Tuesday
Apr272010

you make me feel so mean

can't get that line of this song they play at work out of my head.  anyway, are you loving my totally unrelated titles?  ME TOO!

today a friend asked for book recommendations, and I went to town, so I thought i'd post it here as well.

…nourish your mind…


literary classics




wuthering heights Emily bronte

densely written, but still remains one of the most dramatic love stories in literature.

the inferno dante alighieri

alighieri’s interpretation of hell and how man moves through the circles of hell is a touch point for many common verbal references that we use in everyday speech.

the odyssey homer

Super dense, this is one of the greatest adventures ever told as we follow Odysseus on his journey from the battlefield back home

siddartha herman hesse

this philosophical, short novel about man’s journey through life helped fuel the revolution-filled days of the early seventies.  must be read with an open, curious mind.

northanger abbey jane austen

her first novel, this gives jane austen more of a sense of context amongst her peers than her later work.  obviously influenced by reigning gothic novels like ann radcliffe’s the italian, this more whimsical, melodramatic novel is a great primer to austen.

the count of monte cristo alexandre dumas

more relatable than his series on the musketeers, the count of monte cristo deals with powerful struggles through punishment and forgiveness, revenge and fate without losing sight of adventure, action and romance.  one of my favorites of all time.

tale of two cities charles dickens

designed to taunt the reader in weekly installments (dickens’ novels were published chapter by chapter in london newspapers), this book reflects on this tumultuous time caught between war and strife and has one of the most memorable endings ever in a novel.

i know why the caged bird sings maya angelou

it is no coincidence that this woman went on to become a poet laureate; her unflinching examination of her own incredibly difficult childhood is related with honesty and a lyrical sense of prose.  really sad and slightly triumphant, but an amazing narrative.

ethan frome edith wharton

sometimes I think I’m the only person who genuinely likes this novel, but its portrayal of choice and consequence and unfulfilled desire against a stark new England novel is so beautiful.

the crucible arthur miller

meant as an allegorical warning about huac (house un-american activities committee) during the sixties, the crucible triumphs as a novel about the power of mass hysteria and the awful vengeance of a woman scorned in 1600s salem, ma.

the great gatsby f. scott fitzgerald

celebrating the iconic American struggle between “old money” and “new money”, laced with unfulfilled desires and haunted with frustrated dreams, this is a stunning novel and a beloved American classic.

the fountainhead ayn rand

This is a dense book, but well worth the effort.  howard, the architect who is young, idealistic, and violently uncompromising, is heroic in his efforts to achieve his dreams, but not at any cost.

a separate peace john knowles

this is a great book set at a new england boarding school and told through flashbacks; at the onset of the novel you know something terrible happened a long time ago, but not what it is. a coming of age story with male protagonists.

lord of the flies william golding

this psychological experiment of a novel explores what life would be like if a bunch of boys got dumped on an island together and had to fend for themselves.  it’s a little crazy, but it’s a great book.

in cold blood truman capote

This book is incredible because of what it isn’t.  it’s never what you want it to be, expect it to be, or need it to be.  it’s not fiction, but its not journalism.  it’s not easy to digest, because it’s the story of the author’s developing friendship and resulting sympathy for a man who, with his partner, slaughtered a family without much reason.  it’s chilling but it’s a feat of literature because it toys with your sympathy and who you think is truly to blame.

the name of the rose umberto eco

this is one of the most complicated, confusing novels I’ve ever read, but going along for the ride is a complete mystery and the ultimate homage to books and reading.

the red tent anita diamant

this tale of biblical womanhood puts into context the feminine mystery and our current stature as free, capable women.  the women who have come before us are strong, motherly, and powerful and this book shows them beautifully.

…imagine freely…


notable young adult novels



ella enchanted gail carson levine

this feisty reimagining of cinderella remains today one of my favorite stories. ella is no wilting maiden in this one, but she misses her mother and isn’t sure of her place in the world.

the book thief markus zusak

this book will haunt you for the rest of your life.  one of the most impressive literary feats I’ve ever read, this chronicles world war two from the point of view of death as he brushes past the book thief on several occasions.

the disreputable history of frankie landau banks e. lockhart

this novel felt extraordinary to me because it was so funny and incisive and yet so familiar—how do teenage girls empower themselves as women and still have boyfriends and social lives?  and, oh yeah, how does one girl topple a secret society?

