Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Flash Fiction: The Kindness of Strangers

Jeremy’s hands remained balled in his pockets, the stiff plastic of his jacket making him shiver. The gray world couldn’t decide if it meant to rain today, offering indecisive drops as if testing the idea. 
His laces were untied; he watched the flopping bits of frayed material slap against the pavement with each step. Staring at them became hypnotic, and he forgot the chill as he counted his steps. His thoughts drifted to his homework. Spelling, four times each. A math worksheet. Chapter questions in... science or social studies, he couldn’t remember. 
At the street corner, he paused. His uncle’s apartment was home, until Mom could save enough for a deposit on their own place. Mom wouldn’t be off work until five. Wouldn’t be home until six, maybe later if the buses ran late. Jeremy drew his jacket in closer to his body. How slowly could he walk home?
A drop of water landed on his shoe, where the cloth and plastic fought to stay together. Another fell on his hand. He didn’t cross the street, but traced the toe of his sneaker along a crack in the pavement. Dark spots continued to cover the sidewalk until the pale surface was dalmatian-splotched with rain. Water trickled down from his collar and a shudder racked his body. He’d have to go home. 
He forced his next step, his shoes leaden.
The sound of tires against wet asphalt forced his attention. A mini-van pulled up to the curb, headlights shining cheerfully. Jeremy took several steps back, ready to run if it was a weirdo. The automatic window came down, a lady’s head appearing behind it. She smiled, an apology creasing her brow. “Hey there. Aren’t you in David’s class?”
Jeremy nodded dumbly. David? David with all the friends, and new clothes every week. Rich David?
The lady turned around in her seat. “See, David? I told you.” She returned her mascara-lashed gaze to Jeremy. “Are you waiting for your ride, hon?”
Jeremy felt his lips part. He shook his head.
“This rain’s supposed to get awful bad,” she said. She pushed a button on her ceiling and the side door of the van rolled open to a mild beeping noise. David sat sprawled out in the middle row, the light of his handheld game casting soft light on his face in alternating blues and whites. He didn’t look up.
David’s mother tilted her head, her smile appearing again, but Jeremy recognized the concern in her features. He could almost read her thoughts. What was this boy doing standing alone on a street corner? “Come on,” she said. “You’ll be soaked in a minute if you don’t hurry.”
He hitched his backpack, hesitating a moment before entering the van. David shifted his outstretched leg, making it possible for Jeremy to sit. David’s mussed hair fell into his eyes as he played his game, wires hanging from his ears and connecting to the machine in his hands. The door began sliding shut on its own.
“Where to?” she asked, her voice almost peppy.
“Third and Collins,” he said as they came up to a light. 
Wipers rubbed against glass, out of synch with the clicking of the turn signal. “You were going to walk all the way down to Third Street? In this rain?”
The question didn’t seem to need an answer.
“Well, anytime you’d like a ride you just come on over to my van. We live on Palm Island and I have to drive by Third, anyway.”
“Thanks,” Jeremy said. He watched as the street numbers counted down in odd sequence. “But, you can just drop me off at the library. It’s close enough.”
She shook her head. “Library’s closed on Mondays, hon. I don’t mind taking you home, I really don’t.”
“It’s just, I forgot my keys,” he lied, meeting her gaze in the rearview mirror.
Her brow creased. “And no one’s home?”
Her frown deepened. “Would your parents mind if you hung out with David for the afternoon? I’d hate to think of you out in this storm.”
He glanced at David. David shrugged without looking up.
Jeremy felt his shoulders relax. “No, they wouldn’t mind.”
Abruptly David flipped his game closed. He gave Jeremy an unreadable glance as he leaned his head back against the window. “Does your mom work late tomorrow?”
They passed Third Street and turned on to the bridge to Palm Island. David’s mom waved to the security officer in the guardhouse. A red and white striped bar lifted and they drove ahead, Spanish-style mansions rising on either side of the street.
“Hm?” Jeremy blinked over at David. “Oh. Tomorrow? Yeah, my mom works late every day.”
“You should come over.” David unbuckled as the car turned into a huge circle drive. “We can do homework and stuff.”
Jeremy nodded, his fists unclenching for the first time that afternoon. “Cool.” 

