Advice I should take…
Advice I should take…
There’s been a lot of talk about the appropriateness of The Hunger Games for its target audience. When I was a teenager, I was an activist. At fifteen I was at a show (Against All Authority, I think–it was the mid-nineties and I was really into pop-punk and ska), and there was an info desk set up about the Cassini space probe. It was a rocket being launched from Cape Canaveral to send pictures back of our solar system and beyond. Apparently it was carrying fifty-two pounds of plutonium on board, and if it crashed, it would decimate central Florida.
For a kid who watched the Challenger explode, the threat of this was very real.
I drew up a petition and got something like five hundred signatures from the kids at school. Then I took it to my mom’s office and faxed it to the White House, with a letter along the lines of, “Dear President Clinton, please don’t let this launch happen, because the nuclear fallout would be devastating if this thing crashed.”
I don’t even think I got a form response.
The point of that ramble is that at fifteen, I knew the stakes, and was willing to fight to change things. So are kids today. War, poverty, hunger have always existed. Part of how to foster a desire to change those things is by reading books like The Hunger Games, that depict the horrors that autocracy and war and xenophobia and apathy can create. Not to mention the endless cycle of violence that retaliation can trigger (a point well-defined by Steven Spielberg’s film Munich). And the fact that it does it through the eyes of a strong, yet flawed, female protagonist? Even better.
We need more literature and art that inspires changes and doesn’t shrink from depicting what human beings can do to one another. Look out the window. Turn on CNN. It’s happening every day, all around us. We, as adults, can be just as bad as the Capitol, either turning blindly away, or participating in the voyeurism ourselves.
Happy Hunger Games.
Photo Credit: This interesting article from The New Yorker (be warned–it has spoilers through Mockingjay)
— Oscar Wilde
There’s a saying in surgery. Well, there’s a lot of sayings in surgery: eat when you can, sleep when you can, don’t mess with the pancreas; the enemy of good is better, etc. But this one is more of a theory. No movement should be wasted. Every flick of the wrist and pass of a suture should be like a dance: purposeful, choreographed, graceful.
The same can be said of a novel. Writing well is the arduous task of saying what you mean in the fewest words possible. Brevity is the soul of wit and all that (word up, Shakespeare). Editing again and again until all the chaff is cut away and something fresh and true remains. The delete key as literary equivalent of a weed-whacker.
And at some point, the thing will be done. That’s where surgery and writing diverge: your writing can always be better, and striving to make it so won’t lead to hemorrhaging.
Writing is a collaborative process. It’s impossible to know if what you’re trying to do works without having others read and critique it. These nebulous “others” can’t be your significant other, or your parent, or even a friend, because their innate desire for you to succeed clouds their judgement. They don’t want to hurt your feelings.
Well, the best kind of critique does just that. It takes you down a peg, reminds you that you still have a lot to learn, and ultimately makes your story much, much better. I’ve known this since I finished the first draft of my novel in December. But finding a critique group, or even a critique partner has proven much more difficult that I thought it would be.
After scouring the Internet, canvassing my local chapter of SCBWI, the blue boards, and my favorite bookstore with no luck, I found a website, Ladies Who Critique. In the past three days, I’ve found four people willing to read my story. One has seen it and ripped it to pieces (her critique was alternately painful and hilarious to read), and I’m so glad she did. Even if it never gets published, I’ll be one step closer to writing something that does.
It’s a process, but I’m nothing if not determined.
This is an awesome resource for new and seasoned writers. I’ve been struggling to find a critique partner—this site is just what I needed!
Ode with a Lament
Oh girl among the roses, oh crush of doves,
oh fortress of fishes and rosebushes,
your soul is a bottle filled with thirsty salt
and your skin, a bell filled grapes.
Unfortunately I have only fingernails to give you,
or eyelashes, or melted pianos,
or dreams that come spurting from my heart,
dusty dreams that run like black horsemen,
dreams filled with velocities and misfortunes.
I can love you only with kisses and poppies,
with garlands wet by the rain,
looking at ash-gray horses and yellow dogs.
I can love you only with waves at my back,
amid vague sulphur blows and brooding waters,
swimming against the cemeteries that flow in
with wet fodder growing over the sad plaster
swimming across submerged hearts
and pale lists of unburied children.
