Life in the Dark Ages

Time passes quickly, doesn’t it? I was just thinking how much my life has changed. Ten years ago, I hadn’t started writing. I spent time on the internet, but it was on a desktop computer and my laptop was not connected to my hip.

I read a lot more. I slept with piles of books.

I did have a little blog! On Diaryland. Cool place. I’m sorry that it never grew big like Blogger.

I finished working, and then I’d start a fire and either watch TV or read books. Or both. I’d get up, do yoga, practice piano if I was able to sit up (that was still when I was sick), teach, and then read more. On days off, I would generally stay in bed all day. Back then, it was such a relief because it was always such a huge effort to try and walk around like normal.

It sounds like a leisurely life, but I was working six days a week, nearly sixty, seventy hours on piano teaching alone. It did not help my illness, LOL.

I don’t miss that life, except for the reading part. The slower part. Man, has my life gotten cluttered with the internet.

On one hand, I’m glad. I’d be dreadfully lonely without someone to chat with or status updates to read while working. But I’d really like to finish working by 6 or so, so I can spend the evening reading.

I miss how fast I read books then, but I wouldn’t want to have a life without writing. I wouldn’t want to give up the friends I have online. Just musing.

What was your life like, ten years ago? Fifteen years ago? How much is the internet a part of your daily life? Reading?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Musings | Tags: ,

Finding What You Love

The longer I’m on this writing journey, the more I see the most difficult challenge and greatest factor in improving is knowing thyself. Oh man, is it hard!

I read lots of fantasy growing up. The classics, too. I don’t know what happened, though, but after awhile, I stopped reading fantasy. Maybe I read a lot of romance? Romantic suspense was in there somewhere. And then it was chick lit and women’s fiction and literary novels (what a combo!), then spy thrillers with a splash of cozy mysteries, and now I read lots of paranormal YA with a splash of fantasy and some literary stuff.

It’s hard enough to find what you love to write and an idea you love to write and a world you want to write in, but you know what’s really tough?

Finding books you really love, love, love. I’m not talking about books you enjoy and books you like. I’m talking about those worlds that suck you in, that you want to stay in forever, that you’d show up at the bookstore at midnight the night before its release because you Just. Can’t. Wait. to read it.

I read plenty of stuff I like a lot. What I can’t find enough of is that stuff I love to death. I’d say only about 20% of the books I read are in that love-love-love category.

What about you? What percentage of the books you read are that upper, love so much you want to cry category? Ever go through a dry spell of finding them?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Books | Tags:

Really, I Love It.

Have I been whining lately? I feel like I should make a point of saying how much I love writing. Even when the words are coming out slow as molasses, when I’m spending all day tilting the bottle just so, when my arms are aching, waiting for the slow, slow, slow descent of the stubborn syrup, I love it.

I’m grateful that right now, knock on wood, I don’t have any looming deadlines. I can plug away, day by day, making progress, no pressure. It’s really nice. Such a relief.

This period should last for at least the next… two or three weeks.

Meanwhile, I’m (as always) struggling with the research. I’m always impatient to get the words on the page, and “just researching” makes me nervous. But onward I trudge.

If I’d just focus on the research and allow the book to come to full boil before trying to write it, I wouldn’t have to delete so much.

Same goes with reading. I want to read a book a day. I need to have a bigger understanding of the YA genre, so I need to read a ton more books. But again, “just reading” makes me nervous. Even though the work is fun, for sure! I think that’s why I feel guilty.

So thank you, universe. I like this time I have. Even if it does make me nervous. I constantly feel the pressure to write faster, to produce more, because I don’t want this opportunity to pass me by.

Do you struggle with patience? With nervousness when you have time to take your time? With guilt over reading, even though it’s part of the job? And how are deadlines treating you, at the moment?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Full-Time Writing | Tags: , , ,

Nothing in YA is Overdone.

image Whoever says that Vampire Young Adult fiction is overdone, is wrong. In general, the YA section is VERY SMALL. Too small. I’m not reading anything but young adult fiction and graphic novels until I finish my YA novel, and I’m quickly running out of things to read.

Mostly because I like dark, which means I stick mostly to gothic or paranormal.

Last night, I woke up at 3:30 am, and couldn’t go back to sleep, so I finished Swoon by Nina Malkin. I was impressed, because it was one of the few unhappy endings I’ve ever read that I’ve been satisfied with. And I can probably count them on… well, right now, I can only think of one: Swoon.

