Spring Forward!

The weather forecast on the radio this morning said we would have a near-record high today.  Now in July or August that’s bad news, but since we’re still in the first half of March, that’s great news. I didn’t spend any time at all pondering relativity or timing;  I just jumped right out of bed full of energy and ready to take on the day.

I love spring.  All the symbolism surrounding the season makes perfect sense.  When the sun regains its warmth, the days lengthen, the grass and trees take on a greenish tint, and the first brave flowers stick their heads up to add color to a gray world, I am filled with hope and a renewed belief in a new beginning.  I’m not big on making resolutions, but if I did I’d make them in the spring, not in the dark cold of January.

This is the time of year when new beginnings seem possible.  Why, yes, I will exercise more and eat better and clean out the basement and finish my novel and start playing tennis and become a better person . . .

Okay, maybe I’m overly excited by the 75 degrees we’re promised for today, March 14.  In Michigan!  I probably won’t make any huge changes in my life.  But I will be outside enjoying the sunshine, feeling lighter without the weight of my winter coat, and believing that this is the start of something beautiful.

Does the change in season affect your mood?  What do you do to celebrate spring?

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From the Beginning (Part 6)–Just Like Starting Over

The bad news is that I’ve made very little progress writing my novel in the last week.  The good news is that my apartment is much cleaner.  See, procrastination can be your friend!

I did make a decision about the novel that will ultimately be a good thing, I think, but that for now means almost starting over.  I’ve redefined the focus, which means I need to change the point of view, which means I need to rewrite pretty much everything I already have.  Of course, I always knew I’d have to rewrite, but I did think that would come later in the process.  On that other hand, I am re-energized about writing, so that’s another good thing.

Overall, seems like the good things outweigh the bad things.

Before, I had two main characters, and planned to alternate chapters with their point of view.  What I realized, finally, is that I kept getting stuck when writing from the perspective of one of the characters.  After my last blog about the writing, when I realized that I’d gotten lost in the weedy details, I did step back and re-focus on the story I wanted to tell.  When I did that, it became clear that I really wanted to tell the story of one character, and that the other “main character” had to be demoted to the supporting cast.  She’ll still be important, but we don’t need to see the story unfold from her perspective.

My relief when I made this decision tells me it’s the right one, although that hasn’t stopped me from second guessing myself for the last week (hence the clean apartment).  But in my mind, the novel now seems much easier to write, which means I should be able to get BIC* and get back to writing.

Right after I mop the floor.


*Butt in chair

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In a few minutes I’m heading out to buy Bruce Springsteen’s new cd, Wrecking BallThis will be the 15th or 16th time I’ve rushed out on release day to buy his music, starting with Darkness on the Edge of Town back in 1978.  Over the years the urgency to hear the music RIGHT NOW has dimmed a little, especially since new tracks are now available before the release date.  Still, a new Springsteen album is definitely a day of celebration for me.

I first saw Bruce in concert on October 16, 1976, when he performed at the College of William and Mary.  At the time I was a freshman, living in a dorm right across the street from the concert hall.  I wasn’t really a big fan prior to the show, although I loved the song “Born to Run.”  The only other song I’d heard at the time was “Mary, Queen of Arkansas,” which I hated (and still don’t like).  But lots of students at W&M came from New Jersey, and their excitement swept me up.  Besides, I went to every concert that came through town, because I loved music and because the other big source of entertainment was watching a blacksmith shoe a horse in Colonial Williamsburg.  That was cool to watch the first few times, but after a while . . . not so much.

Saying that the concert changed my life is probably an overstatement, but it certainly had a major impact on my life.  The emotional connection Bruce had with the audience was practically tangible, but what impressed me even more was the emotional connection he had with his music.  From the very first song (a version of “Thunder Road” with only a piano backing), I knew this man believed in rock and roll, that music can save your mortal soul (to paraphrase Don McLean).  This was the first concert I attended where I felt an immediate connection to the performer, and not in an “I’ve got a crush on the singer” way.  Needless to say, within a couple of days I’d bought the three albums he had out at the time, and when Darkness came out a couple of years later I started my release-day streak. 

In some ways, Bruce Springsteen is the soundtrack to my adult life, starting with that first concert when I was 18.  I bought his records at Penguin Feather Records and Tapes back when funky stores sold albums along with bongs and pipes.  Later I bought them at Tower Records when bigger stores weeded out the smaller ones.  By the time CDs came around, I bought them at Borders or Best Buy, or ordered them from Amazon.  When I was teaching high school, I went to buy tickets from a teenage scalper, grateful that his house was a few blocks away from the boundary of the school where I taught.  No matter where I bought the music or heard the concert, the emotional purity and honesty of the music always grabbed my heart and forced me to feel right along with him. 

