Sunday, July 31, 2011

We Always Return to the Ones We Love

I don't know about you guys, but there are a few books that I can't seem to keep my hands off of. We all have them -- our childhood favorites that we reread with newfound love each and every year. Every summer I take the time to go back and rediscover a few of the items on my bookshelf, and no matter how much older I get, I still feel that sense of wonder whenever I pick them up. Sadly, my books are still all packed away in boxes at my parents house in Wisconsin, but as soon as I officially move into my own apartment, my mom promises to send them to me. In lieu of not being able to read those books right now, I thought I'd share with you my summer reading list.

What about you guys? What are some of your childhood favorites that you keep going back to?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Notes to New York, Edition the First

Dear New York City,

It still hasn't hit me that I live here yet. I take the subway into the city and walk around Union Square at least four days a week. I've given directions to tourists. I'm slowly building an arsenal of great places to eat. I picked the bodega I will forever be loyal to (well, at least until we move). I've done Saturday brunch. I have yet to get on the wrong train (knock on wood). I already have apartment horror stories to tell. I've so far counted 9 subway critters. It took a while, but I'm pretty familiar with most of the Brooklyn neighborhoods now, and can tell you which areas I'd like to live in (at the very least, I can definitely tell you the areas I don't want to live in).

I think, for three weeks, that's a pretty solid list of accomplishments. Especially the subway rats/mice. I mean, who doesn't love tiny animals with fur that run through muck and withstand all sorts of diseases on a daily basis? It's pretty impressive.

That being said, I'm not going to lie: you scared me at first. You're big and intimidating, and nothing like Wisconsin. Which I knew, obviously, but it's always much different to see in person. I've been nearly run over by a taxi more than once, you provided me with a heat wave when I didn't have access to AC, and unreliable realtors who never get back to me. Somehow you allowed my debit card to get hacked, so now I'm running around like a chicken with my head cut off while I try to set up a new bank account. I need new shoes to counteract all the walking I do, and I long for the day when summer fades into fall and I can go back to layering and hats.

And yet I still like you. Love you, in fact. I'm convinced that moving out here was the best decision I've ever made. I love that there's always something to do, someone to see. Any type of food I could possibly want, you have it. The job opportunities I'd hoped to find really do exist. I haven't seen any celebrities yet, but I'm counting on it. I'm much better suited to the pace of life out here, and while I hate summer, I hate summer in any part of the country. So it isn't your fault. I'm excited to walk around Central Park in October, when the leaves change colors and I can actually wear a sweater. And though I'm horrifically clumsy, I may just venture out to Rockefeller Center and ice skate this winter. You're making me try new things and test ideas I already have, and I kind of love you for it.

After three weeks, you don't seem so scary. You feel a little more like home each and every day, and I suspect, given a few more weeks, I won't be tempted to write WI after my Brooklyn address. When that happens, I think I'll officially be able to call you home. And I can't wait.

Crushing on you,

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Exciting Things are Exciting

Dearest readers, hello! I am back from my week-long excursion to New York, and while I did not find an apartment yet, I did find a roommate. And managed to navigate the subway on my own. I'd call that progress. This next week's going to be a little hectic, since I'm heading back to NYC on Tuesday with some more of my stuff, am coming back to DC for the weekend, and heading up next Sunday with the last of my bags. So, three five-hour bus trips ahead of me this week, but then I'll have all my things (at least, what I brought out here with me. We're renting a pod to get the rest of my junk across the country) and won't have to live in squalor! Well, I will. But at least I won't be wearing pants when it's 93 degrees.

Baby steps.

Now, in terms of news, I have something really exciting to share with you guys! Until I find my own place, I've been staying with my best friend, Lara, in Brooklyn. She and another friend, Dave, have begun creating a new comic entitled Tales of the Night Watchman, and it's basically the coolest thing I've ever seen. Here's the blurb Lara sent me:

Tales of the Night Watchman is about Nora, a blogger stuck working a dead end job in coffee, and her roommate Charlie, who happens to be possessed (in the nicest way possible) by a spectral detective called The Night Watchman. Baristas by day, heroes by night, Nora and Charlie are the only ones who can save the day when an influx of paranormal activity summons the return of their arch-nemesis Merrick.

