Monday, May 30, 2011

Books I Read This Month - May 2011

Since I didn't have school this month, I got a bit of reading done. Here's what I read!

The Tomb - F. Paul Wilson
This is the first book in a series that my parents have been urging me to read. I read The Keep quite a while back, which they told me is a kind of background to the series of like twenty books. I'm not sure I'm committed to reading all of them yet. I mean, The Tomb was good (the writing was great, the characters interesting, the plot suspenseful) but twenty more like it is a lot to handle. I'll probably end up reading them all, just not consecutively. Obviously. Since I didn't read any more in the series this month.

Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
I don't have much to say about this book that has not been said before, so...

You Shall Know Our Velocity - Dave Eggers
Two young men travel around the world in seven days, giving away $35,000. It was funny in some places and tear-jerking in others. The writing was amazing, but the plot confused me slightly.

The Lathe of Heaven - Ursula K. le Guin
My sister pressured me into reading this. It's science fiction, so I was kind of wary, but it was a very intriguing read. It's about a man whose dreams change reality. He goes to a psychiatrist, who tries to use the dreams to his advantage. I would recommend you read this if you are in the mood for a philosophical discussion.

Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
I read this a couple years ago but had to read it again. It's just such a cultural phenomenon, and I'm kind of obsessed with the Catch-22 idea. I run into them almost every day. Good book.

The Nomination - William G. Tapply
The Nomination is the last book published by William G. Tapply before he died a few years ago. It's about a supreme court judge nominee and his history. He tries to hide the secrets of his past so that he will get the job. Somewhat of a murder mystery, the book was wonderfully written. Round characters and a distinct story line. I'd recommend it, but only if you enjoy the genre.

K-PAX II: On A Beam of Light - Gene Brewer
Sequel to K-PAX, which is an amazing book. There's a third one, too, but I'm not sure what it would be about, since this one wrapped up the story pretty well. Psychiatrist's sessions with a patient with multiple personalities, the main alter being an alien from the planet K-PAX. This, like the first book, is one of those unexpected treasures. You'd think it would be the story of the patient and how he heals from the trauma in his life, but it is surprisingly philosophical. I enjoyed it very much. I definitely recommend it, but you have to read the first book first. And maybe see the movie. Kevin Spacey is amazing.

London Fields - Martin Amis
Dense (470 pages took me over a week to read) and almost plotless, but the characters were wonderfully wrought, and there were some humorous moments. Not my favorite of Martin Amis, but it didn't change my high opinion of him. His novels are kind of long and winding, like this one, but his novellas are brilliant.

Peace, Aimee

Monday, May 23, 2011

L'anniversaire de la Victoire du Bien Sur le Mal

Feel free not read this post if you don't want to. I'm only a crazed fan unhealthily obsessed with a television show that's not even on the air any more. In fact, today is the anniversary of the series finale of this show. This show, this epic phenomenon is...

...drum roll please...

...LOST.

Shut up.

Maybe you've heard of it (plus I've posted about it here and here and here's a poem I wrote about it). You've probably heard of that show that no one could figure out. Maybe you even watched the first episode when it aired. You know, the one with a plane crash and polar bears on a tropical island and that fat guy and the hatch thing with the button and time travel and that crazy French lady and a giant smoke monster that eats people.

But really, the show was about, well, the meaning of life. I know what you're thinking: shut up and stop trying to be profound. But seriously. The show was about this: everybody dies, and all those unanswered questions and stupid things you said or did or rules you followed, none of that, and I mean none, has any purpose whatsoever, except for love. All you need is love. The end.

There are a billion videos I would like to show to you. But I had to convince myself to only post two because I knew that if I didn't limit myself, I would end up posting a ton of stuff that wouldn't make any sense to anyone unless they'd seen the show. So I have for you the first scene of the show that aired on 22 September of 2004, and the last scene that aired on 23 May 2011.

The beginning...


The end... (sorry it's backwards)


Namaste, and good luck.

Peace, Aimee

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Way I Write (aka A Portrait of the Tortured Artist)

The way I write is not very unique. In fact, it may be boring, or maybe that's just my perception and my technique is actually verging on insane, which is more likely. Despite that, I will share with you the basic steps in my process.

