Setting: Different Perspectives

Last week during Teachers Write (which I am trying to keep up with!), there was a prompt about setting (you can read it here). Setting is a weakness of mine, an inconvenience at best. I usually just scan right past the setting in the books I read. I never thought about it as a way to reflect character, like Elana K. Arnold talks about in her blog post.

The exercise she had the teachers/librarians do was to observe a place near us. I, of course, was at Starbucks, so I wrote about the table I was sitting at.

Mahogany but a false one. Irregular grooves to look authentic. A little space between the edge of the table and a dark brown rim that mysteriously catches crumbs—useful to keep the floor clean, but a little odd to look at. What are the stories of these crumbs? Usually eight chairs, but a few taken to add to other tables. After all, this is a working table. The light is the best here. Not the place to be comfy and cozy with friends, but sometimes used that way when there’s no other space. For four people, two frappuccinos, one iced latte, one iced tea; tall, tall, grande, grande. One book, three phones, two computers, one tablet. The future of the coffee shop.

table

Then, a challenge: write about the same table, but this time, from a few different perspectives.

Lost 6 year old: I sit at the huge table. All these people here, and I don’t know who to ask about my mommy. Maybe Mommy is in the bathroom or maybe I’ll see her out the window. These people all look too busy to talk to me so I look at the table again. They don’t even look up at me. I lay my head down on the hard wood and try not to cry.

Satisfied house cat: Ah, a lovely place to stretch out. I sniff at the table and smell bitter and sweet. I stretch out like a tube. Not comfortable yet. I stand up and walk in circles until I find the exact spot to flop down. The wood is hard but the space is mine. I give my best glare to the people around me and they get up and leave, one by one. The table, and the universe, is mine.

15 year old, just heard about her parents’ divorce: I stumble over to the long table, the only area not crowded. I’d much rather be on one of the comfortable red chairs near the fireplace. Why am I here if all I want to do is hide? I open my journal and pretend to write, but all I do is sketch, my mother and my father, and then me and Skye, with a jagged line in between us. I want to take a paper clip and carve the picture into the table, because this is permanent and there should be a permanent record.

Fun! Maybe I’ll even examine the setting of my book. Maybe.

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What’s Up Wednesday

whats-up-weds

 What I’m Reading: I just finished a fantastic book, “Butter,” by Erin Jade Lange. Butter is a 400-something pound high school boy who is lonely and miserable. Out of desperation, or for attention, he creates a website that counts down the days until New Year’s Eve, when he will eat himself to death online. His website gains him the attention of other students, and soon he has people to hang out with, and is starting to lose weight. He has to figure out if his friends are really friends, and whether or not he still plans his grand exit on New Year’s Eve. I liked this book because it was unique to be in the head of someone Butter’s size, and because it made me think about the big issues of bullying and suicide in a different way. I just realized that I totally sound like a book report, so onward.

butter

What I’m Writing: I’ve been working on my WIP, and it’s slow going, because I’m trying to transition into using my new iPad with its wireless keyboard. I’m writing in Pages right now, and it’s mostly fine, but the cut and paste feature is annoying me to death. I probably don’t know the right way to use it. But somehow yesterday I lost 4-5 polished paragraphs, and I ended up with my laptop and my iPad, retyping paragraphs from one to the other. When my dad and kids came home from miniature golfing, I had in front of me my phone, laptop, and iPad, all laid out. It was kind of embarrassing.

What Else I’ve Been Up To: My kids start school next week, and for the older one, it’s middle school. I think I’ve been desensitized to the whole idea from talking to other parents, but we’ll see what it’s like when it actually starts. My kid is confident and has a great head on her shoulders. I just don’t want anything to change that. I know she’s supposed to be moving on, and I won’t wish for her to be younger, but I just want her to hang onto her core even as she changes.