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Writing Spot, Come See

Hi all. Today I'm sharing my writing spot. It's also my reading spot and napping spot, my emailing and chit-chatting and listening to music spot; it's my everything spot. As Superhusband says, I live here. He often wonders if I ever move from my spot other than to do what's absolutely necessary. Ha! Not if given the choice!

I love-love-love my spot. *hugs it and squeezes it and calls it George* It's a place without television, near a window, with a Cherry Coke nearby and it has the comfiest chair in the house. Technically, it's not chair, but a microfiber sofa that's extremely squishy. One side has a chaise and oddly, I never use it! The chaise is the most comfortable part of the sofa but I prefer the side near the window.

It's hard to show how incredibly velvety soft and cushiony this sofa is, but you should definitely believe me. It's like sitting in the lap of a giant, huggable teddy bear.

In my peripheral vision, or if I tilt my head to the side (and I always tilt my head to the right when I tilt it to the side), there is a bookcase. This bookcase is usually missing books, for several reasons. Friends stop by and see what new books I have, and also, I tend to leave books tucked away in places around the house. At the time of this writing there is a book on the little table behind me near my Cherry Coke. There's one in my car for when I wait for the kids after school. There's one on my nightstand. There's one in the breakfast nook by the big window that looks onto my back yard.

I almost always read several books at once, depending on mood and location. And here's where the books all go when I'm done:

Most of the time though, I look straight up when I'm lost in thought. And when I look up, this is what I see:

I prefer my window with sheer curtains blurring the view outside. Occasionally, very rarely, someone might open the blinds and pull back the curtains, and here is what I see then:

Without the gauzy material hazing my vision, the world is a little too bright. It's too crisp and real. It makes my eyes blink away and I'm pulled out of the world inside my mind. It's too abrupt a transition, so the curtains stay down.

And now I share a final picture.

It was supposed to be a cheesy photo of me as a "writer." I'd been priming myself to sit with my eyes on the screen and my hands on the keyboard, one earbud in (I always leave the other earbud out during the day, in case the kids or Superhusband need me). It was supposed to be the official writerly stance... but... two issues. First, I feel like a weirdo posing for a picture by myself. Second, I misunderstood my camera, and I thought I'd set it to a 20-second timer when I'd really set it to two seconds!! So, here I am, believing that I have 20 seconds to situate myself, and trying to see which earbud is right and which is left (because that is SO important when setting up an artificial "posed" picture). I did manage to take other pictures with the proper 20-second timer, but 20 seconds is a long time! By the time the camera took the picture, I'd have a weirdo half-smile on my lips, and I almost always glanced up at the camera to check if I'd set it after all... I just ended up looking like a creep staring up from my computer. So, I'm including my accidental picture instead.

It seems a more honest portrayal of my writer-stance than the posed ones, anyway; I spend much more time thinking and figuring things out than I do anything else when I'm sitting here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

DNAwriters and Five Random Things

Today I send you to my post at the DNAwriters Blog... but first I'll share five random things:

1. It's drizzling this morning and that puts me in a readerly mood. I have a sad lack of new books, though.

2. The last thing I munched on before bed was also the first thing I munched on this morning: chocolate chip cookies. I may or may not be having another at the moment.

3. I'm checking my snail-mailbox daily for my arc of SHIFTING by Bethany Wiggins. *stares out the window for the mail truck to come by*

4. Yesterday I asked my six-year-old how his day went at school and he answered, "Today didn't suck." What-- nooo! I had a moment of intense motherly panic. What will he answer when he's sixteen instead of six?? :( Never mind. I don't want to know. But it inspired me to take a bunch of pictures of his sweet little face.

5. I'm listening to Beauty and the Beast play on the TV in another room. Now I want to watch it. Little town, it's a quiet village... every day, like the one before... I know I've said it before, but the second or third thing on my selfish wishlist is Belle's library.

