The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Weasley Ruminations

OK, I hope everyone doesn’t think I’m not on-board the Weasley Family fan train – I am the conductor of said train (shut up English teachers – the double negative totally works in this sentence). I can’t help that I just really want to hit Ron in book four – but I get it. I still love him; please continue to follow my blog. Pretty please with sugar on top! I also promise not to talk about any more elements – I’ll stick with fire (unless one of you comments about other elements and then I might respond in a book-club-type-banter sort of way).

Before we really get going, I have to apologize. Every year I think December won’t be a busy month and then things pile up and I don’t write as many posts as I want to. I will try harder, at least to get HP – Mondays done.

Alright so I’m picking the Weasleys as this weeks topic because Matt commented (!) and we haven’t talked about this wizarding family nearly enough yet. In book 4 we finally get to hang out with the older brothers – three cheers for Bill and Charlie – both of whom don’t appear in the movies and really haven’t been in the books all that much yet (can you believe it?). I think this just proves how much of the story still has yet to be told. Before I forget – for those of you who’ve only seen the movies, I really want to know your take on Bill and Charlie in these next four books because I can’t believe this is the first time you’re being introduced to them. Also, for everyone else – Do you think both older brothers will make an appearance - or wedding scene – in the last two movies?

Weasleys. Yeah, they really are the opposite – or at the other end of the spectrum? – from Harry in basics. He has money, they don’t. They have a huge family; Harry has none (The Dursleys don’t count here). The Weasleys are about as pure-blood (not in the Malfoy way) as you can get, Harry’s mom comes from a non-magic family. The magic world constantly surprises Harry while the muggle world constantly surprises the Weasleys. The amount of stamps on the invitation to the Quidditch World Cup in book 4 is about as funny as the screaming phone call to the Dursley household in book 2.

I agree on the plot braiding – or plot magnifying? – Matt mentioned in his comments; Rowling has a way of bringing up the Weasley money issues and then making that an important sub-plot that at times braids into the main plot. Ginny’s books, Ron’s broken wand, Weasley Christmas sweaters, even the flying car are all plot advancements that also flesh out the Weasley essence.

The use of hand-me-down or borrowed items furthers the plot and subtly reminds the reader that money is (or is not?) an issue:
- Percy’s rat Scabbers – or secret keeper breaker Wormtail
- Ron’s dress robes
- The invisibility cloak (Yes, I know this is not a Weasley item, but it’s a gift which could just be hero cycle stuff, but also works in the hand-me-down aspect).
- The Marauder’s Map (both “borrowed” from Filch’s office, and handed down to Harry – Wow, he’s really collecting those hero cycle gifts).
- Even the Weasley tents used at the Quidditch World Cup are borrowed, and the tickets in the top box were awarded to Arthur.

The money issues aren’t new in book 4 – but they grow the characters. Fred & George have been saving and scheming for Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes – and here again the leprechaun gold and constant secret keeping by the twins in this book do so much more than just show money issues. Also Percy – his role in this book is more pivotal than I realized before. He’s starting to pull away from the rest of his family and I think this has at least something to do with the not caring attitude of his parents. They aren’t rich, they don’t have a lot of money yet the Burrow is always a happy, friendly home. Arthur & Molly are more concerned with their kids and friends than money; but that’s not what Percy sees at the office day in and day out. So who’s right and who’s wrong?

There is just so much more to talk about. You can argue this point if you want – I love that I try to get people to argue and no one ever does…you can though. I’m not 100% correct, in fact I doubt if I’m even 60% correct. So share your thoughts!

Anyway, we could talk about the Weasleys (a gaggle of red-heads totally fits into my fire imagery theme too) for about thirty more posts, so I’ll just leave this one with a final thought. A friend recently commented on the Twilight series – after seeing the second movie – she thought it was horrible for the ordinary, normal guys to have to compete for Bella’s affection with a vampire and werewolf. I think her exact words were, “Team Edward or Team Jacob? What about Team Mike Newton. Let’s hear it for the nice, normal, average guy. I’m on his team!” So my final Harry Potter thought for today’s late post – if Harry is the chosen one and extra special then isn’t it nice that Hermione always chooses Ron – the nice, ordinary friend lost in the shuffle of extraordinary best friend and numerous bright, talented siblings?

Please insert your thought, comments, and ruminations here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

HP Monday – More fire, this time in a cup!

For those of you keeping up – Yes, I did finish my NaNo novel – or at least made it to 50,399 words, officially. It’s still not done, but hopefully I’ll have a completed first draft by mid December!

Alright, back to Harry Potter. You've all been waiting long enough. I’ve almost officially gotten over my crush on book and movie 3 and feel that I can turn my attentions towards the next, thicker novel. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire weighs in at 2 lbs and 636 pages (UK version) – that is SO many more words than 50, 399!

Honestly I just keep thinking about all of the fire imagery in HP – and I don’t even know what it all means or why I’m so fixated on it. But here we are in book # 4 and fire is even in the title! There are fire breathing dragons and a goblet of fire, joyous fires, fires in the sky, and a ceremonial fire of pure evil. There’s also the fiery red hair of the Weasleys, Fawkes – a bird born of fire, the firebolt, Rita Skeeter’s scorching quill, and a lot more I’m not thinking of, I'm sure.

So what’s with all the fire? Anyone? I know, I know, I’ve already blogged about fire in book 2, but it just keeps coming back. It’s one of the elements – which would be important in any wizarding world; but I know there is so much more. Hmmm…Fire symbolizes chaos and war but it also cleanses and purifies. It banishes the darkness and stands for love and undying desire. It can also stand for determination and independence. It’s always a very strong image and one that is not used lightly. I’m going to have to ponder fire (and write the word in bold) a lot more during this re-read.

Feel free to pick another element here; I’m sure there’s plenty of elemental symbolism to go around – I also like the use of water in book #4 a good deal (and even more in book #6).

Anyone have any general thoughts on book 4? I have to say I REALLY enjoyed it on this re-read; there’s a lot of growing and discovering in this one. And poor Ron – he’s really confused about a lot of things in this one – albeit, most of the time I just wanted to punch him in the face. Yes, I said it. I wanted to punch a literary character – and one of the good guys – in the face. If you are shocked by that, just wait until book #5 when I seriously want to do great bodily damage to Harry – arghhh, teenage angst rears its ugly head big time and I just see red (fire even?).

But I digress. I think we also need to talk about budding romance and love – because this is the first time we really see it occurring at Hogwarts. I’m a girl who spent six years of her adult life writing about beauty trends, so I love the Christmas ball a lot - clothes, hair, accessories, twirling - there's not bad here. Plus – and here I go again – nothing beats dance imagery! From a writer’s perspective I think this book would be the most fun and entertaining to write – you know, until the end when we suddenly all get really serious, very quickly.

So, talk about all of this already! What are you all waiting for? And, I’d also like to know if this is anyone’s favorite book? If so, then why? Oh come on, you knew I was going to ask…

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Week 4 – The end is in sight - but really confusing, and may actually be the beginning.

This week I drew (don’t laugh) a blueprint of SuperMug – the big box store my novel mostly takes place in. I even showed it to my husband – the artist – who tried really hard not to laugh at my lame attempt at a straight line. But it helped – my writing, not my budding career as an architect. The visual picture of where and how each character interacts with others and their surroundings spurred me onto another 2000 words in no time flat. Of course I still have about 15,000 words to go in 6 days – but that’s actually really doable. Right? Yes, totally doable.

I noticed during week 3 and this part of week 4 (I’m including the last three days – or week 5 – into this final week stretch) how many ups and downs this action packed week has taken. The words between 25,000 and 40,000 are the most rewarding and hard-to-get words there are...EVER. I can’t wait to hit 40,000 when suddenly the last 10,000 words will slip out of my subconscious and find themselves on my computer screen without me actually doing anything. Fine, that’s never going to happen, but it has to be easier than 30,000 to 40,000 words – it just has to be.

I know it sounds like I’ve jumped off the deep end. I sure have spent a lot of time cyber-stalking high school classmates (see previous blog post for the non-crazy definition of that sentence). I’ve also spent the week reading and watching this season of HIMYM on-line; I washed 6 loads of clothes this week and spent about an hour going through recipes for the infamous Thanksgiving Day breakfast. You see, I’m married to an Englishman who is fairly lukewarm about this American holiday – he’s going to make a pizza with all of the ingredients you find in a traditional mid-western turkey day meal and we’ll choose some random movie marathon to watch (after the national dog show – Hell, you have to have at least one tradition and I choose you John O’Hurley, you and the Irish Wolfhound presenting tomorrow). Every year I get up and make a breakfast – something like scones or waffles or crumpets or french toast – something revolving around bread apparently, and we hide from the rest of the world. But really all I’m going to do all day is tuck away into the bedroom and write. I’m really good at cranking out like 5,000 words on T-day, ignoring all things food, football, balloon and thankful – all for my extremely unthankful novel.

Tomorrow it ends; all the procrastination of November boils down to MY day of writing with abandonment – and for that I AM thankful.

And it’s not too late for you either. I don’t care if you have 4, 083 or 16,000 or 42,000 there is still hope and a novel in each of you. Eat your turkey, visit with your family and then go type like you’ve never typed before…don’t even get me started on Black Friday – I forbid anyone who reads my blog to go shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. Don’t fall for the marketing ploy – you can shop again. Promise.

