in all blogs
Viewing Blog: Brooklyn Arden, Most Recent at Top
Results 1 - 25 of 612
Cheryl Klein is an editor at Arthur A. Levine Books (an imprint of Scholastic).
Statistics for Brooklyn Arden
Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 96
Reading and Writing
- "The whole culture is telling you to hurry, while the art tells you to take your time. Always listen to the art.” — Junot Diaz
- "If I am a prolific writer and turn my hand, with what seems to some as indecent haste, from novels to screenplays to stage and radio plays, it is because there is so much to be said, so few of us to say it, and time runs out." — Fay Weldon
- "It makes me unhappy when certain things change or things are superceded... my nine year old daughter's personality... Card catalogues... Jiffy Pop right now feels imperiled... I want to stop time and get things down on paper before they've flown off like a flock of starlings." — Nicholson Baker
- “One glance at a book and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for 1,000 years. To read is to voyage through time.” — Carl Sagan
- "The main effort of arranging your life should be to progressively reduce the amount of time required to decently maintain yourself so that you can have all the time you want for reading." — Norman Rush
- “No matter how busy you may think you are, you must find time for reading, or surrender yourself to self-chosen ignorance.” — Confucius
- “The writer operates at a peculiar crossroads where time and place and eternity somehow meet. His problem is to find that location.” -- Flannery O'Connor
- “Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time.... The wait is simply too long.” — Leonard Bernstein
- “To fully understand a grand and beautiful thought requires, perhaps, as much time as to conceive it." — Joseph Joubert
- “A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time.” — Annie Dillard
- “To many people artists seem / undisciplined and lawless. / Such laziness, with such great gifts, / seems little short of crime. / One mystery is how they make / the things they make so flawless; / another, what they're doing with / their energy and time.” — Piet Hein
- "Take the time to write. You can do your life's work in half an hour a day." — Robert Hass
- “The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” — Jack London
- “A man may be very industrious, and yet not spend his time well. There is no more fatal blunderer than he who consumes the greater part of life getting his living.” — Henry David Thoreau
- “I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day difficult." — E. B. White
- “Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice.” — Steve Jobs
- "Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful, lest you let others spend it for you." — Carl Sandburg
- “Live as if you were living a second time, and as though you had acted wrongly the first time. — Viktor Frankl
- “Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely.” — Auguste Rodin
- “It is impossible to enjoy idling thoroughly unless one has plenty of work to do. There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do. Wasting time is merely an occupation then, and a most exhausting one. Idleness, like kisses, to be sweet must be stolen.” — Jerome K. Jerome
- “Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is.” — Thomas Szasz
- “We are weighed down, every moment, by the conception and the sensation of Time. And there are but two means of escaping and forgetting this nightmare: pleasure and work. Pleasure consumes us. Work strengthens us. Let us choose.” — Charles Baudelaire
- “We get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.” — Paul Bowles
- “Now is the accepted time, not tomorrow, not some more convenient season. It is today that our best work can be done and not some future day or future year. It is today that we fit ourselves for the greater usefulness of tomorrow. Today is the seed time, now are the hours of work, and tomorrow comes the harvest and the playtime.” — W.E.B. Du Bois
- “Don't say you don't have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” — H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
- “Our perception that we have ‘no time’ is one of the distinctive marks of modern Western culture." — Margaret Visser
- “I wish I could have known earlier that you have all the time you'll need right up to the day you die.” — William Wiley
- “Here lies, extinguished in his prime, / a victim of modernity: / but yesterday he hadn't time— / and now he has eternity.” — Piet Hein
- "To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time." — Leonard Bernstein
- “All of us have moments in our childhood where we come alive for the first time. And we go back to those moments and think, This is when I became myself.” — Rita Dove
- “You don't have to specialize — do everything that you love and then, at some time, the future will come together for you in some form.” — Francis Ford Coppola
- “There comes a time in a man's life when to get where he has to — if there are no doors or windows — he walks through a wall.” — Bernard Malamud
- “In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” — Albert Schweitzer
- "Time is a great teacher, but unfortunately it kills all its pupils." — Hector Berlioz
- “In times of change, learners inherit the Earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” — Eric Hoffer
- “If you're behind the times, they won't notice you. If you're right in tune with them, you're no better than they are, so they won't care much for you. Be just a little ahead of them.” — Shel Silverstein
- “Time heals old wounds only because there are new wounds to attend to.” — Yahia Lababdidi
- “A wise man will make haste to forgive, because he knows the true value of time, and will not suffer it to pass away in unnecessary pain.” — Samuel Johnson
- “If you want your children to turn out well, spend twice as much time with them, and half as much money.” — Abigail Van Buren
- “Being rich is having money; being wealthy is having time.” — Stephen Swid
- “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and some of the people all of the time. And that's sufficient.” — Rose King
The rule, right off:
Eliminate “protagonist + sense verb” phrases that make us watch your protagonist have an internal experience, and instead simply dramatize the internal experience.
The sense verbs in question that this usually comes up with are:
- Look at
For example (all of these are made up at random -- and for the record, I'm not claiming any of this is brilliant prose. It's the technique that's important here):A) Katherine heard a man shout, "LORD GIVE ME PATIENCE!" and spun to see what was happening. She saw that a clown was dancing merrily across the parking lot, a small dog in a red ruff nipping at its heels.
B) "LORD GIVE ME PATIENCE!" a man shouted behind Katherine. She spun to see what was happening. A clown was dancing merrily across the parking lot, a small dog in a red ruff nipping at its heels.
In (A), everything is filtered through Katherine, and having to read about her
actions first slows down -- and weighs down -- the action as a whole. In (B), we're presented with what she hears and sees with only the filter of what I call her "sightline": When Katherine looks at something, we see it too, as she's the camera through which we view the action. We don't see the camera in a movie, but instead get to experience what it records for ourselves as if we were there; and the same thing is going on here with (B), so it's more immediate and involving. (B) also has the benefit of eliminating the many repetitions of "Katherine"/"She," forcing the writer to vary the subjects and structure of the sentences and making the prose as a whole more interesting. These tightening and diversifying effects are especially notable with first person:C) I walked around the corner and saw a woman leaning against the wall, crying. I heard a name repeated over and over through her sobs: "Clarissa . . . Clarissa . . ." I wondered who Clarissa was, and ached as I remembered my own sweet Suzette.
D) I walked around the corner. A woman was leaning against the wall, crying. Her sobs included the same name over and over again: "Clarissa . . . Clarissa . . ." Who was Clarissa? Was this woman mourning her for the same reasons I mourned Suzette?
As you can see from (D), this technique also works with verbs that take place inside the protagonist's brain, including:
E) Elroy thinks about where he'll be next week at this time: In the mountains, hiking up to the cabin. He remembers smelling the sharp evergreens and listening to the melted snow running in the brook. He imagines catching the first rabbit of spring and how good it will taste roasted.
F) Next week at this time, Elroy will be on the trail to his mountain cabin. The scent of the evergreens will be sharp in his nose and the snowmelt will warble in the brook, just as it has on this hike every year for the last fifteen springs. He can already taste the first rabbit, tender and plump.
With (E), we readers watch Elroy thinking, remembering, imagining. With (F), we skip Elroy altogether and see only his thoughts: where he'll be, how the trail will smell and sound, even the taste of the rabbit. It's much more intense and satisfying, in part because it requires the writer to dramatize that experience in full for us and bring it to life through additional details ("tender and plump").
Of course, the meaning does change from (E) to (F) in a way that points up one caveat to this technique: Sometimes you want
readers to see your protagonist engaged in a particular sense or mental activity, as the fact that the protagonist is doing that is equally important to whatever they're experiencing. If you're introducing a flashback, the words "I remember" at the beginning can be enormously useful in orienting the reader to the fact that you're stepping out of the present narrative time; if a character is experiencing an epiphany ("Janie realizes the truth. She never should have left Mike"), the sense verb can reinforce the existence of that epiphany more effectively than a mere statement of the realization.
