29 December 2006


I'm going to get the Symphonians novel sent off to FSG this afternoon. At last! I've been working on the novel's second part since early May, and finished it up last month, except for some nitpicking and tweaks.

Got the whole thing printed off and was astonished. It's at 325 pages and it looks like I have a whole ream of paper sitting there. That's a chunk of paper that could really hurt someone! Well, let's not go throwing it or anything.

I guess I should be all teary-eyed and wistful. But I'm not. It's more like, get out the door, you, I have other stories that I gotta fix up.

I feel like I have a good chance with FSG. I sent it to them last December (it was a requested MS) and got a reader's report back in May and the editor asked to see revisions. And now she's getting them. But if she doesn't accept the book, it won't be the end of the world.

Maybe I should submit a query for the book to other editors and agents. With the new, improved synop, of course. I shouldn't pin all my hopes on one publisher. I should have backup.

(P.S. The agent I sent the query to earlier said no. So it goes.)

28 December 2006

Poetry corner.

I just found this poem last night and now I can't get enough of it.


Kenneth Koch

One day the Nouns were clustered in the street.
An Adjective walked by, with her dark beauty.
The Nouns were struck, moved, changed.
The next day a Verb drove up, and created the Sentence.

Each Sentence says one thing—for example, "Although it was a dark
rainy day when the Adjective walked by, I shall remember the pure and
sweet expression on her face until the day I perish from the green,
effective earth."
Or, "Will you please close the window, Andrew?"
Or, for example, "Thank you, the pink pot of flowers on the window
sill has changed color recently to a light yellow, due to the heat from
the boiler factory which exists nearby."

In the springtime the Sentences and the Nouns lay silently on the grass.
A lonely Conjunction here and there would call, "And! But!"
But the Adjective did not emerge.

As the Adjective is lost in the sentence,
So I am lost in your eyes, ears, nose, and throat—
You have enchanted me with a single kiss
Which can never be undone
Until the destruction of language.

22 December 2006

I got Snarked!

I put my hook for The Symphonians into the Crapometer that Miss Snark is running (submissions are closed). My number (293) came up today, and it got a critique.

Unfortunately, the critique went, "WTF?"

Whoo-whee! Last May an agent read the hook for this novel and said, "Girl, your synopsis is confusing as heck!" So I went and read through a previous Crapometer and revised the hook accordingly, which took a while. But even with the revised version I still managed to confuse the heck out of everybody, everywhere!

Oh well, back to the drawing board.

19 December 2006

Charlotte's review outtakes!

Spoilers all over the place! So shut your eyes when you read this post for …

Charlotte’s Travesty!

Or, Babe III.

Before the movie started, they showed the preview to Bridge to Terbithina. Omg. And I thought this movie was so totally not in the book! Giants and odd creatures everywhere? Has it been that long since I read the book? Because I don’t remember that kind of fantasy aspect to it.

Pretty opening in the Garth Williams style.

No “Where’s Papa going with that ax”? What happened?

In the book, Fern talked Pa out of killing Wilbur. Because of her strong words, he gave her the pig. In the movie, Dakota pulled the pig out of her dad’s arms. What a pushover dad she has.

Nice cut to frying bacon after the farrowing scene, tho.

What on earth is that pig doing in Fern’s bed? It’s nice that she sang him a lullaby, but that’s so totally not a farm girl thing. Not to mention I don’t know what kind of parents would have this little backbone to say “No pigs in bed!”

Bucolic narrator: It was just a big red barn full of typical stuff.

You know, if Andy wrote about barns like that, he would have won the Newbery.

Bucolic narrator: Just because it was a barn didn’t mean it was full of life.

That really threw me for a loop. Anybody remember the beginning of chapter three, the lovely essay about the barn being a lovely place, full of interesting things and full of life? The barn as, let us say, a microcosm of the world, where so many beautiful things happen? But this film is so determined to turn that on its head. That’s part of the reason I’m so down on this film, because Andy created this beautiful world and they just deny it, except for the bravery and nobility of Charlotte and Wilbur and Fern.

My word, these farm animals are rude and condescending, calling Wilbur and each other names. So much of this movie follows that formula that you must have tension in every scene, even if the tension is nonsensical.

There’s the first fart joke. And then all the animals call each other names again. This is to show the viewer that the animals do not get along. I don’t think Charlotte could help this; I think they need therapy.

I do like that view of Templeton’s underground nest. That’s really cool. I wish they had viewed the barn with the same interest and fascination.

