Monday, November 30, 2009

I should eat more cheese...

I just returned (begrudgingly) from an 8 day trip to Southern France. I had been to the area once before, but it was a short trip to Nice where my friend Lynn and I quickly realized that the entire town was closed due to Easter Monday. The following day we spent at a tennis tournament in Monte Carlo and the third day we walked an empty, cold beach front in Cannes before skipping off to Barcelona (ah the life of a study abroad student with a 3 week spring break!)

This time around, I was fortunate enough to have some locals show me around. Tyler's Aunt and Uncle moved to a small village outside of Nice called Montauroux 10 years ago and they were kind enough to put us up and show us the area. We also spent 3 days in a university town called Aix-En-Provence, which was extremely charming. We took day trips to Cannes, Fayence, Nice, Cap Ferrat, Avignon, and Marseille. We drove around exquisite mountain ranges, toured vineyards with amazing backdrops of said mountain ranges, sat for long hours at cafes, and walked through charming, narrow, cobblestone streets. The food was terrific, each view was more beautiful and breathtaking than the next, and life was generally smooth and easy (besides abnormally small parking garages, manic drivers, and a bit of a language barrier.)

Things were different there, as you expect it to be in a foreign country, and I left with a simple thought: It's a different life. Sounds simple enough, pretty much a no-brainer, a 'duh' moment. But, I really wanted to think about what made it different. Sure, New York City doesn't have sunny weather year-round, nice beaches, picturesque mountain ranges with Alpes in the distance. It doesn't have farms and sheep and vineyards and olive trees. But these are obvious differences when you compare a concrete jungle to the Mediterranean. The most noticeable difference was really and truly the pace of life.

In France, life seemed to be enjoyed over a longer period of time. People sat in cafes sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes without thinking about who they were going to meet with next. People ate dinners without tapping their fingers wondering how fast the food would come or when they would get the bill. People worked knowing they would have 2 hours in the middle of the day to be with their friends and family. People opened bottles of wine, buttered croissants, and sliced cheese without thinking about calories.

Perhaps it was only because I happened to be enjoying a period of leisure that I thought everyone around me was too, but I constantly sensed that time was spent in a much more relaxed way. I, admittedly, found myself growing impatient with the pace of life. I found it difficult to embrace the crawling pace at which time moved. I didn't want to reject it but I often found it hard not to.

Taking this trip made me realize that there is always a choice with how we spend our time. It may seem like it is always out of our hands. That there are obligations that require us to spend our time the way we do: "I have to be at work at 9" "I have to pay my rent" "I have to support my family" "I have to meet this deadline" But we only have to because we've required ourselves to think that getting to work at 9 and meeting the deadline are the only ways to fulfill our obligations. There are other ways to spend our days and accomplish our goals and do the things we've required of ourselves by the choices we've made. Sometimes it takes a new perspective to see that.

As the year draws to a close and we start a new one, I don't want to reject that relaxed sense of time. I want to find a way to use it so that I am not always thinking about the next step, the next meal, the next person, the next big thing. I don't want to force my time forward so quickly and frenetically. I want to be able to sit for long periods of time and enjoy the things I'm meant to enjoy.

Like cheese.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

I Shouldn't Be Writing

Well, 76,000 words later and I have a first draft! I know how much work there is yet to be done in the editing phase, but I can't express how happy I am that I have a story from start to finish. And it even makes some logical sense!

The experience has been very difficult and it's far from over. But while the first draft sits and marinates for a few weeks, I'm very happy to be at this point.

I have to tell you, I didn't know the experience of ending a novel was so sad. It was very hard to leave this character. To be honest, I don't know what will happen to her at this point because this is as far as her story goes. That is very strange. But now I say good luck to her. And good luck to me! Because this edit is going to be quite a trip...

And don't worry. I'll be documenting it (i.e. whining about it) right here. :-) Smiles everyone!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Morning After

I am happy to announce that the sex scene went well!
I was kind of worried about it, because I'd never written one before and my reading experience of the deed is limited to some very dramatic Russian novels and lighthearted chick lit. I also realized that I read a lot of novels about women who are either repulsed or frightened by the act (must have something to do with my affinity for reading books about arranged marriages.) And no matter how hard I tried, I simply couldn't remember any standout sex scenes in books. I vaguely recalled a lot of misogynistic accounts from the male point of view. And a series of endless, promiscuous sex scenes in John Updike's Couples.