As with any writing technique, this is a sentence-by-sentence judgment call. But the "protagonist + sense/brain verb" construction is something I ask my writers to take out of their prose probably eighty percent of the time, and it's a quick and effective way to make yourself show, not tell -- to dramatize more, and better. Go forth and cut.
Sometimes I want to read without thinking very much -- just for the rest and pleasure of being someone and somewhere other who and where I am. When I'm in this mood, I want characters (or at least my protagonist) to be likeable -- a person who's pleasant and interesting, who means well in the world, whom I want to spend time with. Jane Austen says facetiously in one of her letters, "I do not want people to be very agreeable, as it saves me the trouble of liking them a great deal"; my situation here is the reverse of that, as I want my fictional people to be very agreeable, so I don't have to go to the trouble of trying to find some fictional worth in them -- I can just be in the book and relax. During the production of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when it was a good day if I went home before 9 p.m., I downed Georgette Heyer Regency romances like kettlecorn, and I still sometimes turn to those -- or even more to Austen -- when I'm feeling stressed or distressed.
And sometimes I want to read and do a little more work -- read outside my comfort zone, sort through motives and morals -- all the pleasures of having my mind challenged and expanded rather than simply engaged. When I'm in this mood, I don't mind if people are unlikeable so long as they're real, and presented with full histories and friends and enemies and contexts, so I can find sympathy through understanding and empathizing with them rather than needing to be entertained or pleased by them. I LOVED The Casual Vacancy last year for the same reasons I loved The Corrections years ago -- the awfulness of many of the people is part of their humanity, and the full picture of humanity that both books present is a beautiful thing. But I very deliberately saved my reading of The Casual Vacancy for my Christmas break, as I knew I might not have patience for it if I read it under less relaxed circumstances. (And I haven't yet read The Cuckoo's Calling; from the reviews, it seems like a book I could read anytime, but I think I'm saving it now for my honeymoon in December.)
And of course making a character likeable is just a tool in the writer's toolbox like any other, which can be used or not in service of the ends the writer wants to achieve. Georgette Heyer needs to make her heroines likeable so we readers feel invested in their romantic travails, and the charm and comedy of such travails are what her books are about. J. K. Rowling in The Casual Vacancy is thinking about the breakdown of societal bonds and safety nets, the dissolution of a community through the increasing detachment of the individuals in it; and the characters are accordingly presented with their flaws on full display, so we can see the things that push them apart. (Michiko Kakutani should know to judge characterizations by a book's larger ends, which is why her review of The Casual Vacancy was so irritatingly stupid.) Yet the characters in both cases are still multidimensional and compelling in their dilemmas, which are always necessary qualities no matter the author's ends. It does take more art and skill to make an unlikeable character compelling than simply to make a regular character likeable, which is one of the reasons books with terrible characters (not characterizations!) so frequently win awards, and books with easily likeable characters are more often overlooked by the critical establishment. . . .
In the children's and YA world, we can sometimes be so anxious that children or teenagers will like reading or like one particular book that we make likeability a requirement, forgetting that most children and young adults are born with a taste for honesty before a taste for sweetness, and their fascination with the new and different can withstand a large measure of unpleasant behavior as long as there is still heart or vulnerability there. At age six, I was mesmerized by Ramona in Ramona the Pest because lord, that title spoke the truth! I did not like her -- straight-A me (even in first grade) would have been annoyed to have her in class with me -- but it was precisely because she was such a troublemaking train wreck that I loved reading about her, as she did all the things I never thought or dared to do. At the same time, in children's and YA fiction, authors are often looking to have readers invested in the story or the protagonist's emotional growth foremost (a la Georgette Heyer), with any larger observation about morals or society as more of a byproduct than the point (cf. my theory of YA fiction here); and as a result, likeability often serves children's and YA authors well as a technique, as few things draw us into a story more than liking the people within it.
I'll add, if the protagonist is not going to be likeable, I will want to see some special insight or beautiful language or high-stakes story going on, so I have something else to give me that little bit of pleasure until I get to understand the protagonist in full. With The Casual Vacancy, I appreciated Ms. Rowling's anatomization of this village and the people and their connections in it--how well she nailed every detail of their lives, from the addict's house to the self-satisfied grocer. And in both Ramona the Pest and the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, we readers can take pleasure in our superiority to the characters' bad behavior (Ramona) or small-mindedness (the Dursleys)--pleasure that keeps us going until we connect with Ramona or discover the magical world.
To conclude in a highly moralizing fashion: "Likability" is not a necessity in fiction, as it is a quality deployed and desired by authors and readers at different times. People who sneer at reading for mental rest and pleasure are snobs and should be called out as such. People who never do anything but read for mental rest and pleasure should probably challenge themselves a bit more. There is certainly a larger reading audience looking for rest and pleasure than there is an audience looking to be challenged and changed -- especially as the world grows ever faster and more stressful; especially as we all have so much less time for reading (we think) -- which is why Janet Evanovich and James Patterson move so many more copies than Elinor Lipman and Roberto Bolano; likable characters with easily definable problems are much easier to sell from the agent's desk on. But as we readers look for many different things at different times, writers need to write many different people as their stories demand; and making it a requirement either way will ultimately limit both the writer's art and the reader's pleasure.
It's called "The Narrative Breakdown"? I might have mentioned it here before. Anyway, we've had a great run of new episodes recently where we've been talking to some really cool writers, including:
- Chad Kultgen, novelist (The Average American Male) and screenwriter (The Incredible Burt Wonderstone), on his work and selling your writing
- Matt Bird, screenwriter, discussing subtext
- Jason Ginsburg, screenwriter, on creating deliberately episodic stories
- Corey Ann Haydu, YA novelist (OCD Love Story) and blogger, discussing her practice of keeping a journal and some ideas about YA romance
- E. Lockhart, YA novelist (The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, the Ruby Oliver books) and picture book writer, about going beyond the basics to challenge yourself as a writer
- And just today, Rainbow Rowell, novelist (Attachments, Eleanor and Park, and Fangirl, a.k.a. three of my favorite novels I've read this year), on character relationships.
You can subscribe to the podcast in iTunes, and do leave us a review if you enjoy it!
Also, we are coming up on our 25th episode of the NB, and we're planning a Q&A episode where we'll try to get through any questions that people have asked us that we haven't yet addressed. If you have a question for James and me that you'd like to see us answer, feel free to leave it in the comments below or on one of the show pages. Thanks!
- "Wow, my now-rather-intermittent blogging still qualifies me as a member of the media? Thanks for the free tickets, Cirque du Soleil!"
- "Hmm. The Barclays Center may look like a pile of old farm equipment on the outside, but it's super-nice on the inside, with great food options: Calexico, Fatty 'Cue, sushi, Nathan's, a kosher deli. . . . And these Calexico fish tacos are really good. Hooray for mango salsa!"
- "This is my fourth Cirque du Soleil show, after two big-top performances on Randalls Island and O in Las Vegas, so I know the drill: a 'quirky' frame story featuring a wondrous child and a goofy clown, linking acts of incredible beauty and physical accomplishment, all set to music by French-Canadian Enya impersonators. Will Quidam surprise me at all?"
- "But the formula works as ever: astonishing acrobats, gorgeous tableaux, swelling music, imaginative costumes, many moments that make you go 'Ooh' . . ."
- "Or as the Brooklyn lady next to me said to the contortionist as she lifted her leg over her head: 'Oh no, honey, don't!'"
- "The German wheel? This is new to me. How does he do that?"
- "(The answer that makes all things in this show possible: abs.)"
- "What's a Cirque du Soleil performer's favorite liquor? Abs-inthe."
- "And her favorite vodka? Abs-olut."
- "James and I should do this at our wedding."
- "Or perhaps we could involve the whole wedding party."
- "What do Cirque performers do on their days off? Abs-eiling."
- "The humor in this lengthy clown interlude isn't entirely scatological, but there are certainly more poop jokes than you get in the American circus. This accords with French picture books as well. There's a sociology article in here someplace . . ."
- "With sights like this, I'm almost ashamed to confess: I was a little bored. I felt I had seen it all before, either at prior Cirque shows or on the Olympics or even just at cabarets in the city. The problem in our modern age: When we can see everything at any time, it's harder to generate awe."
