Monthly Archives: January 2012

Failure is Just Another Word for Success

So a friend of mine, Alan, shared a link with me on the Facebooks.  It is funny and involves writing, so I am posting it here for your amusement:

For those who don’t have three minutes to spare for this video, here’s the gist: Success is hard to come by, but if you work at it, you’ll eventually get there.  This guy, John Green, is speaking from experience.  He wanted to write, he took some menial jobs after graduating, and eventually he found a mentor who helped him write and publish his book.  This is very great for him.  BUT, because there’s always a but, I can’t totally appreciate the happy message in this video because I have trouble with other people’s success stories.  Honestly, I do.  Because A) I am a person who is very prone to jealousy, so I am literally jealous of every successful author on the planet, and B) my brain is prone to anxiety, depression, and exaggeration, the last being evidenced by point A.  So when I see someone else’s success story, I tend to view it as them taking up my chance at being successful.  Like, I see success as a finite resource, and I work myself into a nervous frenzy thinking that if I don’t jump on that train soon, all the success is going to get used up and then I won’t have any chance at it ever.  Here is an illustration of this crazy view, in chart form:

Yes, I know that this is a crazy way to look at things, but hear me out.  In other careers, there is at least some guarantee that new positions will open up for newcomers because the old hats will retire/die.  But with authors it’s different, because authors can die and their books will still be published and put on the shelves and held as a standard that new authors must live up to.  It’s maddening!

And now I have officially been a Debby Downer for too long, so let’s move on to some lighter material.

There is this thing called the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award that runs every year.  The submission period just opened, and yesterday I submitted one of my books.  I did this last year, too, with a different book.  And I didn’t even make it past round one.  But I didn’t give up, see?  I’m trying again with a different book, because I do believe that true failure only occurs when you give up, or worse, never try at all.  So I’m going to keep trying, and if I don’t make it this year, I’ll try again next year.  (I’ve got a lot of books to work with)  And if I make it to Round 2 this year, but not Round 3, then I’ll still consider that a win on my part, because that’s better than I did last year.  Also, I have to remind myself that this contest is very subjective.  Just because I don’t make it doesn’t mean my idea or my writing isn’t good.  It just means that the judges weren’t looking for that particular idea or style of writing.  So no, don’t give up.  Ever!

I don’t want this post to go on too long, but I realize some of you might be curious as to what books I submitted to this contest, so their summaries will be below the Word of the Day for those who are interested.  Not their official summaries that have to be all concise and carefully worded.  It’ll just be whatever I come up with at this particular moment.

Word of the Day: Perseverance (n) – Steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., especially in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.

Summary of Ink Stains, my 2011 submission:

Riley doesn’t know her last name or her parents’ names or anything like that.  She has some pretty bad amnesia.  But she does know how to kill a man with her bare hands.  She works for this super secret organization of vigilante-types, and she has a tattoo for every life she’s saved.  The best part is that she’s the only woman in this group of vigilante do-gooders, so the other guys give her a rough time, but some of them only do it jokingly (her friends Aaron, Joker, and Kris) and some of them, and by “some” I mean “one,” are really jerks (Paul).  So Riley does stuff along the lines of catching criminals, bounty hunting, body guarding, etc., but then someone starts leaving her little notes.  And these notes are totally creepy, like the person leaving them knows more about her past than she does.  And Riley is used to being on top of things and one step ahead, so when she’s put in this position where she’s suddenly the prey instead of the predator, it wigs her out.  And there’s also the fact that she has to figure out who’s leaving all the creepy letters before they do something seriously harmful to her or the people she cares about.

Summary of Hellbound, my 2012 submission:

Way back when, I did a post on books about dreams.  This is one of them.

