Will Grayson, Will Grayson

I discovered Will Grayson, Will Grayson when reading book reviews on other blogs, and it sounded amazing. This book is by two authors, John Green and David Levithan, and it is about two boys both named Will Grayson. The chapters alternate between the two Will Graysons’ points of view, with Green writing the Will Grayson who opens the book, and Levithan’s Will Grayson following him up and ultimately concluding the book.

Jacket blurb: “It’s not that far from Evanston to Naperville, but Chicago suburbanites Will Grayson and Will Grayson might as well live on different planets. When fate delivers them both to the same surprising crossroads, the Will Graysons find their lives overlapping and hurtling in new and unexpected directions. With a push from friends new and old–including the massive, and massively fabulous, Tiny Cooper, offensive lineman and musical theater auteur extraordinaire–Will and Will begin building toward respective romantic turns-of-heart and the epic production of history’s most awesome high school musical.”

First of all, I really liked it. Even though I’ve heard that both authors are rather prolific YA writers right now, I haven’t read anything by either of them (yet), so I didn’t have any expectations based on their past work.

What I am most amazed by is the collaboration. I have always wondered how writers can pull them off. To work together means you have to surrender some of the creative power, whether over plot or character, or over simpler things like structure or hair color or setting or whatever. But outside influence can do amazing things for someone’s writing as well, if handled the right way. There’s a new creativity well to tap, and a fresh perspective who really understands where you’re coming from because he or she is just as involved as you.

My experience in collaboration:

  • Good–In high school for fun I would write “pass around stories” with my friends, where each person adds a sentence or two, with the goal being to make the story as wacky as possible (and sometimes to put the person who goes after you in a horribly difficult place to write out of).
  • Bad–In 8th grade I won a story-writing competition with Future Problem Solvers and got to compete at the international level. I’d written the winning story on my own, with lots of editing from my dad and English teacher. At this competition, though, they grouped me with two winners from other states and expected us to work together to write a new story in a short time frame. This was a disaster. I can get along with pretty much everybody, but these two girls did not like each other. We couldn’t agree on anything. I’m surprised we got any kind of story turned in at the end. Needless to say, on the awards night, of the three teams in our age group, ours was the one that didn’t win anything. Maybe we should have done a pass-around-story.

I think John Green and David Levithan pulled off their collaboration exceptionally well, though. I love that they took turns writing about their characters and did it in their distinct styles. The book worked so well–I could tell they really enjoyed working with each other. I think if I ever tried a collaboration on a novel, this would be the way to do it. It’s kind of like a pass-around-story, too…kind of.

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Ammendment to Kavalier and Clay

Originally I’d given up on reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. The comments to my “Failure” post gave me mixed advice, and yet I agree with all of it. Two people advised me not to waste valuable reading time on a book I just wasn’t interested in, and one person told me he couldn’t put it down after getting into the second half (which I hadn’t made it to yet) so I should give it another try.

Like I said, I agree with everybody. Some books I know I don’t care for and either won’t pick up in the first place or will quit on without feeling too awful (especially if it’s a library book I didn’t spend money on). A while back, I started a supposed mystery a friend had recommended that turned out to be boring and not at all a mystery. I’m not going to publicly diss any book, so I won’t name names, but I had no trouble tossing that one aside, that’s for sure.

Kavalier and Clay, though, was different, which is where I circle back to the comment that encouraged me to try again. I still thought the book sounded interesting, and even though when I’d decided to quit reading it I’d flipped to the last chapter to see where everyone ended up, I still wanted to know things like how Sammy becomes gay and what Joe does with his life–and who the hell Rosa was. Since I was interested, and since my roommate was out of town and all the season finales on TV were over and I’d intended to spend my evenings reading anyway, I dedicated myself to the challenge of finishing the book. The challenge was heightened by the fact that the book was due Saturday (today) and I couldn’t renew it because there were holds on it.

I do well with a deadline, actually, so I started getting through those pages. I read and read and read, and I finally finished it Thursday night. All my questions about the characters were answered. I’d seen how everything turned out.

The big question, though: Was it worth it in the end?

Yes and no.

I enjoyed the book. It was interesting, but not an inspiring or mind blowing experience for sure. Really, the only reason I couldn’t put it down through the end was because I had to get through as many pages as possible in each sitting. I’m glad I finished it, but if I had to start all over I wouldn’t have started it in the first place.

I’d compare this book to one of John Irving’s, and some people would see this as a great compliment. I’ve read several of his books, so obviously I liked his writing, and the books do stick in my mind, but I’d never be able to stand to write like him. His books are so comprehensive and sweeping, covering not simply a critical point in some character’s life but the whole epic of his or her existence. His books are sometimes way too much, and Kavalier and Clay ended up being way too much too.