See? Completely random. And now I hope you'll take a peek at this:

Enjoy your weekend!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Genre Fiction That Could Almost Be Literary

I was going to write a Book Talk today, seeing as it's been a while since I've written one, but instead I feel like being random. This blog is about anything, after all.

Before I begin I'll share something with you all: I'm wearing white after Labor Day *gasp* A white summer dress, because I didn't even know this was a supposed rule until a few years ago! Besides, the weather's gorgeous and soon it'll be cold and I'll spend my days in practically-pajama pants. I have a mild contrary-streak that makes me do things like open packages from the opposite side of "Tear Here" and put my toes on the edge of the line I'm supposed to stay behind on public transportation. I know... wild times, right?

But now, onto the topic: almost-literary genre fiction.

Books that tease the edge of conformity are my very favorite books of all. Rather than a "sweet" book or a "dark" book, I love books that combine elements to create something unique and unexpected. This isn't too difficult to find in classics and literary fiction, and I do love reading those (Charles Dickens, Amy Tan and Isabel Allende come to mind), but to me, there's something ambitious and powerful about authors who are able to do this in "genre" fiction. To take authors from completely different genres, Laura Kinsale, C.S. Friedman, Libba Bray, Judith Ivory and T.H. White to name a very few, blend aspects of dark and light, twisting things into ways I hadn't thought of; their stories are firmly genre fiction --romance or Young Adult or fantasy in these cases-- but the writing reaches deeper and gives me moments when I pause and set the book down for a moment from the sheer beauty of what I'd just read.

Whenever I read genre fiction, something inside me longs for more than a story that keeps the pages turning; I search for that spark of magic that makes my heart swell, amazed that something so profound has been woven so perfectly into genre fiction. It may be the same story, on a fundamental level, as many others, but the way it's told makes the story powerful and breathtaking, and ultimately new.

This is so difficult to find in bookstores. Maybe that's why I keep gravitating back to my old favorites. I want the excitement I love in romance or fantasy, but I want that little something extra that makes it a stunning work of fiction.

Naturally, being someone who enjoys reading this type of fiction, a few aspiring authors whose work I read or critique happen to write this kind of fiction. It saddens me that they're also the ones who seem to have the most difficult time querying. Are there really so few readers like me, who love that out-of-the-box style of writing? Unusual themes and a dark undertone balanced with unexpected moments of light? I guess it's just a mystery.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Five Quotes From Classic World Literature

Hello world. *waves* Summer vacation is over already? I offer my first post-summer-vacation blog post: a list! And one that's self-explanatory... quotes from classic world literature. I do love books, so why not? 

Ten Five Quotes From Classic World Literature

English Classic: Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Wait... not Shakespeare? *blinks* I know, I knowwww... but I could easily make a list in and of itself of my favorite Shakespearean quotes. I chose Great Expectations because I recently read it. Kinda strange, since this is usually one of my rainy-day reads, and it certainly hasn't been raining this summer. Anyway, here's the quote, from the first time Estelle and Pip played together:

Miss Havisham beckoned her [Estelle] to come close, and took up a jewel from the table, and tried its effect upon her fair young bosom and against her pretty brown hair. "Your own, one day, my dear, and you will use it well. Let me see you play cards with this boy."

"With this boy? Why, he is a common labouring-boy!"

I thought I overheard Miss Havisham answer - only it seemed so unlikely - "Well? You can break his heart."

Poor Pip-- if only he knew. Poor Estelle, created as a tool for Miss Havisham's vengeance. This book has two endings, and I'm thankful for editors and the revision process in general, because the second ending is my favorite.

Spanish Classic: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marques

I could probably quote this entire novel. Gorgeous descriptive writing on every page *loves it* The passion is so amazingly described: the crazed ferocity of new love, the smoldering longing of unrequited love, the intensity of love that spans decades and holds two people across life's greatest chasms; it's about love. Quotes:

Worldly goods: security, order, happiness, contiguous numbers that, once they were added together, might resemble love, almost be love. But they were not love, and these doubts increased her confusion, because she was also not convinced that love was really what she most needed to live.

Hm... she was almost NOT convinced that love was what she needed; therefore, almost quite convinced that she didn't need love? I adore books that make me think over a turn of phrase... writing that gives me an impression of a character greater than the words on the page. 