Aiden is the son of Tor, who is better known as the Devil, and a human woman.  He lives in Tor (both the name of his father and the name of this Hellish dimension) which is also better known as Hell, and he hates it there.  Every now and then, a person conducts a ritual that allows a soul to escape from Hell/Tor and bind themselves to that person on earth.  It’s Aiden’s job to go to Earth and find the person who is possessed and bring the soul back to Hell.  But Aiden loves it on Earth and hates it in Hell, so he tries to prolong his stay on Earth by not doing his job.  If he doesn’t find the escaped soul, he doesn’t have to go back to Hell.  With me so far?  So yeah, the book starts with Aiden getting sent to a high school to find an escaped soul.  And at first he thinks it’ll be really cool because he’ll get to be around other kids “his age.”  It’s in quotes because he’s 366 years old, but since he’s immortal he still looks and acts like a teenager.  Right, so Aiden goes to school and tries really hard not to do his job, but then he meets this girl (as often happens in these types of stories) and starts to fall for her.  The problem is that this girl, Elysia, is clearly tied up in the evil soul’s plot, so he’s faced with this dilemma because saving her means he’ll get forced back into Hell, and then he’ll never see her again.  But if he doesn’t save her, obviously she’s gonna be in constant danger.  There’s also more to Elysia than meets the eye, though she is completely unaware of that, and I won’t reveal what that means because it’s supposed to be kind of a mystery.

And that’s it!  If you want to know more about either of these books, or read some of them, let me know and I just might indulge you.  Oh, and if you want to know the dream that led to Hellbound:

In the dream, there was this guy and a girl who fell in love in that vague sort of dream-logic way, and there was this scene I remember clearly where they were kind of lounging in a grassy park somewhere, on a hill, under a tree.  And then this man – early fifties, bald except for some hair around the crown of his head – in a white suit approaches and asks the guy, “Aren’t you going to tell her what you really are?”  Then the boyfriend guy gets all angry and the two of them kind of…run at each other, and they both burst out of their skins into these huge, dog-like creatures with immense bat wings.  The guy in the white suit is white, and the boyfriend character is red.  And they had this epic battle, like they both used their wings to keep themselves steady while standing on their hind legs, and then they shot into the air and had a huge battle in the air, and then somehow the white dog thing went away and the girl asked the guy, who had turned back into a human, what he was.  His response: “I’m a Reditor.  The Hero of Hell.”  And I woke up and was like, “What the what?  How do you get to be the Hero of Hell?  Does that mean you’re evil because Hell’s Hero would be a bad guy?”  So I wrote a book about it.  Don’t know where the dream came from.  I swear I’m not on drugs.  Ok, now I’m done.  Phew.

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Let’s Talk Vampires

To start with, I completely forgot to mention last time that I finally got around to taking my self-published book off the market.  I am serious about rewriting it, and when I’m done with that, I will either put it back up or submit it to literary agents.  Either way, I’m afraid that the option to buy my work is no longer available.

Another note: I have updated my About page and added a brand new page!  You can check those out if you want to, but it’s not mandatory.  There will be no quiz on it later.

Okay, let’s move on to more of my favorite authors.  Today’s post is going to be vampire-heavy.  I will also be discussing my distaste for HBO’s series True Blood for reasons relating to my love of the book series, because my next favorite author is:

Vampires are like the crack cocaine of the literary world these days.  You can’t get through a bookstore without seeing at least five different books that involve the blood-thirsty people of the night.  Not prostitutes.  Still talking about vampires, here.  If you doubt me, or think my words are a bit hyperbolic, please know that there is a book out there entitled Vampirates.  I kid you not.  Look here: http://www.amazon.com/Vampirates-Demons-Ocean-Justin-Somper/dp/0316014443/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327128032&sr=8-1

And in looking up that link, I have discovered that it is, in fact, a series.

So why do I like Charlaine Harris?  Because of Sookie, and because of the deeper issues in the book.  Yes, those exist.

First, we will address Sookie.  Here’s where I start making the comparison to the TV show.  From now on we will be talking about Book Sookie and TV Sookie.  Book Sookie is spunky, self-sufficient, and proud.  She is also a telepath.  I like Book Sookie because she refuses to take people’s crap, and because she truly hates the idea of being a damsel in distress.  She fights back, she uses her head in tough situations, and she saves her own skin on a number of different occasions.

