Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Blowing off steam for a moment

I hate plots. Complicated plots are even worse. You know, the sort where every little piece has to fall into place and be foreshadowed many pages in advance. The Ocean's Eleven-type plot. Not my strength. My strengths are fascinating characters, evocative descriptions, and snappy dialogue.

So what do I do? I play on my weakness by creating a story about an ex-con artist who, in order to achieve her goal, defeat the Big Bad, and save the day, must devise a complex scam, one that provides a role for every minor character in the book (otherwise, why introduce them if they're not going to play a pivotal role in the climax?). There are roughly 3,497 loopholes in this scam, and every time I tighten one, another two open up.

For instance, I need to temporarily "dispose" of one character in a way that doesn't cause grievous bodily harm, then have them return at just the right moment to cause more headaches. Since it's a comedy, I'm allowed a certain amount of goofiness, yet I want the solution to be reasonably realistic. I want to limit the "Oh, come on!" factor in the reader.

Imagine beating your head against the wall, breaking through, only to find another wall behind it. That's what this feels like. I can almost see the end of the book, but the vision appears through a dozen layers of lucite.

I think it's important for authors to challenge themselves with each new work. With Eyes of Crow, it was my first time writing from a female point-of-view, first time building a world, and the first time writing without profanity. With Bad Company, I don't have any of those limitations (the main character's a woman, but I've gotten used to thinking like a female), but this one will, in the end (literally), test my ability to work my way into, and out of, a big friggin' mess.

There ought to be a rule: never create a character who's more clever than you are.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Vote for the next blog topic

OK, I'm in the homestretch of finishing Bad Company, and the writing-related blog topics are piling up in my brain. I don't have time to write them today, but the book should be finished within a week or two (she says with deep relief and even deeper sadness), at which point I'll be better about blogging.

Here are five topics I've been mulling over lately, listed in no particular order. Let me know which one(s) you'd like to hear me attitudinize about:
  1. Funny, not fluffy: making comedy readers laugh with characters, not caricatures
  2. Sacrifices of the writing life: the 70 hour/week job that pays almost nothing
  3. Entertainment vs. art: writing for an audience vs. writing for oneself
  4. "Alpha male" heroes: gods on earth or insecure megalomaniacs?
  5. Sex scenes: how much is too much?
Either insert your preference into a comment, or e-mail me via the contact form. I'd love to hear from you: blogs are all about making the internet more interactive, after all. Let's all sashay deeper into the blissful realms of Web 2.0, shall we?

Plus, I'm too tired to make my own decisions.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Dear Oprah,

In case you're feeling a bit gunshy after your ordeal with James Frey's Million Little Pieces, I'd like to assure you that my upcoming novel, Eyes of Crow (Luna Books, November 2006), a story about a young woman whose Guardian Spirit has given her the power to foresee the approach of death, is 100% Fiction. Though we have the same color hair and share a deep and abiding love for cheese, Rhia and I are not the same person. Your unabashed praise for it on the Larry King Show (if you feel so inspired) will never come back to bite you in the ass.

Please let me know to what address I should send the novel and whether I should inscribe it to "Oprah" or "Ms. Winfrey." Have a splendid day, ma'am.

Love, Jeri

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A sign of the apocalypse?

I went to bed early last night to get rid of a headache, but wasn't able to sleep for over an hour due to a terrible thunderstorm.

A thunderstorm in January? Uh-huh, but that's not even the odd part.

This storm didn't deliver torrents of rain to flood our storeroom, as I had worried. Instead it dumped nearly an inch of snow.

Snow. From a thunderstorm.

Has anyone ever experienced this? Could it be the end of the world? If so, I'd like to know ahead of time so I can take the next few days off.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Song for a sick laptop

Maybe I didn't treat you
Quite as good as I should have
Maybe I didn't love you
Quite as often as I should have
Little things I should have said and done
I just never took the time...
--Willie Nelson, "You Were Always on my Mind"
Oh, Lappy. Get well soon. Bring home all my data intact, and I swear I'll establish a six-foot cracker-eating radius. I'll clean your screen once a week. I'll get rid of all those extra music files I'm not listening to. I'll plug you into a high-quality surge protector.

