Friday, April 30, 2010

Only a week and a half to go...

Hey guys. Sorry about my lack of Teaser Tuesday-ing this week. I simply haven't had time to do any writing. Well, any writing for myself, anyway. I churned out two short stories for classes, a biology paper and various different responses to things. This week has been absolute hell and I am now exhausted.

Finally, though, it is finished. The week of too many projects and not enough time, snow in April and running around in it in a renaissance costume, extreme sleep deprivation, and fire alarms during showers is over. My cold hasn't gone away yet, though. Bluh.

Tonight, though, I'm performing in a Cabaret! I'm terribly excited. And then I get to SLEEP!

So, apologies for the lack of teasering. You might have to bear with me and wait for more till this semester's over in a week and a half and I can devote myself to finishing Letters to Oliver.

Until then, David Tennant!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Why Your Brain is Smarter than You

Greetings, blogsphere! I'm taking a moment to run away from the encroaching horror that is next week. It's not even finals week - it's just projects-are-all-due-NOW week. *sigh*

Anyway, I've been pondering things lately (in my copious amounts of spare time, of course). This pondering has led to some thoughts on symbolism. I've always been sort of skeptical about it. Going through AP literature in high school does make one wonder exactly how much of the symbolism your teacher's pointing out was actually put in there by the author. Sometimes, you know it's really there. Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness is so completely FILLED with symbolism of the rather obvious kind that I think it's safe to assume that that was authorial intent. Sometimes, however, that isn't always the case. In my Intro to the Short Story class last semester, we read Helena Maria Viramontes' short story "The Moths." I believe Viramontes teaches writing at The Other* school in Ithaca, and my professor asked her what exactly she meant by the moths she put in at the end of the story. She replied that she didn't really know; she just thought they were cool.

It's always a balancing act you go through when reading. Maybe everything you pick out was put there by the author, or maybe you're just having a particularly clever day. Personally, I have always leaned towards the idea that symbolism is more about reader interpretation than authorial intent. I've always dreamt of sitting in on a class where someone is teaching my book and having a good chuckle when they talk about all the symbolism I didn't put in. (This will never happen, mostly because I have yet to come across a class, anywhere, where contemporary (heck, even classic!) fantasy is taught.)

But then, in that same short story class last semester, my professor brought up the idea that your subconscious is smarter than you are. It synthesizes the things you read and sneaks them into the things you write, and then all of a sudden you look back at what you've done and there's a theme that you didn't notice before.

And I'm noticing that that's happening with Letters to Oliver.

It started out with the premise of the book, really. It's an epistolary novel, so one of the things I wanted to play around with was exactly what Emily says to everything she is writing. There are three main recipients of her letters: her younger sister Ginny, her best friend Fiona, and Oliver, who doesn't actually receive the letters she writes to him. She gives different amounts of truth to different people.

Then I realized that what's going on with my antagonist fits this newfound deception theme so well it's scary. I'd tell you what that is, but I'd spoil it, and that would be no fun.

And THEN I realized that not only did I have a theme, I had a symbol that fit that theme! Two, really. The first one stemmed from Emily channeling me far more than any character really should and hiding behind words and books. It's not strictly deception; more along the lines of a lie by omission. Emily's a very poetic person, really. She thinks of everything in terms of words, from her spells to herself. The second one has to do with my weird obsession with describing atmospheres. In A Bridge to War, I go crazy talking about golden-green light through summer leaves. In this, I talk about the rain and the ominous yellow-grey London fog. A fog that hides things and makes them seem like what they are not. Muahaha.

The biggest "whoa, Caitlin, how the heck did you come up with this?" was when I realized I had a modified hero's journey thread going on through all this. What what??? Well, I had always known that the subtitle for this book could very well be "How Emily Bell Grows a Spine," but then I wrote this:

"I feel as though I am being utterly ridiculous, muttering on about spells and words and my inability to write you a letter you will actually receive, but it is as though this London fog has paralyzed me...

There is nothing anyone can do, excepting perhaps myself, and I am lost deep in the fog somewhere and cannot find my way out.

I wish I knew the way."

And my brain went wild. Because Emily gets lost in the fog literally later on in the book. And guess what? She comes out having rescued Oliver (well. Halfway, at any rate. He's still a rabbit at that point) and actually sort of self confident. WHOA.

Can this semester be over please? I need to finish this book. I am having entirely too much fun with it. :)

* That would be Cornell. We Ithacans speaketh not of those on the other hill. ;)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: Winking

And we're back to Letters to Oliver! Enjoy this week's snippet.

Emily's talking about her presentation to society. Due to the fact that she never left off mourning Prince Albert, Queen Victoria did not attend many salons after his death (hence the fact that she is presented to the Prince and Princess of Wales instead). Also, on May 1st, 1876, Victoria was proclaimed Empress of India. Hence that reference.

Here 'tis!