Now we have these crows and the old joke about the scarecrow, “When’s that guy going to look away?” which of course was not in the book. And do they not think that we have seen this corny joke before?

Horse: Spider! (faints)

--But why on earth would any farm animal worth his salt be scared by a spider?

And then the animals do their general disparagement of spiders. I can’t get over how rude these guys are.

Bucolic narrator: Ignorance is bliss.
Me: And I’m starting to believe it’s true. This guy is actually making a case for ignorance, like it’s a good thing.

The gander made a proper speech when the goslings hatched, right from the text. That rotten egg that Templeton rolled away was right up the filmmaker’s alley. At last, Andy’s text made a concession for them!

Fart joke #2 came up when the egg was broken.

They did actually stick to the Dr. Dorian scene. It was nice to hear actual text. Oh, thank you, thank you!

They did do justice to Charlotte acting like a spider, focusing on the legs with their flair for balletic movement. I liked that they did pay attention to some spider details, like when a spider lands anywhere, she always fastens her line to the ground next to her. And the scenes where Charlotte was building her web were awesome. I was pleased by that. Thank dog for special effects, or else I would have been griping all through this review.

So totally not the farm: slopping the pig at high noon, and the farmer struggling to get out of bed at 6 a.m., and the way they pen a bunch of high-manure-producing animals on the barn’s ground floor.

And then that damn narrator comes in with his clunky cornpone prose. Do they really think rural folks talk like that? Don’t they know that many farmers have a college degree in agribusiness?

I’m surprised they wouldn’t think that Fern knows about the fair. She’d surely know how to show her own livestock. She’s probably in the junior FFA already.

Third fart joke. But the audience laughed.

There’s those crows again being scared by a scarecrow. So they go chase Templeton instead. Doesn’t this rat know to stay out of sight? Oh, look, a toilet joke. Oh, well, it’s just cheap entertainment.

A second neat web-building scene. Aah, thank goodness.

Fern wants to take Wilbur to the fair. “Fern, what’s gotten into you?” says her mom. But people who own livestock generally show it at the fair and various contests, so their winning livestock or their progeny can be sold for higher prices.

Homer is complaining that if he enters Wilbur, that he’ll be out the entrance fee. Chill, dude. Entrance fee is pretty cheap. Why are you worried about the entrance fee anyway when, as a farmer, you’re about $10,000 in debt to the bank?

Nice father-daughter bonding. Nice that Fern got her Uncle Homer to go to the Fair after all, despite the fact that he doesn’t seem to know the first thing about farming or fairs. And there’s a nice bit with Fern and Henry Fussy. Fern runs off with Henry when Wilbur’s getting his prize, which is also right.

But what the hell is that speech that Homer’s giving. You have full access to Andy’s words and you wrote this!

Damn that’s a disgustingly big egg sac, bigger’n Charlotte even. No wonder she’s dying.

As usual I cried when Charlotte died. Even though I was totally aghast that they did not use Andy’s words. “She never moved again. Next day, as the Ferris wheel was being taken apart and the race horses were being loaded into vans and the entertainers were packing up their belongings and driving away in their trailers, Charlotte died. The Fair Grounds were soon deserted. The sheds and buildings were empty and forlorn. The infield was littered with bottles and trash. Nobody, of the hundreds of people that had visited the Fair, knew that a grey spider had played the most important part of all. Nobody was with her when she died.” No words at all.

But at least that damn narrator didn’t jump in with his own bit of trite prose.

Except in the next scene, he says, “Now that isn’t to say that Charlotte was gone forever.” Um, actually, she was. But see, in the book, it’s part of the grand course of life and death that goes on forever. In the movie, it’s like we have to gloss over it. Barely a glimpse of the ax in the first scene. No deathly fear and crying from Wilbur when he’s told of his impeding death.

It was lovely to see Wilbur standing in the snow until the narrator said, “It was as if Charlotte had shaken it out of the sky.” Come again?

When the baby spiders hatched, it started moving into horror movie territory. The wee spiders started crawling around on the farm animals’ faces, looking remarkably like little ticks. Ick!

But when Wilbur met the three daughters, that was so right, and they actually took that from the text, as well as the speech he made.

The audience liked fat Templeton.

“An ordinary barn and a pig that welcomed his second spring. Followed by many more. Because someone stopped to see the beauty blah blah.” You write for an advertising company or something?

At least they quoted the last sentence. Though to have quoted the last paragraph would have been better: “Wilbur never forgot Charlotte. Although he loved her children and grandchildren dearly, none of the new spiders ever quite took her place in his heart. She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

Ah, well, people, let's go read some books!

