Thursday, March 29, 2012

You guys really must want to see these mediocre monster sketches. I’m not sure if I should be proud or concerned.

On Saturday I announced my Out-of-Context Dialogue Contest. I said that if I got at least two submissions by today, I would share some of the monster sketches I made as a part of my research on a new project.

Guys, I was so prepared to just shrug today and say, “Nope! No one submitted. No monster sketches for you. Oh well. Your eyeballs will thank you later, really.”

But I am proud to say that you guys don’t have any respect for your eyeballs whatsoever! You’re just awesome that way. Thank you so much to those of you who have submitted thus far—you’re the best.

And those of you still eager to submit: Don’t you worry your pretty little heads. The deadline isn’t until April 11thLearn how to enter here. Do it for me. Do it for you. Do it for the fun writing times.

So, without any further ado, here are some monster sketches for you. Some monsters are supposed to be cuddly, others creepy. You tell me which is which.



This drawing almost looks decent thanks to how incredibly bad my handwriting is. Gold star to anyone who can read it. I write with my hand in a fist. It’s how tough people write, okay? Still, I’m a fan of this fuzzy guy.


She’s a caterpillar, emphasis on the cat.


He's a robot monster. His eyes are propellers made of blades, and they spin all the time.






And there’s the last of them! Who knows how many of these guys will end up in the actual book, but they’re fun for me to draw in the meantime. Even if they were no fun at all for you guys to look at.

I know we writers can feel tempted to let our minds do all the imaginative heavy lifting for us. But there’s nothing wrong with making a few sketches to find your way. Who cares if you can’t draw? These pictures are just for you, anyway.

That is, unless you choose to use those drawings as a bartering tool to get your readers to send their contest submissions in early. Then all you can do is warn them how terrible the drawings are ahead of time.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

We’re having a good old-fashioned Out-of-Context Dialogue contest! (P.S. I may be using the term “old-fashioned” incorrectly.)

Hey there, my dudes and lady-dudes. I’m not sure if I should apologize for the fact that it’s been nearly a week since my last post. I originally said I would post every week. But then I started posting every other day and sometimes twice a day, like some kind of wizard of bloggery. Or, perhaps more accurately, like a person desperately putting off doing other things.

But this past week I’ve had to go into the office every day like a normal human, which left less time for blogging, or much writing at all. Now that I’m back to my Sweatpants Half-Life (meaning I could spend half my life in sweatpants because I only work part-time. I’m not saying I do …I kind of do, though), I’m spending some time frolicking in that lovely idea phase with two projects that couldn’t be more different from each other. They’re both the beginnings of ideas that I’ve had for a while, but for the next week or two I’ll be fleshing them out into something that feels more substantial. With one idea I’m working off an outline and a plethora of horrible, horrible sketches; with the other I’m drawing from just a one-page conversation with no real context whatsoever.

On Monday I talked about how out of context conversations between characters can help you start your new novel. I love writing dialogue possibly more than I love any other kind of writing. So sometimes I write dialogue merely for the pleasure of doing so, without thinking too much about context or even the characters. I find it helps me to warm up to real writing.

I wrote such a conversation months ago and literally saved it as “random boy-girl conversation.” I knew the girl was sad, and that it was very important to the guy that the girl not be sad.

Here’s the conversation we’re talking about:


He put a hand on either side of her face and looked her in the eyes. “You’ve no right to be unhappy, you know,” he remarked. “You’re young, attractive, and one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met.”
            She smiled a little at the compliment but it was a close-lipped smile. “Mmm, but that’s just it. If I have such a hard time being happy while I’m still young, attractive, and interesting, what kind of hope can I have for when I’m old, fat, and boring?”
            “You’ll never be boring, Lenny. I said before you’re one of the most interesting people I know. My grandfather’s the most interesting. He’s eighty-seven and I’m sure he’s got ten stories that would easily top your best.” He reached down to grip her hand. “So you’ve got to hang around for at least another sixty years, see if you can beat his stories when you’re as old as him.”
            Her teeth peeked out from behind her lips like precious pearls. “So that’s what it’s all about? Being able to tell a good story?  How do you know he’s not making them up?”
            “Oh, I bet he makes up at least half of them. But if you haven’t had the time to learn some beautiful truths, beautiful lies are much harder to tell.”


That’s it. That is the entire thing. But even though the dialogue was only a page long by the end, I felt like I could follow these characters into a new project.

My excitement quickly petered out when the flurry of ideas I expected to follow that first stroke of inspiration never came. Eventually I just saved the conversation in my Future Projects folder and kind of forgot about it.

About a month later, I came up with an idea and wrote out an entire outline. The outline felt like having a tooth pulled. And when I read the story over, I found it to be melodramatic and contrived. (Bet you didn’t know I sounded like such a pretentious douche when critiquing my own work, huh? I call myself “pedantic” sometimes, too.)

I pushed the project away for a while after that. I began to worry it didn’t even qualify as a project. It was just a tiny bit of dialogue about nothing.

But taking my focus off my current WIP led me back to that random boy-girl conversation. And a few days ago, with none of the anxiety and frustration I had writing that first outline, I came up with an idea. It’s still not even an outline. I’ll have to do quite a bit of research since the book would be partially based on real events. I started some of the research, and thus far history is not only meeting but exceeding my expectations. I think I could have a lot of fun with this one.