1. The Lightening Strike - An idea comes to me. I'm usually very vulnerable and reckless at this first stage. This is when I start writing. Yeah, right off the bat, ready, set, go. Actually there's no ready or set. An idea pops into my head, and if there is anything in the way between me and my computer, it is sure to be obliterated in my path.

2. Plotting Mania - When I get to about 2000 words, about eight or so pages, the ideas are hitting me at top speed, and my mind always works faster than my fingers. Every time I start something new, I tell myself that I'm just going to write, I'm not going to outline. But I always fail. In this step, I outline my plot, characters, and theme/symbol stuff, the last of which I always have a thorough vision of, even though most people don't like to do that. My outlines are not massive. I've got my list of characters, a general one or two paragraph summary, and some notes, like future quotes or passages that I will add in later and notes about why something is happening in a certain place, etc. It is at this point in my writing process that I feel most confident and optimistic.

3. The Brick Wall - You see, the reason why I tell myself not to outline, is because whenever I outline, I tend to hit the brick wall. In this stage, while I have a novel only about 5000 to 10,000 words in length, I can go days and even weeks without writing one single word. I reread what I have, look over the outline, ponder over every aspect of my characters, but I can't do anything. I drag myself around the house groaning and eating too much chocolate, feelings of ennui building up, and I have that general malaise and dread that I will never be able to write a word again. This is the step in which I know whether or not a story is going to make it. I've lost many a good story in this step, but alas, I suppose they were no good at all if they didn't make it past good old step 3. Some don't die completely though; I have a few hanging out there in limbo, fantastic stories that just need that spark again, and I know I'll be off like a jackrabbit on them.

4. Now if I manage to get past the brick wall, I start writing again. I get a nice pace going. It's about 500 words a day. Not terribly slow, but creeping along. I like to know what words I'm laying down, in what order, and if they sound good. This is the most productive step, and perhaps the most fun. I write for a while, and pretty soon...

5. I'm done! But not really. I usually wrap up everything I had in my plotline (which was growing and growing to about four pages in length during step 4) and exhaust my resources at around 40,000 words, a nice little novella. Then I print it out and do a line edit, even though I know it is nowhere close to being finished. Then I go in and make the changes, bringing me to around 45,000. Then I send it off to be read by a critique partner. I know that at this stage, my novel is only halfway done (seeing as it is half a novel's length), but I know I will not be able to write any more unless I get someone's say. As I read through it, I can't see any plot problems or holes, nothing that needs to be written, but I get that nagging sense that my characters' fates aren't completely fulfilled. There's usually not very much tension in my story. Not enough at stake. It's the bare bones of a novel. I've only ever had two stories make it to this stage. One of them is dead and gone, but the other is still on hold.

6. On Hold (aka Brick Wall Number Two) - The next stop for my novel is the waiting period. I tend to think that if I bake the thing for a few months, it will come out of the oven perfectly golden brown, even though I haven't touched it. No new ideas come to me here. Occasionally I'll read over what I've written, changing sentences or adding paragraphs here or there, but I don't accomplish much. My first story sat in this stage (while I lathered, rinsed, and repeated through steps 1, 2, and 3 with a few story ideas) for about a year and a half before it sizzled out and passed on to the next life. My current story has been waiting here for about six months, and the more I think about it, the more I think it has served it's time as well.

7.

Unfortunately there is no step 7 as I have never made it this far before. I am currently at the old brick wall with a story that seems very promising, and I'm clambering away on step two with another that seems slightly less promising. Step 4 is my favorite place, and I'm just dying to get there soon.

I figure step 7 is rewriting the whole thing, which I am much too terrified to try. 8 must be revising, editing, and the like. Then finally 9 would be the endpoint.

There is a perfect analogy I have found that fits my writing process, and that is pregnancy. I will not describe to you how it matches up because it is probably disgusting, offensive, and perhaps depressing (seeing as I've only had two novels reach the second trimester). But anyway...