- "Though this problem may be entirely personal to me, as I'm old and spoiled. Children would have a wonderful time."
- "And if you've never seen a Cirque show before, Quidam would be a great introduction, as it's short, relatively cheap, easily accessible by public transport (as the Randalls Island shows weren't), and gorgeously executed and produced, as all Cirque shows are. Well worth the seeing."
- "I am in awe of the abs, though, really."
- "Of course they try to teach their kids to practice abs-tinence . . ."
- "(What must it be like to grow up as part of this international traveling human menagerie?)"
- "And if they fail, they go to church for abs-olution."
- "(Or be pregnant as a contortionist? Do you have to stop contorting for a while? Can you still do this with a baby?")
- "A stronger narrative would help the show as well here. . . . The Olympic gymnasts did many of these same moves, but because they happened in the context of a conflict against other athletes and their own limits, their story had stakes and meaning. The pleasure here, in contrast, is all in the beauty for beauty's sake."
- "The current Broadway revival of Pippin, which uses circus techniques, is really fun."
- "Cirque should hire Neil Gaiman to write a frame story for them. Or adapt Sandman! They have the dreamy sensibility and visual artistry for it, and it would bring a new audience in."
- "But perhaps this isn't fair to Cirque. They do what they intend to do, and do it well; and you can't ask for more from an artist or a show."
- "What do two Cirque artists in a relationship say when they go off on different tours? 'Abs-ence makes the heart grow fonder.'"
- "And on that note, good night."
runs through July 28 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. For tickets, please visit the Barclays Center box office; or www.cirquedusoleil.com/quidam, www.ticketmaster.com, or www.barclayscenter.com; or call 1-800-745-3000.
“Success is going from failure to failure without losing your enthusiasm.“ — Winston Churchill
“If you have made mistakes, even serious mistakes, you may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing we call ‘failure’ is not the falling down, but the staying down.” — Mary Pickford
“There is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.” — Buckminster Fuller
“Failure is the opportunity to begin again, more intelligently.” — Henry Ford
“I have not failed. I have just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” — Thomas Edison
“Success is often achieved by those who don't know that failure is inevitable.” — Coco Chanel
“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” —Herman Melville
“There are some books which refuse to be written. They stand their ground year after year and will not be persuaded. It isn't because the book is not there and worth being written -- it is only because the right form of the story does not present itself. There is only one right form for a story and if you fail to find that form the story will not tell itself.” — Mark Twain
“Have compassion for yourself when you write. There's no failure -- just a big field to wander in.” — Natalie Goldberg
“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him... a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create -- so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.” — Pearl S. Buck
“I may be dense, but I fail to see why a chap needs thirty pages to describe how he tosses and turns in bed before falling asleep.” — an English publisher on In Search of Lost Time
“The lot of critics is to be remembered by what they failed to understand.” – George Augustus Moore
“Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.“ – T. S. Eliot
“The failure to read good books both enfeebles the vision and strengthens our most fatal tendency -- the belief that the here and now is all there is.” – Allan Bloom
“It was our own moral failure and not any accident of chance, that while preserving the appearance of the Republic we lost its reality.” — Marcus Tullius Cicero
“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” — Elie Wiesel
“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” — James Baldwin
“Anybody who tries to convince me that foreign policy is more important than child rearing is doomed to failure.“ – Anna Quindlen
“Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death.” — Anais Nin
“Listen, here’s the thing about politics: It’s not an expression of your moral purity and your ethics and your probity and your fond dreams of some utopian future. Progressive people constantly fail to get this.” — Tony Kushner
“Do not commit the error, common among the young, of assuming that if you cannot save the whole of mankind, you have failed.” — Jan de Hartog
“Excuses: the first refuge of the failure.” — Yahia Lababidi
“The weakest living creature, by concentrating his powers on a single object, can accomplish something. The strongest, by dispensing his over many, may fail to accomplish anything. The drop, by continually falling, bores its passage through the hardest rock. The hasty torrent rushes over it with hideous uproar, and leaves no trace behind. — Thomas Carlyle
“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” — Teddy Roosevelt
“Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett
. . . was the LeakyCon 2013 Opening Ceremonies musical finale, written by Tessa Nutting et al., performed by an amazing cast (all of whom had about 48 hours' notice), and staged last Thursday in Portland, Oregon. If you're a fan of Rent, Doctor Who, Glee, Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Hunger Games, Sherlock, The Avengers or other superheroes, Bonnie Tyler, Disney musicals, Twilight, or John Green and Brotherhood 2.0, there was something in this number for you. (The basic plot setup is that while Frodo and Samwise Gamgee sought the Ring of Fandom, Loki tried to dissuade the various characters lost in the Forest of Fandom from hoping there could be a place where they could all unite . . . until the 12th Doctor showed up, and the rest is "La Vie Fandom.") Click the little "CC" beneath the YouTube window to turn on the captions and catch all the references.
And if you enjoy the video, come next year! It's a fantastic weekend.
From “All Is Well: The Epilogue in Children’s Fantasy Fiction,” by Mike Cadden, in Narrative, Vol. 20, No. 3 (October 2012):
James Phelan makes a distinction between closure—simply “the way a narrative signals its end,” and what he calls “completion”: “the degree of resolution accompanying the closure. Closure need not be tied to the resolution of instabilities and tensions but completeness always is.” Many children’s fantasy tales provide closure only to move on to what is (or functions as) epilogue in order to satisfy what is perceived to linger in the mind of the reader after plot has been resolved. Closure is about the mechanics of the narrative progression (e.g., a story of a journey will signal closure when the protagonist returns to the starting point), while completion is about “instabilities” that drive the progression and direct the interests of implied readers (if the protagonist in the journey plot sets out to right a wrong in another location and returns home with the situation in that place unchanged, the narrative would provide closure but not completion). In a similar vein, Maria Nikolajeva contrasts closure with the more specific phenomenon of “aperture,” which she describes as the state of psychological completion of the character at the end of the narrative. Will this character be well despite the rough ending? Can we extrapolate an upward swing in her fortunes or at least her relationship with her world?
I reprint this here because I always like finding official narrative theory terms for ideas or concepts editors have been using in practice for years:
- Closure: the story dynamics move it toward a clear end (and does not, say, abruptly quit in the middle of a scene, a la The Sopranos)
- Completion: with the conflicts or mysteries or lacks of the Action Plot resolved
- Aperture: And the protagonist’s emotional journey/plot likewise resolved in some way.
The presence of all three equals, I think, the most emotionally satisfying ending — though not perhaps the most challenging or innovative, if that’s what you’re going for instead.
A very interesting article if you like thinking about endings, epilogues, or why we write and publish for children the way we do.
I owe you an apology, dear readers. Due to the blog hiatus I've taken for most of the year thus far, it's entirely possible that you have gone an entire five months without hearing about Kay Honeyman's The Fire Horse Girl
-- and if that is so, then you have been MISSING OUT. Because while this book isn't fantasy, it features many of the things I love best from the girl-power-fantasy novels that are dear to my and so many readers' hearts (think Tamora Pierce, Robin McKinley, Elizabeth Bunce, Kristen Cashore):
- A heroine who's stubborn, willful, kind, outspoken, out of step with her society -- and utterly wonderful
- A plot that offers her the chance to make a better life for herself, if she has the courage to take it
- A love interest who's equally well-developed, and has an agenda of his own
- Terrific characters all around
- Tense action scenes
- Swoony romance scenes
All tied up in a story that sheds light on a too-little-known fact of American history: the existence of Angel Island, the West Coast equivalent of Ellis Island, where Chinese immigrants (and usually Chinese immigrants only) could be held for weeks, months, or even years. But the book is never heavy -- only real.
As a matter of fact, as I'm thinking about it, I may have done you a FAVOR by holding out on you so long on this book, because it would make delightful summer reading: meaty enough that your brain doesn't rot with the sweetness, but still pleasurable all the way down.
Kay Honeyman is just as much fun in person as she is on the page, and I'm glad to have her here for a Q&A.How did you come to write The Fire Horse Girl?