What’s Inspiring Me Right Now: Ugh. I’m bad at this question. Is it cheating to say, nothing? Wait, I can do it. Since I only write at Starbucks, what inspires me right now is having a little bit of time to myself and enjoying my coffee. Is that enough for now?

coffee

What’s Up Wednesday

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WHAT I’M READING:

Right now I’m reading Elin Hilderbrand’s Summerland. The premise of Summerland is that there’s been a fatal car accident on the night of high school graduation. Penny, a junior, was sober, but driving too fast, and dies in the crash. Her twin brother, Hobby, is in a coma. Demeter and Jake (Penny’s boyfriend), the other passengers, are unhurt, but scarred by the whole thing, emotionally. The characters also include their parents, particularly Zoe, the mother of the twins, and Jordan, Jake’s dad, who had been having an affair before the accident.

I’m about 2/3 through it, and I’m enjoying it so far. I don’t always like books written from multiple perspectives, but it works in this book. The only odd thing is that occasionally through the book (including the first chapter), there’s no clear person narrating. It’s almost like an anonymous person from Nantucket is narrating, or even as if the island itself is narrating. So far, I’m most interesting part for me is Zoe and Jordan’s relationship: what happens when your child survives, but the other child (who was driving) doesn’t? I love books with “what if” questions.

summerland

WHAT I’M WRITING:

I’ve switched back to my first book, Outside In, for a while. I’m back to some revisions (again!), and right now I’m focusing on how clinically accurate my main character’s experiences in therapy are.

Since I’m obviously not a therapist, I’ve consulted 4-5 therapists/ social workers in the last week or two. I’d vetted my scenes with one therapist before, but I’m looking at my scenes with more people now, because I want to make sure I’m not writing inaccurate experiences. The current question is whether my character’s therapist should’ve been more concerned about suicidal risk. Of course I’m getting different answers from different people, but I’m figuring out what makes sense based on their parameters.

WHAT ELSE I’M UP TO:

We leave for California on Sunday!

golden gate

It’s a family reunion of sorts: my grandmother lives in Modesto, CA. My family plus my parents are flying out, and meeting up with both of my aunts, my uncle, and all three of my cousins. I can’t believe that all of us are coming from so many different places (MA, HI, the Canary Islands…). My grandmother is 94, and it’s time to go see her again.

We’re also doing some sightseeing in San Francisco–I’ve done it before, but my kids haven’t ever explored the city.

WHAT’S INSPIRING ME RIGHT NOW:

Switching manuscripts is inspiring me right now. Although I’m so wrapped up in my second book, it’s been a breath of fresh air to go back to the first one. I heard someone say once that the first book you write is the “book of your heart.” This one is. It’s my baby, and the one that will probably always mean the most to me.

How’s your Wednesday going?

In Search of Inspiration, NWP-style

In my “What’s Up Wednesday” blog post, I said that I’d felt no writing inspiration lately. Even though I feel like inspiration should be a grand, sweeping thing – artwork, nature, music – I remembered back to my days at the National Writing Project in 2008.

NWP

If you’re not familiar with the National Writing project, it’s a program for teachers K-12, and the theory behind is that no matter what subject you teach, you also teach writing. Part of the premise of the class was that in addition to learning about teaching writing, you needed to walk the walk, and do writing yourself. My NWP experience was life-changing for me – it’s where I started my first novel, and made the habit of writing every day.

One of the things we did every day was a quick write, about 7 minutes writing to a prompt, pen moving the whole time to increase your writing fluency. The instructors always mentioned that you could write about your own topic instead, if you felt you needed to.

Today, I started writing to a prompt, but I couldn’t do it. I was too bothered by something that had happened last night, at a neighborhood party. I dashed off two notebook pages, and felt more peaceful about the situation.

And then, inspiration NWP-style hit! During class one time, we’d turned some prose into poetry, using phrases we liked from the narrative. I like arbitrary rules sometimes, so I underlined every 20th word, and first put them in order, hoping for a poem, only playing with line breaks and punctuation:

Vodka, too

I think, to I sleep

6:30

Asked to to a Jeff

her

if I

Here’s taken

Parties

Hmm, not too interesting, so I reorganized the words and tried for another poem:

6:30-

Jeff asked her to parties too,

I, I think-

If taken, I sleep

Here’s to a vodka

Definitely not a good poem either, but man, it was fun to play with the words. I miss that playfulness when I’m caught up in revisions, that sense that language can be a game, with zero expectations. And in NWP style, I’m sharing my work, knowing that the product is the process, and that everyone supports process.

