Thursday, August 27, 2009

Growing as a Writer: Small Revelations

I have to admit, as I'm writing, I don't necessarily notice when I've improved. I'm a firm believer in the 'the more you write, the better you write' adage, and I'm certain my writing is better with each short story and novel I complete, but up until now, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you where I had improved other than finishing.

Stuck in the midst of my "quick" round of editing, originally just cutting lines and making changes based on in-manuscript notes I left to myself (now essentialy rereading the whole thing), I am beginning to notice improvements, at least in terms of my awareness of what does and does not work. I think it may be in the editing stage that a writer can see where their strengths and weakessnesses lie, and where they improved. Your story may be better written than an earlier one, but you'll be able to see that when you begin to edit.

For example, lately, I have been starting a lot of sentences and questions with "So..." in my real life/talking to friends online. In text, that habit is more clearer apparent, so when I see it in the novel, I know there's a problem and it needs to go. I'm not adverse to starting a sentence with "And" or "But," but it needs to make sense, address the previous sentence and sound "right" enough to be its own sentence. (If that makes sense.) Basically, it needs to add to the story, and starting a sentence with "So," IMO, doesn't.

I've also noticed a tendency I have in my story-writing to repeat words or phrases as a point of emphasis. I love it. It sounds great in my head. Or Character B will sarcastically repeat what Character A said. As I edit, I try to read the story as Random Reader #1 (in hopes to have many more than 1 in the future). I've been asking myself, "Would this throw me out of the story?" "Would I skip over this?" and I find that those repetitions (especially the quoting someone else in dialogue, which looks a bit awkward with the "'double' quotation marks") tend to do that to RR#1. Thus, I cut and reprase if necessary.

Likewise: just, that, really, actually, very... etc.

Words that I like to use, and feel are needed for emphasis when I write them down, but in editing, I cut most of these. I think I might keep a few "just"s, and I'm working on toning down the "a bit"s, "at least"s and "seemingly"s.

I realize these are a small part of editing, but when I stopped to think about it, I rarely took out the numerous counts of "just" in my early stories. In the past, I didn't use "So" very much (at the start of a sentence), but I'm sure there were other "real life" verbal ticks that made their way into my writing to its detriment.

I like to think this is a tangible/visual point for me to see -that- I have improved, and where I improved, at least in one respect.

So that's my small revelation for the day.

Happy writing, everyone,

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Steal-hood rather than Statehood? Fifty years ago yesterday HI became a state

(Let me preface all of this by saying 1. I typed this yesterday, while my internet was melting, so couldn't post it until now, and 2. I’m talking about words and concepts as I remember them from childhood. I won’t claim any of these meanings are 100% accurate now.)

I moved to Hawaii when I was six, because my dad was in the military and after he retired, my mother wanted to stay here. In elementary school, we had a kupuna (the simplest definition is teacher, although my understanding was that it tended to be an older person, like a grandparent teaching a younger person, in a vaguely master/apprentice relationship) come every other week, or every month. She taught us about the colors, numbers, and various other vocabulary words in Hawaiian, as well as traditions in Hawaii. I remember the tune and some of the words to a song for the colors (ula ula, melemele, poni, polu, ele ele, -something- eo eo [?],…). Granted, I missing some colors in there. In order, those are red, yellow, blue and purple (don’t recall which of these two is which) and black. It’s been years since I remembered what orange, green and brown are in Hawaiian, although I’m fairly certain I have some notes from around that time somewhere.

I also remember a visit from the kupuna when we made poi, a paste made from the taro plant. I have never cared for taro.

Jumping to freshman year of high school, I learned more about how Hawaii, or rather the southernmost 8 of the 108 Hawaiian islands, became a state. I can still picture the text box on the bottom half of a page with the title, “Bayonet Resolution.” Looking back now, I wish we’d been required more than just one semester of Hawaiian history out of four years of required social studies. Even after studying it over the years, I still can’t recall all of the facts. I remember names, I studied similar issues of assimilation, hegemony, and agency, but the one thing I know is that many Native Hawaiians didn’t want to be a state. For a time, the Hawaiian language was illegal—it wasn’t taught in schools, and I believe a child could get in trouble if a teacher heard them speaking it. The bayonet resolution refers to Prince Kuhio, if memory serves me correctly [and I don’t have time right now to double-check, ech] and the story goes that he was held at bayonet point to sign over the annexation decree. Despite the royalty of Hawaii making diplomatic trips, the islands were annexed as a strategic point in the Pacific (for a number of countries, but the U.S. moved first), Queen Lili’uokalani was overthrown, the monarchy ended and fifty years ago today, August 21, 2009, Hawaii became the 50th state of the U.S.A.

Around 3 [yesterday] this afternoon, there was a news brief on KGMB where the reporter mentioned some people called today Steal-hood Day, rather than Statehood. There are many Hawaiians today who are angry at the US government, feeling they should be granted sovereignty, and lands should be returned to Native Hawaiians.

As someone who has lived here most of her life, but has not a drop of Hawaiian blood, I have been annoyed by the number of commercials touting Hawaii’s statehood. They’ve been on television for months. In many ways, I feel that the government’s action in 1893 and 1959 were wrong. But at the same time, I don’t want to be forced out of the place I call home (even if summers have always been a killer for me), and I’d like to think myself as a local.

I suppose that I’m just trying to express how today, especially prompted by that news brief, I am jolted back into awareness of issues that some people around me deal with every day.

