The Book of My Heart

This post has a sappy-sounding title, but it applied best to what this post is about, so I hope the post won’t be too sappy. Sorry if it is, and if you like that sort of thing, then I’m not sorry. 🙂

Back when I was in high school, I got to do this fun mentorship program where we could work with someone in any field we were interested. Since my dad started the program I got to participate (that wasn’t the only reason–I was a good, responsible student as well). I, of course, wanted to partnered with a published author, and they found me one who lived just a few miles away who was willing to put up with me. I gave her some of my writing samples and then we started meeting. She was a very nice lady, and she had a written a novel about a woman with lupus finding love when she took some classes at the local community college. (I can’t remember her name or the book and I don’t have it here with me–I think her first name was Barbara).

Well, Barbara also had lupus and had taken classes at a local community college under a teacher remarkably like the romantic interest in the book (though she assured me the love part did not happen. That was the fiction, I guess). After reading my samples, her main focus of our internship became trying to get me to “write from the heart.” I think she thought my stuff was weird. I believe I’d given her a short story about a guy who drank some potion that made him crazy or invisible or something. So I had to write all these short essays about special moments and people in my life. And I did not enjoy it–the writing part–I did like meeting with her. It didn’t feel like writing from the heart to me, though she thought by the end that I’d grown so much. This is nothing against Barbara, but her style of writing just wasn’t the same as mine.

Ever since I’ve kind of dismissed the “Write from your heart advice.” I always write what I like and what I’m interested in, but it doesn’t come close to mirroring my life.

Then I read this article in Writer’s Digest by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni called “The Novelist’s Guide to Writing What [Only] You Know.” At first, since it’s in the middle of a big section all about writing memoirs and such, I thought it would tell me the same thing Barbara did, and I almost didn’t read it, but as I was scanning through, I realized that this was different, and I stopped to actually read it.

Divakaruni says that she found her writing success in writing pulling from experiences all throughout her life–including events only witnessed/read about or even imagined, and that’s when I realized that my current work in progress is truly the book of my heart.

Basicially, I thought up my current book when I was in 8th grade, and it has been building up inside of me ever since. A moment as small as sitting around the lunch table with my friends, joking about boyfriends, created this big idea of mine–that’s finally useful almost 20 years later. None of those girls are my friends now; I haven’t spoken to them in forever, but they are always going to be special to me because they were the spark that fired this book. And I’ve realized that I’m sprinkling the book with all kinds of other material from a bunch of other experiences throughout my life–not big experiences, but some that were important to me. I think these experiences are what makes my book special and will be what will hopefully make my book stand out when it is finished and ready to show off.

So, even if you’re not writing something realistic or touching or even remotely about yourself, it can still be “from your heart” if it comes from somewhere inside you, built on what you love and what is meaningful to you.

Edgar Allen Poe: “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”

I’ve decided to format this like a Sherlock post because, well, because it read exactly like a Sherlock story. Dupin acted just like Sherlock, with all his know-it-all, his assistant/friend was the narrator and baffled by his conclusions, just like Watson (though this narrator wasn’t named and wasn’t much of a character. At least Watson is a doctor and helps Sherlock in some way besides just being someone to show off to. And the end was just as weird as most of the Sherlock stories I’ve read.

Summary: So the unnamed narrator has been hanging out with C. Auguste Dupin because they are both weird and like the same things. Then they hear of a grisly murder where now clues were left behind. Two women were killed; one had her head sliced almost completely off, and the other was strangled and stuffed up the chimney. All the doors and windows had been locked from the inside; attackers were heard by witnesses but not seen. Dupin looks over the scene and figures it all out. An orangutan (yes, a big red/orange ape) had escaped from its owner and climbed in the window, killed the women and then fled out the window, with the window closing and latching behind it.

Sherlock Rating: So, it wasn’t a real murder–just another reason to have laws against owning wild animals. It wasn’t the worst Sherlock-ish story I’ve read, though, so it doesn’t get the lowest rating. I think today’s forensics teams would have figured it out just as quickly. This would have been an interesting episode of Bones or Castle, that’s for sure. Plus it gets bonus points for being the (debated) first murder mystery.

Mystery Story Convention: Well, as I said, this is where all the murder mystery magic happened. It is the start of all the mystery stories, so it creates the conventions. Forensics plays a big role–he knows it’s not a human attacker because of the bruising pattern on one of the women’s necks. Also proper crime scene investigation–the one nail was broken off in the window so it only appeared to be nailed down. And the twist ending, of course. I was kind of expecting it to be this circus performer they’d talked about at the beginning, but that actually had no relevance. The first red herring? You’d think for the first mystery story they wouldn’t have needed to play the “it’s not even a human, or a murder” card as the solution. None of the other solutions had yet been overdone because nothing else had been written yet.