What I’m trying to say here is that it’s not a waste of time to do writing exercises like this. It’ll help you to improve your writing and can sometimes even lead to a shiny new idea for a story.

So with that in mind, here’s my assignment for you guys. (Yes, that's the way to involve the readers, Jillian! Give them homework! Like a teacher! People LOVE teachers!) I’m going to give you five choices for a jumping-off point to a conversation between two characters. I want you guys to pick one and try writing a dialogue.

Send your dialogues to me at jillian karger @ gmail dot com with no spaces. I’ll pick my favorite and post it here on the blog.

Here are the choices:

-Two friends are growing apart but don’t want to admit it to themselves or each other.

-Two siblings discuss the fact that their other sibling is making a big life change, like a new job, marriage, or a baby.

-A person discusses his or her deceased parent with a family friend.

-Someone is trying to convince the person he or she loves not to move away.

-Old friends reunite for the first time in a very long time.


If you feel inspired to write something that has nothing to do with any of those choices, feel free to send it my way as well. You certainly don’t have to do this part, but if you want, you can leave suggestions of jumping-off points in the Comments for me. If any of you do so, I’ll pick my favorite and post my own dialogue alongside the winner’s. Again, this part is totally up to you guys.

I’ll make the deadline Wednesday, April 11th and will post the winner on Sunday, April 15th. What do you get if you win? A sense of community with other writers. Yeah, sorry, that’s pretty much it. I’m poor and can’t afford to buy you a spaceship.

But if at least two people send me dialogues by Thursday, March 29th (the day I plan to post next), I will post some of those horrible sketches I mentioned in my next post. Would it be worth it to see my sketches for their artistic value? No. Absolutely not. Would it be worth it for the comedic value? Oh, hell yes.

By the way, most of the sketches are of monsters.

I’ll be eagerly awaiting your dialogues, guys. C’mon. Let’s have some fun writing times together. If nothing else, it’ll be something other than taxes to think about that day.

Monday, March 19, 2012

When you’re not sure how to start your new novel, a map of emotionally resonant scenes can help you find your way.

Out of everything a writer goes through in the process of writing a book, starting can be the hardest part. I’m not talking about the idea phase. That phase is fantastic—a carefree time of unleashed imagination and no responsibility.

No, I’m talking about the day you have to start writing the actual words that will appear in the actual book. And making the title page doesn’t count.

You will stare at your nearly blank document and nerves will churn in your stomach. You’ll think of all those hopeful scribbles you so lovingly scribbled about the book’s world and plot on napkins, the backs of receipts, and old plane tickets (you’d be surprised how many times I have done this last one). You don’t want to betray the promise of those scribbles by writing a story unworthy of them.

This is when you have to decide if you not only love those scribbles enough that you don’t want to let them down, but that you couldn’t fathom never writing about them. It can be the early end of the project for some.

Other writers may remain sure that they want to write the book, but have trouble finding just the right words to begin. So I thought I’d share what I do when caught in a case of cold feet such as this. (Considering you write entirely with your hands, I feel I should call it cold hands. But that just sounds weird.)

When I get intimidated by a new story, I latch onto the characters. I forget about my complex world, the twists and turns of my plot, and how the many strands of this story are supposed to tie up nice and neat in the end.

Instead I focus entirely on the key players in my book—how they got to where they are when the book first starts, and how their pasts are going to affect their reactions to the events of the plot. I’ll often write out detailed backgrounds for each character so I can keep their histories straight later on. This is an especially handy thing to do when writing a series with lots of characters.

Once I have a rough idea of who these people are, I turn my attention to how they would respond if forced to interact with one another. Would they make fast friends? Would they hate each other? Would they have potential for a deep relationship, but only once both parties mature a bit?

Sometimes I’ll write hypothetical conversations between these characters just to see how they play off of one another. You have no idea how helpful this can be. Not only do these conversations tell me more about who the characters are, but they can give me new ideas for where to take the plot.

You’d also be surprised to learn how many of these conversations make it into the final book. Some of my favorite scenes in Renaissance Lab were written out of context before I even started the novel. Practically all of my favorite scenes were at least written achronologically.

You see, once I have a handle on these character relationships, I tend to get very, very invested in them. As the writer of a book, you are also your own first reader. Hopefully you’ll get as involved in your protagonist’s victories and triumphs as your readers one day will.

In my favorite books, I become so intrigued by the characters that I feel tempted to skip ahead and find out what will happen between them. It is a sign of serious respect for the author if I don’t do so. But when I happen to be the author of the book I’m reading, I don’t have to wait patiently for those relationship-shifting, emotionally resonant scenes to arrive. In fact I know it benefits the overall story if I skip ahead.

I’ll look at two characters and think, “Aw, I can’t wait until those two stop hating each other and become friends.” So then I’ll write the scene that will serve as the turning point in the relationship between those two characters. Now that I’ve written a scene of where I want that relationship to go, I’ve provided myself with a destination to reach within the story. Every scene I write between those characters from now on will build toward that particularly resonant moment.

It took me a while to learn that I am an outlining kind of writer. I wish I could write by the seat of my pants like some kind of swashbuckling writer-pirate, but I’m just not that cool. I like the security that an outline can provide. I treat it the same way I would treat a map on a hike. I’m likely to barely even look at the map while hiking—I’ll go where the finest views and my own curiosity take me. But I will be damn glad I remembered the map when I’m passing that tree with the weird moss for the seventh time.

