Blog Titles and Other Thoughts

Dandelion clock

Random picture. We can pretend it means that time is ephemeral and fleeting, like dandelion fluff held aloft in the breeze. But really, I just thought it looked cool.

Do you ever wonder what meaning or story a blog title may have? Most titles I guess are straightforward, like “So and So Writes!” or “Books Books Books!” or “How To ___.” But, there are those other ones (you know what I mean, I’m sure) that are either titled or domain-named (can that be a verb?) kinda randomly. Or, am I the only one that wonders about these things? Like I’m reaching to find a story where none really exists.

At any rate, I started thinking about bloggery things, and inevitably, blog titles/names since I chatted with a group of lovely writer friends last night about blogs.*

Previously, my blog title was simply, “Reading Makes Me Happy.” (In fact, some wordpress correspondence still shows up that way, which kinda throws me.) Obviously, I love books, I love reading, so BAM! Easy title! (My focus quote was: “I read to find a ladder to heaven.” W. Strieber.)

Well, sometime last year I had an epiphany, and I won’t go into details about it here (feel free to click on that link, though :)), but I realized that my unacknowledged dreams of writing a book and being a published author was in fact attainable, and it was only seemingly unattainable because I made it so. I did nothing to get me toward writing a novel, so why was I surprised that “gasp! I didn’t have a written novel, and I never will, and this will never happen for me.” *wonk, wonk*

All I needed to do was break down my dream (published author) into a more manageable goal (write novels), and break down the action steps to get me to that goal (develop and hone my writing skills, find a feedback/support group, read a lot, etc). With a paythebills job (sometimes, two!), balancing my goals was sometimes tricky, but I never let the “I have no TIME!” be an excuse for me to fall back on. (I have the same 24-hours that Edison, Einstein, and all those guys had! Surely I can “find the time” to write a book!)

“Find solutions, not excuses” is a mantra I embrace, and I’m also someone who responds well to accountability exercises and goal setting. (It’s the Achiever in me.) I wanted to make the most of the time that I have been given, and not just impulsively do things in the moment. I wanted to really create value in the now that I have. Thus the title, “Redeeming the Time.” (Also, it sounds pretty.) 🙂

“Redeeming the time” reminds me to focus on the things that I do control, like working on the craft of novel writing, so that I can eventually see my dream realized. It also reminds me to simplify and let go of those things that distract me from my goals. Sometimes it’s tough, but I don’t count it as a sacrifice. At this point, I find I feel freer because I’m not owned by other time-wasters. I have more ownership and control of my time, and guard that time zealously.

With all that said, I really want to incorporate reading back into my writing schedule, and even though I’ve said that I don’t really do book reviews, I at least want to put a few in rotation. (I plan on posting a book review page soon). Now, the reviews won’t be as fancy or engaging as most out there, but like this blog, it’s mainly just to keep me accountable to reading all the beautiful stories that find themselves in my mailbox or inbox. If my love for a book inspires someone to go out and read it, well, I’ll look at it as a bonus!

Plus, it’s a shame to get ARCs or egalleys and not give at least a little pre-release blurb about the book. Heck, even sharing a “new to me” title would be delightful. Great stories are meant to be shared and loved. The writers who wrote those stories should know that their sweat, tears, and sleepless nights have created worlds for readers to live in.

For a little while, both the reader and writer share the same dreamspace, and that is an experience worth cultivating.

So Tell Me: Any story behind your blog title? Do you like or care when someone blogs (non-spoiler-y) book reviews?

*The other friends I chatted with were:

Advertisement

This Past Week…

A lot of random things popped up all in the same week that I thought were quite memorable, so I thought to share some of these snippets. I know that normal weeks begin with Sunday and end with Saturday, but I have the privilege of not working a set schedule, thanks to my paythebills job, and Tuesdays generally mark the beginning of my “weekend.” So, without further ado…

20110621-012359.jpg

Thanks for lending me the book, Kayla! Also, I think the cover has changed since this ARC, so don't be confused!

