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Like many people across America, I was totally captivated by the podcast "Serial," which, if you haven't yet been accosted by a raving fan, is about a 1999 murder and hinges on whether you believe one of the two former teenagers at the heart of the case: Adnan, in prison for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, and Jay, whose (frequently changing) testimony put Adnan there.
One of the most compelling elements of the show is the extent to which its host, "This American Life" vet Sarah Koenig, very transparently wears her biases on her sleeve. She doesn't believe, or doesn't want to believe, that Adnan did it. He's charming, she likes him, and she doesn't seem to be able to fully bring herself to think he committed the crime. But she's up front about those feelings, and her journey in the show is a huge part of what makes it so compelling.
It's been fascinating to discuss this show with friends and coworkers, because to a large degree it's almost a Rorschach Test for the way you view crime, criminals, heck, even life and the truth. You learn a lot about people just by hearing their opinions and what they experienced in the past that contributes to their views.
For instance, I'm heavily influenced by a murder that took place in my hometown, where I knew both the murderers and the victim, and it doesn't surprise me at all, as it seems to surprise Koenig, that it's possible someone could be both charming and a murderer. I also to this day remember so many details of finding out about that murder in my hometown, which happened more than fifteen years ago, that I find it hard to believe that Adnan wouldn't be able to remember what happened on the day the police asked him about his missing ex-girlfriend. It wasn't just some random day.
Many people have written of the biases of the show, but one element of bias that I haven't seen fully addressed is the bias of the good story.
It's not a great story if we found out the guy who is behind bars for committing a crime is the one who committed the crime. If Koenig had discovered conclusive proof around Episode 2 that Adnan committed the crime, there wouldn't have really been a show, and certainly not the most popular podcast of all time. Sure, Koenig likes Adnan and that may have influenced her, but to me what really seemed to drive her was a sense on her part, even a hope, that there was more to the story. Consciously or unconsciously, in the absence of proving Adnan's innocence outright, she had every incentive to leave as many threads dangling as possible.
So while Koenig dove deep into possibly exculpatory inconsistencies in Jay's various testimonies (which, to be fair, were wildly inconsistent) and into things like whether there really was a pay phone at a Best Buy, other things that in Koenig's parlance were "bad for Adnan," like the letter from Hae that told him to back off and which had the words "I will kill" scrawled on it, and the "Mr. B." who pled the fifth at the grand jury, received scant attention. When she did dive deep into "bad for Adnan" threads they felt oddly tangential to the heart of the story, like whether Adnan absconded with mosque funds.
The facts as they have been presented certainly cast doubt on whether Adnan was fairly convicted, and if anything is gained from the popularity of the show, I hope a sober reexamination will take place. But I also lack confidence that the "bad for Adnan" threads were pursued, or treated, with equal vigor.
That's partly why I was equal parts compelled and unnerved when listening to "Serial," and extremely uncomfortable when reading Jay's recent interviews with The Intercept and wondering what Hae's family must think. These are real lives being disrupted and very painful memories being resurrected for a murky purpose. Is this entertainment? Journalism? An uncomfortable mixture?
And sure, let's get this mandatory part out of the way. Based on everything I have heard, I lean toward thinking Adnan committed the crime though am doubtful I would have voted to convict if I were on the jury. But it makes me uncomfortable to even type those words. Who am I to even have an opinion about all of this?
It was the sweat. The sweat did it. The sweat I couldn't touch with my hands. Little, black midges buzzed in my eyes and ears. The itchy drops rolled down my forehead and hung off my eyebrow. Even with a lot of head shaking, some of them splash onto your eyelid and cheek. So you lift your arm to wipe and scratch with your sleeve. You've forgotten that the poison ivy roots are longer than the rubber gloves, reaching past your elbows, under your arms. You try to gather the handfuls together while following the next root to pull it out of the sandy earth. The trick is to get them as long as possible. The more they break off, the more you have to go back. They break off where another root grows over top of them a few inches under the surface. That top root is bigger than the one you've got, so you mark the spot to save searching for it later or forgetting about it. Meanwhile, you are pulling up this root and its runners. The pain in your back, shoulders and legs increases as you search for the runners which wrap themselves around each other and the roots of other plants. Your itchy eyelid touches your sleeve which has absorbed some of the oil from the roots. You get poison ivy in the eye. The new lot, on the outskirts of the city, is cut out of the forest near the river. The builder bought a lot and built a bungalow on a gravel road. Our neighbours say this lot used to be like a bird sanctuary. A hillside of oak trees, poison ivy and wildflowers where no white man has ever lived. Sand and a few weeds surround the foundation and cover the surface of the front yard where the septic system is buried and the back yard over the well. Around the perimeter of the lot there is poison ivy, three small evergreens, a few poplars and thirty or forty oak trees. Not big old massive oaks but big enough. Forty to fifty feet. I waded into the poison ivy in shorts and sandals, thinking I was immune to it because I was when I was a kid. It turns out, according to the medical books, that you lose your immunity as you grow older. I got it all over my wrists and forearms and legs. I received enough money in an inheritance for a down payment on a mortgage which my wife qualified for because of her job. We had enough for new appliances, furniture and a wood stove to heat the place after we got rid of the agent. The