I always have trouble backing up to the beginning of writing The Fire Horse Girl
. My first instinct is to say that the story began to form when I heard about Angel Island. It was a slice of American history and specifically America’s immigration history I only discovered as an adult.
But, I wouldn’t have attached so strongly to that setting if my husband and I weren’t in the midst of adopting a child from China. I was not just drawn to the place, but its stories because my son would have his own immigration story. At first, I imagined all the wonderful things that the child would gain by coming to America. When I looked at the story from my perspective, my son Jack was gaining a home and a family. He would live in land of opportunity and possibilities. But when I considered his point-of-view, he was coming to a strange house in a strange country to live with strange people. It opened my eyes to the price that people pay to immigrate.
If you take the inspiration back one step further, it started with a deep love of stories in general. I used to lay the big books on my parents’ shelves in my lap and read every two and three-letter-word that I knew. The Fire Horse Girl
probably came from all of those layers of inspiration plus a lot of work and a little serendipity.What sort of research did you do?
The kind that piles up in boxes and notebooks all around the house. The kind that involves Friday night trips to the library because I really need to find out the names of ships that travelled between China and San Francisco in 1923. The kind that you have to shake yourself out of because you have a story to write.
I read novels set in China like Spring Moon
by Bette Bao Lord and The Good Earth
by Pearl Buck. I spent hours on the Angel Island Immigration Foundation website. I read Chinese poetry and took Chinese language classes because the rhythm of structure of the Chinese language is very different from English, and I wanted to have a feel for it. I also researched the poems on the walls in the barracks at Angel Island. I filled notebooks and files with picture of the dorms at Angel Island, kitchens in 1900 China, and alleys in Chinatown. I wrote lists of details in the margins of scenes. I poured through Arnold Genthe’s pictures of Chinatown before the fire that destroyed Old Chinatown in 1906 (same year that Jade Moon was born) because I wanted to dig through the rubble that formed the foundation of the Chinatown Jade Moon would have to navigate.
I think the most important part of my research was my trip to China to pick up Jack. It isn’t that I picked up specific details that I put in the book, but it gave me a richer understanding of China and the Chinese. It gave me a peek at the rhythms of life, community, and family. What was the most difficult part of writing or revising the novel for you? What flowed the easiest?
The first draft is the hardest for me. Writing that initial version is frustrating because it never lives up to the image of the story I have in my head. It doesn’t even come close. Neither does the second or third or twenty-third draft, but in later drafts you have progress you can measure. For me, a first draft is just bad, it isn’t better than the last, or moving closer to the story I want to tell. It is just messy and so very, very wrong.
On the other hand, I love revision. It is exciting to find the right fix for glitch in the story or develop a moment into its full potential. I love watching the rough edges of a story smooth into this glassy surface that the reader can skate across.
I especially love the moment in the revision process when you aren’t guessing anymore, when you aren’t experimenting, when the story is more right than wrong. It feels like turning into your neighborhood after a long journey. It doesn’t mean the work is over, but there’s the sense that you are heading to a place you’ve been trying to get to for a long time. How much of the book did you have planned out before you wrote it? Are you a plotter or a pantser generally?
Uhhg, you had to ask. And I tried so hard to hide it. I am a pantser who tries desperately to be a plotter. I am a very organized person. I love lists and papers stacked across the top of my desk. I make multiple outlines, but the story strays so far from the outline that I’m not sure I get to claim the title of plotter. Maybe I am just a horrible plotter. Is there a category for that?
I do like one element of being a pantser/horrible plotter. I tend to have a very fluid vision of the story. I’m more likely to see why something could happen then why it couldn’t. And I have a high tolerance for revisions. I don’t have any illusions that something must happen.Admit it: You’re a Fire Horse girl too, right? (I am an Earth Horse myself!) Even if you aren’t: What qualities do you most and least admire in Jade Moon? Are they qualities you yourself share?
You are an Earth Horse! Did you know we are both hard-working signs? However, your sense of humor is far superior to mine.
I am a Water Ox – patient, dependable, determined. I would make a disastrous character in a novel because in a crisis I make a to-do list and label color-coded file folders. So, I am pretty much the opposite of Jade Moon, but I admire her strength and spirit of determination. I also admire her big dreams and the way she ignores the impossibility of them.
I come from a family of strong women. My sister is a Fire Dragon and my son Jack and my mother are both Fire Pigs. I love people with a fire inside them. They bring fresh perspective and passion to life. They aren’t afraid to burn through the old to see if there is something better behind it.
The trait I most share with Jade Moon is probably the one that gets her in the most trouble – her stubbornness. However, a little stubbornness can help you hold your own, teach eighth-grade, and write a book. What books have been the most influential in your reading and writing lives?
I open every book expecting to be delighted, and I take in some element from most books that I read. I would probably make a terrible editor, but I make a great reader.
I love Jane Austen, especially Pride and Prejudice
. I love any book that looks at a society – F. Scott Fitgerald, Elizabeth Gaskell, Margaret Mitchell.
There are also so many talented contemporary authors in YA. Elizabeth Eulberg (Lonely Hearts Club, Take a Bow, Prom and Prejudice,
and Revenge of the Girl with the Great Personality
) creates characters with flaws that just make them more relatable and more charming. Paul Volponi (The Final Four, Rikers High, Rucker Park Setup, Black and White
) packs sweeping stories into tight settings and timelines. Whole stories get threaded through the overtime of a Final Four basketball game. It is like a gritty Hemingway if Hemingway wrote about basketball instead of bullfighting. I could go on and on. The more I write, the more I find to admire in other writers.
I also keep a few books on writing at my elbow. My two favorites are Second Sight
(I am unabashedly slipping it into this interview because I tell everyone how amazing it is). Since I can’t email you every time I have a minor dilemma or a major nervous breakdown, I keep it close. I also love my Synonym Finder
(love, adore, cherish, esteem, prize, etc.). What are you reading now? And writing?
I just finished 52 Reasons to Hate My Father
by Jessica Brody. It is always fun to watch teenagers realize that their potential soars far above people’s expectations. My first summer read is going to be Eleanor and Park
by Rainbow Rowell.
I am working on a book set in West Texas. It is about Friday night football, small towns, and politics. It is full of women with sweet smiles and sharp tongues, high-stakes competition on and off the field, and a love that takes a few detours. I want to tell the story of a girl who discovers the beauty in life’s imperfections.
And what the heck, we'll do another giveaway here too, for a proper hardcover edition this time. Calculate your Chinese Zodiac sign
and tell me both what you are and whether that (or any other form of astrological sign) matches your personality. (I don't think I'm a particularly notable Horse, for instance, but I am totally
Queen of the Virgos -- a similarity between sign and personality that fascinates me, even as I think most daily horoscopes are bunk.)
There's a new Narrative Breakdown up at the website -- this time on Revision Techniques (Part I), as James and I talk through a few of my favorite methods of figuring out what you want your book to do, what it IS doing, and how it can be made to do all of that better. If you've read Second Sight or taken any of my classes, these will not be news to you, but it might be fun to listen anyway. (Talking about outlining is everyone's idea of a good time, right? Right? Yay! So you'll enjoy this.)
Registration is now open at the Dakotas SCBWI website for a full Novel Writing Workshop with me, October 4-6 in Custer, South Dakota. This workshop will involve my Plot Master Class on Saturday and my intensive talks on Character and Voice on Sunday, and it's the only conference appearance I'm making the rest of this year, due to my upcoming wedding and honeymoon. Other than this, I do not plan to offer said Master Class again (online or in person) until next spring, so here's your chance if you want to catch it in 2013.
I will also be at LeakyCon in Portland June 27-30, participating in general shenanigans.
Finally, I will admit to using my blog as commonplace book and diary as much as means of transmitting information, and as such, I've made a habit of recording my running times here to track my progress through the years. Now I have a nice new personal best to note: The Brooklyn Half-Marathon, May 18, 2013, 1:59:28 -- with a personal best 10K in there too, at 56:39. Woo! I never get over the pleasurable strangeness of me, a longtime Enemy of All Things Exercise and In Particular Running, being able to do multiple miles in a single bound. (Or many bounds, really. You get the idea.)
