Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Mockingjay *SPOILERS*

At last, my long overdue post on Mockingjay!


Now that it comes down to it, I find I don't actually have as much to say about this book as I thought I did. Essentially, I thought it was a terrible book with a beautiful ending. I'll try to briefly sum up why I feel this way:

1. Although Collins claims she's trying to portray the true horror of war, her violence is video game violence. Machines spit out deadly things and slaughter characters in excessively gory ways. Over and over and over. It's simultaneously revolting and boring. And because she dwells on the sci-fi gore rather than the human element, I have difficulty making a connection between the book and the real wars going on in our world right now. (For example, she does a wonderful job developing Finnick's character - I really cared about him. But he died in two lines, and Katniss never has an extended moment of reflection on what that means. Because she never has to deal with her grief, we, the readers, never deal with it. And shouldn't that be the point of a didactic fictional book on war? To point out how many people die and are never mourned, and then show the terrible waste of those lives and teach us how we should mourn and, ideally, reform?)

2. Collins switched boats mid-stream. I don't know this - it's just a hunch - but I feel as though after book two, Collins suddenly looked at what she'd done and wanted to make the series more meaningful, more emotionally wise, more profound. But because the first two books were pretty basic thriller + satire (the Juvenalian kind that runs on anger rather than laughter). I found them both highly entertaining, and I thought they had some good things to say about reality tv. But I didn't find them profound. I don't think it would have been impossible to make book three profound, but I think it would have been very hard. And I feel like Collins kept shooting herself in the book. For the aim of the series to change, Katniss needed to change. As I see it, there are two characters who could have helped Katniss grow - Cinna and Peeta. Cinna, she killed in book two. And Peeta, she used as a tension heightener by making him lose his mind for most of the book. Again, this could have been the key to Katniss's FINALLY maturing emotionally, but instead she reverted to the old survival instinct, and learned nothing.

(One side note: I will say I thought she closed the love triangle perfectly. Of course it had to be Peeta. And making Gale the inadvertent cause of Prim's death was the perfect way to get rid of him. Of course, I was so emotionally detached from the book at that point that I felt almost nothing when Prim went up in flames, but that's a different issue.)

And YET, that ENDING! That beautiful, sad, eloquent ending. I wish the book had made the ending inevitable. Instead, I feel like the ending was a glimpse of what the book COULD have been. As it is, Katniss's character development simply couldn't support it. But, it made reading the book almost worth it. So, I will end on a happy note by quoting the final paragraphs where Katniss contemplates how she will explain her violent past and its memories to her children, an ending I wish I had written:

I'll tell them how to survive it. I'll tell them that on bad mornings, it feels impossible to take pleasure in anything because I'm afraid it could be taken away. That's when I make a list in my head of every act of goodness I've seen someone do. It's like a game. Repetitive. Even a little tedious after more than twenty years.

But there are much worse games to play.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Wednesday WIP update

This week I realized that because of insufficiently clear character motivations, I wasn't going to be able to finish the draft. I'm trying to write a very tightly woven plot, but the problem with tight plots (which I hadn't realized before) is that if the setup isn't right, the ending, where all the strands are supposed to fall perfectly into place, won't happen. So, I'm back at the beginning, and hopefully this time, I'll get things right enough to make it to the end! I'm very hopeful, since I feel like I have the clearest view of the story as a whole that I've ever had.

And, in joyful news, a character was born tonight! In my previous draft, I had a character who was a sort of stock elderly mentor type with a small role. Hoping for something a little less like cardboard, I poked him vigorously, and he suddenly metamorphosed into an utterly different personality - younger, fatter, and bubbling over with resentment. I have to admit that I wasn't entirely pleased at first - the initial wash of his personality was so strong that I thought he would try and elbow his way into a larger role in the story, and there is no room! But once I stopped yelling at the computer screen and settled down to work, he slipped into his niche and transformed a wobbly, melodramatic scene into something that I think is very solid. Huzzah!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Anecdote on a Tuesday

This is my favorite joke from junior high. It is a two person joke, so you may need to try it out on an innocent bystander.

Me: Ask me if I'm a tree.

Innocent bystander (looking dubious): Are you a tree?