The catcher in the rye jd salinger

this was an almost genre-less novel at the time, and helped start america thinking about the difference between ya and adult fiction.  it’s about a disillusioned youth searching for his place.

a great and terrible beauty libba bray

This book is about four girls at a finishing school that discover a magical world outside their own, but what makes the book truly magical is that their contemporaneous issues feel so real, from struggling with family to trying to determine a way to assess your self worth.  and the magic part is way fun too.

inkheart cornelia funke

this is a gorgeous book about a father who can—but refuses to—talk storybook characters to life by reading them aloud.  It’s been translated from german, so I don’t know if its due to the translator or if there is a natural richness to the language, but its incredibly well written.

city of bones cassandra clare

jace, the main male protagonist/love interest, is uber hot.  The story about demon-fighting angels is pretty cool too, but mainly jace is hot.

the golden compass philip pullman

the first installment in an incredible, mind blowing trilogy, the golden compass follows lyra through an alternate oxford, england, where everyone’s soul is attached to them in the form of a animal and there are incredibly dark forces at work.

howl’s moving castle diana wynne jones

a fairytale with a tongue in cheek attitude where nothing is ever as it seems.  howl is a wizard that eats young girl’s hearts and sophie is a forgotten older sister that gets cursed into an old woman.  fun, magical romp.

all american girl meg cabot

meg cabot is one of my favorite authors, and this book clearly shows why—she’s unapologetically fun, incredibly endearing, and insanely relatable.  when you read the book it sounds like a conversation you’ve had inside your head—just infinitely cooler and more interesting.
Sunday
Apr252010

I Can't Go On; I'll Go On

So yeah, I watched BandSlam.  One of my friends told me it was stupid good, and aside from dubious female casting (really, Vanessa Hudgens?  The Aly and AJ chick was way better, but I thought she was Ashley Tisdale until I looked at IMDB), I'd even leave off the stupid and just call it good.  To the point that I did a little "NO WAY!" when David Bowie shows up at the end.

And it was immediately followed by a sharp inhale.  Not in a gaspy sort of way, but in that way that I'm kind of getting used to--the "what if all MY dreams don't work out as perfectly as this?  And to wit, why hasn't it happened yet?  Does that mean it's never GOING to happen?" way.  (I know, that's kind of a loaded inhalation).

I'm going on a month-ish since the novel was sent out to publishers, and there hasn't been much response.  My agent tells me this is progressing perfectly, and I fully believe her; what can I say, I'm given to outlandish fantasies, from imagining all my dreams coming true to imagining them all going up in flames--and yes, I treat both imposters just the same.

Part of me feels like this is the competition, the make or break situation of epic proportions, and then part of me goes, "Well what will it change?  If I don't get published right now, who cares?" I know I'm not giving up soon.

But lately this third little voice has crept in: what if I get the contract, get published, and it's lame?  Maybe I'm like every author out there, but I believe that I'm a good writer and people will buy the book if I can just get it to them.  I even go so far as to think a publisher, once they give it an honest chance, will want to pay a decent amount of money for it.  Not enough for me to be supported solely as a writer for a while, but enough so that (let's be honest) my family will be impressed and acknowledge this is actually a career.

Not that they DONT, it's just that I don't think they think there is money in it, and I do.  I think I care about the quality of what I'm producing and that will be represented in dollar signs.

But what if it doesn't?  I mean, what if I get published, and it's not the way I anticipated?  What if  I get bought for a small advance and relatively limited distribution--ie, I get my dream, but not the way I pictured it/planned?

Does that matter?
Friday
Apr232010

I Think I'm Missing Something

No, I know I am.  Or rather, I'm on the verge of a massive novel breakthrough.  Something that's a progression of Scarlet and a natural product of the environment I'm working in, and also yet a continuation of one of my greatest intellectual curiosities.

So I'm going to talk it out, bitches.

One of the things that I was testing out with Scarlet was the idea of creating character through language.  Essentially, the way we speak defines us because it instantly expresses our culture, typically our socio-economic background, the references we find important and our touch points for "good" and "bad".  Writers have long been fascinated with defining cultural reference points through the character's use of swear words-- "By the Goddess!" instead of "Oh my God!", or like Scarlet is wont to proclaim, "Christ's bones!" instead of "Jesus Christ!".  In the first example, we instantly know that we're not in Kansas anymore.  If it's a modern religion, it would have to be possibly Greek or India, most likely from a polytheistic culture because (I believe), with the exception of Wicca recognizing "Mother Earth", there are no sole goddess figures in the contemporary understanding of religion.

Which, on a side note, sucks.

In the second example, I was striving to show that Scarlet was definitely Christian, but Christian through a very plebeian experience.  Peasants often flocked to churches that had saintly reliquaries, like their bones, and considered them personal talismans or sources of religious connection.

