Monday, August 30, 2010

George Lucas vs. Aaron Sorkin

I'm back, friends! I spent a week in 65-degree upstate New York where I escaped NYC craziness and worked on my YA-in-progress. Despite a pretty great week, I have to say it's good to be home. (What can I say, I loves me some craziness. The return to 90-degree humidity, however, is a different story...)

While writing this week, I noticed that I write a lot of dialogue. Or at least more dialogue than narration. This is neither good nor bad in my opinion, but it got me thinking about writing conversations in general. I'm a big dialogue person - old-fashioned Bogie and Bacall banter, I eat it up. But how much does it really matter? For me, it's the first thing I notice when reading or watching something, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily the most important thing I look for. When reading requested material, queries, what-have-you, I usually see one of two extremes when dialogue doesn't work. I'll call it the George Lucas vs. Aaron Sorkin problem.

Explanation.

Take George Lucas. Star Wars has proven decade after decade that Lucas' story of a galaxy far, far away resonates with audiences, regardless of generation. He's reinvented the franchise yet again with Clone Wars, which is currently being enjoyed by the grandchildren of those who were first shocked over the identity of Luke's dad. (Don't worry; I won't ruin it for you.)

Yet, one thing George Lucas is notoriously guilty of (which he's even accepted himself) is that he cannot write dialogue. Like, at all. Sure, Han's "I know" to Leia's "I love you" was pretty badass, but given the rest of the lackluster attempts at romance, I think this gem was simply the result of Lucas' inability to convey genuine emotion.

Lucas proves that you don't need deeply meaningful conversation, witty banter, or even a college-level vocabulary to engage a massive audience. It should come as a surprise to no one that Star Wars is one of my favorite movies, but consider for a minute if it was a novel (and also ignore the many novelizations that already exist). After a few pages of "I'll be careful"/"You'll be dead!" exchanges, I think I'd be ready to throw in the towel. Some things just don't translate to the page with the same effect.

Aaron Sorkin, on the other hand, has the opposite problem. Now, before I explain the "problem" I have with a person whom I consider a master of dialogue, I will state that The West Wing remains one of the greater written shows of all time, and that I've loved everything Sorkin has ever written and/or created. With one exception - Studio 60. So, that will be my focus here. Studio 60, to me, represents exactly what not to do as a writer, even if you're an incredibly gifted writer. 

Sorkin has a philosophy that one should never talk down to one's audience. This is evident in his writing, and he stated it blatantly in Studio 60. I agree with him to an extent, but in the case of this "missing of the mark," let's say, he manages to take his trademark smart, witty, heightened language and turn it into whiny, preachy, condescending monologue. Even in near-perfect shows like Sports Night and The West Wing, Sorkin has been guilty of preaching. Since I usually fell into the choir he was he preaching to, I never really minded, but there were times where even I felt the eye roll-worthiness of some of Bartlett and Leo's seemingly unrelated anecdotes in reference to world-changing decisions.

With Studio 60, Sorkin took his preaching to a new level. Clearly still pissed at NBC for firing him from The West Wing, he managed to create an entire show of monologues that made fairly accurate points about unfairness, network greed, and censorship, among others. What he forgot to do while making these Obama-level speeches was to develop an actual plot. Stories and characters on television are created through dialogue, which is another thing he forgot to write. Or, at least, forgot to write it well. Hence, the show failed.

Lucas' ability to create a world in which people want to lose themselves is a testament to his talent as a writer. Whereas Sorkin's apparent inability to use words for anything other than wit and intellect is a testament to his particular talent. On the page, however, a balance needs to be struck, whether you're writing commercial or literary fiction. Exceptions are always made, depending on genre and style, but (for me, at least) I like seeing both factors given equal, or near-equal, weight.

How important is dialogue to you, and how do you approach it as writers? Does every word count toward the plot, or do you let your characters speak tangentially, the way people do in real life? Tell me how you balance your story, dialogue, and character development.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Flight

Hello friends! I'm taking some time off this week, but there's always room for Story Time. This week's story is a novel excerpt by Allison Morris, a writer living in Queens who once moonlit as an advice columnist for a men's magazine. Her novel, Flight, is her first attempt at fiction. She also blogs HERE, where you can also read the first chapter of Flight in its entirety. Enjoy the small glimpse of it here first! 

