Sunday, August 31, 2008

What Was He Thinking and Some Writing

Waiting for Funds
I've settled into the life of graduate school. The routine is comfortable, for now. Bear has been able to talk more lately; I don't feel like we're so far apart when I hear his voice. I'm still waiting on my loan money, but once I get it, I'll have a heyday. I'll get a cute little laptop, an adorable blue bicycle from Walmart and a ton of books, beginning with The Singularity is Near by Ray Kurzweil and A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. I'll paint the apartment and buy the Ultimate Chair. There you have it. My plan to rule the world.

Wheat Field Heresy
On a much more serious note, I've been working on the story about the scientific minded girl in the rural southern town. One of the scenes I've drafted deals with what happens when the young boy takes one of her books home, without her permission. When his father finds him reading it, he rails against his son and demands the book be taken from their home and destroyed. The boy complies, mourning even as he burns the book in a trashcan in the driveway. When he tells her what happened, the following conversation takes place. It's not so much what I'm wanting, but it's a rough idea.

"I'll buy you another copy," he said.
"It's not that," she said. "What burns brighter? The book in your trashcan or the idea still in your head?"
"I hate you," he said into the curve of his elbow. She leaned her head against his shoulder and sighed.
"No," she said. "You hate what you fear and fear what you don't understand."

In Other News
McCain's VP choice is mind boggling; what was he thinking? Better...was he thinking? Also, I'm not sure I like my graduate level fiction class and I wish the rain would go away so I could go swimming. That's about it.

Holding the Line.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Adam and Eve: Controversy in YA Lit

I attended my first batch of grad classes this past week and assisted in a class of almost 420 students. At some point, I'll receive my financial aid, decorate my apartment and pay rent ahead for the next six months. I figure once all the grad school issues are resolved and I'm settled, I'll be able to talk to Bear and not be at my wit's end.

Adam and Eve in YA Lit
One of the requirements for my Young Adult literature class is that I have to draft the first few chapters of a YA novel. I've decided to write on a subject that is terribly close to my heart and terribly controversial. I am of the persuasion that science and reason have been fighting an age-old battle against religion and superstition in order to bring understanding, maybe even compassion, to the world. Through people like Galileo and Copernicus, Darwin and Lyell, we learned our place on earth and in the universe was not privileged. Through countless others, we learned that the universe was marvelous in itself and vast beyond our comprehension. In short, we learned that everything did not revolve around us.

I've drafted out the first few pages, modeled on the story of Adam and Eve as well as the myth of Prometheus. Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge and because they learned, because they did not remain blissful in their ignorance, they were thrown from Paradise. Prometheus brought fire and knowledge to humanity and was destroyed for his efforts. My YA novel follows a similar pattern. A young girl moves into a small southern town with her family and the local boy is completely infatuated with her. He is pulled into her world of knowledge and science, wonder and, to his mind, blasphemy. He becomes a halved person. He can no longer believe in his God as he did before, but the fear of Hell and the uncertainty of his soul does not allow him to live fully without his religion.

It's a work in progress and I have a feeling it will ruffle a few feathers. I'm drawing from my own experience for this book, so I'm wondering if I should put some distance between myself and the work. Any thoughts?

Holding the Line.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Writing: An Oroborous Tradition

After reading Stephanie Vanderslice's post on boy's literacy, I thought I'd add my thoughts. One of the themes I found the examples she gave was adventure stories. This is probably how most people come up in the literary tradition: pulps, comics, magazines, ten-cent westerns. When we're young our parents grab the cheapest, safest books that are close at hand. My progression was as follows: Laura Ingalls, Louis L'Amour, J.R.R. Tolkien, William Golding, Joseph Conrad, Cormac McCarthy. Slowly, I climbed toward more complex storytelling, character development and themes.

We all have horror stories of early English teachers who took away our story notebooks because it wasn't the assignment or who commented on the lack of substance in our reading preferences. Every form of art or creative endeavor makes this cycle, though, from genre to genre. Everything moves through cycles of epic, pastoral, romantic and so on. I use the word cycle because I don't believe that people evolve in a linear fashion. We're like Oroborous in that we come back to the beginning, time after time. We find what is useful in our literary tradition and create our own voice.

In my own work, I developed my own voice by studying the deeply personal characters from Laura Ingalls, plot from Tolkien, setting from Conrad, moral themes from Golding and beautiful language from McCarthy. The Epic is no more valuable to us culturally than the Romance. Each has a place and each offers us a tradition for our own writing.