What is your writing process? Are you as nuts as me? :)

Peace, Aimee

Friday, May 13, 2011

Setting (Boring, You May Think, But Important Nonetheless)

Quite a while ago, I posted a thingie about how setting affects character. Now I'm going to talk about setting again. :)

Um, here's the deal. There is quite a bit of background that goes into this, so this is going to be a long post probably. I know setting is not the most interesting topic in the world of writing, or least it isn't to me, but hang in there because I think what I have to say will be worth the read (I hope).

Alright. In my stories, I tend to place my characters in cities like London or New York, where most stories seem to take place. These settings are so exciting and have so many opportunities for the characters, and big cities seem to me to be generic in a the sense that they are all big and busy and messy. The words come rolling out even though I've never been to these places.

The problem with this is that the reader does not get a sense of connection to the setting, and in turn, they can't really get a sense of connection with the characters, which is kind of the whole point of a story, eh?

Now, here's where my background comes in. Don't skip this. It's interesting. :) I live in a pretty small city (in my opinion it's a deserted town in the middle of nowhere, but in truth, it's actually a very popular place) in Northern Michigan. This year it was rated second place for the top vacation spot in the whole of the United States, which is a pretty big accomplishment, though I wouldn't recommend coming here in the winter, as you may not be able to leave. During the snowy season (usually October-ish to April-ish) the population is about five, but in the summer, there are hundreds of thousands. Um, pardon the rant there...

Hm, did I mention this before? Aha! Yes I did! The writer Doug Stanton lives around here. He started up this thing called the National Writer's Series in which high school students in Northern Michigan have a chance to win a college scholarship (I mentioned a few posts ago that my sister won it for non-fiction). But since I'm not in high school anymore, I think the best part about the National Writer's Series is that authors come and get interviewed about writing and stuff and stuff and it's cool. Mitch Albom came once, but I didn't get to see it. The writer's of the show Mad Men came too, but I didn't go that one either...

So, now here is the purpose behind that long and winding rant... I went to one of the writer's series interviews. There were three authors who were all from Michigan, which I thought was nice, since, well, I'm in Michigan. And the interviewer posed a very interesting question. Do you write about Michigan, and why? And all three of them answered yes, because this is the place they know, the culture they understand, and the way they live their lives. Each of their stories take place in Michigan.

I was super intrigued by this. People who have read my work claim that they have trouble connecting with the characters. This is probably, I realized, because I myself am not connected to them very well. If they live in New York City or London, they are living in a different culture from me, one that I do not understand entirely. I am completely immersed in the culture of my town, and let me tell you, it has an enormous culture! The arts are amazing here! They are the strongest part of the education system. We're like a miniature NYC or LA. They've filmed movies here. No does a double take when they see Michael Moore wandering around downtown. Also, we are the cherry capital of the world. We have festivals all the time. It can get quite nuts.

Despite the snow (which I CANNOT stand; I don't think I can handle one more winter without sunlight; we've got seasonal affective disorder all over the place, or maybe that's just me) I absolutely adore the culture of this place. I recently started writing a story that takes place here, and as I read it, I feel a super strong connection with the characters. I understand where they are coming from (because I come from the same place). I can portray them in a certain way, and I think that readers will be able to better understand them too.

Woah. That was a long post. What do you think? Do your stories take place in the place where you live? If so, do you think that you can better understand the character you write because they live in the same culture as you do? I would love to hear what you have to say about this topic!

Have a nice weekend!

Peace, Aimee

Monday, May 9, 2011

Specialization Versus Versatility

So, my writer friends, I'm curious as to what genre you write. Do you write in one genre or do you experiment?

I myself write pretty much solely literary fiction. I have never written and never plan to write anything in the following: young adult, harlequin romance, fantasy, or historical. They are just not my thing, you know.

But lately I've been thinking about trying out a new genre, just writing a short story to get a little taste. I'm always up for a new adventure. A couple of years ago, I started writing a sort of science fiction romance story (time travel, not aliens, and true love, not erotica) but I didn't get very far. It seemed promising, but the thick plot with all that time travel was too much for me at the time. I am definitely going to work on it and finish it because I think my idea is brilliant (modest, I know) but probably not any time soon.

