Monday, May 30, 2011

School's Out Forever: Memories of Music

Today is Sommer Leigh's School's Out Forever Blogfest. Our mission, should we choose to accept it, is to write about a memory that defined our high school experience. So here goes.

When I think about one thing that defined my high school experience it has to be music. My life completely centered around music those years. I had always loved to sing and had been a part of chorus every year since 4th grade. In middle school I had branched out a bit and also entered NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) at which you sing for judges. I was good enough to go on to participate in the All County Chorus based on my performance.

In freshman year I was in the Chorus. That was the bottom rung that all freshman had to start in. We weren't allowed to audition for Chorale until sophomore year. So naturally I did and spent the next three years in Chorale. In junior year I also auditioned for Jazz Choir and made it. Jazz Choir was a smaller group and a lot of fun. I learned a lot. I continued to participate in NYSSMA as part of the Chorale and as a soloist and continued to be a part of All County Chorus.

That year I also auditioned for the school musical. We performed the musical "Annie", my suggestion, and I played the part of Pepper, "the mean orphan". Everyone was shocked and amazed at how shy and quiet me transformed into one big bully on stage. I had so much fun that year. The group of girls playing orphans (other than Annie herself) formed a great bond through it all and continued to be friends after.

Senior year was great. I was in Chorale, Jazz Choir, the musical (Hello Dolly, another suggestion by me) and also took a Music Theory class. Music Theory was really interesting and I actually composed a couple of songs. One was a silly little thing that I called "The Ballad of Pedro Convictavitch" after a character that my brother had made up once to tell our younger sister a story. (Pedro developed a life of his own as a running joke for many years.) The other was a melancholy piece that I called "Un Colpevole Innocente" which is, I believe, "A Guilty Innocent" in Italian. (My Music Theory class was right after my Italian class.)

In NYSSMA that year I performed a solo and two duets with a couple friends and made it to Area All State Chorus which was an awesome experience. The music was fiendishly difficult and after a weekend of practicing a performing I was hoarse for about a week. Hello Dolly was a lot of fun too. I could have taken a small speaking part, but instead I decided to turn it down and stay in the Chorus which was more fun. Lots of singing and dancing involved.

I wanted to go on into a musical theater program in college, but if truth be told I wasn't really good enough. No, that's not the truth. I wasn't confident enough. I didn't believe in myself enough and I didn't have the proper dedication to succeed. Alas.

I still look back on those music steeped years with fondness and longing. I've since come to realize that music wasn't my true calling. The writing that I long neglected was. Even so, my heart will always have a special place for music and for singing in particular.

If music be the food of love, play on.

Friday, May 27, 2011

From Bundt Cake to Philosophy in 22 Clicks

My husband is a fan of the webcomic XKCD. The other day he showed me a strip that claimed, in the mouse over text, that if you take ANY article on Wikipedia, click on the first link that is not in italics or parentheses, and keep repeating you will eventually end up at Philosophy. Naturally we tried it. You can see from the title of this post that it TOTALLY WORKED. Every single random thing he tried eventually ended up at philosophy.

I tried a few myself.

Stapler to Philosophy: 17 clicks
Baby to Philosophy: 16 clicks
Nathan Fillion to Philosophy: 20 clicks
Twinkie to Philosophy: 25 clicks
Ant to Philosophy: 9 clicks

Everything leads back to philosophy.

How does this relate to writing? Well, because everything leads back to philosophy. Think of your characters. What is their philosophy? Do you know? You should. Because our philosophy determines how we look at the world, how we think about and solve our problems, and how we live our lives. I don't think you can really know your characters, know where they are going and how they will get there and what they will do once they reach their destination, unless you know how they think. That's philosophy.

So take a moment to think about how your characters view the world and themselves. And in the meantime play the game. What random thing can you think of and how long does it take you to get back to philosophy?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Tension of Power

It's the Power of Tension blogfest! Hosted by Rachel and Cally, this blogfest is for posting a passage of your writing that highlights tension. And because I have a sickness, I couldn't help signing up. All I can say is, 5 days to post your submission is the BEST IDEA EVER. On behalf of procrastinators everywhere, I thank our hosts from the bottom of my heart.

