Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Priming the mental pump

I'm sitting in my overpriced, beachfront hotel room. It's clean and in an overall nice resort, part of a national chain, but it has the feel of a horse that's been "rode hard and put up wet." The in-room guest information book brags that Alan Shepard and John Glenn's families stayed here while they were training for the moon shot. I'm guessing they stayed in this very room. Mind you, I'm not complaining. I'm 100 yards from the Atlantic Ocean, and the daytime temp hasn't dropped below 70. Three days in, and my skin is tight, just past medium-well, but not burnt. Yet.

In a previous blog, I talked about how I'm always mentally writing. Several times in the last couple of days I've been inspired to mentally write whole scenes, and I've longed to have my laptop in front of me. Ironically, it was the very act of getting away from my computer and my cozy writing space that inspired those scenes.

We travelled two-thirds of the way down last Friday night. In order to get my high school baseball player to the rendezvous point by the appointed time, we had to get up at the butt crack of dawn on Saturday. It was still dark when we left our hotel room and hit I-95. The three teenage boys in the car with me ate their greasy, fast-food breakfast sandwiches and fell promptly back to sleep. I was alone with my thoughts and the road. (Bruce is in the midst of spring football, and stayed home.)

That first hour on the road was almost magical. It poured the day before and into the night, but the rain stopped in the hours before dawn. A thin mist hung in the gnarled trees that dominate the marshes of coastal South Carolina and Georgia. The setting begged for a mysterious, frightening, maybe even romantic encounter. The characters in my stories live in darkness, and I watched the day break with them in mind. The dawn did not come in a brilliant wash of sunshine to the east. It came in degrees. Light sifted gradually, almost insidiously into the darkness, turning the black sky into ever lighter shades of gray. The night clung to the trees, pulling the fog close to the earth, but inevitably, the day won, and an orange shaft of light broke through the gray mist.

My hero would have found it beautiful and deadly, and I engaged in world-building as I drove, answering the question of how much of the dawn's early light he could survive. The scene I mentally wrote will find its way into a story at some point as will my walk on the beach Sunday night. I will save that for another blog. Right now the day awaits. It's a bit overcast, but overcast and 80 in Florida is better than cold and wet in Kentucky. I've quit worrying about word count while I'm on vacation. The well will be deep and the pump primed when I finally get back to my WIP.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Just Keep Swimming

One of my favorite Disney lines is Dorie's in Finding Nemo. Her philosophy in dealing with her extremely short-term memory is "Just keep swimming." Sound words to live by.

I'm in just-keep-swimming (JKS) mode right now. End of the nine weeks, grades due, Spring Break trip to Fla in a little over 24 hours, baseball game tonight (weather permitting), and my WIP that burned so hot last weekend growing colder as it sits unattended. I will get everything done. I'm one of those people who kick it up a notch when crisis descends, but dang it's discouraging when you're in the midst of it all.

Last night I thought I would get all of my pre-Florida laundry done, along with some writing. I left my people at a transition point in the story, and I had hoped to at least work my way through to the next scene. HAHAHAHAHA...that's the sound of the universe laughing at me and my silly plans. My 14 year old darling told me on the way home from school that he had a "little report" on a scientist due today. I looked over the assignment sheet when we got home and had to remind myself that he was flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood so that I wouldn't kill him. Six grueling hours later, he had the NINE components of the project complete. If his teachers read my blog, I'm admitting right now that I did all the research while he colored in his timeline, wrote the poem, and created an epitaph. Then I stood over him, riding herd while he finished writing the journal entries, the business letter in the persona of his scientist, and the resume. I did let him have food and go to the bathroom, but otherwise it was project hell for both of us.

Upon reflection, I did learn something. Alexander Fleming (go ahead ask me anything about him) discovered penicillin in 1928. He wasn't able to turn it into a useful treatment for infection until 1940, and then only with the help of three other scientists who approached the problem a different way. That means he endured twelve years of failure before he changed the course of medicine. Maybe I won't gripe about four months of querying. Maybe I need some fresh eyes to look at my query letter and my first chapter...my whole manuscript for that matter.