real estate game was a new experience since neither of us had owned a home before. We moved from a two bedroom fifth floor apartment highrise to this ex bird sanctuary after visiting almost every bedroom community outside the city. The agent was a mutual friend, not a close friend, but someone we trusted by default. There was no reason not to. A few weeks into our search with the agent, I read a library book on inspecting your own home. My wife and I argued over our obligations to the agent. Finally, I confronted him on the phone. I was outraged that we had been cutting ourselves off from investigating private deals ("no agents") because we felt guilty about him. His patter remained pretty well the same in each house we visited. The home inspection book detailed everything from the foundation to the chimney which one should inspect and test carefully in estimating the real costs of buying a property. You deduct the cost of repairs or upgrades from the price. In the real estate system, such things as meetings between the buyers and sellers were discouraged. Two hour home inspections, crawling around the house with flashlight, measuring tape and tools were unheard of. There was no legal obligation by the agent to guarantee the quality of the property, nothing in writing which obligated us to use him. We later found out that an agent can only be held responsible for faults in your house if you can prove they had intentionally hidden them from you. The agent pockets a good amount of your money which could be spent on furniture or appliances, but in a year or two, if you run into huge expenses because of a problem with your property, he can drive away in his company car with your money in his pocket. He’s free of all responsibility. If you've taken the precaution of paying a few hundred dollars for a home inspection, that is all you have to fall back on. And we're feeling guilty about him. He didn't say "take it or leave it", but I could tell that's what he was thinking. When we happened onto the property we bought, we were alone. We realized that we could save $7,000 in agents’ fees, so we didn't hesitate. We called a lawyer, took possession and moved in within two months. Dealing with the agent while the O.J. Simpson trial was on CNN daily should have prepared me for the lawyer and the legal system. In one of the endless, microscopic, depressing Larry King explorations of the American legal system some expert said a rule of thumb for lawyers is "Never represent yourself". I did just that. I heard about a procedure in law which enables a private citizen to question a lawyer’s bill and request to have it lowered by the court for fifty bucks. It exists, but the public doesn't know about it. They don't advertise it, the lawyers and judges who are former lawyers. They have created a system which is like the real estate system. We can avoid the real estate system and poison ivy, but we can't avoid the legal system. This lawyer became our lawyer by default. My mom's legal affairs had been taken care of by a family friend who used to have his chicken track essays typed for him by my sister. I played football with him in high school. He was good to my mom. He had too big a heart to be a lawyer. Before my mother died, he called to say that he was retiring to take over the family bakery. I assumed then, know now, that he left the lawyer trade in disgust. His boss, a partner in one of the biggest law companies in town, called to get the job when my mother died. I assumed he would treat the administration of the will with the same care as my friend had. The legal process to challenge the lawyer’s fees was in motion at the same time as we bought and moved into the house. The final hearing was scheduled for early August. I came to challenge the bill, not for the money involved, but to protest the treatment of my family by the lawyer. I'm sure that if the equivalent had been done to the family in my father's time, he would have dragged this individual out of his fancy top floor suite of offices by the suit and made him back it up, man to man. People, these days, either kill each other or go to court. Lawyers’ insidious power creeps into every facet of our lives, witness pro sports and our political system. Common sense and honesty seem to be absent in all of the huge systems we have to deal with from day to day. The legal system, like poison ivy, will get you, one way or another, if you get involved with it. My aunt, in her mid eighties, was the executrix of the will. She had only good intentions in that capacity. She was overwhelmed by the mess which was created by this lawyer, preferred just to get it over with as soon as possible. My mom’s short, clear will took over a year to be administered because of the arrogance and ignorance of the lawyer and the behaviour of my sister. She objected to the will, the funeral arrangements, my aunt's executrixship and anything else she could think of. The lawyer, at first taken aback, confided to my aunt that he had met such people before, had one in his own family. He knew how to handle her. Of course, he was putty in the hands of my sister. He was soon bullied or conned into doing nothing. Finally, my aunt and I forced him to act by threatening to take the will to another lawyer. It seems that every family goes through turmoil when death visits. No one is ready for it. How many times does your mother die? I resigned myself to waiting for months to get the matter settled. The extra money the lawyer charged because of the problems which my sister caused was not the main consideration in having his fees assessed. It seemed to be the only way, short of making a splash in the media and risking slander charges, to question his competence and criticize the quality of his work, publicly. Ranting on the phone or through the mail is a waste of time. The assessment is done by a judge in a formal hearing with a bible and a court reporter. It's not much consolation if you lose, but at least you get to look the lawyer in the eye in front of witnesses on public record and tell him what you think of his work. By the time the poison ivy root pile had grown into a three foot by four foot hump at the back of the lot, I had tried every poison ivy cure known to man. From rubbing broken aloe vera leaves on the rash, to experimenting with expensive homeopathic remedies, to good old calamine lotion, I tried everything to control the poison ivy. I was still attacking the last of the big clumps. Nothing worked. I seriously considered