Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dialog, dialog

I'm reading Margaret Atwood's "The Blind Assassin" which contains very little dialog, and is written as a sort of flowing stream of memories. Given that I find dialog a bit intimidating, it would be great if this approach would work for the novel in progress. Unfortunately, the story revolves too much around the interactions of central characters and so I think I have to stick with it.


Tuesday, May 24, 2011

On picture books...

I've been feeling inspired to work on my second picture book, this one for an intermediate reader. The first book was a rhyming book for toddlers, this one tells a story inspired by a moonrise over a beautiful ocean cove in Washington state. Totally different in style, other than that they both have a sense of beauty and wonder centering around nature.

Last week I submitted the first book to 7 more publishers and agents. They say it is a numbers game, so I keep at it.

To illustrate or not to illustrate remains an open debate. I am so connected to the idea of what the pictures need to look like that leaving it to a publisher makes me nervous. DiDi introduced me to her brother-in-law the other day, a trained artist and all around interesting guy, and I sent the mockup to him this morning. We'll see whether or not it works out.

The next picture book is different. The illustrations will be necessary, but there is a lot more latitude because the story will carry itself. I won't be as anxious about it as I am with this one.

At least, I hope not...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Cookbook Love Blog goes live!

I started a new blog devoted to my love of vintage recipes and cookbooks. I think it might be helpful when pitching food-related articles and book ideas.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Missing list from Time Traveler's Wife

I just found the list on Google Books which I mentioned in a previous post! Yay!

Here it is, the list for which I see no real purpose. (Especially given that the dadgum book is about 550 pages long!)

The brown paper bags stand evenly lined up on the counter and Henry produces ketchup, chicken, Gouda cheese from them like a magician. I keep waiting for the rabbit and the silk scarves. Instead it's mushrooms, black beans, fettuccine, lettuce, a pineapple, skim milk, coffee, radishes, turnips, a rutabaga, oatmeal, butter, cottage cheese, rye bread, mayonnaise, eggs, razors, deodorant, Granny Smith apples, half and half, bagels, shrimp, cream cheese, Frosted Mini-Wheats, marinara sauce, frozen orange juice, carrots, condoms, sweet potatoes... condoms?

OK, so I get that she wanted to establish the surprise of the condoms, but it really could have been accomplished with either a shorter list, or one more interesting. The carrot/condom combination was not enough humor (and not good enough humor) to count as payoff.

So there. Found the list. Posted it. Now I can stop talking about it and simply remember not to do it.

Time Handling: an ongoing commentary

This post will be updated periodically as I come across devices authors use for unfolding their stories back and forth through time.
  • June 12, 2011--Laurie R. King provides details about backstory in and interesting way. When The God of the Hive opens, you are immediately thrust into the middle of action. Clearly much has happened that is yet to be explained. Ms. King weaves descriptions of previous events throughout the first half of the book, maybe even farther. She incorporates them judiciously, leaving many questions unanswered in order to keep the reader wondering how this or that happened. The technique may be easier to pull off when you have as many books in a series, like this one. Most readers are familiar enough with the style, characters, and approach to plot that they won't find it off-putting. Not sure it would work so well in a first book or a standalone piece. She also leaves a few cliff hangers unanswered, about which fans have commented on her blog. Not sure why she did that Maybe the scenes ended up on the editing room floor without editorial clean up of the pages that survived. Perhaps the book traveled too quickly to print?
  • June 1, 2011--Margaret Atwood is a master, plain and simple. The Blind Assassin is all about shifts forward and backward in time, and she handles it very simply via changes in chapter. Clean and elegant.
  • May 10, 2011--This morning I finished reading Nicole Seitz' The Inheritance of Beauty. The book centers around a group of childhood friends who come back into each other's lives when they are elderly. The sense of secrets and mystery is slowly developed as the pages turn. The author uses several devices to tell the story of what happened years ago. She uses letters as a form of confession tool, memories from the one lucid central character, and the daydreams and mind wanderings of two other elderly characters who no longer communicate with the outside world.
  • May 6, 2011--Goldie Goldbloom (in The Paperbark Shoe) weaves events from the past in and out of the present in a free form style, as mini-stories inserted into the ongoing first person narrative. The heroine will be talking about one thing and then smoothly segue into a story which provides explanation about why she was in a lunatic asylum, or how her little girl died, or why she puts flowers on the grave of a man she never met. It works very well in the overall piece which reads like a stream of consciousness. (BTW: You can't quite determine if she is telling the story from the future or in the present as it unfolds. You might even wonder if it could be both, though how could that be possible? This weird wondering somehow adds to the book's dark magic.) I like the way Goldie handles the unfolding of backstory... it reads the way you talk when telling your own stories. You have to interrupt the main tale periodically to explain why your aunt was wearing that green shirt, or how you came to discover your seafood allergy, or how surprised you were that it happened on your parents anniversary. She uses a narrative style that is natural, which probably helps the story feel so real.

