to 50,000 words this November, and if I do, it may be a bad thing rather than a good thing.

I've been writing off and on for as long as I can remember. I found a little picture book I made up when I was in kindergarten about a unicorn (I was a very, very girly girl when I was young) not too long ago. By 6th grade, I was writing bad mystery stories that focused more on the dresses of my main characters than any sort of plot. I tried writing a mystery novel with my dad, which ended because, instead of helping me fix my parts, he made fun of them in his parts... which made me decide that working with others really wasn't the right way to go about the whole writing thing.

I started a fantasy novel sometime in high school. I know this because I found other writers, and we critiqued each other's writing. I had at least two chapters by that point. I fiddled with that story over the years at college, and wrote another shortish-longish fantasy story my senior year.

Throughout this period, I had other ideas, which I would start and write some of, usually stalling out around chapter 8. I did finish one dystopia/fantasy in 2001 (I know it was 2001 since I wrote it in August, and my original idea was along the lines of having someone destroy a building that represented capitalism in a city similar to New York). It was serialized in very short "episodes", and probably more akin to magical realism than anything, now that I look back at it.

In general though, the Unfinished Novel was the bane of my writing existence. I got to chapter 8 and stopped. Then started a new story several months later.

In 2004, I was a grad student and teaching assistant of Russian. My students had daily homework that I was bad at grading (as in, I procrastinated). Despite having papers that were sitting there since September, when I found out about NaNoWriMo on October 27, I decided to give it a shot. No go. I made a couple of mistakes:

1. I didn't really care about my story, and had no idea where it was going.

2. I underestimated the urgency of needing to grade the papers.

3. I posted the novel on my livejournal as I went, which would have been fine, except that I allowed constructive criticism, figuring I could ignore it until it was time to revise.

These were all mistakes for a first-time NaNo attempt. I've since learned the following:

1. Caring about the story is essential. So is knowing the end. I don't *need* any more planning than that, but I do need to know the end.

2. Mutiny needed to be prevented. I think the last 2 weeks of November were spent *breathing* that homework left over since September. Now, I don't let things go that long in September, since I know November is coming.

3. Posting is okay, but constructive criticism *has* to wait.

I'm getting on a tangent here, but I'm feeling nostalgic, so bear with me. Another important point of 2004 is that I didn't just post all of my not-finished novel on my live journal - live journal was my only conduit between my writing and that of others. I was completely oblivious to the forums, and spent no time there at all.

Leap to 2005. 2005 found me unemployed, and thus, I had a far greater amount of time to spend on NaNo. I'm not sure when I signed up, but I know it was not October 1, because the Coffee House was 20-some odd pages long, and I ended up reading through all of them. I still don't know what sort of insanity possessed me, other than the depression of being unemployed and the delirium of wanting to write. That year I sort of planned. My plan looked like this:

Week 1: Lydia
Week 2: Thomas
Week 3: Aaron
Week 4: Lydia

It was a supernatural mystery, and I also planned out who committed the crime, who the police's main suspect was, who I wanted to frame as the main suspect for the reader, and everything about how and why the crime was committed. I had a few other events planned out, but that was about it. I posted that novel on live journal (friends' locked) as well. I was also way more active on the NaNo boards, particularly frequenting the Coffee House and the Nanoisms thread. As a result of the latter, there are some extremely ridiculous parts to the novel, but it was a blast to write. I don't know that I've had so much *fun* with any other writing project in my life. I finished with 89,000 words on something like the 25th of November.

When things got tough, I just ploughed through them with a heightened sense of humor directed mainly at myself. I had conquered the Unfinished Novel.

2006 found me working a full time job in the real world. I was certain I would not be able to make the 50,000 goal, because I wouldn't be able to stay up as late. I forgot that I wouldn't have any homework, and that week-ends and holidays are wonderful for writing when you live alone. I was far more obsessed in 2006 than any other year, and my project (a fan fiction) grew to 117,000 by the end of the month. I finished it at 11:30 p.m. on November 30, mostly because at 9:00, I had a sudden new idea I had to at least get down on paper.