taking the advice of friends who recommended a napalm like herbicide which would "kill everything it touches for three years". But I couldn't bring myself to do it. I continued to itch as I tried to write down my thoughts on the lawyer's work. I planned a space close to the basement window for the woodpile. August arrived. The big day approached. This was going to be my third time in this judge’s courtroom. The first two times procedural mistakes exploited by the fast talking lawyer caused delays. We got the call from the wood cutter the night before the court date. He would be arriving the next day with loads of wood, four in all, totalling ten face cords. I killed the tension by pulling roots furiously that hot afternoon. That was probably when I contacted my eye with the poison ivy oil on my sleeve. We drove into town early that August morning and had a greasy breakfast on the way. My anger at the lawyer had driven me to refuse an out of court settlement of $500 off the bill which he had offered by phone a few days before. We smothered our ham and eggs in ketchup. I agonized over whether I should have taken him up on his offer. My wife asked me why I was winking at her. A large tear ran down my cheek. My eye had begun to swell, turn red and itch as much as my ankles and wrists. The intimidating atmosphere of the formal hearing became exaggerated as I sat in suit and tie and studied my twenty pages of notes. They recorded the catalogue of insults the lawyer had heaped upon me and my aunt. Not overt insults, but an endless series of delays, mistakes and inexplicable charges. My eye ran. My voice sounded like a strangled crow as I tried to explain to the judge why I was questioning the lawyer's work. The structure of the proceedings, about which even the greenest cop and file clerk in the building knew more than I, threw me. Statements, questions, cross examinations which were second nature to the lawyer, spoiled the plan I had rehearsed. The judge and lawyer exchanged significant glances. The court reporter turned to examine me curiously while I sputtered and squawked emotionally about the injustice and lack of attention the lawyer had paid to the administration of my mother's will. I made statements when I should have asked questions and fumbled with my notes. The lawyer defended himself. The judge confronted me with a release I had signed in a meeting when my sister finally agreed to have the will administered as it was written. The lawyer simply blamed the delays on my sister and the mistakes on his assistant. He had delegated the details of the settlement to his assistant because it decreased the cost of his services. He charged three hundred dollars per hour for his time, only one hundred per hour for hers. He couldn't explain many of the charges on the bill and after a year of dealing with our family, he hadn't even been able to get my name right on the final papers. It didn't phase the judge. It became obvious that the exercise was carried through because I had paid the fifty bucks. They were humouring me. If I had known the procedure or had been represented by a lawyer who did, I might have had a chance. As it was, with anger and adrenalin tightening my collar, sweat and a steady tear rolling out of one eye, I was disposed of in short order. I was told by the judge that he would allow no further litigation on the matter, that the bill was fair. The consolation of knowing that I had, in three court appearances, wasted at least four hours of the lawyer's $300 an hour time, comforted me on the drive home. The endless technical details and procedures I watched millionaire lawyers manipulate on behalf of a millionaire defendant in the Simpson trial became more meaningful and more depressing. The woodcutter arrived cheerfully with the first load of wood. I struggled to keep up with my wife who had grown up on a farm. She taught me to crosspile the ends of the rows of 16" maple, beech and ironwood logs. We continued until darkness and exhaustion halted our labours. My eye had closed completely. The Arnprior Hospital took care of the poison ivy with a shot of penicillin. Some of the poison ivy still survives beneath the frozen ground of winter. The wood stove gives good heat. We heard later that the same lawyer had been taken to court again for the same reason. My original lawyer, my friend from high school, died of cancer. O.J. got off. We carry on.
The original The 27-Step Tutorial: How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay?, viewed over 160,000 times, sprang out my passion for teaching plot, my first book Blockbuster Plots Pure and Simple and all the workshops and retreats and conferences I've taught.
I was offered a contract to write The Plot Whisperer: Secrets of Story Structure Any Writer Can Master mid-way through filming that series and the tutorial helped shaped that book. As one 5-Star reviewer commented on Amazon: An understanding of the plot development trajectory of classic and award-winning stories reveals an "undeniably consistent pattern - the bones that make up the skeleton of virtually every irresistible tale."
The reviewer goes on to say: "As a former educator [Alderson] is adept at moving students beyond abstract concept to the tangible and concrete. For me it was like the plotting lightbulb flickered from 15 incandescent watts to 200 halogen. Amazing and totally exhilarating!
Because of the series popularity, I felt you deserved less external distractions and a cleaner presentation.
I'm re-filming the series now. If you'd like to follow along as I film all 27 steps to plotting a novel, memoir, screenplay, I'm offering a beta-membership in mid-January.
COMING SOON! All Inclusive Special Offer $9.99 2015 Plot Whisperer Beta-Membership includes BOTH:
27-Step Tutorial: How Do I Plot a Novel, Memoir, Screenplay Video Program
As a children’s author, editor and writing coach, I spend a lot of time talking about writing and/or publishing books for children and young adults. I feel so blessed to do the work I do, and to belong to such a warm, supportive and buoyant community of fellow readers, writers and children’s book lovers.
So I thought I’d start this New Year off a little differently. I want to begin 2015 by listening… reallylistening, in order to help me best serve those who share the dream of writing or publishing a children’s book or young adult novel in the year ahead. Will you help me? Please tell me…
What’s your #1 question about writing and/or publishing books for children or young adults?