I thought I wouldn't have the scene I wanted to post revised until later this week, but my muse smiled on me yesterday. This scene is part of the lead up to a section of serious action around the center of the book (I think). Don't worry, you're not supposed to know what they're talking about yet. The reader isn't supposed to find out until it actually happens and then BAM! Hopefully I'll blow your minds. ;) Anyway, here it is:

    Tap. Tap.
    Setekhpenre looked up from his manuscript, his reed pen frozen in mid stroke. Not yet. Not tonight, he thought. He turned his body away from the door. The pen descended.
    Tap. Tap. Tap.
    He took a cloth and carefully wiped away a few crooked lines. He set the pen to the paper again and retraced the characters. I’m not ready. I’m not ready.
    TAP. TAP. TAP.
    The pen dropped from his shaking hand. Eyes closed, he took in several deep breaths. Setekhpenre stood, smoothed out his robes and walked to the door. He opened it.
    “I was beginning to think you would not answer me.”
    Setekhpenre fought to calm his features as he looked into the eyes of his visitor. “Kamose, you know I will always answer you.”
    “Whether or not you want to,” the visitor said.
    “Whether or not I want to.”
    Kamose walked past Setekh and motioned for him to close the door. “I would spare you if I could. Truly, my friend. But you knew this day was coming. I want you by my side.”
    “Kamose... is it necessary? There must be another way!”
    “So you have been saying for the last three seasons.” Kamose sat down at Setekh’s desk. He picked up the manuscript. “What is this?”
    Setekh swallowed. “It is a prayer.”
    “O Re God of Life, you Lord of Love, All men live when you shine,” Kamose read. “What is it you are praying for, Set?”
    “For the souls of the people who will die,” said Setekh.
    Kamose set the manuscript down and looked at Setekh. “It is necessary. And you will come with us.” Setekh gasped at the edge in his voice. “Tonight. Now. I will not wait any longer.”
    Setekh held his tongue and nodded his head in submission.
    “Let us go,” said Kamose. “The hour is near at hand.”
So what do you think? Is it tense enough? Is the conflict of interest between Setekh and Kamose as palpable as I want it to be? Are you intrigued? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Active Hero and Thoughts on POV

In my last post I put a spotlight on the character Corwin of Amber and talked a bit about how he's a great active hero. After writing that post, I felt an urge to reread the Amber books. Some books just get better every time you read them. This morning I came across a passage from the first book in the series, Nine Princes in Amber, that ties into that post very well.

Corwin and his brother Bleys are discussing their family and each sibling's respective claim to the recently vacant throne of Amber. Bleys says to Corwin:

"I wish Benedict were here. I wish Gerard had not sold out."

Corwin responds:

"Wishes, wishes. Wish in one hand and do something with the other, and squeeze them both and see which one comes true."

This struck me as being very applicable to writing. Every character has wishes and things that they want. Their desires are what make them who they are. But a story happens when a character does something about it.

Right before the above conversation Corwin was in a position where he had just gotten back his memory and was able to use a certain magic to go anywhere he wanted. He knew that he brother Eric was trying to find him and kill him. He could easily have reacted to that danger by hiding in Shadow until he was safe. But Corwin doesn't use the magic to run away. Instead, he uses it to take himself to the city of Amber its self, Eric's stronghold. While there he fights a sword duel with Eric and tries to kill him. Only when the situation is beyond hope and Corwin is about to be captured does he retreat. But he doesn't let his defeat stop him. Immediately after this conversation Corwin raises a freaking army of 100,000 soldiers to attack Amber.

That, my friends, is an active hero.

I'm glad I've taken this opportunity to study Corwin, because I think a strong, active POV/Main character like him is extremely important. But it's also something I've really been struggling with.

My WIP has multiple "main characters" though there's one in particular that drives the plot forward. Kamose is a forceful personality with strong desires and he goes to some very extreme lengths to see his goals accomplished during the story. However, he is not my POV character.

My POV character is his friend and close companion, Setekhpenre. Setekh basically gets taken along for the ride as Kamose carries out his plans. Uh oh. Did you hear the warning bells going off in your head? Gets taken along for the ride. Yeah, talk about a passive character.Now, Setekh isn't always passive. He's very involved in eventually rectifying the destruction that Kamose unleashes, but I can't escape the fact that in the beginning he's pretty darn boring. And I don't know what to do about it.

Some might say, just make Kamose the POV character. But I don't want to do that because I don't want his voice telling the story. Kamose is... a bit crazy and his perspective isn't the one I want readers to see through. Setekh's role in the conclusion of the story is important and he's the one who will be able to illuminate the themes I want the story to explore. So how do I make him more interesting in the beginning? How do I make him more active but still a good foil for Kamose?

The answer is probably in what I mentioned before. Our characters' desires make them who they are and give them the goals that drive them forward. So what does Setekh want? What drives him forward? I'm note really sure. This is something I'm going to need to spend some time thinking on. I think I need to get to know Setekh better. Time for a week of character exploration.

