29 March 2012

The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter

I read my first collection of short stories for the 100+ Books in a Year reading challenge. Earlier this month I read The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.

I have to tell you that I was excited about reading this book when I read it's description. It is a collection of ten short stories each inspired by a traditional fairy tale. Carter twists the stories and darkens them significantly, and the results are very effective.

The stories are:

  • "The Bloody Chamber," which is taken from the story of Bluebeard.
  • "The Courtship of Mr. Lyon" and "The Tiger's Bride" are both inspired by Beauty and the Beast.
  • "Puss-in-Boots," which is an adaptation of (you guessed it) Puss in Boots.
  • "The Erl-King," which comes from an old folk character called the Erl King.
  • "The Snow Child" is inspired by Snow White.
  • "The Lady of the House of Love" comes from a radio play called "Vampirella."
  • The last three stories, "The Werewolf," "The Company of Wolves," and "Wolf-Alice" come from adaptations of the story of Red Riding Hood, with "Wolf-Alice" also containing references to Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.

I enjoyed every story in this collection. I felt each was written well, and the progression of the stories through the collection was cohesive and worked well. The stories could be read out of order, but I'm glad I initially read them in order. Carter seems to have chosen the order carefully, and each story prepares you for the next.

Carter's collection plays with the traditional ideas of fairy tales, especially as they relate to the role of women. There are few damsels in distress in this collection, and the women who are damsels in distress are not rescued by Prince Charming and true love's kiss.

The points of view and writing styles vary depending on the story, which is effective. Carter took into consideration what stories were being told and how best to tell the new versions. However, throughout the collection, she includes references to the traditional stories, as well as traditional ways of telling stories, which keeps the reader in the fairy tale frame of mind when reading the collection. The lengths of the stories also varies depending on the story being told. The shortest story is just over a page long, and the longest could be considered a novella.

In case you can't tell, I really loved this collection. I definitely recommend it, particularly if you like fairy tales.

If you are considering reading this collection, I give you fair warning that it is a dark collection, and contains elements that may be disturbing to sensitive readers.

28 March 2012

Watership Down by Richard Adams

Earlier this month I read Watership Down by Richard Adams. It was assigned by a client, but being a novel, it counts toward my reading for the 100+ Books in a Year reading challenge.

This was the first time I'd read the story, and I knew a little about it prior to picking it up.

I have to admit that I didn't like it as much as I expected to. I thought it was a good story, and I'm glad I read it, but I'm not gushing about it.

For those who don't know, the story is about a group of rabbits who leave their home warren in search of a new home because one of the rabbits senses danger is coming to their warren. The story follows the rabbits and the adventures and challenges they encounter along the way to their new home. It is a hero story, and by the end wraps things up nicely.

I like the way Adams sets up the rabbits as a culture. For the most part, he tries to write the story through the lens of a rabbit culture (as best as can be imagined) rather than adapting what would be a rabbit culture into the human experience. These rabbits are not humans in rabbit bodies.

Adams also incorporates a rabbit language into the story, peppering the words throughout the book. This helps show the reader what is important to the rabbits based on the words used frequently, and what phrases and experiences are given their own words in the language.

If you haven't read it, Watership Down is a good story. It can also be a good story for adolescents who like adventure stories (with a little war thrown in). I'm glad I read it, but I was glad to get to the next story.

27 March 2012

Script Frenzy prep: your writing schedule

Screnzy is just a a few days away! Do you have a story and outline? Characters? Are you ready to sit down at your desk (or wherever) and put words to paper? Of course, coming up with the story and characters is only part of the challenge. Because anyone can some up with an idea for a story. What separates these people from writers is that writers actually do the writing. Now is the time to start thinking about how you're going to get it all done. That is: when are you going to write?

When you write depends, of course, on your daily schedule, and what kind of person you are. For example, I work from home full-time. Since my kids are still very small, I have to work around their schedules. So I've just transitioned into an early-morning schedule. I do as much writing as I can in the few hours before they wake up, try to do a little while they're napping (if possible), and then finish once they're in bed at night. My intention is to incorporate Screnzy writing into my regular daily schedule, maybe substituting freelancing during nap time for script-writing (since little gets done during that time, anyway).

