Monday, April 26, 2010

Trying on a character for size

Generally speaking, I'm a pretty nice person. A nice friend, teacher, daughter, wife...not to say I don't have my sparkling moments of snarkitude because we all do, but as a rule, I try to be nicer than not.

However, not all my characters are. Recently I was finishing a book whose protagonist was a queen bee type in her high school. She's the sort who is very competitive, even with her friends, and who expects that she will always get the prize. Always. And if she doesn't, she is NOT happy.

She also speaks her mind, whether it offends or not. Speak first, apologize later, I suppose is her personal mantra. And if you don't have to apologize, so much the better. I spent a couple of months in her head, writing her story (which is a lot of fun, actually, not nasty or anything), so her thoughts must have intruded upon mine this weekend.

I was in a situation that could have gone one of two ways: nice or nasty. And Leigh, of course, is always nice and tactful. But Ashleigh, my character, is not. The scene was not directly out of the book but it could have been since it was a setting with people that would have been familiar to Ashleigh. A friend asked me a question about a mutual acquaintance and rather than respond as genial Leigh, I said what honest Ashleigh would have! It was most certainly blunt and to the point, a little rude, actually, and it shocked the hell out of my friend who was clearly expecting Leigh to answer her, not this other person.

In the moment, I didn't care and I felt quite superior and queen bee-ish, but I regretted it immediately afterward and made a mental note to apologize when I see my friend next but it only occurred to me this morning that I was acting like Ashleigh! That was Ashleigh talking, not me. I've written lots of different characters but most of them are genuinely nice people. Meg Shanley, Veronica May, Callie Bellflower, Kari Manning...nice girls. This was the first time I had written an entire novel from the POV of a not-so-nice person. I wonder what would happen if I wrote a book whose main character was a killer. Now THAT could be an interesting situation.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

No fiction allowed

This is an appalling situation. Simply flabbergasting.

I can't read. Not literally, of course, but I can't seem to get my head around reading fiction. Last weekend I finally finished "Olive Kittredge" by Elizabeth Strout, a Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of short stories that are woven around a character named Olive. Wonderful book. Truly. But I started it months ago.

A few weeks ago I read "Hush, Hush" by Becca Fitzpatrick and "Elphame's Choice" by PC Cast, two books which had been loaned to me by a young friend. Both held my interest enough that I finished them in a weekend. But I didn't want to read anything beyond that.

I have about a hundred books on my to-read list, among them the sequel to "Hunger Games," the most recent Vampire Academy book, the last Stephen King novel, some Neil Gaiman, and on and on, but I can't wrap my brain around fiction right now. I am trying to write a very complex book (complex by my standards) in a slightly different genre than I am used to working in (but one I have loved since I was a kid) so it takes all of my brainpower to focus on my own story.

I've been telling myself that I just don't have time to read. I don't have excess brain capacity to read. And besides, when I'm in the middle of writing something, I don't want to be influenced by anyone else's style.

But there's more to it than that. I have absolutely zero interest in reading fiction. I was impressed by Strout's book but not inspired by it and that's odd for me. Typically I get all fired up when I read a great book - it makes me want to write well too.

No, the reason I'm not reading is that I'm afraid to read. I'm afraid to read something really terrific because I fear my writing won't live up to it. I'm afraid to read something really bad because it will make me angry it was published and my most recent books have not.

Whether you're writing or not, sometimes reading fiction is just not happening. Anyone else ever feel that way?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Wanted: personal chef with good imagination

I look in my cupboards and see capers. A box of arborio rice. A can of kidney beans. Crisco, flour and confectioner's sugar. Three boxes of pancake mix - two open and one closed, two plain and one blueberry.

I don't eat pancakes.

I look in my fridge and spot a jar of green olives with pimentos. Fresh, pink ginger. Pesto. Tahini. Several bottles of beer.

I don't drink alcohol.

I look in my freezer and find a bag of baby lima beans because adult-size ones apparently aren't tasty enough. A box of potato pancakes from the turn of the century.