Flight
By Allison Morris   

Maria had successfully been normal for 2,477 days. Since the night of her second date with Joe. She was good at it and no one knew how much of a challenge each day once was. Wake up. Go to work. Chatter at the water cooler. Subway home. Dinner with Joe. Rinse and repeat. She barely felt the strain of it anymore.

And then on a bright, breezy day at the start of September, Maria heard the song that would change her life. She drove a rented car, winding her way towards to the Berkshires to interview a chef for the week’s column, hardly paying attention to the music. And then “Water’s Edge” began.

When Maria heard Sam Montgomery moan the opening notes of the song, despair overwhelmed her. It was physical, like some undiscovered organ secreted an electrically charged chemical. He drew her in—a magnet—gravity—she could not pull herself away. Maria did not know that anything was missing from her life until she heard his voice.

She eased the car onto the grass on the side of the parkway to compose herself. Once calm again, she downloaded the album onto her iPhone and listened to him sing.

On that 2,478th day, in the early autumn breeze on the side of the Taconic Parkway, all of Maria’s efforts to live a normal life fell away.

This is when the dreams began.

The First:

Autumn in New York, the best time to experience the city. Though she brought her lunch to the office – leftover stir-fry that Joe made for dinner – she bought a salad just to escape outdoors in the afternoon. Despite the high sun, surrounding skyscrapers cast the streets into shadow. A cross street air tunnel plastered the monochrome layers of clothes to her body.

With the wind blowing her hair into her eyes, Maria did not see him until they walked into each other and bounced apart. “Excuse me,” she mumbled as he put his hands on her shoulders to steady her. She looked up to apologize but the startled expression on his face cut her short.

“Oh, it’s you.”

It’s me?

She tried to place the man. Wide forehead, three days of beard, sunglasses that gave no hint at his eyes, black hair in need of a shower. Tall. Young. And then she understood.

It was him.

They stood staring at each other with matched confusion until the car horns broke through their trance. The traffic light changed and they now stood in the middle of the street, blocking angry taxi drivers from their way. Neither one looked away from the other as they hurried over to the sidewalk.

“You recognize me?” Maria asked, confused that the real life star of her made up world would notice her, even if she had quite literally walked him.

“Um, yes?” He removed the sunglasses and his eyes narrowed, crinkling around the edges. She watched a film strip of thoughts flash across his face before he spoke. “This is going to sound like the worst line in history, but I dream about you.”

Huh. That was unexpected.

“Daydreaming? Or when you sleep?” she asked.

“When I sleep.”

He looked confused by her question—whether because of her lack of reaction or her request for detail, she couldn’t say. All Maria knew was that once moment she was walking down the street having a perfectly normal day and the next, a rock star showed up and made everything surreal. She lacked the capacity to wrap her mind around that just yet and the mental gear lock manifested itself with a remarkable resemblance to calm.

When Maria first looked up to see Sam Montgomery, she believed that she had gone crazy. Like submerging herself in the bathtub, she had slipped nearly unnoticeably into the world of people who eat sweaters and talk to teapots. She did not want to be insane, to have that be her life’s narrative. To hurt Joe like that. It made her sad.

And now another thought occurred to her: Perhaps she wasn’t insane. Perhaps Sam Montgomery stood in front of her in the middle of 51st Street. He had finally arrived.

“Hmm. For me it’s daydreams. I just thought I was bored.”

“You mean you’ve been dreaming about me too?” Sam Montgomery straightened his back and put his hands out in front of him. He looked like he couldn’t tell if he should be confused or angry. Maria spoke and moved carefully.

“More like thinking about you, but yes. It’s a little less weird for me though. I knew you existed at least.” He blushed, Maria supposed, at this reminder of his fame. His embarrassment struck her as fairly ill suited to the extraordinary conversation.

“Odd.”

“Yes.”

“What the hell is happening?” Relaxing out of his cornered cat posture, he now questioned Maria conspiratorially, as though they faced a common enemy.

“I don’t know.”

Maria surveyed Sam. She took in the messy mat of hair, the alabaster skin. She knew his aviator glasses hid large gray-green eyes, hard and deep like slate. Sam Montgomery had a wide, smooth forehead, prominent cheekbones, and a pointy chin. A heart shaped face, androgynous but beautiful. Right now, she looked past all of this and focused on making certain he was all right. Green-tinged and clammy, he looked like he might be in shock or sick.