Holding the Line.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Skinny Scarves, Orange Soda and Textbooks

Beginning the Skinny Scarf and My Books
I took it easy this weekend, cleaning the house, doing laundry, talking to Bear, and drinking bright orange soda while I listened to Pandora and wrote. I picked up my textbooks, eleven books of young adult fiction, for my class. I've already eaten my way through two and plan to devour the next eight in the next few days. I also learned to crochet over the past week and started a skinny cranberry-colored scarf. It has grown in epic leaps and is now almost eight feet long. I am sure it will look completely charming, come winter.

Grad School Update
Tomorrow, I go to meet the professor I'll be working for this semester and to attend various workshops and orientations for graduate students and TAs. I'm excited, but also a little nervous. I cut my hair today, shaping it back into a cute bob, a little long in the front, but just how I like it. At least I can be confident that I look good when I walk in there.

What's Coming
After studying the Big Bang and various other cosmological phenomena yesterday and today, I find myself in awe. I'm not sure how people can look at this information and all these centuries of research and not be astounded at our abilities and our determination to find and understand our place in the universe. I'll be posting more about this me, I won't bore you. It's fairly fascinating.

Holding the Line.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

I Have Chaos in My Heart

Graduate School and Tradition
After attending the first of several orientations for graduate school, I made my way through downtown Richmond, easing off the stress of the past few days. I'll be relieved when school starts, but I'll miss life without deadlines. With a deadline though, I know I'll write more and I'll write better. I always do under pressure.

One thing that is bothering me is that I didn't come up on a tradition like most of my fellow writers. I didn't read Joyce and Hemingway, Faulkner and Steinbeck. I came up on Robert Heinlein, Phillip Pullman, Michael Chabon, Frank Herbert and J.R.R. Tolkien. I can guess how these writers are viewed, and it makes me worry. Alot. I just hope I don't look like a schmuck in my fiction workshops for not having read any of the classics.

Heroes and Lesser Men
"You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star."
- Friedrich Nietzsche

As I mentioned in previous posts, I've been reading Nietzsche, Kierkegaard and Sartre. The most appealing, from a writerly perspective were Nietzsche and Sartre. Kierkegaard, at times, went off into weirdness, claiming God would rejoice in all our deaths. He was a Christian existentialist...which would seem to create a paradox.

Nietzsche's Overman is everything that everyone would ever want to be. He's powerful, he's confident and he's not bound by anyone's morality but his own. He lives his own life. The Last Man is the opposite: a mediocre conformist. He can't get beyond his own smallness and his fanaticism to small ideas. Sartre claimed that man is alone in the universe and is made by and responsible for his actions.

I think the heroes in my story (among them, my villain), are rooted in these concepts. I include my villain among my heroes, because most people pave the road to hell with good intentions, never intending evil. I admire that these misguided characters act because action, to me, is a heroic quality.

Holding the Line.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Particle Physics and Philosophy

Recently, I've delved fairly deeply into subjects a little out of my realm of understanding: particle physics, biological evolution and Eastern and Western philosophy. This may seems strange, but I use most of what I learned to further develop my characters and my writing.

Nietzsche, Buddhism and the Ubermensch

One of the main concepts I've been looking into is the idea of Nietzsche's Ubermensch and Buddhism. These may seem completely unrelated, but there is a connection: Nietzsche compares Christianity to Buddhism. He labels Buddhism as the more honest of the two, because Buddhism longs to end suffering while Christianity wants to end sin. Christianity condemns natural tendencies like sex and desire for strength, while Buddhism exhorts humanity to compassion and does not deny the urges million-year-old genetics. I haven't really formulated my opinion yet, but I find Nietzsche's distinctions interesting.

Nietzsche also had the ideal of the Ubermensch, and while I don't necessarily agree with all of it, I like the idea that we can aspire to something instead of waiting for an afterlife. I also entertain the idea of the Ultimate Man being similar to someone who has attained nirvana, ultimate compassion and ultimate knowledge...and maybe ultimate power?

Reasons for this Study...
Over the summer, I've realized exactly what my story could be and exactly how daunting this task will now be. I feel as if I've arrived at some important point, that somehow I've moved up a notch or two. I understand the grace and power and art of a well told story. And I realize I can tell more than a just a children's story. I can relate deeper concepts like the struggle of rationalism and humanism against superstition and entrenched authority. That's why I'm studying subjects I didn't have time to study in college.

Holding the Line.