TV Sookie is an airhead.  She could not be more useless or dimwitted.  I was so disappointed to see that.  She is a teary drip of a thing.  Sure she has her snarky moments, but when I saw her blow up at an elderly woman over a pie, I kind of lost all respect for her.  I understand that her grandmother had just died, and that apparently that pie was the last one her grandmother ever baked, but the scene was so uncharacteristic of the Book Sookie I’ve come to know and love that it all just looked ridiculous to me.  Damn that was a long sentence.  Sorry.

Anyway, the vampires.  For those who don’t know, the premise of the Sookie Stackhouse novels is that vampires have, in Harris’ words, “Come out of the coffin.”  They are regular, tax-paying citizens…who drink blood to survive and burn up when exposed to sunlight.  What are the political ramifications?  Well, I think the vampire situation is an amazingly astute, if extreme, analogy for homosexuality. The book addresses similar issues of marriage and fights for equal treatment.  There is even an extremist religious group that violently opposes vampires in general.

Then there is the wonderful question that inevitably comes up in these types of stories: Who is the real monster?  The fanged blood-drinker who does his job and pays his taxes, or the human being who slaughters women that have slept with vampires?  Oh it’s rife with literary possibilities.  And that really is just a slight scratching of the surface.

The books are fun to read, too, and the stories are truly captivating.  And, yes, there is sex.  But I don’t appreciate HBO taking a book series that contains a smattering of sex scenes and turning it into a porno.  Honestly, I understand that a good chunk of the show’s appeal comes from the actors and actresses finding themselves in various states of undress throughout the series.  Still, I feel it is demeaning to reduce the book series to obscene sex scenes and little else.

There’s also the little problem of some beloved book characters being turned into brutal murderers.  The whole point of the books is to show that there are good and bad vampires, just like there are good and bad people.  It’s kind of hard to send that message when one of the characters who is supposed to be sympathetic and lovable keeps people chained up in his basement.  Or when a completely different vampire who is described as dressing like a total nerd, in a kind of endearing attempt at blending in with “normal” people, gets transformed into a cowboy hat-wearing redneck who can’t control his temper or the volume of his voice.  So there’s that.

In conclusion, are these books perfect?  No.  I wouldn’t say that about any book, because who’s to define perfect?  They’ve got flaws just like anybody else’s writing.  They have their fair share of critics.  And of course the TV show has a significant fan base.  Not surprising when you get to see Ryan Kwanten naked.  But in this case, I am a fan of the books only.  They could’ve made a really great TV series, and instead they changed some of my favorite characters into pathetic knock-offs of the real things.  If that weren’t bad enough, the show diverges from the plot of the books so horribly that I hardly recognize the source material anymore.

So ends my rant.

Word of the Day: Adulterate (v) – to debase or make impure by adding inferior materials or elements; use cheaper, inferior, or less desirable goods in the production of (any professedly genuine article).

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Let Me Count the Ways…

People are always asking me, “Rebecca, what do you do when you’re bored?”  And I answer by showing them this picture:

And then I usually start another blog post.

People also like to ask me who my favorite author is, and I can never answer.  The reason is that I have several favorite authors, and I like them all for different reasons.  So my next few posts are going to be dedicated to my favorite authors and why I love them.  There will be no particular order to the list, because I do really love these authors equally.  The numbering just helps me to organize things…and spend a needless amount of time drawing pictures.  Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Don’t try to read the words in the number.  You will hurt your eyes.  I basically made them up of names, places, and other significant nouns from the books/authors I am honoring.  In this case, it’s The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.  And yes, I am talking about one series, though Mr. Butcher has written other books.  The Dresden Files just happens to be my absolute favorite example of his work.  And here’s why:

Jim Butcher’s writing flows in ways that I’ve never seen before.  That’s not to say that other authors’ writing doesn’t flow.  It’s just that Jim Butcher’s has a very specific kind of flow that really gets under my skin and draws me in.  His main character, Harry Dresden, is the narrator, and I love Harry.  He captures you from the get go.  The narrative voice in these books is so distinct, it is really, really hard to remember that Harry is a fictional character.  He is sarcastic and witty, he is lovable, and he is fearsome when he has to be.  I’ve talked about these books before, and I’ve cartooned these books before, and I’ve given examples from these books before, so I really shouldn’t have to go into it too much.  One thing I haven’t talked about is the plot.  Butcher’s got a mind for it like no other.  The series is like a rollercoaster – it takes you for a crazy ride and you just have to hang on.  Add the plot into the mix, and suddenly you’re on that rollercoaster blindfolded, so you can’t see what twists and turns are ahead of you.  And Butcher is the one calling the shots.  It really is a thrilling ride, and I love every minute of it.

Tamora Pierce has so many things going for her.  I could talk all day about her amazing stories, her lovable characters, and her captivating narratives.  Don’t even get me started on her awesomely strong female characters who don’t take crap from anybody.  Not men, not royalty, and definitely not their snarky talking cat (but really, yes, the cat is probably right and they’ll realize that sooner or later and then they have to admit to it which is really frustrating because the damn cat gets so smug when you admit he’s right about something).

Nope.  Not going to talk about any of that.  Because I want to dedicate this post to the one thing that constantly amazes me about her.  Remember when I talked about the freedom of creating your own world?  Interestingly enough, I talked about it in the same post as I talked about The Dresden Files, linked above.  I might have mentioned my motto: Writing is the easiest, safest way to play God.  I stand by that.  If you create a world that is 93% active volcanoes, 4% rabid beavers, and 3% terrified people, then no one is getting hurt.  No one real anyway.  So it’s easy and it’s safe.  Comparatively.  But that easiness needs to be taken with a grain of salt, I think.  See, it’s really easy to write, “There once was a place where 900 people died every day from rabid beaver attacks alone.”  And it is jut as easy to delete that sentence, thus ending that world.  Here’s the grain of salt:  Compared to actually creating a physical planet that is populated by real people with real things, creating a literary world is quite easy.  That being said, if you want to do the literary world-creating right, then it is still a grueling, difficult process.  To make a real, believable, living, breathing world…well, let’s make a list of all the things you’d need.  (I’m going to try to go from big to small here)

  • Geography – Continents, oceans, etc.
  • Topography – mountain ranges, rivers, forests, deserts, etc.
  • Setting – Is this a fantasy world where flush toilets don’t exist and ogres carry princesses away from their castles?  Or is this a post-apocalyptic world where if you want food, you have to fight a radioactive chimpanzee for it using a spear you’ve fashioned out of cat bones and a tire iron?
  • Climate – Is it hot?  Humid?  Rainy?  Snowy?  How does that affect the resources that your characters have available to them?
  • Cities, states, countries, districts
  • Names – Everything needs a name.  Rivers need names, as do countries, states, cities, people, and any number of other things.
  • Politics – Monarchy, democracy, dictatorship, etc.  Not only that, but you need to decide which countries have what governments, what those governments are like, who’s feeling oppressed, who’s got a pretty good deal.  It goes on and on.  Politics are the hardest thing for me because I was never very good at grasping poly-sci.
  • People – Now you need to fill your world.  Figure out who’s ruling, who’s at war, who your main character(s) is/are.  This list goes on and on, so I’m just gonna leave it at that.
This is already making my brain hurt, and I don’t think this even comes close to being a comprehensive list.  But let’s move on to my point in talking about all this: Tamora Pierce does it.  And she does it in a way that leaves me in awe, because it all feels so real.  She covers every base, and some that you didn’t even think existed…which kind of screws up the baseball metaphor.  I often wonder how she keeps this entire world in her head and still remembers how to eat.  I mean, I have to assume that she keeps notes on these things so it’s not all stored in her brain, but still!  Respect.  That’s what I have for her.  Because on top of the amazing stories that are all interwoven so perfectly, and all those other things I said I could talk about but won’t for the sake of space, she has also created a very real world.  And she keeps track of it.  My hat goes off to her for that.
Real quick, I want to talk about why I’m writing about these things.  It’s because I think it’s important to be aware of why you like someone else’s work.  Because if you know why you like it, then you know what to emulate and what goal to strive towards with your own work.  Obviously I’m not advocating blatant plagiarism or ripping off famous authors or anything like that, but listing things like this does help to create a nice set of guidelines.  And it’s different for every person, so you should definitely think about who you like best and why.  When you’ve got the time.  Just a suggestion.  Stay tuned for more blatant sucking-up!
Word of the Day: Reverence (n) – a feeling or attitude of deep respect tinged with awe.

