Into My Bookshelf: Jane Eyre

Welcome back to my bookshelf!

Today, we’re continuing on along my short shelf, looking today at Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.

My first experience with this novel was in seventh grade, when I read it as one of my required reading books. I was going through classics at the time, and I read it along with other female-authored classics of similar size (notably other Bronte sister novels and some Jane Austen). From my initial impressions, I recall preferring it vastly to all of Austen and a little bit to Wuthering Heights. It was melancholy without being (thirteen-year-old me felt) overdramatic.

My second read happened sometime in high school, although the details are fuzzy. By this point I’d ready a gross amount of Dickens, Vanity Fair, and several quite thick Russian classics, and Jane Eyre no longer cut the mustard for me, I’m afraid. It went into the stack of books like Frankenstein and The Old Man and the Sea that I never wanted to see again in my life. If someone had asked me at the time to discuss my violent assessment in intelligent terms with things like sentences and adjectives, I don’t think I could have done it. I had a very visceral reaction to my reread that leads me to believe now that it was something I was experiencing in my life that must have subconsciously mixed with the novel in a very negative way.

Because now, while I don’t think I will ever love it, I’ve kept it on my bookshelf in spite of my previously violent reactions to it. Frankenstein wasn’t so lucky. It was one of the few non-children’s books that I opted to give away when I was cleaning. Something about Jane Eyre, however, reached out and appealed to the 22-year-old me. Perhaps it’s the melancholy nature, the darkness that finds communion with my inner Mistress of Dark Emotion. Perhaps it’s my inner Victorian. I really can’t put my finger on it exactly, but it’s staying on my short shelf for now, and when I go to pack up and move in a couple year’s time, we’ll see if it’s still so lucky.

I’ll confess that this one is due for a reread, and when I go through rereading things it will most likely be on the list. But here’s a few thoughts from those around me on the novel, and my reactions to them.

First of all, my brother had to read it in his 9th grade English class, and the particular exercise was to annotate the book as he read. So he left sticky notes all through the copy (or maybe he wrote in the margins, I haven’t actually looked, but my other brother still has all his sticky notes in the copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude I loaned him for AP English) and had to turn in his thoughts to the teacher. I will say that he didn’t especially enjoy the novel, and found it too long and vastly depressing. Not so much that he refused to watch Pride and Prejudice with me, but enough that his teacher actually said she couldn’t finish reading his comments because they were too disturbing. Whatever it was he wrote, he wasn’t referred to the counselor, but I’m sure it was witty, entertaining, and vaguely bizarre. I’d like to get my hands on those comments one day.

My excellent friend, fellow writer, and aspiring young-adult author Meg happens to be a big fan of Jane Austen, and consequently knows much of its offshoots. While she says she’s never read Jane Eyre, she happens to have learned that the novel was born out of a question Charlotte Bronte asked herself: What would happen if Jane Fairfax (from Jane Austen’s Emma) had become a governess rather than marrying? Thus was the beginning of a great classic.

So for those of you who have heard or said that fan fiction can’t be great literature, there’s that proved wrong. One of the greatest classics, taught frequently to high school students, began its life as a fan fiction. Proof that the question “what if” can do just about anything in the right hands.

Cheers,

C

Into my Bookshelf: Tuck Everlasting

Hello, all!

My life has been a whirlwind lately. I might have my first actual grown-up (if part-time) job, and I’ve got another part-time sort of freelance job that’s an extension of work I’ve been doing for the place I interned in college. And my teaching classes are starting. And my room is clean. And all kinds of exciting grown-up things like that.

But as a product of getting my room clean, my books are all organized! So I know where they all are, except the ones I’m loaning to family members, and those I can only speculate on (and a Pablo Neruda book I’ve loaned to a friend that I might have to poke her about).

Staring at my copious collection of books (not all of which I can see from my desk because it’s overflowing under my desk, onto my chest of drawers, and into my closet) got me to thinking, I haven’t read all of these, actually. Some I’ve started. Some were gifts that got sidelined and never returned to. But I’ve got a plan to remedy that, and I’ve also decided to SHARE MY BOOKSHELF WITH YOU ALL.

Meaning, going through my shelves (and pseudo-shelves) and sharing the ones I’ve read, adding posts about the ones I haven’t as I finish them. And I’m starting on my shelf of tiny books, which is a collection of all the book small enough to fit on my top shelf. I confess, I never finished The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, so that’s on my reading list and I’m starting with Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting!

I read this in elementary school and haven’t reread it since, so if I make a list of books to reread, this will probably be on it. But we read it in class my third grade year, and I absolutely loved it. This was also about the time the film came out, with Alexis Bledel, so I have a copy with her face on the cover.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a girl named Winifred who meets a family that never ages called the Tucks. They live in the woods and get their water from a special spring that has frozen them in the ages when they first drank it. She befriends their sons and grows very close with them, and the story goes from there. Naturally, Winifred falls in love with one of the sons, but don’t think this is just a creepy Twilight-esque relationship. It is tender, child-appropriate, and completely non-abusive!

