Friday, December 28, 2012

2012: A Year of Writing

As a writer you can’t underestimate the importance of belonging to a critique group—and we’ve got a great one. We’ve met monthly throughout the year and have written a ton—but here are a few specifics on where each of the Scribblerati were in 2012 with their individual writing (both high and low points).

Lisa Bergin
My own writing low-point: Getting overwhelmed by a new job and not sending my query out to agents, even after I was ready.
High point: starting to write new material again, even with the overwhelming new job.

Shawn Enderlin
Personal writing highlight 2012: Getting To Kill the Goddess professionally edited. But that’s a separate blog post. ;-)

Claudia Hankin
My writing low point: It's the usual. For me, there's no such thing as "writer's block," there's only "writer's blah." If I just haul my keister up to the computer and make myself start clicky-clacking on the keys, I will eventually get lost in the process - and voile! I'm writing. It's the hauling of the keister part that can seem ridiculously hard. 
My writing high point: I finished the second draft of my novel! Not only that, but after my beta readers gave me feedback, I realized that I'm closer to being finished than I thought. 

Jon Hanson
Mine was a high and a low point. I finished the first draft of my latest work, but I'm not happy with it or looking forward to trying to fix the second draft.

Mark Teats
Writing high point(s): I think I had a few in 2012. I finished my 4th draft of BLACKHEART in January. I finished my 1st draft of my second novel, SUNLIGHT in September (and am about 1/3 of the way through a 2nd draft with the help of the Scribblerati). In October I was accepted into graduate school for creative writing starting next spring. I wrote a lot, blogged a lot and even took a writing class or two at the Loft.
Writing low point(s): At least one short story I entered in a contest failed to win, place or even show. Although I completed one more revision of BLACKHEART early in the year the manuscript sits on my desk untouched now for months. I know it needs to be gone through again. I know the last few chapters need fixing—but it’s so much more fun to work on new and shiny projects! But BLACKHEART is not forgotten, only waiting for the right time (like 2013) to be picked up again and completed once and for all.

Happy New Year!

2012 Top Entertainment Picks

After much deliberation, here are our top picks for movies, TV and books in 2012. Items in each category are presented in alpha-order, mostly.

The Avengers (unanimous pick).
Jon says: The sheer size, the amount of characters, the end result... An incredible achievement. Loved it.
Shawn adds: Everyone’s seen it, right? So I won’t blather on. However, submitted for your approval, a candidate for the best cinematic moment ever: the Hulk side punching Thor just after they finished taking out a bunch of bad guys. Perfection.

Chronicle (pick by Mark)
Three high school students struggle with the dark side of their newly found super powers. Well done and creepy. What would superman do if he just wasn’t that nice of a person to begin with?

Cloud Atlas (pick by Lisa)
Tho' perhaps hard to understand if you hadn't read the book, and taking various liberties with the book, I thought the Wachowski siblings made some interesting choices in trying to capture one of my favorite books of all time. For me just thinking through those choices was entertaining. Plus, it was beautiful. And I immediately wanted to watch it again.

The Hobbit: An unexpected journey (pick by Jon, Mark).
Jon says: Always a pleasure to visit Middle Earth.
Mark adds: Delivered what I expected—LOTRs goodness. Great effects, mostly stuck with the book (my family and I “read” the book again on CD this summer crossing South Dakota—and in certain parts of the movie my son leaned over to me and whispered that he knew what was coming next, based on the book—and he was right—the movie held pretty true to Tolkien. Giant eagles rock! (in case you were wondering)

John Carter (pick by Lisa and Mark)
Lisa says: I saw it in my favorite second run theatre, the Riverview, across the street from Scribblerati's hang-out. I wasn't expecting much: a so-so sci-fi movie. But I loved every moment of it. And it has a great puppy, Woola, the super speedy half worm-rhino, half dog.
Mark adds: One of my favorite book series as a boy. I thought Disney did a nice job with this film.

Looper (pick by Lisa and Mark. Comments by Lisa)
I love time travel. I loved how tiny details introduced without fan fare early in the movie become integrated into the plot as it went on. Plus, I've always been a fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

Moonrise Kingdom (pick by Claudia)
I love Wes Anderson's films, but his current effort is my favorite since The Royal Tenenbaums. I really like the casting of untrained child actors in the leads, they come across as truly untainted by the world. Just a charmer of a movie, with Anderson's usual cast of superiorly talented actors, and his attention to detail which makes every shot a framable photo. 

Daniel Craig in Skyfall, particularly in this coat: Oh, yeah. The movie was really good too. (pick by Claudia)

Santaphone by the Southside Aces (unanimous pick)
New Orleans street beat meets classic jazz. Christmas tunes like you've never heard them before - from the reverent to the hilarious, traditional to the brand spankin' new and original. Swing your hips - Santaphone style. You can order the CD here.

TV Shows

Dire wolves, undead, swords, sorcery, nudity, violence, struggle for kingdoms, characters both valiant and vile, warfare and even a trio of pint-sized dragons. I’m excited to see where Season 3 goes.

Justified (pick by Shawn)
I came late to this TV series. I stumbled onto season three in January, fell in love, bought seasons one and two, and finished those up just within the last couple of weeks. Justified, if you haven’t watched it, is an awesome show. Think: old West gunslinger meets modern-day police drama, using the drug-infested hills of Kentucky as a setting. The characters are awesome and the writing is exceptional.

