Books I Read This Month - March 2011

Hello there! How was your spring break? Mine was just fine, thanks.

I did not read very much this month. I was busy. You know how it goes. But here is what I did read.

Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift
Eh, too weird for me. I can see why it's a classic, but tiny people and giants and magic horses just aren't my thing.

Horse Soldiers - Doug Stanton
Speaking of magic horses... No, I'm just kidding. :) Now there is an interesting story behind this book. Part of it is that the author, Doug Stanton, lives in the same town as me. I went to high school with his kids. He and Michael Moore (yeah, the guy who made those documentaries) founded all sorts of cool stuff for my city. My itty-bitty city is going to be famous one day, perhaps a miniature (and I mean miniature) NYC or LA. I have a love/hate relationship with this town. It's so small and cold, but the culture is amazing. But now to the book... It's a non-fiction New York Times best seller about soldiers in Afghanistan who rode horses when fighting against the Taliban. I'm not a fan of non-fiction, and I mostly read this book because of the author... But it was well written, you know, and the subject was pretty interesting. I have strong views about war, which I will not get into right now besides to say war is bad, but I thought the message of this book was good despite the fact that it takes place in a war zone. In the book, the soldiers are supporting each other and trying to stay alive and keep the US free, as they say. Even though I think war is unjust, I was in agreement with many of the things written in this book.

The Stand - Stephen King
Epic, duh. I read the, uh, new and improved version, and I really liked it. It took me about two weeks to read mostly because I was really busy and sick and etc., but also because it was over 1000 pages long. But yeah, it was awesome. Good versus evil, the circle of live, all that good stuff.

Something Wicked This Way Comes - Ray Bradbury
I'm not into fantasy so much, but this was pretty good. The tone of the writing was ominous, which really added to the story. It was cool.

Glue - Irvine Welsh
I've read other Irvine Welsh: Trainspotting (the one about drugs) and Marabou Stork Nightmares (the one about the guy in a coma). This author is kind of weird and writes about controversial stuff. This one has a little bit of everything: sex, drugs, blood and guts. It is also written in a Scottish accent. Weird, I know. It's hard to get used to at first, but once you get going it's kind of fun, and you end up thinking in a Scottish accent for about an hour after stop reading. But yeah, this was a good book. It's about these fours guys growing up in the slums. It's about loyalty and friendship and perhaps a bit of family too.

Peace, Aimee

The Importance of Character

I have this novel that I've been struggling with for, oh, five years now. It's The Big One. The One Story To Rule Them All. Yeah, I've had my flings (short stories, crappy first drafts, beginnings I've scrapped) but I always seem to come back around to this one.

The other day I decided to read my very first draft, the one I wrote five years ago that is seven chapters long, about 20,000 words, and maybe a fifth of the way finished. There were parts that made me laugh at how awful the writing was, parts that I recognized as my subconscious stealing and using in other works, and parts that made me nod and think 'not bad,' even though it was written when I was a mere fourteen-year-old kid. But the main things I noticed were the characters' motivations, flaws, and personalities that drove the story forward.

Thinking I'd hit the jackpot or had an epiphany (though it turns out this has totally been explained this way before), I drew this. Maybe it doesn't help specifically with the development of this story, but it sure is representative of story structure as a whole. Take a gander, writers. I hope it's helpful. :)

What this diagram tells me is that character is the foundation for any story. With motivation there is conflict. With personality there is voice. And of course, if your characters learn anything or have any purpose at all, there should always be a deeper meaning in the subtext of the story.

Happy Writing!

Peace, Aimee

My Favorite Movies

I posted about my top eight favorite books here so now I am going to discuss my eight favorite movies!

8. Get Him to the Greek - This is a new movie, just came out a few months ago, and I know you know I'm currently obsessed with Russell Brand, so I won't rant about it. Really funny film! It's the ultimate sex, drugs, and rock n roll movie.

7. Good Will Hunting - I only saw this once and the DVD was skipping, but it was amazing anyway. Matt Damon as poor guy is a math genius. This movie shows that you are not obligated to do what society says you should do because of your status. It was good movie.

6. Across the Universe - I'm usually not one for musicals, but this makes my top eight despite the fact that it is a musical. This is a great movie. It's about this group of young people struggling with American society in the 1960s. They sing only The Beatles. Amazing film.