If you aren’t reading this state side, and you think that my turkey rant was a little bit scary, then you are probably Jeff and somewhere in Australia reading this. On the other side of the world you have one less day to type, so keep writing already! Here’s hoping every NaNoer reading this has pure adrenaline; enough to make it to the writing finish line!

For the rest of you patiently waiting for HP Mondays to start up again, I will try to write something for this Monday. Monday is still November, so I might be desperately trying to get to 50, 000, watching my fingers bleed over my keyboard and screaming any lyrics of Bon Jovi I can think of; in that case you’ll get a Harry Potter blog post on Tuesday. That would be book 4 for those who’ve forgotten. Go, go Goblet of Fire!

Speaking of Harry Potter, one of the things I read this week was a short story/novella by Maureen Johnson called “The Jubilee Express” inside the collection Let It Snow. That little British wizard is just everywhere:

Debbie had to get up and slice me a thick piece of cake before she could answer. And I do mean thick. Harry Potter volume seven thick. I could have knocked out a burglar with this piece of cake. Once I tasted it, though, it seemed just the right size. Debbie didn’t fool around when it came to the butter and sugar.

Here’s hoping your slice of pumpkin pie tomorrow is Harry Potter volume five thick!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Ramblings from a Sleep Deprived Writer

Or, how I’m really not writing my novel right now, but still pretending I am…

I’ve written myself into this very strange place. I’m not sure how I got here or how I’ll get out, but I’m here right now and I feel I must continue on. I think it would be easier if I’d written Tea – my protagonist – into the corner, but it turns out it’s actually me. No, I’m not my protagonist; but I am the writer and have borrowed from my past – and present – for this novel. It took me about 8,000 words before I had to borrow from my past (although in retrospect, I did it in the first 1,000 without realizing it).

Tea is 17 and the novel takes place the summer between her junior and senior year of high school. Alas, I don’t really remember high school that much. Not that anything bad happened to me there; in fact I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it, but apparently I’m older than the hills or something and high school memories are fading fast – almost as fast as that cliché.

This is what I do when I get stuck in my story and need some younger-than-my-current-age interaction and dialogue. I write down a memory from when I WAS that age and then go back and re-write it to show what’s happening – instead of just telling it. I add dialogue and descriptions and honestly make up a lot of the stuff that probably never really happened; because that’s what writers do after all. And then once it is all done I can usually pick right up in my story, maybe using a line, description or small idea from my recent, made up memory and plug it into the action. So far, this scenario has been working out well. It means I don’t stop writing when I’m stuck and I can use some of the overlooked memories for later characters and novels.

There is a side effect as well, the more I write about the experiences I had in high school, the more I remember them. Entire conversations come flooding back into almost perfect clarity – things I wore, things I thought, things I never told people. It’s honestly bizarre, especially reliving these escapades from my adult view point – which has changed quite a bit since high school. I’ve thought about people I haven’t thought about in…I’m counting on my fingers, hold on…15 years or so. When did I get so old?

The problem: Here I sit, writing away, on my own personal journey, forgetting all about Tea and her teammates trying to solve a murder in their grocery store, those poor people. They haven’t figured out who the real killer is which means John is rotting away in jail after confessing to a crime he didn’t commit…all while I’m worried about who I’ve forgotten from high school. I know I’m making this sound like high school doesn’t matter – which is silly because the large majority of my readers ARE high school students or teachers – but I have a point about high school, I promise.

About halfway through one such writing exercise I remembered someone I haven’t thought about in years. Someone who IS very similar to one of the characters in my story – apparently I’ve subconsciously written in a friend from high school. Then I realized I never thought of him as a friend when we were in high school, but I think of him that way now. Not because I talk to him now (as far as I know, we haven’t talked since the late ‘90s) and our relationship is that much stronger, but because we actually WERE friends in high school. Just by remembering all of the time we spent together, all of the things we shared, and some of the conversations we had, my adult self realizes we were fairly close for a time.

I don’t really keep in touch with many friends from high school – the ones I actually realized before today were friends I mean – oh, many of them are now facebook friends, but that doesn’t really count, does it? Anyway, most of these people friended me (and if any of you are reading this, I’m glad you did). If you know me at all you know my two closest friends have been my closest friends since the second grade, making today’s writing epiphany a little odd. Here is another paradox – I don’t necessarily consider those two friends high school friends – Amy, Stacy and I transcend all of that somehow. Sure we knew each other in high school but we each did our own thing – some of our friends overlapped and we spent a ton of time together outside of school – but that’s never been who we are.

I thought about this guy – who I now realize was a friend in high school – and I suddenly wanted to know what he was doing now, as an adult. I wanted to see what adulthood had changed or nurtured in him. If, like me, looking back on his high school experience illuminated some part of his adult character: Is high school a time to remember and learn from, or do we all just start to forget about it after our mid twenties? Of course it didn’t just stop with one person. I’d just finished writing out a memory involving four people by name, am I in contact with any of those people now? No, I’m not. So what are they all doing? I guess this is why exists – possibly even twitter – don’t hold your breath, I’m not joining either of those social networks anytime soon. Twitter is just a bad Doctor Who episode waiting to happen!

I did some digging on my preferred social networks and found out a lot of interesting stuff in under an hour. This is both cool and creepy (see previous Dr Who comment). I’m not sure I want someone sitting around wondering about me and then finding out everything they need to know just by clicking a button. Obviously I must be OK with it to a point or I wouldn’t have a blog, but still! See how I’ve not only written myself into a corner but I’ve completely stopped working on my novel today.

And what did I discover in the end? I told you I had a point, way to keep reading. I’m not really sure if this is a big reveal or not, but I discovered I like writing YA and mid-grade because I DO think it matters. I’m hoping kids and students will get something out of their current situations, maybe get a leg up on where I was at your age; and I’m hoping adults will remember something meaningful they’ve forgotten from their childhood or teen years. Maybe we all have a forgotten friend or teacher who helped shape our adult selves and reading one of my books will plant a seed in your subconscious; a seed I hope grows into a beautiful memory.

Or, if you aren’t as sappy as I am, then here’s some startling facts I learned in my hour of research on high school classmates – maybe this will inspire you.

Startling facts about people Mariah went to high school with:

  • At least 12 are now teachers – two in our old high school.

  • At least 8 were, or still are, professional athletes or college/pro coaches (this is utterly ridiculous, apparently I went to Jock High)

  • At least 10 are in bands – from garage bands to Harry Connick Jr.’s orchestra and everywhere in between (I was in the marching band, so this number is probably higher – but I stopped counting at 10. I can go see at least 5 of these people in upcoming concerts; I’m on the fence about this).

  • 8 are – or soon will be – medical doctors. With another 5 earning PhDs in some other field. (Some of these are married to each other – you are all making way too much money!)

  • 1 is a magician.

  • 1 is an actress in movies and television shows I’ve bet you’ve seen. She’s also a stage actress in NYC.

  • 1 had his house torn down and rebuilt by the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition team – it was the season premiere house this season.

  • 1 ran for the Mayor of Bloomington in the last election. It’s not a small town – alas, he did not win.

  • 1 is working for some government agency or embassy (The fact that I found this out on-line means I hope she’s not a field agent and our national security is a little stronger that that).

  • 1 is an Army Ranger (on-line did not tell me where he is stationed so a little more at ease about this whole national security thing).

  • At least 2 others are published authors (one of those is published in Welsh, which is an entirely different language with lots of double letters, and therefore gets extra kudos from me. Way to go Chris!)

  • 4 are social workers.

  • 3 are pilots.

  • 3 are currently trying to adopt (my fingers are crossed for you Morgan!).

  • 5 are expats currently living abroad at least semi-permanently (Yes, this includes the guy published in Welsh. I think you have to live in Wales to understand the language, let alone write in it).

  • At least 4 others have blogs (You guessed it; one of those blogs is at least partly in Welsh).

  • 1 – ME – discovered if my husband and I do have any children they can be duo-citizens because he is a British expat living in the US (this makes me happy, but does not mean I will be having those babies any time soon – no breath holding again. And yes, I looked that up in the hour allotted as well!)

  • 10 people married their high school sweethearts (Scary. I don’t remember that many people from high school, I can’t imagine finding marriage love there).

  • 1 – ME again – just sheepishly realized that she a) really fell in love for the first time her senior year of high school and b) met her husband her senior year of high school and c) a & b are two different guys.

  • At least 6 people are no longer with us (I’m sure this number is higher – social networking is not really a good tool for things like death, cancer and other life taking illnesses. We really try to be happy and upbeat while we network on the internet).

  • I stopped counting marriages, divorces and babies – I’m guessing these match national statistics.