And then there's this, somewhat famous and a sort of sad way to see things, but also one that's made me think:

Love, no matter else it might be, is a natural talent. You are either born knowing how or you never know.

Japanese Classic: The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu

Students of world literature might be groaning at my consistent lack of imagination in these book choices, but how could I not choose it? Beautiful, subtle, powerful and intense; it's full of history without even meaning to be. Written in the time period, (11th century) the horror and glory of life is fundamentally the same all these centuries later. Despite being translated from medieval (Heian period) Japanese to modern Japanese to English (and there are a bunch of variations in each of those translations), it remains true transportative fiction; I felt like a lady-in-waiting from the very first paragraph, which is right here:

In a certain reign there was a lady not of the first rank whom the emperor loved more than any of the others. The grand ladies with high ambitions thought her a presumptuous upstart, and lesser ladies were still more resentful. Everything she did offended someone. Probably aware of what was happening, she fell seriously ill and came to spend more time at home than at court. The emperor's pity and affection quite passed bounds. No longer caring what his ladies and courtiers might say, he behaved as if intent upon stirring gossip.

Isn't that a great opening? The last line cinched it for me. An interesting fact: since it was considered rude during the period to write about someone by name, even though this was a work of fiction, the author (a lady-in-waiting herself) described the characters by their clothing. The modern translated version gives everyone a name, though; I imagine scholars sat around deciding which reference in the story should be the characters' names... one character was named for the chapter she died in. But it's just those little details, the description of the almost-love note on lavender-colored paper folded with formal precision with a wisteria attached; I can just see Asagao opening it, living in a medieval court so different and not so different from its European counterparts... annnd oops... history-nerd alert! *ahem* Anyway, here's another quote... or, should I say, brief passage between the hero, playboy prince Genji, and the complex, beautifully dark yet girlishly sweet Murasaki:

He smiled. "What would we do if there were not these old romances to relieve our boredom? But amid all the fabrication I must admit that I do find real emotions and plausible chains of events. We can be quite aware of the frivolity and the idleness and still be moved. We have to feel a little sorry for a charming princess in the depths of gloom. Sometimes a series of absurd and grotesque incidents which we know to be quite improbable holds our interest, and afterwards we must blush that it was so. Yet even then we can see what it was that held us. I think that these yarns must come from people much practiced in lying. But perhaps that is not the whole of the story?"
She pushed away her inkstone. "I can see that that would be the view of someone much given to lying himself. For my part, I am convinced of their truthfulness."
He laughed. "I have been rude and unfair to your romances, haven't I. They have set down and preserved happenings from the age of the gods to our own. The Chronicles of Japan and the rest are a mere fragment of the whole truth. It is your romances that fill in the details." He came closer. "I doubt that even among the most unworldly of your heroines there is one who manages to be as distant and unnoticing as you are. Suppose the two of us set down our story and give the world a really interesting one."
"I think it very likely that the world will take notice of our curious story even if we do not go to the trouble." She hid her face in her sleeves.
"Our curious story? Yes, incomparably curious, I should think." Smiling and playful, he pressed nearer.

French Classic: The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas

Who doesn't love a little vengeance? Hee. Okay, a lot of vengeance. And a suffering hero; I can hardly think of one who suffered more. Adventure, romance, more adventure, intrigue, conspiracies and all wrapped up in descriptive writing. Plus, there's a philosophical undercurrent in this story. It makes me ponder life, think about a phrase for a moment and see how it applies to my own existence. 

Anyway, the quotes! Here's one showing a little of how the sweet, trusting Dantes became twisted by life's cruelties into a (nearly) numb vehicle of vengeance and wrath:

He decided it was human hatred and not divine vengeance that had plunged him into this abyss. He doomed these unknown men to every torment that his inflamed imagination could devise, while still considering that the most frightful were too mild and, above all, too brief for them: torture was followed by death, and death brought, if not repose, at least an insensibility that resembled it. 

