Saturday, February 28, 2009

Narrative Voice

Today I attended a workshop on the Narrative Voice taught by Susan Van Metre, a kind, intelligent, and adorable editor at Abrams book. It was a very concise refresher course in the variety of options available to an author when considering how or who is going to tell the story. We read excerpts from four books, each with a very specific and engaging narrator The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time, The Life/ Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, The Secret of Platform 13, and Clementine.

The idea of the third person limited narrator is something that I have been struggling to perfect in my WIP (work in progress). I want to keep it in third person (becuase I get tired of books written in first) but still give the reader some acess into Matthew's thoughts, without having to repeatedly say Matthew thought or he wondered or he said to himself or some other silly signifier.

I would hate, hate, HATE to write this whole thing out only to have somebody tell me to re-do it in first person. But, I have to have a better reason for keeping it in third than simply that I just don't like the first person. I like some mystery as a reader. I want to see some things described from a neutral point of view so that when I dip into the characters head it is a refeshing treat. What do you think about third person limited? Any opinions out there?

Friday, February 27, 2009

words, words words

I sat down at 5:35 today and wrote my little heart out. About an hour later I was feeling very proud of myself and the abundance of words I had written. To validate my own productivity I decided to scroll up to the tools bar and do a word count. BAD IDEA! 660 words. Sheesh. I had exhausted myself and this was all I had to show for it. Bah!

So, I pushed through my tired and stayed at the computer for another hour, determined to prove myself productive. This second hour flew by and when it was done I realized I was no longer drained, but felt something closer to elated. I had a whole chapter. And not just some crappy throw away, but an actual chapter that solves an interesting problem in my novel.  I didn't need the word count to prove anything I was feeling so secure in what I had created. But, I reckon this wouldn't be a very good anecdote if I didn't tell you how it all turned out, so here goes: 1772 words. And trust me, I was more shocked than anybody. Who knew? 

I've always known starting was the hardest part, the ability to work through my doubt and distractions to finally get something on the screen. But, today I've finally come to understand on a deep level that this first part has to be hard, because it is the warm up, and that if I continue writing through it, and encourage myself to keep going even when I think I am wiped out, good things will happen. 

Yay me. Balloon drop, please. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Geography Club

I was very excited to read Geography Club by Brent Hartinger...that is until I got to about the second chapter.  I was still willing to stick with it, simply because the concept had appealed to me so much when I first heard about it.  

The novel is written in the first person from the perspective of a high school kid who is closeted. He struggles with what this means for him and what coming out would do to his social standing.  He finds other gay kids and they form a club, but they are still not ready to be out, so they call it the Geography Club and hope no one else will want to join. Of course, this is not what happens. And of course, our protagonist finds a lover. And, of course, that all goes to shit. And, of course, he learns some things about love, friendship, forgiveness, and integrity along the way.

By the third chapter I was so angry at the book for being so badly written that I knew I would not be able to finish it if I could not yell and scream or do something to mark my rage. See, I'm writing a YA novel with a gay male protagonist and therefore feel it is incumbent upon me to read everything that has been published along these lines. So, instead of abandoning the novel, I picked up a highlighter and set out to highlight every  clunky or redundant sentence, every turn of phrase that seemed antiquated or in contrast to the speaker's voice, every obvious thought that was expressed despite being glaringly obvious, every fact that contradicted an earlier fact, every cliched metaphor (and the subsequent sentences explaining said metaphor), and every single, solitary reference to the act of writing a book, how this book was like the books the protagonist read in English class, or how the events described in the story seemed like such coincidences (no, see, I'd just chalk that up to a generic plot, weak writing, and the author's need to explain away his bad choices).  All I can say, is that after this little highlighting exercise, my book is glowing. 

I can't even pinpoint the worst sentence or the worst moment because so many are truly atrocious. And it's really a shame, because the book had such potential. It has a great premise and the framework for some very compelling characters and a very lovely message, but somehow it still does not succeed. And I believe that is due to the writing itself. 

Here, I will leave you with a few stand out quotes, and you will just have to trust me that in context these statements read even worse then they will read here.

