Monday, August 31, 2015

Monday Musings - Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee Review

This is apparently my second Monday Musings of the year. My chickens, I need to get back into the swing of blogging.

Anyway, this week I am (finally!) posting my review of Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee. I remember the day this was announced very clearly: I saw that Harper Lee was trending on Twitter, and immediately thought that she must have finally died. So imagine my relief when I saw that not only was she still alive, but a new book was coming out!

Thus, one of the easiest book buying decisions of my life.

I knew, coming into it, that the book wasn't finished. It was just set among Lee's things, and so it was never truly finished and prepared for publication. I knew that it had inconsistencies from what happened in To Kill A Mockingbird, notably the result of the Tom Robinson trial. I opened the book and was half expecting a note from the editor about all of that, but there wasn't one. I also expected some clunky dialogue or misspelled words, but there weren't, so clearly someone touched it up before publication.

What it is, though, is a continuation of the original bildungsroman and Scout's (or now Jean Louise's) continuing growth into an adult. Scout still idolizes Atticus, still keeps to many presumptions about people, and still remains as finicky as ever--all endearing qualities, I should add. But they are all slightly immature, and Go Set A Watchman is Scout's final journey into adulthood, by her realizing the truth about Atticus.

And, indeed, we all learn the truth about Atticus. Atticus is possibly the most beloved figure in American literature; he is certainly one of the best fathers. He was always good, honorable, and ready to fight for what was right, regardless of the chances of success or his own personal cost. He was always willing to help Scout and Jem on their adventures, and always wanting to do his best to everyone. If we were going to make a list of the least corrupt characters of all-time, Atticus would probably have been near the top.

So his fall from grace in Go Set A Watchman gives Scout a shock, as well as the reader. How could Atticus, the ever-so-good and wonderful man, suddenly be a racist? Well, the answer is that it wasn't sudden--it was there all along. Scout, and the reader, is forced to struggle with the idea that he wonderful father has some major flaws, and isn't the hero she always pictures him to be. We always saw Atticus through the wondering, adoring eyes of eight-year-old Scout; now twenty-six, we're forced to see the grey in our interpretations of him.

Of course, that is the point of Go Set A Watchman: that a person has to develop their own conscience, and their own sense of right and wrong. We cannot rely on another to choose our moral ground. I would say that this is an accurate lesson, and one many people need to hear. People don't tend to make up their own decisions regarding right and wrong, and then continue to be disappointed when their heroes don't follow their ethics. But is that a valid reason to sully the character of Atticus Finch?
"Atticus, he was real nice."
"Most people are, Scout, when you finally see them."
But if our original Atticus isn't nice anymore, I do wonder whether we can really consider this Atticus the same Atticus Finch? This book was written before To Kill A Mockingbird and Atticus' character was finalized. I'm entirely sure if it counts, because it isn't building off of the character we've read and loved; it is, instead, the character he was first conceived as. Lee had faith in humanity, then. She didn't want our version of Atticus to be shattered; rather, she saw it as entirely possible for a man to truly be good and honorable, as much as Atticus can be.

So this original Atticus, the flawed one, becomes the idealized. But in Go Set A Watchman, the idealized becomes flawed. Perhaps the only thing you can really get from this book is that people change.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Fiction Feed - Setting Upheaval

This week's Friday Fiction Feed goes out to everyone who is currently stuck with their book, and don't know what to write next.

If you are stuck, it can be good to go to a new location. This can be a big change--going on vacation to Barbados, or moving from California to Wisconsin. But this can be a small move, like changing the scene to school or work or home (see my recent posts about Settings for some ideas!). People change in a new setting, and those changes can start screwing things loose and get the plot moving again.

So take that scene you're stuck in and set it somewhere else. Change to Mars! To a friend's house! But go somewhere else, and see if that helps.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Weekly Writing Wrambling - State of the Novel, Part Two

It is beyond time for another State of the Novel address, because some interesting things have been happening as of late.

Unfortunately, the SUPER interesting thing (getting published) has not happened yet, but I have been continuing to send out queries and search for agents and publishers and send out more queries. It is a rather exhausting process. Imagine applying to colleges, but instead of applying to the college you can only apply to someone who will help you apply to the college, and 75% of the time you won't hear back from them. That is what it is like to query.

(And that remaining 25%, thus far, have been nos.)

With that, it can be difficult to remain optimistic, but every now and then I return to the novel itself (still titled The Demon Hunter's Inheritance), and I'm always struck by the fact that it isn't bad. It's actually okay. Sometimes I might even think it's good. And since I'm my own worst critic, I know it's a little bit better than that, too. So I continue to query, and query, and query.