And that was just in an hour, imagine what three hours would produce! I’m done with my ramblings, I’m going back to write some more about Teagan and her SuperMug exploits. I’ll tell you what – her character arc just got a whole lot bigger!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Week Three – Hitting My Stride

You’ll be happy to know my characters have decided not to be so flat anymore. They had some very interesting dialogue today and I even wrote out the murderer discovered scene. As I hit the 28,000 word count mark I went to the math and realized I might actually be able to get to 50,000 words by Nov. 30! Woo hoo! I work better under pressure, so I’ve also developed a head cold just for the extra obstacle’s sake. But still, if I crank out 2,000 words each day from here on out, I’ll make it. Now, I will still try really hard to type out more than 2,000 words in case some other obstacle rears its ugly head, but 2,000 a day is totally do-able!

This past weekend I attended a mystery thriller conference/ writing festival with friend and fellow nanoer, Matt. You can just make up a whole ton of words with nano as the pre-fix, I’m not sure how much each word actually weighs, but I promise at the end there is a ton. It was nice having someone I knew there while I kept learning – or not learning –things. Talking through everything in between our break-out sessions was more helpful than I realized at the time. We had different breakout sessions, so that was like a two for one deal really; each sharing with the other what we learned in our separate sessions. And, even though I can’t believe I’m saying this, it was nice to take a whole day away from my novel writing – and such a pivotal day: The half way mark/end of week 2, beginning of week 3.

Since I had a current nanonovel (See!) in mind, I used it all weekend as we did little exercises to give our writing some momentum. In the end, I was just really excited to get back to writing it, I couldn’t wait to dive in and use some of the new techniques I’d just learned – some I already knew, but the refresher course was nice. Well, the words are just flying now and like I said – my characters are going places again. They are having complex thoughts even.

In one of my sessions this weekend we discussed knowing more about your characters than you can ever put down in your novel to make each of them multi-layered, and really just more interesting to both writer and reader. We took about five minutes to write out the items currently in our MCs garbage can, trying to involve a couple different senses in the list. I was surprised to discover that my character, Teagan “Tea” O’Meara had a bunch of junk mail envelopes in her trash. Just the envelopes and not the contents, because she collects the families junk mail (she is the youngest sibling, with three older brothers – all currently at home for one reason or another) and mails it all back in the return envelopes. Realizing the companies only pay the postage if the envelopes get mailed back, she’s trying to be as annoying as they are. Her trash even contained some spirals off a notebook, because she sometimes mails blank paper and cardboard back in the envelopes to make them weigh more. This is probably not something I will ever add to my book, put it is nice to know that Tea is resourceful, vindictive and a little bit of a mother hen even though she’s the youngest. It actually helped me understand why, at 17, she’s so willing to get involved in a murder investigation at her place of employment, and that I CAN use in my novel.

So what’s inside your characters trash can? Do they recycle, do they not but try to hide it. Is their trash can empty and spotless, has everything landed on the floor around the bin? Is it overflowing, full of torn up photos? Is it sticky, smelly, or infested? What is your character trying to tell you by letting you see their trash?

XI. Thou shalt not self-censor at all during the first draft.
This draft is yours for the adventure of finding out what you think. Future drafts will be for others. Hold off your critical self until those future drafts.
- Gillian Roberts’ You Can Write a Mystery

Week three: things are already brighter, but there is still so much to get done in the two weeks left. Happy nanoing all!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Week Two Blues

When you write 50,000 words in one month you really throw all caution to the wind. It’s like writing in concentrated form and like living in a concentrated form. Everything happens so fast, you don’t really have time to think about it – it’s writing for writings sake. I’m not explaining it right. I keep trying to, but I think you actually may need to go through such an extreme deadline yourself to get the idea.

Yes, I still love the experience, but week two really…well, sucks! I’m full of self doubt, my wonderful amazing characters appear to be flat and stunted in their growth. Their dialogue is wooden and forced, their conflict and situations are mundane – no one else (even me) cares what they are doing or what happens to them. It’s all quite tragic and I’m ready to throw my computer out the window – or beat it with a baseball bat. Dear Computer, I’m not serious. Please don’t blow up on me, delete all of my words without saving, or give me the blue screen of death. You are a wonderful machine and I will buy you a new jump drive when this month is over. Whew, crisis averted.

Like Anne Shirley I’m in the depths of despair. When I was in college I spent a semester in London studying literature and theatre. Before we left for Europe, I went to a meeting to meet my fellow study abroad students, learn tips about living in a different country, talk about what to pack and what not to pack – all that wonderful informational stuff. What I remember most about that meeting was a professor giving a lecture on culture shock – it came complete with a handout I’m sure I still have somewhere. She told us how we would all be excited, then sad, we’d go through a few weeks of hating the place and just wanting to be home, then we’d find our way, learn some stuff, have a blast and by the time we were ready to go home, we wouldn’t want to. Then remarkably, once we got home, we’d go through the whole thing again.

I remember thinking this is ridiculous – surely England isn’t that different from Minnesota – we speak the same language, celebrate most of the same holidays, and ironically are based on the same religions. London is bigger (a lot) than Minneapolis, but they are both large cities and thriving metropolises (I hope that’s a word) right? Also, who wants to group every single student into one statistic like that? Surely my experiences could be different than Jen or Andy on my same trip. And Ben and Theresa who went to Spain; their experiences had to be different still. So I went to London with this in mind, I was bound and determined to have nothing but a good time and see similarities between the two cities and the two countries. I still don’t know if this was the right or wrong attitude to go into living four months in another place with, but that was my goal.

Looking back on those four months and reading some of the things I wrote in my journal I think the truth was somewhere in between – and tween was definitely the theme of my life in London, but that’s another blog – and I can’t say I’d do it any differently if I could do it again. I had my own experiences and saw many similarities, some of which others never saw. I made sure to live in the moment, realizing while they were happening how lucky I was to experience them and mostly keeping up on my journaling so I would never forget. I also spent three entire days inside my flat watching American TV and crying because I wanted to be at home. And when I got home? Well, I spent three hours on the phone with a friend on the trip trying to figure out how we were going to live in Minnesota anymore, secretly planning our next trip to Europe.

I guess what I’m saying, If I lived in London four months of every year like I write a novel one month of every year, I’m not entirely sure I’d do it any differently. Not that I can’t learn from my mistakes; absolutely I can and do. I didn’t finish my novel the first year of Nano because I had no ending, I didn’t know where the story would get to. The next year I had an ending, in fact I wrote it out first, reaching my word count goal and winning.

But right now week two is kicking me hard. It is the point in my culture shock scenario where I sit in my flat for three days crying and wondering why I’m here in this stupid place at all. What’s keeping me sane is week three and four where I change completely and my novel becomes a masterpiece – it won’t stay that way on the re-read, but on November 30th when I reach my word count goal and submit the entire thing to the word-count gods, I will for that brief moment think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. Then I’ll wake up on December first and wonder how I’m going to continue in the real world without writing at least 2,000 words a day and talking to my writing buddies about the slangs and arrows of writing a novel in one month.

Why do I do it? Well, like studying abroad, because it stretches who I am, remolds me into something else – something better. If you like this blog or these words than realize that a good part of who I am and how I write is because I once spent four months studying literature and theatre in London and also because every year I take on this ridiculous and rewarding task of writing for writings sake. You really do have to go through the journey to get to the end.

Here’s to week two, at the end of it will be week three and I really want to get to week three. Happy writing!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Writing with a Ridiculous Goal

50,000 words in one month – that’s the goal and the anticipation of every November if you are one of the participants of NaNoWriMo each year. For me it’s a roller coaster ride of long nights, crappy food and song lyrics. And every year without fail when I sit down to type out those first words of a new novel on the first day of November…I cry. Literally cry. I mean I don’t think my writing is that good…or bad to deserve tears, but unlike the rest of the year when I’m writing, November isn’t about marketing me, selling my words or researching a darn thing. November is all about the art of writing words. And it is one of the many times I realize: Oh yeah, I really love doing this.

So for someone who has chosen writing as a fulltime profession, what is the difference in November? I mean why don’t I cry every time I sit down at my computer to type out words? I wish I had an answer for you, and maybe I will spend part of this month trying to figure that out. Can we just start with the fact that I have a word deadline, yet I still want to write more and blog about this experience! Seriously, I should be writing nano-words here, I’m behind. Well, I’m always behind until the end when I spend the last two days of November growling at loved ones and crying for entirely different, word count related reasons. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Huh, I guess I think the experience of NaNoWriMo has something to do with the collective masses around the world participating in this crazy – and yes, ridiculous – endeavor. I mean I have writing buddies from around the world (Hi writing buddies, each and every one of you is an inspiration!), plus you can just see the wheels turning as the communal daily word count goes up and up and up. So many people, so many novels, SO MANY WORDS…

It is really rather brilliant. Because even if half the words get deleted, thrown away or forgotten after November is over, you still have a lot words that survive. In the years to come those words grow and develop into teaching words, living and breathing words, words to live by and words to die by. The world can be changed by words; it can be manipulated and influenced by words. And for one month a year I get to see it all in action, be part of the shared word spewing, hoping that some of my words stick and become more.

Now that I’ve said too much and written too many non-nano-words, it is time to get back to work. Happy nanowing to all participants – I hope some of your words stick too!

Now stop reading this and get back to work already. If you aren’t participating in National Novel Writing Month, I hope you forgive this month of crazy blogs and enjoy my ramblings for their own merit. Who knows, you may even catch a glimpse inside a world you never knew existed before.