What’s Up Wednesday – on Thursday

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Ugh. So apparently it’s Thursday. But I’m going to do What’s Up Wednesday anyway, okay? It’s an easy way to blog. Did I mention that before?

What I’m Reading: I finished a book this morning, “Anybody Out There?” by Marian Keyes. It’s one of her books about the Walsh sisters (Claire, Maggie, Rachel, Anna, and Helen). I read the one about Helen earlier this week. It’s so much fun to read about the sisters from each other’s perspectives. The one I finished today was about Anna, but I was so curious to hear about Helen, who was completely fascinating in her book (“The Mystery of Mercy Close”) – a P.I. with a hard exterior and deep depression underneath (very interesting combination). In Anna’s book, she’s had a huge thing happen, but I can’t get say what it is because it’s a total spoiler!

What I’m Writing: I met with my critique group last week, so I’m working on their revision ideas for ch. 8 of “Marianna.” (I’m still compelled to mention that I don’t like my title.) I love their ideas. And I absolutely LOVE that they talk about my characters like they’re real. I also wrote two blog posts this week. I’d like to keep doing that, but we’ll see.

What Else I’ve Been Up To: My kids finally had their last day of school. My older one graduated from elementary school. It seems like such a trivial thing to me (back in the day, we never got to graduate from elementary school! We were lucky if we just got out at the end of the day! Uphill! Both ways!) but for her it was meaningful. She was one of the emcees, and did a great job speaking loudly and clearly. She was rather ungracious posing for pictures, but she’s 11, so…

What’s Inspiring Me Now: I hate this answer, especially when I look at other people’s blogs, but nothing. I’m still in the same funk I was last week, which is probably why I’ve done so little revision. I still want to do some writing prompts, and maybe if they’re in a nice pretty notebook that will inspire me.

Until next time…

What’s Up Wednesday

What's up Wednesday

Lately, I’ve been at a loss for what to blog about. I have the time – school’s out – but not the inspiration. So I noticed this meme on another writer’s blog – Katy Upperman’s – and I thought this would be the perfect way to move gently back to blogging. Here’s the structure:

What I’m Reading: I’m reading “The Engagements” by J. Courtney Sullivan. She wrote “Maine” and “Commencement,” both of which I read. The title sounds fluffy, but it’s not, it’s solid contemporary fiction. Not YA for once! It’s the story of Evelyn, Kate, Delphine, James, and Frances, and their engagements (obviously), marriages, and partnerships. I like it so far, and I’d better – it’s on a 7 day loan from the library!

The Engagements

What I’m Writing: Sadly, not all that much. I’m working on “Marianna,” which is a really bad title, and will absolutely be changed. I was kind of stuck in revision-land, half-heartedly going through my second draft, trying to figure out the middle of the story and what I wanted to change. Then I had a brainstorm on Friday – a way to up the stakes. Now I feel more interested. Plus, my writing group meets tomorrow, so that’s helpful accountability.

What Else I’ve Been Up To: I’ve been toying with a career switch to become a Library Media Specialist, and I enrolled in a summer class called “Reference and Resource Materials.” I’m learning so much – it’s been so long since I’ve taken a class. The only bad thing is that my perfectionist tendencies are popping up. I’m worried about the first time points will get taken off, and I’m sure they will. It’s an online class, and I love the structure. There’s so much more discussion than there would be in person, believe it or not. Is it weird to say that I love my professor’s voice? I have no idea what she looks like, but she narrated a Powerpoint that I looked at last week, and I think  have a girl-crush on her voice.

What’s Inspiring Me Now: Honestly, not much of anything. I’ve been in a major funk for a while now. I’m hoping that by the next time I do a “What’s Up Wednesday,” I have an answer! Inspire me in the comments, please.

I have no idea how to show the other links of blogs doing this meme. So for now, I’m going to leave the link to a blog with the links, if that makes sense. This is Jaime Morrow’s blog URL:  http://www.jaime-morrow.com/. I’m going to figure this out!