18 December 2006

Jesus Christ Plays for the Royals

I got my edits back for the Charlotte's Web review. I wrote about 5 pages of notes on the movie and had to boil it down to 500 words. I plan to get the edits sent off by tomorrow morning. I'll post the stuff that didn't make it to the blog later. Not all of it, or course.

In the meantime, here's some silly stuff for your amusement. I don't think it's funny enough. Any suggestions would be appreciated.

Jesus Christ Plays for the Royals

Denny: It’s the bottom of the ninth. Three on, no outs, here comes Jesus Christ to the plate. Well, folks, we know how this is going to end.
(Crowd noise: Son of God! Redeemer King!)
PA Announcer: Now batting for the Royals, #3 in one, the one in three, Jeeeeeeeesus Chrrrrrist!
Ryan: Sounds almost blasphemous when he says that.
(PA plays “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.”)
Denny: The pitch … Jesus swings … strike one, a called strike. And the crowd is letting the umpire know what they think about that.
Ryan: Can you believe the offer that Christ turned down from the Yankees?
Denny: Yeah. The Christ told Steinbrenner to his face to give away all he had and follow Him. Half of the Yankees followed Christ out.
Ryan: All these years Steinbrenner thought he was God, and now here comes Christ to prove him wrong.
Denny: The pitch. Low and inside. That almost got Him. Now the pitcher is kneeling on the mound and looking upset, and here comes Steinbrenner for yet another conference on the mound. The crowd’s going crazy.
(PA plays “Jesus is Just All Right With Me.”)
Ryan: That’s the sixth conference tonight. They’re having a bad time trying to walk the Lord of Lords.
Denny: Anybody would have a hard time with a batter with a 1.0 batting average. The pitcher stretches … Christ swings … a long fly ball … it’s gone! Over the top of the stadium again! The Royals win, 29 to 3! Christ hits fists with Sweeney, the dugout empties, they’re pretty jubilant. That was another thrilling game, though the ending wasn’t much in doubt.
Ryan: What the Royals saved in hiring Christ, has to go to the budget for baseballs.
Denny: You know, they found one of them in Gladstone. They built a shrine for it and everything. It’s amazing … blind people seeing, people throwing their crutches away …
Ryan: Look, Denny, my psoriasis! It’s gone!
Denny: Like I really want to see that.
Ryan: Word from the Vatican is that the Pope was going to step down, since he’s supposed to be the embodiment of Christ on earth. And obviously the chairman of the board is playing for us. Christ told the pope to stay where he was until the season was over. Then he and the Church are going to have a little talk about what happened over the last 2,000 years.
Denny: Ooh, I think I could skip that one.
Ryan: And now for the Friday night fireworks, provided by none other than Christ himself.
Denny: He’s giving Wal-Mart a run for their money. Tonight, tiny flames are flickering over the heads of the entire audience. What a sight.
Ryan: Why, Denny, you have a flame over your head, too.
Denny: Hallelujah! Abi doo zarbaza fooi! The Lord has preached unto his hosts!
Ryan: Amen, brother.
Denny: Whoo, that was all right. I’m over it now. I’m ready for a beer.
Ryan: Sounds good.
Denny: Though not with you. That’s all from Royals Stadium tonight, folks. Ryan will give you the stats. I’m the veteran and I’m outta here.
Ryan: It’s time for “Now Ask the Royals,” and here’s Jesus Christ to answer your questions.
Christ: Hello, Ryan, good to be here.
Ryan: Here’s the first letter. “Dear Ask the Royals: Does God exist? If so, could He create a boulder that He couldn’t move? Signed, Taylor in Prairie Village.”
Christ: Why in the name of me do they ask these questions when they could be doing good works for those in need? Aquinas was completely off base with his theory that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. But the church fathers were all over that. Other than that, I’m not at liberty to say.
Ryan: Thank you, Christ. And for speaking on Ask the Royals today, you will receive a $50 gift certificate for the Hoof and Horn.
Christ: Give it to the poor!
Ryan: And that’s it for this broadcast. Remember, baptisms will be held after every game in the fountain at the back of Royals stadium. And for the Royals, this is Ryan Lefebvre, saying good night.
Christ: And God bless, of course.

14 December 2006

Villainy DeLuxe! But not really.

I'm creeping along on the story. Of the three chapters I'm working on, one chapter is maybe decent. The other two involve one of the bad guys (though for our sake I should just call him the antagonist, because truly, he doesn't believe he's doing anything wrong). I can't write these other two chapters yet because the only thing I know about Almon is that he is so evil. Maybe they should name a drink after him, he's so evil. One of those drinks that could kill you.