Oh yeah, before I go. Here is another Writing Commandment from that book I mentioned in my last blog:

II. Thou shalt begin and keep going till you’re through.
All beginnings are hard. The beginning of a novel is the hardest part to write. The beginning of each chapter is hard. The beginning of each day’s work is hard. Knowing that, grit your teeth and get past those beginnings. Then finish the book. Nothing’s more discouraging than an unfinished piece of work. Writing is rewriting. Let that give you confidence as you stumble along—you can and will make it better
after you finish a draft.
- Gillian Roberts’ You Can Write a Mystery

Thursday, October 29, 2009

HP THURSDAY – What Dementors Mean to Me

This week I made a library run for some reference material to use during November (National Novel Writing Month – aka: NaNoWriMo). I’m branching out this year, from my usual YA urban fantasy routine and adding in a bit of the Mystery genre. One of the books I checked out is by Gillian Roberts. In the book, Roberts lists her 15 Commandments for writers who want to get published (she states, “Writing commandments on a computer is much easier than carving them in stone, so I’ve listed half again as many”). All 15 are amazing, and I just may start putting one in each blog I post, but number 15 gave me an AH-HAH! moment that sent chills down my spine in regards to JK Rowling and specifically book #3.

Here’s the commandment in full:
XV. Thou shalt not believe in writer’s block.
Under all the words and mystique spun around it, writer’s block is old-fashioned fear: fear of yourself, of others’ opinions, of not being good enough or new enough or clever enough. Fear of the critical voice of parents, lovers, teachers or the neighbor who thinks you should spend your free time mowing the lawn. Fear of exposing your secret self and finding it unworthy. Fear, as the man said, of fear itself.
What’s to be done about it? See commandment XIII, on writing as an act of courage. Acknowledge that writing makes you vulnerable. No matter that your firsthand experience of murder is nil; that you in no way resemble your protagonist, villain or victim; and that you’ve never lived in Ancient Crete, where your mystery is set. Even so, your values, which are your real self, are going public via your work, and self-exposure is daring and frightening.
But if you can free yourself to understand that you are complexly human—and so are your readers—and if you put that honest revelation on paper, you’ll have a heady, liberating and exhilarating adventure.
That said, you’re ready for the trip—ready to apply your rear to a chair, stare down your devils and make words happen until you have a mystery. And ready to enjoy yourself in the process!
- Gillian Roberts’ You Can Write a Mystery

And she’s right – I hate writer’s block – AND writing is scary stuff. Opening yourself up to the critique of others is one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever done. Yet, I do it every week in this blog; and every time I hit the send button to publish my post I get a heavy sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, followed quickly by a thrilling heart-rising-into-my-throat exhilaration. Who knew writing was a mad-cap roller coaster ride!

But, back to my epiphany: Alas, it is more about Rowling and the writer’s POV than the book; although that in itself pertains to the book. Yes, I’ve confused myself too. Anyway, when I read that first part about writer’s block being fear of fear itself and knowing – from first hand experience – just how soul-sucking writer’s block can be. And, if you let writer’s block get to you enough and you loose your ability to write, finish the chapter, finish the book, whatever; as a writer you’ve lost your soul completely and life becomes an empty shell of existence. Hey, is this ringing any bells yet?! Yep, I really think Rowling took that fear and created the dementors. They ARE writer’s block. Harry’s fear of the dementors is Rowling’s fear of not completing her novel, or her series. Not seeing these characters meet their end.

Well that’s my take and I’m sticking with it.

What do the dementors mean to you? Agree to disagree if you’d like – because the beautiful thing about writing is the critique and interpretation from readers. Seriously, I know I just told you I was afraid of it, but the roller-coaster ride part of writing, means I crave it as well. I (as many writers do) need to know what the reader is getting out of my story. And sometimes we miss something that we put in there. I remember learning about all of the subplots and code in a good story in school – everything means something and we all started seeing JC characters in every single little thing we read. And at some point I remember thinking – it’s just a story about an old guy and a fish [insert Old Man and the Sea OR Moby Dick here]; why can’t it be just about and old guy and a fish? Now I realize a writer – whether they are willing to admit it or not – brings their own baggage to everything they write; whether they realize it or not. Guess what: Readers do too! So yes, I think whether Rowling realized it or not – she’s writing about writer’s block on some level. And I – as a reader who also writes – sees this and am afraid. I fear…well fear, like Harry and want to see him overcome it. Heck, I want to overcome it myself.

And that ladies and gentlemen is why I love this book so much. Every read brings me closer to these characters, this author and myself. Wow, how is that for an epiphany?

And now, before we plunge ahead into book 4, HP Mondays is taking a hiatus in November. I promise to blog weekly on my NaNoWriMo trials and tribulations and give everyone and updated word count; but I know I won’t have the extra time to give book 4 (or this blog) my full attention next month. Feel free to keep replying to the posts on book 3 – I think there is a lot of discussion that hasn’t been done. I will read and comment as I see fit.

Also, if you are participating in NaNoWriMo you are more than welcome to be my writing buddy – my user name on the site is Miranda. If you don’t know what in the heck I’m talking about then go to for further details. Also, feel free to read upcoming blogs here.

I promise to resume HP Mondays the first week in December with book #4.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

HP Monday – Why Ask Why? Just Enjoy It?

So my friend Joe (Hi Joe) writes a lot when he’s sick. He posts a lot of blogs too. I discovered last week that when I’m sick I like to curl up in bed and watch/read mindless things…and absolutely can’t stand writing a single word.

That being said, I took a break from all things in the Potterverse last week – didn’t watch or read a thing. I’m back on track now, watching the third movie this afternoon. Wow! I love this movie almost as much as I love this book. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m just a mindless fanatic and can’t use my critical analytical skills at all when it comes to HP. If true, it just won’t be as fun for this blog.

So yep, I agree with all of you: Don’t know why book 3 and movie 3 are so great, but why ask why every time. I’m just going to say there are some things that you’re just going to enjoy for no other reason than entertainment. I’m sick of trying to answer the why I like it question, so I officially give up.

I had you going there, didn’t I?! Why ask why? Well because I want to know why – hello! I’m not the type to give up on something, even if it is trying to figure out why my crazy brain works the way it does. This doesn’t mean I’m going to think about it so much I’ll miss out on the enjoyment; that would be ridiculous. But that analytical part of me just keeps niggling away at my enjoyment.

I’m breaking it down this week. And I’d like to start by saying: Until this point I really have thought of book 1 and book 2 as separate entities to movie 1 and movie 2; but not so with book and movie 3. Movie 3 seems to be an extension of book 3. As I’ve stated before, this is the first movie I felt myself getting right into the wizarding world – stretching my legs and walking around for a while picturing a grander scope than just Harry’s perspective. Now this is strange to me because I’ve already talked about this book being a Harry, Ron and Hermione love fest – I still think it’s about these three and their friendship. They’ve blocked out a lot of other characters and are really only thinking about themselves for most of it; yet the movie has more depth, more vibrancy. (Even in its muted color themes of browns, tans and oranges – Danny, movie guy, feel free to extrapolate on Cuaron’s use of surroundings, colors, and sweeping camera shots here…and that big, beautiful clock that no other director got rid of.) I can’t think of these two separately anymore – I really think I like the book so much BECAUSE of the movie and vice versa; the two compliment each other almost perfectly.

Time is a big theme in this book and movie (again with the big, beautiful clock AND the tiny Time-Turner) and although it may have been done before, I still like seeing the same three hours replay themselves from a different viewpoint in the book and the way time cannot be the same twice…or how messing with time will have effects and the unbelievable happens – i.e. Harry knows he can produce an extremely powerful patronus because he’d already done it before. Or, in the movie – Hermione sees the shells and rocks and knows she has to throw them to get herself, Ron and Harry out of Hagrid’s cottage. Don’t get me wrong, time is always a theme – as are numbers – in the realm of Harry Potter. Each book is a school year in the life and moves from birthday to end of term, Harry continues to notice in book 4 how time sometimes runs quickly and sometimes moves as slowly as a snail, time ages, time will tell, all of those adages apply; but book 3 is the only one that has extreme time manipulation. Does Hermione even use the Time-Turner after this book? So why does time have such an impact this year? And, that’s another reason I love this book and movie. As a writer I’ve always been fascinated with the way time runs – is it really linear? Does it have a beginning and an end? Can my characters manipulate it? From that writer perspective it’s a little bit like playing God – for me more than even developing characters and choosing what they say and do, when they fall in love and when they die – trying to grasp the concept of hours, minutes and days and change it around is truly mesmerizing. The fact the Rowling chooses to play with the same questions and manipulations makes me appreciate this text even more.

The one thing I didn’t like in the movie – that made more sense to my sensibilities about the internal character of Harry (and Ron, Hermione and Snape for that matter) was the scene in the Shrieking Shack when Snape walks in on the little tableau of discovering misunderstandings while creating more. In the book, Ron, Hermione and Harry all pretty sure Sirius is a good guy at this point – they’ve heard the evidence, they think Scabbers may be Pettigrew – at the least there is a seed of extreme doubt in each of their minds. So they band together and all three strike Snape with the disarming charm, knocking him out cold. In the movie, it is just Harry, and there is no reason for his trust yet, Lupin and Sirius haven’t gotten around to explaining anything. The knockout is just as strong as in the book though, but just Harry performs it…and is then chastised by Hermione for disarming a teacher.

