"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

The People Who Rock My World

This post is going to be long, but simple. What follows is a list of the people who have shaped my world in the past year. Most are people I've never met, but that's all the more reason thank them for giving me inspiration, for unknowingly providing much needed encouragement, for making me work harder for my dreams. These, in no particular order, are the people who rock my world.

Maria Popova 
I discovered Maria's website a couple months ago and I've been hooked ever since. It's called Brain Pickings. Every time I visit the site I am reminded why I want to be a creative person. Filled with inspiration for writers, philosophers, artists, and scientists, it never fails to teach me something new. I suggest you sign up for their mailing list right now. You won't be disappointed.

The Vlogbrothers
I made a Youtube account a few weeks ago and the Vlogbrothers were the first channel that I subscribed to. It is made up of the YA author John Green and his brother Hank, and has a following of 823,843 devoted fans (and counting). Hank and John are always funny and insightful and they totally deserve their tremendous success. These are two people who are living life to the fullest, doing what makes them happy, and sharing their awesomeness with the world. I have yet to read a John Green book, but Paper Towns is next up on my list. Plus, I can now proudly call myself a Nerdfighter. DFTBA! 

Rachel Coker
Rachel Coker is the 17-year-old author (I hope I'm right about her age! Sorry if I messed it up!) of Interrupted and the soon-to-be-released Chasing Jupiter. Her blog is full of posts about writing and funny stories from her life, and it never fails to pick me up when I'm feeling down. I hope I get to meet her someday because I have this weird feeling that we'd get along!

Shannon Hale
This was the year I finally got to meet my writing idol, Shannon Hale. I could write whole posts on what a cool person she is and how good her books are, but I'll save the space. I just feel so grateful that I got to meet her at the Texas Library Association Conference, and that she gave me a hug, and that she signed my copies of her books. It was only about five minutes of my life, but I'll remember it forever. Also, you can check out her awesome blog, here.

The note is a reference to the fact that I sent her an e-mail full of restaurants to eat at while she was here.

Kristan Hoffman
I've been following Kristan's blog for about a year now. She writes about everything, from television shows to encouraging quotes. This post in particular got to me. I admire her so much for going after her dreams no matter what. Also it's her birthday today! Hope it's a good one! :D

Victoria Schwab
I only recently discovered this author, but I'm SO glad I did. I haven't read any of her books yet (all of which have very intriguing premises), but I've watched almost all of her Youtube videos and am subscribed to her blog. Her recent post on inspiration had me itching to write, and the adorable video of her signing the last forty copies of her first book made me want to be an author even more. (I always wondered how lefties signed books!) All in all, I can't wait to read her newest release, The Archived, and I wish her all the best!

And finally, because I'm in the spirit of thanking people, I just want to send a shout out to all the people who have encouraged/inspired me in real life. A HUGE thank-you to:
-Ms. Harris, my amazing English/Creative Writing teacher who always brings sunshine to my day. I don't know what I'm going to do without her when I go off to college!
-Indigo, my best friend, who reads my work, listens to my ideas, participates wholeheartedly in all our random conversations, and never fails to be an inspiration :) You can read her blog, here!
-My Family, who also reads my work, and has never wavered in their encouragement and support.

Well, I'm off to a birthday party in a couple hours and then it's Turkey day! Writing this blog post has been a rewarding experience in itself because it made me think about all the people who have had an impact on me. I've been so lucky to not only have wonderful, creative people in my life, but also a well of inspiration to draw from on the inter-webs. Thanks again for reading, and I hope that in the coming days you'll go out and thank your favorite creators, too. They deserve it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Best Fireside Reads

Since winter is kind of a joke where I live, people have to make up ways of knowing when it's actually here. For some, it's pulling out boots and scarves (many of which are more decorative than they are warm), and for some it's the moment they start selling the pumpkin lattes at Starbucks. In our house we know it's not the holiday season until there is a blazing fire in our fireplace.

So, in honor of our first warm, toasty fire, I've compiled a list of great fireside reads. Get some logs going, curl up in an armchair, and enjoy any of these on a wintry night.

1. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Reason: This book is perfect for any time you want to lose yourself in a simpler time. The characters are sweet, the descriptions are delicious, and the book itself is a beautiful testament to enjoying the little things in life.
Quote: "The weary mole also was glad to turn in without delay, and soon he had his head on his pillow, in great joy and contentment. But ere he closed his eyes he let them wander round his old room, mellow in the glow of the firelight that played or rested on familiar and friendly things which had long been unconsciously part of him, and now smilingly received him back, without rancor." 

2. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Reason: This book has it all: humor, tragedy, love, family, scenes of decadence and of poverty.  Being surrounded by the four March girls was like being around the sisters I never had. If books could have hearts, Little Women would have a big one.
Quote: "On Christmas night, a dozen girls piled onto the bed which was the dress circle, and sat before the blue and yellow chintz curtains in a most flattering state of expectancy. There was a good deal of rustling and whispering behind the curtain, a trifle of lamp smoke, and an occasional giggle from Amy, who was apt to get hysterical in the excitement of the moment. Presently a bell sounded, the curtains flew apart, and the Operatic Tragedy began."

3. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
Reason: I love this book. Seriously. I can't recommend it enough. It's mysterious, atmospheric, and beautiful in a ghostly way. Perfect for a dark and stormy night.
Quote: "All children mythologize their birth. It is a universal trait. You want to know someone? Heart, mind, and soul? Ask him to tell you about when he was born. What you get won't be the truth; it will be a story. And nothing is more telling than a story."

4. Enna Burning by Shannon Hale
Reason: If you've followed this blog for any length of time, you'll know that Shannon Hale is one of my favorite authors. This book is the second in The Books of Bayern, a series set in the same world as The Goose Girl. I promise, after reading this book, you won't look at fire the same way again.
Quote: "She was aware of all the living around her. She could feel its heat- the trees, the sleeping animals in their arms or in holes in the ground. Even the frozen grass was still alive at its root, still emanating tiny strings of heat. Her sense of it was much stronger than at first, and she knew she could draw on it at any moment."

5. The Tales of Beedle and the Bard by J.K. Rowling
Reason: Actually any of the Harry Potter books would be a great fireside read, but I chose this one because of its format. These are strange and beautiful stories that deserve to be savored, especially for those who want to disappear into the world of Harry Potter without re-reading the lengthy books.
Quote: "'Now you are healed and will know true love!' cried the maiden, and she embraced him. The touch of her soft white arms, the sound of her breath in his ear, the scent of her heavy gold hair: All pierced the newly awakened heart like spears. But it had grown strange during its long exile, blind and savage in the darkness to which it had been condemned, and its appetites had grown powerful and perverse."

6. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
Reason: This is another book that I absolutely love. It is whimsical and lighthearted, but it also has a thread of sadness running through it that I can't quite explain. Overall, its more beautiful and fascinating and complicated than I ever imagined it would be, and I highly recommend it.
Quote: "Of course the Neverlands vary a good deal. John's, for instance, had a lagoon with flamingos flying over it at which John was shooting, while Michael, who was very small, had a flamingo with lagoons flying over it. John lived in a boat turned upside down on the sands, Michael in a wigwam, and Wendy in a house of leaves deftly sewn together. John had no friends, Michael had friends at night, Wendy had a pet wolf forsaken by its parents; but on the whole the Neverlands have a family resemblance, and if they stood still in a row you could say of them that they have each other's nose and so forth. On these magic shores children at play are for ever beaching their coracles. We too have been there; we can still hear the sound of the surf, though we shall land no more."

A few more recommendations:
-Hitty: Her First Hundred Years by Rachel Field
-The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
-Andersen's Fairy Tales by Hans Christian Anderson
-Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
- Anything by Edgar Allen Poe

Well there you have it. I hope you enjoyed my list and if you have anything to add I'd love to hear about it in the comments!

ps. Stay tuned for more! For the next five days that I'm off from school I will be doing a blog post a day. Tomorrow's post: People Who Rock My World

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Why You Should Keep Everything You Write

So it's been a long time since I've written any kind of "writerly wisdom" posts, mostly because I don't feel qualified yet to give advice on a lot of things. However, the subject of this post is something I feel strongly about, and something I think a lot of budding writers (especially if you start young like I did) don't think about. So here it is, my little piece of advice:

Save. Everything.

Take everything you write and put it in a drawer somewhere. Make a binder. Have a folder on your computer (and back it up!). Whatever system you come up with, make sure you have a secure place to keep your writing. Even if you think your work sucks. Even if you know it sucks. Save it. 