Fleming won the Nobel Prize in 1945 and saved countless lives. But for 12 long years he failed again and again and again. He didn't throw his hands up in despair. I won't throw mine up either.

Just Keep Swimming...maybe success is just over the next reef.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Tepid on Twilight

I finally saw Twilight last night. I watched it with my 17 year old son who has not read the book, and it was fun having the persepective of someone who is the same age as the protagonist. Honestly, I wasn't sure if I would like the movie or not because I've read so many snarky comments on different blogs and on Twitter. So as I watched, I was influenced by these comments I've read, what my son thought, and my own impressions of how the story should go based on my reading of the book. My verdict...the movie successfully brought the book to life. If you didn't like the book, then don't bother with the movie.

First of all, the movie stayed very close to the plot of the book. Of course, with a massive built-in audience, the moviemakers didn't have a lot of choice. Alice looked different than I mentally pictured her, and I imagined the vampires' sparkly skin to be more rainbow-like, but overall the movie was true.

When I think about the snarky comments, I think they speak more to story than to movie-making. Paranormal romance is hot right now, and I read a lot of it. My favorite paranormals are edgy. Heros and heroines must find their way to one another through the most extreme situations. I like romantic suspense for the same reason. Twilight just isn't edgy enough for the adult paranormal romance reader. Of course, Twilight wasn't written for the adult paranormal reader. Yeah, I know...Meyer uses Edward's vampiric tendencies to enforce her own moral agenda, but as writers we get to make those choices. A whole bevy of teenage readers love it.

This brings me to my own teenager's reaction. "Too much lovey dovey...not enough action, but it was okay." He's a boy, so this isn't surprising. Given a choice, the men in my family would choose an action flick over a romantic comedy any day of the week. We did have a fun conversation about vampire powers, and he totally picked up on the fact that in this story sex=death. He wanted to know what powers I'd given the vampires in my story and why. I liked that he was interested.

Given that New Moon, the second book in the series, is heavy on angst and lighter on action than the first, I wonder how the movie folks will compensate. Honestly, I'll probably wait for the video again.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Find your creative spirit

I've neglected the blog this week. Sometimes what we have to do gets in the way of what we want to do. But it's Friday, and I'm blogging again.

Tonight I'm thinking about creativity. I think it's inherent in all of us. Some folks protest and say they have no creativity or they're not artistic, but what they really mean is they're not confident enough in what they create to share.

Every year, I do a mini-unit on abstract art, courtesy of my most excellent former colleague, Traci. The students learn some art concepts, and then as a culminating event, create an abstract painting interpreting a book they've read independently. I have yet to have a student that didn't enjoy it. Their comments move from, "My baby sister could have done that," when they see their first Jackson Pollack, to "Do you see how the black line doesn't touch the green circle? It represents the way the main character of my book doesn't let the drama in her life get her down."

We painted yesterday, and every kid was engaged. The excitement they felt as they approached the blank paper with their brushes was palpable. While I admonished them to be careful with the paint, reminding them that horseplay is unacceptable, yada, yada, yada, it wasn't really necessary. The kids were too busy creating something to be bothered with horseplay. There was some good-natured talk in the room, but mostly it was quiet, a natural consequence of focus. I watched kids tentatively lay down the first brushstrokes, gaining confidence as they worked. Often they finished with a flourish. They brought their completed paintings to the drying rack, holding them out almost reverently. The atmosphere as they cleaned up the mess was jovial, and kids who normally wouldn't pick a paperwad off the floor were spray-cleaning the paint off the desks.

Today, they wrote about their paintings, tying them to the books they read. The atmosphere was different. They were not as engaged. The creative energy was dimmed. Writing, for many students, is too tied to academic struggle and failure to be exciting anymore. As a teacher, I understand all the reasons why. As a writer, I am saddened.