Over time Bruce Springsteen became an American icon, the conscience of a country, the voice of a generation. Today I’m going to buy his latest, and let his music speak to my heart once again

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Clothing Makes the Superhero

To follow up on my graphic novel post last week, here’s another take on how female superheroes are pictured in comics.  Since in this case a picture really is worth a 1000 words, I’ll just let you take a look.  Be prepared to laugh, and then become thoughtful.

male superheroes wearing female superhero costumes

Seen like this, the difference in how male and female characters are drawn is pretty amazing.  Since I’m brand new to the comic book world, I’m not willing to get overly judgmental just yet–after all, some of my favorite rock groups wrote songs that portrayed women in basically this same way.  And as I mentioned last week, the depth of the female characters in the comics I read impressed me, and I enjoyed seeing actual female friendships develop.

But this is making me think, especially since I’m reading this at the same time as I’m reading about all the latest efforts of government leaders to take back more control of women’s bodies.  It’s a bit depressing to think that maybe we haven’t really come a long way at all, baby.

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From the Beginning (Part 5): The Devil in the Details

A week or so ago I wrote about my somewhat belated effort to outline my novel and how hard I found the process.  This week I have to confess that I’ve abandoned the process, although not intentionally.  My progress slowed and slowed until eventually it came to a standstill as I completely ran out energy.

For a few days now I’ve been trying to figure out what the problem is, why I stalled.  The answer hit me this morning with all the impact of a big “duh” moment–I’ve gotten lost in the details, and details are not my favorite thing.  I’m not sure if the devil is actually in the details, but hell sure is.  I’m a big picture person, and while I’ve learned over the years to focus on the details it’s rarely fun for me, and I avoid it if at all possible.

But I have to pay attention to the details if I want to write this novel, so I need a coping mechanism.  I’ve decided to go back to what has worked before, and take some time away from the details to re-establish the big picture.  If I allow myself some time to play with the story as a whole, and with the characters and their conflicts, then I think I can restore my energy and the fun of writing.

Today I’m going to sit down with a blank computer screen (or maybe a blank piece of paper), and just write about what I want this story to be.  What is the story I want to tell?  Why is important to me to tell it?  Who are these characters and how are they going to change and develop over the course of the story?  What scenes am I excited about writing and what scenes feel like drudgery?

My goal is to re-energize myself by painting the big picture in broad strokes and make sure I’ve got a solid overview of the whole story in mind before I get too caught up in outlining the details.  Or, to put it in business terms, I need to see the 30,000 foot view before I deep dive into the weeds.

And in the future I need to remember to keep stepping back and looking at the whole while I’m working on the parts.

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Graphic Novels

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about how I couldn’t read all the books on my to-read list if I lived to be 150 years old.  The very last thing I needed was another type of book to add to my growing list.

So I spent the last week reading (and buying) graphic novels.  Sigh.

Honestly, I don’t know how this happened.  Even as a kid I never cared much for comic books.  I’m not a big fan of superheroes.  And yet here I am, the proud owner of several graphic novels with yet another growing list of Things I Need to Read.

The problem started when I read a review of Batgirl Rising, one of apparently many reboots of Batgirl in the apparently ongoing reboot of the Batman franchise.  The review appealed to my love of a good origin story and my never-far-from-the-surface desire for a good girl-power story.  According to the review, Batgirl Rising had both.

The review was right.  I read and enjoyed Batgirl Rising, a story of how a college freshman takes on the Batgirl cape, despite a distinct lack of support from others in Gotham City.  The book is as much, maybe even more, about the struggles of a young woman figuring out who she is and what she can do as it about being a caped crusader.  There’s also the bonus of showing the growing friendship between the new Batgirl and the old Batgirl, who is now a computer genius paralyzed from the waist down.

Unfortunately for my wallet but fortunately for my desire to read more, there are two more graphic novels in the Batgirl reboot written by Bryan Q. Miller.  The three together follow a wonderful character arc as Stephanie learns to trust and work with others, then learns to stand on her own, all within the constraints of the superhero world.  Fortunately for my wallet, but unfortunately for my desire to read more, apparently yet another reboot of Batgirl meant that Miller only wrote the comic for a short time, and these three graphic novels cover all of his Batgirl work.

