Sunday, September 23, 2012

End of Semester is Coming

So some of you may already be aware that I am working on my last packet for this semester.  I won't be able to attend school for the fall semester, which starts in November.  However, I plan to attend the next spring semester--late May.  By all appearances, second semester students are strongly encouraged to try a different focus for a full semester.  So, instead of taking in YA next semester, try memoir, poetry, screenplay, playwright, adult....  I'm leaning toward Screenplay.  I've just heard a lot of great things about that program and it would be different from what I currently write.  I think Adult writing would be too much like YA for it to show me a different way of writing in a significant way.  So I thought I'd ask readers to recommend books or screenplays to me.  Partially so I can keep posting reviews on this blog.

Any genre will do, though I would prefer YA novels for books.  And I have no idea what I'd want Screenplay-wise so I leave that to readers to suggest.

Also, I know, I owe a book review on City of Bones still and two more critical reviews.  Those will be coming shortly!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Tenderness by Robert Cormier

Eighteen-year-old Eric has just been released from juvenile detention for murdering his mother and stepfather. Now he’s looking for some tenderness—tenderness he finds in caressing and killing beautiful girls. Fifteen-year-old Lori has run away from home again. Emotionally naive but sexually precocious, she is also looking for tenderness—tenderness she finds in Eric. Will Lori and Eric be each other’s salvation or destruction?

This was an interesting book. I was expecting this story to go down a different route, to have a different focus than it proved to have but it was still an enjoyable read.

Both protagonists in this book are anti-heroes, and anti-heroes, especially female anti-heroes are extremely rare no matter the genre. For that alone this book is worth a quick read.. But structurally, there are several reasons to do so. I had twenty pages left to read of  Tenderness when I realized that the book switched between third and first person throughout the entire novel, which is something I normally notice immediately. But it never jarred me making the switch between the different personages.

This book however did not sit well with me in several ways.  Both Lori and Eric felt older than they were in the book. I would have believed Lori closer to 17. Eric felt more in his 20s. However, the plot wouldn't have worked with the characters those ages.  Once you read the book you'll know why. I don't want to spoil anything.  But...I don't know, it rubbed me wrong.

Other than that, I really didn't have any issues with the book.  It was a bit on the dry side for me.  And it will probably never be a book that I have on my must keep shelf.  But it kept my interest the entire way through, which is always a good sign.  I would recommend this book more for the structure and the story than the entertainment value.  But that's my taste.  I know some of my friends will completely and utterly love this book.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Holes: A Critical Review

No Holes in Emotional Arc

Louis Sachar's Holes is about fifteen-year-old Stanley Yelnats, who is falsely accused and charged with theft. He is sent to Camp Green Lake instead of a Juvenile detention center where he endures and survives inhumane conditions. Sachar gives Stanley a strong, and believable emotional arc through the entire story.
When Stanley first arrives at Camp Green Lake he is overweight, he has no friends and no self-confidence. He's miserable at this term of his life and at the circumstances that brought him to Camp Green Lake.  Despite his emotional dislike of himself, Stanley does still feel sympathy for the guard and bus driver that took him to Camp Green Lake, which is conveyed after the guard grumbles about the return drive: "Stanley thought about the long, miserable bus ride and felt a little sorry for the guard and the bus driver (13)."
However Camp Green Lake is hard on Stanley.  Digging Holes in desert heat, Stanley begins to grow physically stronger, and loses weight. His body, like his personality,  begins to harden due to the harsh conditions of Camp Green Lake.  This is perhaps best demonstrated when Zero, another camper, admits he can't read or write and would like Stanley to teach him.  Stanley's reaction is unsympathetic and unkind:

After digging all day, he didn't have the strength to try to teach Zero to read and write. He needed to save his energy for the people who counted.
"You don't have to teach me to write," said Zero.  "Just to read.  I don't have anybody to write to."
"Sorry," Stanley said again. (82)

Later, Stanley gets in trouble when one of his fellow campers steals a burlap sack of sunflower seeds.  Stanley takes the blame for it and is sent to the Warden's for the theft.  When he returns to finish digging his hole, he finds that someone has nearly finished digging his hole for him. He realizes that Zero, who hadn't been involved in the theft, had done the work for him. Zero's act soften's Stanley toward him. He agrees to teach Zero how to read. From this point on Zero and Stanley begin to grow as friends.
The hardness Stanley developed earlier does not completely disappear though.  It's just changed into a different kind of hardness--he becomes less sensitive, more confident in himself and as a result, willing to stand up for himself and others. On page 138, the Warden tells Stanley that he can no longer teach Zero how to read. Instead of accepting this as he would have at the beginning of the book.  He stands up to the Warden.  "'Why can't I dig my own hole, but still teach Zero to read?'" he asked.  "What's wrong with that?" (139)
Thus completes the emotional arc of the story. Stanley starts at an emotional low at the beginning and concludes the arc as a strong, confident and emotionally empathetic guy.



