Monday, January 28, 2013

Regency House Party

Tomorrow is the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice being accepted for publication. I still love this book, despite the fact that I’ve assigned it to ninth graders in my class for going on ten years now.

I “use” the book to teach satire, and secondarily to give my kids practice in reading a difficult text. Each year, the text becomes more and more a challenge for my students. Austen’s sentences are quite long, her speech tags are sporadic, and of course there are those aforementioned two hundred years between then and now, and the way we speak has changed. A lot.

Today in class we are writing letters in the style of the period. These may, for some students, be their first experience penning an actual letter—not a note in a card for Grandma, but an actual letter. This should be interesting.

It’s not just the language that’s a stumbling block, though. Increasingly, the bad manners that Austen satirized seem not only trivial but incomprehensible. Mr. Collins introduces himself to Mr. Darcy. So what? Manners are essentially over. When they do pop up among the youth of America these days, it’s sort of a quaint surprise. I usually find myself thanking the young gentleman or lady for thanking me. At any rate, it is harder and harder to convince anyone that the younger Bennet girls are behaving badly. At no point in the story is either girl arrested, for one thing.

Mr. Collins still comes off a fool, thanks in no small part to the mincing, sweaty, spot-on portrayal by David Bamber in the BBC series. But his character seems less farcical than he did before. I think it’s because we don’t recognize farce in the same way. Because it’s been renamed. We call it reality now.

Tune in to almost any reality TV show. What will you see? Farce. If you don’t believe me, watch just one episode of The Soup (it will certainly save time). This past week, Joel McHale showed a clip from Dance Moms which featured some insane woman shouting at pre-teen dancers, giving them a full-on crazy back story for their lyrical dance that involved imagining bombs were dropping all around them. People pay to send their children to this lunatic, then a whole other set of people pay to make a “reality” show out of it, and then even more people pay for ad time…and it’s not in spite of the crazy—it’s because of it.

It’s no wonder many of my students are so flummoxed by the notion of a story which on some level at least is about the importance of showing good sense. But it’s also no wonder so many people are celebrating P&P this week. In a world in which farce is broadcast as reality, the story of the triumph of the sensible Lizzie Bennet, whose good judgment wins out in the end, is a comfort—and a really great escape. I’m not sad to have missed the days of entailments and dowries—and Charlotte being an old maid at twenty-seven (and then marrying Mr. Collins!) But I do enjoy visiting a time in which manners were never an afterthought and no one ever thought of broadcasting the lives of pawn brokers, dance teachers, or bachelors.

Friday, January 25, 2013

One-Page Wonders

I know I’m in loads of good company when I admit that I hope someday to write full time.  I have so many ideas for stories that it’s hard to pick just one to focus on. Just now I’m about to get back to editing with another round of notes on a finished WIP (editing round two). But I’ve still got my NaNo book from this year just begging to be finished.

I don’t usually write part of a book and walk away, but work and multiple projects has led me to do this a couple of times in the last few years. At one point in my fledgling career, about a year and a half ago, I walked into bookstores and heard what my kids were reading and decided that post-apocalyptic books were the way to go. Silly me. One thing you learn with your ear to the ground in book world as that when a trend seems to be at its height it’s actually already over. Book trends are like stars—by the time you can see the light from your little world, they’ve already gone supernova somewhere closer to the center of the universe.

So my post-apocalyptic tale is stuck somewhere around seven thousand words.
I’ve had a lot of other ideas over the years that I know I’ll probably never write. I’ve started a few of them and literally only wrote one page. I enjoyed making the title page for each, though, and finding the perfect epigraph. I love giving things titles. I wish I could title things as a full-time job.

Here is a list, in no particular order, of my one-page wonders: books or ideas for books that will never get past the clever epigraph character-naming stage. But they sure were fun to ponder for a bit.

1). Ruined: A Regency Romance

I wrote one page of this, and I’m not even sure I have it anymore. I’d read about two thousand Regencies and loved most of them. A part time teacher at my old school saw me with one and told me she’d written a few years before. They were out of print, but she brought me a copy. All of a sudden I was like, hey, regular people just like me write these!  I’ll write one!

The perfectly odd part about this scheme is that I possess an uncanny ability to sound, at any given moment, as though I in did fact dwell in the environs of Jane Austen’s era. I feel quite confident that my manner of expression would elicit approbation from all and sundry. It’s a strange skill, indeed, and at some point I shall endeavor to find a way to capitalize upon it.

Long story short, I found out they don’t even publish Regency books anymore. Alas!

2) Last Year’s Dead: Paranormal Romance (?)

