More Breadcrumbs: A Review

I found most of this review in my drafts, and thought it was too good not to post. It’s been almost two months since I actually read the book, though, which I first mentioned in this post.

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

When you read books as a writer, there are some books that are very encouraging because you think, hey, I could do that. And then there are books that just make you want to cry because how could I ever write a thing so bright? You know you have some grasp of prose and rhythm, a certain understanding of words that allowed you to get this far, but could you possibly write a thing where nearly every sentence is the kind that pierces and burns?

These are the thoughts I had while reading Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu. At least three sentences per page are absolute gems, or daggers. In Breadcrumbs Ursu references many favorite books for young people that the main character, Hazel, has read. Usually these sorts of references in a book make me cringe, because the book has not earned the right to talk about its betters. I feel that Breadcrumbs actually earned those references. While reading this book, I thought about reading it aloud. I thought about reading it to my children (after reading them Tolkien and Narnia and Wrinkle in Time and Potter and all those things it references).

The thing with Breadcrumbs is it’s exceptionally literary. It has all those connecty-bits, all those symbolism-things, all those deep-truthisms about childhood and growing up. It has… breadcrumbs of all the above, little pieces, interwoven thoughout everything.

In the interest of a fair review, I checked out some amazon.com reviews (if I ever get to be a famous writer, I am going to obsess over my reviews. I already read reviews of books I adore and get all angry at the bad ones). It has many many positive reviews… and a few really bad ones. The bad reviews’ main complaint seems to be that Hazel herself, and all the characters, aren’t very likable. Okay. Honestly? The words were so goddamn pretty all the time that I wasn’t thinking too much about Hazel and whether I liked her. The reviewers complain that she is self-centered, but isn’t everyone at that age? Isn’t everyone, ever? And I did like Hazel. I like Hazel in the narrative voice, loved it every time the narration switched to second person to portray her thoughts. I do think the most beautiful thing here  is the way Anne Ursu handles words, but for me that beauty extends generously, and is more than large enough to fill the main character and cover her thoughts and words.

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The Bro-Check

I’m not very good at hearing character’s voices in my head. They all sound a lot like my reading aloud voice. In Wanderlust, a lot of the dialogue is between my two main characters, Vanya and Taniel, who are both dudes. (Vanya is a legitimate diminutive form of the Russian name Ivan, if you were wondering. Taniel is a made-up nickname for Nathaniel.) I tend to enjoy movies and television shows about two dudes being best friends or brothers while solving crimes or ganking demons. Lately, I’ve been powering through Supernatural, a show whose main focus (besides ganking demons) is the relationship between the brothers Sam and Dean Winchester.

How does this relate to writing? Well, when I’m going through those scenes where it’s just Vanya and Taniel talking something out, I like to play a little game. I like to run a bro-check. I go through the scene, and imagine the television characters Sam and Dean reading the lines. (John and Sherlock work too, if Sherlock is my show of the week.) It’s a way to hear my writing in a different voice than the sounds-like-me voice that lives in my head. It helps me catch things, and figure out what sounds unnatural. Chances are if I can’t imagine a real human saying the line, then there’s something wrong with it. The bro-check also lets me test the dialogue against the built-in chemistry of the television characters, and gives me a sounding board for whether my dialogue is consistent with a brotherly relationship, or whether I’ve taken it too far. I have to keep it in perspective, of course. Sometimes I have to say, “Okay, Dean would never say that, but Taniel would.” Still, the bro-check is a useful trick in my toolbox. It helps keep the writing fun and interesting and allows me to catch things I might have otherwise missed, which is what editing is all about.

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In the red: Manuscript is now marked up to page 47 of 138.

New Look: Have you noticed things look a little different around here? I switched themes, made a new banner, and purchased the custom  upgrade so I can edit fonts and colors. I’m still tweaking things and learning CSS, so expect small changes over the next few weeks.

Hits: This blog is almost to 1,000 total hits. We should reach it within the next few days. Thank you, readers, so very much!

Old Fashioned Editing

Today, I printed out my manuscript and bought a red pen.