I loved Fallen, by Lauren Kate, and Prophecy of the Sisters, by Michelle Zink, but both are merely beginnings; in YA, there’s apparently less pressure to make each book in a series a stand-alone. 

Which I think is a good thing.

I really want to read Christopher Pike’s Thirst series, but it’s not available on ebook. (Phooey.) Remember Christopher Pike? When I was growing up, I loved his teen horror books. I thought it was awesome to see his books out there.

I’ll wait until it comes out in ebook, though. Hopefully they’ll publicize it so I remember about it.

image I’m behind on my book-a-day thing. I once wanted to catch up, but frankly, that would be an expensive endeavor. I talk like I can’t afford books, but it’s really that I can’t afford as many books as I read. We spend a lot on ebooks. I’m glad we don’t pay for internet or cable; all that money goes towards books. Many months, it’s “and then some.”

At least they’re all write-offable.

And finally, Random House has just shot to the top of the list as my favorite NY publisher. We all have things that are important to us, and to me, pricing and availability of ebooks is way up at #1. No, don’t tell me their boilerplate digital royalty rate, because that’s #2.

Can your wallet keep up with your reading pace? What are you reading, lately? Any particular genre? Ever run out of precisely what you’re in the mood for?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Book-A-Day Reading Challenge | Tags: , ,

A Different Point of View

I’m sure you can write from different points of view. Can you read your work from different points of view? Can you put yourself in a place where your work is a stranger, and you’re seeing it through a specific person’s eyes?

And I need to say upfront that when I use the word “read” below, I actually mean a combination of reading, writing, and editing, all put together.

First, I read it as me, as a woman. I imagine my lonelier moments, particularly when I was sick and lonely in my twenties, because I always hope my characters can be friends to those who are having a rough time of things.

Then I try to read it as someone who has zero attention span. This is also easy for me, as I have the shortest attention span in the universe. Okay, not the shortest. But it’s pretty bad. And anytime my attention wanders or I start skimming, I cut and edit and re-write.

Somewhere in there, I try to read it as a copyeditor. I think copyeditors are the coolest, so I invariably end up reading half of the Chicago Manual just for fun, just to double check nit-picky things. Even though I tend not to use the serial comma that it suggests.

I read as both my target readers and my fringe readers. Pseudonym gets mostly middle-aged women, but also quite a few in their twenties, with a sprinkling of men. I think of what they want to get out of my story, and I read to see if I’m giving them that. For my NaNo novel, I’m imagining teenagers to college-aged reading it.

And then I imagine someone who reads my first sentence and hates my voice. Passionately. In fact, even before they get to the first sentence, they are prejudiced against me. They don’t want to like my story. In fact, they can’t wait to hate it and point out all of its flaws. They approach my story with reluctance; my world-building with skepticism.

For them, it’s personal. They don’t like me. If I’m writing in first person, they hate first person on principle. In fact, for them, it’s a pet peeve.

That’s when I make sure hooks are planted, questions are unanswered, and suspense is willing the reader forward. I trim every sentence. I try to make it so that reader can’t help but keep reading.

When my imaginary readers fail me, I beg for real readers, LOL.

Lately, I’ve also been visualizing my story as a graphic novel. I don’t know why. But when I do that, it’s very clear when the pacing falls flat, when I’m thinking aloud too much.

So how do you read your story? Which “skins” do you put on when reading your story? Whose eyes do you read with? How do you edit? How do you decide what goes and what stays?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Editing,Writing Craft | Tags: , ,

The Destruction of Wonder

imageI’m still reading a book a day. I’m a bit behind, but I’ll catch up. I’ve re-read most of the Narnia series and am about halfway through the Oz series.

I also finished The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia. I was enraptured by this critical book at first; Laura Miller felt and understood and expressed all the love I’d had for Narnia, as a child.

…I’m wishing, with every bit of my self, for two things. First, I want a place I’ve read about in a book to really exist, and second, I want to be able to go there. I want this so much I’m pretty sure the misery of not getting it will kill me. For the rest of my life, I will never want anything quite so much again.

She also describes the betrayal I felt when someone suggested they had Christian symbolism and messages. I got over that, but upon reading the Narnia books in my thirties, I was stunned at his attitudes toward females and offended by his racism.

Laura Miller managed to keep her love for Narnia intact. My love for Narnia is still there, but it’s damaged. I see C.S. Lewis mucking in his world, and frankly, he should’ve stayed out of it.