I approach my writing the way the kids approached their painting. The first few words on the page are my initial brushstrokes, and then I add layer upon layer until I have something I'm proud of. When I finish a successful writing session, I feel almost euphoric. It's an addictive natural high, and I will never stop writing...even if I'm never published.

We are all born creative. Creating something is the ultimate satisfaction. Tearing down doesn't hold a candle to it. There might be a moment of spiteful, childish satisfaction when we destroy, but it's ephemeral...it doesn't last. I have a wall of student art in my classroom, a file cabinet full of poems and short stories, personal narratives and essays, all written by students who felt compelled to put words on the page.

Create something this weekend. Sing a song, play an instrument, write sappy, angsty poetry, cook a creative meal, draw a picture, write a story. You'll feel better when you do. I promise.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Barnes and Noble Binge

I was feeling a little blue this morning, so I decided to drown my sorrows at the bookstore. Some folks drink too much. Others go on an eating bender. I buy books. I really should be saving my money now. The annual trip to Florida for baseball spring training is coming up in a couple of weeks, plus the long lean summer months will be here before you know it. But that's the thing with going on a beat-the-blues binge...you do things you probably shouldn't and things you might regret later. As I look at my purchases, I don't think there will be any regret, at least from a reading enjoyment perspective.

I walked into Barnes and Noble and immediately cheered up. Kim Harrison's new book was on the shelf. YAAAYYYY! Kim Harrison is one of two authors for whom I will cheerfully cough up $25 for a hardcover. The other is Laurell K. Hamilton. Kim's book titles are always fun. She had a Clint Eastwood theme going for a while. (The Good, the Bad, and the Undead, A Fistful of Charms, and my fav The Outlaw Demon Wails) Her latest is called White Witch, Black Curse. I'm not aware of a Clint Eastwood reference on this one, but I love the cover. Her series is set in an alternate Cincinnati, and this cover features Fountain Square in the Ever-after. In a previous life, I lived in Cincy and ate lunch almost every summer day on Fountain Square, so I'm digging the cover.

So...Kim Harrison...feeling better. I move from the new releases to the table marked "Reading Club Selections," and suddenly I'm feeling shallow. Everything on the table was so...literary. My pleasure reading tends to be commercial, genre, mass-market fiction. I actually browsed over a couple of the Reading Club Selections and decided I should form my own reading club. I know there are a lot of urban fantasy/paranormal romance readers out there.

Dismissing the pretentious, literary titles (yeah, I know, I'm an English teacher), I moved on to the the Sci-Fi/Fantasy section. I'm somewhat aggravated that several of the authors I like have become so successful, they are now being published in hardcover instead of mass-market paperbacks. I'm happy for their success...really, I am...but I hate having to wait for the paperback. I buy a LOT of books, and I can't justify buying them all in hardcover. I had to wait three months until I got a gift certificate for Christmas before I bought the last Charlaine Harris book. I do have a library card, but I don't like giving my books back, and libraries frown on that. I could actually start my own library because I have boxes and boxes of books. Anyway, I digress. I skipped past the new hardcovers and picked up a book by Karen Chance. She's good, and I haven't read the third book in her series yet.

On to the romance section. Paranormals are dominating the romance section now. As a lover of paranormal romance this is a good thing, as a writer of paranormal romance, I wonder if it's working against me. The market seems a little glutted now. There were a lot of authors I hadn't read before, and one cover in particular caught my eye. I read the back cover and had to suppress the urge to cry. Seriously. The book looked really good, but the male love interest had the SAME NAME as my male love interest. *sigh* I was so depressed, I left the section without buying anything.