I posted recently that I was going back to the beginning to do an editing run, and I thought I would settle into the rhythm of pruning my manuscript piece by piece, and honing every sentence. Instead, I ended up staring at my computer making all sorts of disgruntled expressions, McKayla Maroney-esque, and wanting to circle words and make squiggly lines under the bad sentences and scrawl notes in all the margins. Someone needs to make a computer program (maybe someone already has?) where you can type things and then draw on and around the typing. Until then, there’s old-timey paper and pen. I can’t seem to find the mojo to work on the thing as a clean manuscript; I keep noticing things that I know need to be fixed, to be added, to be cleaned up, but the existing text feels sedentary and I can’t always make it right in one go. This way, I can at least make a note of things, and nothing is quite so satisfying as making a note of something in a red pen. It makes the thing thing feel accounted for. Also, in the margins, I can write questions and toss out multiple solutions without feeling like I’m dirtying up my manuscript or increasing my word count with drivel. Yes, there are computer programs that allow you to place notes in the side, but I’m not using any of them right now, and besides: it’s really nice to not be staring at a computer screen for once. Hopefully, getting away from the computer and confronting my work on the page will jog my creativity, and be one more important step on the way to a finished product. So far, the first eleven of one hundred and thirty-five pages (size 13, 1.3 spacing) are covered in red, and it feels good.

Big news! My best friend Lady Higg, who you’ve heard so much about, has started a beer blog called Ales to Lagers. Check it out! http://alestostouts.wordpress.com/

WordPress Woes

I’m happy with how this blog looks. I’m using the WordPress theme Twenty Eleven, which is fairly unobtrusive and allows me to display my artwork in the header and change the background color (I really like the white-on-green thing). The fonts are nice, and don’t draw attention to themselves. I really like the placement of the title and tagline, as well as the individual page links. Even the default links color is perfect. Someday I’d like to design an actual header image instead of just taking a cross section of my book cover, but for minimal effort I think this site looks pretty good. Here’s a screenshot for reference, in case I end up changing it for reasons I am getting to:

See, there’s just one problem. Twenty Eleven doesn’t display sidebar widgets on individual posts. Those are the things that are just to the left of the post on the main page (click “Home” if you are viewing this as an individual post and don’t know what I’m talking about). It includes things like Follow This Blog Via Email, Sign The Wanderlust Mailing List, Recent Posts, Like Wanderlust on Facebook, and Links to Other Blogs. Very important stuff, especially as part of the purpose of this blog is to promote itself and my work. Basically, I think I’m losing potential follows and likes and clicks because most of my pageviews come from links to individual posts, through Facebook and the WordPress reader. I don’t know what to do about this.

WordPress.com is very limited in theme customization, and I have only been able to keep my frustration with this in check because I found a theme that works so well for me. I want to be able to say, “Twenty Eleven! Show my sidebar on individual posts, please!” and have it be done. I should be able to figure out how to do it, through means of complicated html if necessary, and it should DO it. Unfortunately, this isn’t how wordpress.com works.

I’ve paid money to have my own domain name, but I’m still working within wordpress.com. It takes minimal effort and I get to be part of the community, but it forces me to use certain themes and doesn’t allow plugins (including the one that, if I was running wordpress software independently, would display the sidebar in Twenty Eleven). I’m frustrated because I don’t understand why I can’t make things how I want them.  If I like the way a theme displays, I should be able to change the font. If I like everything about a theme but don’t want the title centered, I should be able to left-align the title. I guess the obvious answer is to run the WordPress software myself, but I really enjoy the WordPress community. I enjoy how easy it is for the other wordpressers to follow my blog, and I love following other blogs and seeing their posts show up in my reader. It’s not something I’m willing to give up. The next answer is to just change my theme, but I spent a good hour looking yesterday and couldn’t find one I liked as much as this one for overall appearance, and it’s important to me that overall appearance doesn’t suffer. There’s one more option, and it might just let me have it all: I can buy a $30 a year Custom Design upgrade that allows me full control over Fonts, Colors, and CSS. I think (I’m not sure, but I think) that this will allow me to do things like install that plugin that will show the sidebar on individual posts in Twenty Eleven. Thirty bucks, though. With Domain registration, that’s fifty bucks a year on this blog, and what if I purchase the upgrade and still can’t figure out how to do what I want?

Here’s what I’m faced with. I can

1.) sacrifice functionality by keeping things the way they are, with no sidebar on individual posts,

2.) sacrifice aesthetics by switching to a theme I like less that displays the sidebar,

or 3.) sacrifice $30 (and the freedom of not having to think about anything technical) to purchase a custom upgrade and make everything the way I want it.

What do you think? What’s most important here? Do you have any other suggestions, or know of anything I’ve missed? I was able to add a “Follow Blog Via Email” thing at the bottom of the page that shows on individual posts, but to me that doesn’t seem like enough. Here’s a screenshot of the second-best theme I’ve found that meets my requirements. I don’t like it, it doesn’t make me as happy, but is that even a big deal for any of you readers?

The Mumford Concert (and Where We Are Today)

I am tired! It all started this Saturday, when I went to see Mumford and Sons in concert at the Gentlemen of the Road Stopover in Portland, Maine. It was a one-day festival with eight musical acts playing on alternating stages through the course of the day, culminating with a Mumford and Sons performance just after dusk. Here’s a real nice article about the festival and the band’s experience in Portland (Rolling Stones Article). Portland is the closest city-shaped thing to where I’m living now, so I’m starting to really appreciate it myself. The Eastern Promenade was a beautiful place for a festival; the stages were framed by a backdrop of ocean, sailboats, and gulls.