But there have been other developments as well. Right now, as you are probably aware, I have been on a contest over at the amazing Adventures in YA Publishing blog, and I'm happy to announce that I am a finalist! That saga has been pretty interesting as well. This isn't my first contest with this book--it's my fourth, IIRC--but so far, what's happened:

1. First contest is being run by some erotica writers. I don't advance. Perhaps because I don't write erotica.
2. Second contest (which was also run by Adventures in YA Publishing--it was Pitch Plus Five) was about a year ago, and in order to compete you had to be one of the first 50 people to send in your pitch and first five pages by 9:00. The first 9:00, I had everything as an attachment, which I found out disqualified me. The second 9:00, I wasn't one of the top fifty. So that never happened.
3. Finally, I going into an Adventures in YA Publishing contest--all about pitches! The first round was solely done by blogger judges on your mini-pitch. I didn't advance.
4. The Red Light, Green Light contest that I'm currently in. Once again, I have to be the first fifty to send in my sentence by 9:00. I get everything set up, but I'm nervous about the sending, since I'll actually be on a plane (not taken off, but on a plane) when 9:00 hits, and planes typically have poor 4G. But it somehow goes through, and I'm in the contest!

After that, it was three rounds of voting, with some of the vote being popular vote and some of the vote being expert judges. And I'm still around! I think this proves that I am an okay novel-writing writer, but a poor pitch-writing writer. I'm just not good at condensing my novel into a short piece to wow someone, because it sounds like boasting and there are all these wonderful parts of my novel (Character development! Mystery! Romantic tension!) that I have worked really hard on, and can't properly show. It's difficult to let those things go in a pitch.

But this is being judged by the work itself, and so far, so good. Yay!

Next week, our 30-word pitch (ugh....I hope I did okay) and first 100 words (I like my first 100 words) will be revealed, and a week after that we'll find out the winners. Here's to hoping my first 100 words are sort of dazzle-y!

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Weekly Writing Wrambling - Plotting vs. Freestyle, Part One

So I'm starting another series, this time about planning a story--or not. Both can be effective tools in different ways. I've used both, and sometimes switched halfway during the book. So as a ground rule, I should say that everything I'm talking about should be fluid. Don't feel constrained into following your plan. Don't feel like you aren't able to start planning ahead if you need to. These are tools, which mean that you should use them when you need to--and not planning is just as much of a tool as planning.

This week, I am going to be discussing working without a plan, or as I think of it, Freestyle Writing. Generally speaking, most writers start off that way, and many ideas start that way. It is simply writing what comes to your mind. I wouldn't say that it means you don't know WHERE you are going; you might still have an idea of the plot. But you don't have a specific to-do list that you are working off of.

There are many advantages to this. For one, it is very freeing. If you get bored of the story, you can change it, and you don't have to worry about hours or plotting and planning lost, or not knowing where you're going. You can go as the plot go, as the characters go, and stop writing when you're bored. You don't have to focus on the boring parts. That's pretty awesome! No boring parts? I wish my first drafts were free of boring parts. It’s just like taking a road trip. If you don’t have any stops planned, you can go exactly where you want when you want to. Mel Gibson would have a field day.

But, like being free, that freedom is the main disadvantage. If you don't know where you are going, then you don’t really know what you are doing. What happens when the idea runs out? You haven’t worked out how to get from Plot Point A to Plot Point D. If you’re trying to plant clues, you might forget to plant one. Again, this is just like a road trip. If you’ve got no plan, then it can be difficult to feel like you have a purpose, and then it is hard to get going.

My piece of advice for when this happens is to use your freedom! This is when something like a genre change, a point-of-view change, a protagonist change can all come in handy. Remember, this is your first draft—you can keep the point-of-view or protagonist consistent later. Right now, your job is to get words on the page, and go from Plot Point A to Plot Point Z. Whatever you can do to make that happen is a valid technique. Change the novel as much as you can while still keeping the same general story. If nothing else, those changes  are going to create new problems and new situations for your characters, and that is going to start shaking things up and causing problems—and problems are the blood of a story.

Be free, writing friends. Write free!

I’ll discuss strict outlining next week.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Tuesday Travels - Weddings, Weddings, Weddings

Not a normal Tuesday Travels this week, since I have been too busy with, well, life, to do anything on my Bay Area Bucket List. Busy doing what, you ask?

Going to weddings!

More weddings!

Wedding activities!
We were supposed to make a wedding dress out of toilet paper. I became a Mummy instead.

Bachelorette Party!


Thus far, I'm done with three out of the four for this summer. Four might not sound like much, but when you include showers, bachelorette parties, dress shopping, shoe shopping, and the actual wedding...well, they add up.