5. Inception - Woah. Dude. I know everyone has told you this is the best movie ever, or maybe they've told you it is overrated, but holy moly it is so intense. That is all I can say. If you haven't seen it yet, do. Seriously, of all the movies I'm telling you about here, this is the one you have to see.

4. Saw - Don't judge me. This is a gory horror series, but it is very psychological and philosophical. If you have a strong stomach, you should watch it. It really makes you think about and appreciate life.

3. Moulin Rouge - I'm usually not one for musicals, but oh wait I said that already. I find it odd that I hate musicals but two of them are my favorite movies. But anyway, gah! I think this is the movie I've seen the most number of times (except perhaps #1) and it is amazing! I can't even... oh my, just watch it!

2. Fight Club - I've seen this literally twenty times. I'm almost sick of seeing it over and over, but it's still good every time. It has an amazing entertainment value: hilarious and cool and fast-paced. It also comments on the consumerist culture of the United States, a thing that I am very interested in and, well, against, put simply. It's a cult classic with great jokes, deep meaning, and Brad Pitt. How much better can you get?

1. The Holiday - If I had to pick one movie to watch every single day for the rest of my life, I would pick this one; it's a chick flick, a romantic comedy, a gushy, girly, cheesy Christmas film, but I absolutely adore it. It has very little intellectual value and the ending does not tie up the plot struggle at all. It's Jude Law at his sexy best, Kate Winslet trying her first romantic comedy, Cameron Diaz with an awful fake inability to cry but an amazing ability to fake cry, and Jack Black in a semi-serious role that was actually really good and the only reason my cliché-masculine-anti-chick-flick father was able to sit through the whole thing. I could go on and on. Here is my favorite scene. Ignore the last minute.

So there you have it. My favorite movies.

Peace, Aimee

Voice

If I haven't already, today I shall talk about voice.

Lately I've had this problem where my ideas are great, but then I write about 3 thousand words and the rest goes down the drain, so I start on something new. This has happened to me three times in the past month. However, my latest WIP (yet untitled humor/literary fiction) might just make it. Though I may have just jinxed it... But anyway, this latest story has the best, most developed voice of anything I've written so far in my writing career (if I can call this a career). I don't want to go on about the details, but the story is narrated in first person by a wealthy, egotistical man in turn of the century (1899-1900) England. I've never had so much fun writing a story as I have writing this. This man speaks so eloquently and his vocabulary is enormous. It's been a journey trying to stay consistent in voice throughout the (cough, cough) 3 thousand words I have written so far. To give you an idea, my inspiration for this story came from this YouTube video. I saw this video (because I have a very thorough and perhaps unhealthy obsession with Russell Brand at the moment) and wanted to achieve the spontaneity of language that he has, along with the elaborate and eloquent nature of it. Thus my character was born. And he will probably die very soon.

But despite my short attention span, I have really developed voice in my writing. I have learned one major thing. The voice, while the writer's personality obviously plays a big part, is mostly determined by each individual character. This is especially important when writing in the first person.

What do you guys think about voice? How important is it in writing a story? How do you stay consistent throughout the entire novel?

Peace, Aimee

I Have A Twitter

I'm really not sure why... In case anyone is interested, here it is.

Also, The Literary Lab is releasing the second annual anthology called Notes From the Underground. I'm going to get it and read it as soon as I can!

Peace, Aimee

Sharing Time!

Happy March! In like a lion, out like a lamb, I hope! I'm so ready for spring.

But meanwhile, I'll write. I would like to share with you the first chapter of my work in progress. Tell me what you think!

Excerpt from NIGHTTIME IN AN UNFAMILIAR PLACE

The sound of cars zooming by awoke Sharon from her sleep. Her head ached. She was lying on her back. As she blinked open her eyes, she began to make out the blue of the afternoon sky and the clouds floating above her. It took a few moments for the fog of sleep to lift, but when she realized that she was lying outside in the dirt on the side of the busy highway, she panicked.

Her heart pounding in her chest, she sat up abruptly. Her head throbbed. Cars rushed by, not one of the drivers noticing her sitting there, twenty yards from the road.

She glanced down at herself. She was wearing her pink sundress and the new white shoes her mother had just bought for her, but they were smudged with dirt, as if she had been rolling around in the mud or playing in the woods.