Now I'm in a total funk, the initial excitement over Kim's new book overshadowed. I drifted listlessly to a table in the middle of the store. There was a sign, but I don't remember what it said. What stood out to me was the book title, Why we Suck: A Feel Good Guide to staying Fat, Lazy, Loud, and Stupid. It seemed to fit my mood so I picked it up. Denis Leary wrote it. He actually calls himself Dr. Denis Leary on the cover. The chapter titles alone were laugh out loud funny. I stood in front of the table and read almost a whole chapter. At one point, I was laughing so hard, a total stranger stopped and asked me what was so funny, so I showed him and we laughed together. (It was a diatribe on America's fascination with Britney Spears' vagina.) I'm grateful to Denis for the laugh, but I have to admit I didn't buy the book. For $27, I can go to the comedy club with my girlfriends and have a couple of drinks to boot. I will get it when it goes to paperback. Funny stuff.

On the table with Denis was a small hardcover called Barak Obama: The Inaugural Address 2009. His inaugural address is bound with both of Abraham Lincoln's inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address. However, what induced me to buy it was the last piece in the volume, Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance." My eldest son recently read this in his English class, and he was impressed by it. This is the passage I saw when I opened the book. "There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better or worse as is his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till." Amen, brother.

My last stop was the bargain table. All authors eventually end up here. I saw Stephen King, Nora Roberts, Harlan Coben, etc, etc. I grabbed a hardcover Sherrilyn Kenyon I haven't read for $5.

My stack of books to be read is taller now. Several of them will go to Florida with me. I haven't completely overcome my blue mood, but Ralph is right. I have to keep tilling the ground if I want to enjoy the nourishing corn. I'm going to check in with my characters (whose names are inextricably tied to who they are), and then settle in with Kim Harrison and a bag of Dove dark chocolate.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Living in a half-assed world, Part Deux

I told a commenter on my original "Living in a half-assed world" post that shaking your fist at the system is not productive. Well, color me hypocritical because I am shaking my fist. Not at the publishing world mind you, but at a different kind of half-asser...the kind who can't hear criticism. Let me tell you a story.

A person I am close to... for the sake of the story, let's call him Bob...works in a profession akin to sales. He is good at his job, bringing new clients to the business. His department is responsible for 33% of the company's business, and he brings in more new clients than anyone. In recent weeks, Bob has been concerned about some renovation going on in his building. Like many businesses, Bob's company has had some financial difficulties. He wondered why, in these hard times, the company was spending money on sprucing up the lobby. The decor was actually quite appropriate to Bob's business. No one had informed anyone in Bob's department of the changes, and he found himself apologizing for the mess each time he brought a prospective client to the office.

Today, the painters arrived. Most of Bob's department was out of the office...on the road. Bob watched in horror as the painters prepared to paint over the logo and original artwork in the lobby in colors that could only be described as unattractive. Mud brown ("mud" was not the first word that came to Bob's mind when he saw this particular shade of brown, but it is the kindest) and pea green were replacing a commissioned mural. Naturally, Bob was distraught. He called the person in charge of maintaining the building. They referred him to someone higher up in the company's administration. Bob was certain the highest members of the company's administration could not possibly be aware of the impending design disaster in the lobby. So he emailed them and outlined the problem, hoping to find someone who could stop the madness.

Oh. My. God. A plague of locusts that can only be described in biblical proportions descended on Bob's head. The CEO of the company emailed Bob that he had never received a more disrespectful email, and he couldn't even talk to him now because he was so angry. The head of Bob's division requested a meeting with Bob and his immediate supervisor at 8am Monday morning. Bob's immediate supervisor raced into Bob's office and demanded to know what the hell he was doing insulting the CEO.

Bob was flummoxed. All he had done was say that the paint was "awful" and did not represent the company in the same way as the logo and highly popular mural. He was concerned that business would be affected as the lobby is the FIRST impression new clients had of the company. He had reminded the administration that his department was the most productive in bringing in new business. Bob's supervisor dropped his head into his hands.