What bothers me most about this scene in the movie is the disservice it does to Hermione’s growing and changing character. To me the essence of her character development is seeing things in a not so black and white / good and bad perception. Hermione is definitely seeing shades of grey by this point in the books and until you read the final book, I think you (at least I did) wonder just how far she can push those shades of grey before she walks on the dark side of the path. She IS a powerful and talented witch and a bit scary as Ron has pointed out, but here she comes off a goody, goody who would never think about stepping a toe out of bounds. And yes, perhaps I’ve put too much on just the one scene – both in book and movie – but it stood out both when I read the scene, and then later when I watched it.

It’s time to hear your thoughts on book and movie – or my ramblings this week. So, what do you think?

Still discussing book 3 next week – and I may take a break from HP Mondays (or whatever day I get them posted, seriously) in November so I can work on my new novel (November IS National Novel Writing Month after all) and we can pick up in December with book and movie 4.

Jibber-jabber and chat on!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

HP Monday – Firebolt vs. Marauder’s Map

Wow, it’s a little difficult to come up with things to write about this week. Not because there isn’t a lot to discuss, but because I’m trying to be as non-biased as possible. I’m really not sure what it is about book 3 – it’s not THAT good, but I’m having issues being objective.

Alright, so Mara posted last week about feminism – which is a great big, huge, gigantic, enormous can of worms to open, but I have a can opener if we want to proceed. If only Ms. Rowling were a follower or reader of this blog; I’m guessing she could shed some light on her underwriting of the female role (still don’t know if I agree with that comment, but I see your point Mara).

Can we also discuss a little bit about the really cool magical items in book 3 – i.e. totally working Pocket Sneakoscope, a kick ass (fanny, sorry) Firebolt broomstick and the best (alas, also a little dangerous) map I’ve ever heard of. Yes, even my iPod Touch is a little jealous. And the Time-Turner too…

Well, now that you all know I at least read the chapter titles of book 3 – quick question for other writers out there (readers too who have an opinion: Yes or no to chapter titles? Do you find this more of a mid-grade thing, but once you move into YA, or other fiction genres they become obsolete? Or do you like them no matter what you are writing or reading? Sorry, I digressed a little. What’s your favorite magical object and why?

I really have to go with the Marauder’s Map, for a couple of reasons:

  1. It’s ingenious – and not just for causing mischief.

  2. Look at how much magic had to go into making it. You really get a feel for just how powerful of a wizard Harry’s dad had to be (Lupin, Sirius and even Pettigrew too).

  3. The pure fun of it!

  4. The way it brings Snape down to un-professor levels. I get a feeling Harry’s eyes about popped out of his head when he read the messages Moony, Prongs, Wormtail and Padfoot wrote back.

  5. The fact that it is my favorite magical thing, even though it is dangerous and in many ways similar to Riddle’s diary in book 2 (PS – as I digress again, that is some EXCELLENT foreshadowing that was not mentioned before in our posts!)

  6. I feel it draws another parallel between Harry and Voldemort, although I’m not sure why.

  7. The Weasleys. There are so many of them and we (maybe just me here, but play along) tend to always think of them as the sidekick characters. Even when Ginny becomes was the maiden in book 2 (and again with the foreshadowing) she’s still more of a sidekick at the end of the book (yeah, feel free to argue that if you want too). But they really are quite a powerful wizarding family. A couple of headboys, even more prefects, Quidditch players/athletes, smart, funny and all of them true to their friends and house. The map, like Riddle’s diary, came to Harry through a Weasley (Fred and George are like 1 Weasley, right? OK, not even I believe that – calm down). A Weasley who unlocked the very powerful magic in the object before it reached Harry. Wow, there is so much more to this family than sidekicks.

So any other thoughts out there about anything I’ve said or you’ve read? Favorite magical item? How do you feel about the Knightbus (which I didn’t mention as one of those fun magical items before)?

We can absolutely go down the feminist path next time, if that is where your mind is headed (if we do, I’d like to again ponder where Ginny is in this book and why Cho is only in a very small scene. Although Ms. Mara, she is a female Seeker on her house's Quidditch team, which we just don’t get that much, AND she’s good at it. I feel like I’ve provoked you to tell me all about how she’s such a flat character and NOT at all helping a feminist read of this series…and you’re right, but feel free to be provoked anyway).

Next week there may be some movie discussion and I’d really like to talk about Magical Creatures now that the creepy Dementors have been introduced onto the scene. What is their role in the Harry Potter universe?

Babble. Jabber. Write.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

HP Monday – Flashbacks and Other Stuff Found in the Middle

Meanwhile, back on Privet Drive Harry is inflating his Aunt and hitching a ride on the Knight Bus. Harry is such a thirteen-year-old, it’s really rather brilliant. After re-reading this one I find myself trying to qualify WHY it’s my favorite. Because it still is; I found a lot of things I didn’t like about it – one I’m basing this post on – but I still really enjoy it! Why is that? Does anyone else feel the same; or have an idea about why I like it so much?

This post is going to be a little bit everywhere. I’m trying to throw out a bunch of different thoughts to pick up some comments and get a discussion going…bare with me.

One thing I like about most of Rowling’s writing – her ease at showing the reader her own made up world. I can really picture it all. I’ve found – in doing a lot of YA and mid-grade reading in the fantasy and sci-fi genres – there are many authors who don’t explain their worlds well (I’m citing Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series here) and it can just be confusing. Flashbacks are difficult in any writing, they work much better in movies, but not impossible. There are 101…thousand books out there with telling instead of showing; flashbacks in straight forward writing. Alas, after such a brilliant flashback in the second book (Tom Riddle SHOWING Harry his false memory of Hagrid as the Heir of Slytherin) Rowling does an awful lot of telling flashbacks here.

I know she knows better than that – the penseive in upcoming books is a brilliant way to show flashbacks; I wish I’d thought of it! So why can’t there be more showing here?! Yes, there’s lots of good stuff and showing too – the Dementors and the entire Time-Turner scenes show flashback in an intriguing and entertaining way.

This book is very much a middle of the series sort of book. Although there are a lot of things happening: back story, foreshadowing, escapades, court trials, divination and lots of Quidditch; the story we really see belongs to Harry, Ron and Hermione. The focus seems to be on each and their relationships with each other; everyone else sort of falls by the wayside.

That's very junior high too, isn't it? I had two best-friends at that age. We kept a notebook journal that we passed back and forth between each other; and now, when I look back and read what we wrote I find we were all very ego-centric. It was all about us - who we had a crush on, which teachers we liked, which we hated, and so on. I wonder what else was going on in the big wide world during those years?

Anyone else out there have an opinion? How is book 3 going? Do you like more or less than #2? My husband would also love if you comment on the picture for this post as well; he had a little too much fun with this one.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

HP Monday – Ginny, the Phoenix and Other Fiery Things

Sorry, I had technical difficulties with the blog this week…or my computer, probably both. Whatever, as long as it all works now!

I have a few comments about book 2 before we move onto three. I think of book two as a book of discovery. Some of those discoveries aren’t great – like the fact that giant spiders really exist AND they want to eat you – and some are kind of awesome: Friendship, loyalty and love really do exist AND it isn’t that hard to belong. Also, socks are really important – which only sucks if you loose yours to the washing machine or dryer gods as frequently as I do.

There are some really nice speeches in book 2 – which leads me to voice. At the end of the story, Dumbledore gives a grand speech on the choices we (or Harry, but he’s us, isn’t he?) make determining who we are. Good or Dark wizard, it all depends on each individual – not their family, race, or school house. Because the speech is coming from Dumbledore we are more likely to believe it. Much like Hermione’s writing (not words, since she’s been petrified) pipes makes the reader mark it as the truth. I hadn’t realized just how much Rowling chooses which characters say what until reading this book. Don’t get me wrong, I realize how important voice is to a book – or movie for that matter. If a character says something that doesn’t ring true to their identity, we as the reader or watcher tend to discredit the book or movie. If two characters seem to be saying the same sorts of things, a good writer might get rid of one and put all the words into one voice (although, speaking from experience, that is hard to do – it’s like killing part of you – but maybe that second character can be used in a different story further down the road). But Rowling uses her characters traits and voices to create emotions and moods inside the reader; it’s manipulative and amazing because it works! If Lockhart had given this speech, you’d think it was far-fetched or somehow egotistical, but not believable. Snape would have put a sarcastic twist on it, sounding more like Harry had made the wrong choice by wanting to be in Gryffindor, but the actual words could have been the same – or very similar.

I keep going back to the whole “Life isn’t fair” adage. I think I learned this at the age of twelve, or somewhere around there. Aragog – although a monster – can be wrongly accused, and Hagrid can go to Azkaban even though no one really thinks he belongs there. Mrytle can die because she was crying in a bathroom and the real Heir of Slytherin can earn honors because he accused someone else. Teachers can be idiots or biased and parents can be evil incarnate, people with good intentions can harm you and your son’s stupid choices can put your job on the line. Yep, life isn’t fair at all, valuable lesson to be learned so definitively at this age. So, back to choices: What are you going to do about it? Save the girl AND the school all while staying true to yourself and loyal to your friends. Yes Harry, it looks like you’ve made all the right choices…for now.