Me: No! (hysterical laughter)

I don't understand why I still find this so hilarious, or why I'm laughing as I type it out. Most innocent bystanders do not find it amusing. It's a lot more fun to be Me ;)

Monday, September 6, 2010

New Schedule and Writing Excuses

Ah, Resolutions! And it's not even New Year's. This whole blog is an experiment, and now I've decided to experiment with themed blogging on a schedule (along with my new blogger buddy Rachel, who came up with the idea). The schedule is as follows:

Mondays - writing advice or ponderings on writing in general, my own and plugs for other people's
Tuesdays - crazy things going on in grad school/kung fu/life
Wednesdays - update on my WIP
Thursday - book review
Friday - free write of some sort

In my last post I said that I would be blogging about Mockingjay tonight, but, as you can see, it's no longer on this evening's schedule. (I will throw my two cents into the arena on Wednesday.)

For my first official Monday post, I've got to plug the absolutely fabulous podcast Writing Excuses. Hosted by three sci fi/fantasy writers, each episode is 15 minutes long ("because you're in a hurry and we're not that smart") and full of concentrated discussion on writing topics such as pacing, creating a villain, and pitching an editor. The guys are frank and down to earth, their advice is concrete and pragmatic, and listening makes doing laundry an absolute pleasure. What more could a podcast need? All past podcasts are in their archives, so first time listeners can enjoy a marathon listening session! (And my bedroom is cleaner than it's been in weeks.)

Sunday, September 5, 2010


On the recommendation of a friend, who insists that he must "get me into graphic novels," I read Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and finished it last night. (Today I read Mockingjay, but I'm still processing. Will probably review that in the next post.)

Overall, I enjoyed it. The Iranian history is fascinating, and viewing it through the lens of a personal memoir is doubly so. (I did think the section that takes place in Vienna dragged a little.) However, I confirmed what I already suspected - I'm not really a graphic novel kind of girl.

It's not that I think they're a lower literary form or any nonsense like that. It's just that my little brain can't handle text and pictures at the same time. Pictures alone, great (art museums!). Text alone, great (books!). Both together - too much to process. When I'm really into a story, I can't bring myself to slow down and look at each panel. Plus, I'm so used to making up my own pictures to go along with the story, that I feel frustrated by the author's attempt to tie me down to pre-chosen images.

BUT I think it says a lot for Satrapi's writing that I could get so into the story even without paying much attention to the illustrations. Her space was so limited that she couldn't afford to waste a word, and she didn't. In almost every panel, she hit exactly the right tone, chose exactly the right details, maintained an optimum balance between inner narration and outer dialogue. It's brilliant.

I think that if I was forced to put my stories into comic strips, I'd learn an awful lot about my writing, really fast: Where am I most likely to waste space? What do I avoid cutting at all costs? And is my voice strong enough to ring clearly through only a handful of words?

While I'm not going to sit down and write a graphic novel, Satrapi's work is a wonderful model of tight writing, and reading Persepolis has encouraged me to keep polishing my own prose, until every word pulls it own weight, and more.

Friday, September 3, 2010


The contest. Not Dickinson.

I'm getting ready to submit the first 7,000 words of my novel to the new YA category in Houston's RWA annual Emily contest. I'm pretty excited about this, as it will be the first "serious" writing contest I've ever entered. It will be great to get some feedback from utterly unbiased readers - judges who have no idea who I am and who have no stake in making me feel happy :) Of course, this could also be painful, but no pain, no gain I guess!

The down side is that I recently had a revelation about my novel's opening, and while I'd originally planned to submit as is, now that I have a completely new beginning in mind, it doesn't make sense to submit the old one. But now that the contest is open to submissions, and they limit the number of entries in each category, I'm feeling a time crunch. I guess I ought to stop blogging and start novelizing!

But before I do, I'd like to leave you all with a little ditty I composed in honor of Emily. Dickinson, not the contest:

Emily! Emily Dickinson!
Emily! My brain is so sick that on
Saturday night, I find myself thinking of you.

Your poetry! Is full of obscurity!
Your poetry! It's driving me nuts, you see
My head might explode! But that was your goal from the start.