Sunday, June 10, 2012

Books, Retreats, and Critiques, Oh My!

It's been a while. Let's play catch up.

The school year is over (*deep, cleansing breath*) and my term papers came closer than ever to wiping me out. I'm happy to announce that they've failed. I'm still here, complete with shiny new insight into gender in The Lord of the Rings and the similarities between Virginia Woolf and Anita Desai. Hurray.

For the next three months, it's all writing, reading, and taking care of the kids. And yes--probably working on my independent paper so I can graduate this December as a full fledged Master of Literature (I'd sort of prefer Mistress of Literature, honestly). More on that as it progresses. For now, only know that I have an official excuse to reread the A Song of Ice and Fire series again, this time with an eye on Dany and Cersei as I contemplate performative gender. Fun stuff!

In book news:

I gave in to national peer pressure and checked out the 50 SHADES trilogy. I could wax on about the problematic writing, the often shifty and convenient plot, the frustrating ratio of buildup to payoff...or I could just be honest and say that for all its flaws, it was hot and I couldn't stop reading. So: It was hot, and I couldn't stop reading.

Now that that whirlwind of sexy reading is behind me, I'm on to NIGHT CIRCUS. It grabbed me from page one, and I love it so far.

Others that missed review because I slacked on blog updates, include:

- MATCHED (Condie), which I mentioned before. I finished it without the desire to go forward in the series. That's rare for me. It felt too generic and annoyingly in need of editing. I wasn't expecting another HUNGER GAMES, but I was expecting a unique story, some romance (mentioned heavily on the cover, yet barely palpable within), and the desire to know what happens to the characters. Not so. I'm not even tempted to Google spoilers... That's some serious apathy.

- THE BOOK OF BLOOD AND SHADOW (Wasserman). I really wish I'd posted when I finished the book. It completely delighted me. There were moments where I felt like I'd figured too much of the plot out ahead of time and couldn't see it surprising me. Certain things felt unbelievable or convenient. But I read on, because I loved it anyway. Then...things did surprise me and the explanation for those "convenient" things make perfect sense, and I was adding Robin Wasserman to my "hot authors" list with one finger while I turned the last pages with the other. Read it. Love it.

- CLEAR LIGHT OF DAY (Desai). This was for my Modernism in India course, and the subject of one of my term papers. It was an interesting book, in the same way Woolf is interesting. Lots of great description, lots of philosophy lurking just under (or on, in some cases) the surface, and the sense that you could read it two or three times without grasping every little bit. My hat is totally off to anyone who can write this way.

- THE HUNGRY TIDE (Ghosh). Which leads to the last book of the academic quarter. The description in this book was astounding. I adore it. It was a glimpse into another part of the world that felt almost as other-worldly as the fantasy I love so much. I'm not sure how to feel about the story itself. I enjoyed it for what it was, but there were moments where I thought the characters became transparencies as the author inserted himself in their place. These authorial message moments were a bit confusing because they didn't always seem in line with the characters he painted so well. Even so, the book was worth the time and I'm glad I read it.

So, as the meager list (which will flourish over the next three months, I hope) stands:

11. Fifty Shades Freed
10. Fifty Shades Darker
9. Fifty Shades of Grey
8. The Hungry Tide (Ghosh)
7. Clear Light of Day (Anita Desai)
6. The Book of Blood and Shadow (Wasserman)
5. Matched (Condie)
4. The Home & the World (Tagore)
3. To the Lighthouse (Woolf)
2. Mrs. Dalloway (Woolf)
1. Jacob's Room (Woolf)

In writing news:
First off, I am 100% stoked for my birthday this year. My oh-so-supportive husband booked an entire WEEK for me at my favorite writing retreat in Middle-of-Nowhere, Virginia in mid-August. I can't even fathom how much I'll be able to do with a full week. Writing, editing, full nights of sleep. Stoked doesn't begin to cover it.

My weekly writing group continues to offer amazing and insightful critiques. I'm up to 9 chapters that have been through the ringer and are ready for draft three. (Two more are up this week.) Every time I leave a critique, I wonder again how it took me this long to seek a writing group. There's not a doubt in my mind the book will be better for it.

My original plan with the critiques was to review them the night of, making notes and whatnot, then to file them away until the writing retreat. I like the idea of giving the whole piece time to breathe, but I do feel that I've gotten to a turning point in the plot where it would be useful to have a solid grasp on what will actually make it into the first chapters. Which is good, because a bit of Twitter-play recently changed my hold-off-on-revision plan.

In a moment of procrastination, I clicked on a link to a charity auction for a sick baby. His story was, of course, heart-wrenching (babies should never be ill, period), and several of the auction items were especially attractive for a writing crowd. This did not make for a climate of financial restraint. To make a long story short, I bid and won a 50-page critique from an agent who (upon further research) quickly landed on my list of "holy crap, dream agents".

So. Time to revise after all! I'd really love to send the first seven chapters, which currently total 67 pages. If revision does NOT put that number down to 50, I may consider reordering to make the break where I want it. But I'd rather not. I feel like page 50 is a great place for the plot point to fall and there's no reason whatsoever it shouldn't. Especially given the amount of stuff that comes after. The 120k mark is never far from my mind, and I have no doubt that I will exceed it by a long shot if I don't make sure to keep beating my long-winded tongue back.

Anyhow, that's the latest. 

Back to editing! I'll try and stop in to let you know how NIGHT CIRCUS goes.

Til next time,
-- Meg

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