August 25

Signs I’m about to hit the “I am a horrible writer” stage.

  • I’m making dedications for my book
  • My house receives a face lift, including reorganization of furniture
  • I’ve grown obsessed with dissecting or critiquing other people’s work
  • I look up quotes and cartoons about writing
  • I want to chat and not about writing

All but one have happened so far. And I have a feeling that last one will be happening tonight.

Next is the actual “I am a horrible writer” dump.

Be warned.
Usually I shed the worst of it in two days.
But it clings for a week or two.

August 23

Writing Madness

If you’ve been following me on my facebook account, you probably already know that I’m making big changes to my current WIP.

I’m sticking to the plot I originally had, but the biggest changes are Silas’ role and the timeline. These two things require a lot of changes throughout the novel in itself, but I’ll, hopefully, be able to keep a lot of my scenes intact. I’m not so much as changing the story plot-wise–not this one at least–as much as I’m emphasizing new points and de-emphasizing others. And I like the consequences of most of those small changes.

As I told a friend, this draft is really a spaghetti test. For those who don’t know, that’s when you throw spaghetti against a wall and see what sticks.  Some things I already know won’t stick.  Other things seem pretty solid to the wall.  But I keep eyeing the noodles that dangle from the wall threatening to plummet to the floor. I probably won’t know if it’ll collapse or solidify until I’m much further in the re-write.

A lot of the time I feel like I’m floundering. I keep hitting blocks that appear so easy to fix once I figure out the solution, but I keep getting caught up with how it was originally written or with what I originally intended to happen. The changes I’ve made will make a lot of the things obsolete, but it’s also opening up a lot of possibilities in other areas.

Right now my rewrite stands at about 14,000 words. By September 11th, perhaps sooner, I hope to be at 30,000–about half-way through the draft. I’m pulling a lot of scenes out of this draft though, so I’m losing a lot of words. If I were to keep what remains of my original draft just as it is now, and added it to the new changes I’d only have a 59,600 word novel, which is closer to a novella, I believe. It could be straddling a Novella and a Novel, depending on the source.  And I know some people say that 50k is the minimum word count for a YA novel. I do have more scenes and sequences I need to remove to make the book work with the new changes, but I also have things I need to add, change and expand on.  So, I’m sure my word count will get up where I want it/need it to be. Once I get through this draft and start cleaning up the spaghetti on the walls and floors.

These changes make me feel like my novel better fits the description I wrote for it.  Strange, isn’t it.  The book is changing for the description, not the other way around? The description was close but I think the book had less focus on the plot points than the blurb suggested. Now, I’m not sure I can say that. So I, at the moment, don’t believe the description needs to change. The title probably does, but I’ve long suspected that.  And as I write this story I tend to have weird phrases pop in my head–they might work for titles but I think their are things inherently wrong with them.

Right now the title that pops in my head the most is: Serendipitous Pain.

That might work for an adult novel. Not sure it would work for a Young Adult novel.  And if I stare at the words long enough, I start seeing a bondage porno thing playing out. Not at all the image I want for a YA novel. I don’t know why I bother trying to figure out titles though.  I don’t seem to have a knack for coming up with them.  Other titles I came up with include:

  • Political Reprisals
  • Wayward Games
  • Depraved Politics
  • Seasoned Spoils
  • Shadowed Descent
  • On First Appearance
  • Died at the hand of Shadows
  • Vampires Befriending Slayers
Okay. I think I’m done embarrassing myself. But simply calling it Regan Strommen seems too lazy. And some of my oldest titles, like Playing Deadly Games  or All Our Secrets Are The Same probably won’t work. So, for now, it’s going to remain Shadowed.

Recommendations are always welcome on anything writing related–novel changes, book titles or story descriptions. Do you have any? And how is your own writing going?

Write well, even if it sucks.

August 22

Holes by Louis Sachar Review

Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnats. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the warden makes the boys “build character” by spending all day, every day, digging holes: five feet wide and five feet deep. It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption.

I remember that Holes was popular when I was a teenager but it just didn’t interest me enough to try to read it at the time. Left to my own devices, I still probably wouldn’t have picked it up for myself.  Surprisingly the story has a lot of elements to it that I’ve always enjoyed–magic, friendship, a historical timeline–at least part of the time, and society values and perspectives, mixed in a modern, realistic world, or what was modern when the book was published. I am a multi-genre lover after all.

Their weren’t really any surprises anywhere in this book for me. But I can’t say whether or not all of it was because I picked up on the clues, I’m too old for the book, or because I have very vague memories of listening to six or seven book reports on the book as a child.