But that ain't the way you write about a character. Villains in all the stories and TV shows are evil. So what, big deal. Trite! I can't create a guy whose only reason for existing is to trip up the MC. Almon needs his own damn purpose. So maybe my MC is actually the bad guy, because he comes between Almon and what he wants. What does Almon want, anyway?

So today I worked on Almon's point of view. That chapter that I can't write because he's in it? I wrote up a scene from Almon's pov leading up to that chapter. Once that scene was done, I went back and looked for things that defined his character a little and brought those out. What he looks like, how he walks low to the ground, his voice. And I also kept asking, why does he do that? What makes him act that way?

And I looked for things that would make him human. Though technically Almon's a raccoon. Looked for things that showed that he had feelings like all the rest of us, that he wasn't just running around looking for evil stuff to do. And I paid more attention to those feelings and thoughts and deeds, kicked them up a notch. Even squeezed in the usual stuff about his cubhood. Though I could certainly do better than the 'usual stuff,' that nobody loved him, etc.

Next I'm going to take that lousy chapter and write it from Almon's pov. Get into Almon's mind, really look at my MC and his cronies through his eyes. This is also enlightening because I get all this extra stuff about my MC that I didn't see because I was looking at him from the inside instead of the outside. And also I get a truer picture of what's going on here.

What other things do you guys do to make your villain, or antagonist, whatever, more real?

10 December 2006

Wicked wicked wicked.

I've been all over Roger Sutton's blog (he's the editor of the Horn Book), whining a little about the Charlotte's Web movie there, too.

Today he e-mailed me and asked if I'd like to drag myself to the movie and review it for the Horn Book website.

What a wicked guy.

He said he'd pay me.

So I'm going.

I plan to read nothing but Charlotte's Web all week to my kid, so that she'll be well and truly vaccinated by the time we hit the theatre on Friday (or Saturday if the lines are too long).

And may the Lord have mercy on my soul.

08 December 2006

More complaining about that Charlotte movie.

I got out Charlotte's Web for my girl last night so I could read it to her. She informed me that she has *already* seen the trailer for that Charlotte movie at daycare. She said the book was scary because in the trailer, the horse fainted when he saw the spider.


I'm trying to raise her right! But some Hollywood dweeb has to mess it all up.

06 December 2006

Fix-ups for slowpokes (but better than speedy fixes)

I was striving to get a rough (new) draft of the raccoon novel written by the end of December, but then to my dismay I started thinking. As it turned out, it was good 'n useful thinking.

I remembered how, when I worked on the Symphonians novel, that my scenes came out better when I focused on one at a time. If I try to write a whole book at once, I freak out, not knowing where to start, and then I get nothing done at all. (That's the same reason I have trouble reading through a Norton anthology -- I end up skipping because I want to read the whole thing. And in the end read nothing.)

And I'm so dissatisfied when I rush on and leave a scene undone because omg there's more work to be done up ahead.

So: instead of having a trail of unfinished scenes and half-baked notions I'm going to do one thing at a time. No pretty word count pileup. Just a bunch of one-step-forward-and-two-steps-back work in a small space.

And I'm going to do these two things to make each scene as strong as possible.

1) I'm going to write the scene from the other character's pov -- best of all is if I can write it from the pov of the antagonist. Half the time I'm going in there with no idea about what the heck is going on in that guy's head. Then he just comes out evil, instead of a nuanced character who has feelings, too. The antagonist also wants to get something out of the transaction. What is it? Then I'll take that info and incorporate what I can of it into the original pov.

2) I'm going to do what I did with the other raccoon story: I'm going to visualize, as clearly as possible, the setting around the characters.

So many fantasy novels feel like they're happening in this sort of cloudy void. Once in a while something the character needs will pop out of the void -- say, a tree, or a road to walk on, or an open-air market -- but most of the time, there's very little around the character that's very clear.

When I did this exercise for the other raccoon story, I was astonished by how grounded I felt in the world after the revisions went in. It really felt a lot more real, and I wanted more to be a part of that world. I think that's part of the wonder, that if you work hard to make your world real, you just want to walk right in there and stay a while.

So that's my big goal. And then when it's time for a crit from my critique group I'll also have three halfway decent chapters to submit, too.

04 December 2006

Query send-off

Sent a query for Symphonians to Jennie Dunham, an agent who was recommended to me ages ago. My stories didn't work for her two years ago, but I'm going to try Symphonians on her again, since I've revised the heck out of it.

We'll see how that goes.