The Oz books fared no better. The writing in the first was unbearable; in the second, annoying. By the fourth or fifth, it improved dramatically, so I can forgive that.

What I can’t forgive is the endless, unrelenting political satire and commentary in the Oz books. It ruined all the fun!

What is hilarious to me is that there has been some debate as to whether or not Baum did this purposely or at all. In fact, some even get quite aggressive in their idea that any politics in the Oz books are in the eye of the beholder.

Um, no. Uh, sorry, but you’re Just. Plain. Wrong.

image There is no question at all that these books are riddled with political satire and commentary. Take The Marvelous Land of Oz. First he parodies the fears of those against the suffrage movement by having an army of girls march on Oz. They quickly win, because the men are so afraid of girls. Then they order the men to cook and watch the kids all the time. He redeems himself by making the next ruler of Oz a girl, but even that was just plain weird; he’d grown up as a boy, magically done so he would be safe.

Guess what? Baum was the secretary for the South Dakota suffrage organization. 

No politics? Really? I could give example after example. Rarely does even a page go by without some satire or commentary. And Baum was… an interesting man. He was known to give a speech at a Republican rally, and the next day, deliver the same speech at a Democratic one.

As an adult reading these, the political satire might have been interesting if I felt like doing a bit of research on the political landscape of his day, but I didn’t. It was irritating and intrusive.

I suppose the Oz series was written like some children’s movies, where they have inside jokes intended for only the adults to understand. (I hate that, also; inside jokes strike me as rude to those you know won’t understand them.)

For both series, I wanted to recapture the love and wonder I had felt for these worlds when I was young; instead, reading them was the destruction of it.

Part of why I’m reading so much this year is that I want books to be gateway into another world, again. I read too analytically. I want to love reading every bit as much as I did when I was young. I suppose that’s why I’ve chosen so many children’s books to start out my challenge.

I’m still searching for the feeling of wonder.

Any suggestions? Have you read any books lately that have swept you off your feet with a feeling of wonder and magic? Swept you into a whole new world?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Book-A-Day Reading Challenge | Tags: , ,

The Great Gap

The gap between taste and skill is torturous. Ira Glass, host and producer of This American Life explains about the most frustrating period in an artists’ development in the video below: that is, when your taste far outweighs your skill to deliver content that lives up to your taste.

“Your taste is still killer. And your taste is good enough that you can tell that what you’re making is kind of a disappointment to you… that you can tell that it’s still sort of crappy.”

Glass claims that most of the creative people who he’s known have lived in that phase for years. He lived there for eight years, he says in the interview.

I’ve been chasing that gap since I started writing. It is probably why I always hate my work when it’s finished. There’s always a betrayal of what I’d hoped for, what I’d dreamed of delivering. Sure, there a couple I’m proud of, now, but the rest? Oh man, how the shortfalls torture one!

He says people outgrow this phase. I’m not feeling hopeful at the moment. It’s true: I am proud of a few of my last ones. They are closer to being the writer I want to be, and I’m not sure I would change or could change the books into something better: books are limited to the level at which you are when you begin them. Maybe you can make it a perfect book at that level, but all the editing in the world won’t make it as good as the best book you’ll write ten years down the line. Some knowledge just has to be there before you begin, has to be an organic component of the process, a part of your subconscious understanding.

Glass says that the most important thing you can do during this phase is just to do “a huge volume of work.”

I’ve written and sold a million words. (I was close two years ago before I lost the paper keeping track.) I’ve been writing for just over eight years. I still feel like I’m chasing that gap, like I’ll be forever chasing that gap. I do feel closer, but it’s a definitely a daily battle.

Part of the problem is that I work on improving my taste as much as I work on improving my writing skill. That’s sort of a two-edged sword, isn’t it? Because if you keep on improving your taste, then your skill can never catch up.

I guess I can live with that.

Do you struggle with the gap? Have you ever conquered it? Is it behind you? Is there hope? Or do we just have to enjoy living in the gap?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Writers on Writing,Writing Craft | Tags: , ,


Just an update. As if you guys can’t live without hearing what I’m up to, since I haven’t posted since—omg—Sunday! I know you’re all frantic. I know you were all wondering.

Okay, I know better. :-)

I’m feeling the pressure of impending doom if I do not write up a storm, so I’ve been writing up a storm. Hustle time. And part of that, for me, is doing a TON of reading of my WIP while writing.