What holds you back? What do you feel like you don’t know, or need to do or have in order to fulfill that dream?
To answer, simply click on the link below and write your response in the box provided:
It's not as if I didn't know this already. It's just that it leaves me (once again) disheartened. From the Andrew Marantz story "The Virologist," on Emerson Spartz (creator of the Dose, among other things), in The New Yorker.
Spartz calls himself an aggregator, but he is more like a day trader, investing in pieces of content that seem poised to go viral. He and his engineers have developed algorithms that scan the Internet for memes with momentum. The content team then acts as arbitrageurs, cosmetically altering the source material and reposting it under what they hope will be a catchier headline. A meme's success on Imgur, Topsy, or "certain niche subreddits" might indicate a potential viral hit.
Then there is the making of the headlines. Here Marantz is speaking to a young content producer, Chelsea, who has a degree in journalism from Syracuse University.
When she writes Dose headlines, she said, "there is a part of Syracuse University Chelsea that's like, 'I don't know if this is the way I should write it.'" The headlines that "win," according to Spartz's testing algorithm, are usually hyperbolic, and many of them begin with dangling participles or end with prepositions. "But then another part of me is, like, 'Actually, there's pretty definitive evidence that this version will get a better response.' So is the goal for people to look at it and be like, 'Wow, that girl wrote a really articulate headline'? At some point, you have to check your ego."
Recent photo themes, according to the story, include: "This Dad Decided to Embarrass His Son in the Most Elaborate Way Possible. LOL." and "The 21 Most Unusual Horses That Make Even Unicorns Seem Basic."
Marantz tells us that Spartz's parents made him read four brief bios of successful people daily—an educational cocktail that, Spartz himself reports, led to content borrowing and hyperbolic headlines.
It's not that I don't value the intelligence that goes into building algorithms and capitalizing on hot topics—or the hours that I'm sure Spartz puts in each day. I just find myself wondering how any of this makes society as a whole more intelligent or compassionate, less self-indulgent, more apt to fix some of the massive problems (education, environment, political standoffs, ISIS) that stand before us.
What if click harvesting were turned toward a greater good? The possibilities seem endless.
I am not a New Year's Resolution type of person. I'm not much of a goal setter, either. Everyone says to make your goals precise and reachable, but when I've done this, I inevitably fail, and then feel like a failure. I don't think that's the point of setting goals, or making resolutions, so I gave up on that. Besides, I'm not a super organized person, so making a resolution in my mind often means I can't even remember it next month, Even if I write it down, I find that I easily forget it. And if I do manage to remember it, by the time I do, the goal has often been revised or circumstances have changed in such a way that the goal no longer even applies.
Here's an analogy from yoga class. Often, the yoga teacher will have each person silently set an intention for the class session that day as we let go of the rest of the world to focus on yoga for this one hour. Usually my intention is something along the lines of "I just want to make it through the class." While I love yoga, it does push my physical limits sometimes, especially when balance or strength are elements of the pose, so sometimes getting through it is all I can hope for.
I feel the same way about life sometimes. Just getting through the day ahead--or the week, month, etc.--is my best goal.
So, I don't do resolutions.
However, my friend and fellow writer, Joanna Marple, wrote this blog post the other day, and it really spoke to me. Instead of resolutions, she suggests we choose a word that we wish to be the focus and intention for the coming year. Hers is serendipity.
I can get behind this kind of thinking. I chose the word EXPAND. In all areas of my life--work, friends, writing, music, travel, cooking, all of it--I can focus on expanding my horizons, increasing the number of new experiences, looking at things in new ways. It makes me think of expanding my mind by reading, listening, and learning. Expanding my circle of people, especially writing people.
This isn't a goal or resolution I can fail at. I can expand my life in so many ways that every day provides opportunities. Maybe it's just a mindset or a mind game, but this feels so much more useful than resolution making. So I'm on it.
If you'd like to join in, feel free to comment with your word and what it means to you. Otherwise, just keep on writing, which is what I'm going to do.
For 2015, Adventures in Young Adult Publishing has a new offering for our Friday craft posts! Over the years, we've tried to cover every craft aspect of writing and have built quite an archive for readers to search when they are learning new skills or have a specific concern. We’re thrilled that Writer’s Digest has twice honored us on their 101 Best Websites for Writers, and we plan to continue offering in-depth articles by published authors each week to help writers fine-tune their craft. Of course, we’re going to continue running our author and agent mentored First Five Pages Workshop each month to provide five writers specific critiques on their manuscripts.
Have a Specific Craft Question?
We think we can do even more to help though. As authors, we have all been stuck with our WIPs on our road to publication. There are times when we had specific questions about technique or craft that weren’t completely addressed by the articles on this site or elsewhere online, and we expect that may be true for other writers. Maybe you need to know whether the exotic name you've chosen for your historical heroine seems charming or hopelessly anachronistic. Or, perhaps you're wondering if the new character who suddenly appears in your third act is really needed...or if that beloved secondary can be killed.
Questions like these are where an Ask-A-Pub-Pro Craft Post will come in handy! Send us your specific craft or publishing questions, and we'll line up an experienced author, agent, or editor to answer it. Just make sure your question can be clearly expressed in a couple of paragraphs.
