A Brief Personal Update

As is, I imagine, perfectly apparent by now, I didn’t quite manage to finish ‘Dark Places’ by my original Feb. 28th deadline, in fact I’m still stuck on Chapter 3. Part of the reason for this has been my working on edits, and part of it has been that I went full time at my job in February and it’s taken me till now to get the rhythm of my new schedule. Hopefully I’ll be able to blog more in the near future. I have quite a few notes for a number of blog posts, so I think I’ll be able to make a few posts out of them. In the meantime I’m getting a bit of my editing done which is great and I’ve written a little bit of new material for book 2, including a chapter/scene that I know isn’t going to be until later in the book which will be interesting to have written so early. I’ve never really written things out of order. It feels weird, but the scene absolutely was begging to be written so I’m excited nonetheless.

I hope to be able to get back on track with reading soon, although I don’t expect to be able to post the previously planned chapter by chapter outlines I will do a full summary and my thoughts once I’ve finished the book.

Reading Flynn: Chapters 1-2

Summary: 

Chapter One: Libby learns she’s out of money and agrees to meet with a club obsessed with the murder of her family, for a price of course.

Chapter Two: Patty Day, (Libby’s mother) makes breakfast for her kids and discovers her teenage son has dyed his hair.

Thoughts: 

Barely a few pages in and I’m already enjoying this a lot better than I enjoyed the Corrections. Told in the first person (which is an interesting change and a tactic that for me either works or fails miserably, there is no in between). In third person you can not like the character and it doesn’t much matter, but in first, when the narrator is literally who you interact with in such an intimate way, to hate them, truly hate them in the way I detested every character in the Corrections, it wouldn’t work. Had the story been told by Chip, or Gary, or Enid, or any of the loathsome characters it would have been if possible more intolerable than it already was. In the case of Dark Places however, at least thus far, Libby Day appears to be far more interesting to follow around, and a much better narrator. Though I suspect (two chapters in as of this writing), not a particularly reliable one.

The book is broken up between the past and present with the first chapter showing present day Libby, and chapter two showcasing life before the murder that took her family. This particular idea, breaking up the book between the past and present can be tricky, but I actually really love it as a storytelling tactic, and it works particularly well for this story. It’s worth noting that not only does the story slip into the past, it slips almost imperceptibly into the third person in chapter two, and back into first with chapter three.

I’m really pleasantly surprised with Dark Places, thus far. Libby isn’t necessarily the hero of our story, I’m willing to guess she’s more of an anti-hero, and yet, she’s fascinating in a sort of Lisabeth Salander way that makes you curious to see what she’s going to do next.

Reading Flynn: Pre-Thoughts

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This month, as part of my reading authors I would not normally look into/Devillicious Book Club I’ve decided to take on Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places. Unlike Franzen, and a good majority of the authors on this list, I don’t have any issue with Flynn personally. The reason she’s on the list at all is because I didn’t really understand the hype that surrounded Gone Girl, nothing about it really struck me as something I would enjoy, I don’t really read crime fiction, or thrillers, but I realize that in order to write a thriller one ought to have a familiarity with the genre. Part of the reason I think Gone Girl didn’t feel to me like the sort of story I wanted to read was because from what I sort of gleaned about it from hearing vaguely about it, everywhere, I sort of got the impression that it was a sort of Franzen-esque lovers quarrel type story and I really wasn’t interested in that. Now of course, much later I’ve come to learn that this isn’t the case at all, but for this particular project that I’m doing I really wanted to go with a bit of a lesser known work or at least lesser talked about work. Dark Places happened to be recommended to me by a close friend, and it happened to also be one of three books currently available by this author and only one of two that isn’t as hyped as Gone Girl.

According to it’s back cover blurb on BN.com Dark Places is about:

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” She survived—and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, the Kill Club—a secret society obsessed with notorious crimes—locates Libby and pumps her for details. They hope to discover proof that may free Ben. Libby hopes to turn a profit off her tragic history: She’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club—for a fee. As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started—on the run from a killer.

Because Dark Places is 43 chapters long, and there are only really 12 post days between Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in February I’ll be reviewing 3 chapters at a time.

Exploring the Possibilities

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Over the last few months I’ve come to realize that, I’m very much of a conflicting mind when it comes to the plotting vs pantsing debate. On the one hand, plotting allows you to clearly define where your story needs to go. On the other, pantsing feels a lot more freeing.But as I’ve started to realize, like it or not, a series dictates a certain necessity for a meticulous outline and note taking, and ultimately a well thought out and well documented timeline of events. Whatever else I have said to the contrary about outlining, it offers a great opportunity to explore many possible scenarios and resolve problems before they arise.

