Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Perks of Starting From Scratch

There are few things that are scarier for writers than a blank page and a blinking cursor.

Well, okay, I may be exaggerating slightly, but blank pages are pretty intimidating. And there's something about starting a brand new project that is just plain daunting; there's a sense, with every new novel, that you have to go back to square one and figure out how to write all over again.

I think this feeling intensifies somewhat when that new novel is a complete and total rewrite of an old novel. On top of feeling like you're starting over entirely, you feel a bit like a failure for having put so much time into something that is just, well, not good.

Rewriting isn't evil, though. I've found it's actually incredibly helpful. And that first attempt isn't a failure. Yeah, it's not right, but there are things that can be salvaged and any writing that you do is going to help you learn how to write better (even if you always feel like starting at square one with each new novel. Neil Gaiman and John Green feel like that, it's gonna be fine).

Those of you who have been about the blog for a long time probably know about my manuscript, A Terror of Darkness, which is about 67,000 words and is about a girl who teams up with a werewolf to break her family out of prison in Revolutionary France.

The first iteration of that novel... wasn't about that.

Almost everything about that novel has changed since I wrote the very first words of it in high school. The title changed. Rose and Avar had different names (sort of; Rose and Avar were their nicknames in Version 1). It was set in rural France about twenty years before the Revolution rather than in Paris at the height of the Terror. It involved a lot of wandering around in the woods figuring out magic stuff.

And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. I mean 163,000 words' worth of wandering around in the woods.

... yeah.

Obviously, this first draft was Not Good. I had to radically change almost everything about the manuscript to turn it into something that I truly feel is publishable.

And yet, that first iteration of Rose and Avar's story is probably the first "not good" manuscript that I wrote and can think back on without having a miniature heart attack. There are things that I really liked from that manuscript that didn't make it into the new version. They didn't work, but they weren't terrible, and I had fun writing them. I learned a lot, somehow, from floundering around in the woods for 163,000 words. And I learned even more from people's feedback on that massive quantity of words. I don't think I could have written the story I am really quite proud of now without that lengthy exercise in not-quite-right-ness that came before it.

I'm also essentially "starting over" with the novel that is to be my senior project, although I didn't quite finish that one. I think it's going to make so much more sense and just feel more "right" once I start it over.

So feel free to start from scratch. It can be kind of fun, rather than completely terrifying. And sometimes it helps you stop wandering around in the woods and figure out the story you're actually trying to tell.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Social Introvert

I missed people over winter break.

I mean, yes, while I was home I had my parents and my sister and my cat and the two high school friends who still talk to me and they're all lovely and nice and I like them a lot and stuff. It's always nice being home and getting to see them, and also getting a chance to have a room to myself sometimes and not have to bother anyone else when I fall asleep listening to music or Vlogbrothers videos.

But at the same time, I get really lonely for PEOPLE when I'm at home. There's almost always at least one other person in my apartment at any given time at school, and we will often do our homework quietly together in the living room, where the internet works best. There's something comforting about that feeling of never being alone - it's sort of warm and safe, and I like it more than I thought I would.

And while I'm not in any way trying to disparage my friends at home, and I do genuinely enjoy catching up and hanging out and watching movies with my friends and family over breaks, there is a zany quality to gatherings that happen in my apartment that I don't quite get anywhere else. We had five people over the other night playing the Post-It game (for those who are not familiar - a person's name gets written on a Post-It and stuck to a player's forehead, and that player has to guess who they are using yes or no questions) and Bananagrams for HOURS and there were lots of laughs and ridiculousness had by all.

I missed that so much. Which is weird, considering that I am kind of insanely shy. I didn't used to like large, loud gatherings of any sort, and now, even though I'm certainly not the most talkative one in the room, I love them. They're fun and silly and my friends are really nice people and it's great. It's nice to force myself out of my shell a bit too, and force myself to relax, which is not something that I am good at. I'm so glad that my school friends are so supportive and wonderful and that they KNOW me, weirdnesses and all, and they still think I'm pretty cool and like hanging out with me. I know that I CAN relax around them, which is a really great feeling.

I have decided that my priorities this semester (you know, other than not starving and getting good grades) are Do An Awesome Job on Senior Project and Hang Out With All the People Because Graduation. Friends, writing, and good grades.