As a writer, I think it’s important in world-building, especially when a world/kingdom/country is populated by more than one people, to examine who invaded whom, or how one tribe/culture might have overpowered another. Was there a culture even earlier than the ones present in your story, and if so, what happened to them? (There are plenty of creation myths in Hawaiian culture, but the general consensus is that Polynesians came from other Pacific islands a millennium or more ago. I don’t recall much about possible cultures before that point.) Do the multiple cultures get along, seem to get along, or actively and pervasively loathe one another? It might be details that never make their way into the story, but they should be details the writer knows.

In the meantime, I’m going to brush up on my Hawaiian history and culture.

Happy writing,

Thursday, August 6, 2009

A New Cover for Larbalestier's "Liar"

As an update to Justine Larbalestier's cover of Liar--two posts down there's an explaantion and discussion of the issue--Bloomsbury has redesigned the book jacket for the US hardcover release. The details are on Larbalestier's blog.

Personally, I love that they maintained the form/style of the black and white cover, but this is in color, with a young woman much truer to Larbalestier's character. It looks great. Her eyes are especially striking, IMO.


(If it looks a little blurry, definitely follow the link above and see a larger version and hear the tale in Larbalestier's own words.)
What's wonderful is that, although this is a single, highly vocal occurrence in the blogosphere, hopefully sales of this book will prove to publishers that the excuse "books with black people on the cover don't sell" is outdated and false. I don't usually buy hardcover books, but I may just have to pick this one up when it's released. (I really do love the eyes, they're very compelling.)

Monday, August 3, 2009

Poetry in Motion--My Thoughts Won't Sit Still

As a student at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, I saw Professor Susan Schultz in passing fairly often. Thinking of it now, I'm surprised I've only taken one class with her: Reading poetry as a poet. It was a graduate level course, my second semester in the master's progam. We had required reading--

A Thought went up my mind today-
That I have had before-
But did not finish- some way back-
I could not fix the Year-

Nor where it went- nor why it came
The second time to me-
Nor definitely, what it was-
Have I the Art to say-

But somewhere- in my Soul- I know-
I've met the Thing before-
It just reminded me- 'twas all-
And came my way no more-
c.1863 Emily Dickinson

--But the purpose of the course (IMO and in my memory these few years later) was to 1. Look at poetry and analyze it in different ways, not just the purely academic standard, and 2. read the works of poets with an eye to how their work influenced your own poetry.

I mention this, because she is also the editor of a small publication called TinFish, and has a blog as such. A few days ago, she wrote about the "Seductions of Can't." The gist of it, as I see it, centers around the commonly-found thought that poetry is hard. "I can't understand it." "I can't write it."

I've never had a problem writing poetry, per se. Actually, I only had to struggle through it, as a challenge more than a frustrating impossibility, when an assignment required a poem in a certain form.

Ah, the villanelle. I love a free-form poem.

But it was an interesting reminder how many people are averse to poetry, as portrayed through poetry profesors' syllabi: the presentation of poetry as something that you shouldn't be afraid. I know you are, but with this class, you'll learn not to be.

[I am currently wearing my headphones, listening to "Dark Blue" by No Doubt, with the cord of my headphones marking two poems in a pocket-sized copy of Dickinson poems (indeed the volume we used in this course).]

Schultz's post resonated with me somehow, thus this post to try and get some of those thoughts out, instead of bouncing around in my mind, pinball-like. [Thinking about poetry makes me poetic. Not that I claim I am such successfully.] She says of the poetry class, "We are not immediately readers, but a support group for poetry phobics." Her idea is to take all the energy of the 'cannot's and push it towards creation, to can, to try.

Don't give in to the fear, poetry is our friend.

At my local library, there was a slim volume of poetry that I borrowed repeatedly. Some long poems, some short, all of them about time. I have my life-motifs: masks, butterflies, quill pens, and time. They are the visuals, the concepts, that I turn to, that I get wrapped up in, that I seek out.

Poetry is not something for a reader to struggle through fearfully or with trepidation, nor does it require a "reader." [Who else has friends that claim not to be 'readers'?] Anyone can skim a sonnet, write a short poem. No rhyming required unless you want to. What's outside the window?

Tiny sparrows and palm-sized green birds, that flitter and jump from slim branch to slim branch, bouncing the whole plant as they play and search and fly.

Don't be afraid of poetry. It likes you.

I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you- Nobody- Too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise- you know!

How dreary- to be- Somebody!
How public- like a Frog-
To tell one's name- the livelong June-
To an admiring Bog!
c.1861 E. Dickinson

*As an aside, when I took her class, our final/big assignment was an anarcho-scholastic project (a-s being a combination of creative and academic approaches, structures, and presentations to a subject) on a poet who person or work resonated with us. I chose John Keats. I still feel incapable of putting into words how or why he resonates with me. In fact, one of classmates and friends said she was surprised I picked him--she expected me to choose a more modern poet. Her explanation for that was as amorphous as my own. I set out to search for Keats in the modern world and listened to my professor's suggestion. Although I turned in a hard copy, I ultimately re-created my project on a blogspot blog: Encountering Keats. Currently, it's set up as the most recent post is the first page and each subsequent post is a subsequent page, corresponding as closely to the hard copy version as possible.

If Keats ever jumps out at me (when it happpens I'm usually not looking for it), there will be more updates to that blog. Keats does not stop at the introduction. I wonder if Junkets has a facebook? ...indeed there are! Quite a few, too, including "John Keats: An Emo?!", "John Keats was a sexy mofo" and "I'd put out for John Keats."
WHEN I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love! - then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
(one of my favorite Keats sonnets)