Maybe it’s because I’m trying something new in my outline process or maybe it’s something else entirely, but I’m actually starting to enjoy this outline, and I’m excited about book two for the first time in a long time.

Altering Expectations

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Expectations lead to resentments.

-RuPaul

In a way, expectations are a part of the human condition, it’s nearly impossible not to have an idea in your head of how things should go, how they should look, etc. It’s rare, in fact, I suspect you know of very few people who’s expectations have ever matched their reality. Sometimes this is not necessarily a bad thing either, but the truth of it is, it’s hard to appreciate what you have when your expectations of the way they should be cloud your mind.

I have a lot of things to be grateful for, a lot of things to be excited about, but sometimes the realization that things haven’t gone the way I thought they should, five and ten years ago, can get me down. I’ve always been someone who dreams big, and I firmly believe in that, but I’m starting to realize that just because things don’t go the way you expected them too, doesn’t mean they aren’t going where they’re supposed to. A decade ago, when I was thirteen, I hoped that I’d be a published author with a dozen books under my belt by now, and legions of fans. But the truth is, in hindsight I know I wasn’t ready for it. It isn’t something anyone can tell you, its something you have to figure out along the way. Looking back on my writing back then, I would have been mortified to see that in print. I can barely stand to see things from a year or two ago sometimes. As writers we grow and evolve with each book we write and sometimes with each draft, and that’s a good thing.

Sometimes you get lucky, sometimes things come out exactly the way you imagined they would and that’s great, but most times, the story isn’t quite what you pictured, the drawing isn’t exactly what you thought and Mr. Right isn’t the man you thought he’d be. It’s okay to have expectations and hopes and dreams but you have to find a way to make sure that they don’t bring you down if they don’t go the way you planned. I don’t want to say lower your expectations, because that sounds negative, instead I look at it as, altering your expectations, or better yet, altering how you respond to your expectations not being met. You might be surprised how amazing things can be if you appreciate them for what they are and not what you hoped they’d be.

What’s It About?

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As a writer, being able to talk about your book is probably one of the single most important things, you should be able to know how to do. So why is it that every time I’m asked the fateful question: so what’s it about, my mind draws a blank?

One of the biggest problems for me when it comes to the question of what’s it about is that when you’re in the thick of writing or editing it can be difficult to pull back from where you are at this exact moment to explain the main story. It’s crucial however that you be able to do this. One idea in this department would be to write down a one sentence summary of your story. You don’t want to bombard someone with bullet points, but you should know it well enough to be able to say, ‘it’s about xyz’. 

Obviously a novel is about a lot of things, but what’s the MAIN storyline? If I were talking about Wicked I would say it was about the Wicked Witch of the West’s life, growing up green, and her friendship with Glenda.

Good Omens: Is about the end of days and the angel and demon who save the world by screwing up the divine plan.

For the most part this is easier said than done. I’m not sure I could tell you in one sentence what the Corrections was about except to say: A family comes together as the ailing patriarch looses his grip on reality. It’s not really interesting (though neither was the book), but it gets to the point.

How do you answer the question what’s it about? Do you find it difficult or easy? 

Mapping Out the Series

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I’m not known for being a plotter. Were I writing a stand alone novel I don’t think it would be something I would find all that necessary. Being however that I’m writing a series, I realize that there are a lot of things that you have to keep balanced in order to make it work. Timeline, characters living and dead, plots, subplots, locales, and the over all story arch that’s going to run in between the series. It’s a lot to try and keep in your head, so I’ve been working on trying to write it all down in a tangible form.

Series Summary: 

What’s it about? What makes this story worth dedicating more than one book to, or even more than four? This is probably the most important factor and will give you an idea of where the rest of the story goes. For me this also lead into…

Book By Book Summary: 

This is an individual summary of each book. Like the overall series summary it doesn’t have to be long (it’s mostly for you) but it gives you an idea of what you want to happen in each book, if you happen to have ideas that far ahead.

Characters:

This is where things can get tricky. Keeping track of characters, their importance in the story and where then they show up and where they go within the story is vital. You probably don’t want to introduce a character in chapter 3 of book 1, kill them off then bring them back in book 3. In the most recent draft of the first book I have at least 40 characters that we meet throughout the course of the novel, this is definitely a shorter list than most, but it’s a lot to contend with in one book, and it’s made me realize I need to have a timeline of where they are in the book, when they show up, when and if they exit and everything in between. You should also include history and future plans even if never explicitly stated in the book.