Also not freezing, because Ithaca is in fact the frozen north (I had forgotten the extent of this and now I am huddling under all the blankets).

See you next Tuesday, blogosphere! :)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

So Last Night Turned into Dreams Coming True, AWESOME.

Last night, I went to Carnegie Hall to see An Evening of Awesome with John and Hank Green and their various special guests. If you would like an article about it that's a little (okay a lot) more coherent than this blog post might be (I'm going to try and keep the tumblr speak to a minimum here guys, but seriously I have lost the ability to even) I suggest reading this one.

I love the Green brothers. They are both simply amazing human beings. And John Green is my hero. Hank is amazing too, of course, and he writes funny songs that I love and says insightful things in funny ways, but John is the novelist, and I am an aspiring novelist, so there you go. (Friends who know me in real life should also be aware that quite literally ALL of my relationship advice and a lot of my general life advice is stolen from John Green. So now you know my secret. If ever you are upset, irl friends, and cannot reach me, just watch some John Green videos and everything'll be okay!)

I have been trying to meet the Green brothers for about three years now, ever since my lovely roommate introduced me to Nerdfighteria, and I keep getting thwarted. For instance, last year when The Fault in Our Stars came out, there was a release party in New York City, which I would have gone to in a heartbeat if the plane taking me to study in London for five months hadn't left ONE DAY beforehand. And technically I still have yet to meet them, in spite of waiting for over an hour by the stage door (I gave up because my toes were freezing and I wanted to catch the bus back to New Jersey). But that's okay - hopefully I will someday be a published author and I can be at BEA and meet him or something. And the fact that I was in a room with nearly 3,000 other people, sitting about 20 yards away from the stage, didn't stop me from almost crying when John and Hank walked on stage in their tuxes. (I didn't cry: I told myself that I couldn't, because I had to take a terrible-quality cell phone picture and then be a good little theatre kid and put my phone away.)

The evening was about ten thousand different kinds of amazing. Ashley Clements and Daniel Gordh (aka Lizzie and Darcy from the Lizzie Bennet Diaries) read a scene from The Fault in Our Stars, which was a wonderful, sweet, poignant performance. The Mountain Goats and Kimya Dawson played some songs I didn't know but thought were pretty cool anyway. Hank Green played a lot of songs I did know. Hannah Hart and Neil Gaiman (NEIL FREAKING GAIMAN) asked some questions and later helped do a dramatic reading of a scene from Paper Towns. It was hilarious and fun and the crowd was screaming the whole time and my nerdy heart exploded with joy.

And while I love the Green brothers for their nerdy jokes and funny songs and beautiful novels, what I really love is the sense of collaboration and acceptance that they've spread across the internet. John gave a talk about the genesis of TFiOS and how Nerdfighteria became a thing and he said that the community of Nerdfighters "helped him to fall in love with the world." And that is why I think John and Hank are so remarkable - because it's true. And not in a weird, mushy, sort of way. They acknowledge that there is so much that is wrong about the world, and that nothing is perfect and everyone has some sort of sadness that they must deal with - and yet, humanity is inherently good. People can make things better. And not necessarily in huge ways. People can make the world a better place just by being themselves, by doing little things to make themselves and their friends and family a little bit happier, by doing the things they love - whether that is writing books or making music or posting videos on YouTube or taking cute pictures of cats - with the people that they love.

That means so much to me. It's sort of a way of saying that yes, your dreams matter. You have to work to make them happen, of course, but they can happen, they are real and they ARE important. YOU are important, because YOU DO MATTER. You matter to your friends and your family and your pet and your teachers and your students and the people you pass by in the hallway.

My world would be a little bit darker if I had never discovered John and Hank. I would have so many fewer songs to sing and books to read, and I would not understand that idea of mattering. John and Hank spent so much of last night saying thank you to us, to the community who has formed around them, and now it is my turn. Thank you, John and Hank, for showing me what it is to matter. Thank you for making me laugh and making me cry and making me think, and yes, making me fall in love with the world a little bit more.

(Side note: if anyone has a .gif of Neil Gaiman saying "It's not my fault that my parents own the world's largest collection of black Santas," I would be extremely grateful if they could send it to me.) 