Despite the surreal conversation and the layers of impossibility it implied, Maria felt calm. She was talking with Sam Montgomery. He was just as beautiful, even in his unkempt state, as on the cover of Rolling Stone. And he had dreamed about her. “When I make up stories about you—which makes me sound like a crazy stalker fan—you and I are good friends. What about you?”

“Yes. We’re good friends.” He tested each word as he spoke.

“What do we do in your dreams?”

“Talk mostly.” His face flushed. “And you?”

“The same; talk mostly. I’ve also imagined how we would meet.”

A pause. What now?

“Can I buy you lunch then? We can talk?” he asked.

“No.” Sam frowned. “I have to get back to work. But if you are free this evening, it seems we have a lot to discuss.”

“I can be free.” He nodded and swallowed loudly. With each passing moment, she saw him win another inch in the fight to regain composure.

“Good. Meet me here, on the corner, at five.”

Maria watched Sam walk away. As the crowd of lunch hour commuters absorbed his tall frame, her breaths grew shallow. She sucked ragged, unhelpful gulps of air into her lungs but it was too late. She was past the ability to pull oxygen into her blood. Hot tears spilled from her eyes and became steam on her cheeks. Pouting seemed childish and petulant but she couldn’t help it. Staring at the crowd, no longer able to make out more than shapes and colors, Maria burst into flames.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Mercy

Some magical realism and YA fiction for Story Time, two of my favorite things! Today's story is an excerpt from a novel titled Mercy, which tells the story of twin sisters who think they can rewind time. When one sister dies, the other uncovers notes that hint her sister knew what would happen, throwing her ideas about their supposed ability, their relationship, and herself into question.

The author, Jessica Tudor, has creative writing degree from a small university outside Philadelphia, where she lives with her "mad scientist" husband and "two ugly turtles." (Both husband and turtles sound awesome, by the way.) Enjoy Mercy!

 
Mercy
By Jessica Tudor

My youngest cousin is almost ten years older than me. The house is full of screaming toddlers, my second cousins. Mom forgets to put the slipcovers over the furniture. The stain of red fruit punch on the couch reminds me of blood. It doesn’t bother me. Madelyn drowned. There was no blood. Rita scoops up the two-year-old trying to help me scrub away the stain.

“Go find your mommy and tell her what you did,” she says. The boy runs off and Rita plunks down next to me. “How you holding up?”

“This is stupid.”

“Eh. They need it.” She shrugs. My parents are talking to my mom’s youngest sister. Each of them is one of a zillion, but they only had Madelyn and me. We were an accident, too, when they thought Mom was already in menopause or something.

I secretly think that’s why we have the gift. Mom was so desperate to go back in time and re-do that bit, that somehow we could. Not that they didn’t want us. They just didn’t know they wanted us until they had us.

I toss the pink paper towel and squint. I can tell where the juice spilled but probably because I’m looking for it. “Do they have to force me through it?” I sit next to her and wrap my arms around my spindly legs.

“You need it, too.” Rita is thirty-six and I see her maybe once a month. She cleans the bathrooms at the senior center and has a degree in philosophy. “Hey, why don’t I take you to the club on Tuesday?”

The club is her pet project. I’m not entirely sure what it is. Some sort of smoke-filled pseudo-intellectual brownnosing, I think. But it gets me out of the house. “Sure.”

She starts to say something else, but Mom announces it’s time for presents. I run to the bathroom and throw up. My breath smells of stale peaches when I come back.

Madelyn and I made a game out of opening presents because I hate being the center of attention. Mom knows it, too, but she seems determined to make today exactly what it would have been with Madelyn here. So much for moving on. Hypocrite. Rita takes sympathy on me.

“Here, I’ll hold the bag.” She grabs a black garbage bag from my mother and stands across the room with it open. Madelyn and I would play HORSE with the wrapping paper. I usually win.

Today it’s no contest.

#

I know my father ordered the cake the moment I cut into it. It is chocolate, a dense, moist darkness. For the past seventeen years, we’ve had marble: chocolate for me, vanilla for Madelyn. I can’t take the back and forth bipolar up down can’t decide static no change between Mom and Dad, so I eat two bites of cake and pitch the rest.

They don’t notice.

#

Too many people crowd my house. Without Madelyn it has been silent, none of us home to fill it. Now, family member maggots swarm its corpse. I escape to the only room not bulging with noise and bodies. Madelyn’s.