I know that, often, life gets in the way of writing challenges like Screnzy, but having a schedule may help you feel like you don't have to spend every spare moment writing. Just be sure to budget enough time to get in your daily page count, and when it's time to write, you have to actually write.

Screnzy is an exciting writing challenge. I always look forward to it because I rarely write scripts. I'm either writing articles for clients or the coffee house book, which is prose. Screnzy is a nice break from the usual for me. And even in the years I didn't participate, I enjoyed reading other people's adventures in script-writing, encouraging them, and looking forward to the next time I could participate.

Screnzy is fast-approaching, and for all those participating, it's going to be crazy, hectic, and very, very fun! If you haven't decided whether or not you're joining in, you still have time. Check out the website, talk to other writers who are taking the challenge. And when April 1st rolls around, just start writing!

26 March 2012

The Poetry Project

How appropriate I join a new poetry group
just before National Poetry Month!
I don't talk a lot about my personal life here (for a lot of reasons), but this is about my writing life as much as it is my personal life, so I'm writing about it anyway. And I think it's particularly apt since National Poetry Month is less than a week away.

Last week I went to the inaugural meeting for a local poetry group in my town. It's co-sponsored by the public library and an amazing hole-in-the-wall bookstore. There were more than a dozen of us that first night, with quite a diverse group. Literature was represented by the bookstore owners and worker, as well as two librarians. Academia was represented in two professors (both former professors of mine, with one being my former academic advisor) and a current college student at my alma mater. A few retired ladies were there, two of whom are closely associated with my alma mater. One woman works with French literature (I know, right?). One man is in the legal system. I'm so excited by the kinds of conversation that will be sparked by this group!

That aside, I'm ecstatic that there is a poetry group in my little town, and that I'm a part of it! The group is sort of split between writers and readers/appreciators, so we've structured it to allow everyone to get what they want out of the group. We will read and discuss published poems, but those who bring original poems and want feedback will have the opportunity to get that from other members, as well.

Right now we're planning to meet twice a month. There was talk about hosting events in the future and deciding on a name for our little band of poetry lovers, but for now we're all just happy to have a place to go twice a month to talk about poetry.

It's worth getting involved in local groups like these. Whether you're in a big city or a small middle-of-nowhere town, finding literary-type groups and organizations to support (don't forget about local businesses!) can be beneficial to your writing career. Not only do these groups get you involved in the local writing scene through meeting local authors or connecting with potential business contacts, but you never know what new friendships can lead to. In fact, when I went into the bookstore a few days after our first poetry group meeting, I stopped and was talking to the owners (co-sponsoring the group), and after finding out what I do for a living, one of the owners asked for my business card. I don't know that anything will come of this new contact, but if I hadn't gone to the poetry group, we wouldn't have had that conversation!

Remember that local business people like to support other local business people. Even if it's something as simple as dropping a pile of your cards at the local bookstore or posting a flyer at a thrift shop, you never know what connections can lead to something great.

That said, I think I'll go back to scribbling a little poetry to get ready for next month's poetry group meeting.

25 March 2012

Renew Your Spirit with Spring

It's spring, and I love seeing the trees and bushes poking out their young, brightly green new leaves. I love seeing flowerbeds in front of people's houses starting to spring colorful flowers. These are the moments I love about spring.

I'm in a new apartment now, and I'm looking forward to filling it with happy things, including plants indoors and flowers outdoors. My sister got me some sunflower seeds and some herbs as a house-warming gift, and I can't wait to plant them! I'm going to have an herb garden outside my kitchen door, and sunflowers growing outside the kitchen window. There will be spring at my house.

Spring has particularly importance to me this year. This is the first year I've been able to experience the change in seasons since 2008, and this spring is really a brand new start for me, as spring is for the earth. Cheesy, sure. But I could use a little cheesy these days, so I'll take it.