Our twice-a-year roundup of selected titles deemed of especial interest to librarians is now live at Scholastic.com! You can see a wide number of Scholastic editors and authors present the books we've been working on for your delight. Check it out here.
On my end, I talk about If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth, mentioned below, and the awesome The Nazi Hunters by Neal Bascomb, the first-ever full-length narrative nonfiction book I've had the pleasure of working on. It's about the hunt for Adolf Eichmann -- the operations manager for the Holocaust, more or less -- after he escaped Nazi Germany post-World War II, so it combines elements of a mystery novel, a spy story, a Holocaust tale, and a revenge thriller . . . and the pictures we've found for it are just fantastic. Come this September, I'm excited to show you more!
If anyone ever accuses me of publishing only one kind of book, I will first laugh uproariously and then, stone-faced, point them to this blog post:
ZOE'S ROOM (NO SISTERS ALLOWED)
The Queen of the Universe has a wonderful room --
and unfortunately, she has to share it.
(Unless you have a very special monitor, this image does not show
the copious and delightful amount of glitter on the cover.)
THE PATH OF NAMES
The only Jewish summer-camp math-genius Kabbalistic fantasy novel you'll ever need.
A gay book for the Glee generation,
about being out, being proud . . . and being ready for something else.
"One of the best gay-themed YA novels of the past ten years."
-- Michael Cart, Booklist, starred review
IF I EVER GET OUT OF HERE
A beautifully written historical YA by an acclaimed adult novelist,
about the transformative powers of good friendship and good music.
Because I have the last name "Klein" and I live in New York City, a lot of people I meet here assume I'm Jewish
-- an assumption that I'm fine with, even as I called myself the "imprint shiksa" for my first few years at Arthur A. Levine Books
. So while it's entirely possible that Ari Goelman's agent sent me the manuscript for The Path of Names
because she thought I might have a religious connection to the material, I fell in love with it for my own reasons:
- Some of the realest kid characters I've ever read in a novel, with dialogue that exactly captures the way kids can switch from snarkiness to sensitivity in a turn.
- With that, a terrific sense of humor and jokes that made me laugh out loud more than once.
- A 12-year-old heroine -- Dahlia Sherman -- who loves performance magic and math more than popularity and fashion, and who holds herself a little apart from her peers in part because of that lack of shared interests, and in part because she fears their rejection. (This was probably my real point of identification with the book, I do confess it.)
- A totally original combination of elements: A contemporary Jewish summer camp story set in Pennsylvania and starring Dahlia, crossed with a story about a yeshiva student named David in the Lower East Side of New York City in the 1930s, both shot through with fantasy and mystery.
- A terrific title.
- A kind of magic I had never seen before in a fantasy novel -- and when you've read as many fantasy novels as I have, that's saying something.
The challenge such books face in the publishing industry is that they'll often be regarded as "only for Jewish readers" -- just as books about girls are only for girls, or books about gay kids as only for gay kids, or books about Latinos are only for Latinos. If you aren't yourself Jewish, then you should read it and help us explode those stereotypes; and if you are Jewish -- and especially if you went to a Jewish camp as Ari Goelman did -- then you'll find even more to recognize and enjoy in the book. It is certainly the only book I've edited ever to be written up in The Times of Israel,
as "A Jewish Harriet Potter."
And it's also received a starred review from Booklist.
I'm delighted to welcome Ari Goelman to my blog for a Q&A.What novels were the biggest influence on you when you were a young reader (ages 8-18)?
As a middle-grade reader I loved the Susan Cooper ‘The Dark is Rising’ series, especially the novel The Dark Os Rising.
I also loved the book The Silver Crown
, and (as I got older) pretty much any high fantasy I could get my hands on, starting with The Lord of the Rings
trilogy and ending with ... whatever the latest high fantasy was. As a slightly older teen reader I discovered Steven Brust and Roger Zelazny – especially loving Brust’s To Reign In Hell
and Zelazny’s Lord of Light
. Which, now that I think about it, were both pretty centrally concerned with magic and religion, albeit in a totally different way than The Path of Names
.There are so many interesting ideas packed into this book -- summer camp, Kabbala, magic (real-world and fantasy), mazes, Lower East Side history. . . . Where did it start for you? How did these other elements develop in it?
I think it started with a summer camp story, and evolved from there. Once I decided to set the story in a Jewish summer camp, I thought, “Hmm. Jewish summer camp – Jewish magic. That seems to make sense.”
Then, once I started thinking about Jewish magic, that naturally led to Kabbala and the rest. I’ve always been interested in the somewhat forgotten elements of Jewish folklore. I was raised as a conservative Jew where the party line was, ‘We don’t believe in magic. Or the afterlife. Or demons. Or witches...’ I was a young adult before I started to come across references to all the Jewish superstitions that saturated the Jewish world for centuries before the Enlightenment.
Described in that way, it might make me seem a little smarter than I am. Here is the way it actually worked: I’d be in synagogue for a cousin’s bar mitzvah or such, and there’d be a mention of an anecdote in the Talmud about a rabbi hurling lightning at another rabbi. The lesson would supposedly be something about tolerance or arrogance. But I would sit there thinking, ‘A rabbi hurling lightning? That is so cool! I would love to read a fantasy story about that.’
As far as the parts set in the Lower East Side, my grandfather grew up in the 1930s Lower East Side, and I always loved the stories that he and my great uncles would tell about their boyhoods in the tenements. When I was older I discovered that he had visited the spot in rural Pennsylvania which ultimately became my summer camp some fifty years before I was a camper there. I loved the thought of somehow combining those two milieus.The fantasy magic in the book is based in what I understand to be a very esoteric Jewish religious practice – the Kabbala – but the book isn’t religious at all. Dahlia and the other kids spend very little time contemplating God. You also have a provocative epigraph where you quote Bernie Cloud: “Religion is just magic, but with more words.” How do your own relationships with religion and magic emerge in The Path of Names?
I think I very much share the ambivalence towards Judaism (and organized religion in general) that is evidenced in The Path of Names
. It was fun to write a story where all the Jewish magic works. The world would be so much simpler if you could verify religious belief systems with some sort of physical manifestation ... say, calling down lightning on your enemies. Religion aside, I find magic and the supernatural creeps into most everything I write. I’m not totally sure why this is. Like I mentioned before, I’ve always been an avid reader of fantasy literature. Maybe it comes from my general interest in ideas of power and resistance, especially when they’re operating in ways that are secret, or at least hard to see. I have this sense (which I think is pretty broadly shared in contemporary society) that power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few in ways that are hard for the rest of us to see, let alone to resist. Also -- let’s face it -- magic is fun. It would be fun to be a thirteen-year-old with the power to change things, even if the odds seemed stacked against you. What is your favorite part of the writing process (planning, drafting, revising, etc.) and why? Oh geez. That’s a hard one. On the one hand, writing the first draft is definitely the most difficult part for me. You’re staring at the blank page, and you have so far to go before it’s done, and it probably won’t be any good anyway, and shouldn’t you work on a new blog post, or maybe go start on dinner or something? Contrast that to revising, where you have a manuscript and you’re reading it and making it better. On some level, I’m scared of the blank page in a way that I’m not scared of revising. Now here’s the complicated part – difficult as it is for me, the mingled feeling of fear and distaste ... and excitement when I write that first draft is the reason I write. That feeling of creating something new is the best part. If I go a few days without writing something new, I start worrying that I’m never going to write anything again. I don’t like that feeling. A couple of reviews have praised the book for having the main character, Dahlia, be a smart girl who loves math. Did you envision the protagonist of the book as a girl from the beginning, or was that a deliberate choice later in the process? What challenges did you face, if any, in writing across gender, and how did you overcome them? I always saw the protagonist as a girl. When I wrote the short story that eventually grew into The Path of Names, I had this very clear memory of a girl at my summer camp complaining about how another girl wasn’t friends with her any more. I ended up making Dahlia far more independent than that girl, but there was never any question that the main character would be female. The challenges that I faced had to do with uniquely female things – for instance, how much would a thirteen-year-old girl notice the curviness or the lack of curviness of her peers? Being married to a former thirteen-year-old girl who is happy to answer these kinds of questions was invaluable in overcoming this obstacle.
