Archive for March, 2011

Book Shelf: “Recovery Road” by Blake Nelson

Recovery RoadRecovery Road by Blake Nelson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved Blake Nelson’s earlier books, like “Girl” and “Paranoid Park.” I have to say, though, that this is his first book that made me cry, and I think it might be his best book yet.

It tells the story of Maddie, a teenage girl with major anger and drinking issues, who falls in love while in rehab. The bulk of the book, though, takes place after she gets out and has to integrate back into her life — finding new friends, dealing with the fallout of her past actions, and trying to work out a relationship with her sweetheart, who, having met in rehab, also has some issues of his own.

It has all of Blake’s trademarks: a kind of wry, smart voice, funny and vivid characters (I love how there’s usually a dorky boy who attaches himself to a cool girl in many of his books), humor (particularly hilarious one-liners). He has such an ability to nail the way people sound, both in dialogue and in their heads. But I felt this novel delved into some dark corners that his work hadn’t gone to before, but in a real, non-condescending way. Being a romantic, I loved the story of Maddie and her beautiful boyfriend Stewart, but I think the strength of the narrative was actually how she puts her life back together after getting out. She makes a lot of mistakes, but she learns resilience, and it’s pretty hard won.

I’m also impressed with just how keenly Nelson observes people and life — I think there’s some pretty sharp but subtle observations about class here, and about why some characters make it and some don’t.

A great, moving read — I highly recommend it.

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Short Story: “Some Dude From Romania”

This story was requested by a friend, who wanted me to try something related to a certain archetypal character that shall remain nameless, but who I’m sure you can figure out by the end of reading this. I was looking to cheat on my novel between knocking out the first draft and beginning a revision; this is what came out. I actually had started this as a quite ordinary “girl waits outside of a bar” tale, which felt like it was going nowhere — till I transformed the male character into the archetype in question, and then the idea finally came alive in my mind. I now realize there’s a reason why this archetype has such enduring power — because using it poses really fascinating existential questions that I only touched upon here. Needless to say, maybe my man of the hour will turn up elsewhere…

I hope my friend likes this, although I have a feeling it’s not quite what she intended. I quite enjoyed having an “assignment” to interpret, though. If anyone has any “requests” for me, please do let me know at kat (at) nogoodforme (dot) com.

The whole story is below. PDF and ePub format available for those who hate reading in a Web browser, like I do.

Clara stood in front of the Tribeca Grand Hotel on a cold November night, staring at the screen of her phone. It displayed only the date and time. It did not display a notification that said, “1 new message from Tim Abdington,” which is what she wanted it to say.


Book Shelf: The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

One thing I wanted to do this year was keep better track of my reading, so I joined GoodReads. I’ll post my reviews here, although it does kind of feel weird to be starting off with the final book of a fantasy trilogy to start! Well, the next book on my list is Blake Nelson’s Recovery Road, so that should feel less “out of nowhere.” I hope.

The Sweet Far Thing (Gemma Doyle, #3)The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a thrilling conclusion to a great fantasy trilogy, centered around a headstrong, flawed but fascinating character. I admit that I cried at the end the first time I read it — that’s how invested I was in the characters. Magic, romance, tragedy, fantasy, period detail — all the things I’ve come to love about these books. I did find the conclusions satisfying for the main characters — I had that feeling of being eager to read about them again about ten years later, like revisiting old friends.

However, I have to say that this is not my favorite book in the trilogy, which is weird, because I usually love conclusions (Return of the Jedi, Return of the King, The Amber Spyglass.) I get the feeling that the author must have just CRANKED this baby out and the publisher rushed to get it to market — it could use some editing and is a bit long. While I found the story pacing taut in the earlier books, here I felt in some parts like there was a lot happening again and again and again, but I wasn’t clear on what the stakes were, what was being added to the story with each incident, or how the story advanced. For the first time, I wasn’t as compelled to simply “turn the page.” Most of the time I wanted to stop and catch my breath!

Still, it doesn’t matter if a book has flaws to me — if I come to love the characters and world, I’d gladly wade through it. All three novels captured my imagination enough to completely supersede my Inner Critic and evoked what I love about the rush of storytelling in general — the sheer need to know what happens next, and to get to know interesting, rich, compelling characters.

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Welcome to the Thunderdome, i.e. Revision is Hell

I finished the first pass of revising my novel! Because I miss being in artsy-fartsy school and don’t have class assignments, community and a teacher/mentor to bounce ideas/share the pain with, all my ruminations and observations on “process” are going to go here. Stats, pictures, notes, remembering what I did so I can not repeat mistakes, and keep doing the good of the good.