I spent last Tuesday (and into Wednesday) immersed in other worlds, namely, Fran Billingsley’s Chime and (the ARC of) Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone.

Both of these stories were incredibly written and beautifully characterized. I wanted to wrap the words around me, and live in these worlds. Seriously, these books are what I aspire to as a writer. Unfortunately, Daughter of Smoke and Bone is not available until this fall, but Chime is available now!

I unfortunately missed out on a chat that writerly friends of mine were hosting Wednesday night, but here is the archive of that chat. I think we decided to make it a monthly chat, on the second Thursday of each month.

The next few days after that, fueled by insomnia, caffeine, and the raging desire to work on something fun, I fleshed out a chapter of a story (the snippets of which I wrote back in January) and continued to sketch out “next chapter plots.” I was so proud of myself, this song played in my head all day Friday (thanks to my awesome twitter friend, Michele Shaw, aka @veertothewrite, for tweeting me this link, so I can share the madness with you all):

(You’re welcome.)

Then, thanks to my lovely friend, Carol, I got these books…

20110621-012154.jpg

20110621-012213.jpg

20110621-012246.jpg

Carol, next in line!

…signed by John Green! (Please visit her blog post, here, where she also shares The Man in Truck incident, and her experiences at WisCon.)

Though I loved getting all three of those books signed, I really appreciated listening to what he had to say about the relationship of the reader and writer, and what he felt was his responsibility as a writer to produce stories that were both helpful and beautiful. Also, we got to hear bits from his new book, the title of which will be released next week. (UPDATE: John Green has announced that the new book’s title is The Fault in Our Stars. He will be signing all pre-ordered copies! Go order one today!)  The book itself comes out in nine months, and from what I heard, I will DEFINITELY be lining up to buy a copy (which will hopefully be signed, too, one day!)(UPDATE#2: Since JG announced he would be signing pre-ordered copies, mine is already signed, but I don’t mind getting it signed again!) 😀

Throughout the week, too, I accrued a pile of titles to be read, even though I promised myself that I would only get one book at a time. What can I say? I’m a book junkie.

So, (thanks to my library), I’m currently reading Julie Halpern’s Don’t Stop Now and Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys (via audiobook. What an efficient reader I am! ^_^). Also in my special library bag (what, you don’t have one?), I have:

  • The Lake, by Banana Yoshimoto
  • The Year of the Flood, by Margaret Atwood (audiobook)
  • Claire de Lune, by Christine Johnston
  • Rot and Ruin, by Jonathan Maberry

Actually, the last two were because of the galleys waiting for me in my inbox. Thanks to Galley Grab, I have their sequels (Nocturne and Dust and Decay, respectively), along with Wildefire, by Karsten Knight, The Unwanteds, by Lisa McMann, and Fury, by Elizabeth Miles. (I don’t usually do book reviews on this blog, but I will pass along titles of books I thought were AMAZING! *coughcoughdaughterofsmokeandbonecoughcough*)

So that was my week (which, if you minus the John Green thing, and add a little more insecurity tugging at my “I Can Do This” exterior, was pretty much a typical week).

What Have You Been Up To??

Leveraging My Strengths

Cover of "StrengthsFinder 2.0"

Cover of StrengthsFinder 2.0

A few months ago, I had the privilege of reading StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath for my paythebills job. The book is based on the premise that when people are aware of their strengths, and the strengths of those around them, they can begin to live a balanced and fulfilled life.

The book itself is set up with a short introduction of how the researchers developed the StrengthsFinder assessment tool, followed by a detailed description of the 34 talent themes in which those strengths are expressed. The part of the book that matters? The access code sealed in the back of the book that allows you to take the assessment online.