In addition this week I'll be participating in the Power of Tension blogfest hosted by Cally Jackson Writes and Rachel Morgan Writes. This cool blogfest give us 5 whole days to post a snippet of writing that showcases  strong use of tension. My post probably won't be until Friday, the final day, because I am a procrastinator of epic proportions. Still, be looking for that. I'll have a scene from my WIP to post.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Character Spotlight: Corwin of Amber

Before the A to Z Challenge, I intended to do a series of posts on an occasional basis about various characters from my reading that struck a particular chord with me or helped me learn something about storytelling. In honor of the birth of my son on March 30th, I'm going to pick up that series with a post about Corwin of Amber, whom we named the baby after. (Yes, really.)

*The following post may contain spoilers.*

Corwin is the main character and hero of the first five books in the Amber Chronicles series by Roger Zelazny. These books are some of my favorite fantasy novels though my enjoyment of them is nothing compared to the deep and somewhat disturbing love my husband bears for Zelazny in general and Amber in particular. During a lifetime of critically acclaimed writing, Corwin is certainly one of Zelazny's greatest creations. Here's a quick summary for those unfamiliar with the series:

The  world of Amber is a sort of focal point of reality. Amber is the one true world and from it are cast  shadow worlds, including earth, of every conceivable kind. Amber is ruled by Oberon, but before the story begins Oberon has disappeared and his children (9 sons and 4 daughters) have begun to fight over his throne. Corwin has a strong claim to the throne, being the oldest legitimate son of Oberon that actually wants it, but his older (illegitimate) brother Eric conspired to banish Corwin to shadow earth with a bad case of amnesia. When the story starts Corwin has woken up in a health clinic where he is being kept sedated with no memory. Corwin escapes, makes contact with some of his family, and eventually gets back to Amber where he's able to regain his memory. Then he begins the long struggle to remove Eric from the throne. Along the way he uncovers a sinister plot against Amber its self which ultimately leads to a battle with Amber's polar opposite, the Courts of Chaos.

What makes Corwin such a great character?

Corwin is, in my opinion, the consummate hero. He is not pure, but he is good. He is not morally ambiguous, but he is flawed. He is brave, but a bit reckless. He is intelligent, but still makes mistakes. He has a strong, confident voice, but can still be self deprecating at times. He spends much of the series trying to win the throne of Amber for himself, but when it's clear that the existence of Amber is in danger he is willing to sacrifice himself for his beloved home. And in the end he does not take the throne.

What can writers learn from Corwin? 

Corwin is a man of action, a hero who never sits back to let things happen to him. The only idle time that Corwin spends in all 5 books is the period when he is imprisoned by his brother. But even then, as soon as a method of escape presents its self he does not hesitate before jumping at it. At all other times he is moving, making plans, fighting for the things he wants. And likewise, our main characters need to be active. A character who waits for things to happen to them instead of taking action is less sympathetic and harder to get invested in.

Furthermore, Corwin is a character who totally owns all of his actions. Not everything he does is nice or right, and he takes responsibility for everything that he does, good or bad. He doesn't make excuses for himself. He freely admits that he hates his brother Eric and that his quest for the throne is somewhat selfish. At the same time, throughout his quest he is growing and changing as a result of his experiences and the new knowledge he gains. In a genre recently awash with morally ambiguous characters and authors who think "conflicted" means "complex", Corwin is a breath of fresh air. He is a hero we can root for without a qualm.

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Funniest Joke in the World!


 I'd say that my sense of humor has definitely developed over the years. Once upon a time this was my favorite, go-to joke:

Ask me if I'm a truck. 
Are you a truck?

(hehehe) To be fair, you have to get the inflection on the "no" just right. You have to convey what a ridiculous question you were just asked and how silly the person who asked it must be. Anyway, not exactly a knee slapper, but I thought it was terribly clever when I was younger.Now I know better. Now I know....

The Funniest Joke in the World!

Are you ready?

Are you sure?

This joke can be dangerous.

I'm just warning you.

If you die of laughter it won't be my fault.

All right, here goes.

Wenn ist das Nunstück git und Slotermeyer?

Ja! Beiherhund das Oder die Flipperwaldt gersput!

Did I mention that it's just too dangerous to say in English? It's true. This joke is SO FUNNY it's claimed thousands of lives. If you don't believe me, then watch this:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Odds and Ends

In Which our Author Attempts to Write a Sensible Post but Probably Fails

I'm still trying to wrap my brain around the idea of blogging without the A to Z Challenge again so here's a post of random stuff that I'm slapping together and calling Content. 