First step: Took a break! I figured I need space, just like any other dysfunctional relationship. Also, I had laundry to do, friends to email, nieces to bedazzle things with, sweethearts to tend to, birthday cards to send, i.e. LIFE.

Second step: Be scared and contemplate my future as a depressed, bitter boozehound. Truth is, while I am really good at cranking out isht, I have never been a great re-writer, mostly because I get lost in long-form projects like scripts. (Which aren’t long, relatively speaking, but are structurally intricate to the point of being architectural.) I had developed a process of multiple, multiple drafts of a screenplay, with each pass focusing on one or two aspects (one character, story events, dialogue.) But starting at the 110,000+ words, I knew that wouldn’t work for a novel. Doing ten to fifteen drafts of a novel? No wonder writers become alcoholics!

Third step: Figure out what my story is really about. The thing about screenwriting is that it’s a highly planned process for many writers — you spend a lot of time working on your structure and story before you type “FADE IN.” Your first draft can happen extremely quickly, and while you may make significant changes, you’ve spent tons of time and preparation already close to the imaginative heart of your story and what it is about. And even if there are significant changes, the form of a script is minimalist enough to do multiple surgeries upon. (And chances are, once you’re in production, there will be even more script emergencies to run the damn thing through the editing process again and again.)

But the first draft of a novel was a process of discovery in and of itself, and I found out that events that I had planned for didn’t quite fit as the story evolved. A whole new character emerged, and others changed from what I originally conceived. In that grand, coffee-fueled fugue state that was writing, certain exciting things happened in the story that I didn’t plan for, and other things didn’t work anymore. I had a hot mess on my hands. By the time I got done with the first draft, though, I had a much fuller understanding of the story and, more importantly, characters. I was totally in love with them, and my biggest feelings of failure came because I knew parts of the novel were not worthy of them! So I chose the most vital, exciting parts of the story that I knew I wanted to keep and decided to retool around these. Anchors, so to speak.

I also went back and figure out my simple story arc and theme, a kind of compass. Things I wish I did: wrote out a summary of the story, like the kind that you read on the back of a book. (Add that to the list for the next pass.)

Fourth step: Just start already. Since my previous revision process for screenwriting was not going to work the way it had before without a very good chance of me going bananas, I decided to try out a revision technique I had never done before, which was one extremely thorough, painstaking revision on the first pass. I knew what parts of the story felt strong to me, the parts that expressed closest the book in my heart I wanted to make. I knew my theme, the bigger thing the story was saying, I knew the story events that felt true to me, and even had a vague idea of what I knew I wanted to dump. So I started.

Fifth step: F*@! that. Well, actually, I did up focusing on story and plot most of all this round. (It’s the first thing I address in scripts when I revise — so much for trying to suppress my inner screenwriter.) I read each “scene” slowly and tried to decide if it was necessary, paying to attention to my weirdly imperative inner directive that there be something pulling the reader ahead in each one. (This is when it’s really great to have done so much screenwritng — this stuff comes more easily now.) I reworked phrasings and word choices, I honed characters and dialogue, I reshaped beginnings and endings, and did as much work as I could in each scene before I moved on. It was utterly exhausting. I did it all on the page and by hand, too, thinking that I wanted a tactile connection to writing. (Don’t you think a little different when you write by hand vs. being on a computer all the time?)

The only problem I had was when I had to significantly rework events in the book to fit with the parts I had discovered or decided were “true.” I got a notebook (from Muji!) and began putting any major new swaths of material in there. I used the notebook to basically document and chart stuff, everything from “Change Chewy’s hairstyle to a Mohawk throughout” to notes on historical fact-checking and the like. The notebook is kind of a work in and of itself. In a total hardcore move, I marked up various strands and aspects in different colored inks: pink for the love story (duh), green for skateboarding or diving stuff, blue for the bromance, etc. It was kind of both fun and a royal pain to keep this going, to the point where the cute barista at the Barnes & Nobles Cafe I worked at said I looked like a weird scientist who likes office supplies and kindergarten. I’ll take what I can get, I guess, especially from cute baristas.

Sixth step: Type in changes. SO BORING AND IT TOOK FOREVER. Seriously, it took WEEKS. I wanted to just KILL MYSELF and DRINK HEAVILY through it all. So much so that I think I am going to work on my next pass on the old ball-and-chain, i.e. laptop, to avoid this step again. The only great thing about it was the good opportunity to refine word choices again and again.

Now I am done with my first major revision! Accomplishments: cut about 20,000 words. Conclusions: colored inks work! Seriously, it was so much faster to find connected changes that I needed to line up against one another. Also: I hate entering things on the computer. Next: will start on the second revision soon. Hope: it won’t be as grueling as this one. L’aventure commence…