How Yu-Gi-Oh Rocks at Storytelling

This post is about one of my favorite cartoons, Yu-Gi-Oh. Before you completely dismiss it–maybe you haven’t heard of the show, maybe you think it’s stupid, or maybe you just think reading about cartoons is a waste of your valuable time–I just want you to know that this post is also about writing a good story no matter what the format or who the audience.

Okay, so Yu-Gi-Oh is this anime-type cartoon that is probably meant for 10-year-old boys, but I love it. It is about this card game (which, honestly, I couldn’t care less about), and it stars, Yugi, a very small and good and loyal boy, who’s got himself possessed by an ancient (also good but powerful) pharaoh. And his friends. And the various bad guys who want to defeat him/take over the world, etc.

Maybe it doesn’t sound like anything special, but the creators/writers/animators of this show either really know what they’re doing in the storytelling department or have excellent instincts.

Characters: First we have Yugi, who is a cute little guy, easily pushed around physically, but has a strong loyal heart and always chooses to do the right thing. He runs the risk of being a little too perfect at times, but the complication of his pharaoh friend, along with being a weakling, keeps it in balance. And you have to love a guy who is so loyal to his friends he’d lose a championship to them and still be happy about it.

Next are his friends, Joey, Tea (with an accent on the “e”), and Tristan. Joey is an aspiring duelist and comic relief, Tea is pretty much a cheerleader (I like her the least), and Tristan is more of the muscle, though he has his own plot lines from time to time. They all can duel, though only Joey is serious about it. They always support Yugi, though Tea is also creepily in love with the Pharaoh.

Oh, and the Pharaoh counts as a character too, especially as the series gets toward the end. Apparently they used to duel real monsters in ancient Egypt, so Pharaoh is an excellent duelist and takes over for Yugi in his battles, though Yugi can still give input. The Pharaoh is good, but not as pure-hearted as Yugi. He definitely has a lot of sides to his character.

And even the more minor characters are interesting. There’s Mi (could be spelling her name wrong), a tough-girl duelist, only relies on herself, but ends up kind of falling for Joey, Kaiba and Mokuba (I’ll get to them later), and Bakura (Also, later), to name a few.

Some characters run the risk of being cliched, but they’re so entertaining to me, and the other elements work together so well I don’t care. What the show gets right is that every character has depth and has motivations and flaws and strengths, which makes good characters no matter the format.

Pacing/Plot: First, this show is really well balanced with high drama/excitement and humor, both physical and verbal. The stakes are also set extremely high. Normally, we really wouldn’t care if Yugi wins his stupid card game–not even Yugi would care, but if the life of his friends or even the fate of the world is on the line, then yes, we really want him to win. And there’s always something at stake. The stakes also build progressively through the series. First it may just be the need to stay in the tournament or teach some jerk a lesson, but then he needs to save his grandpa, and later his own soul from “the shadow zone.” All of humanity is at stake in the later parts of the series. Yugi is always fighting for something, so we always want him to win.

Now, these battles, especially the big ones, often take several episodes to finish, and that would be boring, especially to someone who doesn’t get into the card game aspect so much (though the monsters on the cards are displayed via lifelike hologram and sometimes the players even experience pain as they lose lifepoints). But they get the pacing exactly right. In a book you want your scenes to have a rise and fall–either start high and end low or vice versa. In Yu-Gi-Oh each episode has to have that rise and fall. Yugi never wins a battle easily. There is always a point where he’s about to go down and will suddenly spring back. Sometimes this happens several times in the same battle, but if he began the episode low, he’ll get high again before the end. (Though unless the battle has finished there’s always some kind of cliffhanger–which is how we are supposed to finish our chapters–so readers/viewers in Yugi’s case will come back for more.)

Sorry, this is getting long. Almost done, though.

Villains: This is the kicker for me, because I always love a good villain, and Yu-Gi-Oh abounds with villains of all types. First there’s Kaiba, my favorite character. He’s this rich kid who makes inventions that enhance duel monsters and he has no love of Yugi or his friends. He ends up on their side more often than not, though, often trying to save/protect his little brother, Mokuba. I love Kaiba. He’s such a jerk, but he’s such a great character. You can’t trust him, but he comes through when they need him.