There is much death, many funereal events
in my forsaken passions and desolate kisses,
there is the water that falls upon my head,
while my hair grows,
a water like time, a black unchained water,
with a nocturnal voice, with a shout
of birds in the rain, with an interminable
wet-winged shadow that protects my bones:
while I dress, while
interminably I look at myself in mirrors and
I hear someone who follows me, sobbing to me
with a sad voice rotted by time.
You stand upon the earth, filled
with teeth and lightning.
You spread the kisses and kill the ants.
You weep with health, with onion, with bee,
with burning alphabet.
You are like a blue and green sword
and you ripple, when I touch you, like a river.
Come to my heart dressed in white, with a
of bloody roses and goblets of ashes,
come with an apple and a horse,
because there is dark room there and a broken
some twisted chairs waiting for winter,
and a dead dove, with a number.
~ Pablo Neruda
I love this, its tone of loss and electric love, of inevitability, which is different from destiny—a sadder thing. It reminds me for some reason of my protagonist and her love interest, which worries me. I hope I’ll be able to write them a happy ending.
Photo credit: Nick Zungoli
I love this photo, because of its in-betweeness. I can’t tell if the sun is setting or rising, or which bridge is in the distance. It looks like Middle Earth.
Not to mention it’s the setting for my novel.
In the spirit of being kind to myself about my writing, I’m dedicating the image above and this blog post to the scene I wrote last night. It actually wrote itself, because I started out with the idea of a kind of heartfelt scene where Hazel (the MC) explains to her love interest the struggle her family has been through. What came out was a this mass of awesomeness: they got in a fight, then had a hot and heavy almost kiss, only to be interrupted by her mother, which leads to a convenient blow out with which to begin my next chapter.
It pretty much wrote itself. But the best part was the opportunity to reveal Hazel’s motivation, her issues with trust and abandonment. And I got to play around with literary symbols, which is much harder to do in prose than in poetry for some reason. But it was fun, getting back to my poetic roots.
So today, while I slog through the fight scene I’m writing between her and her mother, I can look at the above, which I’m calling “Dawn on the Hudson,” and remind myself that it may be a struggle to rewrite half of my book, but in the end it will be better, and that makes it so worth it.
Last night, I went to the Hudson Valley YA Society meeting to see Lauren Oliver and Kate Ellison. It was an awesome evening full of free books, awesome books, and signed books. Both authors spent some time talking about the writing process and their habits, and the subject of reading came up.
Lauren mentioned something about reading a book that’s so good that it paralyzes you in your own writing. You start feeling like nothing you write will ever be as amazing as that novel. And you run the risk of their work influencing your own, which is dangerous if you’re reading in the same genre you’re writing.
It’s the reason I’ve been putting off reading The Fault in Our Stars. But I went ahead and read Delirium anyways, in anticipation of this event. I loved it, it was an amazing book, but by the end I was depressed, convinced nothing I write will ever be on par with it. The plotting, the character development, and the way the text comes full circle at the end were amazing. There was this bit about Romeo and Juliet and “something about sacrifice” that’s repeated throughout—it was so beautiful and well-done. Plus, I noticed a line, towards the middle, about an “epic game of hide and seek,” that is almost identical to one I have in the first chapter of my book.
My book revolves around themes of loss, disappearance, and liminality, and the game comes up several times—it’s not just a casual mention. I’ve reworked the line a bit, but am hesitant to delete it completely. On the other hand, I don’t want people to think I copied it, since I wrote mine last October and I just read this book last week.
That caveat aside, once I had time to digest all these feelings, I’m actually glad I read it when I did. About half-way through, I had this revelation about my novel. The best parts of her book, I think, are the world-building and the way she depicts Lena’s changing outlook throughout the story. It made me really evaluate my own work, and face the facts about its weaknesses. I realized the climax didn’t carry the emotional punch I wanted it to, and that my protagonist doesn’t develop enough by the end.
So yeah, I need to be extra careful not to incorporate elements of other books into my own. But I think in the end, reading inspires me to write better, to work harder, to challenge myself to not be lazy or scared or trite.
And above all I have to be kind to myself. Just because other people write fabulous, gripping books doesn’t mean I can’t.