Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Unhealthy Habits

There are two things that I have been doing for as long as I can remember: music and writing. Just as my parents have pictures of me at my first-grade talent show, they have my stories from elementary school. The other day, I was talking to a friend about teaching children music and how it's the best and worst thing a child can go through at times. That really reminded me of writing, so I decided to write about that tonight.

Anyone who knows me well is aware of my two fetishes. I'm the daughter of a woman in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and a businessman who used to be in a band but now just jams on weekends with his acoustic guitar. I started violin when I was 3, joined a singing group called Showbiz Kids not much later, did community musicals as soon as I could learn how to sing harmony at the age of 6. My parents were extremely supportive of how much I loved music. As soon as I moved to a new place, we would find me a new teacher and find a new orchestra for me to participate in. We'd also usually get involved in whatever theater group was around there. When I won a year of free piano lessons in a raffle at the age of 7, my parents let me continue taking lessons until I was almost 13 and we couldn't afford both sets of lessons. They let me join everything from Glee Club to Mixed Chorus, String Orchestra to Full Orchestra. The hands-down most incredible summer of my life was when I was accepted to the Interlochen Arts Camp and spent the entire vacation rehearsing several hours a day, performing once a week and making immense progress in my musicianship. In that summer, I played everything from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty Waltz to the Prokofiev Romeo and Juliet Suite, from Holst's Jupiter to the Tchaikovsky 6th Symphony's final movement. I developed a vibrato and pushed myself harder than I had ever thought possible.

On the other hand, I have some utterly miserable memories of music. It's a masochist's art, really. Not just the working for years before you can even sound halfway-decent. Not just the 7 a.m. Saturday rehearsals I had downtown when in the New England Conservatory Youth Strings. I look back at my life and I wonder what kind of sick freak I was. When I was 9, I accepted an invitation to tour with my old orchestra in Taiwan and had to have 21 pieces memorized and performance-ready in three weeks. The following summer, I was taught at Bay State String Camp by a man who struck me whenever I did something wrong. For the last half of that week, I kept myself going by crying whenever I got home from rehearsals, but I kept going. I have done countless auditions for orchestras. At Interlochen, once you were in the orchestra, you had to compete for your seat each week. As a singer, I was part of groups that sometimes did several concerts in a day. My favorite audition experience has to be when I was trying out a new instrument and was scheduled for my two New England Conservatory Youth Division placement auditions on the same night. I finished playing the Bach Double Violin Concerto for the camcorder and microphone, then walked out and swapped my violin for a viola so I could go back in and do the Telemann G Major Concerto. As an instrumentalist, I have done all of this to myself when it wasn't expected of me. That's because my mom thoughtfully never told me until I was 13 that I had bilateral vestibular syndrome and wasn't expected to be able to ever play a musical instrument because my brain doesn't get impulses to my muscles very well. By the time I was aware that there was a reason that I had to work harder than everyone else to sound good, I was used to it.

So, comparatively, writing is a piece of cake. Nothing physical holds me back from typing. I love writing and it comes easily to me at times. In high school, I remember reading a story I'd written and finding that I'd taken Greek class notes in the margins of that story instead of the other way around. My English teacher from 9th grade wrote me the letter of recommendation that got me into college and said that I was the best writer she'd ever taught. BYU looked at that recommendation from the person who was by then the head of the Harvard English Department and decided I was good enough for them, 3.2 GPA and all. On the other hand, that teacher is also the one who made me cry in public by telling me in a class discussion that I would never have the grasp of literature to understand "A Raisin in the Sun." Last summer, I was in a very paralyzing depression because writing made me depressed and that was one of the few things that could keep me from severe depression. I have been immensely frustrated and cried and cursed at my computer and people at times while writing this book.

So I suppose that everything, to a certain extent, can be a wonderful thing that makes us miserable or an unhealthy habit that makes all the difference.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

What's in a Name, part...oh, who cares?

Just a quick note: I've narrowed the options to Michael Anthony, Michael Arden and Anthony Llwellyn. I have decided to keep it as Michael Anthony until the manuscript is finished. At that point, I will go back, read the whole thing and consider what name fits him best. Thanks to everyone who voted.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Things Learned On the Road

I'm back from four great days in Philadelphia. It was a great trip and my friend was VERY kind to come with me. Otherwise, I would have spent most of the weekend on one SEPTA or PATCO train and would have never gotten around to the fun things between research stops.

Ten amusing things about traveling in Philadelphia that can't be found on Google or Wikipedia:

1. The corner of Walnut and 3rd is evil
2. There can be two contradictory one-way signs on a single corner and they still expect you to abide by the rules
3. You have to pay careful attention to what is a street and what is an access road. Sometimes, it's not marked.
4. Philadelphia Phillies fans are adamantly proud of the fact that even if the Boston Red Sox went 86 years without a World Series win, they have over 10,000 losses. This makes them more diehard and more faithful than any Red Sox fans.
5. No matter where you go in Philly, you're bound to be a racial minority of some kind.
6. You can find the racial demographics of an area on the internet, but it still won't prepare you to find an Ethiopian restaurant next to a Chinese takeout, a Mexican market next to a Jamaican bakery or the million fried chicken restaurants.
7. It's a thriving metropolis, but you can't find anything downtown to eat after 9 p.m. Not even at a Starbucks. It's all closed.
8. These are some of the crazy-narrowest streets that I've ever seen, even in Italy.
9. In Germantown, even the McDonald's is fancy.
10. CHS is an awesome school with a great, diverse population made up of students who were above the 88th percentile in standardized testing.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

I Walked Today...

