Saturday, December 19, 2009

Where are the simple joys of ______hood?

There are many books that I love for their drama or poignancy or, even better, action. Even more frequently, I love the things that are somehow out of place with the rest of the book but make me love them. Here's a short list of such things:

*Alice's Vogue moments throughout the Twilight series.
*Ron Weasley's sometimes comical responses to and confusion by ordinary Muggle things that we take for granted.
*The 'tourist' scenes in Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian.
*Some of the social events in War and Peace.
*The Yule Ball invitations in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
*The "formal dance" in Aaron Allston's Iron Fist.

There are wonderful moments of humor that permeate ancient and modern literature. Even in Harry Potter, we get to have a few chapters of normal life before, after and in between the momentous things in each book.

Well, my problem is that I want to have similar things, but it seems inappropriate for this book. After all, it starts out quite in media res. Yes, Ella is a typical high school senior, but we don't have time to explore that very much if we want to get through the plot at an appropriate pacing or not take away from the story itself. It makes me half want to start the story earlier in the history of this whole conflict, but I rather like the suspense of what is known and unknown.

On an unrelated note, I have a very strange playlist for writing. I like listening to things like "Problem Girl" and "Her Diamonds" from Rob Thomas, some tracks from Moulin Rouge, and even such random things as "Death Shall Not Destroy My Comfort" from Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The other night, I was trying to get in the mood to write a quite pivotal scene. It required a very specific emotional state for both me and the characters, so I started shuffling through my iPod playlist. Oddly enough, I landed on "Smile" (the version by Charlie Chaplin covered by the Glee cast from the episode "Mattress."). I put that on and after the first time through, I put it on repeat until I was finished with that scene. Would never have guessed that it was what was needed.

Friday, December 18, 2009

When characters keep secrets

I've always been jealous of inside jokes. I never seem to have enough of them in my life or I'm on the other side of the fence from them. I never thought I'd feel left out in a conversation with my characters.

See, I was writing a scene with Michael and Ella and he did something very odd. I won't go into details because eventually, it makes a difference, but as soon as I wrote it, I stopped and just went, "What?"

And true to character, Michael smirked at me in my head and said "you had to be there." Since when are characters allowed to have in-jokes that their authors don't know about?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Delusions of Alicedom

So, of all the kindred spirits I could find in modern YA fiction, I discovered Alice Cullen. I could relate to a near midget who reads Vogue like it's Tolstoy (though I also read Tolstoy and I think she does, too).

So one of my fetishes is to dress my characters meticulously. So, tonight, I went on and created a set of pajamas for my main character. Naturally, since she's my brainchild, she's a baseball fan. And then I picked her Thanksgiving outfit for a very important conversation.

So here we go. Installment one of my fictional wardrobe:

Find me on Polyvore

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

MWAHAHAHAHA (and other unconvincing sounds)

So, as any of my friends will tell you, I have a thing for villains. I have a crush on Voldemort, I am a fangirl of Palpatine and pretty much if it has a cowl and an evil intention, I love it. Well, there are exceptions, but you get the idea.

As I said in a previous post, the lines of good and evil in this book aren't clear at all. I will count it as a triumph if people are surprised by the major turning point in the book but still think it makes sense.

The problem is, with all of that ambiguity, it is very hard to write the villains. For one thing, the ability that the villains use most to their advantage is one that is also used for defense and peacekeeping. For another, for the turning point to be a surprise, there has to be the right balance of fear, loathing and loyalty to certain parties.

So, I envy Brandon Sanderson with his Steel Inquisitors, JK Rowling and the Death Eaters. Heck, I even envy Tolkien's ring wraiths. It's all so easy when you can have your villains act like villains from the start. I feel a bit like George Lucas at the beginning of the prequels--it's fun writing crafty Senator Palpatine but sometimes I want to skip ahead to where he whips the lightsaber out of his sleeve and kills off four members of the Jedi Order in 2 minutes of fun fight scenes. Well, only this really needs to be more subtle than that.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Old habits die hard (about the project and a couple of anecdotes)

About the Book

The basic premise of the book that I'm currently calling EMP (Ella Mack Project) is that a young woman who has lacunar amnesia after a serious car accident discovers that before the accident, she was part of an underground magical society. We think that she is the Harry Potter type, but it turns out that she's the Hermione and Harry disappeared on the day of her accident. Both sides of a war are trying to find him and as far as anyone knows, she was the last one to see him alive.

The idea came to me while watching a scene in the second Matrix movie. The following dialogue took place:

“I suppose the most obvious question is, how can I trust you?”
“Bingo. It is a pickle. No doubt about it. The bad news is there's no way if you can really know whether I'm here to help you or not, so it's really up to you.” -Neo and The Oracle, The Matrix Reloaded

I was struck by an inspiration to write a book in which you aren't sure whose side the protagonist should be on. As George Lucas wrote in Revenge of the Sith, "There are heroes on both sides. Evil is everywhere."