Other people love those kinds of books, but I guess I’m more for getting to the point and showing me the action. (Why I’ve found I really love YA, I guess).

But I finished the book. Yay! Now I can read the other three books I have waiting for me.

Failure: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

I am sort of part of a book club–meaning I get emails from the book club telling when they’re getting together and what they’re reading, but I’ve never actually attended one of the meet-ups. This book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, was the book for both May and June due to the fact that it is 656 pages long.

Jacket blurb: “It is New York City in 1939. Joe Kavalier, a young artist who has also been trained in the art of Houdini-esque escape, has just pulled off his greatest feat to date: smuggling himself out of Nazi-occupied Prague. He is looking to make big money, fast, so that he can bring his family to freedom. His cousin, Brooklyn’s own Sammy Clay, is looking for a collaborator to create the heroes, stories, and art for the latest novelty to hit the American dreamscape: the comic book. Out of their fantasies, fears, and dreams, Joe and Sammy weave the legend of that unforgettable champion the Escapist. And inspired by the beautiful and elusive Rosa Saks, a woman who will be linked to both men by powerful ties of desire, love, and shame, they create the otherworldly mistress of the night, Luna Moth. As the shadow of Hitler falls across Europe and the world, the Golden Age of comic books has begun.”

I hate failing at things. Often, I will persist at something long after it’s become a fruitless case just because I want it finished. This book, though, I could not finish. I made it to page 226 and was unable to make myself go farther.

The plot sounds so intriguing and unique. I am interested in comics, and the characters sound very interesting, but for some reason I could not get into the book. It is very literary–with lots of description and asides and chapters dedicated to loosely-related but fairly interesting backgrounds of characters and backstory, and I’ve read and enjoyed many other literary novels. From the 226 pages I read, I could tell it was well-written and well-shaped. I have nothing at all against it. The blame for my failure must fall entirely on myself.

I did have a little trouble connecting with the characters–but making those connections is very personal. I’ve mentioned before in another post, Am I Likable?, that everyone has different sorts of characters they are drawn to, and I guess Joe and Sammy weren’t my kind of characters, no matter how interesting their blurb made them sound.

I decided to write this review up in spite of my failure because I think I can still learn something from it.

  1. Sometimes I may fail at something, and that is okay. I am not perfect, no matter how hard I try to be. This goes for my writing too–I may start a project that just won’t work, that no amount of editing will fix. There will be times when I have to walk away from a manuscript and start something new. (I’ve done this–actually I have a pile of manuscripts, but some I’d like to revisit someday.)
  2. Even when I’m published, even when I’ve made an amazing book that agents and editors fight over, there will be people out there who don’t like my work and may say bad things about it, and that’s okay.
  3. An great idea outlined on paper won’t always turn out that great once it’s put into practice. Just like how the blurbs for Kavalier and Clay drew me in, but the actual book couldn’t keep me involved.

So thank you, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, for teaching me some good lessons. We’ll have to see if I can put those lessons to use.

Graduation Day

My brother Patrick just graduated from college last weekend. It’s that time of year. Even the K’s at my preschool have a little ceremony and get all dressed up. This is the time to celebrate, and who better to start the party than my screenplay’s socialite star, Gwen Hutcher-Kinny.

Gwen

Cheers to those who’ve accomplished something! You worked hard and now you’re done.

But are you?

If you really think about it, you’re just crossing a threshold and stepping into more work than ever. If you’re graduating middle school then you get to face the tougher classes of high school. If you’re graduating high school, then you have to get a job or have the even tougher classes of college coming up. And if you’re graduating college then you have a never-ending road of work ahead. Not only are you expected to work for a living now, but you’re also expected to get a good job with your degree, to make all that money you paid worth it. I’m sorry, but this silver cloud has a dark lining.

When I graduated high school, my parents, who are both doctors, expected me to go to college. They would have paid my way and everything. Though the idea of college sounds like a fun time, with frat parties and underage drinking and everything else that goes with the complete freedom of semi-adulthood, it’s really just a disguise that hides more school. I turned down their offer, even though it meant I was cut off from their money and shelter.

I don’t regret it.

I found jobs that took as little effort on my part as possible, like waitressing at a dive, tending bar at a club that looked like a bowling alley, and serving time as the clerk in the lingerie section of a department store. I got fired a bunch, but I was having fun, so who cares.

I still had to work, though, so I wasn’t having as much fun as I would have liked.

Some people may like working, but my ideal life is to do nothing all the time—like having a full time graduation party. Then I’d be celebrating breaking free from what has tied me down without ever having to face more work on the horizon!