Honestly, I’m the ridiculous nerd that enjoys things like this, and I was honestly excited to see what my top five themes were. Considering that my top theme is Input, I obviously enjoyed the fact that I had words to attribute to all the nerdy things I do. For example, the Input theme states that I am inquisitive and like to collect things (information, items, whatever). I rolled my eyes at that at first, because I had in mind people like stamp collectors or bug collectors or even scrapbookers. But then, I looked over at my copious Moleskine notebook collection, where each notebook has its own purpose. And, I also remembered a file that I created on EverNote entitled, “Interesting California Names” and realized that yes, I definitely do collect things, and what I collect is information. My favorite line was:

Whatever you collect, you collect it because it interests you. And yours is the kind of mind that finds so many things interesting. The world is exciting precisely because of its infinite variety and complexity. If you read a great deal, it is not necessarily to refine your theories but, rather, to add more information to your archives…So you keep acquiring and compiling and filing stuff away. It’s interesting. It keeps your mind fresh. And perhaps one day it will prove valuable.

If that doesn’t scream NERD, I don’t know what does. 🙂

How This All Pertains To Me Now

Anyway, I was thinking more about my strengths this week. I was floundering a bit, trying to find direction or headway in my WIP, and may have been procrastinating by rereading passages of Bird by Bird and On Writing. Then, I noticed StrengthsFinder on my desk, and decided to give that a reread as well. When I got to my Achiever theme, I started to wake up a little.

You have an internal fire burning inside you…Your relentless need for achievement might not be logical. It might not even be focused. But it will always be with you. As an Achiever you must learn to live with this whisper of discontent. It does have its benefits. It brings you the energy you need to work long hours without burning out. It is the jolt you can always count on to get you started on new tasks, new challenges…It is the theme that keeps you moving.

I asked myself on Wednesday why I write. Why do I bother working on a story that feels too big for me. I answered with the blogpost, “Why I Write.” I appreciated my friends reminding me of the reasons why I want to tell The Story. Because, yes, I believe those reasons, and they are true for me.

But, honestly…I think why I pursue writing is a lot simpler for me. I write because I can, and because I chose that as a goal. I write because it became The Skill that I want to master. I always return to The Story simply because I need to finish it. This is who I am. I am that sick fool that looks for challenges and seeks the uncomfortable. I recognize that these challenges, and the overcoming of them, gives me a sense of purpose and satisfaction with my life. This fire that gives me the discontent to keep pursuing my goals is the reason itself for me to write.

It’s how I do. 😉

I created a new affirmation yesterday, and I will keep it with me for a while:

I AM WRITING THIS STORY BECAUSE I AM THE ONLY ONE WHO CAN.

*For the curious, my top themes are Input, Learner, Intellection, Achiever, Ideation.

The Count of Monte Cristo is My New Novel Role Model

Cover of "The Count of Monte Cristo (Barn...

Cover via Amazon

My husband is a proud, self-proclaimed non-reader.

Don’t get me wrong.  He’s read all the classics, and has probably read more of those than I did.  (In high school, I could take tests on books I’ve not read and ace them because the tests revolved more around themes and big picture things versus knit-picky, scene specific details like his tests were.  Don’t worry, he still graduated valedictorian with a perfect 4.0 GPA in an uber-competitive private school.)  But, he definitely does NOT have my love for reading books.  He doesn’t wax poetical about the feel of the paper, the smell of a crisp new book, nor does he get starry-eyed delighted by a fantastical new read.  He rolls his eyes when I get excited that a book became available for me at my local library (Finally! Y’all need to quicker!).  He looks askance at my piles of books that signal that I’m planning on another reading marathon (where I read through my day off from work into the night, oftentimes devouring whole stacks of books by the time dawn rolls around).

However, despite all the eye rolling and sighs and proclamations that “books are stoopid,” he does have a favorite: The Count of Monte Cristo.

We brought it along to listen to on our 20+-hour road trip to Florida last September.  He listens to it repeatedly as he works on the house.

In short, he’s a fan.

And, in true fandom form, when asked why he loves this book so much, he just chuffs, and says, “Because it’s awesome.”

