Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Influential Books in my life

Inspired by

Books that have changed my life or worldview
(not necessarily in order)
1. The Bible
I feel like this should go without saying. This book has been the foundation of my family and faith, and it is a huge part of my life. I try to model my life after it based on what God has revealed about himself in these words.

2. Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling
This is the first book I read in the series. I absolutely fell in love with this series. It was a huge instrument in my development of writing. Literally hundreds of fanfictions shaped the way I wrote. I also spent hours obsessing about the movies and roleplaying games.

3. The Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne
This was one of the most influential books I read during my year at Revolution Hawaii. It really made me think about how my faith related to the way I lived, how I treated people, and the political standpoints I had.

4. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Read first at Ridgeview and later at PHS, this book is powerful. It showed me how strongly our society relied on pleasure and how far we had drifted away from morals and absolutes, but it also made me appreciate that we still had a semblance of them.

5. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
I read this series throughout my childhood, finishing by the time I was 12, and I would read the books to my sister Grace. I think CS Lewis and his worlds were a huge part in fostering my imagination and my love for books.

6. The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
I learned so much about the validity of the New Testament reading this book. It made me feel like I wasn't crazy for believing an old book like the Bible.

7. Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller
There is something about Miller's poetic imagery and thoughtful writing that really speaks to me. I loved Blue Like Jazz, but I loved this book even more, and I can't even describe why.

Books that have affected my writing
(not including books that are about writing, and again not necessarily in order)
1. Harry Potter series
Like I said, mainly because they inspired me to write so much. But I definitely picked up some of JK Rowling's habits.

2. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
I could only DREAM about writing this beautifully, but it really impacted the way I treated war in my stories and the way I viewed story vs. truth vs. reality.

3. The Tomorrow series by James Marsden
Especially recently, I have taken a lot of inspiration from the Tomorrow series and what I feel is a very real representation of teenage characters in war. I feel the characterization of Ellie helped me shape Natalie, Tracey, and, to some extent, Jennifer.

4. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Again, I have drawn inspiration from the way Suzanne Collins deals with war and its effects, especially psychologically on the protagonist.

There are a smattering of other books, too, especially ones I read in high school that introduced me to great literature: The Odyssey, Pride and Prejudice, 1984. But I feel like these are the most influential.

What about you? What are some books that changed your life?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nano Update

I finished The Second Generation! I posted my progress at this post.

For the second half of November, I'm going to be editing The Stones of Cilean. I have an 80K draft currently, and I'm working on a new beginning that ties together the story a bit better. Right now, I'm about 20K through. Wish me luck with the rest!

I am so still taking advantage of those Nanowrimo write-ins here in Salem. Having only lived in Pendleton before and met only one gal through Nanowrimo, it's so great to write with an entire group of novelists! Salem's regional people are really fun, too. Check out the continual story we wrote last Saturday here: Each person wrote one sentence, but you were only allowed to read the previous sentence, so it made one crazy story! And last Saturday, during a 10-minute word war, one girl wrote 1,700 words! In 10 minutes! Craziness, I tell you.

Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer

Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer

Hardback, 1999, 320 pages.

Like many others, I picked up this book because I enjoyed the television show. Well, let me warn you right off the bat: this is nothing like the television show. In fact, I like the television show more (and I'm still very sad that they cancelled it!). But don't let that turn you away from the book. It was a fascinating concept and a quick read (but okay, I skimmed most of the heavy science parts).

In April 2009, a physics experiment causes a worldwide temporal displacement: a "flashforward" during which the entire human race's consciousness shifts forward in time 21 years. The book deals mainly with the physicists Lloyd Simcoe and Theo Procopides and their responses to their visions (Simcoe finds he's married to someone other than his fiancee, and Theo finds out he's been murdered a few days before the day everyone saw), but Sawyer also jumps around and looks at the global effects of such an event as well as minor characters here and there.