Stanley is an interesting character–not something I normally ran into at that age. He’s heavy and tall, which gave him the nickname of “Caveman” while at Camp Green Lake. However he is bullied in school, and by a kid smaller than him…a fact that confuses his teachers. He starts with low confidence but slowly finds his voice and who he is at Camp Green Lake, despite the degrading circumstances he finds himself in. It’s a coming of age story that feels realistic. Some of the stuff stretched the coincidental line.  I would rather have seen Stanley or Zero somehow get out of the mess with the warden and the lizards instead of having both of them saved by a patent lawyer. But, I believe, in the end every character got what they deserved.

The book was a quick read and something I would recommend reading, especially to those around ten or eleven years old.

August 22

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff Review

Fifteen-year-old Daisy is sent from Manhattan to England to visit her aunt and cousins she’s never met: three boys near her age, and their little sister. Her aunt goes away on business soon after Daisy arrives. The next day bombs go off as London is attacked and occupied by an unnamed enemy.

As power fails, and systems fail, the farm becomes more isolated. Despite the war, it’s a kind of Eden, with no adults in charge and no rules, a place where Daisy’s uncanny bond with her cousins grows into something rare and extraordinary. But the war is everywhere, and Daisy and her cousins must lead each other into a world that is unknown in the scariest, most elemental way.

I’m going to open by saying I’m not really sure how I feel about this book. It’s short and a quick read. Despite the unconventional writing style, I was interested in the story. I think the main thing that bothered me about this book was the consensual incestuous relationship in the book. The sex wasn’t my problem. I just would have preferred the couple to not have been related–and no matter what the authors suggests, both characters were old enough to know their intimate relationship should be avoided.

The book doesn’t focus on the relationship the teens are involved in, that’s just one element in the story. Daisy is, probably what is considered, an anorexic. The kids are forced to survive on their own. The main focus was the war and how it affected the lives of all those involved. It’s told in Daisy’s point of view, so you only find out what happens to some of the characters at the end of the book. Everyone starves, and everyone has to find their own coping mechanisms to survive the war–even after the war ends.

This book could have been more powerful. But it was an interesting mix of what past wars were like, coupled with what those wars would be like in modern times. It was an interesting world that Rosoff created. I read through it all quickly, compelled to learn more to see what happened next, but I wanted it to be more. And I think why it didn’t have the impact it could have was because Rosoff was trying to address too many issues at once–living alone without parents, incest, starvation, anorexia, family relationships, death, war and terrorism. That’s a lot to chew.

August 15

Packet 4 plans

I’ll be turning in everything for packet three later today. The critical essays are difficult for me to write, mainly because I have problems picking out the elements. I’ll get stuck on one thing, whether it actually qualifies for what my essays need to be or not, and have a hard time looking for something else that would fit the assignment better.  I think I did a fairly good job with this packet’s critical essays and I’m hoping my next essays for packet four will be a little easier.

For packet four I’ll be reading   Holes by Louis Sachar and How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. I trust the people who recommended them to me and looking forward to reading them, though they probably aren’t books I would have picked up on my own.

Have you read either of these books?  What do you think?  Is there something the authors did particularly well with the books?  Or something in particular you want me or recommend I focus on as I read through it, like dialogue, description, characterization, time, etc.?  I may write about it when I’m done reading.

August 14

Catching Attention with Catching Fire: A Critical Review

Suzanne Collins wrote a wonderfully compelling book about a girl who has unintentionally fueled and become the symbol of a rebellion she isn’t sure she should stop. Readers are immediately drawn into Catching Fire from page one because Collins raises questions while providing answers through details. The very first paragraph in Catching Fire opens with Katniss Everdeen sitting in the woods:

I clasp the flask between my hands even though the warmth from the tea has long since leached into the frozen air.  My muscles are clenched tight against the cold.  If a pack of wild dogs were to appear at this moment, the odds of scaling a tree before they attacked are not in my favor.  I should get up, move around, and work the stiffness from my limbs. But instead I sit, as motionless, as the rock beneath me, while the dawn begins to lighten the woods.  I can’t fight the sun. I can only watch helplessly as it drags me into a day that I’ve been dreading for months. (1)

Collin’s descriptions and word choices build tension. Clasp is indicative of a tight grip on an object.  The word “clasp” frequently has connotations of being in distress. This gives us a hint as to the narrator’s emotional state, which makes readers ask the question, “What is wrong? Why is she upset?”