Okay, so I'm posting from a Microtel Inn near the Philadelphia Airport. In the top pocket of my backpack is my digital camera and I have over 200 pictures on that memory card. My feet are killing me, I have a few more freckles and I'm pretty sure that I'm going to pass out very effectively tonight.

That said, I am back from a lot of *squee* moments. Today involved a lot of driving. After going to services at both Christ Church (Episcopal) and the Philadelphia 4th Ward (Mormon), we got into our rented Hyundai Accent, revved up a very ineffectual GPS unit and set off on a "book tour."

I now have pictures of the benches where Ella sits when she first finds out that she's not your average teenager. I took pictures of the intersection where the book opens. On 16th St., we pulled up to a corner and I squealed "Hedgrow apartments! THAT'S LETICIA'S APARTMENT RIGHT THERE ON THE FOURTH FLOOR!" before jumping out of the car to take a picture of a very ordinary blond-brick building. On 53rd St., I seemed to confuse three people who were on the other side of the street when I photographed a house, the neighborhood, the alleyway next door and even the rooftops of the surrounding buildings. I now know that Ella can look out of her living room window and see...another window, surrounded by eye-hurting yellow siding. I know that she's down the street from Maria's Super Market and if Alex is picking her up, he can probably hang a right on Parrish Street and find better parking there. I've also gotten the lay of the land at her high school, though more information will have to wait until tomorrow.

This is day three. On days one and two, we hopped subways, played location scouts for certain scenes of the book... We found the bad guys' headquarters after wandering off in search of the DAR rose garden. Not only did my friend practically keel over, but when I took pictures of a specific corner, there was a huge difference in the quality of the photo. I've decided it's an anti-Muggle charm.

So, more later, but *SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!* And my next book series, I'm going to cheat and write something in Boston.

Thursday, May 6, 2010


So, I keep thinking that I'm in the home stretch of this novel. It's coming along really well, I've got one major chunk to write and a lot of little details to expand. To that end, I'm actually going on a much-anticipated trip to Philadelphia this weekend. (To be honest, I'm taking a break from packing to write up this post.) A good friend was saintly enough to suggest that when I give into my wanderlust and finally get back to the East Coast as I've been yearning to do since December, she come along. I'm so excited! And I'll have a lot of pictures to share when I get back.

Anyway, back to the home stretch. If you're puzzled by the title of this post, let me explain now. When I was growing up, we tended to move a lot. Sure we stayed in the same state and even in the same town, but we were serial renters. I chalk it up to the fact that my Dad has always wanted us to live in California, while we obstinately stuck it out in Massachusetts, cold weather, crazy drivers, brilliant educational opportunities and all. We got so good at moving that a local news show once did a feature on our family, highlighting how we effectively move four kids from house to house.

Well, what "chowdah" (or chowder) translates as is what would "come out of the woodwork" as my Mom said. YES! We got all of Kaki's books packed! Oh, wait, we just moved the bed and found that she accidentally dropped another half-box of books down there over the last year...oh, so THAT'S where that library book went... Or my sister's art supplies. You get the idea. No matter when you think you're done, you're not. There's always the chowdah. Now that I'm nearly 30, chowdah means that when I've moved out of an apartment, I'll tote an extra bag of things like jewelry or stray pens that I thought I'd packed.

So yesterday, I was sitting in the break room at work with K. This is the same K who has known about this book since I was still working out the plotline, who refers to it by its villain rather than its working title and who has heard most of my crazy ideas. When I had pneumonia and my drugs made me have a dream about this book, she was one of the first people I told. She's invaluable, really. Even more so because I'll occasionally have a flash of inspiration and she'll say "Yeah, you told me about that several weeks ago." If you read my Dr. Who blog, she's also the friend who got me hooked on that and with whom I analyze just about everything on a weekly basis.

I'm really off on tangents tonight. Anyway, so I had just had a realization that I was stuck with some literary chowdah. I have been working up to a reveal of a certain alliance for a while now and I wrote that scene last night. It was a part that made me smirk at my own cleverness, but I then realized that, oh my gosh, I hadn't set it up well enough. In other words, the gasps of my readers would be less "OH! I get it now!" and more "Are you kidding me? I thought he stopped being important six chapters ago!" Imagine if it turned out that Dedalus Diggle from the Leaky Cauldron in HP1 turned out to be the key to bringing down Voldemort and "good old JK" hadn't mentioned him since book 4. I sighed and lamented to K that this book is going to be longer than I anticipated. In a very good McGonagall impression, she arched her eyebrows over her glasses at me and observed that this is the second time that I've said just that about the book.

It's true. I'd originally planned for 65,000 or so words. Now I'm at 58,000 and have at least 20,000 words left to go before it's sufficiently written. It's never going to be Lest Ye Be Judged, which outstripped the longest Harry Potter book by 88,000 words, but it's going to be closer to 100,000 words than I originally anticipated. Frankly, I'm a bit embarrassed because when I overstep my wordcount bounds, I feel like I'm being too presumptuous in thinking that anyone will want to read something that long. And then I feel a bit panicked that I still have that far to go.

Like I said, chowdah.