(Side note to the side note: if you get the reference in this blogpost title, here is a high five for you. *high five*)

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

An Open Letter to Steven Moffat

WARNING!!! This post contains spoilers for "The Snowmen," as well as previous episodes of Doctor Who. I don't care if River Song would disapprove.

Dear Mr. Moffat,

I say this with all the respect in the world, but still, it must be said: you're doing it wrong.

Now, I know that you are a many times BAFTA winning television person, and I am just a writer who hasn't yet finished her undergrad degree, but the point still stands. The last season and a half, at least, of Doctor Who has derailed a bit. And it makes my nerdy heart incredibly sad.

I was introduced to Doctor Who while I was in high school. And I loved it. I loved how zany it was. I fell in love with the Tenth Doctor a little bit (okay fine maybe a lot). I loved that it could be both funny and sad in the same episode. And I loved that it was thoughtful. Yeah, it was silly, and in the Russel T. Davies era I despaired wildly of the overly dramatic series finales, but there were so many episodes with something more at the heart of them. The idea that humanity is imperfect and yet wonderful, that no one is unimportant, really struck me. The episodes were cohesive, they were imaginative, and I loved them.

And then something happened. I was initially super psyched that you were taking over as the head writer for the show. Your one-off episodes in the Eccleston and Tennant eras remain some of my favorites - the "Empty Child/Doctor Dances" episodes are sheer brilliance, and "The Girl in the Fireplace" is probably part of the reason I am now obsessed with French history. But for the past season and a half or so, so many of the episodes have lacked that spark of something more. After watching - well, all right, sitting on the sofa - not behind it - and shouting at the television while it played - "The Snowmen," I asked my friend Sarah (side note: her name is Sarah Jane. She was named after Sarah Jane Smith. Seriously) what she thought of the episode. She said that it was "cute" and that she had learned not to expect anything more out of Doctor Who any more.


I don't know what exactly happened - and as a writer myself, I know just how hard it is to turn out quality things time and time again when the pressure's on (and pleasing a fandom must be some pressure). But it seems to me that the problem is that everything has gotten BIGGER in the last few seasons. That same ridiculous over-dramatic quality that I'd come to hate in the RTD series finales? It's seeped into the whole of the series, with the arcs hammered home repeatedly, sometimes for more than one series (The Silence, anyone? Why was it necessary to spread that arc out so long?). I think another thing that happened was that American television discovered this British phenomenon - after all, the characters have visited America what, four times in two seasons now? I get the sense that the show is now pandering to the American audience. Well, this American does not like being pandered to, thanks very much. Isn't the point of liking a British show is that it's, well, British? We don't want it to be like American television. We want it to be cleverer than that.

The other thing that has derailed is a sense of continuity. You, Mr. Moffat, enjoy making the rules and then changing them. Sometimes within the same episode. And it is infuriating.

The thing about writing science fiction and fantasy is that, essentially, there are no rules. That's the fun part. You don't have to stay within the established bounds of reality. You can do WHATEVER YOU WANT and it's fine. That's the point! You create the world.

Except it's not exactly that simple. Yes, you can do whatever you want. Yes, you create the world. But in creating that world, you also create the RULES of that world. And the one and only rule of writing science fiction and fantasy is this: create the laws of your world, and then abide by them. Otherwise the entire premise falls apart.

For example, I have a novel that puts werewolves in Revolutionary Paris. Obviously this did not really happen, but in my version of events, it did. That's cool. I can do that - that's the point of fantasy, to do things that aren't real. If, however, I suddenly added in a random dragon on page 200 of my book, without setting up any precedent for this dragon's existence, that would make absolutely no sense and would destroy the credibility of the rest of my book. If one random thing like that could happen, well, why can't there be unicorns and people who can fly too? If that random dragon appears just to ravage a town, why can't an equally random sorcerer magic the dragon away?

It turns into a ridiculous, weird mess.

I understand that Doctor Who is a little bit different - you're dealing with an entire universe, where there very well may be random dragons on different planets. Okay. I'll buy the idea that there's psychic snow if you want me to. But it's the other stuff that doesn't follow.