The computer is gone, sold, the only thing missing besides her. Dad says we’ll convert the room into another guest room. Mom adds eventually. Everyone at school expects me to show up in her clothes. Right after it happened, someone joked that my wardrobe doubled. I slapped her because it was expected, too.

She had some pretty nice things.

The room is starting to get dusty. Mom cleans in here sometimes, touches things. I come in sometimes, too. I don’t touch anything. I stare. Mom only does basic things like vacuuming. She doesn’t put anything away. Madelyn was messy. She has mementos all over the desk, the walls. Her clothes used to overrun the dresser but Mom at least fixed that. Everything is bright. Madelyn drew attention the way I breathe.

Today I sit on the bed and smooth the quilt Nana made for our tenth birthday. It is bubblegum pink and eggshell white. No one comes to find me.

The door to Madelyn’s room is soundproof. It became like that when she died. Nothing escapes from the dead girl’s room. Sometimes when I come in here, I stand in the middle and cry.

Today I empty the closet and try on all her dresses. One. By. One. The sundresses look silly in November but I don’t care. The door to Madelyn’s room is also silly-proof. No one can see me.

If I could rewind all the way till I was a toddler, I could play the game where if they can’t see me I don’t exist. But I can’t. I only get one day.

Why would I want to relive one day at a time when I can’t wait for it to be over the first time?

I am wearing the lavender mini-polka dot halter-top dress with the giant flower pinned to the shirred waist when Mom finds me. She tears up. “That looks nice on you. You should wear it.”

“Now? It’s 50 degrees out.”

“I guess not.” She shrugs. “Whenever.”

We stare at each other, a showdown, a tug of war of wills of weapons I forgot I had. I am in her territory. She has forgotten that Madelyn was not just The Good Daughter.

This must mean I am The Bad One.

No, I am The Only One Left.

#

The party is over when my Aunt Birdie is so drunk she pukes in my new car. I am so relieved I offer to clean it myself.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Contest Mania!

Self-promotion/contest alert!

I will be participating in not one, but TWO, contests that will be announced this week! You should probably think about entering them. Here's the info:

First up, Krista V. over at Mother.Write.Repeat. is holding a contest for suggestions for the title of her current work-in-progress. Winners will get first-page critiques from four super-awesome agents (I will be playing the role of one of them). The announcement is HERE, but be sure to check back there tomorrow (Aug. 17) for the official rules.

The other contest I am a part of is for YA/MG only and it's over at Adventures in Children's Publishing. Enter your pitches and the winners will receive a partial (three-chapter) critique from me. I know, I know. Contain your excitement! Contest officially begins Aug. 19 and winners won't be announced until September - details are HERE.

Hope to see some of you there and read your work!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Voice, Balance, & How to Avoid Mary Sues

I've been thinking a bit about voice and, more specifically, how do I make mine distinct? I'm taking a break from my role as agent today and giving my semi-annual appearance here as a writer. As some of you might know, I've been struggling through my first attempt at fiction. The main characters are based on people in real life, myself being one of them. But I'm finding that as I further develop the plot, my character is changing from its real life roots. Suddenly, I'm not writing "fictional me" anymore; I'm writing someone else completely.

Creative Writing 101 will tell writers to "find their voice." An author's voice is a way to personalize their fiction, give it their stamp, and is a way to connect their novels even when they are completely independent from each other. Style, tone, use of language... all of these go into the ever-important "voice."

Something important for writers to ask themselves is whether their voice and their characters' voices are two separate entities. Fiction writers base characters on themselves all the time, and (as I mentioned, here) drawing from what you know can often lead to the best ideas. But where is the line between you and them, and how do you keep that balance?

As authors, your writing style comes through in descriptions, narration, themes, and types of characters you create. Those are what readers will associate with you when they recognize your name in bookstores. Once you create your characters and settings, however, you need to switch your focus every time your character says or does anything. Some questions to consider when making this switch:
  • - What type of person is my main character?
  • - Is this how I would react in this situation, or is this how my character would?
  • - Do I use this phrase all the time, or can I allow my character to say it as well?
  • - Given the context and tone of the novel, should my character act this way?
  • - Is my character's name just my own name spelled backwards?
Not being able to find a balance between your own voice and your characters' can lead to the unwanted evolution of Mary Sues. If you want to know where the term comes from, feel free to Wiki (fun back story). But, basically, a Mary Sue is a stand-in for the author in a piece of fiction.