While outlines provide a map for my plots, the handful of emotionally resonant scenes I write before beginning a book (or at least long before they’re chronologically due to appear) serve as a map for my characters. This is an even more flexible map than the outline. Sometimes relationships between characters shift in a way I never could have anticipated, and render many of my already-written scenes moot.

But out of the nonlinear scenes I’ve written, I would say about 75% of them are eventually used in some way or another—even if I just extract a few lines from a five-page scene. And those are often the scenes that require the least editing down the road. They’re the scenes my writer’s mind just couldn’t wait to pounce on, and I’m always glad I wrote them ahead of schedule.

If you’re having trouble starting something new, try taking some time to get closer to your characters. Virginia Woolf wrote in A Writer’s Diary: “…I dig out beautiful caves behind my characters: I think that gives exactly what I want; humanity, humour, depth. The idea is that the caves shall connect and each comes to daylight at the present moment.”

Spend some time digging those beautiful caves—write scenes in which the caves connect and come to daylight. These scenes may not make it into the book later on, but they will help you to decide if you really love these characters enough to see them through to the end.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

I’ve had the idea for this post for a while, but I am an idiot and didn’t realize my mother’s birthday would be the perfect time to post it. Here’s to getting it under the wire, Mama. And Happy 63rd.

After Sunday’s post, I’m pretty sure my dad’s fan club has gained a few members. Before it was made up of my family, my dad’s clients at his psychology practice, and my friend, Ken. Ken has never met my father but, as they share a name and a birthday, my Dad-Ken can do no wrong in my Friend-Ken’s eyes.

But instead of feeling proud about honoring my father on here, I’ve felt guilty about not honoring my mom. When I sent her Sunday’s post, I even accompanied it with this email:


Hi Mama,

Okay, here's the post. My readers will know how awesome you are too eventually :)

Love,
Jilly


I don’t want you guys to think for one second that just because I happened to talk about my dad first on here, that means he’s in any way more supportive than my mother.

To tell the truth, it’s tough for me to talk about how supportive my mom is. It’s tough for me to do much of anything but stare at her in awe, wondering how I got to be so lucky.

I didn’t send her that blog before I posted it because it concerned my dad. I sent it to her because I send her everything I write. From college essays to book chapters to blog posts, Mom has always made the time to serve as my first pair of eyes.

One of the many times I confessed my worries and insecurities to her about my ability to make it as a writer, she answered: “People do make it as writers, and actors, and singers. A lot of people don’t. But who’s to say you won’t be one of the ones who does?”

So, yeah. It’s pretty safe to say that my parents are a pair of supportive badasses. That’s why I didn’t quite know how to respond when a college friend once commented, “I think my parents were too great for me to ever be a good writer.”

I think she was referring to the popular idea that a lot of people turn to writing (or any art form, really) as a way to work through unresolved childhood issues. But I still couldn’t help gaping in silence for a few moments. “Wow,” I finally said. “Yeah. I don’t feel that way at all.”

Even with their amazing support aside, I think having good parents made me a better writer. If there is one unifying theme in everything I’ve ever written; it’s that I write about loner girls searching for family. Some are searching for family in the conventional sense (my Fictionpress loves know what I’m talking about), while others are just looking for those tight bonds that signify family far better than DNA ever could.

If I had never experienced loving, open relationships with my parents, I’m not sure I would be anywhere near as good at developing those relationships between my characters. It’s easier for my heroines to accept that their mother and father figures want the best for them, since they know from my experience how that’s supposed to feel.

If you don’t get along with your parents, then by all means use any artistic means you can to work through it. But if you’re lucky like me, never let anyone make you feel like you’re not “tortured” enough to be a good writer. Be proud, and work to make your badass parents as proud of you as you are of them.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Music can be as good a cure for writer’s block as chocolate can be for … well, just about anything.

Last night I went with the Artist Formerly Known as Young Daniel to see the Arctic Monkeys and the Black Keys in concert. And even though we quite literally had the worst seats in Madison Square Garden, it was still a blast. I spent the entire evening wiggling to the music in my seat like some kind of epileptic worm.

When I attended my first rock concert at the age of sixteen, a sneering girl promptly informed me that I was “head-banging wrong.” I quickly had to decide if I would stand awkwardly still through the concert, or if I would head-bang extra wrong and grin at that sneering girl as I did so. I opted for the latter and have taken a special kind of joy in acting like an idiot at concerts ever since.

I’ve also sustained a few injuries, but we don’t need to talk about that.

The fact is you can’t usually see the band at concerts. Or at least I can’t. I’m a girl in her early twenties without a full-time job, living in Brooklyn.  I can’t afford seats that face the stage and General Admission is too deafening for Grandpa Dan’s fragile ears.

So what I end up getting out of concerts—what I can’t get through simply flipping through a band’s YouTube channel—is a chance to feel the music. If the music makes me want to tap my feet and dance like a fool, you’d better bet I will.

Music has been very important to me for a very long time. I was three years old the first time I sang onstage. I was auditioning for a community production of Mr. Scrooge and I sang “Side by Side” by Patsy Cline. It wasn’t a real audition; they weren’t going to cast anyone younger than five. But I apparently was desperate to audition and my mom Knows People in Wooster community theater, so she wrangled me an “honorary” audition.