The real villains/boogeymen of the book came to me as an utter shock. I have had strange dreams on occasion, but I had been trying to come up with the bad guys in the novel for about a month before I got pneumonia and had this dream while on medication. In it, I watched a crucial scene that I had planned in the book in which we find out how the car accident happened and my brain narrated. From that dream, I found out not only the nature and powers of the villains, but their names. It was quite helpful and just a little Stephenie Meyer. Yeah, we went to the same university, different years. Must be something in the dorm food.

Surprise: Story 1

So, after 19 or so years, I thought I was fairly familiar with my writing style. I'd kicked the habit of sighing characters who always put a hand on someone else's arm and who had to fight sci-fi villains who always had Greek or German last names. I stopped trying extended metaphors. I knew what my dialogue strengths and weaknesses were. I knew that I could write a kick-butt fight scene at the drop of a hat.

So, imagine my surprise this last weekend when I took myself by surprise. I was 500 words into a very serious conversation between my two principal players when I realized that all of their conversations seemed to involve food. Not "I'm worried about the dichotomy of good and evil and I could really use a cheeseburger right now!" but no matter what, I seemed to make them hold these profound conversations at McDonald's or at a Greek restaurant. "Life and death, life and death, fry sauce? Life and death, life and death."

So I went back and read some of my other fanfics. In my epic to end all epics, Lest Ye Be Judged (Star Wars), it's the same. Two main characters are eating the GFFA equivalent of crepes when the climax of the story happens a mile away. Any time there's a serious conversation, it's guaranteed someone else will show up with a julaberry torte or will be making pancakes at the time.

I'm trying to make sense of why this is. I think the closest I've come was remembering the nature of my talks with friends in high school. I went to Boston University Academy and some of my best experiences happened while we'd be at a cafe in Boston's North Station on our way home or at a corner table in the Academy lunchroom BU's student union. I think that, from that, I got the impression that food brought out the deepest darkest secrets in our souls. I wonder if any evil overlords have ever tried feeding their captives into submission.

So this last weekend, I erased that entire scene and instead wrote 1700 words of the novel that didn't mention food once. They took place on the steps of a high school in Philadelphia, a public park and the front seat of the main character's car.

Out of character: Story 2

Another thing that I'm trying out with some trepidation is non-sequential writing. I tried writing the ending of a story once, killed off the main character and went back to build up to that. By the time I got to the ending, the main character lived and went on to star in the other two stories in the trilogy. I vowed that I'd never do that again.

Until now, that is. I tried writing from page 1, but it just wouldn't speak to me. Eventually, I sucked it up and wrote a dream sequence from 15 pages in. Then my muse wanted me to write chapter 6. Then it finally cooperated and let me write Chapter 1.

For my trouble, my characters finally told me what they looked like. I had known the following about the four principal characters:

Ella--Last name is Mack, likes Greek food and wants to go to UPenn or Columbia. Hates wearing skirts and is good at math.

Julie--Ella's best friend. Decorates her messenger bag like a Jackson Pollock painting. Reminds me very strongly of my good friend Dana.

Michael--Missing. Harry Potter figure. That's it.

Alex--Funny and affectionate. Hates Calculus and is dating his Calc teacher's daughter.

Once I let my muse kick me in the pants and started writing non-sequentially, I found out that Ella looks like my younger sister--blonde hair cropped short, tall, likes American Eagle. Julie Wright just followed me to a character-design site and nagged me until I got the right combination; she ended up somehow looking like my best friend Katey, though I didn't mean for that to happen. Michael finally told me that his last name is Anthony after the patron saint of missing persons and that he has brown hair and brown eyes and likes jeans and comfortable shirts. And Alex decided he wanted to be another cute guy with black hair and green eyes. And his last name was Thorpe.

I'm listening more receptively to my muse these days.

Hi, I'm Ish. And I'm a novelist


Yes, that was meant to sound like an AA introduction.

Novel-writing is a privilege and a pain-staking process. Sure, anyone can do it. Just look at Few can do it well. I'm trying to fit into the latter category.

Since I am currently working on a novel that I hope to get published, I decided I'd like to write a blog about the process.

About Me

I'm Ish, I'm 29 and I've been writing seriously since...well, about 4th grade. That was when I decided that I could just write as well as Ann M. Martin and wrote a book about a girl who has to move to Hawaii with her parents and the friends she left behind. It strongly resembled a Baby-Sitter's Club book, but hey, it was mine.

I haven't gotten much published. One poem, one short story and several personal essays. My first publication paid me $20 and I bought Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban for my younger brother's birthday with it.

If you've seen my writing around, it's probably because you fall into one of three categories: A fanfic reader, a fan of or a friend. I write everything from Star Wars to West Wing and back again. I'm DarthIshtar on and I'm ImprintedIsh on I'm Kathryn Olsen at

I'm from Boston. I'm a tech support supervisor for a software company in Utah. I want to be a librarian someday. I'm bilingual in English and Spanish and when it comes to languages, I'm overeducated. I also spend too much time thinking about the Red Sox.