Saturday, April 17, 2010

Awesome Epistolaries and Why They Are Awesome

Hello, all! Happy Saturday. I intend to do very little that is productive (schoolwork wise, anyway). That's what Sundays are for, right?

In any case. I'll be working some more on Letters to Oliver, my lovely historical fantasy epistolary novel. Yes, epistolary. You'd be surprised how many people I have to explain that term to; I don't think it's a particularly common format. According to that wonderful source, Wikipedia: "An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. Recently, electronic "documents" such as recordings and radio, blogs, and e-mails have also come into use. The word epistolary comes from the Latin word epistola, meaning a letter."

It is indeed an interesting format, if not often used. I have read some truly wonderful epistolaries that I am taking inspiration from now and I think I ought to share the love and point out these works of brilliance.

The first epistolary novel I ever read was Kate Klise's Regarding the Fountain. If you like MG, READ THIS BOOK RIGHT NOW. It's about an elementary school principal who commissions a new drinking fountain from an eccentric artist; she sends letters and drawings and all sorts of things back and forth with the principal and with the class of third graders at this school. It's a very clever book, and really, really enjoyable.

Now, I wasn't a really big reader of epistolaries, so from when I was say eleven and read Regarding the Fountain to when I was... er... seventeen? eighteen? (I have such a good memory, can't you see?) and read this next book, I can't particularly remember reading another one, although I know I read a few with epistolary elements. I just didn't really think about it much.

But then I came across The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows and I fell in love. This book is WONDERFUL. Absolutely, completely, and totally wonderful. The moment I finished it, I wanted to read it again. I wanted MORE. (Unfortunately, there isn't any more - sadly, Ms. Shaffer, the main writer, passed away before the book was published.) It's about a journalist living in London and set at the very end of World War II. She's trying to recover from the horrors of the Blitz, and is contacted by someone who read her articles during the war. He lives on the British channel island of Guernsey, which was occupied by the Nazis. The story is both funny and poignant; it even made me tear up a little. Seriously. GO READ THIS BOOK.

After that, I went hunting for more epistolaries. One that I found was Jane Austen's Lady Susan. (After all, if one is writing anything set in the Victorian era, one must return to the source.) This one was fun because it was not at all a 'typical' Jane Austen story; the main plot focuses around a girl trying to get out from the clutches of her overbearing mother, Lady Susan. It is filled with typical Jane Austen wit, of course, and is quite lovely.

Another epistolary I came across, and which probably provided the inspiration for Letters to Oliver, was Caroline Stevermer and Patricia C. Wrede's Sorcery and Cecelia. It is a Regency-era epistolary set in an England where magic actually works. The characters are quite clever (I especially love Kate) and the story intriguing and delivered with a sort of bounce and a great sense of humor that is really quite fun. There are also two sequels to this: The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician, or Ten Years After. All are quite good. I like the first and the third best; the second is in testimonies and diary entries rather than letters, which is an interesting format (especially when you look at what the one character includes in her diary but the other leaves out of her testimony), but I prefer the letters. Also, in book three, the gentlemen get to exchange a few letters as well, and goodness but they are hilarious.

In any case. Even after I had read all of these, I thought that I could never write something like that. It is an extraordinarily structured format, after all. But then Nathan Bransford had a contest on his blog to write a diary entry or unsent letter, and there was Emily, writing Oliver a letter he would never see. And after that, the rest of the idea followed. I'm discovering it is a very fun format, and quite useful. For one thing, I hate first person. Hate hate hate. I really dislike being limited to one character's perspective for an entire story, but this format allows me - basically forces me - to head hop, which is a relief. Also, I think the terribly structured format is good for me, since I tend to just scrawl out words and then have to clean up the mess later.

Speaking of which, I ought to go write.

Are there any epistolaries you would recommend to me?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: MORE aliens!

So, this is the end of my alien cat short story (now entitled "Beam Me Up, Toby") as it is right now. I was workshopped yesterday and while everyone seemed to like it, my professor said there was a lot I needed to expand on. I can do that, easily. I think I might YA-ify it and just expand like crazy. Woot!

In any case, since many of you were asking for the whiz-bang alien stuff from Toby, here it is. Roy has heard one crazy story too many from Jessie, and is now determined to do something about it. Toby has other plans.



Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Words, words, words."

So says Hamlet to Polonius. So sings Eliza Doolittle to Freddy. So shouts the author glaring at the Blinking Cursor of Death.

Words are important. Words make us smile, make us laugh, make us cry, drive us absolutely crazy. And everyone’s got their favorite. I tend to be particularly fond of tricksy (a very cool word which, unfortunately, only Gollum can really get away with), complicated words.