Thursday, September 13, 2012

How I Live Now: Critical Review

Same Person, Two Narratives

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff is about a girl who is sent to live with her cousins in England. While there England goes into war against an unnamed enemy, sending Daisy on a journey of survival. To tell the story, Meg Rosoff forgoes the traditional English standards of writing to distinguish the story's present from the narrator's present.
Though the character who narrates the story is the same person throughout the book, there are two distinct narrators in the story: fifteen-year-old Daisy and Daisy as an adult.  To distinguish between the two I'll refer to adult Daisy as Elizabeth--which is her birth name but she is only called that once in the beginning of the book.
With Daisy's narration, bad grammar is the norm, which is demonstrated when Daisy meets Edmond for the first time:

I'll take your bag, he said, and even though he's about half a mile shorter than me and has arms about as thick as a dog leg, he grabs my bag, and I grab it back and say Where's your mom, is she in the car? (3)

Daisy doesn't use quotation marks, she doesn't always create a new paragraph when someone new speaks, nor does she always separate the dialogue from the would normally be the previous or following sentence.  Readers biggest clue that someone is talking are the dialogue tags and the capitalization of the first letter of the first spoken word, which some readers may find disconcerting the first few times they encounter it. There is a comma where a question mark should be and it is all a run-on sentence.
Using traditional grammar, the paragraph above would be at least three sentences long and broken into multiple paragraphs. However, applying the traditional rules to the text would have disrupted the ebb and flow that Rosoff has set up for the novel. Daisy's grammar also suggests numerous things to readers and any number or combination of those implications could be the reason for it.  The run-on sentences give readers the impression of a long-winded teenager or someone emotionally distraught.  The bad grammar could be because the narrator is uneducated or someone who is stream-of-conscious writing and not worrying about grammar rules.
However, in Elizabeth's narration proper grammar is used as is demonstrated with the first paragraph of chapter one:

My name is Elizabeth but no one's ever called me that. My father took one look at me when I was born and must have thought I had the face of someone dignified and sad like an old-fashioned queen or a dead person, but what I turned out like is plain, not much there to notice. Even my life so far has been plain.  More Daisy than Elizabeth from the word go.

In contrast to Daisy's writing, Elizabeth's good grammar appears older, more sophisticated and more emotionally distant from the events described, which is probably true as Rosoff states that Daisy wrote her entire experience down shortly after being rescued.  And then implies that years later Daisy read over the experience, added her comments and published the book as written.
This combination allows leaders to get a sense of how Daisy saw the events shortly after living them and how she viewed they a few years later when she looked over her account of the events.  And allows readers to see how, years after the major story took place, things went for her when she saw her cousins again after the war.
By combining bad grammar with good grammar readers get a unique story that allows the story’s present and the narrator’s present to be viewed within the same scene from two different periods of time.



Works Cited
Rosoff, Meg. How I Live Now. New York: Wendy Lamb, 2006. Print.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Girl Meets Boy: Critical Review

Please note: This is a critical review.  A overall review will not be provided for this book.

No Clue, Aka Sean by Rita Williams-Garcia is the companion piece of Sean + Raffina by Terry Trueman and vice versa.  Through these two short stories, readers can see the point of view of the boy and girl as they try to start a romantic relationship. In a few short pages each, Williams-Garcia and Trueman reveal a lot of information through voice.
According to Julie Wildhaber, "Voice is the distinct personality, style, or point of view of a piece of writing or any other creative work." Voice is often conveyed from a mixture of things, namely word choice and sentence structure. Williams-Garcia and Trueman have developed very different voices. Even though the narrators are talking mainly about the other person, reveal a lot of information about the narrators.
In two paragraphs we know that Raffina is a confident, black teenage girl who is perhaps a bit aggravated with her love interest:

What a bug-out. Here I am watching you pretending not to watch me.  I'm not turned off by shy, but shy will get you sitting by your lonesome. Shy will get you watching from the sidelines while I'm stepping out with some other guy.  Come on, Sean.  Let's get in the game.  Say those two words as only you can say them: Hey, Raffina.
I have to admit the whole shy thing is part of the appeal.  Sean's a complete switch from what I'm used to dealing with.  A girl can't eat a hoagie in the caf without some playa rolling up, trying to get those digits. Now that's a turnoff.  Guys assuming too much, too soon.  It's not just because I'm fine--which I am, but because I'm Gary's sister.  The Highlander Hero. Holds the state record for the most triple doubles in a season.  Scores thirty-two points on a slow day. So you know what that means.  Everybody's scouting. Recruiting. Rubbing up on him, trying to get to know him.  Yeah. Even if they have to go through me to be in with Gary. The guys want to part of the entourage.  The chicks want to be the girl in the prom picture when ESPN takes a look back on the life of Gary Frazier. (p. 103)

Outside of what Raffina actually tells us, we learn a lot by how the narrator speaks, thinks and the vocabulary she uses. Words like "bug-out", "stepping out", "caf", and playa" all let us know she's a teenager.  Lines like Come on, Sean, lets readers know of Raffina's discontent with Sean. There is also a rhythm to the words that mimic the African-American cadence.
With Sean we get a totally different voice. In two paragraphs we have the same affect, learning more about the characters than they are actually saying through voice:

Her name is Raffina, pronounced "ruff-eena." I'm not even sure I'm spelling it right.  Maybe it's spelled Ruffina, but I don't so.  I glanced at a homework assignment she turned in for Human Relations 2, and I'm pretty sure it was an a not a u.  Whatever, it doesn't matter what her name is, or how she spells it anyway--what matters is that I wanna hit on her, and I'm not sure if I should or how to even start.
She'll be the first girl I've tried to ask on a date since I got TKO'd in the seventh grade.  That's if I ask her.  I'm not sure about that yet.  If you'd been coldcocked by a petite blonde when you were thirteen, you might hesitate to think of yourself as God's great-red-hot-lover-boy gift to girls too.  I owe my nondating history to Debra Quarantino. (p. a111)

The reference to homework and the slang, like "wanna hit on her" and "TKO'd", let us know that Sean is also a teenager. The minimum rhythm to the sentences makes it read like a caucasian is the speaker in this one.  He isn't as aggressive as Raffina comes across, nor aggravated with his love interest.  He just seems, as Raffina accuses him of in her story "shy." 
With the help of word choice and sentence structure, Rita Williams-Garcia and Terry Trueman create voices that convey a lot of information by letting the narrators’ voice speak louder than their words.
Works Cited

Crutcher, Chris, Joseph Bruchac, James Howe, Ellen Wittlinger, Rita Williams-Garcia, Terry Trueman, Terry Davis, Rebecca Fjelland Davis, Sara Ryan, and Randy Powell. Girl Meets Boy: Because There Are Two Sides to Every Story. Ed. Kelly Milner Halls. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle, 2012. Print.


Wildhaber, Julie. "Understanding Voice and Tone in Writing." Web log post. Grammar Girl :. N.p., 1 July 2010. Web. 09 Sept. 2012. .



Friday, September 7, 2012

Researching for Books

Even with all the advances in technology and all the material out there, researching a particular subject can be difficult.  Their are simply some things that don't translate well on the page, which makes learning the material difficult and not everyone can afford a trip or a class on the subject they are researching. I do a lot of research online.  I ask random people if they know anything, sometimes they'll surprise you. and have answers you never considered.

For example, I wanted my next scene set in France.  Not Paris.  I posted on Facebook asking for suggestions.  And I got a great one.  Reims, France. With that lead, I started a basic search, history, pictures.  I liked what I saw so I dug deeper.  Maps, both virtual and real, books, websites.  This was all made difficult by the fact a lot of the websites were in French. And their are some things you either have to guess at or be really lucky about finding. For example, what does Reims smell like?  Grapes? Champaign? Chocolate? Perfume? River?  Something else?  What does it sound like?  Chatter in French and English? Trains rolling by? Tolling bells? Really I can only guess.

Figuring out what to have my characters specifically do there, while the non-location related event happens has been a challenged.  What would be interesting for readers to see?  What is unusual but potentially new?  I kept returning to tour barges in Reims. Because touring old buildings I haven't been too didn't seem right, and since Arabella is basking in the sunlight sending her into a Champaign Cave seemed cruel.  But those are the things that are most advertised as happening in Reims.

I looked deeper into the barge idea. Where would the boat take passengers?  Where could and would it stop?  What would passengers see from the barge?  How big are these things? How expensive?

Wait, what's this? While searching for "What's outside of Reims?" I find Hot Air Ballooning? Really?  Hmmm. My search starts anew.  What does Hot Air Ballooning involve?  How many people can fit in a basket at a time? I found the option of going Hot Air Ballooning in Boise and experiencing it for myself.  But for the price I'd be required to pay...well, lets say that under my current circumstances I'm more likely to see Satan Ice Skating in the South Pacific before I can afford that experience. It sounds marvelous though.

Research reveals that normally the pilot will take no more than three people up with him or her at a time.  I've only seen prices offering to take two people up.  So I'm wandering if their is a reason why a single person can't go up with just the pilot or if that is such a rare occurrence they didn't bother listing it as a price on the website. If their is a reason why more than one person needs to go up with the pilot, then the idea of making Remy a pilot is thrown to bits and I'll probably need to find another form of privacy and entertainment in one that's non-traditional.

Again, I was stuck wandering, where would my characters land if they went up in a hot air balloon?  Could it be somewhere in the mountains, in the woods?  And what would they realistically find there? Considering my characters abilities I'm not too worried about them finding their way home.

Research takes a lot of time to do properly.  I've emailed both a hot air balloon company about the information I need. And asked for the tourism department of Reims for help.  If I'm lucky, I'll have answers in a few days. Until I get the responses I'll work on finding them all online. Hopefully, I'll have some hair left by the time I finish this scene.

What do you do for research on things you can't experience? Or learn on your own? Do you know much about Reims France or Hot Air Ballooning?