You have a five-year-old and a set of very young twins at home. Plus you teach. How do you work in any writing time? Do you have a set schedule or process?The short answer is: it’s hard. Not just to work in writing time, but to make the most of the writing time I have, given the exhaustion of being a working parent with three small children. More often than not, one or more of our beautiful little people is sick or getting a tooth or just generally dissatisfied with their sleeping arrangements and would like to express their displeasure repeatedly at 1:00 a.m. 1:30 a.m., 2:30 a.m. and so on. I’ve discovered that I can do a pretty good job at some tasks when I’m tired, but writing a novel is not one of them. There’s too much to hold in your head, and too much concentration required. Having said all that, I do try to write to a set schedule, as I think the alternative is a ‘no writing’ schedule. I am still making progress in my ongoing writing projects, just not nearly as fast as I would like. What are you reading now? I just finished reading Steven King’s The Wind at the Keyhole which I thought was great, especially the two stories-within-a-story. I have just started Seer of Shadows by Avi, but I’m still too early into it to have formed an opinion. I’m also reading Harry Potter to my five-year-old (who would probably like me to point out that she’s almost six), and I’m enjoying it through her eyes all over again. Please visit Ari's website. +++ GIVEAWAY! Though The Path of Names is in stores now (hint hint hint & hint), you can win one of my three remaining copies of an ARC of the book by leaving a comment below with any of the following: one thing that you've never seen in a fantasy before and you'd like to; your own provocative epigraph (or epitaph, if you prefer); or the identity that people mistake you for based on your name, if applicable.
Soon after James and I began dating, lo these many years ago, I met his friend Jhumki Basu -- one of the most energetic, accomplished, and inspiring people I've ever known. She helped found a charter school in Bed-Stuy devoted to democratic learning, and especially to the goal of encouraging urban youth to pursue science. She got her doctorate at New York University and became a professor there in science education. She ran triathalons, wrote poetry, traveled widely, agitated politically, took care of her friends. And then in 2009 -- "tragedy" does not begin to cover this -- she passed away from metastatic breast cancer at the age of 31.
Now her father, Dipak Basu -- who is also James's and my friend -- has written a book about her life, entitled Mission to Teach. It is not only a full biography of Jhumki, it is also a father's memoir of his daughter; a brave and heart-wringing cancer narrative; and very much the story of a coming-of-age of a teacher, of how Jhumki's pedagogy evolved through her years of teaching and research, and how her work continues through the educational foundation her parents set up in her name. The foreword by Jane Goodall (yes, THAT Jane Goodall) states, "This is a powerful, beautifully written book," and in capturing the spark that Jhumki was to so many people, I couldn't agree more.
The book is available at all major online retailers, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can read more about it here, and about the ongoing science-education work of the Jhumki Basu Foundation here. Thank you for checking it out, and for keeping the spark alive.
Long silence, sorry. Life happening. Life is work (some really fascinating books coming up this summer); cooking (I have a great new kitchen and the Mark Bittman How to Cook Everything cookbooks and apps, and I'm loving using both); teaching (in the last two weeks of my Writer's Digest Plot Master Class); and running (the Brooklyn Half-Marathon is in three weeks, and I have to run ten miles later today). Also Mad Men, because I trust Matt Weiner to take us somewhere good.
The Narrative Breakdown podcast is back! James has posted two episodes in the last two weeks, including one on "First Person POV in Film," with our friend Jack Tomas, and "Crafting Subjectivity within Objective Point of View" -- or, more accurately, how to convey a character's thoughts when you're writing third-person -- with me.
Some tidbits I've written in the Master Class discussions, to make up for the lack of content here:
In terms of manuscript reading, when I'm hearing a pitch or something, I think of something "new" as:
1) an unfamiliar/unusual setting or character -- often meaning an international or historical setting, as with WORDS IN THE DUST in the lesson, or a delightful YA historical I published this last spring, THE FIRE HORSE GIRL. Most parts of the United States do not get to count as new.
2) an unusual combination of elements -- like ninja chick lit, or a dystopian verse novel (not that I have actually seen one of these, but it would certainly be new) (and kind of awesome if done right, now that I'm thinking about it).
3) An inversion of the usual: An eight-year-old boy who hates dogs, for instance (rather than wanting one as does most of his fictional ilk), or a teenage girl who becomes a superheroine by staying at home (like Sansa Stark made awesome).
I think the key things that make a book "quiet" are the stakes, the pace, and the tone of the voice. When the stakes are low -- when what might happen obviously isn't going to be life-changing in any direction; for instance, will a certain character make it home in time for dinner -- then it's easy for a reader not to feel invested in the action, since who cares? When the novel dwells more on tiny moments than big gestures -- when the camera is set on an ultra-zoom on the action, let's say, so every glance or twitch seems to have importance to the author -- that can be lovely if we're invested in the characters and the stakes (a la Jane Austen novels) . . . or it can be deadly slow and quiet, because everything takes forever to narrate, and none of the action is very dramatic, or out of the ordinary way.
And the tone . . . well, there's a difference between a narrator who says "And then it went SPLAT! all over the dirt!" and the one who says "It fell to the ground," or the one who takes the time to craft a lovely simile about the moon and include it in the story vs. the one who says "The blood looked black in the moonlight." Which is not to say one is better than the other, because one isn't, and I really like some quieter books -- Sara Zarr and Cath Crowley's novels come to mind. But I do think that if you're writing a quieter novel in today's marketplace, you have to have a really strong voice and really great characters to whom the reader deeply connects to make up for that lack of action.
I think quiet stories achieve success when the world and characters they portray are SO REAL and SO RICH and textured and believable that readers can't help but become involved in them, because they tell the truth about the world we live in -- even if the world in the book is not our particular world. These stories do the small particulars so well they become large and universal.
Dream sequences can serve a useful function in a novel if the dramatized dream helps the protagonist realize something that is buried deep in his/her unconscious, and that realization plays a role in the plot. BUT, far too often, they are excuses for writers to have lots of beautiful symbols and foreshadowing floating around for a bit that then takes forever to pay off in the actual action, AND they stop that action dead in its tracks for however many pages while the writer gets his or her symbolic ya-yas out. AND some writers use them as the primary way for the main character to receive information, which just feels cheap, as the main character isn't earning that information in any way -- it's a gift to the character from the writer, which really means a gift to the writer from his/herself. I like symbolism (or more accurately, image systems) a lot, and I think it can really enrich a book, but very often dream sequences just feel self-indulgent to me. If you have a lot of them, be sure every one is truly essential to the story, and keep them short.
George Santayana is perhaps most famous today for the aphorism "Those who do not study the past are condemned to repeat it" `` a quote I disagree with, actually, as even those who study the past often find themselves sliding into the same human mistakes. But I very much like a lot of the rest of what he says -- and I think of the "fashion" quote especially at Fashion Week and in H&M:
The wisest mind has something yet to learn.
Nothing is really so poor and melancholy as art that is interested in itself and not in its subject.
Matters of religion should never be matters of controversy. We neither argue with a lover about his taste, nor condemn him, if we are just, for knowing so human a passion.
To delight in war is a merit in the soldier, a dangerous quality in the captain, and a positive crime in the statesman.
There is wisdom in turning as often as possible from the familiar to the unfamiliar: it keeps the mind nimble, it kills prejudice, and it fosters humor.
All living souls welcome whatever they are ready to cope with; all else they ignore, or pronounce to be monstrous and wrong, or deny to be possible.
Fashion is something barbarous, for it produces innovation without reason and imitation without benefit.
Cultivate imagination, love it, give it endless forms, but do not let it deceive you. Enjoy the world, travel over it and learn its ways, but do not let it hold you.
The lover knows much more about absolute good and universal beauty than the logician or theologian, unless the latter, too, be lovers in disguise.
There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the interval.
There are books in which the footnotes or comments scrawled by some reader's hand in the margin are more interesting than the text. The world is one of these books.