That new idea became the basis for a class on Forward Motion taught by Zette - the 2 Year Novel class. I spent the beginning and middle of 2007 fleshing it out and preparing it in great detail. Around August, I was caught up to the class (which had already started the first draft) in terms of pre-work. I had some fleshing out to do, mainly in terms of research and world building, and fleshed out the outline as well. Then, I waited for November and wrote it then. At that point, I was living here, with my parents, but I only was working 30 hours a week.

Although it had not nearly as much excitement or delirium as my first two attempts, it went much more smoothly, and is by far, the cleanest first draft I have yet produced.

Now, I'm heading into 2008. I'm way behind on research, but have what I think is the most solid plot I've ever started with (though less detailed than last year's). This year, I'm going to school and working two part time jobs, so I do have homework. I'm also living at home, and that makes it difficult to write as much as I'd like. Once more, I find myself lowering my goal to 30,000. But this time, I know for sure that I have conquered the Unfinished Novel.

The new bane of my writing existence is the Unrevised First Draft. Maybe I'll have to check out NaNoEdMo this March.

Tags:

I Have a Plot!

[cross-posted to shadowthorne]

My muse gave me a wonderful birthday present today, in the form of a plot!

In researching the time period I'm interested in, from the points of view I'm interested in (slavery, voodoo, piracy), I ran across, on two occasions (the voodoo and slavery parts) the first successful slave rebellion which made Haiti an independent country. The rebellion was started by a voodoo ritual.

The dates are uncertain, but I've decided to make this the climax of my novel - my main character is going to be the priestess involved, and she is working for revenge and to free her brother, who is still a slave there.

Not sure if that will work out, or if I'll have to make her more of a secondary character, since she would be a stranger to all but her brother, and I don't know if the only people at the ritual were slaves or not. I suppose it could probably be tweaked, depending on how many people were present, and whether they would recognize a stranger or not, or more importantly, if all the written accounts are from whites, whether *they* would recognize a stranger.

I also need more research on the slavery aspect. I know that families were often separated, but did that happen in Africa or in the New World? And if in Africa, where? Would she and her brother have been together until they made it to the French slave trading port? Or would they have been separated before that, so she wouldn't know where he ended up?

I also need to know which loa was responsible for the rebellion, so that, if she can be the priestess in question, I can make her be linked closely with that loa.

Anyway, I'm very excited, and I think this may be the best birthday present I've ever received from the universe or anyone else :)

Writing Pre-work Questions:

[cross-posted to shadowthorne]

Questions I need answers to:

Do I want a rich European on board? If so, how did she get there? Is she pregnant?

I think I do, if it is plausible. I think I want her to be pregnant, and die in childbirth, leaving a baby boy for the pirates to deal with.

What happens to the people running the slave ship?

How do these particular pirates feel about slavery - needs research - which pirate era am I doing?

Do I want to involve vampires? No.

When would this have occurred?

How does the French slave trade match up to piracy?

What sort of pirates would be most active at that time?

How would anyone not involved in the slave trade end up either on the slave ship attacked by the pirates, or on the pirate ship?

Would normal (i.e. not religiously oppressed or other wise *sent* there) Europeans visit the colonies?

What about the religious question?

What is the central conflict?

Where is the main character originally from?

What is the main character’s motivation?

Do I want a villain?

Was Anne Bonny or any other known female pirates active at the time of the novel? If so, remember to make allusions to her.

I have 4 beginning scenes, but no idea where to go from there, mostly because I don’t know the main character’s motivation, nor the main central conflict. They are:

1. On board the slave ship
2. Capture!
3. Calming the seas, gradually win respect.
4. Midwife to pregnant woman - protect the child

Writing Again

[Crossposted to shadowthorne]

Well, I'm getting back into writing a bit, and may give a stab to NaNoWriMo this year again. I don't plan on overdoing it, though. In the past, novels have tended to overrun my life during November, and I can't afford that this year.