I'm staying pretty positive, which is surprising. It can be difficult, especially in the Christian community, to see people get married because it feels like they join the "real grown-up" group. (Plenty of people won't admit this is true, but talk to any Christian single and they'll admit it is so.) It can be a little difficult to see everyone happy and joyful when you don't get that joy yet.

As such, I have come up with a list of distractions to help keep me positive about weddings:

1. See old friends

By far, my favourite part about weddings! Old friends are in town (or in the same town, anyway), and you have a whole evening to do nothing but hang out together. Catch up! Eat yummy food! Photo booths! And everyone is in a good mood because, hey, it's a wedding.

2. The bouquet

As you are probably aware, I am a fierce competitor. And my skills translate perfectly to the one competition at a wedding: the bouquet.

I remember in one of the old Babysitters Club books that Dawn and Mary Anne both wanted the bouquet, but Mary Anne caught it. Thus, I had to catch a bouquet one day. But how would I be able to? Sure, I was on the taller side of average, and willing to elbow people in the face if needed, and to tackle people out of the way, but still....was I truly cool enough?

I've now caught three.

The first time it was me, someone in their sixties, and a group of kids probably 12 and younger. So I was satisfied that I caught it.

The second time, it was just thrown to me. But hey, that counts!

This summer, though, I've finally caught it when there was a real competition. Other twenty-something women, all fighting for a group of flowers, and I WON. Twice, really, because the bride originally threw a napkin, which I caught and then threw back at her. I was there for a napkin--I wanted the bouquet!

I caught the bouquet as well. Success!

(Please note that the bouquet doesn't really work, since there were at least two engaged women in that group, both of whom have since got married, and I'm still very single. But I still won the bouquet game. I'll take that.)

3.  Pretty times

I get to put on pretty make-up and a dress! (And comfy shoes, because I am a comfy shoe sort of person.) I hated getting dressed up for a while, but I'm beginning to love it again--perhaps because I know that the onus is off of me, since everyone will be gushing about the bride and ignoring the single lady. Yay pretty times!

Prettified for a wedding. My hair fell flat pretty fast, but I loved it while it was up!
4. Ideas

Just in case, I always like to take (mental) notes on what I really like at a wedding, so I can keep it in my for if/when I get married. It can be an activity, food, speech, game, vow, seating, or whatnot...but almost every wedding I've been to, I have received at least one exciting new idea to mentally play with.

(Alright, fine: also mental notes about ideas that I don't want at my wedding. Sometimes what works for a friend does not work for me!)

5. Happy for the bride!

Yes, it may be difficult to remain optimistic. Yes, it can be difficult to see someone get married before me. But that doesn't change the fact that I am, 100%, completely, thoroughly EXCITED and THRILLED and HAPPY for my friend! They are married and entering a new world, and I'm going to be positive. So woot!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Friday Fiction Feed - The Eternal Optimist

Confession time: I am a pessimist. I think that everything will go wrong, or has gone wrong, or is currently going wrong. I am positive that I will never win. I am positive that everything is terrible.

Because of this, it is sometimes interesting to jump into the mind of an optimistic character. To try and see the hope in the situation instead of the inevitable doom. So I go a little stream-of-conscious in the mind of the character. What could be happening now? I could be winning. Something amazing could be happening. I could be on my way to winning the lottery! To meeting the one! To getting a promotion.

Now, this might be the other way around for you--you might be an optimist, so the change would be writing a pessimistic character. But try to go into the mind of a character who is completely different from you, and see the world in a different light.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Friday Fiction Feed - Enter...You?!?!?

Sometimes, everything in your novel is going crazy. One character has turned into a chimpanzee, there's a volcano that just appeared in the living room, and your antagonist just declared a deep, undying love for the Precious Memories collection. It is bad.

At times like these, you have one of two options: either treat everything as normal, or admit the obscure. Both work, but this week's feed is to add a character--or use an existing character--to admit that everything is out of control. Have a character act like you do, and just be confused. Wink towards the audience. Admit that it is ridiculous that a volcano appeared, or that someone actually likes Precious Memories.

Acknowledging the insanity is sometimes the best was to solve it.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Tuesday Travels - No. 15 - Go to a Giants game down in San Diego

Guess who has been making a dent in her bucket list? This girl here. :D

I recently ventured down to San Diego. There were a few reasons for this, but the underlying one was to go to a Padres vs. Giants game.

Yes, that overcast city is San Diego. It was raining half the time I was there.
Petco Park is maaaaaybe a little bit smaller than AT&T? It felt smaller, although I know that the fields used to be a similar size (they brought in the fences recently, but that doesn't change the boundaries of the park). Anyway, we entered the ballpark on the complete opposite side of the stadium from our seats, and it didn't take too long to find our section--whereas I feel it takes forever to travel around AT&T.
Tickets that don't have Giants players on them look so weird
Our seats were AMAZING--I was so close to the field!