During Lent, the minister of the church I attend sends out daily reflections over e-mail. This is today's, and I think it's wonderful. From The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, by James Martin:
When I was a novice, one of my spiritual directors quoted the Scottish philosopher John Macmurray, who contrasted "real religion" and "illusory religion." The maxim of "illusory religion" is as follows: "Fear not; trust in God and God will see that none of the things you fear will happen to you." "Real religion," said Macmurray, has a different maxim: "Fear not; the things you are afraid of are quite likely to happen to you, but they are nothing to be afraid of."
Someone has altered the script.
My lines have been changed.
The other actors are shifting roles.
They don't come on when they're expected to,
and they don't say the lines I've written
and I'm being upstaged.
I thought I was writing this play
with a rather nice role for myself,
small, but juicy
and some excellent lines.
But nobody gives me my cues
and the scenery has been replaced
and I don't recognize the new sets.
This isn't the script I was writing.
I don't understand this play at all.
To grow up
is to find
the small part you are playing
in this extraordinary drama
From Lines Scribbled on an Envelope and Other Poems (FSG, 1969)
Lord, I love Zadie Smith's essays, like this wonderful piece in last week's New Yorker on Joni Mitchell, changing artistic tastes, changing selves, and artistic continuity:
Who could have understood Abraham? He is discontinuous with himself. The girl who hated Joni and the woman who loves her seem to me similarly divorced from each other, two people who happen to have shared the same body. It's the feeling we get sometimes when we find a diary we wrote, as teenagers, or sit at dinner listening to an old friend tell some story about us of which we have no memory. It's an everyday sensation for most of us, yet it proves a tricky sort of problem for those people who hope to make art. For though we know and recognize discontinuity in our own lives, when it comes to art we are deeply committed to the idea of continuity. I find myself to be radically discontinuous with myself -- but how does one re-create this principle in fiction? What is a character if not a continuous, consistent personality? If you put Abraham in a novel, a lot of people who throw that novel across the room. What's his motivation? How can he love his son and yet be prepared to kill him? Abraham is offensive to us. It is by reading and watching consistent people on the page, stage, and screen that we are reassured of our own consistency.
This made me think of the fact that often the moments I love most in fiction or film are the moments where a character does something that is seemingly inconsistent with his or her outward character, but completely consistent with his or her inward self, which we've glimpsed throughout the proceedings . . . a sacrifice, an unexpectedly marvelous dance, a moment of honesty or tenderness they weren't capable of at the beginning. It is often the revelation of that character's strength through the demonstration of their vulnerability, and it shows us layers, dimensions, complexity, reality, all the things I like best.
That said, I disagree a little with the last few sentences of the paragraph I quote above because I don't find Abraham inconsistent at all; his obedience to his god simply outranks his love for his son, which could certainly be found offensive if you disagree with those rankings, but which is not a matter of discontinuity. And I think I like watching consistent fictional people not because I am like them, but because their dependability, the cleanliness of their consistency, anchors and comforts me in my own wild ups and downs. One of the great joys of fiction is that it can be neater than life; the best fiction either organizes the reader's emotions completely, I think, or just barely manages the messiness of reality.
Agree? Disagree? In my inconstancy, I'm open to persuasion.
Finally, this essay also reminded me of this extraordinary version of "Both Sides Now" -- made famous in the Emma Thompson weeping scene in "Love, Actually" -- which almost makes me cry every time I hear it with its texture of pain and wisdom. It is worth stopping what you're doing to breathe and to listen:
Earlier this fall, I asked my Seattle-area blog readers to go out to a signing for Stephanie Trimberger's The Ruby Heart -- a book Arthur and I worked on with her as part of the Make-a-Wish program, as chronicled in this video. I'm sorry to have to report that Stephanie passed away in November. But her memory lives on with her novel, and Make-a-Wish has now made The Ruby Heart available as a free PDF download for anyone who'd like to read it. You can check it out here.
(Thank you to reader Pamela for the heads-up.)
But it is AMAZING: just astonishingly good writing with wise and painful things to say about writing, or being human, or pain and death, or reality, and/or the relationship among all of the above.
First, there is this excellent piece from a Magazine editor about why writers (himself especially) don't always follow through on ideas, and how this can be a mixed blessing. Its headline is a good writerly aphorism, even though you can only see the truth of it in retrospect: "Be Wrong as Fast as You Can."
Then, there is this extraordinary story about a young man who shot his girlfriend, then turned himself in; how her parents decided to forgive him, and have worked hard at that forgiveness, with his parents equally involved; and the process, restorative justice, that opens up new avenues of healing for the victims, and (it seems) both punishment and healing for the perpetrator.
Finally, there is this wonderful profile of the writer George Saunders, which pairs beautifully with the forgiveness story, actually: Because they are both about looking at the reality of the world and its pain, and choosing how to respond in a way that is both open to the pain and compassionate to others within it. My favorite quotes from the article:
I began to understand art as a kind of black box the reader enters. He enters in one state of mind and exits in another. The writer gets no points just because what's inside the box bears some linear resemblance to 'real life' -- he can put whatever he wants in there. What's important is that something undeniable and nontrivial happens to the reader between entry and exit.
If you have a negative tendency and you deny it, then you've doubled it. If you have a negative tendency and you look at it [which is, in part, what the process of writing allows] then the possibility exists that you can convert it.
You can find the astounding, heartbreaking short story referenced in the article, "The Semplica-Girl Diaries," here
at the New Yorker
, along with an interview with Saunders
about the story. And that interview (which you must not
read before you read the story!) has more wonderful gems:
Early on, a story’s meaning and rationale seem pretty obvious, but then, as I write it, I realize that I know the meaning/rationale too well, which means that the reader will also know it—and so things have to be ramped up. Einstein said (or, at least, I am always quoting him as having said), “No worthy problem is ever solved within the plane of its original conception.” So this was an example of that: my “original conception” (i.e., the dream and its associated meaning) had to be outgrown—or built upon.
When something really bad is going on in a culture, the average guy doesn’t see it. He can’t. He’s average. And is surrounded by and immersed in the cant and discourse of the status quo. The average person in the U.S., in, say, 1820, assumed white superiority, and, if he happened to be against slavery, was for a gradual solution, which probably involved sending all the slaves back to Africa, notwithstanding the fact that most of them had never been there and were Americans in every respect. And this would be the nice, moderate, urbane, educated person of that time, who fancied himself “progressive.”
One thing I always feel in the midst of trying to talk coherently about a story I’ve finished is that, you know, ninety per cent of it was intuitive, done at-speed, for reasons I can’t quite articulate, except in the “A felt better than B” way. All these choices add up, and make the surface of the story, and, of course, the thematics and all that—but I’m not usually thinking about any of that too much, or too overtly. It’s more feeling than thinking—or a combination of the two, with feeling being in charge, and thinking sort of running around behind, making overly literal suggestions, and those feelings being sounded out and exercised and manifested via heavy editing and rewriting (as opposed to, say, planning and deciding). The important part of the writing process, for me, is trying to make choices that push the story in the most interesting direction, by which I mean the direction that causes the story to give off the most light. The story’s goal is to be fascinating and stimulating and irreducible; the writer’s job is to micromanage the text to make this happen.
The artist’s job, I think, is to be a conduit for mystery. To intuit it, and recognize that the story-germ has some inherent mystery in it, and sort of midwife that mystery into the story in such a way that it isn’t damaged in the process, and may even get heightened or refined.
If there is one thing I worry about most in the, um, rigorous
way I edit or teach plot, it is that too much thinking and too-intense questioning will kill that mystery for writers -- the feeling, the energy, the electric-fence emotion at its heart. And if there's one thing I look for in manuscripts, it's the ability to generate that mystery or emotion (which sometimes can be happy too, I hasten to say). If you can bring it, truly create it, make me weep as the forgiveness story did or feel both sorrowing and uplifted as "The Semplica- Girl Diaries" did . . . We need more people like you writing for children and young adults.
I'm pleased to announce that Writers Digest University and I will again be offering an online, eight-week version of my Plot Master Class, starting later this spring!