I have no memory of this entire incident, but my mother says I hopped up about an octave to screech “SIDE BY SIIIIIDE” at the end. This would usually be a pretty risky way to end a performance, but I’m told it was something a three-year-old with pigtails pulled off quite well.

Considering I’ve been singing onstage literally since before I can remember, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve loved music my whole life. It’s what I used to think I wanted to do—musical theater, that is. But then I realized that the sentences I often composed in my head as I walked down the halls of my high school were evidence another kind of talent. And it was one that came much more easily to me than singing or acting ever had.

Just because the dream switched from musical theater to writing doesn’t mean I abandoned my love of music all together. In fact, now that there’s no pressure on me to excel at making music, I think I’ve grown to love it even more. I still sing in the shower and sometimes in my room when no one else is home. I get my karaoke on every so often. 

But what I love most is listening to music while I write. I was especially excited to see the Black Keys last night since many of their songs appear on my Renaissance Lab playlistWhen starting a new project, I listen to my entire iTunes Library on Shuffle. If a song distracts me from my writing, I skip it. And if it not only helps the flow of my writing but really adds to the mood of a scene, I’ll put it on my new project’s special playlist. If I’m lucky, it’s not long before I have a playlist that captures the essence of my book—or at least to me it does.

I’m so dependent on music when I write that it feels like a mini-tragedy every time I forget to bring my headphones to the coffee shop. Half the time I’ll just take my coffee to go and work from home rather than give up my precious music. Other times I’ll give whatever music they’ve chosen to play at the coffee shop a chance for an hour or two. If I notice one of the songs is having a particularly helpful effect on my writing, I Google the lyrics and later add that song (and often that band’s entire discography) to my music collection.

It’s a good thing I’m so forgetful, and often too lazy to make the walk home so soon after arriving at the coffee shop. Some of my favorite Brooklyn coffeehouses not only make a delicious cup of coffee, but play some pretty great music. I didn’t get into the Black Keys until I heard “Tighten Up” playing at the Outpost Lounge one day. Urban Vintage reminded me that I didn’t have any Nina Simone on my iTunes, and wasn’t that a damned shame?

I owe so much to music. Sometimes when I’m having a tough time connecting to a character, a certain song will bring me right back into his or her state of mind. On a day when it’s difficult to begin, I just listen to my project’s playlist for a while. Sometimes I’ll outline a bit while I do so, and sometimes I’ll do nothing but listen and think about my story. Music has pulled me out of more bouts of writer’s block and outline-induced freakouts than I can count.

Outline-induced freakouts are those times when I worry that I bet too big on myself in the outline. I’ll read over an outline, furrowing my brow, and think, “How in the hell did I expect me to pull this off?” Luckily, after some quality Music Time, I often come to the conclusion that Past Jillian is smarter than I tend to give her credit for.

I’ll close today with a few of the tracks that I truly think helped to make Renaissance Lab a better book.


“In the Backseat” by Arcade Fire




What I most admire about Arcade Fire is the band’s ability to start a song in one place, and take it somewhere else entirely by the end. This was a particular favorite while I worked on outlining the book as a whole. It just feels like Baine to me—partly due to the beautiful violin parts.


“The Little Things” by Danny Elfman




This song is wonderful for writing action scenes. It has a great guitar line and particularly badass lyrics. Added bonus: The singer is Danny Elfman, a gifted composer and the singing-half of Jack Skellington’s voice in The Nightmare Before Christmas.


“Stuff We Did” by Michael Giacchino




I am very big on movie scores when I write, and Up has one of the best. “Married Life” is another favorite track, but something about “Stuff We Did” puts me in just the right place to write an emotionally heavy scene.


“Whistle for the Choir” by the Fratellis




This is a song that gets a specific mention in Renaissance Lab—Baine practices playing it on guitar at one point. I listened to this song a lot while working on Baine and Roth scenes. Don’t read too much into the lyrics, though, guys. I love the song more for its general mood.


“Howlin’ for You” by the Black Keys




And here we are back at the Black Keys. They opened with this toe-tapping tune last night, and it’s not hard to see why. This was a soundtrack song for me, which means I thought it belonged in the background of a particular scene in Renaissance Lab. So I listened to the song on obsessive repeat until I finished writing the scene. I should hate it by now, but I don’t, and that is a true testament to how good this song really is.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Kids: Remember that less money or stability are better options than less happiness. Parents: Look at your own list of regrets, and do all you can to make your children’s half as long.

Toward the end of my senior year of high school, I had narrowed my list of prospective colleges down to two very, very different options. I could go to the good school in my hometown, which was offering me quite a bit of money.

Or I could go all the way to Florence, Italy for my entire freshman year of school.

You see, I didn’t properly get into NYU when I applied. When NYU wants someone but they don’t have room in the city, they accept a student to one of their abroad campuses instead. I would spend freshman year abroad, then the other three at the school I originally applied to in Manhattan.

The farthest I had been out of the country at that point was Canada. I desperately wanted to visit Italy, but that wasn’t the same as wanting to live there. I had taken Spanish and French in high school so I was well set-up to learn Italian. But, again, that wasn’t the same as being ready to live for a year in a place where they spoke Italian all the time.

My best friend was planning to go to the College of Wooster, and I wasn’t sure what I would do without the girl who had been my partner in crime since the age of nine. I’m also one of those lucky people who not only loves but likes her entire family, and didn’t relish the idea of being so far from them either.