Since flasks are usually insulated and the tea is cold, readers can infer that she has been out for a long time, since the once warm tea is now cold. Readers also know that the weather is freezing. So they begin to wonder new things: Where is she? Why is she outside? Along with the original question: What has her distressed? These questions only become more demanding, with the next sentence, “My muscles are clenched tight against the cold,” while re-affirming what readers have already guessed: it’s cold and the character is miserable. Readers know their inference that it is cold was correct. The word clenched also suggests Katniss is uncomfortable, possibly in pain.

The next sentence, “If a pack of wild dogs were to appear at this moment, the odds of scaling a tree before they attacked are not in my favor” brings new details to the readers attention and new questions.  Readers know wild dogs are native where she is and they are a threat to human life.

Readers immediately wonder, where exactly is she?  Is she in the mountains? Are there no domestic dogs? When this sentence is compounded by  the fact she thinks “I should get up, move around, and work the stiffness from my limbs” ,  readers suspect she may have had to climb trees before for to escape wild dogs before. This suggests the threat, the possibility of attack, is familiar to her. And readers must wonder: why is it familiar? And is it the same for everyone where she’s at? Or is she upset because she’s in a dangerous place where that’s a possibility?

Collins follows up with the mention for Katniss’ need to move with, “But instead I sit, as motionless, as the rock beneath me, while the dawn begins to lighten the woods.” This statement lets readers know several things.  Due to an internal conflict or problem, not because she was hurt, Katniss is incapable of moving. She’s sitting on a rock and watching the sunrise, which seems like a mundane thing to do. However Collins has already set up that Katniss is upset about something. When we loop back to the implication that Katniss has been out for an extended period, readers know that she’s been outside for several hours before dawn.  Again, readers wonder, “Why?”

The statement “I can’t fight the sun,” lets readers know that she doesn’t want the sun to rise, hinting at the reason for her distrust. But the next statement provides clarity: “I can only watch helplessly as it drags me into a day that I’ve been dreading for months.” Readers know for certain that something is going to happen today that Katniss dreads. Again, readers wonder, why? What is going to happen today that is so bad?  Fortunately, Suzanne Collins knows that she can’t keep that information from readers much longer and the next paragraph, she starts explaining what has distressed Katniss: the beginning of the victory tour.

Suzanne Collins then slowly reveals what bothers Katniss through the same technique of revealing and withholding information. This structure keeps readers engrossed in the world Collins has developed, as they seek answers to the questions Collins has raised through details, and word choice.

August 14

Inkheart Critical Review

Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart is about a young girl who, along with her father, has the ability to read characters from books into the real world.  To tell this story, Funke uses dialogue to convey plot-related information and the character’s emotional state to readers in a realistic fashion.

In Inkheart, Meggie has been kept ignorant of several aspects of her past, until a stranger appears one night at her house.  Through dialogue, Funke begins to hint at the secrets that have been kept from Meggie. At the time, Meggie is eavesdropping on her father and the stranger:

“I’ll never let them have it.” That was Mo.
“He’ll still get his hands on it, one way or another! I tell you, they’re on your trail.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time. I’ve always managed to shake them before.”
“Oh yes? And for how much longer, do you think? What about your daughter?  Are you telling me she actually likes moving around the whole time? Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.” (8-9)

Through this dialogue readers glean a lot of information.  Readers know that someone is after something her father, Mo, has.  That Mo is determined to keep the object away from the mysterious person later identified as Capicorn.  Mo has been preventing Capicorn from getting the object—in this case a book—from him for years, which is why Meggie has moved so often in her young life.  This information is passed along to readers quickly, through dialogue, without it feeling as if the characters are only saying such things to inform the reader of what is going on.

Dialogue can do more than provide information to readers.  When done well, we can also get a sense of the characters emotions are through what they. A great example of this is seen when Mo is about to introduce himself to Fenoglio, the author of Inkheart—the book Dustfinger was written out of. The dialogue Funke wrote is filled with emotion:

“Don’t you dare tell that man about me!” he said.  “I don’t want to see him.  I’ll wait in the car.  I only want to know if he still has a copy of the book, understand?”
Mo shrugged his shoulders.  “As you like.”
Dustfinger inspected his reddened fingers and felt the taut skin. “He might tell me how my story ends,” he murmured. (243)

In this short exchange we know Dustfinger is afraid. We know that although he wants information from Fenoglio, he doesn’t necessarily want to know everything Fenoglio may want to say to him.  Mo comes across as indifferent toward Dustfinger’s request. In three words, Funke reveals that Mo did not necessarily care where Dustfinger was.