Then there’s Bakura. This kid goes to school with Yugi and his friends (though they never actually attend this school, except rarely when shown playing with their cards at desks or getting in matches/fistfights before/after class). They call Bakura their friend, but for almost the whole series he’s possessed by an evil spirit that’s trying to stop the Pharaoh. Even after they know about this spirit they still keep trusting Bakura. I don’t know why they think he’s their friend at all since he only hangs out with them because he’s possessed. He doesn’t act like much of a friend, but Yugi and co. are just that nice. He’s more of an annoying bad guy, but he’s pretty formidable when they have to take him on.

And speaking of annoying bad guys, there are tons of minor guys, some recurring, that Yugi and his friends have to face. These are generally bullies and they get in the way, but they offer nice complications and side plots–a must in any long-running story.

And we have the big bad villains as well. These guys have pretty much no redeeming qualites (though there have been a few who have reformed–Pegasus, for example (the crazy creator of the card game who traps Yugi’s grandpa’s soul in a card to force him to fight in a tournament). They are ruthless and powerful, and their battles with Yugi take all his abilities.

Closure: And everything ends the way you expect. Yugi wins his battles even though it looked impossible, and he does it with skill and quick thinking, not luck. (You could consider drawing the right card at the right time “luck” but on the show that has to do with “trusting in the heart of the cards” which is sappy and silly, but it has to do with the themes of the show so I’ll allow it: trust, friendship, goodness). Even minor characters get closure, so everyone leaves happy in the end.

Maybe Yu-Gi-Oh isn’t a perfect TV show, but it’s done well, and I definitely appreciate it and enjoy it–me and a bunch of 10-year-old boys. 🙂

Persuasion by Jane Austen: Chapters 21-24

I finished it! Here’s the sum-up:

Anne talks to her friend Mrs. Smith about Mr. Elliot, who Mrs. Smith once knew as a friend. She did not have nice things to say. Back then he was all about getting money. He was friends with her husband and borrowed from him all the time. All he wanted was to marry a rich girl, which he did. Then, when the Smiths came on hard times, Mr. Elliot was no help at all and disappeared from her life. Now he seems to be after a title and the Elliot estate–and Anne. Mrs. Smith had been hoping that if Anne really loved him and wanted to marry him that she would be able to convince him to help her out after all these years, but when Anne said that she would never marry him, Mrs. Smith seemed relieved.

Then the Musgraves and Mary and Charles came into town, and while Anne was hanging out with them–and Frederick was there too–she had a debate men’s vs. women’s abilities to get past broken hearts. Frederick overheard and he wrote Anne a letter telling her he’d never been able to get over his love of her and that he hoped she would give him one more chance. She did, and Mr. Elliot left town, and she and Frederick lived happily ever after.

And that was it. I was reading this last chapter with the note and Anne and Frederick’s talk and I couldn’t believe it was actually ending. Of course I wanted them to end up together, but I expected a few more complications to pop up. (It is called Persuasion. Shouldn’t there have been more persuading?) It was the kind of ending where it felt more like the author was tired of writing the book and just wanted to end it rather than giving the story its due course. The whole book not too much was going well for Anne, but suddenly everyone just rolls over and makes it easy for her? I hope Diana Peterfreund’s For Darkness Shows the Stars has a better payoff.

But, at least I finished another classic. Now I get to start a new one!

Writing Trends–the Next Fad Is…

I’ve been wondering and a little worried about what the next trend in books is going to be.

Harry Potter started a trend in Young Adult and fantasy, which led to Twilight and vampires, which went on to include all paranormal romance. Then there was dystopian, led by Hunger Games. Interestingly, I hear agents and editors on Twitter still complaining about all the paranormal they’re getting, but not so much the dystopian, so it seems the vampires have outlived the bleak future scenes. I’m sure there were trends before that, but I’m pretty sure HP was the beginning of the big YA surge, so that’s all that really matters.

There are still books coming out on all of these things, but the market has been pretty saturated and a lot of editors and agents are looking for something new, so right now we seem to kind of be in transition. The adults who have taken YA as their own seem to be leaning more toward the more erotic books led by 50 Shades. The term New Adult is being thrown around a lot in conjunction. The current definition for this “new” classification: books featuring college-age protagonists that tend to be more mature and graphic. And though it is a new classification, it’s not a new kind of book–these novels have been on normal fiction/romance fiction and even teen fiction all along; they’re just getting more attention.

But that’s what the adults are reading, and I’m more concerned about what the teens want to read next. I feel like zombies, vampires, angels, demons, etc may be on their way out, and what is going to rise up to take their place? I’m really rooting for normal contemporary books like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (which I haven’t read yet–am like 100 on library waiting list, but I’ve read other Green books and know the style). I’m rooting for that because that’s not what I’m writing.