The other thing about NYU was that they weren’t offering me very much in the way of scholarship money. And it was by far the most expensive college I had applied to. My family was hit with some tough stuff throughout my childhood; much of which resulted in hefty medical bills. So I knew that aside from some money my grandfather had left me, and that my parents would help where they could, I would be more or less on my own in handling tuition costs.

And yet every time I thought seriously about staying in Wooster, my stomach clenched into knots. I’d always wanted to live somewhere like New York or London. Somewhere where people were a little more open-minded about things, and saw how wonderfully important books and movies could be. Somewhere where friends would never take “going to Walmart” as a serious suggestion for a fun thing to do on Saturday night. Italy was scary, yes. But in a lot of ways staying home would be even scarier.

I went to my dad for advice and was sure he would urge me to take the safer, fiscally responsible route.

But after he listened to me say just what I’ve said here, he looked at me in thoughtful silence for a moment. “You want to go to NYU, Jilly,” he finally said. “I can hear it in your voice. And that’s really all there is to it, isn’t it?”

It was. I accepted my place at NYU’s La Pietra campus almost immediately afterward. And as if giving me a pat on the back for making the scary decision, NYU soon told me that they had space for me on the Manhattan campus after all.

So as far as life decisions are concerned, that conversation with my dad wasn’t that important. After all, I didn’t end up doing either of the things that we discussed.

But what that conversation did do was show me that my smart, rational father didn’t want me to make the safe choices. He wanted me to make the ones that would make me happy.

Thank you so much, Dad. If you were less great, I would probably have some stable, decent-paying job that would bring me about 1/32 of the joy that writing does.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

I think Twitter knew I was undecided, so it sent Neil Gaiman and Jenny Lawson to fight for my vote. Also this isn’t a real post.

Okay, so, I’m hoping you trust me after last time. But just in case, here’s some super-tiny, hard-to-read proof:





And closer up:


 


As you regular readers know—or rather people who have read the previous seven posts since this blog isn’t old enough to have regular readers—I’m kind of lukewarm about Twitter. For one, I don’t think I’m concisely funny enough for it. Hanging out on the homepage is also a quick way to lose about five hours. With constant content coming in from all sides, it can be a little overwhelming.

And I just feel kind of smarmy calling anyone my follower. Fan sounds nicer, and doesn’t make me feel like I should be passing out cyber-cups of Kool-aid.

But within one week, I got tiny but precious bits of acknowledgement from two of my favorite writers in the entire world. They read words that I wrote, and liked them enough that they thought other people should read them too.

Even I’ve got to admit that’s pretty damned cool.

I’ll put up a real post tomorrow. It may even be about writing for once. Remember when I said this blog would be about writing? 

Well, good. Clearly I don’t either.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

How to describe “Young Daniel?” I would say the nickname died SO YOUNG, but that would be kind of superfluous.

Well, hey there, my bros and lady bros. I hope it’s been a good, er, eleven hours since we last met. You may have noticed that I’ve been blogging up a storm this past week.

There are a few reasons for this. One, this blog is still just a tiny, precious baby. Or, looking at Horatio, I’m thinking maybe slightly terrifying baby with sharp teeth and talons might be a more apt description.

So I want to get a nice stack of fun things up on the blog quickly for you new readers to enjoy.

I’ve also had a few Personal Things going on—mostly good things, but still nerve-wracking things—so blogging has been a nice distraction.

I’ve told you guys about my boyfriend, Dan. Though you might recognize him best by the handle of “Young Daniel.”

I’ve mentioned that Dan wasn’t very fond of his new nickname, but I wasn’t fully aware of the extent of his distaste until I called him “Young Daniel” on Twitter this morning:





As I’ve pointed out before, I am not very good at Twitter. As in I’m not very good at picking out which jokes can stand on their own, and which require a little more elaboration.

So I elaborated:


 

I showed the tweets to Dan and he was Not Pleased.

“I don’t like ‘Young Daniel,’” he complained.

“What—does it bother you how condescending it is?” I asked. Because it is. Jokingly and lovingly so, but it totally is.

“No, that’s fine,” he replied, and that is one of the many reasons I love him. “It’s just not funny enough to be the name you call me all the time on the blog. Plus I don’t like the name Daniel.”

“That is your name.”

“NO ONE EVER CALLS ME DANIEL.”

Now, think “Young Daniel” is funny. But, hey, maybe it is just me. It wouldn’t be the first time. And even if it’s not just me, I don’t have the heart to keep calling my boyfriend a name he really doesn’t like on the big ol’ Internet.

I don’t know if you know, but people look at the Internet from time to time. And not all of them can take a joke as well as we Velocininjas can.

So I’m taking this challenge in stride, as I proudly proclaimed on Twitter:




So there, Sir Daningsworth of Ill-Humored Hall. I hope you’re happy.

I was going to just give you one silly nickname. But now you’ve opened the door to thousands.

You have no idea what you’ve just done to yourself.

Oh, Parks and Recreation. Making Ann and Tom date is like putting ketchup on filet mignon. Or forgetting the mountain of whipped cream on a waffle from JJ’s Diner.