Are you an Industry Professional with Experience to Share?
To further make this a new opportunity for our readership, we will include authors and editors from a wide variety of houses and publishing experience to provide this detailed feedback. As we recognize that there are many talented authors and knowledgeable editors that don't usually get covered on this blog, we’ll provide a mix of perspectives from the big traditional publishers and smaller presses as well.
Here’s How It Will Work
If you are a writer with a specific craft or publishing question, send us an email to AYAPLit AT gmail DOT com with "Ask-A-Pub-Pro Question" as the subject line. Likewise, if you are a published author, agent, or editor and you’d like to participate by answering questions for this series, please email us with "Ask-A-Pub-Pro Volunteer" as the subject. At the beginning of each month, I will pick one or more questions and one or more publishing professionals to answer them. The pros will have a couple of weeks to prepare a response, and then the Ask-A-Pub-Pro post will go live on the last Friday of the month.
As a benefit for participating, writers who ask questions will get to include links to their website and social media as well as a Tweet-sized blurb of their current MS at the bottom of their question. You can also choose to have your question posted anonymously. Publishing professionals who respond will likewise get to include links to their sites plus a blurb and cover photo of a new or upcoming release.
Come on. You Know You Have Questions. Send them In!
Our January workshop will open for entries tomorrow, January 3, 2015 at noon EST. We'll take the first five Middle Grade, Young Adult, or New Adult entries that meet all guidelines and formatting requirements. In addition to our wonderful permanent mentors, we have our own Lisa Gail Green, whose new novel, SOUL CROSSED, will be published on February 25, 2015 (how gorgeous is that cover?!!) and agent Tracey Adams of Adams Literary!
Josh lived a reckless, selfish life, so upon his death, escaping the eternal torments of Hell by assuming the role of a powerful, soul-corrupting demon is an easy choice. His first soul assignment doesn’t seem too hard: the mortal Camden is already obsessed with weapons, pain, and torture. If only Josh wasn’t distracted by Cam's beautiful friend, Grace.
Grace never expected to die violently at age sixteen, but now she’s an Angel, responsible for saving a soul. She can already see past Camden’s earthly flaws, so the job should be be easy. If only that handsome, playboy Josh would stop getting in the way.
It’s forbidden for an Angel to be with a Demon, so if Josh and Grace stop resisting each other, the results would be disastrous.
Else we dry to salt, fleeing night-depths of the ocean;
The antidote to fear is honeyed in devotion
Why pillory our hearts, why gulp the unguent potion?
Why frack our veins to stir up courage quickly dead?
The antidote to fear is honey-slow devotion;
Yes, poetry, delivered deep, a draught of barmy mead.
This poem would not have been possible without the encouragement of the rest of the Poetry Seven:Liz, Andi, Kelly, Laura, Tricia, and Tanita. Each of these poets has a triolet posted today, so go and drink deeply.
This year I want to try harder to make a just-for-fun drawing every day. I've been having such a good time drawing the Dartmoor Pegasus - inspired by Philip Reeve's little painting and sculpture (see the earlier blog post) - that he's agreed to do an ongoing story with me, to accompany my drawings.
So here we go, let the story begin! Check back for updates. (And, of course, check out my other stories with Philip - Oliver and the Seawigs, Cakes in Space - he's such a fab writer.)
Whoever you are: step out of doors tonight, out of the room that lets you feel secure. Infinity is open to your sight. Whoever you are. With eyes that have forgotten how to see from viewing things already too well-known, lift up into the dark a huge, black tree and put it in the heavens: tall, alone. And you have made the world and all you see. It ripens like the words still in your mouth. And when at last you comprehend its truth, then close your eyes and gently set it free.
- Entrance by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Dana Gioia
My New Year's Resolutions Are Making Me Loopy by Greg Pincus
I make ten resolutions every year, and they seem good. But I can never keep them even though I know I should. And so this year I added one when it was time to make 'em: I resolved that this would be the year that I would break 'em! Yet now each time I break one I quite quickly start up weeping Because it means that there is one that I continue keeping. Yet if I keep one then it means there's one that I am breaking Which means I've kept what I resolved, of that there's no mistaking. But keeping resolutions means I broke my resolution Which means, again, I've kept the one I thought was the solution. Still, keeping means I'm breaking... and I'm feeling like a dum-dum Since now I fear I'll spend my year resolving this conundrum.
I thought I had picked out One Word for the year. Standing around the flickering candles of the Yule tree last evening (secretly beaming because the children have memorized all the words of our 12-day Yuletide ritual), my One Word seemed obvious: LIGHT. There was my trademark quick decision, done and dusted. (This is how I found myself married the first time.)
LIGHT is a lovely word, especially powerful at this dark time of year, with many meanings in several parts of speech, and it seemed to capture the direction I need to keep going in: a lighter grip, a lighter touch, a light heart and as much light as possible shining into my pupils (puntended).
By bedtime, though, I'd stepped back into a more practical place and realized that LIGHT was perhaps not as active a word as I need--and it certainly wasn't so pertinent to my writing life, which is where I need to put particular attention. And I thought about how a lighter grip, how an infusion of light into the work, are what's required for good revision, whether of writing or of hasty decisions. Other requirements for revision include patience, resting and flexibility--all areas where I could grow generally, and where my writing could benefit from less product and more persistence. And so--in the very spirit of revision--I changed my One Word to REVISE.