We will get right into book number 3 on Monday (Really! Keep your fingers crossed and hopefully my computer won’t blow up). One thing wrangling me a little about book 3 – where’s Ginny? For having so much face time in book 2, she’s all but disappeared in the next one.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

HP Monday – Movie Notes

I’m going to start out by stating my like for the HP movies. They’ve got a lot of material to work with and I really do realize you just can’t get everything in there. I also realize some things need to be re-worked for staging and acting purposes. Dobby can’t be cheap either in all of his CG glory. Maybe John Cleese wanted a lot of money so there could be no Death Day party, who knows? But yes, I really do enjoy the movies, I promise.

And here it comes…

I just don’t get the Knockturn Alley scene in this movie?! What’s the point? There’s no Malfoy exchange, no ministry raids discussion and back door dealings. Nope, in the movie Harry speaks unclearly when using floo powder, ends up at Borgin and Burkes, almost gets mugged by an old hag and Hagrid swoops in and gets him back to Diagon Alley and the Weasleys. It is pretty much a done deal scene with lots of exposition and not a lot of content.

But in the book, this is a pivotal scene. This is Harry’s first real look (that’s arguable, feel free to jump in here) at both sides of the wizarding world post-Voldermort. Sure, he’s seen/heard what the wizarding world was like while Voldermort was in power; and probably even knows there are still those who wish Voldermort and the death eaters were running things. But to actually see the places and people in Knockturn Alley…to actually see the kid you don’t like at school’s dad act far worse than the kid?! These are lessons Harry learns in Knockturn Alley – and then those lessons are echoed again in Flourish and Blotts – someplace Harry is familiar with and feels safe at. Alas, none of this comes across in the movie (unless you watch the deleted scenes, then you can see a longer Borgin and Burkes scene complete with Lucius and Draco Malfoy – as well as the hand of glory) and I miss them.

I DO like Hermione fixing Harry’s glasses again, tying in the first movie (in the book it is Mr. Weasley) and the comment about the butterflies is just brilliant. The giant spiders are scary and not just silly when shown on the screen; although the scene in the book gives me chills. Moaning Myrtle and Gilderoy Lockhart are really well played while the polyjuice potion and slug eating are as disgusting as my imagination made them out to be. In all I think the second movie does a decent job portraying the themes and issues Rowling deals with in the second book – albeit with some lighter fare, but it still confronts the issues.

Flying Car or Amusement Park Ride?

The flying car, which we’ve already discussed as a pretty good metaphor for teenage rebellion works in the movie, but I do feel they went a little overboard – it’s not a roller coaster ride – that’s a different metaphor entirely!

So what are your opinions on the movie? Did you like it? Does it work for you? Who do you like better in the movie because of how their character is portrayed? Vice versa? Next week we will finish up with book 2 and move on to Prisoner of Azkaban. I’d like to discuss Ginny and character voice in book 2 next week so feel free to leave your thoughts on those topics as well.

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

HP Monday…Er, Wednesday: What’s in a Name?

Everyone’s comments made me think so much this week; I needed extra days to gather my thoughts. Wow, thanks for your responses and I’m glad everyone seems to be enjoying this blog book club forum. I promise to go back to Monday next week…really!

Harry Potter as compared to Moby Dick – or Rowling vs. Melville, that’s not something I’d thought of before, but the argument is well thought out and has merit. I need to think through that one more (you can’t make me go back and re-read Melville – Moby Dick or Bartleby) but yes, I see what you’re saying about a farce-like allegory. I agree with you whole-heartedly on archetypes – Ginevra too – it’s the Italian form of Guinevere so Rowling’s found a way to tie her too her name even more.

Names too, I love Rowling’s names. She obviously is well-read and uses names to signify meaning – or really as a tool to suggest foreshadowing and character traits (i.e. Professor Sprout, Lupin (Remus for that matter), Sirius & Regulus, Malfoy). I’ve thought about Tom Marvolo Riddle too – my husband laughs every time at the “I am” part of Voldermort’s name, but what better way to clue young readers into an anagram than by calling out ‘riddle’. It’s brilliant in its simplicity.

Who’s enjoying Gilderoy Lockhart on this read? I’m raising my hand (you just can’t tell). I’m wondering if Rowling has strong opinions about Sue Grafton? Working your way through the alphabet of murders must be like working your way through the alphabet of defense against the dark arts…I’d like to peruse Magical Me if only I could get my hands on a copy. He’s narcissistic to such an extreme – kind of the opposite of Harry, who’s still trying to be discreet about his fame.

Memory seems to be a strong theme in this book. Lockhart is really on good at the memory charm and when it backfires on him, he’s lost his complete memory. The memory of Tom Riddle is essentially the bad guy in this book. Harry is plagued with memories of his sorting and thinks he may belong in Slytherin, Moaning Mrytle’s memories hold the key to the book’s solution and conclusion. In fact most of the resolution comes from memory – Aragog’s, Hagrid’s, Mrytle’s, Hermione’s on a piece of paper…and so on – great foreshadowing for the pensieve in upcoming books!

Finally, to touch a little on the feminism issue in last week’s comments – I get what you are saying, Hermione does get left out in the ‘action’; but the boys would never get anywhere without her. I mean really, can you imagine Ron and Harry without Hermione? It’s just not possible. And as for Bellatrix being the strongest witch…craziest yes, but strongest? I just don’t know. I think you’d have to say the strongest magic in the world; the most powerful, live saving magic is still Lily’s love for Harry. And I think you could argue that Harry’s good choices (and choice is SO a theme in this book as well as the series…I think you can make an argument that it is the only thing separating Harry and Voldermort) really boils down to all of the female persuasion in his life (and Dumbledore, yes I didn’t forget) but Hermione, Ginny, Molly, Tonks (he wants to be an Auror after meeting her), Luna, McGonagall and his mother (through memories again) all have a say in his decision making.

On Monday I will post on the movie as well, so we can talk about both before moving onto book 3. Thanks again for your comments and discussions!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dancing with Mitzi

Sorry in advance for my lack of humor today. This is one of those venting posts where I mostly just need to write out my feelings before I go insane.

So, I’ve been fighting – well not really – with a magazine about an article. I say fighting because I originally received a positive response for a pitch, then went about ironing out the contract with the editor, only to have the editor get laid-off. Not surprisingly, the new editor was less than thrilled to take any articles the old editor had agreed on that hadn’t been signed to a contract yet.

I’ve pitched the article to a couple other places and offered to submit this article on spec. On spec – or speculation – means the magazine can do whatever they want with the article – publish it or not – and they don’t have to pay me if they don’t want to. Why would anyone do this you ask? Well, to get the darn thing published!! Why do I want this article published so badly? Well, it’s about this really wonderful woman who’s lived this amazing life and I’d love for her to see her story in print. To make matters worse, I found out today that she has been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, making this article all that more important.

I’m leaving my pitch here, and in a couple of weeks if I don’t hear back from those pitched magazines, I’m going to post the article here too. Your good thoughts, prayers, wishes, chi energy, whatever you have to spare would be greatly appreciated. Not just for the publishing of this article but more – and most – importantly the improvement in health of my friend and anyone else who’s struggling with a life threatening illness.

In 1942, President Roosevelt signed Public Law 689 – the Navy Women’s Reserve Act – enabling women to enlist in the reserve branches of the Navy. These women became known as WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Services).

At the age of 20, Mercedes ‘Mitzi’ Ward – with two letters of recommendation from outstanding members of her Minneapolis community and her parents’ consent – joined the ranks of the WAVES and was shipped to a Navy hospital in San Diego for the duration of WWII and six months.

I’m contacting you to pitch a profile of Mitzi, whom I met while working my first part-time job in high school – cashiering at a local grocery store where Mitzi still demos frozen pizzas and other food on the weekends. I still visit her frequently at the store to listen to her tales, and for the pure motivation she inspires in those who listen. This story will highlight just some of the most fascinating aspects of her life: her activities with the WAVES during WW II – focusing on Mitzi’s job rehabilitating amputee soldiers by teaching them to dance; visiting some of the big band dance halls/hotels of California; and dancing with a young G.I. named Gene Kelly. Although she’s now in her eighties, Mitzi still has a mischievous sparkle in her eyes and a young, sly smile. Her sense of humor is almost as strong as her no-nonsense demeanor. She is an Everywoman who still remains active in her Minnesota community. In her own words, Mitzi’s lived. She’s (literally) danced through life with an undying optimism that makes her story relevant to your target audience: smart, savvy women who enjoy empowering histories and profiles.

As an experienced copywriter, I’m skilled at self-editing my work. You can expect a well-researched and fact checked feature article for your Life section. Mitzi’s dance through life is a choreographed journey worth taking. Thank you for your consideration.

I’d like everyone reading this post to really think about talking to friends, relatives, teachers, anyone about their lives. Listen to your friend’s favorite life experience, and feel free to comment/post those stories here. There are a lot of good stories around that may be lost if we don’t start listening to each other.
I'll step down off of my soap box now, thanks for listening.