Plots and Subplots: 

If you’ve ever seen J.K.Rowling’s notes from Order of the Phoenix (which have been making the rounds on Social Media and websites again lately), you’ll know how crazy plots and subplots can get. Particularly when you need to balance what character is in which part of the plot and their importance to that scene. The plot and subplot can make or break your story as much as characters can, so this is where specifics are key. You can’t mince words when it comes to plots and subplots, it needs to be clear where everything is going, and why it matters.

Timeline: 

When did I set that scene? Where does the first book start, and where does the last book end? Timeline is one of the most crucial elements to the believability of you work and it dictates everything from how your characters talk and dress to possibly even what food they eat and how they act towards others. Also, it’s sort of difficult to start the book in the Fall, say six months had passed and have it only be Winter. People might be concerned at the weather pattern in your novel, so it’s important to know what’s happening and when. Because you’ll need to add to this, I recommend writing in pencil.

Location, Location Location:

More than just is it a city or is it a mystical land, you should probably know what building a scene is taking place in. What does it look like? What’s the median temperature in the winter? (Yes I did look that up once for clarity). It’s important you have an idea of where exactly everything is taking place, because if you don’t, it’s likely your readers wont either.

After you’ve written your first draft, you should check back on your over all story arch and make sure everything fits. I would also recommend writing a book by book version of this kind of mapping as well, that way you make sure you have an idea where everything is going for each book as well as the overall series. If something doesn’t look right in this map, it probably doesn’t in the book either so it might be something to check out in your next round of edits.

The Art of Sabotage

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It was the middle of May, and I was deep in a round of edits of multiple projects at once. A manuscript that was long overdue in my mind, a portfolio, and a magazine that was needing to go to print sooner rather than later. Nerves were frayed, tensions were high, something had to give. The manuscript and the blog went first. I had classwork on top of my graduation materials, and I couldn’t keep up with everything. It felt at once as though the creativity had been sucked out of my soul and I could barely keep track of my thoughts unrelated to graphic design, as the portfolio show loomed near.

In the grand sense, I was thrilled that it was going to be over, ecstatic that I would no more have to see faces of teachers I loathed. I would no longer have to deal with asinine assignments that taught me nothing or struggle to perfect a magazine that had begun to fell less and less like my vision and more and more like an attempt to appease the powers that be. Less writing, more design, different design, change, change, less writing. More space.

In the aftermath of the portfolio show, I was fried for the better part of a week, but it would be months before my creativity returned to me. Or at least, that was how I felt. Eventually I got back to work on my writing, but the experience had taken a toll, and I was beginning to find myself second guessing everything I had worked hard on before portfolio show. Suddenly I was making seemingly small changes, that escalated into larger and larger changes until I was engulfed in a sea of self destruction of my own doing. I would spend months trying to sort out my changes, and in the end, I can’t help but wonder, was it really necessary?

It’s been roughly seven months since portfolio show, and I feel as though I’m only finally getting back on my feet. I’ve updated a good deal of my work, and even my brand, but until recently my mind’s been sort of circling the drain writing wise and I couldn’t figure out why. And then, I reached the 9th chapter of my current draft of my work-in-progress. I had liked, mostly the work I had done up till then, but as I found myself struggling to make sense of everything I’d done up till that moment I had to wonder, were all of the changes I had made really that necessary? Was I actually helping my story, or was I, in an effort to fix the small changes really damaging the story all along?

At what point does editing go from fleshing out the story to self destruction? At what point during the process do you wonder if you haven’t strayed so far from the pack that you can’t even see it anymore? And at what point do you decide to go back, and try to figure out where everything went wrong?

A Change of Mindset

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When I was thirteen, I went for my first physical, I was always a bit of an overweight child, but the doctor was particularly concerned by my size. In a matter of hours I was checked for diabetes and heart conditions, and was given a rather stern lecture about the amount of sugar in a single can of soda (spoiler alert, it’s about what you’d expect). I always remembered that moment, but it wasn’t until I was 23, that I hit that Aha moment and decided a change needed to be made. It didn’t come from someone telling me I was fat (surprise, surprise, fat shaming doesn’t actually accomplish anything), nor did it come from a doctor scare. In truth it came from a random decision to check my weight on the scale.