The phrase paranormal romance didn’t exist as a thing when I wrote the first page of this maybe six or seven years ago. I realized around about paragraph three that I had no idea where to go with the idea. The inspiration for the not-quite-an-idea was the Celtic superstition about Samhain or Halloween: that the veil which separated the world of the living from the world of the dead was thinnest on that night. The MC would have lost her boyfriend in the past year, some dreadful accident, and she then she’d get mixed up with a group of would-be Wiccans while trying to contact him.
Bottom line: sort-of magic+ time travel/paranormal is also played out (thanks Twilight)=moving on

3) Secret Title: Roman a clef

Secret subject. This is for if I ever really do retire.
Hint: it’s a lot less glamorous than it may sound.

4) Linked—Paranormal Romance again? (what’s wrong with me? I promise this was way before Twilight!)

This one never got past the idea phase. The MC meets someone she has a telepathic connection with. From what I’m seeing on Twitter, a lot of people are tackling the mind-reader thing right now. To them I say, bon chance. A) sounds very confusing to write and B) if I’ve heard of it, the trend is probably over.

5) Speaking of mind-reading, I had this really interesting idea for something really cool with social media giving people a glimpse into the future. Which now already exists as The Future of Us.
It’s really too bad, because my title page kicked ass.

So now I wave a fond goodbye to these poor little book orphans, and continue searching the world for the next big idea. It’s all about the idea. And, of course, the timing (*shakes fist at Jay Asher*)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Willkommen im Zirkus

Anyone who speaks German, please correct my title! I know you can only trust Google translator so far!
However, from everything I can tell, the German word for circus is definitely ZIRKUS, which is just too cool.

I looked this up because I’m so excited to announce that THAT TIME I JOINED THE CIRCUS will be published in German by Loewe-Verlag! They publish Maggie Stiefvater’s YAs. You can check out the company on Facebook or on the web.

I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of CIRCUS in German!! :)

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Extra Cheese

This time of year, most of us are full of shiny new resolutions. The fridge has been cleaned out—the leftover Christmas candy purged, the gym bag has been excavated from the back of the closet. Promises to keep, and all that.

But in the interest of keeping up my iconoclast rep, I choose this first week of the year to extol instead the virtues of the completely non-nutritional. I could write an ode to French fries or cupcakes (and I have). But I’m actually thinking more about cheese of the intellectual variety right now.

There are some tomes that one can make one’s ponderous way through, and at the end, wow does one feel smarter. One might even begin to refer to oneself as oneself. James Joyce’s Ulysses comes to mind. I fully intend to read that freaking book someday. But I can darn well promise that when I do I’ll be retired from at least two of my jobs. My senior thesis advisor said that Joyce has to be read with a map of Dublin, a bible, and a comprehensive reference book on classical myth all at the ready. That’s not reading: that’s a full-time job. I’m not putting anything that difficult on my TBR list this year. Besides, I have to re-read Paradise Lost for AP Lit this term, so that’ll cover my intellectual enrichment for awhile.

I suppose there are also shows and movies that one can feel sort of proud of having watched. Anything on the BBC is bound to inspire a smug feeling of viewing superiority. I think it’s those damned accents. I’ve had a few Brit students over the years, and even when they gave the wrong answers in class, they sounded damned cool saying them. I watched the first season and part of the second of the BBC’s Sherlock over the break. I enjoyed the show very much, but I don't feel smug about it: I can’t shake the feeling that it’s really just a fancified version of CSI. I also got Downton Abby season 1 as a gift, so I plan to watch it at some point. Just as soon as I finish catching up on The Big Bang Theory. What can I say, I am American.

Movies are much the same case. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve added a highbrow Oscar winner to the Netflix queue. These films arrive (some examples from the past year: The Artist, Coriolanus, The Tempest) and then they decorate the table in the hall for a couple of weeks until they get sent back. In contrast, the turnaround time on Real Steel was a couple of days. I mean, fighting robots. Also, Hugh Jackman. But, really: fighting robots.
Am I just a lowbrow culture consumer? I can rationalize that at the end of a long day trying to explain grammar or, God forbid, the dreaded concept of theme, to teenagers who only read Tumblr or the game instructions on Call of Duty, the last thing I usually want to do is wade through something complicated. Sometimes, though, I really believe, Art with a capital A is complicated, dark, or gritty just for the sake of being complicated, dark, and gritty. One of my favorite movies of the past year was Pitch Perfect. And those people solved their problems by having some sort of sing-fight.

That’s the world I want to live in: one in which problems can be solved with singing. So in 2013, I plan to unapologetically enjoy as much lowbrow cheesy goodness as possible. If you need me, I’ll be watching ABC Family in a non-ironic way. And possibly eating a cupcake.