I encourage you to renew your spirit today by renewing your life. Use spring as your own fresh beginning. Add a plant to your home or office as a symbol of the season, and this season in your life. If nothing else, take some time to appreciate the newness growing around you.

18 March 2012

Renew Your Spirit with a Picnic

Ostara is still a couple of days away, but the weather is already gorgeous here. Spring is officially here. And while my mother thinks we'll get another cold snap, I'm optimistic that the warm weather is here to stay.

Ladies and gentlemen, it's picnic weather.

I love picnics. I love being outside on the grass, listening to the birds, watching squirrels and rabbit scurry here and there, feeling the warmth of the sun on my back or face. I love picnics.

It rained this weekend, so it's a little muddy today to take the kids for a picnic, but it's definitely in the works. It won't be elaborate; we'll just pack up a few peanut butter sandwiches and juice boxes, throw a blanket down at the park, and have some fun.

If the weather is pretty where you are, I urge you to spend some time outside at a picnic. You can plan a big barbecue picnic with friends and family, or just eat your lunch outside tomorrow to get a break from work. Take in the warmth and beauty of nature, and let spring renew your spirit.

17 March 2012

Screnzy Prep: crafting your characters

How's your ScriptFrenzy prep going? Do you have your story? There's still plenty of time to get ready so you can join the big, crazy adventure of writing 100+ pages of script in 30 days.

Part of the background work for script-writing is creating your characters for the story. The more you know about your characters before you start writing, the easier it will be to write them. This is especially important in scripts since it's all dialogue; you need to know your characters to be able to make their conversations believable, after all.

I use the life interview in Atkinson's Gift of Stories as the foundation of my character biographies. It's quite extensive, and may not be needed for something like Screnzy, but it's a great resource for writers. You don't have to use that, of course. You should use whatever works best for you and your characters. Some people just jot a list of character traits for each character, some people write quick biographies, and I've known some people to invent journal entries for their characters to better get in their heads.

When you create your characters, you have to think about how they fit into your story. What is each character's role in the story? That will help guide your bios. For example, if you have a minor character who is only in a scene or two, you probably don't need to have a full background with family history, quirks, preferences, and what the character's house looks like. Conversely, if you have a character who is in nearly every scene, he or she is likely going to need to be more three-dimensional.

You don't have to write character biographies. Just like you don't have to outline. But it can help. It might make Screnzy go a little more smoothly. Take some time today and think about the characters in your story.

13 March 2012

With a new office space comes new organization

As the kids and I are getting organized and settled into our new apartment, I'm excited about setting up my new office space. Along with that, I'll be happy to get all my books from my mom's house and put them in my new home.

I've always organized my bookshelves alphabetically by the author's (or editor's) last name. It's worked well, and I've always been able to find the books I need when I need them. But now I'm going to have a lot more books. Not a scary amount, but a lot. So I'm faced with the decision of how to organize the books on the shelves. Do I continue with the tried-and-true alphabetized by author method, or shall I venture into the more library-y* method of organization. I'm considering keeping my novels alphabetized by author, then breaking everything else into categories (anthologies, poetry/plays, non-fiction) and alphabetizing within those categories.

What do you think? How are your books organized at home? (Or at work, for that matter....)

*I like to add "y" to random words to transform them into descriptors. It works. It may be awkward sometimes (like library-y), but I'm a writer, so I claim I can do it.

12 March 2012

Screnzy prep: crafting your story

Dear readers, Screnzy is fast-approaching, and the more background and organizing you can do now will mean more time to actually write when April 1st rolls around.

I know many people cringe at the mere mention of outlines, but when you're facing a writing challenge like Screnzy, outlines can be helpful. You don't have to create a complex, detailed outline to get yourself ready for April. Even just jotting down your story arc or a list of scenes will give you an idea of where you want your story to go when you start writing. It will help keep you from writing yourself into a corner.