No one can tell you when your ready to learn something, they can explain something to you until they’re blue in the face, but if you’re not ready to absorb it and to hear it, it won’t have any impact on you. In order to change you have to be in the mindset for it. Nobody can make you get there. There just has to be a moment when you realize and decide that whatever you’re doing, and your reasons for doing it aren’t helping you, and something needs to change.

But what does my change in eating habits and exercise have to do with writing? Surprisingly a great deal, because my issues with my writing are still a mindset thing. I can tell myself I have it figured out, and I know what my problems are when it comes to overthinking and overanalyzing everything, but knowing it isn’t the same as processing it on the level that allows you to make actionable changes. In the case of my weight, I knew that the weight I was at was not acceptable to me, I didn’t like it, but because I had for years stayed level in that same weight (gaining and losing two or three pounds periodically), I had written it off. It was not until I saw a number, much higher than I was previously accustomed to seeing that I became so shocked that I realized I needed to make a change, and fast. It adjusted my mind set on my eating habits and my exercise habits (or lack thereof), and I changed immediately. This is not to say that I’m by any means a diet expert, I’m not. I’ve managed to get healthier and lose a few pounds by trying to decrease my portions, decrease my intake of fast food, and increase my exercise. It’s boring, it’s not a fad diet, and the change is so slow you may not even notice it’s happening, but I realize now that were I not in the right mindset, not losing weight as fast as I’d like would have been a deal breaker for me.

In the case of my writing, this shock to the system came just this morning as I was looking over chapter 9, and I hit a wall so profoundly frustrating that I began to question everything that had lead up to that moment. Why was I here? What had I done to get myself stuck in this situation? I decided to go back to an earlier draft, and I found myself wondering what had been so wrong with this idea? Why had I been so quick to drop it like yesterdays news? Was I so sure I could make it better or was it something deeper?

Reading Franzen Part VI & VII

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Part VI: One Last Christmas & Part VII: the Corrections

Summary:

I really don’t know what to say about these final two parts other than nothing that I expected happened. Alfred didn’t die until the last page and the fighting that I expected at Christmas was almost nonexistent. Part VI spent a lot of its time sort of clearing up where everyone was and why Gary’s children didn’t show up, what Denise had been up too, how she had become rather evil to Robin which I really didn’t appreciate and how Chip had nearly been killed in Lithuania.

Eventually it becomes clear to Enid, and everyone else that Alfred is not going to get better, and she decides to place him in a hospital for a while, then in a rest home. After which, Alfred’s life gets perpetually worse and everyone else seems to live happily ever after, especially Enid.

Thoughts:

Curiously, though reading this story has made me thoroughly exhausted, I feel like it’s made me a better critic, because my critiques of Franzen and his work are no longer based on abstract ideas about him as a human being, but in what I’ve actually seen of his work. As I said early on in this project, authors are not known for being warm and fuzzy, it comes with the territory. But just because he’s pretentious and obnoxious in real life, does not necessarily mean that somehow he is a bad author. In truth, it would be disingenuous of me to suggest that it was a completely terrible book. The mere fact that the characters, detestable though they mostly were made me feel anything at all (even if it was revulsion) says something of his skills as an author. What this says, remains to be seen, and I still wonder if the emotions I felt while reading it were necessarily the singular emotion the author wanted the reader to feel throughout reading his novel, but I digress.

Overall ‘the Corrections’ was, interesting, bizarre, and entirely not what I expected, whether or not that’s a good thing I can’t say. It’s definitely not one of those books you go back to over and over again, at least not for me, and I don’t think Franzen is an author I’ll be watching any time soon. Ultimately, I think that for all his pomp and circumstance regarding genre fiction there was nothing dealt with in his book that felt any more ‘serious’ than anything any genre author writes about. Unless he’s thinking purely of romance novels or penny dreadfuls then perhaps we can have a serious discussion.

I don’t think I can seriously recommend this book to anyone, personally, it’s not the sort of story I would normally have read and frankly the fact it took nearly 400+ pages to even get slightly more interesting was a problem for me. To say nothing of the occasional bouts of soap box preaching from Gary, and Chip, and Franzen himself. It was tiresome most every time and transparently predictable.

Next month I’ll be reading: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn.

READING FRANZEN MASTERLIST: 

PART I

PART II

PART II CONT’D 

PART III

PART III CONT’D 

PART IV

PART V

PART V CONT’D