Monday, July 29, 2013

Summer Blues

We've had some good times this summer: two weeks on Cape Cod, a day trip to a theme park, half-day camp for The Son, lots of swimming play dates with friends, a trip to Maine coming up.

But it's also been a hard summer. My young cousin passed away in a shocking tragedy. The Husband's grandmother is dying, which while not a shocking tragedy is still an enormous stress on his family as they manage her care. My uncle had surgery on his back, which at his age can be a risky endeavor. I have a bad chest cold. And last week, our beloved indoor kitty got out of the house and went missing, probably forever.

I know I shouldn't let the hard, sad things keep me from writing... but I do. All last week I spent every free moment searching for the cat (and probably gave myself the cold in the process), and walked around with a heart that felt like it was made of lead. I opened the TOB file every day, but only wrote a total of maybe 200 words.

Yesterday, knowing that I would have to tutor and run errands today, I spent almost the entire day in bed, trying to kick the cold. And with the pressure to work on or worry about anything else removed, I wound up writing almost an entire scene. Maybe that will be the turning point that pulls me out of this writing and life funk.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Shelf Sitter Challenge: Book 13

Thirteen was not lucky: yet another DNF. Soul Mountain by Gou Xingjian. The Parent gave this to me-- probably for Christmas-- at least 4 years ago. It won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000, which makes me feel all the more uncultured for rejecting it in favor of a stack of YA Fantasy from the library.

I'm blaming it on the translation. Every other sentence had a comma splice, and one paragraph went on for four pages-- and not in a cool, experimental way. More of a "I forgot to hit 'return'" way. I might be able to forgive this if the story was fascinating, but so far it's like the Chinese version of a Beat novel: man in the grips of a mid-life crisis flees his relatively privileged but stifling existence in Beijing to wander the southern provinces, searching for meaning and authenticity. Lots of descriptions of depressing little towns, lots of brief encounters with yokels, a few long conversations that don't seem to go anywhere. Maybe it all comes together and is Nobel Prize brilliant in the end, but I'm not wading through all those comma splices to find out.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Shelf-Sitter Challenge: Book 12

Another DNF. Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card. As the Shelf-Sitter Reading Challenge wears on, I am becoming increasingly ruthless about setting aside a book simply because it hasn't won me over enough to want to continue with it, which I previously wouldn't have considered a good enough reason to stop reading.

This book was passed on to me by one of The Parent's best longtime friends, a lovely seventysomething lady who is like an aunt to me, and with whom I share a large area of reading taste overlap. She gave the book to The Parent to give to me, I assumed because she enjoyed it and thought I would too-- we're both big fans of Card's Ender series. However, when I spoke to her a couple of weeks ago, she said that she'd quit the book halfway through and wanted to see what my take was on it. That probably soured me a bit before I even began.

I have to say, this is in no way a terrible book. The worldbuilding is interesting, the writing is mostly servicable with occasional flashes of very good, and there's a cool "is this Fantasy or Science Fiction?" element to keep you turning pages. However, there are also two things about it that are annoying me. On their own, these things seem like petty reasons to stop reading a book, and if this was a 300-page stand-alone novel, they wouldn't stop me from finishing it. But this is a 650-page book that is the first in a trilogy/series, and I don't care to be annoyed for ~1,500 pages.

Annoying thing #1: The Tone. The two main characters are 13-year-old boys from a podunk hill-people village in the mountains, and they are just way too mature and wise and witty to be believable. This is also my complaint about the Ender stories: the kids seem just way too old for how old he wants them to be. In Ender I can let it go because the kids are all hand-picked freaky geniuses. Running across it again in Pathfinder makes me start to think that this isn't actually being done for effect at all, that Card really does have no idea what kids are actually like-- or, more likely, that he portrays young boys the way he remembers feeling about himself at the same age. And everyone remembers themselves as how mature and cool they felt, not as how they appeared to others. This is why people over 25 are generally horrified to encounter teenagers: because they are SO YOUNG, and you remember yourself being far older than that at age 15.

But I digress. There is a logical explanation for why Rigg is so better educated than he should be, and I'm sure he'll turn out to be some chosen-one type genius... but that doesn't explain why Umbo also sounds about 20 most of the time, with the Whedon-esque banter. If you want to give your 13-year-old boy characters "mature" characteristics, then for heaven's sake divvy those characteristics between them. One kid can speak four languages and have a grad-school level education he got from his father while they were trapping animals in the woods, but if you make that same kid bold and level-headed in a crisis AND a master of witty banter, AND you have a second 13-year-old boy who is also a master of executive function skills and witty retorts... well, then I start rolling my eyes. Maybe it's the seven years of teaching middle school talking here, but this book reads like Card made his characters 13 so Rigg would look even more precocious and impressive, and not because he had the least interest in exploring the emotional reality of early adolescence.

Annoying thing #2: The Over-Explication. There's a time-travel element to the story, and every time they do it or even consider doing it there's much discussion of the possible ramifications, and whether their current self needs to learn something so the future self can go back in time and warn the past self or whether blah blah blah. I get that when you write about time travel you need to work out some of this for the reader so he or she knows you're not just totally winging it, but I checked out the goodreads reviews and several people said that there are many, many dull and baffling conversations like this throughout the book.

So there you have it. Two minor, petty complaints, and yet for me they toppled the tower.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Saadia

I just wrote a great dialogue scene between Willa and Saadia. Ah, Saadia. She's not a major character in The Owl Bearer by any means, but she's also a secondary character in Eleven Names, which means I can't just make willy-nilly decisions about her because I have to live with those decisions when I get back to writing EN. I know who Saadia is in EN, but TOB is her distant past, so I had to figure out where she comes from. She's been through three MAJOR revisions since I started working on TOB: from an undercover (male) anthropologist who gets to know Willa while wearing a "field work" body; to the young and oppressed wife of one of Willa's fellow envoys; to an older woman who is herself the envoy and has her own agenda to pursue.

What's interesting is that snippets of dialogue from the first draft of the scene were still usable, even though Saadia is completely different person. For example, there's a bit in which Saadia complains about the restrictions of marriage that became, in this draft, Willa and Saadia discussing their mothers' lives and how they wanted their own lives to be different.

In a way, the first version I wrote is Saadia in another hundred years, and the second version is Saadia fifty-five years ago, at 17, so having put the time into them doesn't feel like a total waste.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Still Alive, Still Writing

Sorry for the silence. I've been working pretty consistently (although not always meeting my goal in terms of word count), but I haven't felt like I have much to say right now. I'm in the middle of the book, which can be a muddled, wearying place to be. I feel good about what I'm getting; just a little dismayed at how much further there still is to go.