However, I have a shiny new pirate idea I want to play with, and so I'm going to probably use it during November. My word count goal is only going to be 30,000, though. If I do more, great, but most of my time these days is spent doing work for school, and that can't suffer. I figure 1,000 words a day is doable.

Here's the idea (needs to be researched, though, to make sure the chronology fits):

African woman, who is a voodoo priestess, is captured by other Africans and sold to the French. The French transport her, via the Middle Passage, to Haiti. On the way, she asks les invisibles for help. A storm comes up, and the ship is attacked by pirates. All the Europeans (except perhaps for a rich girl kept for ransom - if I can make that plausible) are killed, but the Africans are kept to be resold by the pirates.

First problem: Not sure if pirates actually attacked slave ships.
Second problem: Although both practices were going on at the same time, most of the research I found focused on the English, not the French.

While this doesn't seem like much of an improvement, the voodoo powers of the main character become apparent to the pirates, who decide she'd be better off as an adviser than sold, so she rises in status. The success of her spell/prayer means that she owes les invisibles a debt.

Not sure exactly how it comes about, but I'm anticipating her falling in love, and the debt she owes is going to involve sacrificing her love: either by letting him fall to death or by encouraging him to marry someone else.

So, those are my thoughts so far.

Books and more books...

Well, let's see.

I'm trying to keep a record of what I've read, to see if I can do the 50 books a year thing. Since I last posted, though, what have I read?

I had to go back and look, since it's been so long that I've posted about the books I'm reading. Anyway, here goes:

I still haven't finished World Without End. It's a very, very LARGE hardcover, which makes it less comfortable to read, despite the quality.

I did read the next Kelley Armstrong novel, in the bookstore, but I don't remember what it was called.

After that, I read The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett. It was a fun read, and I could see myself reading more of his, but it wasn't as compelling as the other series. Maybe I'll change my mind if/when I read more.

Then, based on a recommendation by Erin at the Forward Motion board, I started reading Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series, and read the following:

Uglies

Pretties

Specials

Extras


I loved this series. The main characters (Tally in the first three, Aya in the fourth) are very, very flawed, and it's great to read about them. This is my second or third foray into science fiction, too, and I'm finding I really like it. I may have to try out more science fiction in the future.

And most recently, I've been interested in the Pellinor series by Alison Croggon. The first book, The Naming, was a little irritating in its attitudes (despite men and women being equal in this world, the main character (a female) is considered an adult when she's seen wearing a glamorous dress - not when she fights off monsters, and not when she grows up emotionally) and the usual Dark=Evil.

However, the second book, The Riddle... It was amazing. Much better than the first, in my opinion, and heart breaking. I spent Sunday night/Monday morning in tears over this book, and I could not be consoled until I got to the last page. It was exquisitely done and full of good darkness (and also came closer to the idea that Darkness is a part of the Balance).

I have just purchased the third book, The Crow, and look forward to reading it this week-end (but not tonight, as I need to get up early, and can't be crying all night, should it end up like the second).

There is a fourth scheduled to be released in the U.S. in September 2008.

Between The Riddle and now, I've been reading Lake Wobegon Days by Garrison Keilor. It's a very humorous book. I'm not sure I'll finish it, but I hope I will. I usually do finish books I start, but I have The Crow now, and also World Without End

So, that puts me at 17 books since March 10, when I started.

Future plans:

As mentioned before, I do want to read The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho.
Also:
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

And from a workshop I just participated in:
Auralia's Colours by Jeffrey Overstreet
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Blade Dancer by S. L. Viehl
Last Girl Dancing by Holly Lisle

Hmm... I'm sure I'm missing some. And yes, it's true: although I've read four Nabokov novels, I have yet to read Lolita, and somehow, Moby Dick was not one of the books I read in high school or college.