Turns out the CEO had hired high-priced designers to tell him "mud" brown and pea green were more aesthetically pleasing than the mural. Bob simply looked at the new scheme and said, "The emperor has no clothes." The emperor took it personally, and Bob will defend his honesty on Monday. Because of Bob's impressive sales record, he will not lose his job, but he will have to say his mea culpas.

Some folks just can't hear criticism, even when it's not mean-spirited and in their best interest. One wonders how they've managed as long as they have with such thin skin. It's a mutation of the same disease we saw after #queryfail. In the times we live in, improvement is imperative, and sometimes we have to hear unpleasant truths. Anything else is just half-assed.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Scary news of the day...State-mandated Bible course

My friend and colleague, Linda, handed me an article from her Current Events magazine before she left the building today. It's been rolling around in my head ever since. The state of Texas has passed a law in which all public high schools have to offer a Bible-as-literature course if 15 or more students express interest. My initial reaction was WTF??? We have this little thing in the Constitution known as the First Amendment, and it mentions something about church and state. I was prepared to rant. Then I read the article more closely, and I have to admit the issue isn't as straightforward as I would like it to be.

The Texas lawmakers' reasoning is that the Bible has influenced history, literature, art and culture, and therefore has value as a literary text. Supporters of this law say many students are unfamiliar with references and stories from the Bible and are unprepared for college as a result. They use Shakespeare as an example. He uses over 1300 references to the Bible, and college bound students not familiar with the Bible will be at a disadvantage.

I considered my own curriculum. The Bible and religion in general come up more than you would think. We discuss it when we talk about Elizabethan England and Shakespeare, when we read Animal Farm by Orwell (Moses, the raven, as a symbol for the church), and when my advanced class reads Plato. It comes up in poetry, when we write persuasively (abortion is their favorite hot topic), and we had an extensive discussion about the Masons when we read Poe's "Cask of Amontillado."

The Bible does have cultural and literary relevance. I can't argue that point. I even have a couple of biblical allusions in my own work. (My childhood spent in Sunday School wasn't totally wasted.) If a teacher truly approaches the course as literature, history, and culture, then I have no problem with it, especially given that it's an elective course. However...and it's a big however...there is a fine line between teaching and preaching. Has the state provided a structured, consistent, mandated curriculum? If not, then do individual teachers decide what to teach and how to teach it? Are the teachers being given professional development? I wouldn't touch it with a ten foot pole.

The whole thing is worrisome to me, especially when it's put in context with the tightrope my friends in the science department are walking. I suspect the majority of kids who elect to take this course will be the kids who are already familiar with the Bible. Will the kids who aren't religious feel comfortable in a class like this? My guess is they would be at the same end of the ten foot pole as me.

The argument that nonreligious kids will be at a disadvantage doesn't really hold water either. When I teach literature with biblical allusions, I explain the allusion as if the kids won't get it on their own, just like I explain mythological allusions, political allusions, and any other kind of allusion necessary to understand the literature. I know my friends in the art and history departments do the same. Do we really need a separate, mandated course?

A state-mandated course in Bible literature is scary to me. The law takes effect this fall. I wonder how long it will be before we see a lawsuit? I'm really glad I don't live in Texas.

I'm going to spend the rest of my evening with the vampires in my WIP. They aren't nearly as scary as state-mandated Bible literature.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Teachable Moment

Teaching is a think-on-your-feet profession. The unexpected happens on a regular basis and you have to throw the carefully-planned lesson out the window and react. Sometimes you cringe, shake your head, and thank heaven that tomorrow is another day. But every once in a serendipitous while, the unexpected turns into a teachable moment.

On Saturday, I posted "Living in a Half-assed World," and the world found me. It was very exciting. Two different agents and an editor posted comments. Granted, Mr. Bransford's comment expressed displeasure at my sucking up accusation, but fame is a fickle mistress. After the initial euphoria at entering the #queryfail conversation, I began to ponder the fact that one heat of the moment blog post had garnered more attention from the publishing world in 24 hours than my query letter had in four months. More pondering...then epiphany! I stumbled on to my own teachable moment.