Why? Because it's yours. Because your life is finite and so are your memories. One day you will wonder about that story that you wrote when you were thirteen. You will try and try to remember it but you will only be able to recall the edges of it, the feeling of it, and maybe not even that. Maybe you won't remember it at all. And chances are, that story you wrote when you were thirteen probably won't be any good. If you did save it, you'll always be able to go back and cringe at your shallow characters and silly dialogue. But it's more than that. That story is a piece of you. It has you-from-the-past stamped on each and every word. Reading it won't turn back time, but it'll be close. In fact it's as close as your future self will ever be to being thirteen again. 

One of the first writing books I ever owned was Writing Magic by Gail Carson Levine. She talks briefly about this in the first chapter and I think she puts it eloquently:

"When you become a teenager, you step onto a bridge. You may already be on it. The opposite shore is adulthood. Childhood lies behind. The bridge is made of wood. As you cross, it burns behind you."

She goes on to say that if you keep your writing...

"You'll be able to see yourself in that lost country. You'll be able to wave to yourself across that wide river."

Obviously the moral of this story is to keep the writing you do as a young person, but what if you've already lost a lot of what you've written? Don't worry. Instead of dwelling on the past, look to the future. Start saving everything you write, even those seemingly meaningless paragraphs you compulsively delete. Save it, make a new document, and keep writing. You'll be so glad you did.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

From a Writer's Notebook: Justin Cronin on Writing

As many of you know, I was in Austin last weekend for the Texas Book Festival. I'll be giving you a full recap soon, but for now I wanted to tell you about one of the best events that we went to: A Talk with Justin Cronin.

For those of you who haven't heard of Justin, here's a quick bio (from Goodreads): Justin Cronin is an American novelist. Awards he's won for his fiction include the PEN/Hemingway Award, the Stephen Crane Prize, and the Whiting Writer's Award.
Born and raised in New England, Cronin is a graduate of Harvard University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He currently lives with his wife and children in Houston, Texas where he is Professor of English at Rice University.

His newest and most popular books are The Passage and The Twelve, which most of the audience members had already read.

Me reading while waiting for Justin to arrive
We arrived outside of the House Chamber forty-five minutes before the start of the session and the line was already out the door, down the hall, and snaking around the balcony of the rotunda. My dad and I chatted with a nice elderly lady about books, e-readers, and the digital age, before heading in to find our seats. I was a little worried all the good ones would be taken, but thankfully we were still able to find some near the front.

After another long wait made less boring by the one book I let myself buy at the $5 dollar book tent (more on that later), Justin Cronin and the moderator, Owen Egerton, finally took the stage. Hearing Justin Cronin speak is like listening to a really inspiring teacher. From the moment he began talking I could tell that was passionate about writing, generous with knowledge, and all around an extremely intelligent person. His words were captivating. From the excerpt that he read from his new novel, The Twelve, to his jokes about being a literary nerd, I couldn't help but notice his talent for roping the audience in with a good story.

Left to Right: Justin Cronin, Owen Egerton 
One of the best things about Justin's talk (aside from the surprisingly firm: "Sit down!" he gave to a questioner from the audience who accidentally let slip a spoiler), was his abundant advice about writing. His eloquently stated tips were sprinkled throughout the session, and I found myself compulsively taking notes. Here are just the ones I managed to jot down:

  • In response to a question about his own literary influences, he said, "Don't pretend for a second that you are inventing the novel." He mentioned the importance of reading and also talked about the literary references in both The Passage and The Twelve.
  • Developing a story is like playing jazz riffs. The music may veer off and become almost unrecognizable, but there is always some hint of the central melody that leads the listener through the song.  In the same way, novels can be large and all encompassing, but they should have a main story arc that is always present.
  • On creating characters: "Know the one thing they are not telling anyone else."
  • When asked wether or not he keeps the market in mind while writing, he said that the most important thing is to be as interesting as possible. You can only write so many autobiographical stories before readers start to get bored.
  • On titles: "If you don't know your title, you don't know your book." He also mentioned that he likes titles that have multiple meanings in the context of the story.
  • Finally, the most profound piece of advice (for me) was his words on failure: "Most writing is failure, so by all means, be willing to write an interesting failure."

Overall the Texas Books Festival was a great experience, and Justin Cronin was the highlight of my weekend. I hope to do a more expansive recap soon, but until then, happy writing!