I spent most of the day on my feet. I could have camped near the beer tent with some friends-of-a-friend, but after one beer I was already getting antsy. I don’t go to concerts very often, and this would be one to remember forever. I wanted to be near the bands. I think Dawes, Apache Relay, and The Maccabees were some of my favorites, aside from Mumford and Sons. When it was finally time for the leading act I managed to worm myself up to within 20 feet of the stage; close enough to see their facial expressions if I squinted my eyes.

There was one moment when I thought maybe it wasn’t worth it, when someone’s tall head blocked my view and my back and legs ached from standing for so long (I’d secured my spot during the previous act) and thoughts of my discomfort outweighed my enjoyment of the music—but then someone moved to the side and a window opened up clear to the stage, and the dusty blue sky deepened on towards night, and the stage lights shone white and indigo, and Marcus Mumford’s voice sang out over the crowd, and it was all a bit of concert magic. Suddenly I had the adrenaline I needed to jump and scream and truly experience the rest of the night.

Are you aware of Mumford and Sons? I suggest you give them a listen, if you haven’t heard of them and if folk-rock sounds like a thing you’d enjoy. There’s something about the vocals and melody that really resonates with me, and I went through a period of about a month last fall where I could only draw while listening to Mumford and Sons. Here’s a digital painting that came out of that time (yeah, I know the figures need some work):

Anyway, after the concert and subsequent night out on the town I went back to work on Monday and Tuesday, and the soreness of all that dancing combined with the rigors of painting and climbing ladders and biking three miles uphill to work left me physically exhausted—I’ve taken two long soaking baths in as many days. Last night I had planned to set aside time for writing, but then I got a call from a guitar-playing friend asking if I wanted to join him in singing for an ice-cream social, which sounded like too much fun to pass up. We would have sounded better if we’d practiced the songs beforehand, but we had a good time, and it was a family type event where a few wrong notes were easily forgiven. Even more fun, we are planning to actually practice a few songs for an open mic this friday!

So where, in all these fun music-times, is Wanderlust? Well—it’s burning at me. It’s sitting just behind my eyelids, begging for attention. I thought maybe I’d work backwards through the manuscript and add in some bits and pieces before going back to the beginning for a re-haul, but after the concert this weekend I’m anxious to spend some time on Chapter One, which contains a rock concert. Suddenly it seems like a good idea to start from the beginning and go all the way through, fix as much as I can, and see how the end sits, and whether it’s worthy. I have at least the morning off today, and after writing this blog post I think I’m warmed up. Time to get to it!

Finished First Draft, and 50,000 Words

That’s right, today is HUGE. I have finished the first draft of Wanderlust, all the way to end. I just wrote up the epilogue a little while ago. I’m exhausted, and I’ve been ignoring other work and responsibilities all week, but I have a first draft of my novel, and right now it clocks in at 53,000 words.[!!!!!!]

There’s still a long way to go. Parts of that draft (most of Chapter 11) are barely legible, the barest threads of putting what happens in the scene onto the page. There are things I’ve referenced in the late chapters that I haven’t actually written into the earlier chapters yet. There are a few places where I’ve begun adding a scene or a story and haven’t quite finished it up yet. In short, this draft is a mess. But hey, it has an ending. And hey, I know where it’s going. It’s time to tighten everything up now, and I’m so excited to start.

A few addendums: I know, according to NaNo or whatever, that 50,000 words is a minimum requirement for a novel (though it’s acceptable for YA books to be 40,000). I used to think I was writing a 30,000 word novella, though, so for me, and for Wanderlust, 50,000 words is huge

Also, Celeste DeWolfe mentioned me over at her blog today; go read the post and check out her blog!

And one more thing: I’ve picked up quite a few followers over the past few weeks, and I want to thank you for reading, and for supporting me and my work. I appreciate it so very much.

Cheers!

Why I’m Choosing to Self-Publish

Today, in her blog that I recently started following, Ayesha Schroeder published a post entitled, Why I’m Pursuing Traditional Publishing. Check it out! She’s thought through her options, she knows what she’s talking about, and she’s making the best decision for her. As you may know, I’m planning to self-publish my novel Wanderlust: A Song For Ireland. This post is about why, right now, I think self-publishing is the best option for me.