When you write an outline, it forces you to develop your story beyond the one-line idea you had when you first started brainstorming for Screnzy. My one-line idea is "A collection of vignettes that center around people waiting for something."

When I started outlining the script, it became a story. As I thought about the different vignettes, I had to flesh out the idea into something more substantial than an idea. I needed story arcs for each of the vignettes, and before I knew it, I had something ready to actually be written.

If you really can't handle outlining, think of it as crafting your story. You need to know what you're writing about. Jotting some notes about how the story is going to go, how many acts and scenes you're writing, etc., will help make sure you can hit 100 pages between April 1st and April 30th.

What are you writing for Screnzy this year?

05 March 2012

Screnzy prep: committing to the challenge

Ladies and gentlemen, Screnzy is just around the corner.

For those who don't know, Screnzy is short for ScriptFrenzy, an April writing event put on by the same awesome people that do National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). The official website says the challenge is to:
Write 100 pages of original scripted material in the 30 days of April. (Screenplays, stage plays, TV shows, short films, and graphic novels are all welcome).
Let me tell you that, compared to 50,000 words in November, 100+ pages of script is easy peasy. Not only is it easier to do a challenge based on pages rather than word count, but the script allows for quicker writing based on page count. Have you ever looked at a script? Lots of white space. Easy peasy.

If you're thinking of doing Screnzy this year, now is the time to commit to it. Sign up on the website, start thinking about your script, and get ready for a crazy, fun adventure. You don't have to sign up on the website to do it, but it will give you access to the support offered by the forums, and will let you "officially" check in once you complete your script.

Whether you want to participate officially or not, giving yourself the challenge to write a script in April is a good challenge for writers. It forces you to sit down and actually write, and shows you that you can make the time to write if you set it as a priority in your life. I enjoy participating because it reminds me--a prose writer--that other mediums can be fun, too. I don't know that I'd ever pursue a career as playwright, but it's fun to write scripts sometimes. Just for something different.

Last year, I did not participate. I was quite pregnant with Bunny during April (she was born the 26th), so it just wasn't possible. However, I would like to participate this year, using an idea that I came up with last year (or the year before...?) and never wrote.

My idea is a stage play called Wait, which will be a collection of vignettes in which someone (or more than one someone) is waiting for something or someone. I'm looking forward to writing it, and will be spending some time in the next few weeks outlining the vignettes.

If you haven't decided whether or not to do Screnzy, there's still time. It doesn't start until April 1st. Get on their website to look around a little, spend some time brainstorming. The important thing to remember is that it's not about creating some prolific work of art for stage or screen. It's not even about what you get in the end. Screnzy is about proving to yourself that you can make time to write, and that if you make the time, you can write a 100+-page script in 30 days.

Are you in?

04 March 2012

Renew Your Spirit Sunday

For those who follow FlyLady, you know well that Sunday is "Renew Your Spirit Day." It's a chance to take time away from the day-to-day schedule to refresh and re-center yourself.

Even people with busy, highly structured schedules need time to rest and relax. If you don't, you can find yourself burnt out, and it's a good way to wind up with a bad cold, especially in the wintertime.

Renewing your spirit allows you to step back from the busyness of life to find balance in your mind and spirit. It allows your spirit catch up with your mind by slowing your mind (and body) down.

Unfortunately, in a society that's always got us moving (quickly) to the next thing, it can be hard to find ways to slow down, calm down, and relax. Sure you know how others relax, but what can work for you, and in your situation?

Every Sunday, I am going to give you a suggestion of how to renew your spirit, including how each suggestion has worked in my own life. (In other words, I won't make a suggestion I haven't tried myself.) If you have any suggestions you'd like to share, please email me and I'd be happy to let you write up your suggestion to share here.

Take some time today to breathe slowly, close your eyes, and simply slow down. Renew your spirit.

