Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Around the Internet

Before I sign off for the holidays, I thought I'd link to a couple of other places where I've landed on the internet recently.

First is a profile on the blog for La Muse, a writers' and artists' retreat in France I attended in June of 2008. I had a wonderful experience and this quick interview will tell you a little about my time there.

I also did a profile of Grassroots.org for the travel blog The Lost Girls. Grassroots.org provides free technical infrastructure to non-profit organizations.

And even though I'm not in this next spot, I'm there in spirit. My delightful employers Jill and Molly over at StoryStudio Chicago are featured in a video on Beyond the Pedway. This will give you a glimpse into my writing home. (Chicago writers, you can check us out in person at our next Open House on January 12th).

Happy holidays to all and talk to you again in 2010!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Talking Out Your Story

Mike and I were running errands this weekend and catching each other up on what we've been doing during a busy week. I finally admitted to him last week that I'd started a new novel, and he wanted to know what it was about. I was shy about it at first, since I'm still feeling things out, but I finally spilled the beans.

Unlike my last manuscript, I've started this one with a clear idea of the story in mind, and a crucial plot point. Thing is, I'm not sure yet where in the story this event should take place. I've thought about all the different impact this event could have if it happens earlier. Or, on the flip side, all the tension and obstacles that could lead up to it as a climax.

So I have a few paths of possibility in mind. Mike listened very nicely and attentively as we weaved through the snowy city streets and I rattled along, describing all the different ways I could tell this story. I'm jabbering on and on about my story, verbalizing ideas that have only existed in my head or in my computer.

And then when I got to one specific idea, Mike perked up and said "Ooh! Wow, that's really something!" One of the many ideas grabbed him. And that's a branch of my little story sapling tree that I'll now pursue.

For me early drafts of stories are safer in my head, or just on paper (and not even real paper, but a virtual electronic document). But talking out my story at this early stage gave me very clear feedback on what ideas were working and which were better left in my head.

What about you? How soon do you share your story ideas with the universe?

Friday, December 4, 2009

Stories in Song: Evacuate the Dance Floor

Something a little fun for a Friday: finding the stories in songs.

I'm the youngest of eight children and my mom was a music teacher. Suffice to say there was a lot of music in our house. Everything from classical to rock to blues, and when I grew my own musical tastes, rap and hip-hop. While I imagine my parents must have screamed to one of us at some point or another, "Turn that music down!" I have no memory of music being shunned in our household.

And today, music is still a huge part of my life. I listen to music when I workout, I sing at the top of my lungs when I'm driving in my car (alone or not), and, like some sort of teenager, I still sing and dance in front of the mirror before I go out at night. I love music, and I also love lyrics.

As a writer, I've started to analyze songs for word choice. Songs are often mini-stories, and they really only have a few words to get their point across. So word choice is vital and I think we can learn a lot about how to express an idea, a feeling, an action or an image, with just a handful of the right words.

Take this song, "Evacuate the Dance Floor" by Cascada. Here's a snippet of the lyrics:

Steal the night
Kill the lights
Feel it under your skin
Time is right
Keep it tight
Cause it's pulling you in
Wrap it up
Can't stop
It feels like a overdose

Evacuate the dance floor
I'm infected by the sound
Stop, this beat is killing me
Hey Doctor DJ let the music take me underground

While it may look like a song about dancing at first glance, there's an underlying theme because of the specific word choice.

Evacuate evokes a sense of emergency. She didn't sing "Hey, get off the dance floor." With one word, she got her message, her sense of urgency, across.

She didn't use "turn off the lights" but "kill the lights." That's no accident. Kill creates a sense of danger. Same thing with "steal the night."

And then the music is an overdose. It's too much, it's killing her, but like a drug, she can't stay away from the music. And she expresses this in one word.

On par with overdose, she's infected by the sound. The music didn't just get stuck in her head, it's not pumping the beat through her veins, it infected her.

And when you listen to the song it sounds like "Mister DJ", a phrase used in tons of dance songs, she actually choose the unique label Doctor DJ. And who do you turn to for an infection other than a doctor?

Then she wants the doctor to take her underground. A reference to the underground music scene, or six feet under? The artistic interpretation is endless!

Through the use of specific words, Cascada created a dance song that's deeper than "I really dig the beat of this music." She labeled music as dangerous as the plague, said that it got her sick, that she was as addicted to it as a drug, yet she's willing to dance herself to death because it's all so good.

Here's the video if you'd like to have a listen. I've had this song in my head for months, and this morning was the first time I actually watched the video. While they missed out on a lovely opportunity to bring the imagery of the lyrics to life (Little Miss Performance Artist Lady Gaga would've had a field day with this one), it's still a fun dance video.

And look, I found an unplugged version! You can really focus on the lyrics better here. The song starts at the 0:48 mark, as the first part is an interview in, I'm guessing, German.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Writing Slowly, Words Faintly Falling

I’m just a few chapters into a new novel, but the words are coming out slowly. I’ve written previous first drafts in caffeine-laced rushes of worry and hope, afraid the words would disappear if I didn’t commit them to paper fast enough.

But this draft is different. I started with an idea. I shaped my characters ever so slightly – a job here, a hairstyle there – ahead of time. I’ve refused to outline in the past, shunning it as lacking creativity.

But this time, to feel out my four major characters, I’ve written scenes from their points of view. And through that exercise I’ve discovered this is not a story about what one character wants, but the ripple effect her desires have on others around her. And really, that’s what all stories are about, so mine is no different. But I know now the impact of everyone’s actions. I can anticipate how these characters will move across the dance floor of life.

This story’s paragraphs are heavy, full of metaphor and tension and theme. I’ve been reading Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, a book that will make a writer stop and think about just how full you can pack a sentence.

And as this story is coming out slower than anything I’ve written, these well-fed paragraphs drag me along to an end that, for once, is in sight. I’m sprinkling words slowly into this idea of a story, and like Joyce’s snowflakes, they are faintly falling.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Early Morning Winter Writing

I am not a fan of winter. Sure, I fall in love with the first snow, I dig a White Christmas, and every winter season calls for a cute new hat-scarf-glove combo. But come January, when the snow is slushy and sidewalks haven’t been shoveled in weeks, and the tires on my car swish around while I’m driving, and the wind is too bitter to run in, I’ve had enough.

But this morning, I remembered one thing I do love about the start of winter. Getting up early, when it’s still very dark out. Walking straight to the living room (ok, quick stop at the fridge for a Diet Coke) and instead of opening the blinds, I open my laptop. I don’t turn on any lights and write in the dark, sleepy and cold, a blanket or two across my lap.

And by the time by husband walks into the living room, ready for work in a warm winter sweater, I’m a thousand words into a new novel, and not so mad at the cold.

I love summer in Chicago. I want to jog by the lake, run errands with my hair still wet from a cool shower, enjoy a four o’clock happy hour at an outdoor beer garden. But summer is not good writing weather.

Winter, I don’t love you all that much, but I will take your sleepy, dark, cold mornings and wrap them around a fresh first draft.