Monday, February 27, 2012

Can Your Story Spawn A Theme Park?

As I mentioned last week, my family went to Harry Potter World recently, and I'm still thinking about how excited my kids were to walk through Hogsmeade and Hogwarts castle. Some writerly reactions:

So, first there is a healthy jealousy. Besides loving the books, I'm deeply in awe of J.K. Rowlings' vision. Harry's world resonated with her readers so much that they had to build a theme park to fill their need to be there. That's crazy, right? And it has such wide appeal that kids and adults alike are excited to go get a mug of butterbeer. I know that many of the images were from the movies, so there's a second layer of creative talent adding to Rowling's descriptions, but isn't it amazing that she put all of this is motion with some words on paper? Words are powerful. Writing is an act of creation.  Crazy awesome.

Look at the giant pumpkins!
Think about how many unique details there are in these stories.
I want someone to count and tell me how many there are.
 Maybe I'll bribe a kidlet to do just that...

My kids loved it- the snow on the roofs, the Three broomsticks, the Every Flavored Beans, the wands with their type of wood and core and many details (and so much merchandise!) Not all stories will lend themselves to souvenirs, but the second point is that Rowling is an amazing worldbuilder. She obviously spent a lot of effort thinking about the world, about the personality of the wizarding world, its quirks and benefits and drawbacks. And it's so funny: Mr. Weasley with his Muggle obsession and Hagrid's parasol-wand and Dumbledore's charming habit of loving the simple things, like lemondrops.

We watched Harry Potter 1 as a family before going (my younger 2 hadn't seen it yet, and they still haven't seen the "scary" parts, since we're not interested in them sleeping in our bed because of nightmares) and Nathan was explaining that "Diagon Alley" is a pun on diagonally, and I had never realized it. Maybe I shouldn't admit that in public. I had never stopped on that word long enough to think about it. Rowling did. She thought about every detail, probably many times over.

In a recent rejection letter, the agent told me that "I like the alternating perspectives between 'our world' and 'theirs.' However, I couldn't help wishing that the world-building had been just a bit more developed, so the reader could really picture the world."

That took me by surprise. I thought I had done that, but I realized I hadn't pushed the descriptions of the "other world" far enough. It wasn't all that different from a really nice garden in this world. And then I had a big idea, something that everyone could see themselves a part of, something that I'd love to live myself. It feels right, so I made some notes so I won't forget.

I'm working on my next story now and not planning to do anymore edits on Ways To Fall because sometimes you just have to move on. But I may write that agent and ask if she'd be interested in seeing a revision, and if she is, I'll write it gladly because I want it one step closer to being real.  

How do you know that you've developed the world enough? Any suggestions to share?
Happy writing!
Glutton for Punishment?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What Path? What Purpose?

A recent comment on a friend's blog got my dander in a fluff- This person said the way they made time for writing was by not having children, and the tone seemed to imply that people who have kids and try to accomplish other things are morons for bothering with the kids and not just doing the important stuff.

I read some of "The Happiness Myth" by Jennifer Hecht and found it interesting- she focuses on putting our cultural ideals in a historical perspective- why are some drugs okay and others are bad, and how that changes across time and different stratuses of society (ie, Cocaine was widely touted as a nerve restorative before being recast as a destroyer. The way physical ideals are counterproductive for many people (here, here! I would have been perfectly happy to have been born in the 1700s in Italy, if I go by their sculptures of pear-shaped women!)

The point is, I've been thinking a bit about what makes people happy. And by far the best, most accurate way to find happiness is in service to others, especially family. I am not saying that we should never do anything for ourselves, but that when we are unhappy, usually the answer is to reach out to others, not to focus on our own happiness.

Lots of people write from an empty heart, stories full of selfish, whiny people who can't stand their lives or other human beings. (see: The Stranger by Albert Camus) Without my family, my husband and children, parents, siblings, friends at church, neighbors, I would not have a heart worth writing from. Maybe this explains my hatred of Hemingway? And Mrs. Dalloway. And Steinbeck (although I don't think it was selfishness but despair that runs through his stories.)

For you personally, is art for art's sake valid? Is it okay to write stories that don't have a positive message, just because it's a cool idea? (Think Edgar Allen Poe.) What do you guys think?
Glutton for Punishment?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

Once a Witch (Witch, #1)Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

I checked out a handful of books to read on our recent trip (all those hours in the car are good for something!) and this one was by far the best of the bunch. From the Goodreads blurb:

"Tamsin Greene comes from a long line of witches, and she was supposed to be one of the most Talented among them. But Tamsin's magic never showed up. Now seventeen, Tamsin attends boarding school in Manhattan, far from her family. But when a handsome young professor mistakes her for her very Talented sister, Tamsin agrees to find a lost family heirloom for him. The searchspellbinding display of storytelling that will exhilarate, enthrall, and thoroughly enchant."

I loved this book, 4.5 stars. There were no mistakes here- the relationships between Tamsin and her family were really believable, the banter was fun to read, and I really enjoyed Tam's friend who's a boy. Boyfriend? The plot was engaging, setting solid. No hiccups...Don't you love it when you find one of those?  

It reminds me of young adult version of "A Discovery of Witches" by Deborah Harkness. (Another enjoyable book, 4.5 stars, content very tame for an adult paranormal romance.) It also reminds me of The White Cat by Holly Black, another great book.

Contentwise, there is some kissing, some fighting, moderate levels of blood. There are some curse words, including the s-word. The dividing line between good and evil use of magic was very clear, I thought.

Happy reading!
Glutton for Punishment?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mistakes or Learning Experiences

Yesterday I saw a link for a free ebook "Drawing out the Dragons" by James A. Owen who presented at the "Life, the Universe, and Everything" conference in Utah last weekend. I'm jealous, Utah/Nevada/Idaho/Arizona people. If it weren't a 40 hour drive, I would have gone. We did have a family trip to Disney/Harry Potter World at the same time, so don't think I'm feeling too badly for myself, though.

Butterbeer gets a thumbs up! I love a milk mustache.
The Brysons, an old wizarding family, very powerful!

Anyway, James says this in the first chapter:
The Choices I made later in life made the choices I made earlier more worthwhile. This is because our choices are cumulative--and the sooner you realize this, the sooner you are able to start actively making choices that may not only improve your future, but can, in some ways, even redeem mistakes made in your past. 
 Reading that a few times carefully, and taking the time to type it here, I am more and more impressed with this quote. There are still a few hours left to get the ebook free, right here. I'm not sure how many hours are left (it's a 24 hr window), and it's a wonderful, inspiring book about how important it is to really live and be active in making your dreams a reality. I'm just in Ch 2, but it's the kind of inspirational writing that actually inspires.

And I apologize for my long sabbatical from the blog. My plan is to update every Thursday with a tidbit of writing A-ha!s or techniques I've been working on, and a book review on Mondays if I've found something I want to share. Thanks! Happy reading!
Glutton for Punishment?