Monday, August 31, 2009

HP Monday - The Chamber is Open

It’s time to start talking about Harry’s second year at Hogwarts!

What are your thoughts on the first few chapters of book #2? Back at the Dursley’s in the real world – do you take this as a beginning place – before the rabbit hole, wardrobe or tollbooth so to speak…I guess this would make platform 9 ¾ the portal into the wizarding world? It’s kind of a twist on the proverbial door into another place (sorry, I have a small obsession with liminal “in between” places) – both worlds co-exist; some people just choose not to notice.

Book 2 definitely has a message. I feel that if JK Rowling wrote this book further along in the series, many critics would call it self indulgent…sometimes I don’t really like critics. Book 2 is very much a book of classes and racism – muggles, pure blood wizards, “mud-bloods”, rich wizards, poor wizards, “squibs”, famous wizards, smart wizards, red wizards, blue wizards – oops I got carried away there at the end. Let’s not forget house elves as servants and the perceived – or real – differences between the school houses (and their founders)…oh, this class difference has been going on for a very long time in the magic world. Of course, there is the always present good vs. evil wizardry and magic.

I’ve got to be honest, book 2 is not my favorite (that’s book 3 actually), but re-reading it this time with my blog-eye perspective I think I’ve just been disgruntled. I mean shouldn’t wizards be smarter than us muggles? Their world is as messed up as ours! Yes, Ms. Rowling I get it; your books aren’t just an escape away from life, huh.

A little more on theme: The friendship thread is still prevalent. Harry seems to think his friends aren’t behind him at the beginning, but they Ron and the twins come to rescue him from the mundane muggle world – in a flying blue car. I do remember my friends rescuing me from groundings by pretending we were going to the library to study – but instead we went to a movie or out with more friends – pretty sure my mom always knew these were breakouts, but she let it happen anyway. There was never a flying car though, that would have been something.

After his breakout, Harry ends up at the Burrow – which is just about one of my favorite places in Rowling’s world! It’s a real home, no matter how small or pieced together it is. This has a lot to do with how much the Weasley’s embody good and true wizardry – yep, another theme: family togetherness. Wow, there’s a lot to talk about in this book.

I’d like to also touch on all of the misjudging or prejudging going on here – gosh there’s plenty of it – and it’s coming from every which way possible. For instance, right from the beginning the Ministry of Magic thinks the magic happening at the Dursley’s is caused by Harry – shouldn’t they know better? And just how powerful is Dobby’s magic? Why ARE the house elves servants to wizards? I see more foreshadowing here. If there are all of these different classes for wizards – imagine how they treat other magical creatures and beings that AREN’T wizards…

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Taking Time for Tea

I spent a quarter studying in London as an undergrad. It was a literature and theatre program, and like all study-abroad experiences it changed my life: I fell in love with the art of afternoon tea. Well a lot of other stuff happened too, but for this blog post we’ll stick with the tea.

I had my first afternoon tea with two girls on that trip – Megan and Tera at Harrods (paid for by friends at home – shout out to 415 peeps! – who wanted me to enjoy the experience). Looking back now, it’s hard for me to imagine what I was like before I lived in London – this is why I love travelling, you set out to discover another place, another culture and you end up revealing a little bit more of your own soul.

So, tea is still a pretty big part of who I am and I still enjoy it with my friends Megan and Tera: Apparently unlike Vegas, things you do in London don’t stay in London. Wow, how do you all take me seriously? Yeah, so tea; good stuff in many different forms! You should try it if you haven’t – herbal, black, green, white, rooibos, chai or oolong, there are so many different kinds out there to treat yourself to.

I received a wedding shower gift last year in the form of a tea of the month subscription. Every month I get two boxes of tea in the mail. I decided this would be a great gift for my tea friends, but turned it into tea-and-treats-every-time-we-get-together. Last week I baked some Amish Friendship Bread and packed it up with some summer type teas like White Peony and Pomegranate Oolong.

There’s something about baking or cooking for friends. Finding the right combinations of tea and tea snack goodies is really a lot of fun (even if some of their husbands eat all of the goodies before anyone else can…it just means it was really good bread, right?!). I think the bread came out well – if you’ve never tried the friendship bread, it has a cinnamony coffee cake flavor…but so much better. The starters are out there – and if you don’t have a starter, or you let yours go, there’s plenty of websites with recipes on them. You can also put different stuff in, try different versions and even make muffins instead of bread. I’ve tweaked my recipe a little, but it’s mostly the original recipe I received. Plus, wow does it smell good.

What’s so great about afternoon tea you ask? Well, it takes a good hour and a half to two hours if you do it right. There’s lots of tea, some fun and tiny sandwiches, yummy desserts and scones. Most importantly there is lots of talking and sharing with friends…the best part of afternoon tea by far. Taking time for tea every once in a while is actually like slowing down time to look around and enjoy what life has to offer. It’s both energizing and reflective at the same time.

Like everything else I’ve been reevaluating lately, my extensive knowledge of tea, little tea shops (for some reason I want to say shoppes in reference to tea) and tea sellers makes me think this is something else I can be – and should be – writing about. There’s my next goal/new idea – putting together a tea book. Since this means trying out lots of recipes, as well as different gathering/tea themes – you may be getting a lot of tea related blogs in the near future. Alas, you can’t all try the baked goods to tell me which ones are best, but your input will be greatly appreciated.

Oh, book club themed teas…I might have to start with that!

Monday, August 24, 2009

HP Monday - Themes and Characters

Well I read ahead and am now about 100 pages into book #2, but I still want to give everyone a month for each book, so I’m trying to figure out how to approach this post. I think I’m going to be a little scholarly here and briefly touch on themes and motifs in Harry Potter. Yep, if you’re in high school or college you have to start thinking about this stuff again; summer is almost over.

OK, now that I’ve just alienated a large chunk of my audience (I’m really just trying to pressure you into commenting so we can talk about whatever you all want to talk about…hint…hint) I’m returning briefly to some major themes I see developing. Love is a huge one, and I love that it is the multi-faceted love that includes family, friends, school work, wizardry, sports, magical creatures, evil AND romantic love – it’s all in there right from the beginning. Although the first book delves into each of these a little, I really like what they say about the love of a mother for her child. There’s Harry’s mom who pretty much gave her life to save her son AND left that mark of love on him as a super-strong protection which foreshadows nicely for the last book (both Mrs. Malfoy and Mrs. Weasly are mothers after all) and it’s not something Voldermort (Do I have to type in here he-who-must-not-be-named? That’s really long) can’t see coming, doesn’t comprehend and will never learn from (again foreshadowing for future books).

Why is Harry’s mother’s love a good thing for Harry but Mrs. Dursley’s love for Dudley is extreme enough to make him a fat, bully and quite literally a pig (well, at least the tail)?

Does anyone else find themselves wondering what kind of school Rowling went to? Hogwarts is so very well thought out; as a writer I wonder if this is because she had a good experience in school or a really bad one. You know, one where she needed to use her imagination to make it better, more magical to survive. The school and learning is a theme, but since this series at its base is a tale about a boy’s journey from childhood to manhood, that’s not really a surprise – but the details are impressive. Hogwarts is definitely a character all its own – which is impressive since it has no lines or thoughts of its own.

Other themes that would be fun to discuss: friendship (we’ve touched on this in previous posts and comments a little), Quidditch, fate, mythology, prophesy, free will, faith and of course the line between good and evil. Or, feel free to bring up your own (plants or the color yellow possibly?!) or talk about anything else. If you know me, you may also know that my undergrad thesis was on the Hero Quest – so be warned that subject may come up in a post later on.

As we move into book #2 we can continue to think about these themes and move on to other fun stuff like house-elves and flying cars; Floo powder and the opposite of Diagon Alley – Knockturn Alley.

Questions for all: Did you like the first book? Do you think it is all overrated? Are there any other movie thoughts?

My last thoughts on book 1: All of the ideas floating around in a writer’s head like stars in an inky black sky, swirling around till they form images, shadows and then concrete structures, breathing characters and a million different textures. Writing a book is a magical process – writing seven while developing your own world with laws and games and words all its own must be one of the most amazing experiences…well, on to book two everyone!

Monday, August 17, 2009

HP Monday – Where’s Neville?

I had a very Harry Potter weekend myself. I went to the Harry Potter exhibition at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago on Friday. I highly recommend it to any one who likes the books, movies, or just likes seeing movie props in real life. I was also finishing up book number one in and around Chicago and watched the first movie last night to cap off the weekend.

I was surprised at how similar the book and movie are – I don’t remember that at all. I remember thinking they were really, really different actually. Of course, we could get into how they are different, and list off all of the details missing from the movie (and if that’s what you want to post about, feel free) but that’s the problem with every book to movie translation. I even found one thing in the movie that’s not in the book – and I really always thought it was. The scene where Hermione finds Harry and Ron on the train and Ron performs his turning-scabbers-yellow spell and then Hermione tells them all spells are easy and fixes Harry’s broken glasses – not in the book; she doesn’t perform a spell at all, just says the ones she’s tried have all worked.