Now, I do have some qualms about supporting a comic industry that continues to portray female superheroes as women who really like to wear revealing costumes while kicking villainous butts, but this series does a better job than most.  To be honest, I rarely pay attention to the drawings anyway, which I’m sure is a big comic book no-no, but I can’t help it—I’m a word person.  And the words in these comics tell a great story.

(For a  look at the images of female superheroes, this is a good starting point: She Has No Head!–No, It’s Not Equal.   Apparently this is quite controversial in the world of comics, but it just seems logical and reasonable to me.)

So that’s my news.  I’m now reading Birds of Prey (the old Gail Simone comics), another group of female superheroes in Gotham City.  They are more “prey” to the sexy/sexist drawings, but again, the stories about a group of women becoming friends while fighting crime are overcoming any problems I have with the artwork.  I’m both excited and a little horrified at how much I’m enjoying reading these graphic novels—they aren’t as easily checked out at the library, so my book spending is probably going over budget this month!

I almost hate to ask, but any other suggestions for what I might like to read?  I know very little about any of the comic series, but apparently I’m ready to dive in!

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Stuck in the Middle of the Book Battle

Here’s an example of understatement:  The book industry is in turmoil right now.

Spend just a few minutes on the internet and you’ll find a wide variety of people gnashing their teeth and climbing up on their soapbox to proclaim what’s wrong and how to fix it.  According to the site you read, Amazon is either destroying books (and life as we know it), or single-handedly rescuing authors from the dark dungeon of traditional publishing. Self-published authors are either the forward-thinking saviors of the written word or fools who think they can write well and be successful without agents and editors and publishers helping them.

The waters are further muddied by the fact that the battle lines aren’t clearly drawn.  Some authors love Amazon and aren’t fond of independent bookstores that have limited shelf space, with no room for their books.  Some authors hate Amazon and ask their readers to support independent bookstores.  Readers are just as divided between Amazon, B&N, and the independent stores.  While the publishers and Amazon are pretty clearly on different sides, if you look hard enough you can find agents and publishers who do support Amazon, at least partly.

As I watch this all unfold, I’m fascinated by the plot complexities, and also by the passionate arguments everyone makes for the “right” way to handle books, the either/or stance many people are taking.  Are eBooks evil?  Destroying literacy?  I don’t get that—if you’re reading an eBook you’re actually reading, right?   I personally still prefer a printed book, although the idea of having 3500 books on one gadget instead of piled up on the floor of my basement appeals to me.  I don’t have a Kindle, or a Nook, although I do have the apps for both on my iPad.  And yes, I have bought and read eBooks.  Some of them I enjoyed them very much and some of them I deleted without finishing, just like printed books (although with printed books “deleting” takes a little more work).  My love for printed books doesn’t make me “outdated” and I’m not just clinging to a dying format.

I’ve always been a fan of choices, and as a reader I want choices.  Sometimes I want the book the cheapest way I can get it—maybe at a used bookstore, maybe from Amazon, maybe at the library.  Sometimes I want to wander around a real bookstore and browse covers, hold the book in my hand, buy something I’ve never heard of that looks interesting.  If I’m travelling, I like having eBooks rather than a pile of printed books.  I have no desire to read someone’s self-published book if it has not been edited or proofread, if there are gaping plot holes or grammatical mistakes.  Neither do I want to read the latest traditionally published tripe from someone capitalizing on his/her 15 minutes of fame.  I want to read good books with good stories.  And honestly, where I get that book or what format that book is in really doesn’t matter much to me.

So what about the readers?  That’s the piece I think is missing from all this sound and fury.  Seems like we’re stuck in the middle of this battle, and while we might come out the winners, we might not.  And let’s not make the mistake of thinking we can easily group readers into one big category—we’re a complex group.  I’m not the “average” reader.  I don’t even know what “average reader” means.  Is “reader” even the right audience to talk about—maybe “book buyer” is more in line with what the publishers and authors and Amazon are fighting over, the people who are paying money for books.  But then what happens to libraries, and to the library patrons who can’t afford to buy the books, or a Kindle or a Nook?

Like I said earlier, lots of complexities.  I have no solution to end this battle, just a plea:  Don’t forget the readers.

What do you think about this book battle?  Has it affected you, changed your approach to reading?  To buying?  Borders friends, I know lots of you lost your jobs partly because of this—what do you think about it?

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