Just to make sure I was on the right track, I Googled the word and found a definition which includes LIGHT--two for the price of one! re·vise rəˈvīz/ verb
reconsider and alter (something) in the light of further evidence.
I shared this decision with my spouse, who noodled alongside me, wondering about revision, envision and several other word choices, while I listened to myself do what I always do: "Just stop with the possibilities-- I've made my choice and I'm sticking with it! No time to consider anything else! Got to get on with it!" The irony is exquisite... and I reserve the right to change my mind about my One Word should the light of further evidence require it.
******************* One Word 2015
held and holding tight: getting a grip becomes a vice
time and again re-vise: letting the light in more than twice
HM 2015 all rights reserved
******************* The Poetry Friday Round-up is with Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Happy New Year--and New Words--to all!
Here’s a story that almost comes true. The film is on a trajectory for greatness, but with the final shot the writer turns his back on the story. He gives us the standard romantic convention—boy gets girl back—roll credits.
The writer opts to merely sate the protagonist’s desire. And for this we have given up two hours of our precious time?
Perfect Sense makes perfect Hollywood sense
Perfect Sense is your standard romance—boy meets girl, etc.—except that the story unfolds during a global epidemic in which the afflicted become deprived of their five senses. Smell is the first to go, then touch, then hearing, etc.
I saw it coming and was excited—billions of people rendered deaf, dumb and blind. Wow! Humanity will discover that the habitual doors of perception have actually been obscuring life’s true beauty. With the senses gone, pure consciousness will prevail…
All over the world—in India, Mexico, Thailand—whole populations are moving beyond themselves, helping each other, falling into each other’s arms.
This isn’t boy-meets-girl love, this is impersonal love.
This is Big Love.
The best stories end with Big Love
We saw it in Casablanca, where the hero sacrifices the love of a woman for a higher cause. Love for the wider world—this is Big Love. And it doesn’t just satisfy an audience, it nourishes.
But look again—it’s not even the love that melts our hearts, rather it’s the pain of the sacrifice. It’s Bogart emerging out of smallness. It’s the escape from the small self.
It’s the birth of an evolved consciousness.
Okay, just call it “growing up.”
Oh, yeah… almost forgot… we were talking about Perfect Sense.
The boy, who has met girl and then lost girl, is just about to find girl again. They’re on a trajectory to fall into each other’s arms at the moment the disease renders them blind. Excellent. The screen will go black just before they find each other.
It’s a clever twist on the usual ending, which worked for Crocodile Dundee and When Harry Met Sally and scores of Hollywood romances before and since. But wait a minute! Something’s radically wrong here in Perfect Sense.
While the Big Love disease is sweeping the planet, our protagonists only crave each other. Their love is small, puny. No way I’m buying this ending.
I WANT MY MONEY BACK!
Can’t the director see what’s wrong with this picture?
Let this pair of protagonists find each other, sure, good. But by now they’re infected with Big Love, aren’t they? Petty personal preferences take a back seat to a world that so badly needs love to have its way.
These two characters have proven themselves to be great lovers in the standard, carnal, self-interested sense. Now it’s time for great love to serve the wider world.
That’s how the best stories end.
The degree to which Big Love prevails in the climax, that’s what determines our satisfaction with the story.
I made a surprising discovery recently: I realized that since moving to San Diego eight (eight!!) years ago, January has become my favorite month. When I lived in the east, I’d have said it was April—early spring, when you walk outside and feel it coming, a freshness in the wind, the redbuds and dogwoods beginning to flower, the daffodils running riot, the tulips jaunty. Oh, I loved that feeling. The Mary Lennox feeling. I’ve never liked the cold, and Eastern winters were much harder than the sunny-cold Colorado days I grew up with: all that lingering, blackening snow, the dull gray skies, the frozen ears and toes. So the first hints of change—the crocuses, the grape hyacinths, the fountains of yellow forsythia in March—exhilarated me. I love change; it makes my blood sing; and the change that meant spring is here was the best of all, even better than after spring had well and truly arrived.
But here in Southern California, our seasons are different. There’s the Season of Blistering Heat, the Season of Glorious Weather (this lasts most of the year), and That One Day It Rained. And the shifts come abruptly and sporadically, without warning. Any given day could be sandal weather or I-really-wish-I’d-succumbed-and-bought-those-boots. And so I realized that the sweet old sense of change in the air I used to associate with early spring now belongs to a shift less weather-related and more cultural. January, the New Year, the season of beginnings and fresh starts.
Looking through my archives I see I’ve rhapsodized about the Fresh Start over and over, this time of year. January is the month when I deep-clean my bedroom (which is also my workspace) and tidy up the garden. I launch projects (don’t we all): Reading Projects or Crafting Projects or Housework Projects. (This year it’s purging the books. I’ve appointed January the month I have a little conversation with every book in the house and discuss its future. For a lot of them, it’s time to head out into the world and seek their fortunes. Local friends, consider yourselves warned.) I love projects. Love planning them out, at least: as Anne would say, there’s so much scope for imagination in the planning stage. Completion is another subject entirely, best reserved for a different essay.