Walking around the exhibit in Chicago with all the movie props you can’t help but be impressed by the world that’s been created. If my books ever make it this far, I’ll be so impressed – someone took my words and then created this whole thing with all of these tiny details. Rowling must admire things like the posting board for Gryffindor house with notes and names and a million little things she didn’t have time to think of while writing her story. Or, she may have thought them up but then she had to delete them from her manuscript or she would have never been able to sell it. Imagine if one of your deleted thoughts, ideas – or just random small thing that you never wrote down but always imagined while writing – actually shows up on screen, because a director, or cinematographer or set designer read your words and thought it up too. There was a Great Hall room in the exhibit, and I was totally impressed by this chocolate hat with chocolate bunnies coming out of it – as a reader I’ve thought of things like that…I’m going to have to try and recreate that one!

I get why there is no Peeves in the movie – it’s an extra plot-line that could be eliminated; and Peeves is kind of obnoxious. I even get why they play down the two oldest Weasleys (Charlie and Bill) even though I like both characters a good deal. But I don’t get the mixing up which characters are in which scenes? Why is Neville not with Hermione, Ron and Harry when they meet Fluffy for the first time? Why is Neville not part of the detention in the forest with Hermione, Harry and Malfoy (and why is Ron there)? Neville’s actions at the end of the book and movie seem much more heroic when you know he’s been suffering along with Hermione and Harry in the wrath of all other Gryffindors for loosing all of those house points. I can’t figure this one out at all. The scenes play out mostly the same; I just keep wondering where Neville is.

I like the obstacle course in the book better. The gauntlet the trio has to run at the end is really entertaining in the book – I miss the potion (if for the logic puzzle alone) and troll sections. I liked knowing that each professor put their own twist on the trials to get to the stone, and that all three children needed to be there to get through it. Although, I really do like Ron’s speech in the movie as he sits on his horse and waits for the queen to knock him down.

So, what do you think? Movie thoughts, book thoughts, book and movie thoughts? After reading and watching, do you feel the movie took any liberties? Does it assume you’ve read the book or does it stand alone? If you’ve already seen the movie and this is the first time you’re reading the book, do you get more out of the movie now?

Oh, and if that girl who reminded me so much of Hermione from the HP exhibit who lost her bag of souvenirs and tried to take mine at the train station is somehow reading this; I apologize. It really was my bag and not yours, but my husband tells me I was mean to you and I should have just opened up my bag and showed you what was inside instead of saying you could look inside if you wanted to (which apparently I did in an accusing tone). I really hope you found your souvenirs, wherever you are.

Next week we will wrap up book one and look ahead to book two – that pesky chamber and all those spiders. Watch the movie if you haven’t yet and post your comments!

Monday, August 10, 2009

HP Monday – A Stone by Any Other Name…

So, right off the bat I have to apologize. This is the first time I’ve re-read the first Harry Potter book since completing a rough draft of my own novel – my perspective is totally different now. I remember enjoying book 1, I remember liking the arc of the story as well as the storyteller qualities; but I’ve kind of always thought JK Rowling grew into her writing; like it wasn’t really that good to begin with. And (I can’t believe I’m admitting this in a post that will soon be right out there in cyberspace for anyone to read) I always felt like if I had come up with the idea of the first book I might have done a better job. Wow, I am SO wrong! JK Rowling has got it going on right from the beginning. I can’t believe her foreshadowing skills – and her plot braiding is ridiculous…

I’d really like to know what everyone is thinking. Are you enjoying the re-read? Is this your first time reading it? I’m ecstatic about the first week if only to see someone pick up this book for the first time – and hopefully she will get her children (Seriously Demolition Duncan: Do you know who your parents are? How can you NOT be into this stuff?) to read them too.

I’d like to point out that reading the Philosopher’s Stone version has me asking my British husband lots of questions. Evenings go much like this now:
“What’s a cine-camera?” I ask as I read about Dudley’s mound of birthday presents.
“It’s a movie camera. An 8mm hand held predecessor of the camcorder.” My husband replies.
“Huh, so what does the US version call it then – a video camera or something?” I wonder out loud.
My husband is very patient with me sometimes, and at this point he actually pauses the Wii, gets up from the living room chair and goes into his office to find his copy hiding on an upper shelf somewhere. I just keep reading.
“Yes, video camera is correct.” He answers from the doorway of his office. Then I can hear him half climbing up the shelf to replace the book.
“Huh, so when Mrs. Dursley says Dudley’s first word is shan’t, is that actually his first word in the US version?” I ask a second later.
My husband has just made it back to the living room where I hear a little sigh as he turns around to go fetch the book again. I really should look up and acknowledge his acrobatic acts of book discovery; especially when I hear one hit the floor and an exasperated, inaudible comment follows. But I just keep reading, engrossed in the letters flooding into the Dursley house and the madcap drive to the shack on the rock.
“His first word is won’t.” He replies from the doorway again.
“Thanks.” I mutter and then turn back to my book.
You will all be happy to know that both versions are now sitting on the table for easy reference.

After Karen’s comments on the Philosopher’s stone and her children, I asked my husband if there was some sort of English story to go along with kids being interested enough in the title to read this book. He wasn’t sure, but thought it sounded familiar enough for me to do a quick google search…So yep, it’s a world-mystery – not just English – relating to the study of Alchemy. Apparently the goal of Alchemy is this stone and it is used to perfect any substance or situation. Now – modern times – the Philosopher’s stone is a symbol of true, incorruptible wisdom: Using both the right and left sides of the brain with the intuitive knowing of the heart (

OK – so after that enlightenment – many more points going to JK Rowling! You don’t have to dumb-down your advanced learning to speak to children or young adults. Alas, I do wonder know why the US version changed the title at all? Especially as this was the only title they changed…

For those who’d like something to discuss this week: What are your first interpretations/impressions of Hogwarts? What does Harry see when his eyes are finally opened to the world of magic (I was blown away by the undercurrents in the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley during Harry’s shopping trip with Hagrid)? What kind of wand would Mr. Ollivander have found for you? Or again, whatever you want to talk about/say. Comment away! If you’ve finished book 1 already, watch the movie this week. I may blog a little about the movie next week as well, so everyone has some time to comment about it before we move onto book 2. Feel free to read ahead too; I know book 5, 6 & 7 are twice as long as 1 & 2. The rest of us will catch up eventually.

Happy reading!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Acquired Reading: The Love of a Good Magazine

Today I’m tooling around the magazine shelves at Barnes & Noble looking for prospective short-term employers: Who wants to publish (and pay for) an article by me?! There are so many to choose from – shelves upon layered shelves of magazines on every subject; which one will I choose to solicit next? Each magazine is a bright, scrumptious fruit in the jungle of freelance anonymity – pick the right one and I could be famous…I’ll settle for just published!

I like Barnes & Noble for their variety. Want to read a magazine on Colombian coffee? There’s one at Barnes & Noble for you. Want to learn how to knit with only wool from a lamb named Baa-rty living on the side of Blaven in the Isle of Skye? Surprisingly, there’s a magazine at Barnes & Noble for you too. OK, I may have exaggerated on that last one, but you get the picture.

Back to topic: The most productive way to pitch an article is to find the publication that needs your words and ideas the most – if they need you as much as you need them, you are almost guaranteed a job. Once I’ve narrowed it down I get myself to the library and do some major research on a couple particular publications by looking at back issues to see if they’ve already done something similar to my idea. It’s not always bad if they have because you can work off that knowledge and pitch a continuation or more in depth piece; but sometimes it means no, they’ve been there and done that – move on to someone else.

As I’m searching through the jungle laid out in front of me, I can’t help but smile sardonically. Maybe you have to know a little bit about my love/hate relationship with magazines to fully understand the irony of my current situation. And maybe you have to understand me a little more than this blog will let you to understand how utterly fascinating – and truly enjoyable – that knowledge is…and why I wouldn’t trade my current situation at all, not even a little bit. Let’s stick with the magazines for today.

I used to see magazines as reading nuisances. They don’t have the same smell or flavor of books – even textbooks (gasp) are preferable. I can count on one hand the magazine subscriptions I’ve actually had in my life. There are a lot of things I don’t like about magazines. I don’t like the little postcard-sized subscription cards that pop out every time you turn a page. I don’t like the super-concentrated cologne samples that give you a headache and smear the words as you try to read while wiping your hands on the shiny cover in a vain attempt to get the stench off; because inevitably the sample always rips open, spraying you with a blast of something that may have smelled good originally, but is now mixed with paper, glue and other perfume samples into a cacophony of evil potpourri. I also really don’t like the amount of advertisements – from a marketing standpoint I get them, some of them may even work on me – but I don’t have to contend with these attention distracters while reading a book. Mostly, I don’t like the break-up in flow. If I’m into my article on the benefits of yoga and meditation, I don’t want to have to find page 125 in mid-sentence.

At this point you are wondering how I can possibly be a freelancer; right? Why I’ve chosen to make this my career? I can and I do because once you make it past all of the stuff I just talked about (and most people really don’t have a problem with that – just throw the postcards and samples away before you start reading – how lazy are you anyway?) some of the content in magazines far outweighs the content in the latest mystery or YA book I’ve read. It’s uplifting, it’s motivational; it is smaller, intense doses of good literature and it is geared toward a target audience who can’t stop seeking knowledge on the subject at hand: Magazines are pure dead brilliant! How lucky am I?