I thought there was a high risk that this scene could become kitschy or melodramatic very quickly.

I am here to announce that I did not use the words rip, bodice, or breast. But I did use the words succumb, fumbled, and caress.

I am not sure where all of this leaves me: kitsch, tawdry, or not. But I do now have a sex scene in my book. It moved plot forward dramatically and it's left a lot of juicy conflict and tension for the coming scenes. I guess, as in life, the sexual act has a lot of consequences.

Now that that's out of the way, I can move on. But I'll always remember my first.

My God, the double entendres in this account are absolutely ridiculous.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I just want you all to know that I have a very big night ahead of me.

Tonight...I become a woman. I am going to write my very first sex scene. Which may or may not include ripping a bodice. And the phrase 'she giggled like a school girl'. Or the word breast. :-O

I plan to report back in the morning with aaall the juicy details...

Monday, November 9, 2009

Hope Endings

Before I launch into my nonsensical rambling of the day, the title of this blog post just reminded me of something. Literally, just this moment.
Sitting in my piano teacher's house, leafing through her Reader's Digest Songbooks, and picking out an inspirational song called Whispering Hope ( And because I'm a dork, find a beautiful rendition of it here). My teacher, Mrs. Jeanne Lance, had a habit of humming songs she loved while her students played. Whenever I played this one, she couldn't hold herself back. She actually sang the lyrics out loud in a sweet, shaking soprano voice that I'll always remember her for. I am not a religious person and I had only picked the song because there was a picture of a dove on the sheet music, but this song has always lifted my spirits. Whenever I play it, I can't help but sing it out loud and proud as well. I'll always remember Mrs. Lance fondly. I don't quite know what happened to her in life. But I imagine she is happy and hopeful in her cozy home where she welcomed so many students and families and gave them the gift of music on her sturdy upright piano.

Now that I am sitting happily in this memory, I am not sure how much I need to elaborate on the concept of hope. But, in a recent writing workshop, we discussed happy endings. It was unanimously agreed that happy endings are not necessary. In fact, a majority of the class agreed that they enjoyed a real devastating ending now and again. Craved the depressing reality of things. Killing protagonists were generally frowned upon (imagine if Voldemort defeated Harry?!) but nobody seemed to mind the fictional sudden death of the old, beloved neighbor who just won the lotto (Anyone know that one?) the tragic loss of a parent, or the suicide or cancer diagnosis of beloved friend. We can handle these things.

What we determined readers can't handle is an ending without hope. Even if your protagonist has been literally and figuratively bruised and battered...beaten down by life. Even if the last thing that happens is so down-right awful it's not clear how anyone will go on. They need to GO ON. You always need to leave the reader with hope.

I agree with this conclusion. A moment of hope is how every story should end.

So what do you think? Too bold of a statement? You know plenty of hopeless stories the world loves? (If you do, please let me know, I'm trying to think of one.) Let 'em cry and close the book dejected? A little tough love is just what the world needs? What has Hollywood done to tragedy? Inquiring minds want to know whatcha think about the necessity of ending with a lil' hope.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Plot, plot. Plot's the problem.

I only have nine more scenes to write in my novel before I begin the dreaded edit.

I quietly and neatly outlined these scenes by hand, sitting at my little desk. I know where they all take place. I know which characters are in them. And I know what I need to accomplish. There are emotional beats that need to happen. There are revelations that need to be had. Issues that need to be resolved. And relationships that need to work themselves out. I outlined all of this in red pen in a nice, happy little notebook.

Thing is...I don't actually know what happens.

Beyond the climax of my story, one strange scene I've been very excited to write, and the last scene of the book, I've got 6 other scenes to write in which there is, quite simply, no plot.

It turns out my neat little outlines are vague notions of how my characters are developing internally, rather than what is actually, physically happening to them.

So, I've got a lot of brainstorming to do. Mainly, how to translate emotional beats into physical action. What has to happen to show jealousy? What has to happen to show personal growth? To show betrayal?

I can't believe that 6 things actually have to happen! How'd that work out? ;-)

And I'd love to know how a person gets to this point without having even the faintest notion. Oh lawsie me... Plot's the problem.