Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Trusting A Narrator

I recently read Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis. And I had an unusual experience while reading the book.

The story is told from 11 year old Elijah's point of view and, as an adult, I found Elijah's youthful naivete extremely amusing. While I wholeheartedly trusted Elijah's sincerity as a story-teller, I also knew that there were many things Elijah didn't quite understand about the world. So I couldn't trust him 100%.

Well. When Elijah, one of the only literate, educated people in the settlement of Buxton, Canada, did some math, I found myself in an unusual position as a reader. Little Elijah had to ring a bell 20 times for each freed slave that entered the settlement. That particular day, a family of 5 had arrived. So Elijah rang that bell 100 times. And I knew that Elijah's math was correct.

But many of the people in Elijah's town did not know that he was correct. They didn't know 5 X 20 was 100. And several of them questioned Elijah, who second guessed himself a few times, and then concluded with confidence that he was correct.

And while all this was going on, I did the math in my head a total of three times. Because I trusted Elijah, but also knew that his 11 year old point of view was very often wrong. Three times I had to assure myself, that 5 X 20 did indeed equal 100.

Well, people. I was stunned. I was stunned that a writer could do such a thing. Create a character you couldn't fully trust due to his youth. And create it so well that a grown woman with a college education second guessed math she knew full well was correct.

It was an extraordinary experience.

Creating a narrator you can't fully trust is a very difficult thing to do. But, writers, if you want to do it, this character must be a good guide. Elijah of Buxton blew me away for many reasons. But mostly for the reason that the character was so well developed I couldn't even trust hard cold fact! Kudos!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

That's Crazy Talk

Today's question is:

Which Crazy Writer Are You?

I found this quiz extremely entertaining. And my results were pretty ironic, given that I'm not a big J.D. Salinger fan.

J.D. Salinger

You are quite possibly one of the greatest creative minds of your generation... not that you want anyone to know, of course. Not only have you been in hiding for several decades, you refuse to publish any of your recent work. You would very likely be a perennial Pulitzer Prize candidate, but your writing sits in a de-humidified bank vault in your humble New Hampshire ranch, awaiting the day that your next-of-kin decides to make a few hundred million dollars. Why the secrecy? Afraid people will read too much into your repeated affairs with barely-of-age girls? Afraid people will begin to see you in every single one of your maladjusted, unstable characters?

Monday, July 20, 2009

It's Monday! What are you reading?

Thanks to J. Kaye's Book Blog I've been trying to jump start my summer reading by posting all the things I've read, am currently reading, and want to read on Mondays. I finally have a few updates!

Recently Finished
The Floating World by Cynthia Kadohata
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis

Currently Reading
The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman

Going to Read As Soon As I Get My Act Together and Get To The New York Public Library
That Went Well by Terrell Harris Dougan

So, what have you been reading?!

Sunday, July 19, 2009


This past week, I spent some time in the Outer Banks of North Carolina enjoying sun, relaxation, and the company of good people.

Very much looking forward to how this will affect my writing. I hope that a clear mind and relaxed body will mean good things! I mean...how could it not??

Monday, July 6, 2009

1,000 Words A Day Challenge

Click below to challenge yourself to write 1,000 words a day. Thanks InkyGirl.


Are outlines for outcasts?

When I first began writing my novel, I had a very loose plot in mind. There was a woman. A journey. And some kind of ending. And that was literally the extent of it. It got me through…well…roughly 3 pages. And then I realized I had to figure out what on earth the thing was about. So I kept writing. And while I wrote, I found out who the woman was, where she was going, who she would meet, and where she would end up. So, after a few false labor pains, the novel was born.

Now that I’m roughly halfway through the darn thing, I’m at the point where I’ve realized something. Something I have mixed emotions about. Something that will undoubtedly send some writers over the edge of cliffs in shock, horror, and dismay. And others back to Starbucks where they nod, shrug, take a sip of coffee and continue typing.

I think I need an outline.

And after discussing this in many writing circles and workshops, the above is usually the reaction. Some people are vehemently opposed to them, finding them stifling and suffocating. And others are so attached to the idea that they find themselves curled up in the fetal position, sucking their thumbs without one.

So why am I both literally and figuratively in the middle? If I started my novel with an outline, I don’t believe I would have gotten where I am now. But lately, I feel that if I don’t have an outline, I’m not going to be able to move any further.

So what’s your take? Take as many detours as possible to find out where you need to be? Or stick to the directions to get to the destination you had planned? And that gets me to the real question. The zinger. Depending on how you do it, are you better or worse off once you get there?

I'm not sure there's an easy answer and I think more people reside in the middle than in my exaggerated extremes. But I secretly can't wait to see who is going to jump off of the cliff. And who is delicately stroking and cooing at their precious little cutsie wootsie outline.