Book lovers flocked to the Grand Opening of the UConn Co-op Bookstore at Storrs Center, CT, this weekend. The ribbon-cutting event jointly celebrated the opening of the Bookstore, the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry, and Le Petit Marché Café, which share the contiguous space. More people came than were expected Saturday afternoon, March 1st, and the celebration was super fun.
After welcoming speeches from notables including Suzy Staubach, John Bell, and Sally Weis, members of the community took tours, browsed, and sampled French pastries from the café. Local authors Wally Lamb, Sam Pickering, Ellen Litman, and a dozen others mingled with friends and readers. Meanwhile, the UConn a cappella singing group, The Chordials, performed several contemporary numbers, and a live jazz combo followed.
On the puppetry front, Anne Fitzgerald’s two performances of her new puppet arts production, Reverse Cascade, were filled to capacity, and the new exhibits featured exquisitely detailed puppets and photographs highlighting the history of puppetry. I was especially delighted by a photo of Maggie Gyllenhaal and Muppet friends defining the word “Surprise!”
Let’s face it. Readers in our corner of Connecticut have long been fans of the UConn Coop Bookstore, but now that it has more of a chance to breathe in its new location, it’s better than ever. What other bookstore shares space with puppets and cinnamon banana crepes? Saturday’s celebration showed again how books, art, music, friendship, and a little sweetness are at the center of our community. Congratulations!
*Spiegelman’s lecture has been postponed to Monday, March 24, 2014.
Two upcoming events I’m excited about are the opening of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at Storrs Center this Saturday, March 1st and Art Spiegelman’s talk “What the %@&*! Happened to Comics?” at the Jorgensen Monday, March 24th. Both events are free and open to the public, and I can’t wait.
Naturally, I’m a little scared of traditional puppets, but I love how weird and creative contemporary ones are. The Ballard puppets are world renowned for their innovation and grace, and the opening will feature the premier performance of Anna Fitzgerald’s Reverse Cascade at 1:00 pm. The official ribbon cutting happens at 2:00. The Ballard Institute abuts the new UConn Coop Bookstore in Storrs Center, and shares its Black Box theater space. Incidentally, the Coop has a new creperie, Le Petit Marché Café, just in case, you know, anyone wants a crepe.
I was first blown away by Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus a decade ago, when I fell into his gripping, snide, heart-breaking story of the Holocaust. It was my first real graphic novel, and it has haunted me ever since. I can’t believe the artist I admire so much is coming here, to Storrs, where I can gawk and listen to him in person. Spiegelman’s lecture starts Monday night at 7:00 in the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts on the UConn campus, and again, it is shockingly free and open to the public.
Since my first editor originally told me that the manuscript for my new novel was due to go to copyedits last October, and my second editor told me in early November not to worry about deadlines and take my time rewriting the last act of the novel, (about 130 pages), I assumed that my book had been bumped a season to 2015. Season bumps have happened to me before, so I didn’t think much about it.
Then, in mid-January, when I sent in my next draft, I was surprised to learn that the novel was slated to come out in September 2014. In publishing terms, that’s incredibly soon. I had no idea such a thing was even possible.
My first concern was whether we could make the book good enough within such a crunch schedule, but my editor, Kate Jacobs, reassured me we wouldn’t be going forward otherwise. She assured me that I had the scenes of the last act blocked in the right way—a goal that had eluded me for over a year—and she promised to work with me closely as I revised.
And so, over the past three weeks, working days and evenings pretty much without a break, I’ve completed another draft of my novel. In a system I’ve never tried before, I revised the front half of the novel while my editor worked on marginal notes for the back half, which has the newer section. Then Kate sent her notes as she completed them, in two separate chunks, while I kept revising forward. We checked in often to confer on the three major issues that needed tweaking. Along the way, I hit a setback in one rough patch where I had to move a scene, cut another, and adjust a timeline. Last night, I cut chapter breaks for cliffhangers, and this morning, as promised, I sent my latest draft (my thirteenth) to Kate.
To go from “La la! No deadlines!” to a crunch schedule is a bit stressful, but honestly, I’m so relieved and happy to have my wild novel coming together that I hardly care. This story has fascinated and tormented me for so long. It is an incredible feeling to see it coming together.
A lot of current YA lit is written in 1st person and present tense for good reason. Immediacy is created when we’re living the story minute-by-minute, straight through the thought process of a teen protagonist. Best of all, knowing how she thinks helps us readers to know her well. When we can experience her fears, humor, and loneliness right along with her, it’s easy to sympathize with her. It’s also agonizing when she’s making a mistake.
Though my last project, the Birthmarked Trilogy, was in 3rd person, which completely suited the story, my new novel is in 1st person, and I’m finding the P.O.V. to be a fascinating challenge. I feel incredibly close to my main character, Rosie. I’ve spent over a year thinking like her on the page, observing the world through her particularly astute, imaginative eyes.
I’ve also been severely limited by what she does not know about her world, and it has been a puzzling struggle to find ways to convey to the reader any information beyond what Rosie herself can see and comprehend. This interplay between what Rosie the character knows and what I know as the writer has been integral to the generation of the novel, and much of the time, I’ve felt like I’m on both sides of a wall where half of me is concealing info and the other half of me is trying to discover it. More than once I’ve told my editor that if I could figure out a way to explain it all, I would.
