Friday, September 24, 2010

why YA now?

At the risk of sounding like a jaded, middle-aged crone, I'm taking a break from writing dark, family dramas for grown-ups. And it's not that I don't love reading them, it's just that I'm taking a hard look at my primary New Year's Resolution--invite more whimsy to my life--and realizing that I need to change something fundamental in order for whimsy to actually SEE the welcome mat.

What I've discovered, after miles of walking in the woods, is that the things that were so important to me as a girl, the things I either loved, or were familiar with, or comforted me, are not readily accessible when I'm a cynical, surly adult whose every other word is fuck.

There are few common denominators. When I was a girl I loved animals. Horded them. Everything from salamanders to 17-hand horses. If it weren't for these critters: cats, hamsters, dogs, ponies, bunnies, gerbils, even, for a short time, a goat, I never would have made it through childhood. Another factor was setting. It changed every few years: Austria, Massachusetts, Long Island, San Diego, Upstate NY. Just as I got proficient in appropriating one accent, off we fled, to another corner of the world. I loved this. Absolutely loved it. But my very first language was German, and I lament having abandoned it so early.

Boys. Yup, couldn't do my greatest childhood hits without mentioning the extra-curriculars. As with critters and locations, I found boys necessary, enchanting, and ultimately perplexing. I emulated the way they moved in the world. The way they smelled. What they wore. I loved the shorthand of boys, the economy. They didn't waste time on embellishments the way girls I knew did. They were simply bad as opposed to conniving. What you saw, was what you got.

I have just finished a book written for the YA market, and I plan to write at least two more, and for some reason, I still feel I need to apologize for this. Explain it. At least to myself. The impetus was to find a way in to a story I'd been trying to tap into for several years, but quickly became something else after I realized that I was beginning to re-engage with a part of myself that I miss. The me who was filled with wonder, whimsy, questions and daydreams.

The series of connected books I'm writing are set in Bavaria, Austria and Oregon and have lots of critters and boys in them. There is magic, too. Magic that allows for revisioning history and explores the "what if" in the "what about" --which has opened a door to some fantastic metaphors. The power of words, for one, and the responsibility a person has for exploiting truth. And, most interesting to me, how the very nature of truth itself shifts with consciousness.

I know this all sounds super nerdy, but the other thing about me as a kid besides critters, settings and boys was, I was the most ditzy of all nerds. An oxymoron that I'm hoping will finally be the thing that compels whimsy to pay me a permanent visit.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

77 authors, 66 designers = our portland story

Part yearbook, part insider’s travel guide, and part collected memoirs, Our Portland Story is the result of an ambitious, very Portlandesque endeavor. But mostly, it's a love story.

Spearheaded by Portlander and graphic designer Melissa Delzio, Our Portland Story was conceived as an experiment in community collaboration. Paragraph-sized stories were paired with graphic interpretation and the resulting words-and-pictures were edited into a coffee table book that will be available for sale starting with a gala launch party this Thursday at Mississippi Studios, in North Portland.

I submitted my Portland love story several years ago, then forgot about it until the day the e-mail arrived announcing its inclusion in this Vol 1 edition.

In the two years since I've gotten a few e-mails now and again: one when the designer assigned to my story, Megan Clark, had two design options the editor wanted me to consider, and then, as the launch date grew near, announcements about the party.

What's particularly exciting to me about watching this process unfold, is that it sort of marries my day job and my passion, satisfying both sectors: the marriage of words and pictures, and the creation of a love story involving many voices.

Oh yeah, and since as of next week Portland will have been my home for 21 years, its fitting that this homage marks the day that my residence status is finally old enough to order a martini!

Monday, September 13, 2010

the music of dialogue

Sometimes, I find that all the scene setting, the description, and plot, it all feels like homework just so I can finally get to what my characters are saying. I'm just so eager to put myself in a corner and watch a couple of invented folks hash it out.

Dialogue has always been my favorite part of writing, I think in part, because it's so dynamic. It's a catalyst for action--an activity that breaks things loose.

When I read a great piece of dialogue--a scene that reveals, let's say, some nuanced bit of relationship, or cements an inkling I may have had about the true nature of what Character A means to Character B, it's incredibly satisfying.

But I think the main thing I love about successful dialogue, whether I'm reader or writer, is the sound it leaves me with--the music. Like a favorite song, it lingers in my head for hours.

And it's not just what is said between the quotation marks. The connective tissue, the on-the-body action that accompanies what's said, is just as important. Here's one of my favorite little, oh, I don't know, let's call them set pieces. It's from Augusten Burroughs' collection Magical Thinking, in a story called "Commercial Break" :

"Children, children, may I have your attention please?" she clapped her hands together quickly. Smacksmacksmacksmacksmack.

A writer can't always get away with that sort of onomatopoeiac discourse, but But Burroughs has the chops. He has the authority, the cadence and the pacing, which are three other, more nebulous, concepts that go along way toward satisfying dialogue.

Here's another amazing little tidbit. This time from Flannery O'Connor. A story called "The River":

"Don't forget him mamma," Mrs. Connin called. "He wants you to pray for his mamma. She's sick."

"Lord," the preacher said, "we pray for somebody in affliction who isn't here to testify. Is your mother sick in the hospital?" he asked. "Is she in pain?"

The child stared at him. "She hasn't got up yet," he said in a high dazed voice. "She has a hangover." The air was so quiet he could hear the broken pieces of the sun knocking in the water.

That Flannery. Couldn't you just wring her dead neck? How beautiful is that language. When crisp dialogue sits inside something as gorgeous as "the broken pieces of the sun knocking in the water," well, how can you not have that in your head for the rest of the day?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

an award!

Nope, not a grant or anything, but a sweet compliment none-the-less. This lovely YA writer found my blog and issued the award you see at left.

Chain letter-esque though it may be, this is actually a nice way to spread the word in that very hip, social media sort of way, don't you think?

Here's a list of some great up-and-coming blogs, and to them, I bestow the "One Lovely Blog Award" badge. Award winners, all you have to do to "claim" your award is seize the photo, post it on your blog, link to me as the "bestower" and pay it forward to blogs you admire (up to 15).

The Lit Coach
Writing in the Margins
Open Book with Diana Page Jordan
Notes on Acting

I know there's more, but this is a good start!