That's the only place I've gone outside of literary fiction, and it wasn't that far of a journey. What I'm really trying to say here is that genre really doesn't matter much to me when I write, or when I read for that matter (although I'm really not a fan of fantasy). I write whatever I feel like writing and don't try to define it until I'm done.

It just happens to almost always turn out to be literary...

Peace, Aimee

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

My Character Story: Amnesia

Here is my little thing about the two characters, Gabriel and Charles. It is in the format of a screenplay because it is mostly dialogue. Enjoy!

Also, please ignore the blatant LOST quotes.

Amnesia

A priest, Gabriel, is standing in a hospital hallway outside a room. He wears the classic priest attire, black jacket with white collar showing at his neck. He hesitates before entering the room. His brother, Charles, lays awake in the hospital bed. Flowers and balloons labeled "Get Well Soon!" surround him. Charles' eyebrows furrow when he sees Gabriel, as if he doesn't know him. When he notices Gabriel's clothing, his expression grows irritated.

Charles: So they've sent me a priest now? I don't need this. Get out!

Gabriel: Wow, they were right. You really did lose your memory.

Charles sits down in the chair beside the bed. An anxious sweat beads at his brow.

Charles: I remember that I was a doctor. Not much else, though. I wish I could remember. I need to remember. But I don't need a priest in order to do it!

Gabriel: You really don't remember me? You can't recognize your own brother?

Charles: Brother? I didn't even know I had a brother. Are you serious?

Gabriel: Yes I am serious. I'm Gabriel, your little brother. You are two years older than me. We went through foster care together, but we are flesh and blood. Brothers.

Charles sits up abruptly, which hurts his head. He winces in pain. Gabriel leans forward toward his brother to let him know he is there for him.

Charles: Foster care? What happened to our parents?

Gabriel's eyes widen.

Gabriel: Oh no, I shouldn't have said that.

Charles: Why not? Tell me what happened. I can't remember and I need to!

Gabriel is frightened at first, unsure of what he should say, but then he relaxes.

Gabriel: No, you don't need to remember. We've always had this problem. You always needed to know everything. What's inside the human brain? Why does a heart beat? How can we fix everything wrong with these people?

Gabriel sighs.

Gabriel: Why have you always found it so hard to just have a little faith?

Charles: Why do you find it so easy?!

Gabriel: It hasn't been easy! Why can't you just trust me? Why don't you just let it go?

The door to the hospital room opens and a nurse walks in, holding a tray of food for Charles. She is shocked to see the brothers appearing so angry. Gabriel turns to face her.

Nurse: Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to interrupt.

Charles: No, it's okay. I'm just talking to my brother here, arguing more like. We just seem to have had a disagreement. Apparently it's always been this way.

Nurse: Oh, do you remember?

Gabriel begins to correct the nurse, but she starts rambling on excitedly while setting the tray at the foot of the bed.

Nurse: I can't believe it! The psychologist said yesterday that you may never remember anything, even though you've remembered how to practice medicine. She said you would probably never remember your brother and your childhood. I can't believe this! Welcome back, Charles!

Charles: I don't think you understand.

Nurse: Oh, I'm so sorry I sound so excited about it all. I know you hate talking about the fire, sir. Oh, Charles, I'm sorry for being happy about it.

Charles' face morphs from anger to fear in a matter of seconds. He takes in a shaky gasp. Gabriel whips his head around to face him.

Charles: No. No, no, no.

Charles lays back in the bed, placing his hands over his eyes to hide his tears.

Gabriel: Charles? What... are you...?

Charles: The fire... the... the fire...

Gabriel places a hand on his brother's arm to comfort him but he pushes it away.

Nurse: I... I'm so sorry... Did I, did I make him remember?

Gabriel nods slowly, his face empathetic, though, rather than angry. The nurse backs out of the room. Gabriel kneels at his devastated brother's bedside and gently shushes him.

Gabriel: I'm sorry, Charles.

Charles: You're right, Gabriel. I should have believed you. I should have just let it go.

The End

Peace, Aimee

Monday, May 2, 2011

And The Winner Is...

The winner of the character contest is...