It's got zombies, inappropriate language, snark, New York, and a whole lot of awesome, all rolled into one. Dave wrote the script (who knew you had to write a script for a comic?) and Lara's doing all the illustrations. I watched her work on it all week and let me tell you, it's badass. And makes me horribly jealous because, as I've said before, I can't draw a convincing stick figure. So you guys should probably check it out! They're hoping to show the finished product at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival later this year, but there's a sneak peek on Lara's website. Check it out!

In other exciting news, New York is growing on me. I was totally overwhelmed the first two days I was there, since being a tourist and actually becoming a resident are two very different things, but by the time I left yesterday, I was already looking forward to going back. I got to meet up with my friend Miriam who works at Tor, which was great because I hadn't seen her since January. As I mentioned, I found a roommate, and we narrowed down what areas we're hoping to live in (if any of you are from NY and know of any three-bedroom apartments opening up along the L, let me know!). I didn't get to eat from any street vendors yet (god, I miss some of the ones in Madison right now), but I've got the rest of my life for that. It'll happen. I somehow managed to not get lost, which I consider a Big Deal (although I felt like an idiot when I went to meet Miriam at the Flatiron building and realized, when I was two blocks away, that the subway let me off right in front of it). Really, the last week was a total whirlwind, but I'm so glad I decided to move out here. I've been saying since I was a kid that someday I'd move to New York, and it feels good knowing I actually managed to do it.

I've also been working on SILENCE a lot lately, and am aiming to be completely finished with edits by the end of August. So keep your fingers crossed!

And that's where the excitement in my life ends. Hope you're all doing well!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

To the Boy Who Lived

Every generation has its thing. Something people remember it by. My grandparents bore witness to two world wars. My parents grew up with Star Wars.

Me? I had Harry Potter.

I remember the day the first book came out. I was in fifth grade, attending a tiny Catholic school in Wisconsin. I begged my parents to buy me a copy but they refused because apparently their priest told them people who read Harry Potter would go to Hell. (For the record, I’m pretty sure if there is a Hell, and I’m going there, it isn’t because I read Harry Potter.) Rambunctious, sneaky child that I was, I did what anyone else in my position would have done: went to the library and checked it out anyway. I read it under my covers at night (Just like Harry!), and by the time I’d finished it, I was hooked.

To this day, I still can’t pinpoint what it was about that first book that made me fall in love. Maybe it was my not-so-hidden desire to transfer to Hogwarts, which seemed infinitely cooler than any school I would ever attend. (I still stand by this.) Maybe it was all the magical treats Harry got to eat; as a growing child, I was always shoving food in my mouth. It could’ve been the fact that Ron and Hermione seemed like the two best sidekicks ever, and my best friend at the time didn’t even know who Harry Potter was. These days I’m pretty sure it was a combination of all the above and then some.

By the time the second book came out, my parents had come to their senses and made sure I had a copy waiting for me the day it went on sale. I devoured it in less than a day, and then spent months waiting for the next one. Prisoner of Azkaban came out while we were on vacation, and then my parents played a cruel game and made me wait until we got home before I could procure a copy. Needless to say, I spent six hours in the Colonial Williamsburg gift shop reading it. I didn’t run into any snags after that. Thanks to some creativity and a little hard work, I managed to get a copy of each book the day it come out. (I wasn’t so lucky with the movies, but that’s another story entirely. (I blame the fact that most of my friends don’t possess the same nerdy gene that I do.))

What I’m trying to say here, dear readers, is that Harry Potter is full of memories. It was, essentially, my childhood. I can define points in my life by when the books came out. I can tell you where I was on 9/11, and I can tell you where I was the day The Deathly Hallows came out. In their own ways, each event has had huge significance in my life. 9/11 forced me to look at the world a little bit differently, and Harry Potter made me look at myself. In comparison, I had it pretty good. I wasn’t living in a cupboard under some stairs, and my parents were still alive and loved me. No, I didn’t get to go to a kickass school like Hogwarts, but I got a good education anyway. (And I could play witches and wizards any time I wanted. (I still do.)) It made me grateful for the things I did have. I already loved to read, but my hunger for books grew ten-fold after I stumbled upon JKR’s series. That, in turn, led me to where I am today, and I couldn’t be more grateful.