I read through this book in 4-5 sittings. During the first two, I covered nearly 2/3 of the book. Then it slowed down, and I started to get bored with all the science explanations and the blatant "telling" instead of "showing." It asks some amazing philosophical questions. Everyone wonders about what their future is like, and if they had a chance to see it, how they would react. There's a lot of debates about free will and time and how it all fits together.

I found the characters a little flat. I was interested in their stories, but not past the point of, "Hmm, I wonder what's going to happen." Like 4 on a scale from 1 to 10. But it is what kept me reading, I wanted to know about Theo's killer and how Lloyd's marriage worked out. I also thought some of Sawyer's predictions about the future were a little contrived/far-fetched. Of course we have to have flying cars, but I don't think the institution of marriage will ever be reduced to merely living together for a certain amount of time. And in all three books I've read of Sawyer's, he has to say something about how his Canadian/European characters can enjoy socialized healthcare while Americans can't. Yes, we know. No need to rub it in.

All in all, I'd recommend this book, but not before others.

A thing I could learn from this book:

Cut out what the reader won't care about. So much of the science stuff I just skimmed. Like, what's the point? Is this a novel or a science textbook? A lot of it was really interesting, but most of it was like, "Hmm, okay, don't care." A lot of the character description was unnecessary, too. If it doesn't move the story along, get rid of it.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Green Mile: Book/Movie Comparison

Similar format to Everything Is Illuminated: After a brief summary, I'll look at Characters, Setting, Theme, What Was Gained by Film Adaptation, and What Was Lost by Film Adaptation.

The Green Mile was written by Stephen King first as a serial novel in 1996. It's the written account of Paul Edgecombe, an elderly man in Georgia Pines retirement home, writing about the year of 1932 on the E Block ("Death Row") of Cold Mountain Penitentiary. He was the head guard, and tells the story of John Coffey, a large black man who is sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two girls, but is much more than he seems. He tells about Percy Whetmore, an arrogant guard; Eduard Delacroix, an inmate, and his pet mouse, Mr. Jingles; and John Coffey's moving story.

The movie came out in 1999. It was adapted to screen and directed by Frank Darabont. Tom Hanks plays Paul Edgecombe, Michael Clarke Duncan plays John Coffey, and the rest of the cast is great, too.

I thought the setting in the movie was great. Set in the deep South during the Depression, the film really captured the accents, the scenery, the dress. I envisioned the prison a bit differently, of course, but there were some great details. Even the sweat on their brows, you could tell it was the summer. It really captured the feel of the South.

What a great cast! Michael Duncan as John Coffey was amazing. David Morse as Brutus "Brutal" Howell - I really liked his performance. And Dough Hutchison as Percy Whetmore - he plays a great weasel. He captured Percy's cowardice, arrogance, and violence perfectly. Seriously, I could go on and on about the cast. Sam Rockwell was a little older than how I imagined Wild Bill, but he was just as crazy.

About the script, though, and how the characters were portrayed, I think it was very accurate. In the book, I had a hard time telling Harry and Dean apart, so I'm glad in the movie, Dean was considerably older than Harry. They gave a few of Brutal's best lines to Paul ("What am I going to tell God at the judgment seat when he asks why I killed one of his miracles? That it was my job? My job?" paraphrased, of course) - but I understand that he was the main character and needed to have the position of the leader.

There were other, small details that I saw differently in the book (I imagined Hal Moores overweight, his wife much older, and Delcroix more haggard), but those are going to happen with any movie. When reading the book, the characters come to life in your head and you get used to them that way. All in all, the basic essence of these characters were kept intact in the film.

The book has many moral conundrums. It's hard to even put them into words. For one, racism is rampant in the South. One man (a reporter in the book, Coffey's defense in the movie) compares Negroes to dogs. I honestly think they toned it down in the movie, the n-word is used plenty of times in the book (not by the guards), and it's made clear that even if the guards could prove Coffey's innocence, people wouldn't want to hear it because he's black.

(Warning: spoilers from here on out!)