Most importantly to my memory is a toad who hops in and out of the story. If you can follow the toad, you’ll find yourself amused and maybe even catching on early with certain things.

I confess, I don’t have a lot to say about this story except that if you’re looking for something a grade-schooler can read, this is a really good bet, and the film was really great as well.

I’m hoping to put up another post next week, this one on Jane Eyre, so if that’s a book you’re interested in, stay tuned!

Cheers,

C

My Mind Won’t Shut Off

This is a problem I think many creative people share, but I find it hard to shut my mind off. To the point where I have to meditate to sleep at all many nights.

As a result, I’ve found that one of my most productive times of day is actually the middle of the night. This is why I have effectively shifted my waking hours from noon to four AM.

One of the results of this inability to turn off my mind is that I am constantly coming up with projects, which is part of why my list of works in progress grows faster than I can finish anything. For example, I have been working through Star Trek: TOS for personal and interpersonal reasons. I was having a very hard time connecting with the characters, almost an impossible time enjoying the show, despite the fact that I’d thoroughly enjoyed later Star Trek series.

Once I began to emotionally bond with the character of Spock, I was able to identify my issues with the series, and once I dreamed up ways to fix them, I suddenly found myself plotting out a fan fiction, making a massive family tree and spanning the story across three series and over a hundred years of canon.

Now I’ve written two chapters, outlined a third, and have begun the outline for the fourth. This is what happens when I watch television and have pens and paper in my room, I suppose.

I can’t be the only one staying up to all hours of the night plotting stories and cataloguing names. What do y’all do when you’re up late at night, unable to turn off your minds?

Cheers,

C

Query me this, query me that

Charlotte Blackwood:

Here’s a lovely post from our beloved Natalie Cannon!!!

Originally posted on :

Happy Saturday everyone! Soooooo I mentioned last post that I was going to spend my Sunday on agents and queries and I did! Huzzah!

To start, I went back. I had written an initial query letter based on the example in my copy of the 2014 Writer’s Market, and I sent this draft to four friends: the Invisible Ninja Cat, Charlotte Blackwood, Cesar, and my novel exchange partner. I chose these four because I wanted a gradient. INC knows the novel really well, but doesn’t know much about query letters. Charlotte sort of knows the novel and knows more about queries from her own research. Cesar knows the basics of the novel but hasn’t read a word, but he works in academic publishing and has sent out queries himself. My novel exchange partner, the superstar, has read and edited my novel, and she’s sending out her…

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A Camp NaNo Update

Hello, everybody!

The first week of Camp NaNo has come and gone and I have two exciting bits of news.

The first is that although she’s coming late to the game, E. M. McBride – my friend and co-author – is Camp NaNoing, so hopefully she turns out something as excellent as usual. Best of luck her way.

The second piece of news is that I’ve completed my Camp NaNo novel, have met my word count, and am beginning my editing of the first draft!

That’s going to go through nine rounds of edits before I send it over to Natalie Cannon for her miracle-working magic, but I’ll keep you posted. The first stage is going more slowly than I originally anticipated, mostly because it’s harder than I recall to read a whole novel out loud. Apparently, I can’t actually do it in a single sitting. I’m about half through, though.

I’ve got plenty of other projects to work on when I toss that Natalie’s way, so I’ll try to be good about keeping this updated.

Cheers,

C

Murder Mystery Planning

Like many voracious readers, I grew up on mysteries. Boxcar Children, Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys. Of course, that bleeds into murder mysteries  as you get older, and for me this led me to television and Agatha Christie.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself as a writer, it’s that murder mysteries – or even just mysteries – are a speciality and a love of mine. For one thing, it gives you a beautiful excuse to kill off characters, and to make everybody seem like suspect sorts of people. It also gives you excuses to dole out information to the reader very slowly.

As my poison-loving (as a writer, not a purveyor) editor and best friend, Natalie Cannon, has told me, the key to writing a convincing murder mystery is to know first of all, whodunit, and how, and why. Just like makers of jigsaw puzzles print the picture out as a whole and then cut it up and jumble the pieces, the writer of a murder mystery has to follow similar steps.

The first step, as I said, is figuring out what happened, what the mystery actually is that everyone’s trying to solve. What it is, what it looks like. Sometimes those are one in the same. Sometimes someone’s killed one way and it’s been made to look like something else. You have to know exactly what’s happened if you’re going to leave the right breadcrumbs. Sometimes, you’ll notice that mysteries will have multiple murders. Both mysteries I’m currently working on are like that, and the one I’m doing for Camp NaNo has two very closely connected murders, whereas my other mystery has about half a dozen murders, much more loosely connected, which makes it a longer and more complicated story. If you’re not sure you can keep all the clues straight, stick to one or two murders, and if you do two, make them very closely connected.