03 March 2012

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

I've been sort of procrastinating writing this review. I was nervous about reading Atlas Shrugged to begin with, and then to be reading it for a client made it worse. I will say I wish I'd been able to take more time with it. It's the kind of book that is better appreciated when it's taken slowly and studied more deeply. Unfortunately, I was on a deadline, so I did what I could with the time I had. I would like to think that maybe, someday, I will pick it up again and read it more slowly, but I probably won't.

The basic story of Atlas Shrugged is that the American economy is imploding. The government, which is enacting policies based on socialist ideas, has too much control, and their attempts at fixing the economic problems actually creates more. As this is going on, the best industrialists are retiring and simply vanishing, usually when they are needed the most. And at the heart of all this turmoil is the cryptic expression, said with a shrug, "Who is John Galt?"

Prior to reading Atlas Shrugged, I knew basically nothing about Ayn Rand or her philosophy, and I'm glad I didn't research it prior to reading. I disagree with her philosophy, as presented in the book, and I think if I'd known more before reading, it would have been much more of a struggle to get through than it already was. As I got into the story, I did do some research into Rand's life, works, and philosophy, which ultimately helped me understand the story better as I read.

I will say I appreciate the book. For what she was trying to do, I like how the story and characters are crafted. She draws on a lot of myth, and her characters and the story itself have an almost epic/mythic quality to them, which I think was beneficial for elevating the story and getting her point across. The strike in the story is the type of event that, within the world of the story, will be a legendary event, and the way Rand tells it emphasizes that.

However, I didn't like the story. I don't like Rand's use of extremes in the economy and government to make her philosophical points. I understand why she did it, but I don't like the story because of it. Life is not that black and white, and I had a problem with willing suspension of disbelief because of it. If she'd taken it further (a la "Harrison Bergeron"), it would have worked for me.

I feel like Atlas Shrugged is one of those books that people should give a chance, even if they don't like it. (Or don't finish it.) I'm glad I read it, even though I didn't like it. And now that I'm done with it, I'm glad to be moving on to other titles.

01 March 2012

Bookmarks: the Coffee-Stained Writer

The Coffee-Stained Writer, 2008
This is an old photo of me. This is not what I look like anymore (though I think I still have that skirt, and much of what's in the background scene).

In an attempt to encourage reader contribution, I am holding a contest for Bookmarks. All contributors in the month of March will automatically be entered. On April 1st, I will randomly draw a name, and the winner will receive a $20 Barnes & Noble gift card!

Remember that the photos can be of you reading or writing (or both! Both is good!). Submissions can be emailed to me. Be sure to include your caption/explanation with the email, credit the photographer, and include any links to a blog or website you'd like included.

The deadline for submissions for the contest is March 31st at 11:59 p.m., central time. The winner will be drawn on April 1st.

NOTE: Even if your submission is not posted on the blog during the month of March, you will be entered in the contest.

Reading Challenge Update

Reading has been going better since I've started working with this new client. So far I've read Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, and Watership Down by Richard Adams. (Reviews of Rand and Adams will likely be posted this weekend.) I didn't read Atlas Shrugged as deeply as I would have liked, particularly because of what the book represents, but I did get through it, which is enough for me...because of what the book represents.

I'm happy with how I'm doing. I know I need to read more quickly to hit the goal of 100 books, but with the way things have been going, I think I'm doing pretty well. I'm glad I'm doing this challenge--it's forcing me to take time to read, to immerse myself in stories. They say writers should spend time reading, and this challenge is helping me do that.

Right now choosing stories has been easy. I have a list of books on my shelf I'd like to read, and I'm being given stories by my client to work with. But I know that as I get further in the challenge, it might get harder to pick books. There are always and forever books to read, of course, but I'll have worked through many of the titles already on my want-to-read list, and will need to add to it. I'm also resisting the temptation to go through an entire series for this challenge. I feel like it would be too easy to read, say, the Harry Potter series. Sure, it would count, but it's not really my goal for this reading challenge. In fact, except for reading Song of Solomon and Sula, both by Toni Morrison, I would like to only read one book by each author I pick up this year.

How's your reading going this year?