A major issue towards the end of the book is killing an innocent man. Coffey has the power of healing, and the guards feel like they're killing one of God's gifts to men. They have their jobs to think about, in the middle of the Depression, but this pales in comparison to his abilities. Hal Moores, even after his wife is healed by Coffey, signs Coffey's death warrant. The story makes you think about the justice system, how far you're willing to go for a job, the injustice of society (and the whole world), and helplessness.

Coffey's abilities go beyond just healing. He is super sensitive to the feelings of the people around him. One powerful scene in the book that I wished had been in the movie was when Coffey stood in the room with "Old Sparky" and said something along the lines of, "Pieces of them are still in here. I can hear them screaming." But they added in a scene where Coffey felt Delacroix's pain, which I think strengthened his empathic abilities.

What was heartbreaking to me was the line, "He killed them with they love. It's like that all over the world." I think this encompasses a major theme, how people are ugly and cruel to each other, and justice is only sometimes given. Percy and Wild Bill probably got what they deserved, but at the same time, John Coffey was killed even though he was innocent, and Delacroix had to endure a horrible death. Like I said, it's hard to even put into words what the story says about mankind. It's full of good and evil.

There was a short story about Paul in Georgia Pines with a cruel employee that reminded him of Percy. Adding this to the movie would have made it too long (it was already three hours), but it definitely gave his old age another dimension. We also didn't see Jan's death, but I think the realization that the gift Coffey gave him was, in a way, a curse was made clear in the last few minutes of the film.

I think the repeated visual of the light bulbs bursting during Coffey's bursts of power added to the story since we couldn't get inside of Paul's head. I also thought Coffey showing Paul what he saw as opposed to Paul going to investigate was a good move for the film - it shortened it, and made Wild Bill's crime more real and moving to the viewers.

I really enjoyed this movie. I can understand why it was nominated for a Best Picture at the Academy Awards. An amazing story. Sad, for sure, but a lot of great stories are.

The Green Mile by Stephen King

The Green Mile by Stephen King

Paperback, 1999, 544 pages.

This is the first fiction book of King's that I picked up after reading On Writing. I got it from the library, it's a thick little paperback. I wasn't expecting that length, but it only took me about a week to finish it.

This book is the written account of Paul Edgecombe, an elderly man in Georgia Pines retirement home, about the year of 1932 on the E Block ("Death Row") of Cold Mountain Penitentiary. He was the head guard, and tells the story of John Coffey, a large black man who is sentenced to death for the rape and murder of two girls, but is much more than he seems.

I really enjoyed this read. It was first published as a serial novel, and you can tell where the cliffhangers are, where people probably groaned and said, "When's the next one coming out??" Even though the movie and book were both really successful, I didn't know anything about the book other than John Coffey was probably innocent. The twists and turns were a total surprise to me, so I won't spoil anything for anyone who decides to read it. I'll just say it was a great story with moving characters.

A few things I could learn from this book:

Avoid making sweeping moral judgments. This book definitely deals with some huge moral issues - racism, innocence vs. guilt, violence, arrogance, punishment, justice. But Paul rarely comes out and says, "Racism is bad" or "Percy got what he deserved." At times, of course, he can't insert his beliefs about these things, but in the end, King leaves a kind of moral ambivalence in the wake of the powerful story. He doesn't come right out and say that the guards were right or wrong. He doesn't hammer some moral into our heads. We are left to decide what the story says about life and punishment and God and mercy. I liked that because it didn't seem like King was preaching to me. There were good men and bad men and a lot of men in between, and that's very close to real life.

Foreshadowing. Because Paul was writing this from his retirement home sixty years in the future, he would occasionally allude to something that would happen later on in the book. It definitely hyped up the suspense. I wanted to read about Delacroix's bad death a hundred pages before it happened. This obviously wouldn't work with every narrative form, unless the narrators were consciously in the future. Because plenty of times, if you use the past tense, the narrators are in the present, and they don't know what's going to happen any more than the reader. But in the event where they are in the future, this is a good trick to use. I wonder why Ishiguro's use of this annoyed me when King's didn't.