Books are what you make of them. Harry Potter defined my childhood, but also restored my love of books at times when school tried to destroy it. It convinced some of my friends that books really were as awesome as I’d tried to tell them. It got my siblings to read. The written word is a powerful thing, and I’ve loved watching people’s opinions change over the years. With the last movie coming out tomorrow, it’s time to officially bid farewell to my childhood. Ironically, the ending of Harry Potter really does coincide with my shift into being an adult. Where Harry’s closing the final chapter, I’m just beginning a new one. So while I’m sad to see him go, it’s exciting, too.

So really, all I have left to say is…

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Using Method Acting in Your Writing

The first time I ever acted on stage was my freshman year of high school, when I played a 90-year-old nun in the show (warning: terrible pun ahead) Nun of Your Business. I’d never acted before, and knew next to nothing about it. I figured it couldn’t be that hard to pretend to be someone else, but it proved to be more of a challenge than I thought. As a 14-year-old, I had no idea what it was like to walk around using a cane. I still had all my teeth. Hell, I wasn’t even Catholic.

Lucky for me, I wasn’t the only one feeling like a fish out of water. So, to help us get into character before rehearsals, our director would have us sit in a circle and ask us mundane questions like ‘what’s your favorite breakfast food?’ or ‘what kind of errands did you run today?’ And we’d have to answer them from our character’s point of view. Now, as a frigid old woman who could hardly walk, I didn’t run many errands, but I waxed poetic on my love of all things breakfast, particularly buttermilk pancakes. I still remember that. I also remember insisting that I did not wear dentures.

Writing, it turns out, is a lot like acting. You have an entire cast of characters, each of them unique, and you have to manage to keep them all straight. You have to make sure they don’t blend together, and that each has a very distinct personality. I’ve been hard at work editing my current WIP, and was having a little trouble with one chapter in particular, where I couldn’t seem to get the mother to sound like herself. Up until that point in the manuscript, she’d been kind of sarcastic and grumpy. In this particular scene, the main character was in need of some comfort, and I couldn’t figure out a way for this older woman to offer her support without sounding trite and completely out of character.

So what did I do? I went back to my high school days of method acting. I sat myself down, closed my eyes, and tried to envision myself as a 47-year-old woman who’s hiding a fugitive in her basement, whose eldest son has turned out to be a major disappointment, and whose world is crumbling around her faster than a leaning tower of Jenga. I may have considered even putting on a frumpy dress and an apron for this, but couldn’t find any. (But if dressing up helps you, then by all means, go for it.) I envisioned what she’d had for breakfast that morning, and what kinds of errands she’d had to run. Knowing the scene took place in winter, I thought about how snow might affect her mood. Then I read through the entire scene out loud, much like you’d do at a play rehearsal. The problem, I found, was that a script is all dialogue, save for very specific sections of blocking. In between my lines of dialogue, I’d have a paragraph describing the lump in someone’s throat, or how badly their head hurt. When the thing I needed to work on most was voice, all those extra words just got in the way.

How did I solve the problem, you ask? I opened a new Word document, copied and pasted the scene I was working on, and deleted everything that wasn’t dialogue. And after I read through that, I realized why I couldn’t get the mother to act the way she’s supposed to. The problem was that the paragraphs between the dialogue were concentrated on the main character, as she’s the one narrating. So her voice was pulling me away from the one I needed help with. Once I took away my MC’s narration, the scene began to fall into place. I had a much better grasp on the mother’s voice. Keeping those emotions I’d dug up at the front of my mind, I was able to rewrite the scene in a way that stayed true to who both the characters were.

I haven’t acted since I started college, but I’ve found method acting to be a useful took I like to keep in my writer’s toolbox. It’s come in handy on more than one occasion, and I hope you guys can take advantage of it as well. Just start with the basic question of what’s the best breakfast food, and see where your imagination takes you!