So what did I learn?

Voice, voice, voice! Your voice has to come through in your writing. You also have to have something relevant to say, and you need to say it in tight, to-the-point writing. But voice has to be there. I know this. I TEACH this. Looking at my query with a critical, honest eye, I realize I haven't accomplished this.

Picture me banging my head against the wall. Why am I just figuring this out? The query letter is a high stakes piece of writing. Maybe I've been so consumed with dotting the i's and crossing the t's that I've lost myself. Yeah, that sounds lame even to me. I'm going to pitch the whole thing and start over.

One more reason to love #queryfail...it set into motion a series of events that led to a teachable moment for me. And really, wasn't that the point?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Living in a half-assed world

I'm going to rant a little bit, and I suspect for many of my friends who read this blog, I'm preaching to the choir...but here we go. I get tired of living in a half-assed world. So many people out there are willing to do the absolute least amount of work and then gripe about not being successful or about the horribly mean people willing to point out that they are half-assers. I see it EVERY day at school. Some students do little to nothing and wonder why they are failing. After determining that it couldn't possibly be their fault, they blame the teacher or the system. Even worse, their parents often support them in this attitude.

This isn't new in my day job, but what set me off was evidence of this same trend in the second career I am fostering. As you know, I've written a novel I am shopping around to agents. In the publishing world this is known as querying. There is a process involved, and if you do your homework, the steps in the process are readily available to anyone interested. On Thursday, one of the agents I've queried hosted an event called #queryfail on Twitter. Several literary agents and editors posted failed queries live as they read and responded to them. They did not identify authors or titles, just bits and pieces of the query that made it clear why the author was not being asked for more. Sometimes the idea was just wrong. I remember one about a relationship based on mutual vomiting practices. Ugh...don't expect to see this in your local bookstore anytime soon. But most of the time, the query failed because of someone being half-assed about their query letter. They didn't follow clearly posted submission guidelines. They queried a genre the agent explicitly states she doesn't rep. They didn't hit spellcheck or edit for nuts and bolts errors in their letter. STUPID stuff...easily fixed stuff...stuff that keeps the agent from even considering asking for your manuscript.

Yesterday, another agent posted a blog in which he commented about his lack of participation in #queryfail. In what I can only attribute as a monumental suck-up to this agent, a long list of comments ensued lamblasting the agent who hosted queryfail (and the 8 or 10 others who participated) for her "lack of professionalism" and "snarkiness."

GIVE ME A FLIPPIN BREAK, PEOPLE!!! If you don't want to be called out for being a half-asser, then DON'T BE A HALF-ASSER! Why do we put our arms around these people and coddle them when they didn't do the work necessary to be successful? One commentor said, "It takes just as much effort to write a bad novel as a good one." Really? Really??? I don't think so, but just for kicks and giggles, let's say that's true. The author tried hard, and we should reward that. Anyone out there ever read Kurt Vonnegut's short story, "Harrison Bergeron?" It's about a world that has completely lowered the bar so that no one fails or feels bad about failing. It's enough that people tried hard, so let's reward them. Are you willing to take that attitude about your surgeon? Your airline pilot? Your kid's teacher? I hope not.

It's not mean to point out that someone did a half-assed job. If you really care about the person, it's necessary to help them succeed. In the business world (and publishing is most definitely a business), then it's instructive to the rest of us to see what not to do. My query letter isn't perfect, and I'm still honing it. I want to be published, so I'm meticulously doing my research on each agent I query. What do they rep? What are their submission guidelines? I don't feel sorry for the half-assers. I'm glad I have a leg up on them.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Happily Ever After?

I haven't blogged in almost a week. I've been nursing all my sick boys back to health. I went to work 2 out of 5 days this week, and it feels like I've worked an 8 day week. Weird, huh?

