Monthly Archives: May 2010

The Butterfly Effect

You know how they say that if a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world the effect is felt in a completely separate part of the world?  Of course you do, because the butterfly effect has been mentioned in many books and movies in the past ten years, especially anything to do with time travel.

Well, I was recently reminded of the butterfly effect while revising the Sophie manuscript the other day.  A seemingly small change in chapter 6, for instance, can have repercussions throughout the manuscript, or just in chapter 33.  Even removing one tiny word can change everything.  Or nothing.

This is when I decided that writing is kind of like juggling.  So many characters, scenes, conversations, plot lines are in the air at any one time and have to be handled with care, creativity and just plain organization.  So removing one element changes the balance.  We wouldn’t want any of those characters to fall on the floor.

For example, I decided last week to remove a character from the story line.  So not only do I have to delete any mention of poor Gabriel , but any scene that involved him must be completely rewritten.  And the absence of Gabriel changes the plot and the structure of the book.

Confused yet?

Exactly.  That’s how I have felt so many times while revising this manuscript.  There have just been too many balls in the air.  And I can’t let poor Gabriel fall on the floor.  Even if he is no longer a part of Sophie’s story.

I will miss him.  I loved his intensity and his potential for romantic drama.  I would absolutely have dated him in my teens and/or early twenties.

Deleting Gabriel was just the beginning of a breakthrough.  So now the revision is on the right track (sorry for the mixed metaphors) and I can get on with the actual cutting, rewriting and refining that make a draft into a potentially saleable manuscript.

Aren’t butterflies beautiful?

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Filed under writing

…and waiting

I’m not telling you where I am in my quest for an agent, but suffice it to say that I am waiting again.  I’m not complaining about the length of time I have to wait – it’s just part of the process.  I get that and accept it.

But.  “And there is a but” (as judge Nigel Lythgoe said on one of my favorite shows, So You Think You Can Dance, which is about to start its new season – squee!).

But.  Butterflies have set up permanent residence in my belly.  I am driving close friends and family a bit crazy with my manic moments.  My house is cleaner than it has been since we moved in (well, maybe not today.  One child spilled his snack on the family room carpet in about the same place the puppy peed a few hours later).  I’m having a hard time talking about anything other than the Search.

In my previous post about waiting, I mentioned playing my oboe and handwork projects.  Alas, I finished my latest knitting project and have no desire to start a new one.  Although I missed having such a project on Mother’s Day when I spent 4 hours as a passenger in the car.  I really should play my oboe, however.  Vivaldi, Mozart and Marcello might calm me down.

Of course, the best thing I can do right now is to work on another writing project.  And I am.  I’m working on a new draft of Sophie.  It’s slow going; I haven’t yet found my steam.  But I will.

In the meantime, guess I’ll carve out a little time for some of my favorite dead men.  There’s nothing like Baroque oboe music to tame the butterflies.

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Filed under Getting Published, writing

Kinyarwanda

My Rwandan friend, Marie- Josée, and her English-speaking colleague at the trauma hospital, Cecile, taught me some Kinyarwanda (Language of Rwanda). Just a few words and phrases to help me be polite and get through the military checkpoints on the major roads. Things like, I don’t understand (simbyunva), which came in handy after I greeted a soldier politely in his language and then he let loose with a stream of Kinyarwanda.

I learned to greet people politely and respond in kind, to count to one hundred, and phrases like “I’m hungry, I’m cold, I’m thirsty, come here (ngwino hano)”. I could ask someone his/her name (witwande?). I could read various medical-related phrases in the pamphlets we prepared to teach people hygiene and sanitation. And I knew some foods.

I couldn’t really converse, but I picked up a fair amount back then. I wish I could remember more of it. But I feel the same about all the other languages I’ve studied to some degree– like Portuguese, Hebrew, German and Greek.

I love how some words are so similar from language to language. I love figuring out why that is so. If I ever win the lottery (which I won’t because I don’t play the lottery), I plan to go back to school for a linguistics degree.

What unusual languages do you know? What would you do if you won the lottery?

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Filed under The rest of my life, writing

She read what?!

There is so much great literature today for tweens and teens.  But do they get what we’re trying to express?

Recently my 12 year old niece and I had a discussion about Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies.  She told me she was a fast reader and had read Uglies in one day.  On a school day.  Well, that’s great, but I wondered if she had read it too quickly to process it.

She said, “It was about two friends who build a grid under their town so they can hoverboard.  So cool.” 

Um, yeah, hoverboarding is cool and was featured prominently in Uglies (and in its sequels which she didn’t read).  But the two friends didn’t build that grid.  What about the messages of environmentalism and individuality?  Okay, at 12 maybe underlying themes aren’t yet her thing.  So, what about how weird it is for everyone to get cosmetic surgery at 16?  How cool is it that you can ask your wall for anything and get it?

Those things didn’t stay with her.  Is it because she read it too quickly?  Or did all of that go over her head?  What do you think, Dear Readers?

In another example, a friend of mine let her 12 year old daughter read Stephenie Meyer’s Breaking Dawn.  I have to admit that I was pretty horrified to hear that.  And for the record, my above-mentioned niece read all four Twilight books when she was still 11.

But my friend made a good point.  Her daughter has no memories or experience to draw from to put pictures in her head that a grown up does.  So the sex (etc.) went over her head.  And while I’m glad that this young girl didn’t retain the salacious details, should we encourage kids to read books that they won’t really get?  Won’t readers enjoy books more when they have achieved a higher level of maturity and experience?

Which leads to the question of what responsibility an author should bear in writing about themes that are inappropriate for readers under a certain age.  Who gets to decide what is inappropriate?  And it isn’t really about a number, is it? 

I don’t think Stephenie Meyer intended for 12 year olds to read her books.  Just as JK Rowling didn’t intend for 6 year olds to read Harry Potter.  (A boy in my son’s first grade class proudly told me the other day that he has almost finished reading the 4th Harry Potter book.  I think I cried at the end of that one.  As I keep telling my son, “Just because you can read something, doesn’t mean you should.”  Luckily, he is perfectly content to continue reading the Magic Tree House series.)

So we come back to parent responsibility and knowing your own child.  And as writers, we can only hope that our readers will get a little more out of our work than, “Hoverboards are cool.”

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Filed under Reading, writing