The Westing Game

I have decided, after being encouraged by my friend Sara, to add a new category to my blog: a book review. Lots of people do book reviews, so this will be more of a book commentary–my impressions of the book, and maybe its uses to me as a writer. Or it could just be a regular old book review. We’ll see.

The first book I’ve finished reading since I decided to do this review was The Westing Game, a classic middle grade book by Ellen Raskin, published in 1978.

Jacket blurb: “Sixteen people were invited to the reading of the very strange will of the very rich Samuel W. Westing. They could become millionaires, depending on how they played the game. The not-quite perfect heirs were paired, and each pair was given $10,000 and a set of clues (no two sets of clues were alike). All they had to do was find the answer, but the answer to what?”

I’m pretty sure this is a staple book for middle school literature classes. I was never required to read it, but I have no problem picturing my 7th grade literature teacher getting really excited as she introduced this book, telling us that if we read it “abstractly” we’d solve the mystery before the end. As a teacher myself (though preschool, not literature) I can see tons of potential lessons and activities that could tie into this book–like when my roommate read it in school, her teacher taught the class how to play chess.

This is the kind of book I would have eaten up. I would have had a Westing Game notebook and would have kept track of the many characters and what has been revealed about them. I loved getting into books like that–feeling like I’m cracking some kind of code, discovering the secret before everyone else. What the heck, I still love doing that. In fact, the only reason I didn’t start a Westing Game Word file is because I started reading it at my brother’s graduation and because I’m a little behind on this batch of library books.

There are so many characters in the book that a Word file keeping track of them might have helped keep everyone straight, but Raskin did an excellent job juggling all of them. Throughout the book there are snippets of profiles and descriptions that realign the reader to who’s who. All the many loose ends and mini-mysteries are very satisfyingly tied up.

I was a little surprised by how long it took me to get through it. I kept thinking, “This is so complicated–I can’t believe this is middle grade.”

Obviously, I haven’t read a lot of middle grade books, at least lately, because now that I am thinking back, I realize that this is exactly the kind of book I would have loved to read when I was younger (and I still love reading them). So shame on me for underestimating middle grade books and readers!

Show and Tell

How much of a writer’s work should be shared online? Is it giving away too much if you post whole scenes or chapters? Would there be any benefit to posting an entire novel for free? There is always the risk of theft, but there is also the benefit of attracting new readers and future fans. This is an author’s personal choice, and I’ve heard many arguments on both sides, but I’m going to tell you where I stand on this—at least for now.

All that I’ve posted here stands apart from my books—I don’t want to give anything away, but I do want to reach out to other writers and readers by offering up my characters, my voice, and my ideas. I have a couple reasons for taking this approach.

To a small degree I’m afraid of my ideas being stolen—especially my concept for The Hollywood Effect—but I’ve already shared that concept, so I guess I’m not too worried about thieves. As an unpublished, unproven author I realize how hard it is to get a normal, mainstream concept published and to try for something so unusual to debut with will scare away a lot of agents, editors, and publishers, no matter how well I wrote it. I’m not giving up on trying to publish it, but I recognize that there’s an extra challenge involved.

So at this point, if you want to steal this concept then go ahead, but please be successful so I can show in my future submissions that readers actually do want to read that sort of thing.

Another reason I hold back at sharing is just simple privacy. I know I’m not the only writer who likes to keep things to myself. I don’t really like to share my work until it’s perfect, and even then I’m hesitant to put it out there. Even if it’s about aliens it’s part of me—and could reveal things about me even I’m unaware of.

I’m not trying to get published because I’m desperate to share something with the world or teach some kind of lesson or even make anyone think.

These are the reasons I’m seeking publication rather than locking all my work away in a safe  until I die:

  1. The selfish reason: I’m pretty sure I’m a damn good writer, and I’d like someone to officially validate that belief.
  2. Legacy: I love reading, and I’d like to positively contribute to that (warning: horrible metaphor coming) fountain of literature that I drink from (wince). Here’s a better metaphor: Like if you join a club you really like, at some point you’d want to become more involved, like run for an office, help make decisions, or at least bake cookies for the meeting. If my books are the cookies for the club of literature I’d be fine with that.
  3. The natural course: I’ve been writing books since I was seven. In second grade I was in a creative writing club with sixth graders. If you enjoy running then you do races even if you don’t aim to win. If you get bestowed with superpowers, you either become a super hero or super villain. You have to do something with whatever talents you’ve developed or they’re wasted, so I have to keep trying.

I apologize if some of the things I share—like characters and stories that don’t make sense without having read whichever of my unpublished books they’ve come from. I doubt I’ll ever put whole books on here, just tastes of them, but I will try to balance those posts out with other writing ideas I have.