Wednesday, April 27, 2011

risky behavior

I don't know about you, but it's hard for me to think about the makers of the TV show Lost as risk takers. Not because their show wasn't new and different and brave, but because by the time I heard of it, it was already so successful. It's hard to remember that there was ever a point where the people behind thriving creative entities were struggling and scared, just like those of us who are in the pre-pre-pre success phase of the game are.

Reading this interview with Carlton Cuse, one of Lost's executive producer's, reminded me of that point. And it also left me with this great quote to share with y'all:

" succeed as an artist or in any creative endeavor you must shed your fear...if you are not prepared to fail you will not create anything of lasting artistic value." Best Blogger Tips

Monday, April 18, 2011

Book review: Reading as a Writer-style

Book Title: The Kitchen God's Wife

Author: Amy Tan

Themes: Mother/Daughter relationships, bad marriages, Chinese/American cultures

Styles worth noting: The point of view shifts--the first and last chapters are told from the daughter's POV, the rest of the book is told from the mother's POV. This is important because the mother's story impacts how the daughter sees her, which the reader can clearly tell from the daughter's chapters. The middle chapters are told as if the mother is talking to the daughter (ie, using second person).

What I learned from the book:
Even though you know the ending from the beginning--that the mother got away from her awful first husband, got to America, and married a nice man--the book still kept you on edge wondering how she got from an awful situation in China to a much better one in America. It's a good example of how you can still have tension and drama even if the reader knows how the story turns out.

The Kitchen God's Wife is also a good example of how using multiple points of view can switch the reader's sympathy--at first, the mom seems annoying and the reader sympathizes with the daughter (at least I did). But then as the mom is telling her story, you switch allegiances and sympathize with the mother.

Tan also makes the most of every detail she mentions--foods, decorations, clothes, etc. It seemed like just about anything she mentioned offhandedly on one page got brought up again later, in a meaningful way.

Have you read anything good lately, so good you learned a lot from it? Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, March 31, 2011

I felt such a sense of relief when I read this

"Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid."
— Albert Einstein

It actually brings tears to my eyes. Think it's a sign I should stop worrying about all the trees I can't climb and focus instead on how well I can swim? Methinks it might be...

What are your trees vs. streams? Feel free to discuss in the comments. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, March 21, 2011


I keep setting these deadlines for when I'll have a draft of my novel done (er, a second draft--I finished a first draft a while back, but I forgot to celebrate on here, or really anywhere. It felt awfully anti-climatic, like getting the first coat of paint down on the outside of the White House, knowing that coats two, three, and four and then all that touch up work still await you).

And the deadlines keep whizzing past. It's not because I'm lazy, mind you. It's not even because life keeps getting in the way (not most of the time, anyway). It's because every time I think I know what I'm doing with the novel, something sticks up from the page and reminds me that while I may be holding the reigns, the 300 page/pound beast I'm riding is really in control.

First it was an idea for a new crisis point that I got from a great book, Writing a Breakout Novel, lent to me by the brilliant Robyn Bradley. The book was really helpful as I thought about how to pump up the conflict as I revised, and how to make my characters more realistic. I forget exactly what words of Maass's triggered the epiphany that my main character has to have conflict with some of the people she is closest to, instead of just the "villain" of the book. But whatever words they were, they were both very illuminating, and very much a pain in the ass, since that meant undoing and redoing a lot of the manuscript. (All for a good cause--a better product--of course.)

Next came a point of view shift (from third to first). It felt felt right, but it meant changing the point of view in the ENTIRE BOOK. And that's not as easy as just changing all the "she"s to "I"s, either. It means changing anything that sounds like it's in a narrator's voice to be in a first-person character's voice.

Lastly--for now--came a great idea from a friend and fellow writer who is reading the manuscript, who suggested I make some structural changes. Just a little bit of moving this there, and that here, and this over there... Of course each of those changes means that something else has to move or change. It's like a giant game of Twister, or Jenga, or name your other favorite game where things are tenuous and may fall apart any second.

But, just like those games, revising is fun, too. After all this, I finally have two chapters that I'm really psyched about--a good, solid foundation to start building from once again. Best Blogger Tips

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Change--"You better learn to like it"

When I was in the third grade, I got a C on an assignment I did for social studies. I was not used to getting C's, and I didn't like it. As I stood in line at my teacher's desk to get extra help on the paper, I said something like, "I hate social studies" to the friend in front of me. My teacher happened to be walking by me just then, and she took me by the shoulders and said, "You better learn to like it."