This great book blog Should be Reading does some really fun daily bookish memes. Today's is Teaser Tuesday in which participants posts two random sentences (without spoilers) from the book they are currently reading. 

"King Scyphus said, "Cowards! I will battle Taborlin with wizardry and best him!"

Blogfests!  I just can't resist. I'll be participating in Rachel Morgan and Cally Jackson's Power of Tension blogfest which is on May 23-27. The idea is to post an excerpt of up to 300 words from something you've written that drips with tension. Prizes include Amazon vouchers and interviews on the hosting sites or chapter 1 beta reads by the hosts. Sounds like fun!

Soon after that is Alex J. Cavanaugh's It's All Fun and Games blogfest in which participants will list their three favorite games and you can learn just exactly how much of a huge geek I am.

PK Hrezo posted this questionaire type meme yesterday with an invitation to all her readers to answer the questions in kind.Be prepared, dear readers, to enter the dark recesses of my mind. Will either of us ever be the same again?

If you could go back in time and relive one moment, what would it be? 

That's a tough one. I'm assuming that "moment" doesn't literally mean "moment" but more like "episode". I mean, what would be the point of reliving a single moment?

There was a particularly good weekend that my (at the time) future husband and I spent together in the City. We went to the park (Central) and The Met and got lost trying to find The Strand bookstore and was that the first time I ever had Mimi's Pizza? Because Mimi's is the best pizza ever anywhere. Anyway, it was just one of those magical times you spend when you're young and in love and there are no hardships or responsibilities yet.
If you could go back in time and change one thing, what would it be?

I'd go back to my summer in Egypt when I got to visit the Valley of the Kings. It was an amazing place and I saw several incredible tombs. But King Tut's tomb you had to pay a special fee to go into. I was running low on money and I was young and concerned with how many souvenirs I would be able to buy. So I didn't pay it and I didn't go in. I have regretted that ever since.

What movie/TV character do you most resemble in personality?

Right now I would love to be able to say Delenn from Babylon 5 because she's just perfect. But in honesty, I'd say probably more like Aeryn Sun from Farscape with her repressed emotions and tough exterior. If only I had the totally awesome combat skills to go along with it.

If you could push one person off a cliff and get away with it, who would it be?

The right thing to say (if pushing someone off a cliff could ever be considered right) is probably Hitler. But I'm going to be selfish and say pre-LOTR movies Peter Jackson. Keep his grubby mitts off my beloved stories. 

Name one habit you want to change in yourself:

I'm the most horrible procrastinator. I would love to be able to consider what I need to do and then JUST DO IT instead of making excuses and putting everything off indefinitely. 

Describe yourself in one word: over-analytical

Describe the person who named you in this meme in one word: lovely

Why do you blog? Answer in one sentence: I have an irresistible desire to be a part of a creative community where I can share my daily struggles and thoughts and achievements. 

There you have it. I'd love to hear your own answers to these questions. 

I am struggling a bit with what kinds of posts to write now that April is over, other than the no doubt myriad blogfests I will continue to sign up for because I can't help myself. I'm still new to this and not sure how to balance more intellectual stuff about writing and books, etc., with more personal posts. May is probably going to be a bit haphazard as I figure out exactly how I want to do this blogging thing. Hopefully I won't scare all you lovely people away.


Sunday, May 8, 2011

I Am a Mom

Once upon a time, there was a girl who was very sure she never, ever wanted to be a mother. She was the oldest of five children and everyday she watched her mother devote her life to her and her siblings. She saw her mother frazzled and stressed and overwhelmed. She saw her always overworked and under-appreciated. Always busy and rushing. "That's not for me," she thought. "I want to be free." 

Then one day, after she had left her mother's house, the girl found herself with a child of her own. "This is the end of my life," she thought. "Now I'll spend the rest of my days burdened and fettered like my mother." But nothing was as she expected. Because her daughter's hair was like the light of the sun and her eyes were like the blue of the sky and her smile was like a fresh wind and her laugh was like the song of the world.

Luthien Tinuviel
And suddenly the girl could no longer imagine a world without her daughter. Years passed and there were other children. A boy was born and then another girl in quick succession. And life was not very easy.

Maedhros James and Fiona Rose
And though she loved her three children more than she could say she knew she didn't want another. "This is it," thought the girl. "No more, or I will be spent." Time passed and the girl learned that soon she would have another child. The months before the fourth child came were dark months. The girl felt sure she would not survive this time, that finally her self would be drowned out by the necessities of motherhood. But the child came anyway and he was as perfect as an untouched field of snow, as sweet as a spring rain, as beautiful as a summer sunrise.