Let me preface this by saying that Parks and Recreation is currently my favorite show on network television. Its character development is absolutely topnotch. I am rarely able to watch Ron and Leslie have a serious talk about anything without getting teary-eyed. The jokes are consistently hilarious. The setting of Pawnee, Indiana is so well-drawn that it’s become yet another lovable character in the show. 

But, all that said: I feel I need to point something out to you, Parks and Recreation. For your own good.

New Girl is beating you at something.

You must know how it pains me to say this. I like New Girl, sure. I like it much more now than I did at first, when the show still had the ridiculous notion that there is any human male who would not date Zooey Deschanel. Now that the show has started to build the surprisingly compelling personalities of its guy characters, it’s turning out pretty great.

But it’s no Parks and Rec. Not by a long shot.

At the moment both shows are running through “pretentious-douche-but-secret-nice-guy dates the protagonist’s best friend, who is both way too hot and sane to be dating someone like him” storylines. And, I have to say, I am totally more invested in Cece’s secret relationship with Schmidt than the fact that Ann and Tom are somehow still dating. 

Ann just seems so annoyed with Tom all the time. The fact that Ann looks ready to wring Tom’s little neck every other second just endears the watcher less to both of them.

New Girl, on the other hand, approaches this storyline a little differently. For one thing, Schmidt has way more game than Tom. So his relationship with Cece is easier to buy. 

Schmidt is also more lovable than Tom. Lovable in a romantic lead sort of way, I mean. Like Tom Haverford, Schmidt adores designer clothes, weird colognes, and hilariously stupid slang.

But unlike Tom, Schmidt’s antics are clearly rooted in deep insecurity. He was the awkward fat kid in college, and he latched onto the douchebag lifestyle as a way to deal. In other words, we can tell Schmidt won’t be a douchebag forever. He’ll grow up eventually.

Tom’s ridiculosity, on the other hand, isn’t rooted in insecurity at all. That’s just the way he is. And we love him all the more for it. He’s the absurd little brother that we’re all glad we don’t have, but also love to watch make up new names for things. (My favorite is calling forks “food rakes.”)

Both Cece and Ann are embarrassed by their silly, status-loving boyfriends—as most women would be. But you can kind of get in Cece’s corner more. She wants Schmidt to be less obnoxious, but I think Schmidt kind of wants that too, deep down. Tom is best off with a woman like his once-upon-a-time lady friend, Lucy, who accepted his zaniness and even loved him for it.

I understand that Parks and Rec needs to find some way to keep Ann relevant. But this is not the way. How about letting her date Ron? They had decent chemistry in that one episode where they fixed everything in Andy and April’s house together. 

Or we could get into Ann’s past a little more. It’s never seemed like Ann grew up in Pawnee. Where is she from? Maybe she had friends in college or nursing school who could come on as guest stars and help to fluff her character up a bit.

I still love you best, Parks and Recreation; don’t worry. I’m just pointing out one maddening little annoyance that manages to affect the otherwise completely wonderful end product more than it should.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The kind of logic that governs Santa Prisca: “Jimmy, your mother borrowed my dress before she died and never gave it back, so you are now my slave laborer forever. As are your unborn children.”

Tempted as I feel to ramble even more about the incomprehensible awesomeness of Neil Gaiman, I decided that today we’d discuss something that I could get even nerdier about.

Superheroes.

Oh, superheroes. I’ve been pretty into them for a while now. My elementary school library was vastly superior to all other school libraries because mine had COMIC BOOKS.

I was actually more of a math nerd as a young kid and not so into reading, if you can believe that now. So when my class spent our mandatory time in the library, I gravitated toward the thin, shiny books with lots of pictures.  

Spiderman was my first love, but I kind of got over him as I got older. I still think being able to climb and swing between buildings would be so awesome, but I kind of wanted to read some comics where girls got to be the heroes, too.

And then came the age of X-Men. This covered late elementary school to sometime in high school. I contemplated getting a white streak in my hair but was luckily able to restrain myself. 

It wasn’t until I got to college that I found my truest superhero love: Batman. That’s right, Marvel, a DC character is my favorite. DC also publishes Alan Moore, so they will pretty much always win in my heart.

I just love how, in spite of Batman’s sometimes inhuman strength (depending on who’s writing it) and whacky gadgets, Batman is one of the most realistic depictions of a superhero out there. This rich kid watches both his parents die and just kind of snaps. He loses his goddamn mind. Wouldn’t anyone?

But instead of skulking off to the intensive counseling he so desperately needs, Bruce Wayne decides to save the world. It’s amazing. He spends his adolescence traveling the world and learning every kind of fighting that anyone could ever fight. He uses his tons of money to buy crazy weapons.

And then he just starts beating up drug dealers, and guys with guns, and a dude with half a face, and a sadistic clown man. He breaks the law all the time, but he and Commissioner Gordon are bros, so that’s okay. No matter what, Gordon and Bruce Wayne still manage to be the sanest, least corrupt people in Gotham.

Except for Alfred, of course. Alfred is best.

A story arc very near and dear to my heart is Knightfall. It introduces my favorite comic book villain of all time: Bane. Let me tell you a little something about Bane. He was born and raised in a prison called Pena Duro in Santa Prisca, a fictional Caribbean Republic.

That already tells you a lot—this dude is PTSDsville, just like Bruce Wayne. Though Bane actually spends his entire childhood and adolescence in the neighboring town of DTSDsville: During Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Bane’s father, Edmund Dorrance, was a revolutionary fighting against a corrupt government. Bruce Wayne’s father, Thomas, similarly tried to fight the mobsters and corruption in Gotham.