Page 31 "Never in a million years would I have guessed that Min was bisexual.  And yet, now that she'd told me, it already made perfect sense.  In a way, it explained everything from her general braininess to her ridiculous perfectionism."

Page 52 "That's when I knew a conversation was like a child: you couldn't just abandon it, then pick it up a day later and expect it to be exactly the way it was before."

Page 124 "The terrain of my own heart, the landscape of love, was still entirely unexplored."

Page 216 "He was sacrificing himself in my place (just like You-Know-Who on the crucifix, or so some people think).

Page 203 "I'd learned something from all those novels in English class. This was an example of the main character- me- getting his comeuppance because of his hubris. (See? I even know the lingo.)"

Page 222 "In spite of everything, he still felt wonderful, like I was embracing a mountain. But I knew that as solid as he seemed, he was no mountain."

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Distracted Rocked my World

You. Must. Go. See. This. Show.

The script is smart, funny, engaging, and cleverly structured. I have not laughed so hard in a theatre in a long, long time.  The pacing was divine and the performances were purposeful and captivating. I do not gush about every show, in fact hardly any show really takes me away in the way that this one did. I did not find myself outside of the show analyzing it at any point. Having experience as an actor, director, and playwright it is easy for me to start picking things apart, which totally distances me from the production. But in this show I was right there with the action of the story.

It is the story of a mother who is retelling her experiences with and conflict regarding her 9 year old sons ADHD and whether or not she should medicate him. Cynthia Nixon played the mom and she was remarkable...I just realized I didn't once think Miranda (from Sex In the City) and that is a huge feat!  She used a direct address that could have been gimmicky or just annoying in the hands of a lesser playwright, but worked wonderfully here. The play felt extremely contemporary and I was surprised to find out that the playwright, Lisa Loomer, was not a 20 or 30 something.

I am in love with Distracted. Yipeee. Go see it. You will enjoy yourself and leave the theatre, not discussing what you had for dinner or where you are going for a cocktail, but how marvelously fun the play was and how it connected to your own life. 

Friday, February 20, 2009


I'm off to see a preview of Distracted by Lisa Loomer on Broadway.

 Watch a video of Cynthia Nixon talking about the show 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Wow...Just WOW!

I think I found the worst book ever written...
that is,  if you will allow me to judge it by its cover.

Here is the Synopsis as posted on the Barnes and Noble website:
When Felix Gomez returned from the War in Iraq with a disdain for daylight and a raging thirst for blood, he knew he couldn't settle for an ordinary 9-to-5 job. So after his discharge, the newly undead ex-infantryman chose the career that he felt best suited his vampiric tendencies: private detective.
Now he's been approached by sexy porn star Katz Meow, who wants Felix to investigate the murder of her once-equally agile friend and fellow toiler in the video sex-biz, Roxy Bronze. But his investigation into L.A.'s hardcore jungle is turning into a triple x-rated nightmare populated by hot babes, sleazy producers, sleazier politicians, sham evangelicals, and fanatical secret societies. And here on the seamy underside of Tinseltown, "immortal” doesn't necessarily mean "unkillable.”


Today was a bad day.
I'm making myself feel better by watching TV about people whose lives are worse than mine. So, one episode of Bridezilla (where the man did not show up for the wedding! and she married him the next day anyways!!) down and an episode of Little Miss Perfect (about little girls whose mothers make them compete in beauty pageants) to go. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rainy Wednesday

My Wednesday night class is a poetry seminar taught by Laurie Sheck entitled "Experiment Escorts Us: Considering the Autobiographical Poem, Its Strengths and Weaknesses, Aternatives to it, And Attendant Questions of Genre and Genre-Bending."  Got that?  

So today, on a dreary, rainy Wednesday in New York City, I had the pleasure of reading hundreds of poems by Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton.  After a bit I gave up on sitting in silence with a pencil in hand and turned to YouTube for some comfort, some voices from the Suicides Graveyard.  Here, you can hear too, have some highlights. I would hate for you to feel left out...
And here, at last, is my favorite Plath: Cut 

And for a bonus, here is my imitation of a Plath confessional poem:

The After Bath

Streaming water, steaming heat
washing, washing, washing away
words stuck on skin. Struck-

hands heavy with
highball glasses, smoke snaking through thick air.
Worlds of wonder, vanquished.