All through December I found myself looking forward to January—enjoying December, of course, which was particularly rich this year, what with my parents visiting and Jane home from school and a long-awaited visit with very dear friends—but enjoying the anticipation of the impending Fresh Start. I spent part of New Year’s Eve answering piled-up email, achieving Inbox Zero just about the time the East Coast entered 2015.
(Spent the rest of it playing Terraria with Rilla after the boys went to bed, while Scott and the other girls watched The Sting. Thus it was that my favorite moment of the holiday was hearing my pixie-like eight-year-old daughter remark, “Ooh, I’ve always wanted a Deathbringer Pickaxe.”)
My one real resolution for the year is to sketch every day, even if only for a few minutes. All my other plans are the sort that will take more determination to pull off, and I’m therefore afraid to spook them by calling attention to them too directly. I’m keeping my Reading Plans quite casual this year—mostly I intend to read whatever strikes me next, and to try to stick to what’s already on the shelves or the Kindle.
I do mean to choose one category of children’s books to focus most deeply on this year; I often fall into a specialization by accident—say, picture books because I read so many to my kids, or graphic novels because I have so many friends publishing them in a given year, or, like 2014, YA Fiction because I’m on a committee. I try to read broadly, of course—middle-grade and YA, fiction and nonfiction, prose and poetry—keeping reasonably abreast of what my peers are publishing. But I like having a kind of specialty category for the year, one area I can go really deep and try to read everything. As I said, this usually happens by accident; I’m not sure I’ve ever chosen the category in advance. This year I’m having fun thinking about it. Probably it will wind up depending on what kind of ARCs publishers decide to send me, since in the end, that’s the easiest way to keep up with the flood of new books.
As for old books (“old” meaning anything published before this very minute), I have the inevitable nightstand pile, which is much like nightstand piles of previous years. It’s not actually on my nightstand, since I don’t have one, but the pile on my bedroom bookshelf serves that purpose—and the rather staggering queue on my Kindle. I think of these as my Alfred Doolittle books: Books I’m “willin’ to read, wantin’ to read, waitin’ to read.” Books I have probably listed here in the past.
This is also the year I intend to finish Infinite Jest, which may indeed take the whole year.
Casual reading plan—Doolittle books + some particular kidlit category
Household project—all the books
Brain food—right now I’m listening to The Sixth Extinction on audio; also a literary lecture series called A Day’s Read (lecture one was on Kafka’s “The Country Doctor” and was pretty good)
Writing goals—I dare not say, but I’ve got them
Blogging goal—the other day, Melanie of A Wine-Dark Sea and I were discussing the upcoming ten-year anniversary of our blogs. Ten! Years! We both began blogging on January 20, 2005—and met in the combox some time later. That anniversary was much on my mind all through December when I blogged so seldom, what with the aforementioned visitors and the holidays and my Cybils reading. This is another thing I’ve been looking forward to with January’s arrival: a return to steady blogging, and a chance to revisit my archives and reflect on what I love about this space and what I want to do more of. So that’s another quiet plan for 2015: a bit of a blogging renaissance.
I used to think re-reading books was a waste of time. With so many to choose from, what was the point of picking up books I’d spent time with before? This changed when I began collecting titles for my future classroom. Pulling books off my childhood shelves and searching through used bookstores, I realized I wanted to know these stories again, not just in memory.
Since then, re-reading has been a key part of my reading life, this last year especially. While I read dozens and dozens of new-to-me books, I re-read over a dozen, too. Here’s my list of last year’s re-reads, along with the number of times I’ve picked up each book (as far as I can remember, that is):
Murder on the Links – Agatha Christie (2)
A Wrinkle in Time – Madeleine L’Engle (2)
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie (2)
The Book of Three – Lloyd Alexander (3)
Huckleberry Finn – Mark Twain (3)
Gone With the Wind – Margaret Mitchell (3)
We Were Liars – E. Lockhart (2)
Emily Climbs – L.M. Montgomery (3)
Emily’s Quest – L.M. Montgomery (3)
Little House in the Big Woods – Laura Ingalls Wilder (4)
Farmer Boy – Laura Ingalls Wilder (4)
Little House on the Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder (4)
On the Banks of Plum Creek – Laura Ingalls Wilder (5)
Crooked River – Valerie Geary (3.3)
A Gathering of Days – Joan W. Blos (2)
There were read alouds with my eleven-year-old (1, 3), giving a book a second chance (2), revisiting an old favorite on its fiftieth anniversary (4), reacquainting myself with a character who serves as a model for a future book (5), sentimental re-reads (6, 8, and 9), the start-right-back-at-the-beginning-immediately-to-figure-things-out read (7), re-reading for a free on-line course (part two is coming in the spring!) (10-14), a celebratory read of a critique partner’s finished book (14), and a Christmas Day perusal of a Newbery I discovered when I first started teaching (thanks to my sister for sending along my own copy!) (15)
It is impossible to finish a book unchanged. But re-visiting a book gives me a chance to growly doubly. Not only do I experience the progression of the story and its characters, I re-meet my younger self and examine all the ways I’ve also changed. My preferences in literary styles, my observations as a writer, my insights on the book’s themes, my memories of past readings — all of these enrich the reading. Even when a book doesn’t measure up to my memories, the second read doesn’t diminish the first love.