I don’t write for the market; I write for me, but I’m a little concerned that the book I’m writing for me is in a market that’s due to hit it big. It could just be the normal author paranoia here of “someone’s going to steal my concept” but I’m worried that space sci-fi could be the next big thing (esp with this Star Trek movie, this weird Mars mission in the workings, and a bunch of independent space exploration companies starting to make the news, among other things). If my book was ready to go right now that would be great–maybe I could even start a trend and be the next Harry Potter (wishful thinking, I know) but it’s not ready, and I’m worried that by the time it is ready its time will have come and gone and too many similar books will have already been published. Because for this one I know I have a great concept, but it wouldn’t be a hard concept for someone else to think of as well. I just have to be first.

So thinking of this has made me pick up the pace a little on my work on this book (and I did need a kick in the pants to get moving again after the holidays), which is good, but all the same I’m rooting for all those contemporary books to hit it big. Come on, kids, get tired of all the fantasy and paranormal and bleak futures–all the pretend stuff and turn back to something real–at least for so long as it takes me to finish this book and get it ready to submit, okay?

Persuasion by Jane Austen: Chapters 16-20

I have to say that I am enjoying this book. It moves fairly slowly, especially to today’s standards, but the characters are fairly well developed, and there are surprises in the plot. It actually has a bit of a plot, too, kind of.

So Anne is in Bath with her family, and she doesn’t like it much. Anne’s dad seems way too close to this nobody, Mrs. Clay (widow). Anne has pride in her own way. She doesn’t feel like she deserves special treatment, but she doesn’t think her family should grovel at the feet of some higher ranked cousins just to gain their favor.

She’s been visiting an old friend from school who’s now a poor invalid widow (there seem to be a lot of widowed people in this book).

And in the romance front, Benwick has been taken–he’s proposed to Louisa. So that means that Frederick is available again. Mr. Elliot is very interested in her–creepily interested on a kind of stalker level, and luckily Anne is creeped out by him as well. Her reasoning is different than mine (he’s her cousin). She finds him “too agreeable,” which given his history with their family–earlier completely blowing them off–it seems like he’s hiding something. I totally get that because I feel really uncomfortable around too friendly, too nice people. I don’t believe anyone can really be nice all the time, and when I encounter such people (as in searching for new churches after my move here) I cringe away. They’re like pod people. They need to show all of their sides for me to really feel comfortable–they need to act normal, not try to put on this touchy-feely, super nice front. It’s like when you read a book and the character seems too perfect to be real, so you don’t like them but when you read a book about a violent jerk you love him (Alex in Clockwork Orange) Plus, I don’t like being touched. I especially don’t like being hugged by strangers. (I did not find a church here, by the way, and it’s been 6 years–I have stopped looking).

So Anne does not like Mr. Elliot and wishes he would either leave her alone or be genuine. Unfortunately, Frederick has seen them together and seems jealous, and though they were close for one half a scene, he has detached from her again. The square has shrunken to a triangle, but it’s a more complicated triangle.

We’ll just have to see what the next five chapters brings.

My Infinity Is Bigger Than Your Infinity

I just read an interesting section about infinity from The Hidden Reality by Brian Green. Scientist who care about this sort of thing are stuck when calculations involve the infinite. Infinite never ends, right? It is the biggest possible–when you tried to one-up your brother and he said, “I can do it a million times better,” and then you said, “Well I can do it infinity-times better,” he was stuck. Even if he tried to say he could do it “double-infinity” times better it didn’t matter because you would just say, there isn’t anything bigger than infinity.Right?

Well try this on: (And I’m paraphrasing this example from the book)

You are offered infinite envelopes, each with an increasing dollar amount–ie. #1 has $1, #2 has $2 and so on for infinity. But then you are given the chance to exchange those envelopes for another set. This time the infinite envelopes have double the dollar amounts, so #1 has $2, #2 has $4, etc. As Green says, at first glance the second set seems better right, but it poses a very weird paradox.

There will be no odd numbers in the second set of envelopes.

So the first set has infinite whole numbers, odd and even. The second set has infinite whole numbers, just even. So, since both are infinite, does that mean that there are actually more even infinite numbers than odd?

If you want to work with the idea of an infinite universe, this makes actual calculations pretty impossible. Distances will be meaningless because you can’t subtract/add/multiply/divide infinity or it wouldn’t be truly infinite.

Someone will just have to come up with a new kind of math, I guess.