There was the sound of a groan next to her, and her eyes immediately snapped to the source of the noise. It was a boy. She blinked a few times as tears began to cloud her sight, and she recognized him. It was five year old Ben, her neighbor. His clothing was just as messy as hers, and he had scrapes on his elbows and knees. Sharon crawled over to him to shake him awake.

"Ben, Ben," she said, gripping his bony shoulder. "Ben, wake up."

He moaned groggily as if Sharon was his mother telling him to get up for school. His eyes fluttered open. When he saw Sharon, his eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

"Sharon?" he asked. She helped him sit up slowly. His eyes darted around to take in his surroundings. "Where are we?"

"We're by the highway," Sharon answered. Her heart was pounding so hard she thought it would burst from her chest.

"Why?"

"I don't know," she said. She grabbed his hand and brought Ben to his feet. Standing, Sharon hoped, would bring them attention from the people driving down the road. "Are you alright?" she asked Ben. There was a large bruise on his forehead.

"I think so," he said, but his face was still construed with confusion and sleepiness. "My head hurts."

"So does mine," said Sharon. She took a step toward the road. A tear rolled down her cheek. Ben's grip on her hand tightened.

"What's going on?" he asked, but Sharon did not respond. She continued to walk toward the highway, her feet aching with each step she took. With some resistance, Ben followed her. Sharon raised her free hand as high as she could, beginning to wave down a car.

"Hey!" she shouted, though she knew it was impossible for a person driving as fast as these vehicles were driving to hear the sound of her raspy, pathetic yelps. "Hey!" she tried again, louder this time. She released Ben's hand and waved her arms high above her head, nearing the road.

Ben began to wail, but Sharon ignored him. Jumping up and down, she began to scream, her skinny arms flailing above her head. It seemed like forever before a car finally noticed her and swerved over to the side of the road.

A man and a woman bounded out of the vehicle, their faces in shock at the sight of the dirty, bleeding children.

"Are you okay? Are you okay?" the woman yelped, her hands reaching out to them, then retracting, as if she was hesitant to touch them. Tears were streaming down Sharon's face. She glanced over her shoulder at Ben. He had wet himself and was just standing there on the side of the road, frozen and caked in dirt.

"Honey," the man said, placing a hand on the woman's shoulder. "These are those kids. Those missing kids."

"Oh my God," the woman gasped. Her hand flew to her mouth. She shuffled through her purse and pulled out her bulky grey cell phone. The man slowly edged toward Sharon and Ben, not wanting to frighten them.

"It'll be okay," he said. He looked Sharon in the eyes. She was terrified still, but she felt her heart begin to calm down, relieved that someone was here to help her. The man retained eye contact, but inched closer to Ben, who obviously was in greater need of comfort that Sharon.

The woman was on the phone with the emergency contact, explaining that she and her husband had found the two missing children, but the words were all jumbled together. Sharon could hardly understand them. She was in complete shock. It wasn't until she heard the sounds of the sirens coming closer and closer until the reality of her situation began to sink in.

"Missing?" she whispered, though no one heard her. She had fallen asleep in her own bed and awoken on the side of the road, now considered a missing child. "Missing?" she said again, louder. "What do you mean we are those missing kids?"

The woman knelt before Sharon, placing a kind hand on her shoulder to comfort her. Sharon could see the worry in her eyes, unsure why the woman was so afraid.

"Everyone has been looking for you, Sharon," the woman said. She flashed a weak smile. "But we're so glad we've found you. Now you can go home."

"Missing?" Sharon repeated. "How... how long have we been gone?"

The woman's face was blank. She glanced down at Sharon's shoes, uncertain of how to break the news to such a young girl. "About... three months."

A surge of sheer terror tore through Sharon. Her eyes stung with salty tears. Three months! The last thing she remembered was her father tucking her into bed, kissing her goodnight on the forehead, wiggling his fingers in a wave before closing her bedroom door. Three months, yet it seemed like only an instant. In those three months she would have missed her sixth grade graduation, her older sister's sweet sixteen, the Fourth of July celebration. What was going on? What was happening to her?

Everything was a fog. Before she knew it, she was sitting in an ambulance, being poked and prodded. Then there was a policeman with a gentle smile asking her questions she did not know the answers to. People scurried around her, fretted over her and little Ben. It seemed as though she was in and out of consciousness for hours before she finally saw her parents. They rushed to her, hugged her tightly and wept, although it appeared to Sharon as if she had only just seen them the night before.

Three months of her life had gone by, and she had no recollection of them whatsoever.