Late, late, late accountability

You might think that by not posting a Tuesday Post of Accountability on Tuesday indicates that I was somehow slacking off. And you might think, because I’m posting an accountability post on a Thursday, that I am somehow trying to justify said slacking off.

To this I say: Nuh-uh.

1. I have written short story words. Not many. But they are written.

2. I have typed critique notes into my rough draft of The Line. (Which I’m waaaay excited to get to work on again in January, by the way! It’s one of those: I KNOW HOW TO FIX IT! I KNOW HOW TO MAKE IT SUPER SHINY! kind of moments.)

Something funny (as in interesting to only me) I noticed while typing in notes: I doubled the book’s size during NaNo. Prior to NaNo (which means about five months or so of writing) I had 48,300 words. During NaNo I wrote another 50,400 words. I know, that’s a lot of words, huh? *patting self on back*

Now to turn that into 100K worth of usable words, yes? And, due to the epic scale of this particular story, I’ve got another 50K to go. Oh yeah, this is gonna be an awesome dystopia. And ‘Awesome Dystopia’ might be an oxymoron…but only until you see what I’ve done.

…or it might remain an oxymoron. We’ll see. I’m excited about it. Right now that’s what counts.

More Reading, Less Reading: A Tuesday Post of Accountability

So, I’m tired of reading. That didn’t take long. Finished Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman and Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella. At this pace, I will not hit anything except burnout.

Plus, I wanna write. And this whole reading thing gets in the way.

So I’m gonna write. I’ve got some short stories to rough-draft up.

Still reading, just not feeling very hopeful that I’ll finish where I wanted to finish. Ah well, can’t win ’em all, right? (That’s a lie, you really can win them all. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, me included.)

What’d you guys do? Is this holiday season kicking your butt, or are you owning it?

Survey Says!: An Article of Awesomeness from The Paris Review

I’m starting to love Twitter like no other. If you follow the right people, you find some really fascinating material, like this article by Sarah Funke Butler from The Paris Review. The rundown: A sixteen year old student wrote a ‘survey’ on symbolism and sent it out to 150 well-known authors (like our very own July-August mentor, Jack Kerouac, as well as luminaries like Saul Bellow, John Updike, and Ray Bradbury).

The odd thing is that these authors responded. I guess writers just can’t keep quiet about their craft, huh? They keep blogs and tweet and stuff nowadays. =)

Check it out. There’s actual archival scans of the letters.

Tuesday Post of Accountability.

I am not accountable.

I am reading.

Four books down so far in JenRidReadMo: Anatomy of Motive by John Douglas; The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta; The Barracks Thief by Tobias Wolff; and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy by John le Carre.

Yes, I’m behind.

Random Post of Awesome: Braggin’ on a Buddy!: Ajay Ramachandran Poetry Published by Midtown

Great news! My buddy Ajay Ramachandran, who comments early and often on anything Virginia Woolf or P.G. Wodehouse (our very special mentors from earlier this year), has had a a wonderful poem publish by Midtown: A Journal of Writing and Fine Arts.

“Achebe to Zwiren”

Please go check it out – it’s well worth it. Bookophiles will adore it, and those who followed the Woolf and Wodehouse discussions will find it particularly impressive. Ajay knows what he’s talking about! Congratulations, Ajay!

Time to clear the stack:JenRidReadMo

Last month, as you guys know, was National Novel Writing Month. Millions of writers across the country set pen to paper/fingers to keyboard in order to write an entire novel in a month. Which is a crazy idea, when you get right down to it.

Partly to recover from this last bout of ridiculousness, and partly because I set myself the challenge of reading 80 books this year, I will be reading a book a day until the end of the year.

I’m dubbing this challenge: JenRidReadMo. (Jenny’s Ridiculous Reading Month)

Why? I’m sure my friend John is asking (because he’s always the one looking at me like I’ve lost my mind when I say “I’m gonna do this [fill in random thought]!”).

My Reasons:
Palate cleansing. Post NaNo, I find I need a break from writing. I’m still working on a couple things, and by working I mean fiddling and getting nothing accomplished. And reading will help reboot the system.

Well filling. During NaNo my brain stopped working correctly. I didn’t entirely lose the vision of my novel, but it definitely got blurred around the edges. I need fuel to kick the ol’ imagination back in gear. Right now I feel like I have nothing to pull from. Time to chill and gather my brilliant thoughts again.

Because I wanna. Like NaNo, JenRidReadMo, is a challenge. I’d like to say that I did it. And I don’t mean 35 books in one month, I’m referring to the goal I set back way early in the year – which I already missed because my original insane goal was 100. My previous years (according to Goodreads stats) I’ve managed about 30 books a year. I don’t want to set it back again – that feels like failing and I don’t like to fail. So this is an area where I’d like to push myself.

And a quick shout out to Deniz – who is doing her own removal of her teetering to-read pile.


Winning the Newbery Medal: What Does it Take?