Mary Sues are frowned upon and ridiculed by your literary peers, but they are by no means deal-breakers. I can think of two massively popular novels out right now that feature these characters: Twilight and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo. Mikael Blomkvist is essentially if Stieg Larsson was cast as James Bond (literally) and Bella Swan looks and acts exactly like Stephanie Meyer except omgeveryguywantsher, including the two hottest guys on the planet!

Before you say to yourself, "Yes! NYT Bestseller list, here I come!" remember this: These books are insanely popular because their stories resonated with bajillions of readers, not because these characters were particularly engaging, or even well-crafted. The characters who are memorable and more often discussed from these novels are Edward, Jacob, and Lisbeth - the ones who required more thought from the authors.

Next time you sit down to write, think about your main character. Is he or she just you in a different context? Hopefully you avoid the Mary Sue trap, but if you absolutely can't, is your story strong enough to back it up?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Memoirs of a Little League Dad

Nothing like takin' in a baseball game during the summer... today's story is an excerpt from a novel and it's about America's pastime. Only, in this novel, a father becomes a little too obsessed with his only son's Little League team after his life falls apart. So, it's not all peanuts and Crackerjacks.

The author, Richard Fellinger, is a writing teacher at Elizabethtown College and a winner of the 2008 Flash Fiction Contest at Red Cedar Review. His short stories have appeared in Epiphany, Potomac Review, Willow Review, Forge, and PANK. He has an MFA from Wilkes University, and lives with his wife and son in Camp Hill, Pa., where (naturally) he coaches Little League.

Memoirs Of a Little League Dad
By Richard Fellinger

Before I tell my whole story—or at least the whole story of my son’s years in Little League, and the arduous and stressful years I spent as his coach—I must first tell this little story that helps explain why a guy like me put up with so much.

It was July 2008. A steamy evening on a Little League field in Northern Lebanon, Pennsylvania, the most rural part of a largely rural county. The directions from our home, which was a 45-minute drive to the west, said something about turning right after a barn. But it was a beautiful setting: a quaint field surrounded by rolling, green hillsides. On this field on this mid-summer night, two dozen boys age seven and eight were locked in a fierce struggle for an All-Star championship.

It was my son’s first All-Star tournament. Misty Hill vs. Susquehanna Valley. We’re Misty Hill, a blue-and-white team from a tidy suburb of Harrisburg, the state capital. Misty Hill is a small and somewhat affluent town full of smart and successful people. Population 4,399. It’s a conservative, God-fearing town built around the Misty Hill Methodist Church, perched on Main Street with a pristine white steeple visible from almost every backyard. It truly is, as folks have always said, a great place to raise a kid. Many of the boys are the sons of lawyers, doctors, business owners, and high-ranking state officials. There are salesmen, but they are the top-notch salesmen who win trips to exotic locales and have access to the best seats at professional games. And in my case, I was a reporter at the Harrisburg Patriot. We are, by nature, competitive people.

Susquehanna Valley, in red and black, is a rural league made up of a couple of large townships on the west side of Harrisburg. The boys are big and strong. They’d thumped us in the first round, 10-0, behind two flame-throwing pitchers. Our young hitters had never seen heat like that before, and they melted. Our boys even melted down on defense and in the dugout—bickering and pouting. But despite that ugly loss, we’d placed second in the first round, which got us into this best-of-three championship round, a rematch against the big red-and-black machine from S.V.

For me, our first-base coach and father of our starting second baseman, it had been a rough season. For one thing, my feet hurt. It had been a rainy spring, and our home field was not well-kept, so it was a mud pit for much of the regular season. In my worn-out old sneakers, my shoes of choice for the dirty work, I’d spent so many springtime hours brushing water and raking infield dirt that the soles of my feet ached into the summer. Besides that, there’d been a point in mid-season when the team I was managing performed so poorly that I wondered if I was in over my head against the fiercely competitive dads who managed the better teams. I’d wondered if I had the patience and personality to stay involved in my son’s best sport. I was the assistant coach on the All-Star team, and glad that I wasn’t the manager.

In Game 1 of the championship round, we’d rebounded from our 10-0 loss. It was a Monday evening, and our best pitcher had returned from vacation while their best pitcher, who had started when they thwacked us the first time, had left for vacation. S.V. still had one fireballer available for Game 1, but our young ace out-dueled him, and we won 3-1. Even so, we figured Game 2 on Tuesday was a must-win for us, because we’d heard that their best pitcher would be back from vacation for Game 3 on Wednesday. The outcome of a Little League championship can hinge entirely on someone’s vacation plans.