But Bane’s government is even more corrupt than Gotham’s, so he’s sent to serve his father’s life sentence in prison.

Bane is not only incredibly strong, but deeply intelligent and reads all the books in the prison library. Strong and smart, just like Bruce Wayne. He’s haunted by a demonic bat in his dreams, is afraid of it, and becomes determined to use that which he is afraid of to gain power, just like Bruce Wayne.

Bruce Wayne uses his fear of bats to become Batman—he becomes what he fears and instills that same fear in his foes. Bane allows his fear of the bat to drive his determination to beat Batman and gain control of Gotham. Gotham, unsurprisingly, reminds him of Santa Prisca.

Except Gotham is slightly less rapey and traumatic than Santa Prisca. Especially if you’re Bruce Wayne.

With all these similarities between Bruce and Bane, I can’t help but wonder—would Bruce have turned out any differently from Bane, had he been forced to live through Bane’s same circumstances? 

After Bane does “Break the Bat” by breaking Bruce Wayne’s spine, Bruce comes to the terrifying realization that he’s started to enjoy the violence he uses to hold control over Gotham’s criminals. Even without Bane’s life in The Most Corrupt Prison on Earth, Batman almost falls prey to the lust for violence that possesses so many of his enemies.

Oh, Bane. I could talk about you all day. 

So I was (naively) excited when I discovered a Batman movie had included Bane in its roster of villains: Batman and Robin. I will not discuss George Clooney and his rubber nipples here, out of respect for good old George. (It’s okay, Georgey. Just remember you did The Descendents later.)

Even though I could see that the movie failed on just about every count (see “rubber nipples” above. Sorry, Georgey, but it’s true), I was still most disappointed by the knuckleheaded depiction of Bane. He served as nothing more than a muscle-bound bodyguard type, and was really, really stupid. 

I just couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Why make the decision to dumb down such a fascinating character?

But then I thought a little more about it. A lot of people do assume that particularly muscly individuals are not terribly intelligent. There’s no real reason for it, I don’t think. Maybe people assume that the muscles must take up too much of said individuals’ schedules to leave time for catching up on their Dostoyevsky.

The idea guys on that film most likely chose to make Bane stupid because it was easy—it shifted him from a true villain to a stereotype who could just hang out in the wings and punch when called upon to do so.

Years later, when I had just the beginnings of an idea for a book set in a dystopian future, I reflected again on how those idea guys knew people would assume Bane was stupid because he was strong.

In a completely unrelated writing session (cough, cough), I decided Baine would a fun name for a girl. 

I love Christopher Nolan and think The Dark Knight basically eliminates the need for anyone but Christopher Nolan to make superhero movies ever again. So I have high hopes for Tom Hardy’s depiction of Bane in The Dark Knight Rises.

Just give our Bane a chance, okay, Hollywood? Let him be a genius like Bruce Wayne. Bruce Wayne’s trauma was like a weekend on Martha’s Vineyard compared to what Bane’s been through.

And Bane’s already dealing with a pretty crippling drug addiction, which isn’t easy for anyone. So let’s let him keep all the tools in his villain toolbox, shall we?

Monday, March 5, 2012

UPDATED: I am totally bros with Neil Gaiman! Ha, not really. But I listened to his voice on tape once. So, you know, ALMOST the same thing.

When I was twenty years old, I interned for The Hollywood Reporter. It was my first serious job ever. I’d mostly gotten it by talking up my former post as Entertainment Head of the Bedford Square News, our student-run newspaper at NYU London. I hadn’t even worked for NYU’s actual newspaper. I had worked for the study-abroad paper.

So when reporters gave me transcription to type, I was lost. It took me hours to do the first few. Was I supposed to include every single time people said things like “like” or “uh?” Luckily I eventually got the hang of it.

But once I could do my job in satisfactory manner, it wasn’t long before I started to get a little annoyed with the interviewees on the tapes. They often responded to questions with dry, unadorned answers. I listened to talented journalists do all kinds of fancy wordsmithery, trying to get some elaboration out of their stubborn charges—but to no avail.

If you’ve ever done transcription, you’ll know it’s full of little annoyances. There are those prickly words you will never be able to decipher no matter how many times you replay them. There was a producer whose voice I had to slow to the lowest setting to be able to even slightly understand. So when the interviewee wasn’t interesting, it could be pretty grueling work.

One day I was assigned to transcribe an interview with Neil Gaiman. I didn’t know much about him, though I had seen Stardust (a film based on one of his novels) and enjoyed it. Even with no outside knowledge of the author, I was completely charmed. Not only did he wander well outside short-answer territory every time, but he always had some fascinating anecdote on hand. It was easily the fastest transcription I’d ever done, but I was sad when it was over. I would’ve happily transcribed for hours if all the interviews had been as intriguing as that.

I went on to read and love much of Mr. Gaiman’s work, from Neverwhere to Coraline to the Sandman comics. But I will always remember him as the funny, clever writer who made an intern’s little gray cubicle in New York a tad less so for a few hours.

So, listen up, writers. If you’re ever lucky enough to be interviewed by a magazine, don’t waste time getting nervous. You’ve got an edge over every other person getting interviewed in the world—the word thing is what you’re all about! 