Funke also uses dialogue to reveal information and the characters emotions at the same time.  A great example of this is when after Meggie, Mo, and Elinor are captured by Capicorn and they’re locked away.  Dustfinger makes a comment about those who Capicorn plans to kill are put in the crypt:

Meggie looked at the church.  “Do they often condemn people to death?” she asked quietly.
Dustfinger shrugged.  “Not as often as they used to.  But it does happen.”
“Stop telling her such stories!” whispered Mo. (195)

In those three lines of dialogue we sense that Meggie is concerned, if not afraid of the possibility of being put to death and being where she is.  Funke lets readers know through Dustfinger’s dialogue that, although it doesn’t happen as often any more, Capicorn has put people to death in the past. But the way he says it, suggests he’s resigned to the fact and to fate. This also lets readers know that Capicorn is still capable and willing to kill people if he needs or wants to.  “Stop telling her stories!” lets readers know that Mo is either feeling protective of Meggie—trying to keep Dustfinger from frightening her or that he is uncomfortable, afraid of the situation they’re in and does not like where the conversation is going.  It could be a combination of the two as well.

Funke conveys plot-related and emotional depth through dialogue in a way that does not slow the pace.

August 5

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the annual Hunger Games with fellow district tribute Peeta Mellark. But it was a victory won by defiance of the Capitol and their harsh rules. Katniss and Peeta should be happy. After all, they have just won for themselves and their families a life of safety and plenty. But there are rumors of rebellion among the subjects, and Katniss and Peeta, to their horror, are the faces of that rebellion. The Capitol is angry. The Capitol wants revenge.

I thought, pacing-wise, that Catching Fire was better than Hunger Games.  If I hadn’t been told how good Hunger Games is, I would have stopped reading half-way through the first chapter.  I couldn’t get into it. And even once the plot started, I kept wanting to put it down.  I was interested in it enough that I kept reading, but their were a lot of areas where I just put it down and let it sit for a day or two before going back to it.  Also, with Hunger Games I wasn’t too worried about completing the series. It was a good book, but not good enough for me to want to spend money on its sequels. I had none of those issues with Catching Fire.

Catching Fire was hard for me to put down.  The pacing was faster.  The stakes higher and I was more invested in the characters, the outcome and the story. Katniss had some tough decisions to make and obviously some of those decisions resulted in devastating consequences.

However, that is not to say Catching Fire is without its flaws. I did find Catching Fire on the predictable side, which ruined some of the story for me. I wish Collins could have left out some of the major clues that let me know how the book would end.  However, I’m not sure how she would have managed to do that.  I also thought this Game Field setup was kind of…meh.  Once the characters figured out what was going on, they had no real problem getting around the Field, which took some of the tension away. Collins did compensate for the lack of physical danger with more emotional danger though. But if the characters hadn’t figured out what the arena was and had the emotional danger element to it, I think the book would have been much better.

The ending sucked. It’s not because it was a cliffhanger, guaranteeing more people would buy the next book.  But it felt… convenient. Katniss has been threatened by the Capitol, her family has been threatened.  We get warnings of that.  But their didn’t seem to be enough of a warning for what happened at the end of the book. I wanted more of a buildup. Perhaps the theory would be raised by one of the characters.  I don’t know something more before the event.

The ending worked.  But I felt kind of played at the end of the book.

Pick it up. Read it.  It is the middle-child of books. So it’s good. But it’s obviously something meant to connect book one to book three with a lot of backtracking and character development, etc. etc.  I mean was the Victory Tour even required? It set some things up beautifully, but other than that set-up it didn’t do much. We could have learned about the revolts through characters in the arena, news stories, more threats, etc.

August 3

Editing Madness

Got some great advice on how to improve my book. Some of it is small, like deciding what The Club originally was: a hotel? an old school? an abandoned movie theater or Wal-mart?  Something else? We’ve changed some of the character’s names.  We’ll see how they stick.  But hopefully it makes it all sound better, more modern.

Other changes are major: requiring two, maybe three entire chapters to be almost completely re-written.  I’m excited about making the changes.  If I can get it all to work–which will be difficult because there are still plot holes–it’ll be much improved, an obvious difference and much more exciting.  I’d have to work day and night to get all the necessary changes done by August 14th, especially since I still need to figure out how to write my critical essays for the books I’ve read and decide what to write about.  Anyone read Inkheart by Cornelia Funke or Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins that might be able to help me with them?

It’s past midnight now and all I want to do is write, edit, polish, etc, which means going to bed will be hard. I’m juiced, as if I just ran a mile, or won a million bucks!  It’s a writing high for me and I love it.  It’s just murder on my sleep habits.

Anyone have some time to be a sound board? I got the major things figured out, I think, but I need to get the small stuff decided on…

Where are you in your writing?