Goodness, what a clogged sentence. To detangle it, with elements in order of importance:
- Plot Master Class: An extremely in-depth course on the elements of plotting, including purpose, stakes, structure, subplots, and pacing. The goal is to help you understand the point of your novel, how your plot can and should serve that point, and what revisions you need to do to make that plot as tight and powerful as possible. (My book Second Sight goes into some of this, but the class covers it in much greater depth and detail, and also reflects various revisions in my own thinking on plot since I wrote the book.)
- Online: You'll read lectures and complete associated exercises interrogating your manuscript and its plot, with the opportunity to ask as many questions of me as you'd like in the online discussions.
- Eight-week: I've taught this class as a one-day workshop at various locations around the country; this course distributes those lessons over eight weeks, allowing participants more time to absorb the material and complete the exercises.
- Starting later this spring: March 14, to be precise, with homework to be completed before the course begins.
- Writers Digest University and I: I developed the materials, and Writers Digest University offers the online setting.
- Again: The current session of the course started in November and is coming to an end now; I've really enjoyed it, and the participants say it's been useful to them!
The most common question I get about this course is "Do I have to have a completed draft of a manuscript?" My instinct is that it will be most useful to people who have completed a first draft of a manuscript and are ready to dig back into it, see what they have, and start polishing it up. (After all, the first exercise is to make an in-depth outline of your current book, and later exercises involve analyzing said outline.) But I've heard from a few past students that they took the course without a completed draft, and it helped them figure out where they wanted to take their books.
If you're interested, please check out the full course description and register here
. Any other questions on the course, I'm happy to answer in the comments. Thank you!
The online existence of this preview will be old news to many, but good news to more: Behold the lineup of Scholastic's Spring 2013 books! We recorded it a little bit differently this time, so you get a glimpse inside many of editors' offices, including mine*, where I talk about the books:
- The Path of Names by Ari Goelman, at 13:46 in middle grade -- The ONLY Jewish summer-camp fantasy you'll ever read or need: Diana Wynne Jones meets Chaim Potok in the Poconos, with a wholly original magic and some of the smartest, most believably snarky 12-year-olds ever to appear in a novel. Out in May.
- Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg, at 8:00 in YA -- This has pretty much everything I'm looking for in a novel these days: An original, provocative premise; wonderful characters; a smart, funny, relateable voice; believable consequences to its action; the courage of its convictions in following through on its ideas and story; and pleasure in reading, provoking thought long after. Also: THIS IS NOT JUST A BOOK FOR GAY PEOPLE. STRAIGHT PEOPLE SHOULD READ IT AND WILL LOVE IT TOO. (I feel the need to make that point.) Out in June.
- The Fire Horse Girl by Kay Honeyman, immediately after it -- This book satisfied every single teen-girl reader part of me: the headstrong heroine, who was sometimes lonely because of her iconoclasm; the fascinating historical background of Angel Island and San Francisco in the age of the tongs; terrific adventures; a romance whose tiny gestures I could reread again and again. In stores now!
There will be more to say about all of these books in the course of the year. In the meantime, won't you please check the preview out to see them now?
* Fun fact: The KID LIT Missouri license plate you can see over my shoulder belonged to my grandfather
Dear blog, so much has been happening -- I moved apartments! I have much work to do! I need to buy a sofa! And a dining room set! I'm going to a conference and on vacation! But I must finish the work first! -- that you are being sadly neglected. (Happy belated blogiversary, by the way.) Here is a quick substantive post stolen from the discussion board on my recent Plot Master Class to make up for what will probably be a continuing silence for a bit.
Q. I'm into my week 8 analysis assignment and am very intrigued by the question "What is the emotional or philosophical subtext to this conversation?" I'd never before considered that I should have a subtext to my scene, and yet, when prompted to think about it, I realized I do have one (at least I have one in the scene I chose to analyze). Cheryl, would you mind expanding on concept of subtexts, perhaps even share a Rule of Thumb or two? For example, should an author consciously create the subtext? How should the subtext of various scenes relate to each other? How should the subtext relate to the plot? Will every scene have one? (And if it doesn't have one, is that yet another sign that maybe the scene needs to go?)
A. Interesting question! To start with the simplest question first: I don't think every scene needs to have a subtext, or that the lack of one dictates the scene's deletion. As Freud is said to have said, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar :-) , and sometimes one character is just asking another to stop by the store and pick up some milk (say), with no real implications beyond breakfast the next day.
On the other hand, the presence of subtext is a great indication of the depth and complexity of a character or a relationship. Suppose Characters A & B live together in a romantic relationship, and Character A chooses not to have a job and is terrible with money while Character B is a hard worker and responsible saver. If Character A then asks B to buy milk, B might suspect that A is asking because A has no cash on hand of her own. And if money has been a source of tension between them in the past, then there could be a great subtext to the scene involving power (B has it, A doesn't), love (would B be irritated? Or happy to provide? Maybe it would depend on how long they've been together), fear (does A feel OK asking, or does A herself worry that B will resent it?), and all the other dynamics that can play out in a relationship.
The subtext would relate to the plot insofar as A & B's relationship would be part of the plot or form its own plot . . . Maybe A makes these kind of requests of B all the time and never reciprocates, and it's slowly draining him of money and filling him with secret resentment. If so, then even if nothing is said explicitly about anything other than milk within this scene, the subtext of it could drive a climax to their relationship plot in the book -- a point at which things change irrevocably: In the next scene, he could break up with A, or decide to change his own communication patterns and tell her how she feels rather than being happy-smiley about it, or lay down an ultimatum that A must get a job.
So I think authors can best create subtext by creating complicated characters; staying aware of all of their complexities as they write; and then revising individual scenes to bring in more of those complexities / dimensions consciously, if they didn't come out in the scene the first time around. Maybe you have a scene that feels like a just-a-cigar scene, but when you look at it again, you realize that you could use it to highlight Character C's underlying defiant attitude when dealing with people in official situations, which will show up again later in a crucial Escalating and Complicating Event. . . . This is all rather Advanced Authoring stuff, once you have the basic dynamics of everything down. And so there's not really a Rule of Thumb to it, other than, as always, the more real your people can be, the richer everything else in the novel can be as well.
Books that have good subtext, off the top of my head: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein; the Attolia books by Megan Whalen Turner; Above by Leah Bobet; Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (forthcoming in March from St. Martin's -- a really wonderful and complicated romance with really wonderful and complicated characters, whose last line and ultimate ending turns entirely on how you read the subtext of everything that preceded it); the spy novels by John LeCarre that I've read, which are so dense with subtext I've sometimes found them impossible to parse.
View Next 25 Posts
It is time for one of my favorite events of every year -- the awesome BOOK SALE at my church, Park Slope United Methodist. There are two essential things every book-loving New Yorker can do with the sale:
1. DONATE YOUR OLD BOOKS
Now is the perfect time to clear space on your book shelves for all the treasures you're going to find at the sale. And aren't you ready to get rid of all those CDs you don't listen to anymore? We'll take 'em!
We welcome donations of books, CDs, DVDs, records & children's books. All items must be in good condition. We do not accept videos or tape cassettes, magazines, outdated textbooks or computer manuals, or any book that is moldy or falling apart. All donations are tax-deductible.
The church is located at 410 6th Avenue (at 8th Street) in Brooklyn, one block down and over from the 7th Avenue F stop. Donations will be accepted at the church on
- Monday, February 18, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- Thursday, February 21, 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.
- Friday, February 22, noon to 3 p.m.
To arrange a car pickup (Park Slope & vicinity), call 347.538.7604 ASAP, before all the slots fill up. All items must be boxed or bagged and ready to go.2. COME BUY MORE BOOKS!
The Book Sale is open:
- Friday, Feb. 22, 7 p.m. - 9:30 p.m. Evening Preview Sale! $20 Admission
- Saturday, Feb. 23, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (free)
- Sunday, Feb. 24, 12:30 - 5 p.m. (free)
I won't be around the sale this year, but about six boxes of books from my apartment will be, so please buy 'em up and enjoy!