Corwin Benedict
  She found that the depths of love she had thought tapped out were, in fact, deeper than the widest ocean. And then she realized that her love for her children could never be used up for it was continually renewed by her children themselves. For though she did not feel that she deserved it, they loved her wholly and unconditionally and forever.

It was only then that she came to appreciate the gifts her own mother had given her. And she knew as she watched her own mother share her love with her grandchildren, that though motherhood is difficult and wearying it is also its own reward which never ceases to give back.

My mother and father with their grandchildren. (The one on the left is my nephew.)
Happy Mother's Day!

Monday, May 2, 2011

The A to Z Experience

I think it's safe to say that when I signed up for the A to Z Challenge I had NO IDEA what I was getting into. I was still incredibly new to this blog when I signed up. I didn't really know what I was doing here in the blogosphere and I didn't know anyone. I went crazy signing up for blogfests all over the place including the A to Z. I just wanted to meet other blogging writers and this seemed like as good a way as any. When I signed up there were about 225 entries. Then that linky list just kept climbing and climbing and I began to panic. Would I be able to meet and form friendships if I was simply one out of a thousand?

Another obstacle quickly reared its head when I realized that it had completely slipped my mind when I signed up that I was extremely pregnant and due in early April. (I know. I'm a terrible mother.) When I remembered I considered dropping out but after consideration decided to forge ahead anyway. I was going to write up a whole bunch of posts in advance of having the baby so I wouldn't have to worry about it later. Well, I failed to do that before the baby was born on March 30th and the rest of the month ended up being a hectic and sleep deprived nightmare.

Some days I completely failed to get posts up. Though I did cover every letter by grouping them up when I was able to sit down and make a post. I'm not sure whether it helped that I had chosen a theme in advance. Perhaps it would have been easier if I could have just written more randomly rather than racking my brains to come up with something intelligent to say on my chosen topic when I was going on a few hours sleep. I'll never know. But I enjoyed the exploration of worldbuilding that I chose to pursue. Though sometimes it seemed more of a history lesson on Ancient Egypt than an exercise in fantasy worldbuilding. What can I say, I love Egypt. I plan to continue posting occasionally on worldbuilding in general and my worldbuilding in particular. It's one of my favorite parts of being a fantasy writer.

My strategy, which was mostly successful, was to go through the linky list quickly in the early days of the challenge and skim over all the blogs to decide which ones I was interested by and wanted to follow. Then during the rest of the challenge I just relied on my blog feed to take me to the blogs I wanted to read. Somehow I still managed to miss tons of great blogs though I've found some from other bloggers' blogrolls and from following comments and such. I've built up a much bigger list of blogs to follow, but I'm a fast reader and I like content so I'm happy.

However, most of my time spent at the computer, other than writing my posts, was spent with the new baby in my arms, so commenting on all the great new blogs I found was difficult. I hope with less posts coming out everyday I'll be able to comment more and get to know all you fantastic bloggers better. That's what I am still really hoping for out of this Challenge, to make some friendships in the blogosphere.

I've learned a lot from this experience.

First of all, I've learned that I never want to commit to posting daily again. It's way too much for me to keep up with.Most people seem to post on a schedule, but I'm not sure if I can do that. Partly because my four kids make life unpredictable and partly because I prefer to post when I have inspiration for a post, and not when I'm forcing myself to write something. But this blog is still new. Perhaps as I go along and things shake out I'll find a routine I can live with.

Second, I've learned I need to be more interesting and engaging for readers. Perhaps I need to let more of my personality come through. I'm kind of afraid to do that, because my personality tends toward the sarcastic and cynical. Also opinionated. I'm very vocal in my opinions. I wish I was one of those always optimistic, always sweet and encouraging people, but I'm not. I'm just not. Sigh.

Third, I should make a real effort to reply to all comments on my posts. Originally I had been unsure if this was worth it since I saw several bloggers say they are way to busy to go back and see if their comment was replied to. But now I've seen plenty of other successful bloggers who do respond to all comments. And I know I like it when my comments are responded to. So this is now a no-brainer.I just need to find some hands free time.

In addition to what I learned, which is always invaluable, I gained a bunch of new followers. I broke the 100 mark during April, only a couple months after starting this blog, which is very exciting. Hello, followers new and... relatively old. I hope you like it here and decide to stay! I promise I'll try to make the journey enjoyable.

All in all, a positive if stressful month. Thank you to everyone who hosted the Challenge. See you next year!