So I'm writing about happy endings tonight. Does a story need a happy ending to be satisfying? I would answer with an emphatic no! Those of you who are in my family or have been long-time friends are rolling your eyes about now. I have been known to rant at the end of a movie that ended badly...I am Legend...horrible ending. AI...my kids and I still hold that one up as the all time most horrible ending for a movie. I haven't seen it (and I never will), but Bruce thinks The Wicker Man is the worst ending ever. Bruce and I had dear friend, Fred Waugh, that once talked me into watching K-9, an 80's police dog movie. It came on the heels of Turner & Hooch, another 80's police dog movie in which the dog dies. I made Fred swear on everything holy and sacred that the dog wouldn't die. I almost beat the crap out of him when it appeared the dog had died. I'm not kidding...I punched him repeatedly while cussing him out. I HATE dead dog movies. He never let me live it down (The dog lived.). My students know that I refuse to read a book by Nicholas Sparks because he likes to kick you in the teeth at the end of his books.

So why would I say a story doesn't have to have a happy ending? A story should end honestly. It should follow through in a manner that is true to the characters, plot line, and genre. The all-time master at satisfying, but tragic endings, is the Bard. Shakespeare wrote stories in which EVERYONE dies, and you don't feel cheated or tricked at the end. Even Romeo and Juliet, one of the world's great love stories ends the way it should. I read it with my students every year, and we watch clips of the old Franco Zeffirelli movie and the entire Baz Luhrmann version. The end always feels right...sad, but right. It might help that the actual title is The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. And then there's the fact that he tells you right from the start that "from forth the fatal loins of these two foes, a pair of star-crossed lovers take their life." But even if he hadn't, you can see the tragedy coming. Romeo is impulsive, and Juliet is headstrong. They both share the teenaged characteristic of having no perspective...not being able to see past the nose on their face. The death scene is beautifully written. I think Romeo's lines right before he drinks the poison are some of the best in literature, especially when delivered by a great actor. "Eyes look your last. Arms take your last embrace. And lips, oh you the doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss, a dateless bargain to engrossing death."

Great stuff...and honest. So why do I refuse to read Nicholas Sparks? Dishonesty, trickery, cheating the story for a tear-jerker effect. And it works. I routinely have students (usually girls) who think he's the greatest thing since sliced bread. I've only read Message in a Bottle, so maybe I'm not being fair, but the end of that book was cheap. The story is set up like a classic romance...man and woman meet against all odds and fall in love, even though man hasn't gotten over dead wife. I've read tons of stories with similar plots, and that's why the end feels so dishonest. Instead of living happily ever after with woman, man dies at sea saying a last goodbye to dead wife. Sorry about your luck woman (and reader). Life's a bitch and then you die. Fine...there's a place for that kind of story, but don't package it like a romance. I threw the book against the wall and vowed never to read another Nicholas Sparks, and by god, I haven't. I won't watch movies adapted from his books either. My friends can't believe I've never seen The Notebook, but sorry about your luck Nick. Life's a bitch...

The Rachel Vincent book I read recently doesn't end happily every after, and it's powerful because it's brutally honest. Actions, consequences, and all that good stuff. And it really is good stuff. Then there's one of my all time favs...A Tale of Two Cities. "It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done: It is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known." That's a wonderfully sad ending.

I am Legend and AI aren't really dishonest, just bleak. I'm not into nihilism...which if you think about it is what "Life is a bitch and then you die" is all about. I like a ray of hope. At the end of Romeo and Juliet, the Capulets and the Montagues are friends again. The kids didn't die in vain. Sydney Carton gets beheaded, but he shows us the glory of the human spirit and the power of love.

Finding the balance in my own writing has been interesting. How much am I willing to let my characters suffer? I want my readers to have a good experience with my book. I don't want to resort to cheap tricks to get sympathy, nor do I want a deux ex machina in which everything works out through some silly plot twist that isn't honest. I'm rolling along again after being stuck for a while, so I guess we'll see.

Happy weekend and Happy Reading!