Lather forming, fingers pruning, 
purging, purging, purging
an emerging voice

clogs the drain.
Stolen strands cling to heavy hands.
But I'm clutching air.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


I found this image by William Michaelian and think it captures my post AWP state of mind. I'll fill you in on the details once I get some sleep and some time to actually absorb all of the information and experiences I've had. It has been absolutely overwhelmingly awesome!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

AWP Day 1 Evening

My wee little brain is tired.
I went to three more sessions: A panel called "Writing Class/ Writing Gender," a reading by Eric Bogosian, and a lecture by Art Spiegelman. Not bad for a half-days work, eh?

The first session was amazing. The panelists spoke of the myriad identity conflict that come with working class roots while living a middle class lifestyle. Anecdotes of "class coding" were offered up to a roomful of women that nodded their empathy and understanding. I was totally smitten with a woman named Anna Joy Springer who riffed on the supposed representation of working class folk that was actually more of an experiment in existential, elitist, word play, performance art of the three minute "fuck" scene in The Wire. Other speakers on the panel were Veronica Gonzalez, Teresa Carmody, and Amina Cain, who read a piece written by Corrina Wycoff.

Eric Bogosian read and performed character monologues from his forthcoming novel Perforated Hearts. The experience was very....Bogosian-ian. The best moments were when he was very quickly reading passages about sex or shooting heroin and stopping to variously encourage, check in on, and poke fun at the cute little old lady that was doing the sign language interpretations.

Then it was every literati for themselves at dinner time and I found myself again eating greasy fast food. I wish my mother had forced me to take a brown bag full of healthy snacks like she does every time I fly out of California. I, learning the big picture lesson but not the finer point details, remembered to throw a measly couple of granola bars into my purse before I left the Excelsior state.

The Art Spiegelman lecture was one of those rare moments in life when I feel like I am a part of something truly monumental. I felt like I was part of a historical moment that few people have the fortune to witness. Sure, the guy may speak all the time, I don't know...nevertheless, I felt like something important was happening in that theatre. He presented so much history and insight in such a charmingly conversational way. This tone seemed so effortless, but his entire presentation was rooted in a very strong and carefully constructed, sophisticated structure. The Auditorium Building of Roosevelt University, where this event took place, is an impressively grand architectural work and its striking beauty and grandeur certainly contributed to my perfectly grand evening!

AWP Day 1 Morning

So many people!!!!

For every session time there are at least ten offerings and choosing what to go to has provided me with some serious anxiety.

So far, I've been to three sessions:
1. The Meandering River:
An Exploration of the Subgenres of Nonfiction

2. Hip Hop and the Future of the Black Writer

3. Bob Hope, Joey Ramone, the Wolf Man, and Me:
The Use of Pop Culture in Fiction

And the tone in each room was as disparate as the content- older women silently transcribing every word; spontaneous "that's right" and "uh-huh's" erupting form the crowd; and ironic, post-ironic and post-post-ironic folk nervously clicking their pens. I felt at home in all three and therefore, truly at home in none of them.

What all there have similarly done for me, however, is remind me of how much I hate the Q & A portion of panel presentations. Seriously. If I ever have the pleasure to run one of these things I will implement the question-written-on-notecard-then-collected-and-prioritized/
edited-by-knowledgable-moderator-model or have said moderator ask intelligent and relevant questions of the panelists. It's not that hard people.

I had intended to go to a discussion on Constructing the Chapter, but the room was so crowded that folks were clustered in the thanks. And since there is no set lunch time at this lollapalooza style literary affair, I snuck out into the windy streets to get some grub. I went to the Starbucks across the street first, but all, no really, ALL, of the food was gone, save for Oatmeal and three brownies so I walked another block and had a pretty yucky Tuna Melt from the only viable food option in the area which happens to be in the lobby of my hotel, the illustrious Travelodge.