Will Foley! (aka Fenris)

Congratulations! Here is his story, and I will be sharing mine on Wednesday. Will, you can email me 1000 words of your WIP or anything else to cheesepuff5292@yahoo.com and I will critique it. :)

Peace, Aimee



A bird hopped through the grass, picking at worms and bugs only it could see. Two shadows appeared and it stiffened, stretching its neck to peer at the newcomers as they approached.

“Such spirit,” said Gabriel as the bird flitted to the lowest branch of a nearby tree and began scolding them.

“Spirit,” scoffed Charles. “Maybe as an expression, but nothing more. It has merely evolved to be wary of humans.”

“Doesn’t seem so wary to me.” The bird continued chirping insults at them, its feathers ruffled up. A silence fell as they left it behind, and after a pause it swooped down to resume its hunt.

“Do you think they have souls, Charles?”

“What?”

“Do you think animals have souls, like we do? There’s that spark of intelligence in their eyes, of mischief that couldn’t be carried out by a soulless machine.”

“Gabriel, remember who you’re asking. I don’t believe humans have souls, let alone animals. Souls simply don’t exist.”

“Then what do you believe, Charles?” asked Gabriel as they emerged from the trees beside a large pond. Swans sailed sedately away, while ducks scurried along the north bank, fighting over scraps of bread. “And how can you prove that souls don’t exist?”

“There’s simply no proof, Gabriel. The soul’s condemnation began when early surgeons could find no organ that embodied it. It simply isn’t there.”

“So it’s a figment of my imagination?”

“Yes.”

Their voices echoed through the morning mist, and they fell into an indignant silence. Events such as these were commonplace between them. Both were headstrong, determined, unwilling to back down in the face of opposition—and both believed precisely the opposite of the other. Theirs was a circular argument, one that had no beginning…and no end.

“It doesn’t matter,” said Gabriel, finally breaking the silence. “I can believe what I want to. There’s a difference between faith and knowledge. Knowledge is the name for what cannot be disproved—”

“And faith is the name for a belief that cannot be proved. So why do you cling to a hypothesis that has no data to support it?”

“Because I can, and I choose to. You follow your mind, Charles, gathering knowledge that will never help you after death. I shall follow my heart.”

“In the hope that it will help you after death? Gabriel, there is nothing waiting for you!”

“Has Heaven been disproved?”

Charles sighed. “No, but neither have Bigfoot or unicorns. Gabriel, look. I’m your brother. I don’t like to see you wasting your time with something that makes no sense!”

“Not scientific sense, perhaps. But—”

“But even fictional stories make sense if they stick to their own rules. Yeah. I know.”

“The Bible is not—”

“Haven’t you read it? Don’t you see all the contradictions?”

“Have you?”

“Yes! Acts 1:24 says ‘Then they prayed, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all…”’, but in Genesis 22, God has to test Abraham to see if he is truly faithful. How can God know the hearts of men, yet still have to test them?”

“Maybe the tests aren’t for his benefit,” argued Gabriel. “Maybe they’re for ours, to show us whether we truly love him.”

“That makes about as much sense as the Bible.”

“The Bible was written by mortal men.”

“Who claimed to be inspired by God! And even they contradicted themselves—the first chapter of Proverbs says that those who seek God will not find him, but the eighth says that they can!”

“You’re taking it out of context—Proverbs 1 says that only those who have refused God will in turn be refused by Him.”

“Then I can go on! James chapter—”

“Charles, I can’t expect you to find what you do not wish to find,” Gabriel said scathingly. Their voices had once again risen to a clamor that echoed across the still water, earning glares from the swans and the few humans who had chosen to rise so early for a stroll. “You call yourself a scientist, unbiased in the face of new theories, new data. And yet you already condemn something against which there is no evidence. You yourself have as many contradictions as the religion you condemn. I believe that God exists and will save me after death—the central tenet of Christianity. I have learned to accept that mortal men have flaws, which could have led to your precious contradictions.”

“So you admit that the Bible might be wrong?”

“Not in its basic form, its central meaning.”

“Only in the words that convey it, then. See? I’ve already gotten you to bend. You yourself admit that your holiest truths can be wrong on a certain level. Science has no such weaknesses.”

“I have two words that can prove you wrong. Newtonian physics.”

Charles said not a word.