I remember thinking she was so mean for saying that, and for getting all in my face about it. But by the end of the year, I had forgiven her, and I remember giving her a beautiful bouquet of flowers as a goodbye present.

I was thinking about this teacher--Mrs. Armstrong--and that experience yesterday, when I found myself saying to myself, in the voice of a whiny third grader, "I don't like times of transition. That's why I feel so panicky and am crying so easily." And just like that, Mrs. Armstrong appeared in my head, grabbed me by my imaginary shoulders and said, "Well you better learn to like it."

She was right 25 years ago, and she's right now--I had to learn to like, or at least tolerate, social studies since I was going to have to take the subject for the next 10 years or so. And I'm going to have to like, or at least learn to handle better, times of transition because I'll be dealing with those not only for the next 10 years--but for the rest of my life.

Things are always changing. And as scary and anxiety-producing as that is, life would be awfully boring if we did the same things over and over again ala the movie Groundshog's Day.

So how exactly am I going to go from being a crying, anxiety-ridden mess to someone who calmly embraces not only change but also the time between now and when that change actually occurs?

I don't know exactly, and if you have any ideas, please please please leave them in the comments. But here are some of mine:

* I'm going to make a list of the things I need to do to help make this change happen.

* Then I'm going to delegate tasks to different days of the week. That way, I won't be relaxing at home, have the anxious thought to do X, Y, or Z, and make a mad dash to do it Right Now. I'll remind myself, I have a plan. Breathe.

* Whenever I get panicky, I'm going to acknowledge that I'm panicky, and that it's OK to feel that way. After all, change is scary, and, as Tom Petty so aptly put it, The Waiting is the Hardest Part.

* I'm going to exercise and meditate daily, the best stress relievers I know.

* And maybe I'll have a few more "conversations" with Mrs. Armstrong. Best Blogger Tips

Monday, January 10, 2011

Inspirational Quote

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.
-- Howard Thurman

I love this quote because so often, when we wonder what to do with ourselves, there are so many competing interests. There's what we think the world needs. There's what we think will make us enough money to survive happily. And then there's that thing that somewhere deep down in the dark depths of ourselves we know we really, really want to do. Howard Thurman manages to reconcile at least two of the competing interests--what the world needs, and what we ourselves really want to do. I guess how to make money will be for another post. *smile* Best Blogger Tips

Friday, January 07, 2011

New Year, New Look, New Perspective...

It's been a long, long while since I've blogged. I won't bore you with the why's of that. I'll just jump right back in. And what better post to reenter with than one on New Year's resolutions?

I’ve always got a list of resolutions I want to accomplish in any given year, but this year, I’m focusing on just one: Stop Rushing. Though this is just one resolution, it comprises a few different parts:

1- If I’m already late, I need to just calm down and be OK with it. No fuming in the car. No pushing past “slow” pedestrians who are “in my way.” Just breathe, and resolve to leave earlier next time.

2- Not trying to fit so many things into a given time slot. For example, if I find I have five extra minutes in the morning before I have to leave to catch my train, I’ll think to myself, “Wow, that means I can start a load of laundry, make coffee, , and polish my shoes that I now notice are scuffed.” Then, suddenly, instead of being five minutes early, I’m fifteen minutes late.

3- Not try to fit so many things into my day/life. The examples I gave in number two? Imagine it on a larger scale as I try to plan out my day, my week, my life....

4- And most importantly of all, stay in the moment of whatever it is I am doing. I’m a planner, there’s no doubt about that, and there’s no use trying to change it, either. So I need to make a plan in the morning or at the beginning of the week of that day’s/week’s main goals, and then when I’m doing whatever I’m doing—be it laundry, work, walking Chloe, or relaxing, I need to actually be doing those things, instead of focusing on what I have to do next. But I can only do that if I've completed the first three steps of this plan. Because if I'm rushing around, forgetting to make time to go to the bathroom, there's no way I can find the presence of mind to be in the moment. None.

**OK, it's been a while since the new year started, and I haven't managed to banish rushing from the get go. I'll admit, I've found myself running for the train once or twice. But, as they say to any addict trying to give up her poison of choice, try, try again... Best Blogger Tips