I'll buy you flowers. I'll think of a better name for you, like Natalie or Turbo or Steppenwolf. Anything. Just come home safe.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Pass me my wheat grass, hon

When I saw this article about Baltimore being America's Fittest City, I laughed so hard I snarfed my Natty Boh.


Saturday, January 14, 2006

The wildest minds of my generation

According to this article in Variety Magazine, Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers are teaming up to bring the Maurice Sendak children's favorite, Where the Wild Things Are, to the big screen. Jonze bestowed us with one of my favorite movies, Being John Malkovich, and Dave Eggers penned the novel/memoir A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (which truly is).

Sendak apparently has turned down several attempts to adapt his 338-word children's classic, but told the New York Times last year that "I am in love with [this adaptation]. If Spike and Dave do not do this movie now, I would just as soon not see any version of it ever get made."

So yay.

Posting has obviously been sporadic lately. I'm trying to write 8 pages/day on Bad Company and have just found out I'm going to get the edits for Eyes of Crow around the end of the month, so I need to get a bit ahead of schedule on the writing so I don't fall behind while I'm doing rewrites.

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Monday night Megashuffle

Tomorrow, for the first time since August, I'll wake refreshed and well-rested on a Tuesday morning, since Monday Night Football is no more. Last week doesn't count, because I wasn't well-rested from New Year's Eve (which for me, didn't end until 8 am on January 1) until Wednesday.

So for alliteration's sake, let's resurrect the Megashuffle, in which I name and hastily discuss with bad grammar the next ten songs that come up on RealPlayer as it shuffles through all 3,525 tracks.

1. "Victrola" by Veruca Salt, off of their sublime 1994 release American Thighs. If my best friend from college and I had ever formed a band, this would have been it. Saw them open for Live in 1995. They had so much energy and hey, they could play their instruments, even though they're girls.

2. "Strange Little Girl" by Tori Amos, off the album Strange Little Girls. The idea behind this fascinating compilation was to perform men's songs from a female perspective. Her cover of Eminem's "'97 Bonnie & Clyde" is chilling and reveals to all who ever doubted it what a screwed-up little creep he is. "Strange Little Girl" was originally performed by The Stranglers.

3. "Serve the Servants" by Nirvana, off their final studio album, In Utero. Apparently they designed this album to turn off as many fans as possible. The lyrics to this, In Utero's opening tune, start off, "Teenage angst has paid off well/Now I'm bored and old."

4. "Canary" by Liz Phair, off her never-to-be-equaled-in-this-or-any-universe debut release, Exile in Guyville. Sigh...this album made me glad to be a girl, showed that a woman could be a tough feminist and still adore men.

5. "The Old Ways" by Loreena McKennitt, off The Visit, which was I think her second album. Though still rooted in Celtic sounds, it was less traditional than her previous work, Elemental. McKennitt had started experimenting with instruments and arrangements influenced by other parts of the world, much to the benefit of her music and those of us lucky enough to listen to it. She's probably one of the Top Five Musicians to Write Fantasy To.

6. "Truckdrivin' Neighbors Downstairs" by Beck, off Mellow Gold. I guess you can't be an official genius without a few of these oddities in your repertoire.

7. "Round Here" by the Counting Crows, off their debut August and Everything After. I know they're whiny and melodramatic, but God, I love these guys. Each album gets better than the last (although honestly I only have their first three). This song is a tragic look at great expectations among big-dreamin' newcomers to Los Angeles. At least, that's my interpretation.

8. "The Fly" by U2, from their last great album, Achtung Baby. This song was one of the few songs not released as a hit single, but it's every bit as good as "One" or "Mysterious Ways."

9. "Meant to Be" by the Squirrel Nut Zippers, off of Hot. Some of you might remember the Zippers (or the Squirrel Nuts, if you prefer) as part of the late nineties swing revival movement, that also included Cherry Poppin' Daddies (my favorite) and Big Bad Voodoo Daddies. If you do, you'd be right.