For example: when can you and can't you take the TARDIS across its own timeline? If the idea is that you can't move the TARDIS once you are part of events, then why is it that the TARDIS keeps crossing its timeline? If, in "The Angels Take Manhattan," Amy wants to take the TARDIS back at the end to rescue Rory (again) why can't she? They have already, within that episode, taken it somewhere the time stream didn't really want it to go, and everything was fine! It didn't explode. Besides, the paradox they set up wiped out everything that had just happened. If it never happened, why would going back in time again be crossing that timeline?

And in "The Snowmen," why did Clara fall to her death? It has been shown before that the Doctor can catch people with the TARDIS (River Song in "Day of the Moon," for example), so why in heaven's name can he not catch Clara? Also, if you establish that it is highly unusual for a character to die multiple times (Rory Williams), that is fine. It irked me a bit that Rory died all the time, but that was kind of what happened to Rory (my favorite part of "The Angels Take Manhattan" was that he acknowledged that he always came back to life, miraculously). To have that miraculous regeneration happen to another character, however, smacks of nothing more than a lack of creativity. I want to like Clara, I really do. I think given a good storyline she could be really interesting. But right now, she just strikes me as more of the same. She's young and cute and in love with the Doctor (see also: Rose Tyler, Martha Jones, Amy Pond, any number of one-off companions); she talks a mile a minute and can outwit the Doctor sometimes, and banter right back at him (see also: River Song, Captain Jack Harkness); she can die once per episode and still manage to come back and keep going (see also: Rory Williams, Captain Jack). I was SO EXCITED for Clara to be a person from the 1800s traveling in the TARDIS - that would have been new and different and really cool. But then she died, again, in what seems to me to be nothing more than an overly dramatic and unnecessary push for people on tumblr to make sad gifs and tag them with "MY FEELS," and came back as a young woman from the present day. Sigh.

I love Doctor Who. I love what it can be. I love that it's a chance to explore what humanity is capable of on a landscape that stretches across the stars.

But the most important part of storytelling is, of course, the story. The greatest premise in the world, Mr. Moffat, doesn't make up for a story that's patched together, or that simply doesn't make sense. Fancy sets or locations or special effects don't make up for it either. Continuity matters in order to keep that story held together. Characters who can hold their own and hold our interest matter, because they drive that story.

The story is the most important thing, Mr. Moffat. Everything else falls away.

Best wishes,

Caitlin, a sad and disappointed fan who may have to stick to just the Neil Gaiman episodes for now

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Shiny and New

So, new year, new blog layout. What do you think?

I am well aware that it's been so long since I last posted on this blog that some of you might've given up waiting for a new post from me. These last six weeks or so have really taken a bite out of me, and I apologize profusely for not keeping up with the blog.

This past year feels a little bit like a whirlwind of amazing that led me straight to a brick wall that I slammed into, hard. I've recently come to an incredibly painful conclusion about someone I've known most of my life, and that's been a bit of a black cloud over me for a little while, to say the least.

But you know what? In spite of that, I've had an utterly incredible 2012.

I flew to London to study there for five months. I saw Big Ben and the London Eye and St. Paul's Cathedral. I walked home from Piccadilly Circus for three hours in the snow. I had cream tea at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I climbed Arthurian mountains and danced at ceilis. I visited the catacombs beneath Paris. I spent five days in Italy, impressing my friends with rudimentary Italian and managing to get us un-lost on more than one occasion. I spent two weeks on my own in Ireland and London. I found a home in London, a home I miss every single day, but even so, it is something I will never, ever regret doing.

I have had four internships in the past year - one with a nonfiction publishing company in London, one with a nonprofit in the next town over, and two with literary agencies. I have worked with wonderful, talented, kind people, and I have learned so much.

I have made some wonderful friends, some of whom I met in person at last, some of whom I worked with this summer, and some of whom I am lucky enough to be sharing an apartment with. I don't quite know how I managed to find such amazing friends, but I am so grateful for all of you.

I have had some amazing professors tell me that they think I'm talented, praise which basically made my life. There are few things better than having a professor you esteem very highly tell you how much they enjoy your work.

This past semester has been insanely busy for me, and a little bit rocky, especially towards the end. But the good stuff that's happened to me in this past year far, far outweighs the bad stuff. I'm not entirely sure how 2013 is going to top that.

So, here's to a new year - new friends, new adventures, new writings, new experiences. And yes, I promise: new blog posts. :)