More pancakes?

In a drawer are two one-pound bags of lentils, pasta shaped like baseballs and bats, and unshelled pistachios.

What does any of this mean? What do I do with it all? Is there any possible way to put together meals with these items? Or should I just give up and order a pizza?

Sometimes I feel this way about writing: I have awesome characters, a fascinating world, cool scenes - but no cohesive story. I have spent hours and hours and days and weeks trying to make it all work. Frustrating? Yes. Impossible to fix? Argh, yes!

But not I have all of those things and a story that knits them all together. Wow. I'm a little nervous. And excited. And nervous.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Special birthdays

Do you have one of those friends who celebrates every "big" birthday in a major way? Like 18, 21, 30, 40, etc.? Or maybe you're one of those people yourself? Personally, I was never a fan of milestone birthday celebrations because it seemed like so much pressure: pressure on the people giving it to make it awesome, pressure on the people attending to come up with extra special gifts or cards, pressure on me to enjoy it by drinking/eating/laughing longer and harder than at every other birthday.

Not to mention the pressure of what comes after...being the new age. "Now that you're 18..." "Now that you're 21..." and so on. Has something so intrinsic changed inside me now that another year has passed? Has a switch inside me flipped on - or off - so I should be acting differently?

Recently a friend turned 30 and her husband asked Mo and me to come up with some words of what it was like when we turned 30, or what we wished when we turned 30, etc. Something poignant or maybe even practical. Like, "When I turned thirty I started using moisturizer on my elbows" or something like that.

I wrote her a note about how I became funny when I turned 30. And I don't mean I was all of a sudden a comedian of Ellen proportions, telling jokes and doing stand-up. I was, for much of my life, a very serious person. And I was known for being a serious person. It wasn't that I didn't have a sense of humor or I didn't like comedy but my persona, the outward expression of my being, was a serious one. I read smart literature, watched foreign movies, spent my time in the pursuit of scholarly-type things. And that's pretty much what my parents and everyone expected me to be. I wrote serious things, too, that must go without saying.

But when I turned 30, I suddenly realized I had a funny side. I could write amusing things, wry dialogue, hilarious situations, and I could be funny in my personal life, too. Best of all, I discovered I could make other people laugh, which was something I had never even attempted before. And gosh, I loved that. How awesome was it to say something aloud that could make another person giggle? It was a huge change for me!

The friend to whom I wrote this note is a very sunny and cheerful person who happens to laugh a lot and make clever jokes so turning 30 for her will not mean the exact same thing. I suppose what I meant by my note was that, when I turned 30, I discovered something new about myself, something I never knew was inside me, and I hoped that the same might happen to her.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Random Thoughts on a Friday

Cheesy random goodness

Did you know April is Grilled Cheese Month?

1. "Clash of the Titans" must remain cheesy, with crummy special effects, lots of horrendous overacting, and gives-you-splinters-it's-so-wooden dialogue. Any movie that attempts to rise above the original Harry Hamlin/stop-motion animation extravaganza should not be gifted with the title "Clash of the Titans."

2. Recent celebrity cheese is so boring. Jesse James cheated on Sandra Bullock? His name is Jesse. James. Why do his actions surprise anyone? Same with Ricky Yeah, we knew that a decade ago. Anna Paquin is bisexual? Who honestly cares? She's cute but seriously, her announcement has no impact on anyone except girls and guys who might want to date her.

3. I love me some reality show cheese and I'm not talking about American Idol which I haven't seen all season. Sunday nights = Trump Apprentice cheese. Oh yeah, those D-list celebs whose names I barely recognize (except for the awesome Cyndi Lauper) are hilarious as their massive egos clash. Hey, maybe the show should be renamed "Clash of the Egos"!

4. My new favorite Parmesan comes from Australia. Two words for this cheese from Trader Joe's: Yum. Mee. Grates nicely for pasta, cubes well for a salad. Sorry, Italy, there's a new cheese Down Under.