This book is sad, I cried, but I'd recommend it! Expect a book/movie analysis soon - we watched the movie last night!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

On Writing by Stephen King

On Writing by Stephen King

Hardcover, Published 2000, 297 pages.

Recommended by my old writing professor, I picked up On Writing at the public library. It's the first book I've read by Stephen King, and not the last! I actually picked up The Green Mile today.

The book is split into three parts. The first is an autobiographical part. I wished I knew more about his books and his work, I'm sure more of his stories would have resonated with me. I may have said, "So that's where he got that idea!" It was still a delight to read about how he developed as a writer: first submitting short stories to magazines, slowly working his way up, getting married, having kids, and publishing Carrie first.

The second part is the actual writing part. It doesn't read like an instructional manual, but a conversation with one of our age's most prolific writers. I enjoyed this part, of course.

The last, third part was a small bit about a car accident King was involved in the middle of writing his book. He had some horrible injuries to his hip and legs and was confined to a wheelchair for a couple months, and he talks about how writing brought some pleasantness back into his life.

I'd definitely recommend this book to any and all writers! I made a small list of the main points he made in the middle section.

1) Read a lot. Read a lot of books as often as you can. My goal this year was 50 books, and I've read 46. Next year, I'm going to aim for 75. He also convinced me to pick up some audiobooks. Standing in the library today looking at books on CD, I felt awkward. When I'm finished, can I say I've read them? I haven't really. . .I haven't ran my fingers along the words, my wrists haven't ached with trying to figure out how to hold the book late at night in bed, I haven't folded the corners of the pages on my saved spots. But you know what? It's just a different way to take in a story. And I figure it will be best for certain literary styles that are hard for me to get into. I have some driving each week that I can fill with audiobooks. To start off, I picked up Fight Club and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, two books that have been on my "to read" list for a long time. Now they're on my "to listen" list.

2) Write a lot. Practice, practice, practice. King said one of the only ways to see if something works is to write and see. I definitely agree with this. Writing classes have their purpose, but from when I started writing Roswell fanfiction at 13 to my first finished novel at 21, I really believe that the hundreds of short stories, novels, and essays that I wrote (most of them never to be seen by anyone other than me) were the backbone of my progress. He suggested writing the same amount of words everyday at the same time. My writing time is going to be after lunch, and I'm going to write at least 1,000 words. Second day of my goal, and I've already failed, but it's next on my to do list.

3) Most adverbs are unnecessary. A mark of the untrained writer, most adverbs can be removed from the story without real trouble.

4) He said/she said is divine. My problem is I use it too much.

5) Don't get fancy with vocab.

6) Get rid of the passive voice.

7) Write every day. I mentioned this already, but it's important, and I need to do it.

8) Write your first draft with the door closed. Don't let anyone read it. Their interruptions can disrupt your creative process. Write your second draft with the door open, doing research and thinking about the readers.

9) 2nd Draft = 1st Draft - 10% Cut what you can to speed the story along. I think Nanowrimo novelists do the opposite of this. They get to 50,000 words and realize they are far from the "Novel." Don't add more junk, get rid of what is unnecessary.

10) The main question with theme is "What is the story about?" All stories deal with a basic theme, it doesn't have to be something amazing.

11) Tell the truth, even if it offends. King repeated it often: a writer's job is to be honest about life, even if it is crude, racist, violent, etc. I struggle with this because I want to honor God with my writing, but I do want to be honest about human nature. I also have lots of proper family members and younger siblings, and I think about them sometimes as I'm writing a questionable scene (yesterday, in The Second Generation, a 22-year-old was forced to kill someone to save his friend, and I kept thinking about my 13-year-old sister who gobbled up my last story. To be honest, I will probably ask my mom to read it first and approve it for her).

12) Read your market. If you're going to submit to a magazine or publisher, read their material to see if your stuff works. I don't do this often enough, I just send out my stories to people who seem all right.

Those were the main points I wrote down last night at 12:45am after I finished the book. Check it out!