For example, two of my favorites are exacerbate and extrapolate, both introduced to me through The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I simply love the way they sound – they roll off the tongue in a particularly pleasing way, I think. Those are words that seem to go along perfectly with a sardonic tone and a ridiculous atmosphere – hence why using them in H2G2 is so brilliantly entertaining. Complicated words are just FUN. Like Gloucestershire and flibbertigibbet and supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. They’re almost like mini-tongue twisters, and the walking-dictionary part of me feels a sense of accomplishment whenever I manage to fit them into a conversation. (Writing them is great. Saying them in real life is truly wonderful.)

Not all the words I like are complicated, though. I also love short, simple words that convey everything we need to know about their definition in only one or two sounds. Like fop. And snarl. And glomp (which is not a “real” word but it certainly belongs in the category of words that sound exactly like what their definition is, whilst still being short.) (Whilst is a good one too.)

More word geekery (another word that is most entertaining): I love words that sound like what they mean. For instance: billowy provides an excellent image of fabric blowing in the wind. Not rustling; billowing. The words have almost a different flavor – it’s like deciding which spice to add to a sauce. Rustling turns the phrase one way, while billowing turns it another. It changes the taste, the tone, everything – all because of one word that fits exactly the way you want it to. Which, on occasion, makes writing an infuriating process. I have occasionally been known to stare for hours (this is only a very slight exaggeration) at the Blinking Cursor of Death because I cannot for the life of me think of the right thing to say. Mostly, it comes to me eventually. Which is nice, and which silences the evil little chuckle of the Blinking Cursor.

There are also words I don’t like. In my opinion, the worst word in the entire English language is “woo.” Perhaps this is because I am a hopeless romantic, and I feel that a word which means “courtship” and connotes “love” should not sound so similar to something as disgusting as “goo.” The only person who has ever gotten away with saying that word without making me sneer with derision is Captain Jack Sparrow. And since very few people can attain that level of sheer awesome, I think the word should just go hide in a corner somewhere so we can forget about it.

But it’s more than just sounds, after all. I like words like ephemeral not just because they seem to glide across my mind, but because they seem to suit their meaning perfectly. If something is ephemeral, it conjures up images wisps of fog withering away in sunlight, or blowing away on the wind. At least, it does for me, which is why I like the word so much.

“Words, words, words.” We see them littered everywhere; it is like we are bombarded by words nowadays. Of course, by themselves, they sound cool and look neat. But string them together, and they become something even better. After all, we don’t read just to look at cool words and go “ooh, exacerbate!” We read the combination of cool words, and it is the combination that makes the writing great.

This is going to be my guest-blog for the lovely Choco! Go check out her blog and keep an eye out for me! :)

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Teaser Tuesday: zomgALIENS

Hehe... so how many of you guys are sitting there going "how do aliens relate to Letters to Oliver???"

They don't. My life has just been consumed by schoolwork again, so this week's teaser is the beginning of a short story for my creative writing class. One of the prompts on our list was "she suspected that _____." Since I am apparently completely insane, I filled that in with "she suspected that her cat was an alien." So it turned into this story of a woman whose cat is an alien and whose boyfriend thinks she's gone round the bend.

I kind of like this premise, actually. I might expand this for my sci fi class and then stuff it at the back of my mind for possible later use.

Can you guys please tell me if this is absolutely godawful? I'm handing this in Friday.

Also, it hasn't got a title yet. *ponders*



Friday, April 2, 2010

The Writer's Guide to Sunshine

On Wednesday, in the grand place that is Ithaca, it was 30 degrees and raining.

Then, on Thursday (April Fool's Day, ironically) it was 75 and gloriously sunny.

Today, it was 83.


Since most of the writers I know are of the solitary, hermit-ing type, I suggest the following ten items for when the weather is too gorgeous to ignore.

1. Even if you have work later that day, sandals/flip flops are preferable to socks and Converse.

2. College students: leave your dorm a little early before class/work so you can walk slowly and bask in the sun on the way.

3. Also, persuade your TA's/professors to let you have class outside. SO much more fun.

4. There is a purpose to homework. That purpose is to give you an excuse to lounge about on a bath towel outside. (You can always nap in the sun once your work's done.)

5. Three days of 70- and 80-degree weather does not mean that the grass is not muddy.

6. People-watch. I've discovered that the Ithaca quad, which is usually somewhat deserted and/or covered in snow, comes alive and is suddenly filled with people (rather like what a college quad is supposed to look like, methinks?).

This particular piece of advice is especially applicable when there is a group of people playing Quidditch on the quad.

7. Write after the sun goes down. (C'mon, admit it, that's when you write best anyway.)

8. Those of you who are not as anachronistic as I am and do not wear watches (yes, I am fully aware that I am among a dwindling minority here) are ahead of me on this one. I've been outside for approximately 3 hours in the past two days (plus walking places) and I already have a watch tan!

9. Persuade your friends to picnic with you. I want a picnic at some point this weekend...

10. And please, for God's sake, get thee to the sunscreen! After all, our vampire-esque skin color is better suited for sitting in front of a faintly glowing computer screen, not in brilliant sunshine. Don't get skin cancer and die because then I would miss you.