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Ode to the Unbroken

So tonight I return to Syracuse, New York for my final semester of college.  Yes, this May I will be graduating.

While I was lying in bed last night, not sleeping, I got to thinking about poetry.  I don’t remember why.  My brain is kind of unpredictable at the best of times, and it gets worse at night.  The moment I decide it’s time to drift off into a peaceful sleep, this happens:

Which is how I came up with the idea.  Then I wrote the whole blog post in my head, planned what I’m going to buy when I get back to school, thought about a million other things, and two hours later I finally fell asleep.

So poetry.  I don’t write poetry, and I don’t really read a lot of poetry.  It’s not that I don’t like it.  There are plenty of good poets out there – Shel Silverstein, Billy Collins, Emily Dickinson.  My favorite poem is “The Raven” by Poe.  I know I’m not the only one, but it can’t be helped.  I really do love that piece.  It flows.  It’s beautiful.  It’s eerie.  It’s just right for me.

In general, though, I tend to stay away from poetry.  For the most part, I think there’s something inherently wrong with being a Poet, because that implies that your job is to sit down and write poetry.  That means you’re making a conscious effort to make poetry happen.  You’re trying to create poetry.  And hey, maybe you’re really good at it.  But the problem is that when I read most poetry, it has that bitter aftertaste of Trying.  Even if that poem came from someone’s heart and soul, and they weren’t trying at all, and it just came to them one day while they were brushing their cat.  And then they titled their poem “The Cat’s Claw” and wrote about true pain that truly came from their cat’s claws as they tried to brush it.  I’ll still (probably) have trouble enjoying it.  And that’s all me, for the most part.  The only time it isn’t is if that person really was trying too hard, and sometimes that comes across to everybody.  Things like, “My heart fluttered like a butterfly caught in a storm,” might just have that forced effect no matter what you do.  But, as I said, I am the reason that I can’t typically enjoy poetry.  Doesn’t mean I hate poetry or poets or puppies or p…metaphors.  Just means that it’s not for me (usually).  I guess I just think that poetry should be spontaneous and…poetic, not commercial.  Not a career.  Natural, not forced.  And frankly I don’t think it’s for everyone.

That said, I did write one poem in my life.  I approve of it because it came spontaneously and naturally.  Out of nowhere.  I just sat down at a computer, started typing, and a few minutes later, I had a poem.  It is the only good poem I’ve ever written, and it is probably the only good poem I will ever write.  I can’t say for sure.  I can’t predict the future.

So I decided to post my only good poem in this blog, so maybe I can actually share it with some other people.  It’s called “Ode to the Unbroken,” and I wrote it for my best friend in our junior year of high school.  She was going through some tough times, and I wanted to write something that would encourage her and also reflect her strength and perseverance, because she really is one of the most steadfast and self-sufficient people I know.  This is what I came up with:

Do not turn away

You say

And turn to face the day

C’est la vie and

Come what may

Just words

No meaning

Somewhere someone is screaming

For help, for answers, for a God

In the endless sky

And you refuse to cry

And that is why

The Earth

Turns its shadowy side

To you

The view

Is much better

From where I stand

He says

See a girl

Unbreakable

Undefeated

Stand up

Step Down

No

You scream

And when the world

Turns back

You open your arms

And embrace

A tear down your face

He is your friend

No moment apart can rend

The bond that you share

Somewhere someone is looking

Over a girl

Enduring

Achieving

Supporting

Receiving

Help only when needed

She has succeeded

– Rebecca Leviton 2/15/07

And that’s it!  Hope you liked it.  I certainly do.  Obviously.  But don’t expect to see any more!