Row thirteen! It's so close!
Hello, lovely Giants players
Me. First base is behind my head.
Also, there were quite a few Giants fans around with the Padres fans. Did it feel like a home game? I don't think so, but it didn't feel like how I imagined an away game would feel.

The Padres fans were pretty friendly, too.
Finally, I got a photo with the Padres mascot. On a related note, I need to take a photo with Lou Seal. Someone remind about that next time I'm at a Giants game.

Me and the Padre.
 It was a nice park, and I'm really glad that I got to see it! Yay.

(The Giants lost. Hence the lack of discussion about the actual game.)

Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday Fiction Feed - Kissy Kissy Smooch

On my favourite night of writing, two characters that were not supposed to get together got engaged.

It was a mistake, but figuring out the mistake was so much fun. The characters weren't ready to be together, and helping them see that was fun. The tension was fun. The reactions from everyone else was fun. It was just pure writing joy.

So: take character A. Take character B. KISSY KISSY SMOOCHY SNOG. And let the fallout begin...

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Weekly Writing Wrambling - Settings, Part Three

So this is going back about eighteen months, but I started a small series on settings in stories, and I realize that I never really finished it. So here is part three!

As I discussed in earlier posts, a person's life can be divided into three (not equal) parts: the work life, the social life, and the home life. Generally speaking, you can't focus on all three of them; one normally is pushed to the foreground and one is pushed to the background. But it is still necessary to know about these lives, and how a character acts differently in each one.

Perhaps the most interesting life to explore is the home life, because this is the base of a character. People always put on facades in other places; a person is supposed to act professional at work, and then overly-friendly around people. When we deal with other people, we change slightly. This gets a bit of a bad reputation, because it seems duplicitous, but in reality it isn't always. It is respectful to be polite and somewhat distant at work, while if we took that attitude into the social life it would be seen as rude. People have to change for their situation; it's their character that doesn't need to change.

But when you are at home, those pressures are gone. Generally speaking, you live with the people you are most comfortable with, or you have to become comfortable with those people because you all share a bathroom. You don't always have to be "on" at home. You can be who you want to be. As an introvert, that's what I love about being at home; extroverts might hate that. But it all goes down to knowing your character. Maybe your person is worried about upsetting people; when they are really at home, they don't have to worry about being polite and non-confrontational. They can be themselves.

As such, who a character is at home is generally a better representation of themselves. It is a good place to start when you are building a character because once you understand them there, you can understand them everywhere else. The tics come out, the quirks. Their actual thoughts and feelings. The character can breathe, can settle, and you can figure them out better.

Now, home life is also a fascinating aspect to remove--but even then, you need to know what it was like. Perhaps the best example is moving away to college. For the first time, you (or your character's) home life is replaced with more social life, but the home life will seep in eventually. You'll become at home with your roommates, or seek home life out somewhere else--but it has to come out eventually. All stories have to deal with what a character is like when nobody is around, and that's what the home life is about.

So figure out who your character is at home. Once that is set, layers can be added for the work and social lives, and then you can start to play.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Please Help!

As some of you may have seen on Twitter, I'm in a contest over at one of my favorite YA blogs, Adventures in YA Publishing! It's a writing contest, and the winners get to talk with industry professionals and agents. So while it is a good way for agents to see your work, it is also a networking opportunity. I want to network!

So can you please take a second to vote for me here?

My sentences start with, "Matt’s birthday was Eric’s deathday..."

Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tuesday Travels - No. 40.12 - Peninsula Creamery (with a milkshake!)

Mmm, milkshakes. They are the perfect food; creamy, yet not (always) too heavy. While I will always believe that Hume Lake has the greatest milkshakes known to mankind, I will admit that Peninsula Creamery's are quite tasty as well. So I traveled there to have one more milkshake.

Their milkshakes bring all the Christine's to the table
 First thought: they are better than I remembered. Perhaps a little bit oversweet, but the perfect amount of thickness for a straw. I don't know why places boast about how their milkshakes are so thick that you need a spoon; if I wanted something with a spoon, I'd have gone for the hard stuff. I want a milkshake. I want to drink my ice cream.

See? Drinkable.
Now is the spoon useful? Yes. I like to get cookie dough milkshakes because then I get all of the dough at the bottom, and that requires a spoon to get to. But I should be able to drink most of it.

The cookie dough at the bottom
So yummy. So nice. I'm glad to have consumed one last milkshake there.