Once you have the murder all sorted out, it’s a matter of figuring out what would leave traces, especially traces that could be misinterpreted. This is the selection of breadcrumbs. It’s important, as well, to decide what sort of murder mystery you’re working with. Will the reader know who the killer is? Will there be a big reveal at the end to (hopefully) stun all but the most astute? In Those We Trust, which is something of a murder mystery, in a way, the killer is a regular voice, but I’m very careful to keep the identity completely secret until the very end. Even the characters never discover who it is, so the breadcrumbs left by the killer are actually deliberate, pointing fingers at everyone else. The reader actually gets to see the killer planting the breadcrumbs, although they might not realize what they are until they’re mentioned later, from a different point of view. This is something that you can play around with if you feel confident: how much are you giving away, and how? There’s even the crime-show motif of “we know who the killer is, now we have to prove it”, which means you have to have someone who can cover their tracks very well, and things that are very difficult to prove, like in the television show, Luther. Knowing and proving are different things, so that can be fun to play with, but requires very precise writing and planning.

The next step is one of the more fun steps: Who are you going to frame? You’ve got your misleading breadcrumbs, so they have to lead somewhere other than the killer, potentially. Whether someone is actually wrongfully arrested or the police just have a list of suspects to whittle through and someone looks uncommonly attractive, at least one red herring needs to muddy (or bloody?) the waters. If you’re going for an enclosed murder scene, like a boat or airplane, and “one of us is the killer” is your motif, then maybe you want multiple guests to look like equally promising killers. If you’ve got a more typical piece, maybe two or three people might fit the bill. In my Camp NaNo piece, I’ve got a handful of possible killers, but when I write murder mystery events, everybody’s got to have at least a small motive. Your needs will depend on your story.

Then, honestly, it’s just a question of writing the thing, weaving the plot and the breadcrumb dropping together. A little hint of this, a little smacking you over the head with a twist of that…. And then nuancing it in the editing process.

Editing is a really important part of writing a murder mystery, actually. If you have a couple of editors/friends read it and they all say either it’s too easy to tell who your killer is way too soon, or it’s absolutely and literally impossible to figure it out at all until the very end, you should listen to them. The worst thing a writer of mysteries can do is frustrated the reader with being overly obvious or impossible to deduce. If there’s a pattern, take the steps you can to fix it and toss it their way again. You’ll be glad you did.

Cheers,

C

Camp NaNo

It’s that time of year again: July’s Camp NaNoWriMo!

I think anyone who has ever tried or considered trying NaNoWriMo understands the appeal of dedicated a month to working on a novel. It’s sort of a pact with yourself, a dare, pushing yourself to the limit with an organized way of holding yourself accountable, and rewarding yourself with completion. The classic NaNoWriMo is a brilliant writerly tool, but having done all the different sessions, I have to say that the July Camp is my favorite, easily.

First of all, Camp NaNo sessions have a few legs up on the classic right off the bat. Because they’re based around the concept of summer camp, you get cool features like having a cabin assigned to – or, new this month, forming your own cabin with friends you know either from the internet or in your real life! – that gives you regular encouragement, discusses pitfalls, and just keeps you sane with company during the sometimes lonely act of writing.

Also, NaNoWriMo is limited to 50,000 word goals for novels. Camp NaNo is more flexible. You can edit a previously written work, expand on a previously written work, do a screenplay, even set your own winning goals! So if 50,000 seems like a steep chunk out of your summer, set it for 20,000 and write a novella! Or if you know that without the pressures of school you’ll churn out 50,000 like it’s nobody’s business, there’s people in my cabin with over 120,000 word count goals. Mine’s at 63,000, because that’s my minimum estimated amount for the project I chose to churn out this month.

Also, for those of you who know that there are two months of Camp NaNo every year, you might have also noticed that I specified the July camp as the best. I’ll explain why.

When Camp NaNo started a couple of years ago, it was in June and August. Which was great because they were both technically summer camp months. The problem with that, though, was that you had a NaNo every other month for half the year, and then nothing the rest of the year. So last year, they switch camp to April and July. This is good for people who want to space things out, especially people interested in screenwriting, because April is National Screenwriting Month, so they can use that for their first camp session.

But the problem with April, as with November, is that for those of us who are students and/or work within the school-year system or calendar, those are very busy months. Exams, papers, etc. Life bogs you down in those times of year, and the beauty of a summer camp experience isn’t just the weather: it’s about knowing that there’s nothing on your chest but camp during those weeks.

Of course, for people who work year round with no relenting time in the summers, this might not make a difference. But many countries other than the US have their vacations traditionally in July or August, so it’s sort of nice having a NaNo then, so you know you’ll at least have some time off.

Thus for me, someone who is likely to operate on the school-year schedule for the rest of my working life (woot?), the July Camp NaNo is the ultimate timing, the best set-up, and basically the epitome of Christmas in July.

I’ve written the first three chapters of my project already, putting my other novel project on hold until I’ve got the draft of this one done. I’ll be starting chapter four as soon as I post this blog post, and since I’m many words ahead already, I’ll be trying to give you regular updates on my personal and cabin progress. Should be fun.

Also, are you participating in Camp NaNo? Have questions about NaNoWriMo? Leave a comment! Get involved! Things like this are more fun when you’ve got people to do them with.

Cheers,

C