Word of the Day: Ode (n) – a lyric poem typically of elaborate or irregular metrical form and expressive of exalted or enthusiastic emotion.

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The Pinch and the Ouch

Hello!  Happy New Year!  2012 is gonna be great.  I just know it.  I made you all a Happy New Year cake, too!

What?  You didn’t eat the last one.  I didn’t want it to go to waste.

Now that that’s out of the way, I want to talk about two things today.  First, I will finish up my spiel about Chekhov’s Gun by doing a magic trick.  I am going to turn Chekhov’s gun into a fish, right before your very eyes!  And not just any fish.  A red fish.  Presto Magic-Wordo!  Chekhov’s Gun is now a Red Herring!

See, the thing about Chekhov’s Gun is that you have to make everything count.  Stuff has to be there for a reason.  At first glance, the Red Herring doesn’t seem to fit that description.  It’s not there for any reason.  It’s just a distraction.  But that’s just it.  Its purpose is the distraction.  For those who don’t know, a Red Herring is a term that refers to something in a story that appears significant, but isn’t at all.  The point of it is usually to distract the characters and the reader/viewer from the stuff that really is relevant.  It’s a common plot device, and it does add a lot to the story in its own way.  So the herring is a gun, it’s just a gun that’s never fired.  You can spend the whole play/movie/book/story thinking that the gun is going to be fired, only to find that the main character murders someone with a kitchen knife instead.  Like, Fred could be robbing Marco, and he could place himself in front of the gun on the mantle thinking that it was Marco’s only form of defense.  Then won’t Fred be surprised when Marco pulls his pocket-machete out and kills him!  The gun never got fired but it was really important!  See?  See?  I hope you do, because I don’t think I can spend any more time explaining this.

On to the next topic!  I was thinking the other day about something my high school theater teacher taught me.  She always said that in acting, the pinch has to justify the ouch.  Meaning if someone walks up and pinches you, and you say (without irony) “Oh God!  It hurts so much!  Someone please help me!  Call an ambulance!  I don’t think I’m going to make it!” then your “ouch” isn’t justified.  Turn that pinch into a gunshot wound, however, and the “ouch” is justified.  In short, you have to make sure the reactions make sense.  This applies to more than just acting.  It can also pertain to dialogue, action, and narration in a story.  Like so:

Little does he know, that’s not a wad of cash I’m holding.  It’s a head of lettuce.

But the reason I’m pointing this out isn’t because I think people are making errors like the one above.  I’ve said before that sometimes I’ll rush scenes or dialogue in order to get to some important information, and this can often lead to some “ouches” that aren’t justified by the pinch.  Take this example:

My reaction isn’t that extreme anymore, but it still isn’t quite right.  A step or two is missing in this conversation.  Now it’s perfectly understandable to want to point out that a character is new around town.  Maybe the guy up there is your Neophyte.  (Remember my post about that?)  But jumping straight from talk about the weather to “Hey, you’re new” isn’t the way to go.  My response still isn’t justified.

The response, justified or otherwise, doesn’t have to come in the form of speech either.  If I’d said nothing in the above situation, or slapped the guy across the face, those reactions would have been just as weird.  So if you want them to get by, then sometimes you have to justify them with narration, which is perfectly okay.  Like, maybe he was saying one thing, and I was thinking that I’d never seen him around town before, and we both spoke at the same time.  Or I’m just an incredibly awkward human being.  Basically what I’m saying is that you should think about your story as a set of dominoes.  It’s a string of causes and effects that should flow along smoothly.  Unless (because there’s always an “unless”) your story is meant to be disjointed or disorienting or something like that.  That is all!

Word of the Day: Spiel (n) – a usually high-flown talk or speech, especially for the purpose of luring people to a movie, a sale, etc.; pitch

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