Game 2 was a see-saw affair, and we were losing by one run when we came to bat in the bottom of the last inning. Wrigley Marhoffer, my son, the starting second basemen, was up first. I walked out onto the field with him as S.V.’s pitcher warmed up, figuring I should pass on some words of wisdom at this pivotal moment before I went out to coach first.

At age eight, Wrigley was a bright but somewhat sensitive kid, an only child who’d never had brothers or sisters to toughen him up. He was a little taller than average—but just a little—and a bit on the skinny side. He had big hazel eyes, a button nose and soft cheeks that still had some baby fat in them. He wore Number 9, only because our manager handed out the T-shirts randomly. He’d wanted Number 8, his regular-season number and that of Pittsburgh Pirates great Willie Stargell, but another kid got that. So, thankfully, I’d prevented a fit of extended sulking by convincing Wrigley to like Number 9 because it was worn by another Pirates legend, Bill Mazeroski, who beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series with a ninth-inning homer.

Wrigley wore his pants tucked into his socks at the knees in the old-school way—a fashion decision he’d made just recently—and he had his shiny new Worth Copperhead bat. It cost $50 and was copper and silver—a nice piece of marketing by the folks at Worth. I’d originally bought the bat for his upcoming birthday because, at 17 ounces, it was one ounce heavier than the Copperhead he’d used during the regular season. Then I’d decided to give him the new bat during the All-Star tournament because he hadn’t hit hard in the first few games. I figured fifty bucks for a good All-Star showing is money well spent.

As we watched the relief pitcher warm up together, I wanted only to say something to boost Wrigley’s confidence. It really didn’t matter who was pitching, because I knew my only child always did his best when he felt his best. It could have been Nolan Ryan out there, and I’d have still said something upbeat. Forcing a serious look on my face, I watched a few pitches as Wrigley took his warm-up swings. The reliever threw moderately hard, not quite as hard as the kid who would be back from vacation if there were a Game 3 the following night.

“You can hit this guy,” I said boldly, and strolled out to first.

Wrigley swung at the first pitch in the dirt. There were groans all around from the Misty Hill side.

“Ah, Wrig,” I said in an exasperated tone. “You know better than that.”

This is one reason I liked to coach: I couldn’t keep my mouth shut on the sidelines at moments like this, but as a coach I was more or less expected to say something.

Wrigley gave a little nod, an indication he understood. He backed out of the batter’s box and then, apparently unfazed, stepped in for the next pitch. A look of intense concentration on his face. The next pitch was across the plate at the belt, and Wrigley whacked it toward the second baseman. But Wrigley hit it so hard that the second baseman couldn’t get his glove on it, and the ball zipped into the outfield, where the right fielder missed it too. As the ball skipped past the right fielder, I waved my hands and shouted: Go, go, go!

It was a triple—maybe a hit with an error or two in grown-up baseball—but worthy of being called a triple in Little League. I thrust both my arms high in the air, unconcerned with appearances. Later, my wife would tell me that my shirt was untucked and in the moment I’d exposed my belly to the whole field.

But more importantly, the tying run was on third with no outs. Our manager, who doubled as our third-base coach, leaned into Wrigley’s ear, and I could tell he was giving Wrigley detailed instructions on what to do in various situations. After all, Wrigley was a key runner, and our manager was one of those smart Misty Hill fathers who knew it’s not always easy getting a runner home from third. Our next batter hit a lazy fly to third—right beside Wrigley—and the third baseman caught it easily. With the ball in his glove, the third baseman turned toward Wrigley to see if he could tag him for an easy double play, but Wrigley didn’t bite. My son had listened, and stayed on the bag. Tragedy averted.

The next batter singled to right, scoring Wrigley with the tying run. Our next batter smoked one to right, and the ball blew past the right fielder, allowing the runner on first to chug all the way around and score as the throw from the outfield sailed over the catcher’s head. Game over. Misty Hill wins, 7-6. Tournament champs.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Joining the Club

Book clubs, once thought of as social gatherings for rich divorcees who needed something else to do besides drink, have been insanely trendy for the past few years. Let's attribute this to Oprah.