Then there’s the issue of voice. I’m not fifteen. I’m not living in the future. I need a voice for Rosie that feels rich and lively to YA readers today, and for that, I’ve had to dig deep. One resource I have to tap is the pile of journals I kept, beginning at age twelve. Rereading one lately, I was astounded to find how much I sounded like myself. Young Caragh can’t be summed up simply, but I can tell you she/I was articulate, loving, lively, observant, earnest, idealistic, and ironic. That authentic example of a young voice, my own, makes me believe a person’s interior voice is fairly consistent as she ages. In fact, I’d say age is a much smaller component of personality than other factors, and with that permission settled for me, I’m not overly focused on making her “young.” Instead, I’m happily exploring Rosie’s voice, from what she thinks to the tempo of her words.
I love how Rosie never apologizes to herself. I love how she’s smart and powerful and sometimes oddly brittle. I love when she lies and the reader can see the inconsistency between what she thinks and what comes out of her mouth. That’s a first person character to play with.
If you’ve driven on a road trip, you know the calculation of time into mileage. A minute equals a mile. An hour on the freeway will take you sixty miles, and a day will take you four hundred miles or more. It’s a fair exchange of time for distance. That’s progress.
For writing a novel, I wish I could say that time transformed into pages, and pages added up to chapters, and enough chapters made a book. It doesn’t feel that way to me, though, because the route isn’t straight. It includes so much backtracking, detouring, and road-building. You can’t make progress unless you put the time in, but ironically, it can be problematic to see progress until you reach a major milestone. Then, after days and weeks of plodding, if you look over your shoulder, you’re surprised to see the distance you’ve come.
I’m reaching another milestone. I’ve promised this draft to my editor by Friday. When she and I spoke in November, I realized I should scrap the last third of my novel and try a different plot. It has meant another major reworking of the novel, but I think, I think I’m going the right direction now. My book has a new, nearly complete shape. I’m counting this as progress.
All it takes is a foggy, unexpectedly warm morning in January to transform the world into something magical and full of mystery. We’re intensely sensitive to real-life settings and the moods they create, so it makes sense to use them carefully in our fiction writing, too.
Consider how a setting can support or contrast with the action of its scene. If a character learns on a Ferris Wheel that his girlfriend loves him, the setting piles happiness on happiness. If he finds out she cheated on him, the contrast of the bright, lively setting to his own betrayal compounds his isolation and rage. The relationship between setting and the character’s emotion can be nuanced and complex, like when we put a widow character in a dealership to purchase a new car after her husband has been killed in a crash that also destroyed their car. The survivor needs wheels, practically, to get around, but it might be her first major purchase without her spouse. The work of the private problems in the public setting can set up sensitive possibilities: despair, confidence, fear around finances, moving forward literally with life, and more.
I’m working now with a flashback where the setting supports a complicated family scene. My novel takes place in the future, in a world that doesn’t yet exist, so part of the challenge is picking details that will make this inherently foreign place feel familiar to my reader. I’ve supplied my scene with a red curtain, antlers, a disassembled gun, a broken TV, a sagging couch, cookie batter, and a dripping skylight, all of which serve to make the place feel real. Choosing the right things comes with living in the scene with the character, and then it helps to sprinkle the details in with the action and dialogue, so they don’t hit the reader as a pace-killing block of description.
In the end, what matters is the sum total effect of the setting details: how they influence the character’s emotions, and vicariously, the reader. It’s a perfect challenge for a gray morning.
My house is full of people who are sleeping in. We stayed up past 3 a.m. last night talking, reading, and listening to music. Beyond the delicious meals, the new books, chocolates, games, and shoes, we have nurtured our family and renewed our sense of gratitude. In this whole world where so much is uncertain, how fortunate are those who spend Christmas at home with the ones they love.
Happy Holidays to you and yours!
I have family, and needless to say, I love them. We are fast approaching the time of year when we express our love for people most obviously by producing gifts under a decorated tree. The tradition stretches back through ages of deep and silly happiness, year after year, so I’m not giving it up.
It means I need to shop, as in: it is a true project with a deadline. Since zillions of others need to shop, too, I get this sense of frenzy out there, this rush of people infused with frantic, hyped up anxiety. The ads and stories coming at me via TV, newspaper, radio, and Internet bombard me with one unrelenting message: get out there and buy. Go! Buy!
Yeah, but no. I don’t do frenzy. Obviously, I need to shop online to avoid the mall horror, except I’m running out of delivery time, so it really needs to happen now. Here’s my computer. My credit card is at the ready. What’s stopping me?
I want to write.
My work place (my computer) and my shopping place (my computer) are the same thing. It becomes strikingly obvious that I’m neglecting one activity for the other as soon as I turn on my MacBook. When I recall my priorities: 1) Family, 2) Writing, 3) Everything Else, shopping for family for Christmas seems to belong in Category 1. But that still feels wrong, and I think I’ve found out why.
Those presents under the tree are only part of the story. For my family, Christmas is really about getting together. It’s a milestone, time-marking tradition where we consciously and subconsciously realize another year has passed and here we are, glad to be home in the same place with one another. We share music, faith, great meals, and laughs together. Christmas is when I feel the real gifts are that I have happy kids, a loving husband, meaningful work, and a kind community. Wrapped presents can’t touch that kind of deep joy. They’re only tokens representing the love underneath.
Aww, so sweet, right? It’s true, though.
What does this mean, practically, for my shopping vs. writing dilemma? I’m doing what other working moms are doing: I’m writing during my work hours, and shopping when I get a chance, at night or on breaks. Enough will get done, and no one will miss what doesn’t. After all, it’s Christmas that’s coming.