I don’t know how most writers are, but I read my WIP all the way through at least three or four times a week. At minimum, I start every day reading two chapters before the one I’m working on. Since I always tweak and pick and fix as I go, this can take awhile. This is not fast reading.

My memory is what it is, and it definitely is not hers. I have to do all that reading in order to remember the details and threads, and to iron out the pacing. Keep the flow going.

This is probably part of my confusion with “drafts.” I write one draft. It’s not done until it’s done, and if I had to re-write, the draft wouldn’t be done. If it needed fixing, it wouldn’t be done. Hence, one draft.

As for my 365-book challenge, now that I’m 45K into my WIP, all this re-reading is cutting into my reading time. I am not giving up, though! I’m at day 26 and I’ve read 19 books. I’m halfway through quite a few, so I don’t feel too behind. I’m listening to Until I Find You by John Irving, which is definitely my favorite of the month.

As far as my adventures, we’ve got a Jeep that’s decided to fall apart. I’m doing as little as possible by way of travels, which is fine: this year is about saving up for an upgrade and writing up a storm. So although I’m anxious to see new places, I’m excited with the focus of my year: reading and writing.

As long as I’m doing it in a camper with a campfire nearby. :-)

So how much reading do you do of your WIP? How often do you read through? How many drafts do you write? How do multiple drafts work for you?

How’s it all going for you?

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Musings | Tags: ,

Reading and Writing

The Book-A-Day Challenge is going great. I’m recapturing my love of reading and writing. The fact that I get to read 365 books this year makes me feel like I have plenty of time to re-read old favorites, which has been a wonderful treat. Technically, I’m two days behind, but I’m also halfway through a book in my car, and have made a dent in three of my slow-reads. I’ll catch up.

I’ve found all the Oz books online to download to my Kindle, which makes me happy. My children’s section, growing up, only had four or five, and I’d always wanted to read all of them. Books are so much more accessible now than they were then.

Much to my relief, all this reading is already making me a better writer.

I can totally see why my writing dwindled in the last four months: my reading had dwindled down to pretty much nothing! I’m not one of those writers who doesn’t read; I’m one of those writers who is entirely dependent upon reading in order to keep going.

I can’t get rid of the guilt I feel while indulging in reading, though. I feel like I should be writing more. Working out more. Being… productive. I feel like I’m being lazy. I’m just… sitting and reading for hours a day.

That’s silly, of course. Reading is part of the job, part of the training, part of the kit and kaboodle. Part of being productive.

Right? Or? What think you? Do you need reading to write? Or do you need to not read in order to write?

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The Graveyard Book

imageI started with a quick read. I don’t think I’ll blog about all 365 books I read this year, but this is the first, and this is a good one. I mean, it’s Neil Gaiman.

The Graveyard Book is one of those books that you connect with so well, you feel bits are written just for you. It’s also an inspiring reminder of how to live life—at least, how I want to live the rest of my life.

It’s about a boy, Nobody Owens, whose family is killed and he’s raised by ghosts in a graveyard, where he learns how to live life from the dead. Above is the “adult” cover, I’m told. Neil Gaiman’s books seem to work really well for both kids and adults, and it’s hard to pigeonhole some of them as either.

In the first part, there’s this quote that is so applicable to my recent decision:

“It’s like the people who believe they’ll be happy if they go and live somewhere else, but who learn it doesn’t work that way. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.”

I was afraid of that.

I purposely left bits of myself behind, LOL. And I’m happy to report that I am happy, annoyingly so! Bod, (short for Nobody) at the end of the story, finally leaves the graveyard, and these are his plans, which are my plans exactly!

“See the world,” said Bod. “Get into trouble. Get out of trouble again. Visit jungles and volcanoes and deserts and islands. And people. I want to meet an awful lot of people.”

The end also has another bit of wisdom:

Face your life
Its pain, its pleasure,
Leave no path untaken

“Leave no path untaken,” repeated Bod. “A difficult challenge, but I can try my best.”

It’s the sort of book you want to give as a graduation gift and make sure they read it and make sure they learn and apply its lessons well. But of course, that would sort of ruin the experience, wouldn’t it? Because it doesn’t read like a “lesson” book. It reads like a great adventure.

Below, Neil Gaiman does a 2-minute reading of one of my favorite parts, about a poet, Nehemiah Trot and his revenge on his critics. I think it was written for all of us writers!

(There’s a Q&A session, if you want to watch the whole talk at the National Book Festival.)

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Written by Natasha Fondren in: Book-A-Day Reading Challenge | Tags: ,

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