Sadly, I'm about to quit my second book club in a year. The reason I wanted to join a book club in the first place was because in my post-MFA haze, I realized I missed sitting in a group and talking about literary things. But, I wanted the group to be non-publishing, non-literary folks, who will talk about "good vs. bad" rather than "what did you think of this use of symbolism?" Also, since I'm lazy, I wanted these people to live within a five-block radius from me. With these criteria in mind, I thought I found the perfect group last summer, who advertised themselves as "casual, fun readers" in my 'hood.

At the first meeting, the "leader" pulled out a spiral-bound notebook and demanded we all discuss the items on her numbered list. So much for casual and fun. There was also "token pretentious guy" who kept leading the conversation back to obscure French authors who had absolutely nothing to do with Middlesex. So I left.

I found another book club, and really enjoyed the company this time. Mostly young professionals with a few baby boomers thrown in for good measure. But, alas, I must leave them too. See, I had this cute idea that I'd not only have time to read for fun, but that I'd also have time to meet once a month and talk about it. Oh, idealistic youth!

For writers, book clubs, that is, the right book club, can be incredibly valuable. It really doesn't matter what you read or what you discuss. To me, being in any environment where ideas are shared can spark other parts of your creativity as well. It's also a good idea to see how people respond to certain types of books, literary, commercial, and popular fiction alike. These people are your audience, after all.

Are any of you active members of a book club? If so, do you find it's influenced your writing at all?

Friday, August 06, 2010

This Pleases Me

This has been a pretty great week, ladies and gentlemen. For many reasons!

First off, PROP 8 WAS OVERTURNED! My faith in humanity is restored once again :)

Second, friend-of-the-blog (and featured wunderkind), Weronika Janczuk, announced that she is officially an associate agent at D4EO Literary Agency! She is planning to focus on commercial fiction, standalone romance titles, thrillers, and non-fiction. But, you can read more details about it HERE.

Next up on the "why this week rules!" list - The Rejectionist declared it Feminist Science Fiction Week. Rad all around!!! If you haven't been following, go catch up and revel in the glory HERE.

Also this week, we were amused/confused/horrified by the news of Justin Bieber's memoir but were almost instantly relieved when we learned it's just going concert photos and maintenance tips for your 'tween-bangs - phew!

Lastly, on a personal note, I had a double dose of awesome earlier this week when I signed up two new clients ON THE SAME DAY. Basically, my head exploded with excitement, and if you'll allow me a couple shameless plugs, you should probably check out the blogs of Feliza-Rose David and Kate Walton. I mean, no reason really. I just thought you'd like them.

Have a fantastic weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Sleeping With Goddesses

I'm happy to bring you a bit or romance, nostalgia, and nonfiction today! The author, Ryan Nock, is sharing a personal essay called Sleeping With Goddesses.

Ryan Nock co-founded a "teensy online game company" so he could, according to him, self-publish Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks while he was getting his degree in Creative Writing at Atlanta's Emory University. You should go check out his blog - here - after reading his essay below.

Sleeping with Goddesses
By Ryan Nock

In a novel I’m writing, I’ve been stuck for a few weeks on a scene that involves a temple to a goddess, Meliska. Last night, unable to dislodge my writer’s block, I went to bed and lay awake thinking about Meliska. To understand this I’ve got to go back sixteen years, to the summer after 6th grade.

Melissa was the first girl I ever had a crush on. She was a year younger than me, and so I normally would never have met her if she hadn’t been helping out my mom as an assistant for the Beaumont Public Library’s Summer Reading Program.

I remember only the barest of snippets of my times with Melissa, mostly moments of us both sitting in hallways around the library talking. She was never that into me, but I got intense puppy love for this girl. She was dark and beautiful, and geeky in her own way. I remember showing her the secret hidden places of the library, places you needed special knowledge to get into -- key codes for the outside doors to the loading dock, the right way to jiggle the knob to get into the storage room next to the old framed copy of the Constitution. Or was it the Declaration of Independence?

Even back then, I had my obsession with sneaking into places, with having power over those who told me where I couldn’t go but who could not always watch me. My favorite place, though, was under the staircase to the left of the elevator on the bottom floor. In all the time I spent at that library, over twelve years, I never was found there except by the friends I had told of the place.

The summer ended and Melissa vanished. As a 7th grader I had no idea how to track down someone who went to a different school. I got interested in Dungeons & Dragons, and in grand Tolkien-esque fashion I started to craft a world for my D&D game. I wanted to create my own deities, not use the boring ones in the rulebook, so I made up dozens. But the one that meant the most to me, that resonated loudest with my little 7th grader hopeless romantic heart, was Meliska, goddess of life, healing, love, and eclipses.