Monday, May 9, 2011

On lists and depth and artistry

A few weeks ago a Facebook friend and I discussed the use of lists in novels. I criticized the way Audrey Niffenegger included a long grocery list in The Time Traveler's Wife, because it seemed to serve no real purpose. It was simply a long list, random in presentation of items, containing nothing symbolic or meaningful. It wasn't lyrical or even interesting. I don't understand why it didn't end up in the big bit bucket in the sky (now that the editing room floor is no longer a real death of phrase). I wish I still had the book so that I could include it to show you what I mean, but it just wasn't something I had to keep around, taking up precious bookshelf real estate.

In contrast are two lists that Goldie Goldbloom includes in her astonishingly beautiful The Paperbark Shoe. The book is the story of a young woman stuck through difficult life circumstances on an Australian outback farm during World War II.

Here's the first one:

The sky over Wyalkatchem is hotter and bluer than any other place, and the winds are stronger, the thermals rising tens of thousands of feet straight up, lifting the litter of the desert in its embrace: shards of quartz and shale and flakes of limestone, spinifex, the lost tails of geckos, scraps of paperbark, the hot smell of the red dirt, the taste of the sky like salt from the sea, cracked pieces of pottery, parrot eyes, wedge-tailed eagles looking for prey, the broken hearts of men and women, the souls of the children who died in that great isolation, sadness, unwillingness, anger, strands of horse hair, nuts and bolts, chicken feathers, sand.

And the second, later in the book:

These are the things that I learned to do after coming to Wyalkatchem: I learned how to make yeast, to bake bread, to make a bread pan out of an old kerosene tin, how to clean a kerosene tin and flatten it and smooth the edges with a rasp, how to trim the wick on a kerosene lamp, to clean the chimney of a kerosene lamp with a piece of newspaper crumpled in a ball, how to remove creosote from my skin with yellow soap, how to make yellow soap from ash and lye and fat, how to make lye, how to render fat, how to cook on a woodstove, how to split wood with an axe, how to sharpen an axe, how to treat burns from a woodstove, how to treat burns from lye, how to treat a man who has been burnt, how to treat a man, how a man likes to be treated, how to make a maternity dress, how to make a layette, how to push out a baby, how to cut an umbilical cord with the knife used for castrating the lambs, how to feed an infant, how to hang a blanket in the boughs of a gum tree and rock a baby to sleep, how to sit quietly at night with a child in my lap, how to feel for a fever, how to boil willow for its cooling sap, how to paint a throat with gentian violet and listen for the smallest breath, how to make a coffin, how to line it with pieces of cotton, how to dress a dead child, how to lower a coffin into the ground, how to put one foot in front of the other and keep on doing it every day.

Stunning. Beautiful. Informative. Heart breaking.

The depth and intricacy of this book both intimidates and inspires me. I'm trying to figure out how to achieve the level of depth that she unfolds throughout the story, and am wondering if it is done in layers, the way a painter paints. First you lay down the basic story as a framework, a sketch. Then you put down the initial layer of color and some level of detail. And you keep adding layers, creating texture and shadow until finally the piece is done and you have to stop before you break it.

I think about my little heroine and her story, and at present she is very flat in comparison. But maybe that is ok. Maybe right now she is just the initial sketch.