Is it me, or are all these songs from one decade? Really, I like older music, and to a much lesser extent, newer music. Let's hope the last song comes from another time other than the decade in which I grew up ("growing up," for my generation, came during our twenties, not our teens).

10. "Ages of You" by R.E.M. from Dead Letter Office. Whew, at least it's the eighties. This album was an extremely fun collection of songs that didn't fit on any of their other early albums. Their early stuff was great to sing along with, even though we didn't have a clue what they were saying 90% of the time, and when we did, we didn't know what it meant.

Bonus song, because it came from before I was born:
11. "When You Got a Good Friend" by Robert Johnson, from The Complete Recordings. Originally recorded in 1941. So there.


Thursday, January 05, 2006

Louise, Part 3

In case anyone was wondering whatever happened to Louise, the Katrina dog we fostered for a brief time and I mentioned here and here:

She got adopted! No surprise, the lady who fostered her before and after we did, who was eager to come pick her up at the slightest sign of trouble between her and our cats, decided to keep her forever.

So at least one hurricane story has a happy ending. Let's hope the New Year brings many more.


Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Letting Go

"Tyson has served time for rape, bitten Evander Holyfield's ear, tried to break another fighter's arm and threatened to eat the children of former champion Lennox Lewis."
--from an article about Mike Tyson assaulting a cameraman in Brazil
When my friend sent me the above quote last month, I had coincidentally been pondering my own fierce competitiveness. I'm so competitive, I can turn on ESPN-2 in the middle of the night, watch a sport I've never seen before, and within five minutes be cheering wildly for one side and cussing out the other.

But competitiveness has little place in the world of writing. We're supposed to be unswervingly supportive of each other, providing cheerleading squads that gush and squee when other writers score a deal. We form unions and associations to advance our rights or promote our genres. We're all in this together, right?

Experienced authors seem to love to give contradictory advice. They say, "Don't compare yourself to other writers," while simultaneously commanding us to "study the market." Studying the market means finding out what sells and, in many cases, how much it sold for. I find myself flipping through issues of Locus, Romantic Times, and Publishers Marketplace thinking, "I hate him, I hate her, I really hate them..." The only authors I unambivalently root for are the other Luna writers, because they're part of my "team." When their books sell well and get great reviews, it makes us all look good.

I could go all Mike Tyson and be the world's first trash-talkin' fantasy author. When I score a deal of my own, I'll do a little Ray Lewis-style dance over the paperbacks of my fellow writers, or I'll pretend to moon the other authors' fans, a la Randy Moss.

But this competitive instinct isn't based in reality. Publishing isn't a zero-sum game. If another author finds success with a book similar to mine, it creates or augments a market. It whets the appetites of readers for more. Most readers I know don't say, "I love this kind of book, but I can only read one, so I'll take this and not the other." More likely they'll say, "I love this kind of book and read everything like it I can get my hands on to feed my craving." Books aren't dishwashing liquid.

More important, the competitive instinct has a way of gnawing out our guts. It breeds envy, insecurity, and arrogance--none of which are great fuel for creativity or happiness.

At a New Year's Eve party Saturday night, all the guests were offered the chance to take part in a Burning Ritual. We were to write the name of something we wanted to "let go" on pieces of flash paper, which were then collected, placed in a pot and set on fire (outside, of course).

On my tissue-thin sheet of paper I wrote, "Competitiveness with and envy of other writers." It and all its friends went up in a flame so bright the outline is still etched on my retina. I'll always remember that moment, how cleansing it felt to just let go of the hateration, let go of Me vs. the World.

Excuse me now while I go yell at grown men and women sweeping ice.



This Side of Salvation

This Side of Salvation, Jeri's new contemporary YA novel!

Now available in hardcover and ebook.

“A smart, well-rounded, and unpredictable tale...bringing to light issues of belief versus free will, spirit versus body, and family versus self.” —Booklist, **Starred Review**


Order from Indie Bound, Barnes & Noble, or Amazon.com.



"Shattered," a Shade novella!

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Jeri Smith-Ready

Jeri Smith-Ready is a Maryland author of books for teens and adults.

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