Two years later, I was at an academic meet when I saw a familiar girl. It amazed me at the time that I could still recognize her, since she had grown up so much. She recalled me too, and was amused when I jokingly told her that I had turned her into a goddess. I found out her last name finally, and so I was able to get her number out of the phone book (even back then, I always forgot to ask girls for their numbers), so again we talked over the summer. Then at the end of 9th grade the city opened a new high school, and I found out we would both be going there the next year.

I knew she wasn’t interested in me, but she was still a free spirit, sarcastic and gloomy, and the first goth I remember knowing. When you’re 15 years old and you see a girl you have a crush on in black lace for the first time, it makes an impression. And hell, it impressed me more when I found out she had started spelling her name ‘Mulysa,’ which is ‘Asylum’ spelled backwards.

But that was a digression. Let me get back to the real story. April was her name, an honest to God redhead who, when I met her, had foolishly bleached two strands blonde. She volunteered to be a student worker at Ozen High School’s library, and I made sure I did too, so I could hang out with her. We sat around the old musty books in the library, talking about things that matter to 10th graders -- personal identity, growing away from old friends, being attracted to people, being curious about the anatomy of the opposite sex, and, of course, D&D.

She hated her father (or was it her mother?), and had a hard life in general with her family, and she was in perpetual dread of being transferred to a different school. But she loved Ireland, and so when we spent one day browsing books on religions and names, she decided to change her name to ‘Avril,’ or Avi for short, to be rid of the name her parents had given her.

Avril and Mulysa became friends, and one day at lunch Mulysa shared the story about how she had become a goddess, going from Melissa to Meliska (or rather, Mulyska). Avril said she was jealous, and demanded I make her a goddess too, and when I waffled, saying I didn’t want to cheapen the whole thing, Mulysa told Avril that it was easy. All you had to do was add ‘sk’ to your name. Avril was thrilled, and though I never took to the name myself, she and Mulysa had a grand time calling her Skavskril.

I honestly don’t think I was attracted to April. I thought of her as a great friend, someone who shone joy upon those around here, who despite carrying a sad helping of sorrow was not weighed down by it. Still, in just a little over a month, I grew to care about her, maybe love her. I wanted to defend her.

It’s hard to recall which month it was, so long ago, but it was a chilly day, gray and overcast, when during the period we had together in the library, April told me that her mother was coming to pick her up after school, and that she’d be changing schools after that. I don’t remember what had provoked it, but she was heartbroken, and I knew I would do whatever I could to defy the people who were going to tell my friend what to do. That day, after school, she and I left early, dodging her mother, and we hiked to the Beaumont Public Library.

It was two or three miles, through a concrete maze neither of us was familiar with, which we navigated simply by dead bearing and hope. We spent the whole walk talking, from frustration and anger about the current situation, to humor and joy about games, sci-fi, and how cool it was that we were disobeying her parents. Because Fridays at Ozen got out at noon, we were able to reach the library right as my mom got back from her lunch break.

I told my mom why April and I had come. I think I had hoped she would let April go home with us, but of course that couldn’t happen. My mom got in touch with the school, which got in touch with April’s parents, who hurried to come find her.

So of course we hid. I knew all the right places, and we could have gone unseen until nightfall, could have run off into the wilderness, raised a peasant army, and marched upon Beaumont, TX with our demands. But April did not want to be in any more trouble than she already was, and so when we heard her mom descending the stairs we were sitting under, we came out of hiding, and her mother spirited her away.

In my memory, April truly was beautiful.

I don’t want to idly turn every girl I had a crush on into a divinity, but I think April earned it. I’m going to add a new goddess to the fantasy setting that I started creating back in middle school: Av. What should she be the goddess of?

Goddess of rebellion, defiance, journeys, and hidden places? Perhaps, perhaps. Goddess of names, sadness, and fleeting friendship? Goddess of runaways, red hair, overcast skies, and inspiring men to heroism?

It warms my heart to know that I do not have a good ending to this story. That means, doesn’t it, that the story is not yet over?

Monday, August 02, 2010

What's Your Genre?

A question to ponder on a Monday...

If your life were a novel, what genre would it be?

I'd like to think of mine as magical realism (hey, I can dream) with a hint Salinger-esque coming of age angst, but it's probably more "literary chick lit."

What's yours?