Anyway, language defines character.  But working where I work, there's a huuuge emphasis placed on atmosphere defining culture, especially the sensory experience dictating a cultural experience.  It's about total immersion, and defining the world around you not in a visual way, but in a sensory way.

Which, frankly, is damn literary.  You can see why I love my job.

But I think that these two should be combining, coming together somehow, in my writing.  It just lacks a concept.  And of the two stories that I'm loosely working on, one is about the sensory experience of the water, but it's not coming off right.  Everything is hackneyed somehow.  Something is just not gutsy or original.  Something's not working.

The other story is about this weird mystery involving jewelry, and I just don't know how I could commit fully to it.  Especially because it's a contemporary story; I'm thinking maybe it shouldn't be contemporary?  Basically part of the story references WW2 Europe, but I am woefully unqualified/pretty uninterested in writing about that time.  I don't think I have anything to offer it.

Maybe not though.  I mean, it certainly wouldn't be like on the beaches at Normandy type stuff (that is WW2 right?  I'm terrible with the WWs) but maybe it would be in some place that I haven't considered yet.  Some place the war skirted but didn't fully lance through.

HMMMMMMM.......actually that might be kind of inspiring.
Monday
Apr192010

Our Last Night Together as Frogs

I just watched THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, which I was totally charmed by--especially how, as a 25 year old weaned on the Disney Princess stories, it definitely progressed from them and moved forward, acknowledging the importance of hard work and the balance of work/love.

But it's not what I want to talk about, just why I titled the post that.  Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about sustainability.  I mean, yes, I care about the environment, recycle my bottles, turn off the water, blah blah blah, but I'm really concerned with sustainability in our everyday lives.  I just started this new job where I'm working overnights, and my first thought when I took the job was:  "This job sounds amazing.  But how long can I work overnights without going crazy?"

And then it kind of resonated with me.  It's something that I've been thinking about in my writing, too:  how long can I keep up this pace?  This drive?  Would getting published change anything about that? This is more of a serious question than aimless conjecture, because other than a few excursions in writing something just to be writing, I really haven't started anything solid since I wrapped Scarlet four months ago.  Four months without a serious project for me is like four months without a meal for me.  And I like me some food.

I'm of two minds about it.  For the first time in my life, I really trust my own creativity enough to know it will come when it wants to come, and when it does, there's not a hell of a lot I can do to stop it.  But at the same time, it makes me wonder.  How long will the off switch last?  How often will this happen in the future?  What would I ever do with myself if I were to stop writing?

And is this a sign that I should somehow be trying harder?  Working harder?  I don't know.  I just can't risk--or face--the idea of my writing being nonsustaining.

And what about jobs?  I guess the question with both things is when you face something that's faltering or not sustaining, do you let it run its natural course or do you fight like hell?
Wednesday
Apr072010

Novels and Hopes

Okay, so I've been thinking more about getting my hopes up--thanks for the support Miss Ming!--and about writing, and how the two play into each other.

I'm in the middle (and trying, trying to draw it out) of CONSPIRACY OF KINGS by Megan Whalen Turner.  Now, MWT is an absolute master of twisty plots--Eugenides, one of her main characters, is a master of sleight of hand, and the whole novel becomes something like an elaborate hoax on the reader.  Which I LOVE, of course.

So I'm in the middle of a particularly rough part where I feel like the main character is about to get royally screwed over (literally, actually), and there's this whine that is coming into my head like a devil on my shoulder:  "come on, read faster, you KNOW it all works out in the end."

And THERE's the rub.  I mean, on the one hand, I'm a writer and a total optimist for my characters.  I'm going to put them through utter hell and torture (and that's literally in the case of Scarlet--not the hell, but definitely the torture) but dammit, they are going to get their well deserved happily ever after.

In the young adult world, if you put up with total crap with pluck and a smile, you'll earn yourself a happy ending.  If you cave, you're probably going to end up in an unhappy marriage or as a scullery maid or something.

Not that some scullery maids don't go on to be happily ended heroines.  Because they do.  Check out THE LITTLE PRINCESS for reference.

But then again, the happy ending and triumph of that happy ending only works out because both the reader and the character believe it's never going to happen.

So should I go with authorial instincts and convince myself that it's going to work out in the end, no matter what obstacles I face?

Or should I go with reader and character instincts and get so deeply engrossed in the moment that I can't even fathom how it's going to work out--leaving me shocked or shattered depending on how it all unfolds?

Well, I'll be honest, I'm more of a throes-of-the-moment kind of girl, mostly because it comes with highly saturated emotion, drama, and the occasional bout of total mope-age.  I love a good mope.

So....that resolves nothing.

xx