Key and Peele (pick by Claudia)
I actually have only watched a handful of skits by these guys, but they were all really, really funny. It's been too long since the world has given us a great sketch comedy show. Mr. Show is the last one I can think of. Watch this.
And then go find their "Liam Neesons" sketch. (pick by Claudia and Jon)

This show on AMC is one of my favorites, and the pacing and story was much improved over the previous season. The scenario of the zombie infested prison made for some interesting programs, as well as some of the interplay between the sword-wielding Michonne and the “Governor.”


The Avengers: The comic (pick by Jon)
Jonathan Hickman has started a new era in the Avengers and if his run on Fantastic Four is any indication, it will be brilliant. Plus the art is great.

Red Country (pick by Jon)
The latest in the series by Joe Abercrombie, a fantasy/western in the classic tradition of A Man with No Name, The Wild Bunch, etc. and featuring the return of a long thought dead character, it's a classic tale of revenge mixing fantasy and western tropes with stunning prose. A great read. (pick & comments by Jon)

Cifiscape Vol. 2 (unanimous pick)
Different stories about the wild and weird future Twin Cities. Featuring the short story "Harris" by Jon Hanson. You can buy it on Amazon, btw...

Cloud Atlas (pick by Claudia)
I was blown away by David Mitchell's ability to write in such diverse voices and genres - all in one book. There's no neat bow at the end, nor thematic hammer over the head - it wasn't until after I had finished reading it that I found myself dwelling on the book's larger ideas of systems of power and control - from the microcosm of an old folks' home, to the complete enslavement of a race.

Although I read a number of fiction books and graphic novels this year, my favorite read of all (based on the way I flew through it) was the non-fiction book by Laura Hillenbrand about the real life exploits of Olympic runner and WWII bombardier, Louis Zamperini. He met Hitler, survived more than one close call in flight over the Pacific, was almost eaten by sharks and spent time as a war prisoner in Japan. My biggest regret: missing Mr. Zamperini’s book tour (he’s in his 90’s).

The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King (pick by Shawn)
I must admit as to being skeptical. The Dark Tower 4.5? Really? But it works. I mean, it really works. It starts out with Roland, Eddie, Susannah, Jake, and Oy on their way to the Calla, and then rather quickly delves into the Roland’s past. But that’s just the start. From there, past Roland tells another story, a fairytale, if you will, set in the world of The Dark Tower. Yes, that’s right. It’s a story, within a story, within a story. And it’s beautiful, and wonderful, and it makes me wish there were more. Say thank ya.

Journey into Mystery (pick by Shawn)
This has easily been my favorite comic of the year. Brian Michael Bendis’s Spider-Men is a close second, as is Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga (which is cropping up on more formal best of lists), but Journey into Mystery was the one I looked forward to most consistently. Kieron Gillen’s run on this title told the tale of Kid Loki, who was brought back to life by his brother Thor. Kid Loki wanted nothing more than to be loved and accepted, but he was haunted by the specter of his past self, manifest in the form of his bird companion Ikol. There was also his frenemy Leah, handmaiden of Hella, Goddess of Hel. Their antics were a constant joy, as were Loki’s endeavors to do the right thing, despite the pull of his trickster nature. And maybe the best issue of all? The last one, where Kid Loki confronts his former self. Agonizing, beautiful, and again, perfection.

Reading The Secret Garden out loud (Claudia’s pick)
I read the classic by Frances Hodgson Burnett to my husband and a friend. It was my favorite book as a child - I think I read it 10 times by the time I was 10. I'd never before read it as an adult, and I was stunned at the depth and complexity of this children's book. (Also, the 19th-century language plus thick Yorkshire dialects made it quite the challenge to read aloud.) There were sections of such truth and beauty that we'd have to stop, read them again, and then pause to reflect before we could read on. 

“One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it ... sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with the millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in someone's eyes.” - Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden
Happy New Year!

Friday, December 14, 2012

On the Pleasure of Re-reading

There are many kinds of re-reading. The re-reading we do as we edit our work, letting the critical mind hover alongside the creative mind. The re-reading we do when we want to spend more time with our favorite characters. I'm often re-reading difficult philosophy passages to try to make some kind of sense out of them. Re-reading sentences of my student's papers trying to figure out what they meant to say so I can help them say it more clearly. There's a value and a unique pleasure to all these re-readings.

But there's another kind of re-reading that I find intensely satisfying. After reading a well-crafted story, after I've pieced it together as I read and then at the very, very, last moments of the tale, the whole thing falls into a different kind of place. The strands I thought were just pretty embroidery suddenly show themselves as the very stitching that holds everything together. And what I thought I knew is turned topsy and now I really, really know what was there all along.


And then I have to start over from the very beginning and re-read the whole damn thing and marvel at what was there and yet hidden from me.
Pure joy.

I've tried to do that in my latest short story, Supersedure. Scribblerati helped to point out all those sentences, paragraphs, passages where, like my students, I haven't said what I need to say clearly enough. But even with those more surface fixes, I'm mindful of how hard that story is to write. (And why writing mysteries seems impossibly intimidating to me).

How to weave and dye the fabric of the story so that on the first read through the reader thinks the story is blue, but once finished they realize it was green all along. How to write it so they don't feel tricked, or worse, don't see the green at all. How to write it so that they immediately turn back the first word, re-reading as they marvel at its blueness, its greenness.

Now that story. Writing that one, that would be something to treasure.