Newbery Medal winners are generally destined for a long shelf life, heaps of attention from libraries, teachers, and parents, and are often deserving of the lauds and acclaims.

What does it take to write a Newbery Medal winner?

Well, you can take a peek at the criteria here. But I’m also going to break down said criteria in relation to our mentor’s own Newbery winning novel: The Graveyard Book.

According to the Association for Library Service to Children’s website, committee members need to consider the following criteria when looking at a potential Newbery book:

1. Interpretation of the theme or concept.
The theme or concept isn’t assigned – this element speaks toward the question: Did the writer creatively and consistently interpret their own themes/concepts? Well, I’d have to say that The Graveyard Book, in its exploration of death, violence, friendship, and family did a whopping good job of it. I personally think it’s one of the more creative and well-executed ideas I’ve come across in a while.

So you have to have some kind of meaning integral to your story. What are you trying to get kids to think about? How is that shown in your work?

2. Presentation of information including accuracy, clarity, and organization.
A thumb-and-half up on this one. There’s an awkward ‘Interlude’ in the middle of the book that doesn’t really explain much…and in fact left me a bit confused for a few pages after…then there was the weird cave/tomb raiding bout toward the end…but considering the handling of the graveyard scenes, the presentation of time passing, I think that Gaiman did a decent job.

You have to make sense. And The Graveyard Book is also full of historical references – all of which seemed pretty darned accurate to me. I think this is important because when kids read – and to a lesser extent adults – the accuracy of information is necessary. What if this is the only book a kid reads on this subject? Or what if it’s the first thing they’ve ever read on this subject and you flub up? Are you willing to take responsibility for a kids saying that Pluto is a planet still? In front of the whole class?

3. Development of a plot.
There definitely is a plot.

Please, please, please. For kids – give them a story! (This doesn’t apply to poetry, which can also win Newbery Medals.)

4. Delineation of characters.
Each character played their roles well. I never got lost as to who was who (even with a strange passel of Mad Jacks popping up). I think that here is where Gaiman would’ve impressed the committee. Even the side characters have interesting contributions to the storyline – an accused witch without a headstone, a man buried beside his first and second wives…yeah, poor, poor dude, right?

I could see these characters clearly in my head. I loved how they worked together (plot-wise). Make sure your characters are distinct and that they have reasons for doing what they do – it helps individuate them.

5. Delineation of a setting.
And here is where I think Gaiman won. No one could beat this setting. Hogwarts is probably the only thing that could ever come close.

Make your setting count. Details. Rules. Metaphor. Setting can elevate your story to all kinds of heights.

6. Appropriateness of Style.
While I’d be a little concerned for kids younger than middle school grasping everything Gaiman throws in here, it’s still definitely a kids’ book. The illustrations added a child-element that was helpful to the overall feel, I think. (Considering, however, that illustrations can only be considered when they hurt a book, I think it was a gamble! But it worked, so the book wasn’t penalized.)

Make sure kids can read the book. Don’t through million dollar words in there (without definitions). Don’t start quoting obscure historical events (again without explanations). This is not an opportunity to explore feminism in the late twentieth century via dissertation. Tell a story in the way a kid would want to read/hear a story.

Have you got what it takes?

Thursday Reviews!: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (A Mentor Review!)

The Graveyard BookThe Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

British authors must have some kind of secret to writing scrappy orphan stories.

Not being opposed to books that start with a creepy man breaking into a house, murdering the family who lives there, and being thwarted by an infant and his ghost protectors…I thought this was a great book. The opening is certainly dark, but I can’t imagine a coming-of-age-in-a-graveyard book opening with sunshine and happy little gnomes.

The creative concepts in this book really caught my attention. How would one raise a living child in a graveyard? If the ghosts can’t leave, how do you get food? How do you educate the kid? How do you teach him to protect himself? How do you make friends? The answers Gaiman comes up with are soooo very interesting. Plus, it’s all a very interesting take on the ultimate human question: What happens when you die?

Nobody Owens, Bod, is one of those characters that you want to cheer for. He works hard to do what’s right, whether it’s getting a headstone for the dead who long to be remembered or defending his fellow students from the classroom bullies. When he’s told that he is kept in the graveyard for his own protection, Bod’s reaction is to say that it’s the man Jack, the man who killed his family, who should be protected – from Bod.

I love a can-do attitude.

The good news is life in the graveyard carries a story a long way. The only problem I had with the story was the reasoning – the ‘why’ – of the man Jack’s assault on Bod’s family was explained away in a sentence or two very close to the end of the book. The bad guys just seemed too simplistic, which was disappointing after so much mystery had been built around their ‘society’. With the well-explained good guys balanced against the less-explained bad guys, the weight of the story shifted strangely, if that makes sense.

All in all, though, it’s pretty darn good. I’d recommend it for middle school and up – and not because the opening is dark (which it is, no lie) but because there are a multitude of literary and historical references that I’m not sure younger readers would appreciate. There’d be a lot of blank stares unless there’s an adult around to explain.

View all my reviews