And this, the Abbe's realization that Dante's life would be dominated by this dark emotion, that the immense treasure that could have given Dante any path in life, any career, any pursuit, and ultimately freedom if he chose, would instead become the enabling device for Dante's emotional destruction:

“I regret now,” said he, “having helped you in your late inquiries, or having given you the information I did.”

“Why so?” inquired Dantès. 

“Because it has instilled a new passion in your heart—that of vengeance.”

There's also the famous letter he sends, after he comes to the realization that vengeance isn't as sweet as he thought it would be.

"There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is
only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more.
He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience
supreme happiness. We must have felt what it is to die,
Morrel, that we may appreciate the enjoyments of living.

Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and
never forget that until the day when God shall deign to
reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is summed up in
these two words, -- `Wait and hope.' Your friend,

Edmond Dantes, Count of Monte Cristo."

And, the ending. *happy sigh* Thinking about the years Dante spent in prison still make me shudder; so much was unjustly taken from him. It scarred him so profoundly that he couldn't enjoy the company of friends, he couldn't enjoy the life his wealth opened up for him; he couldn't move beyond his hatred because the minute-to-minute workings of his daily life revolved around wreaking vengeance. His realization that vengeance will never ease his pain comes late, but I like that he comes to it on his own and in his own way.

Russian Classic: Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

Another unimaginative choice-- this is becoming like a list of required reading for Honors Literature or something. But it's such a great book. I love the symbolism, the impending doom, the everything. Writing that always means something... the poor horse who the main character ruined in that race, doesn't it foreshadow exactly his treatment of Anna? Even though he loved them both-- or did he? Was it all just pride and a way to win? Tragic stuff. Moreover, the whole book is about notions of love, the power of an emotion that may or may not exist, but is strong enough to lead to ruination, happiness, despair and triumph. Here's a quote, one from the "love is sweet" angle:

One would have thought that nothing could be simpler than for him, a man of good family, rather rich than poor, and thirty-two years old, to make the young Princess Shtcherbatskaya an offer of marriage; in all likelihood he would at once have been looked upon as a good match. But Levin was in love, and so it seemed to him that Kitty was so perfect in every respect that she was a creature far above everything earthly; and that he was a creature so low and so earthly that it could not even be conceived that other people and she herself could regard him as worthy of her.

And then there's this one, love unrequited:

[Kitty] expected [Vronsky] to ask her for a waltz, but he did not, and she glanced wonderingly at him. He flushed slightly, and hurriedly asked her to waltz, but he had only just put his arm round her waist and taken the first step when the music suddenly stopped. Kitty looked into his face, which was so close to her own, and long afterwards – for several years after – that look, full of love, to which he made no response, cut her to the heart with an agony of shame. 

*sigh* It just doesn't always go both ways. Like here, about Anna and her husband:

"Not at all," he said. "Listen to me. You can't see your own position as I can. Let me tell you candidly my opinion." Again he smiled discreetly his almond-oil smile. "I'll begin from the beginning. You married a man twenty years older than yourself. You married him without love and not knowing what love was. It was a mistake, let's admit." 

Ha, Vronsky is so clever... "let's admit it" and therefore, let's have a passionate love affair without any guilt, whee! Which leads us to the insurmountable variety of love:

He was angry with all of them for their interference just because he felt in his soul that they, all these people, were right. He felt that the love that bound him to Anna was not a momentary impulse, which would pass, as worldly intrigues do pass, leaving no other traces in the life of either but pleasant or unpleasant memories. He felt all the torture of his own and her position, all the difficulty there was for them, conspicuous as they were in the eye of all the world, in concealing their love, in lying and deceiving; and in lying, deceiving, feigning, and continually thinking of others, when the passion that united them was so intense that they were both oblivious of everything else but their love.

Okay, this was going include 1001 Arabian Nights from Persian/Arabic literature, Dream of the Red Chamber from Chinese literature, the Ramayan from Indian literature, The Odyssey from Greek literature... but this got long, and I have to take the kids to school! Eek! So rather than Ten Quotes, I'll change it to Five Quotes. If I make another list of classic world literature someday, those will be on it. 

And if anyone has a favorite classic book or quote from a book, do share-- I love finding new books to read.