But then a wonderful thing happened.  The other night, we decided to watch the (ridiculously horrible, why does it even pretend to be Count of Monte Cristo because it’s nothing like the book) movie starring Jim Caviezel, and I was able to glean a lot from the husband’s utter disgust toward the film.  Between horrified outbursts of “They weren’t even friends!” and “That’s not what happened at all!” I developed a picture of why he liked the story and what about it I can emulate in my own story telling.

First, Why He Liked The Story.

The Story Delivers.

The main reason why the husband loves this story is because it delivers on its promise for revenge. The story starts out with a poor, naïve Edmond Dantes, and ends with him transformed as the larger-than-life, stone cold Count of Monte Cristo.  He spent years plotting his revenge against four men who betrayed his trust, and, in the end, he delivered his revenge.  There was no flip-flopping to create unnecessary tension or drama.  These men ruined Dantes’s life.  They were the bad guys.  They deserved what they got.  The End.

[To see how a revenge story can fail to deliver its promise, I would direct you to the movie Law Abiding Citizen.]

A lot of Change, A lot of Range

The story, setting, characters…all undergo huge changes.  First of all, there’s the timeline. Dantes is in prison for fourteen years, and uses another ten years to plot his revenge.  The settings cover from Turkey to France. The character types range from pirates to princes.  The characters themselves swing from poor to rich or rich to poor; ill repute to honor to public shame.  And, even though the plot could have been non-stop action from start to finish, Dumas allowed the tension and conflict to build and fall throughout the story.  Sure, there may have been some parts that could have been edited out, making the story a little bit tighter, but overall, he knew how to pace the story to keep the reader interested and hungry for more.  Plus, like I said above: the story ends in a way that fulfills the reader’s expectations.  Dantes gets his revenge, and gets the girl.

The Count of Monte Cristo Was a BAMF

It’s not enough to know that The Count slowly and patiently laid the groundwork to utterly destroy any shred of happiness or prosperity that the four backstabbers acquired while Dantes was imprisoned, which alone makes him worthy of his BAMF title.  Dumas goes a step further, and also shows other people’s reactions to The Count.

For example, The Count wasn’t just rich and powerful because he found a lost treasure.  We know it, because The Count traveled with a speed unheard of in that day and age (he kept fresh horses around willy-nilly, which is the equivalent of rolling around in a Lamborghini).  We see it by the way members of polite society were in awe of him, and tripped over themselves to be acquainted with him.  We see it in the way his servants didn’t want to displease him, because they didn’t want him to send them away.  Finally, after he totally ruins four families’ lives, he sails off into the sunset with a nubile young thing as his new love.  If that doesn’t scream BAMF, I don’t know what does.

[Side note: The husband protests to the term BAMF because it sounds like an explosion caused by a water balloon and not worthy to describe this awesome colossus of a man.]

What I Got Out of It:

So, I know all of this fan gushing can really be distilled to the same time-honored principles in writing, namely show don’t tell and write memorable characters.  But, I think my writerly aha moment came to me when the husband shared, “The Count does the things I would do, or wish I could do.”  The Count is more than just another memorable character, a BAMF, an awesome colossus of a man.  He allows the reader to be engaged in the story itself.

I’ve recently become so caught up in the story line or plotting of my latest WIPs, that I forgot the most basic rule of engaging the reader.  Heck, that’s one of the reasons why I write.  I want to write a story that creates the hungry, obsessive need to read into the middle of the night.  Sure, there are many ways to do this, but I think the most basic way is to create characters that would resonate with the reader.  Not even that they need to be believable characters, but that they are so larger than life, that the character(s) make me believe in them.  The rest of the story will come from the character’s decisions and the conflicts that the MC faces as the result of those decisions.

Story, then, doesn’t come from carefully plotting out the MC’s decisions; it comes from the following through on what the MC decides as he overcomes the obstacles we crazy writers throw in his way.  This creates more complex and believable characters, a more engaging read, and creates readers out of non readers.

At least, that’s what I got out of movie night this week.

What about you?  Any fun, writerly aha moments float your way?