Each time you feel tempted to give a simple “yes” or “no,” remember that there will one day be an intern out there somewhere with a stress headache, trying to figure out if you in fact said yard because you mumble a lot.



UPDATE:

Um ...WHAT??


 


Okay, I know that's super tiny and hard to read, but, see, a lot of you guys don't know me very well. Certainly not well enough to know if I wouldn't be above getting up to a little Photoshop wizardry to make it look like NEIL FUCKING GAIMAN retweeted my blog post.

I know I write for young adults. I know that. But I think that on today, of all days, a few jubilant curses are in fine order. 

This is as big as I can get the picture without it wandering into the margins: 





Really, the fact that you think I'm capable of Photoshop wizardry is laughable.


P.S. Neil Gaiman, you are a god among men. A king among peasants. A swan among geese. A Godzilla among tiny buildings in Tokyo. 

Thank you, sir.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The meaning behind “Velociraptor Hands” is finally revealed! (Admit it. The suspense was killing you.)

Last week I promised you an excerpt of my young-adult dystopian novel which would explain the name of this blog. So I won’t waste time rambling about things like the Oscars, mainly because I failed to watch them, and have spent all week feeling behind the times.

You might expect this excerpt to be near the beginning of the book, but it’s actually closer to the middle. Now, you may be asking yourself, why would I show you an excerpt from the middle of the book?

I want you guys to see the beginning of the book once it’s actually a book. The beginning is when you pull the reader in, and hopefully don’t let go. So instead I’m doing it like Renaissance Lab is a movie and I’m on Conan (just roll with this metaphor, okay?), showing you a clip to get you interested enough to buy a ticket on opening day.


I take him through a few vocal exercises and see that he wasn’t exaggerating. His actual voice is lovely—it’s deep and rich, just like his speaking voice. But Roth really is tone-deaf. When I sing notes to him, he responds by jumping up at least half an octave. I’m also not a very good voice teacher. When Roth prods me with questions, sometimes all I can say is, “Just do what feels right.”
He does a little better once I show him how to raise his hand and move it according to the music—up for higher notes and down for lower ones. Finally, I hand him the sheet music for “Shenandoah.” It’s a simple song; hopefully he can handle it.
After his third off-key rendition of the song, it’s tough to keep from grimacing. Roth notices my expression and stops singing. “Are your ears bleeding yet?”
“Only minor damage, I think. That time was a little better…” I trail off.
He laughs. “Oh, be honest. I’m horrible.” Roth sits next to me on the piano bench and thumbs through some of the sheet music on the stand. “I think I better stick to instruments I can see.”
I stiffen and try to figure out a polite way to get away from the bench. Why do I care about being polite to him? Some sense of manners keeps me in my seat, though I scoot as far from Roth as possible. “Yeah, I guess singing must be one of the tougher ones. Sorry I’m not great at explaining it. I pretty much just navigate singing by trying to feel my voice in the right places…” That doesn’t even make sense. Good thing teaching has never been a Kin career.
Roth shrugs. “Well, however you do it, it seems to work. You have … uh, you have a nice voice.”
“Thanks,” I reply quietly and focus my attention on a chart on the wall with pictures of a doe and rays of sunlight on it. Singing has always been the part of music I’m the most insecure about. To my ears, my voice lacks the trilling beauty of Sophie’s—it’s low and boring. “So do you. You just have to learn how to use it properly.”
“That’s what my mom used to say. But she always seemed to get a headache less than halfway into her lessons with me.” 
I chuckle, picturing an older blonde woman running from a singing Roth and towards a bottle of pain relievers. Roth’s black eyes catch mine and my smile slips away. “What?”
He shakes his head. “Nothing. It’s just, I’m not used to you smiling so much. Or at all. You’re usually so serious.”
Easy for him to say. It’s hard to joke around when you don’t have anyone to do it with. “You’re one to talk! You look so angry all the time … Stone Face.”
Roth lets out an incredulous laugh. “Stone Face? That’s the best you’ve got? And I bet you think you’re the funny one back home.”
I start searching for a better comeback then reflect on his words. Back home. Back where I ribbed at my friends all the time. Friends who couldn’t fathom the idea of speaking to a Vis Rebel, much less helping one. And laughing at his jokes.
Roth seems to be thinking something similar, since he abruptly rises from the piano bench and moves to a keyboard. Maybe he remembered that home to me is the same place that was prison to him. “Could we go over scales?” he asks. “I had a few questions.”
“Sure,” I reply, relieved to be back on familiar ground. 
Things are a little awkward for the rest of the session, and I’m sure this is the last I’ll see of Roth outside of class. But a few days later, he turns up again. He plays the entirety of “Shenandoah” on the piano and it sounds much better than it did when he tried to sing it.
“Any ear-bleeding this time?” he asks when he finishes.
I shake my head. “None at all. Though you need to loosen up your hands. You look like a velociraptor.”
He probably doesn’t know what a velociraptor is—he’s never played Battle of the Dinosaurs. But he grins without confusion. “I’m missing what’s bad about that.”


P.S. I told Young Daniel about his nickname on the blog and he was NOT pleased like I expected. Not at all. I don’t see what you’re so upset about, Young Daniel. I’m making you famous. Like, seven more people know that your name is Daniel, and that you are young. These are good things. And four of those people are from Thailand. You’re welcome.