Welcome to my self-indulgent location for the stories (good and bad) that I can't prevent myself from writing. All comments and criticisms welcome. I post on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Life 180

Image courtesy of Housecret.com
Ever feel like everything in your life got turned on its metaphorical ear?

Our mini-vacation plans just fell through, so we don't get to go to Colorado next week. We're compensating by taking a weekend trip, but it's not quite the same.

We're moving out of this apartment in less than a month. Then we're "homeless" for a week. Then we move again into our new apartment. Yuck.

I'm under doctor's orders not to take my normal migraine medication anymore. Today makes day three of a migraine (it's probably about a 3-4/10 on the pain scale this morning, which is the only reason I can look at my computer screen), which is why some of you haven't heard from me in a while, especially if you comments on Monday's post.

My job's keeping me hopping, with several upcoming deadlines and a dissatisfied client passed on to me.

My muse took an extended summer vacation, apparently—without giving me notice, I might add—and I haven't written in a few weeks except for editing.

So, if you couldn't guess, I'm rather stressed.

What's the point of all this?

I need to take a blogging break. I need to get my life back in check and organized. So I won't be posting again until the middle of August. I'm not sure what date, yet—it will all depend on how smoothly the move goes and if I can get some of these work projects under control.

You might see me around from time to time, but I won't be posting.

Thanks for understanding, folks.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Review: A Visit from the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan, got mixed reviews from some of my cohorts on GoodReads, so I was intrigued when GoodReads decided to start their Book Club Challenge (which, btw, I hadn't heard about before this book, but I hope they continue it with other selections). If you're interested, the Book Club Challenge runs through the end of July, so there's still time to sign up.

The Blurb (from GoodReads):
Bennie is an aging former punk rocker and record executive. Sasha is the passionate, troubled young woman he employs. Here Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals their pasts, along with the inner lives of a host of other characters whose paths intersect with theirs. With music pulsing on every page, A Visit from the Goon Squad is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption.

Doesn't really tell you a whole lot, does it? And, I promise you, this blurb does not prepare you for the experience.

Author Jennifer Egan
Photo courtesy of SFGate.com
The basic concept of the book follows the two characters through time and around the world in their lives, yes. What the blurb doesn't tell you is that each story is told in a different point of view (at least two are 1st person, neither of which are from Bennie or Sasha's perspective, one in second person, and a myriad of 3rd person close narratives), only two of which directly highlight Bennie and Sasha (chapters 2 and 1, respectively). Other stories deal with these two "main" characters through tangential connects or sheer-chance encounters, though they all serve to tell the stories of these two characters in a non-traditional sense.

The question that people keep posing, though, is: Is it really a novel? Or is it a collection of short stories?

In my not-so-humble opinion, I'm going to go out on a limb and call it a novel. I really believe it is, though it stretches the boundaries of what the traditional definition entails. All the stories revolve around either Sasha or Bennie. The exceptions are, perhaps, chapters 4 and 5, in which I find no clear, direct connection, but only a tangential (in the mathematical sense of touching at one point, not in the conversational sense in which something is an off-shoot) way.

The way Egan weaves the individual stories, though, made me want to keep reading despite the initial disjunction between the stories. I had been forewarned about this apparent disunity by reading my friends' reviews on GoodReads, so I felt prepared, and I think this helped in my appreciation of the offering. If I had gone in to reading this without that knowledge, I might have been irritated by it as well.

Photo courtesy of Wiki Commons
In an interview, Egan compares the story concepts to a music album—an apt structural comparison given the subject nature behind the stories. Thirteen "tracks" that all come together to make a whole. In buying an album, we as listeners do not expect each song to have the same subject, or the same tempo, or even the same singer in the case of, say, the Beatles. Yet we feel the wholeness of the album. In this same way, Egan has compiled her stories, each individual in their own rights, which together construct a complete piece.

My only real complaint about the book is about how the stories stack together. I love the increased pace that runs throughout the book, which I believe culminates in chapter 12 "Great Rock and Roll Pauses". This chapter is powerful, not only in its plot and characters and emotional thread, but also in how it's presented: it's a visual narrative, created as a slide show diary entry from the POV of Sasha's daughter. This is, in fact, my favorite story of the book (with chapter 10, "Out of Body", as a close second). My complaint actually stems from the final story, which, after such a powerful chapter 12, seems to fall flat. I didn't feel the emotional resonance that had echoed through each of the previous stories, raising to concert levels in chapter 12. Perhaps my eardrums couldn't atune themselves to the acoustic guitar of chapter 13 after the amplified light show. Either way, it felt anti-climactic at best, and left an unsavory residue to associate with the book as a whole.

Bummer, because, otherwise, I really loved the book.