Are you a re-reader? What books have you picked up again and again?
When an artist wants to paint a scene at "sight size," the painting or drawing corresponds exactly to the image that would appear on a sheet of glass placed perpendicular to the line of sight.
If you were able hold your head steady enough and look through just one eye, you could view a scene through a window and trace the main lines directly on the glass. Then by transferring those lines onto a piece of paper, you would have a drawing that matches the observed scene perfectly.
Leon Battista Alberti, in his treatise “On Painting," shows a wooden frame set up vertically in front of a city scene. The frame has a grid of black threads stretched across it. The viewer's position is indicated by a vertical post with a loop at the top. This device has been called a "drawing grid," "perspective grid," “draughtsman’s net,” or "Alberti's veil."
All the points of the vista seen through that loop can be plotted on the grid. Those points can then be transferred to the paper on the table at right, which is inscribed with a similar grid. So if the steeple is at B3 in the grid frame, it can be plotted at B3 on the paper.
Renaissance artist Albrecht Durer improved the idea. The artist's viewing position is held steady by the vertical post, and he seems to be tracing lines on a piece of glass propped up in front of the seated model.
In 1525, Durer diagrams another setup. This time, instead of drawing on the frame, he is looking at the lady through the grid of black threads, and then transferring that image onto the corresponding gridded piece of paper laying flat on the table in front of him.
A device like this would not be of much use for drawing a moving subject, or if the objective was to rearrange, caricature, or stylize. But if the goal is to capture a scene accurately, it takes a lot of the guesswork and error out of the process, and would be especially useful for foreshortened figures, oblique perspectives, and curving objects, such as cars.
A drawing grid is a simple, direct, and straightforward way of capturing the main lines of a scene accurately as an initial step in the process. It's similar to the method of holding your pencil at arm's length and constructing a scene out of a set of segments and slopes. But the grid method is far more efficient and accurate than the "outstretched-arm-holding-a-pencil" routine because it yields a complete image right away, rather than a collection of measured segments and slopes that have to be assembled and corrected, piece by piece.
Food and drink play a pivotal role in several of the 14 dark tales contained within my collection, Blanket of White:
In the title story, husband and wife drink coffee in their kitchen, wrapping their hands around the mugs for comfort, as they discuss their wheelchair-bound daughter Suzy; there are snow angels in her future…
“Raven’s Revenge”: Steaming mugs of hot chocolate warm up Jackie Crawford and her boyfriend, Jeff Dutton, on a bone-chilling winter’s night.
“Perishables”: After a nuclear attack, Placido Sanchez sits hunkered down in his basement surrounded by empty, dented cans of baked beans. He eats his wife Julia’s remains, flawlessly persevered in a walk-in freezer. His wife's thighs contained the sweetest meat he ever tasted.
The potent rum cocktail Zombie is Jack Masoch’s undoing in “Cold Comfort” after he meets Sadie O'Grady in a seedy New York City bar.
David Sheffield feasts on Chinese food that sustains him and brings him good fortune on “Initiation Day”, when he meets up with Jim Hanson by the train tracks behind their high school to carry out a dangerous dare.
In “Crosshairs”, Billy Hogan’s father swigs single-malt whiskey at the kitchen table as his son drinks root beer while the elder Hogan schools the younger one about the striking seminaries between handling a woman and a gun.
“Apple of My Eye”: Gia orders Chardonnay to dull her senses after going a few rounds with Daddy’s carving knife. A Martini is the drink of choice for a devious Eye Doctor who sets his sights on the wrong girl…
Thanks for stopping by to share your food for thought, Amy!
My first Harlan Coben book and will definitely not be my last.
I just love the way Harlan Coben writes. I think most authors struggle to pull of writing in the second person but you feel like Harlan’s having a conversation with you – the Reader – as you read this book.
It’s a story with many twists and turns and jut remember that nothing is ever as it seems.
Our protagonist has struggled to clear his brother’s name for most of his life. His brother has been framed as the killer of a girl he used to love. The police force think his brother’s guilty. The local community thinks his brother is guilty. The deceased’s family think his brother is guilty. Even his parents harbour doubts about his brother’s innocence. Still, Will believes his brother – Kevin Klein – is innocent. His brother goes on the run and for many years, it’d appear his gone for good and never to come back.
Will’s mother whispers something on her deathbed that sets his world upside down and opens a can of worms.
I liked how Harlan made Will Klein so vulnerable. You feel for him and wish him all the best. You wish him well but it seems his best intentions only hurt those around him and lead him to dead ends. Will discovers himself in the end and the truth sets him free.
Hmmm....I normally do not make New Year's Resolutions so let me think about this.
I guess if I had to make a Blogger's New Year's Resolution, it would be to not accept as many reviews as I usually do because it gets too stressful planning my reading time even though I ALWAYS get the requested book reviews done on time.
It is too difficult to turn down good books, though, isn't it?
What would you do about a blogger's New Year's Resolution?