But now, I must again venture out into the wind, to return to the Hilton and listen to some more published authors and dumb-question-asking-novelists-to-be!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


I am packing my bags and sharpening my's time for the AWP conference.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Friday, February 6, 2009

I Heart my Mom

My mom is adorable. And funny. And she thinks I'm funny. Always has. Bless her heart.

I told her I won the joke contest at SCBWI and she was so proud. (Although she did, well, chortle, when I told her the prize was, what she considered a measly, gift certificate) She laughed at all of my entries, even the inappropriate ones, but was most humored by this one: Today on Oprah, Humpty Dumpty- I did it for the crack.

So, today I received in the mail a greeting card with a picture of a sheep standing next to a boulder. The inside read, "Ewe rock- congratulations." Above this my mom had written "Dear Elizabeth," and below, "Love mom." She also included a Bizarro cartoon, cut out of the local paper: A picture of Humpty Dumpty wearing a helmet, strapped in a make-shift, wall-sitting safety seat; the caption reads, "Today's Humpty Dumpty."

My mommy loves me. 

First Chapters

The Longstockings blog is always fun and informative. This particular entry by Coe Booth (the amazing author of Tyrell and Kendra) is very helpful in regards to first chapters and the myriad ways in which they go wrong. 

Just another reason why I start writing at the climax and work the scenes out backwards. By the time I get to my first chapter I have a better idea of what details absolutely need to be addressed and which details will come out later. 

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Hole in My Life - Jack Gantos

Well, even though Jack Gantos himself spoke at great length about the usefulness and glory of reading slowly, I just finished his memoir.  I bought all 200 pages of it with my gift certificate this morning at the conference and consumed it this evening on my couch. I couldn't help myself. It was an amazing read. 

Usually when I read so maniacally fast it is because I can not sit in the anxiety of unknowingness. I need to know how it all ends. However, what is sacrificed at this pace is an attention to craft. But I'm a junky for climax and resolution. More specifically, the ability of both to demonstrate a revelation.  

Hole in My Life is a memoir. I knew where the story was going: good boy makes bad choice, becomes bad boy spending time in federal prison, becomes good boy who writes and publishes award winning fiction for middle schoolers. 

And yet, I could not wait to hear it in his words. I wanted to hear how he shaped it. I wanted to know what EXACTLY he gleaned from this story and the retelling of it. 

It is clear that I need to hear other people talk about their lives and their moments of introspection and transformation because I want a model. I read for that moment of clarity in all literature. I watch for it in real life. And I try for it for myself.


I won! I won! I won! I won the joke contest!!!!!!!!!!

First thing this morning they announced three winners and my Saggy Baggy Elephant joke was one of them! I won a gift certificate to the conference bookstore! My mama always told me I was funny and that I ought to write these things down! I had only actually submitted that one and the Humpty Dumpty one, and there were over a thousand people in attendance, so I am feeling quite impressed with myself. Wooo-hooooo!

Overall day two of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference was quite wonderful. Bruce Hale spoke (and even crooned like an ex rat packer at one point- so retro LA in his 'lil hat with the feather and blazer over t-shirt look) about how to reach a middle school audience; with heart, humor, and a focus on character.  There was an agent panel that was not terribly useful, but I did fall in nerd love with Edward Necarsulmer IV, for no discernible reason.  Then we watched snippets from their Master Class videos about Tomie dePaola and Richard Peck, who effortlessly delivered a tear-jerking, passionate, superbly crafted speech. 

At the close of the day Jack Gantos spoke and I feared that all would end on an awkwardly lackluster note, but he turned it around. At the end of the day (that one's for you Edward Necarsulmer IV- even though in this case it was, literally, the end of the day), I found him one of the most energizing speakers. His lack of polish, spastic gestures and tangents worked on me like Ornette Coleman in the role of Pied Piper.  Lately I had been considering that this this whole writing thing was a wash, that what I really was, and aspired to be, was a great reader. In his speech, Gantos posited that it was precisely that desire that made the best writers. 

I know that I need to make changes in the daily operation of my life. I need to sit in this exact chair, at this particular desk (although some better lighting would be nice), and just MAKE IT HAPPEN. No more doubt, no more avoidance. Just typing.