The bottom line: Read this book. Be prepared for a non-traditional novel experience. And let yourself be carried along for the ride. It's worth it.

What other non-traditionally structured novels have you read?

Friday, July 8, 2011

Happy Release Day for Bestest. Ramadan. Ever.

Congratulations to Medeia Sharif, author of Bestest. Ramadan. Ever., which releases today! I can't wait to get my hands on this and read it.

From Goodreads:
During Ramadan, we're not allowed to eat from sunrise to sunset, for a whole month. My family does this every year, even though I've been to a mosque exactly twice in my fifteen years. My exercise-obsessed mom—whose hotness skipped a generation, sadly—says I could stand to lose a few. But is torture really an acceptable method? I think not.

Things wouldn't be so bad if I had a boyfriend, but my oppressive parents forbid me to date. This is just cruel and wrong. Especially since Peter, a cute and crushable artist, might be my soul mate. Figures my bestest friend Lisa likes him, too.

To top it off, there's a new Muslim girl in school who struts around in super-short skirts, commanding every boy's attention—including Peter's. How can I get him to notice me? And will I ever feel like a typical American girl?

Get your copy today.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Pronoun Usage and Same-Sex Characters

Image courtesy of FreelanceWritingGigs.com
and Comedy Central.
I learned something today. (Cue cheesy end-of-episode South Park music.)

It's probably something obvious, and it's little, but something I hadn't noticed before.

Sometimes it's difficult to decide which pronouns to use. I'm specifically referring to a close 3rd POV narrator in a scene with another character of the same gender. When do you use "he" and "she" (or "it", depending on your genre of choice)?

In this latest draft of Fighting Fate, I followed my linguistics training, adhering to supposed rules of pragmatics to dictate when I used "he/him/his" or "she/her/her" instead of proper names.

An example:
Roger took several steps toward her. Marcus tried to followed, but Roger’s hyper-awareness picked up on it right away. He paused and glanced over his shoulder at Marcus. Even if for a second, it made Marcus stop.

Here's the breakdown. In the second sentence, I used "Marcus" because, according to pragmatics, "He" should refer to Roger as the subject of the previous sentence. After "but" I used "Roger" again, because "he" would refer to Marcus. In the third sentence, "He" is Roger, being the most recent available subject to refer to. Then we get "Marcus" again, BUT it's in a prepositional phrase, so the last sentence repeats "Marcus" because the most recent SUBJECT to refer to is "Roger".

I don't think this is wrong per se, but it's clunky. Do you feel the clunky? I felt the clunkiness even while writing it, though wasn't sure how to fix it.

I sent it off to a crit partner of mine, and this is how it came back (some suggestions hers, others I adapted based on what I'd learned from several of her line-edits). Because it's a little out of context, please note that the close 3rd POV narrator is attached to Marcus in this scene.

Roger took several steps toward her. He tried to followed. Roger paused and glanced over his shoulder, his hyper-awareness tipping him off. Even if for a second, it made Marcus stop.

Less clunky, no?

But is it clear?

So the dilemma continues. I've rewritten it again, because another crit buddy was confused (and I can't say I blame her). I've changed the second "he" back to "Marcus" because pragmatically the reader is going to assume "he" to be "Roger" otherwise. Right? Or not?

So what's most important? Ditching the clunky or maintaining it for the sake of clarity? How do you deal with a close 3rd POV narrator and multiple people of the same gender in one scene? How do you use pronouns? Any advice to the poor, recovering linguist that is moi?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Holidays, Moving Trauma, and July

First, if you're a yankee, Happy 4th. If not, I hope your Monday's going well. May we all eat well and enjoy the day. I, poor patriot that I am, don't even know if the city's setting off fireworks tonight or if they did it last night. We have, however, hears all the fireworks they're setting off at the nearby lakes since Wednesday.

*bad segue*

Moving is stressing me out. In fact, anything with a brown cardboard box is stressing me out. It started on Thursday when my boss called me. Now, for the record, I work for a small, niche publisher at my university that puts out books related to Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Russia (former Soviet Block). I work in editorial, preparing manuscripts for print, occasionally dealing directly with the printer in lieu of my boss. So when he called and asked me help do the beginning-of-the-fiscal-year inventory, I can't say I was thrilled. And I sure wasn't ambivalent. But I agreed because the "team" is a little short-staffed right now (long story, but temporary), and my boss was kind enough to hire me through the summer when I'm leaving the university as a student.

Courtesy of Future Perfect Publishing.
Our stacks don't look that neat.
Friday, July 1. Seven hours of doing inventory. This did not include the back room full of boxes of books. This did not include going to the warehouse to calculate our holdings over there. Nope. This involved me standing on a step stool, reading off three digits from the book's ISBN, counting the number of books on the shelf, and reporting the number to my cohort with a clipboard, who then checked off the number on a spreadsheet. Oh, and at four, we moved on to some "donated" boxes of our books (another long story) that then involved finding each ISBN (not as clearly marked as they are on the shelf) and adding +1 to the total. *sigh* I didn't get home until 6:30.