I do, ultimately, dream of being a mainstream author, with an agent and an editor and a well-known publisher behind me. By choosing to self-publish, I don’t think I am eschewing the option of traditional publishing. There are many stories about books, from Eragon to Fifty Shades of Greythat began as self-published efforts, did well, and were later picked up by traditional publishers. With Wanderlust, there are a few particular considerations that make me think self-publishing is a good idea.

I want to write Young Adult fiction, and I have advertised Wanderlust as, “A good read for teens and adults.” I created the characters when I was a teenager, and I think a teen audience will find them appealing. I know I did. I found them so enchanting that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them, even years later. The problem is that the characters’ ages are 19 and 22. This makes them college age, not high school age, and I worry that, to a literary agent, this will make them out-of-bounds as protagonists in a teen novel. Even worse, the novel does not feature a strong female protagonist. It has a few female characters, and some pretty badass ones at that, but most of the book focuses on the adventures and friendship of two young men, and it’s not even a romance. (Not making it a romance is helpful in marketing to some demographics, while making it a romance would be helpful for others. It doesn’t matter either way—I made this choice based on the characters themselves, not any financial or other considerations.) In a YA literature climate where Twilight and Hunger Games are the best sellers, I worry that agents are looking for those female protagonists, especially from a female author, and won’t consider that the teen girls reading Twilight and Hunger Games will want to read a book about boys— even though boys are the reason they read some of the aforementioned bestsellers, especially Twilight. (Aside: If we want to get into some of my deeper insecurities about the book I am writing, I sometimes worry that it will be seen as pandering to a fangirl audience. Fans and the internet turn any male same-sex relationship into a romance, and the nature of the connection between Vanya and Taniel will give them so much fodder to do so. I can’t change who my characters are, and who they are to each other; while I will be flattered by any attention from fangirls they receive, I can only hope that the depth of their characters and the quality of my work will allow my writing to be seen for its literary merits as well.)

Schroeder says, “If you’re an incredibly talented writer, editor, artist, graphic designer and print layout specialist you are well equipped for the self-publishing process” (Why I’m Pursuing Traditional Publishing). I don’t know about incredibly talented, but I have a BFA in Illustration and in Wanderlust, the illustrations are almost as important to me as the text. I’ve also spent a LOT of time thinking about how Wanderlust should look, both inside and out. I want this book to be the best thing I can produce, and I want it to look how I want it. I couldn’t stand to see Wanderlust with one of those awful photograph covers that litter the shelves nowadays. This entire book, to me, is my work of art, and at the moment I’m not willing to relinquish any control. I’ll be getting some help with the editing, of course, and I’ll be getting second opinions like mad on every visual issue, but believe I do have the skills and training to produce a book that is, in both the visual and written aspects, a product of professional quality.

I do have some reservations about self-publishing. It’s going to take a lot of work, and I’m looking forward to it, but almost every link or ad I’ve clicked for a self-published project that looks similar to mine has turned out to be poorly designed, terribly written, or both. It’s always encouraging to know you’ve got a leg-up on the competition, but I’m scared that, because of these poor-quality projects, my book will be dismissed out-of-hand. I guess it will all depend on the ability of my book to distinguish itself for its own merits, and my skill in promoting it and making its caliber known. It’s terrifying (isn’t everything?), but I believe in my project. There’s a long way to go before I can release Wanderlust to the world, but when I do, I’m excited to see how far I can get on my own steam, as self-published author. There are many paths to the dream of becoming traditionally published, and I hope self-publishing will turn out to be an important and valuable stepping-stone on mine.

What do you think? Would you buy a self-published book? Have you chosen either self-publishing or traditional publishing over the other? Why is that the best decision for you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

Girl Talk

This is a poem I wrote to my best friend, Lady Higg, in Sebtember of 2011. The poem was also written to fulfill an exercise in iambic pentameter, which explains the form and the few syllables I’ve left out of words. I’m posting it now because THIS WEEK, Lady Higg and her worthy consort, Dr. Longbottom, are in the process of moving to a new town. Here’s hoping everything goes well for both of them in their new digs!

Girl Talk

So here’s to coffee in the morning. Here’s

to vodka drained at night. Here’s to all

the useless chatter that surrounds and feeds

and bleeds our damn dry souls. It’s not real life,

we said, while sipping tea and laughing in

a morning-after fog. And then, today,

“They found a body in a garbage bag,

a minute from my house.” Say what?

You may have trumped my three a.m., just talk-

ing, walking, and then, you know, my Saturday:

the car on third, the buildings and the bush

we hid behind and waited for the drama

to unwind. “Never fall in love

with Katie Couric,” sang your myst’ry creep

at four. A light was on, and I was prob’ly

losing hope already for a day

without a headache. Well, and that’s just how

it goes. But still. They found a body in

a garbage bag a minute from your house.

So yeah.

I hope you find a new apartment soon.