Saturday was moving day for some good friends, so I went to help. I hadn't planned to originally, but I'm glad I did, because when I got there, it was the couple and one other person, trying to load the couple's life into a 10ft Uhaul. A couple more people joined the team over time, but we never had more than six active players. Three Uhaul trips and some "3D Tetris", as my friend coined it.

So we're in July. Soon comes August. My husband and I officially have 4 weeks until our lease ends and 5 weeks until our new lease begins. We have to box up our lives and figure out where to store it all for a week. Can we say, not fun? I'm thinking the easiest thing at this point is to rent a POD, but one-month's rental costs more than one-month's rent for my apartment (the old one, anyway), and I don't think that's reasonable. We're looking into other options, such as short-term storage, keeping various boxes in friends' garages, etc.

Seriously, boxes are stressing me out right now.

I'm trying to keep my head above water in terms of managing blogging, writing, working, and general family duties. I suppose this is nothing different, but I don't have a set schedule for myself, and I can't really create one when we'll be packing and scrounging up a place store everything.

Anyway, happy 4th again. We're grilling in the backyard.

What are you doing this fine Monday, July 4? 
Do you have any create space ideas for me for a week's worth of homelessness?
Any ideas on what I can do to make the boxes less scary? :)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Blogging and Internet Privacy

Image courtesy of SafetyWeb.com
In the age when facial recognition is incorporated into your driver's license picture and Facebook auto-tags you and your friends when you upload photos (though not always correctly), people worry about privacy on the net. The Man is spying on us all, looking for keywords in posts like terrorism and bomb and other threatening vocabulary

(Hello, Mr/Ms Fed Agent. Glad you came to read my blog!).

And yet we writers blog on a (semi-)regular basis. Not only that, but we put ourselves out there in a rather public sphere, some people even linking their blog of Facebook, Twitter, other co-authored blogs, some even going so far as to list their home address and phone number in case an agent would like to contact them. We create ourselves as public figures and hope we're not famous enough to attract real-life stalkers while also toning down the rants to avoid any government's spy radar from picking up our signals.

(Are you still with me, Mr/Ms Fed Agent? Or is this just chatter? Did you catch my use of the word "stalker"?)

What I find intriguing in all this are the people who have blogs, blogging profiles, and "aliases", but somehow those profiles are disconnected from the comments they leave on blogs. I personally like to respond to people's comments via email, because it may lead to a more personal discussion, or the person to whom I'm responding might not return to my blog to see my answer. And half the time, I hit reply, type a paragraph and click send before I realize that the response is going to "no-reply@blogger.com".

Image courtesy of Uproxx.com
I'm not sure what about it bothers me, but it seems paradoxical. Perhaps with "bloggers" who don't use blogger, i.e., people who use LiveJournal or WordPress, it makes sense, but still some of these people have Blogger profiles as they may use Google Reader or the Blogger Dashboard to read the latest and greatest. It's two clicks or so to connect an email address to an account. Why not do it?

I can only think of two reasons:
  1. The person doesn't know how (in which case, I say, go find a ten year old to show you); or
  2. S/he is worried about internet security and his/her email address being too accessible.
Yeah, you know, I kinda get it. I don't necessarily want my personal email available to anyone and everyone on the internet. So what did I do? In this booming technological age, I created another email address. Yes, folks, that makes three for me.
  1. A Google email address used exclusively for all things literary. I use it for contests, comments, site registration at places like LinkedIn, Narrative.com, etc. If you know me from my blog, it's probably the only email address of mine you'll ever see (except for Carol).
  2. My university email. You don't even need to be a tried and true hacker to figure out the address for this email account, but I'm not flaunting it around the net. I use it for work and some personal email. The end.
  3. My Yahoo account. While I'm unsure how one blogger has found this and uses it to email me the periodic announcement from her blog (and she may not even know who she is), it's really my catch-all email address. I use it to register at places that are likely to generate spam.
So given the potential for the separation of the net and the personal, I can't figure out why people don't connect an email address to their comments. We're all already online, and therefore have significantly forfeit a portion of our right to internet privacy. We want people to connect to us, read our blogs, and participate in the conversation, but to do that with such a limited means of connecting, to me, seems like cherry picking.

Am I wrong? Are you one of the people who doesn't have your email connected to your account? Tell me why. I honestly don't get it and would like to know.

Are you concerned about yourself being so public and your right to internet privacy? What do you do to protect yourself?
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