Monday, August 29, 2011

When Theory Meets Life and Writing: Identity's Catch-22

In honor of my return to school (and my impending Theory class) I'd like to consider how literature and the act of writing bleed over into that odd realm called "real-life" (although neither are really separate in any sense but the academic).

Much literature deals with IDENTITY in some way shape or form. Characters discover themselves or realize their identities are false and, as a corollary, good authors usually construct complex and conflicted characters whose identities are anything but unitary and holistic.

In theory, society has come to realize that identity isn't a simple label. It's conflicted, fragmentary, and constantly shifting in response to life. Literary theory deals with this conundrum by exploring the ways in which mimicry and culture form the basis of identity.

In an ironic twist of conceptualization, "knowing" one's identity really means realizing that there is NO SUCH THING as a solidified, fixed identity. Being self-aware is to be aware that self has blurry and shifting boundaries associated with friends, relatives, social groups, and even the books we read, movies we watch, and music we listen to.

Truth is stranger than fiction, because, as has been said many times, fiction HAS to make sense. So how do we deal with this ambiguous and abstract identity as authors? How do you create a recognizable character without completely disregarding the ambiguity of identity, and how do you account for said ambiguity without completely obfuscating your character?

I don't have an answer for these questions, I just think they're something to keep in mind while writing. Maybe being aware of the conundrum is enough. Who knows.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Ten Reasons to Collaborate (or, Why I Disagree with Agatha Christie)

I've always believed in writing without a collaborator, because where two people are writing the same book, each believes he gets all the worry and only half the royalties.
--Agatha Christie

Over the past three years, I've worked on three or four major writing projects and dallied with several others, including an ill-fated post-apocalyptic tale involving an abandoned library and Greek Morse-code. That particular story is in my closet, but that's beside the point.

Out of those three or four major writing projects (by which I mean novels), one of them was written with a co-author. While I would hate to lose my autonomy via incessant collaboration, my experience co-authoring a novel has been fun and rewarding. Now, I could just ramble in a very non-linear manner about WHY and HOW collaboration has been beneficial to me as a writer, but I've chosen to be organized today, so, here are ten reasons why collaboration has been glorious:

10. Writer's block becomes a non-issue, because you can inspire and or goad each other into writing with every chapter exchange.

9. Depending on your method of collaboration (we each wrote one main perspective and, for the most part, switched off chapters) your workload is cut in half.

8. You aren't crazy--somebody else hears the same voices in his or her head, too!

7. Another LIVING person inhabits the world you are creating, WHILE you are creating it.

6. Two heads are better than one. Brainstorming is almost always extremely productive.

5. Remember the days when you showed a chapter to somebody else (like your mother or sister) and worried that their praise was merely obligatory? Never again. Now, somebody else thinks as highly of your work as you do.

4. Marketing is easier because you will force each other to help out, despite inherent laziness and self-doubt on either party's side.

3. If you are shy, you always have moral support at book signings and promotion events.

2. Planning a sequel is easier and more fun, because writing with a co-author combines all of the coolness of finding brand-new reading material and realizing your words actually have an audience.

1. You always have somebody to blame if, somehow, you accidentally write a horrible book that gets mass produced and becomes a best-seller...some authors don't have that option.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Art

I have a problem. Well, more of an antsy-pants observation, I guess...
It always cheers me to see and/or hear about people of any age who are head-over-heels book lovers. Voracious readers are, as Ann of Green Gables would say, my kindred spirits. But I'm getting a little bit disturbed by an artsy, kitschy trend...because I think that valuing books merely for their aesthetics (literally pages and cover) is a little bit insulting to good writing and writers everywhere. Don't get me wrong, I love my books and the color they add to every room in my house. But I don't want to turn them into this:

Okay, well, maybe that last one is cool. And I could even condone using some books (like high school dictionaries--they don't have any of the good words) to make art out of. But I think this can go a little bit too far, really really fast.

What do you think?

Monday, August 8, 2011

10 Things I Want To Do Before the Summer Ends (or, Why I'm a Hopeless Nerd):

Blogging makes me feel accomplished; even though I am a hopeless slacker when it comes to finishing my novel (my muse is on its yearly vacation. I think it's in Belize, at the moment)I AM WRITING SOMETHING. *Shakes fist at muse*

Anyway, these top ten lists make it even easier for me to be a punctual blogger, so here's another one for you:

10 things I want to do before the summer ends (or, why I'm a hopeless nerd)

10. Find a Coldstone and try at least three flavors. Because everything is calorie-free in the summer*, so I need to eat all fattening foods before they can actually fatten me.

9. Read The Maltese Falcon, the rest of my new Sherlock Holmes stories, and possibly also some Dostoyevsky...

8. Go to the lake and fish.

7. Create the ultimate in pet-specific engineering: a dog/cat door with built-in sprinkler and blow dryer. I'd call it the cat wash...something tells me I'd have the cat mafia on my tail, though...

6. FINISH MY NOVEL. Because I have striven toward this goal for two consecutive summers (not counting this one).

5. Find an agent for the novel I co-authored with A.L. Brown.

4. Organize my office.

3. FINISH MY NOVEL (I just really want to do this. No, I'm not copping out on number three. FINE, I will make a real number three).

3. For reals this time: FINISH...hahaha gotcha. Learn to ride a motorcycle.

2. Submit my short story, COFFEE AND CARTELS, to the Tony Hillerman Short Mystery Story Contest**.

1. WIN the Tony Hillerman Short Mystery Contest.

* This statement may be fallacious and/or facetious.
** I will be at the post office tomorrow morning, bright and early.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Ten Best Pets for Mystery Writers

Charliegreenberry over at alittleroomforwriting recently composed a couple of "top ten" lists. They look like good old-fashioned, tongue-in-cheek fun. So, I decided to make one of my own:

Courtney's Top Ten Pets for Mystery Writers

10. Fish: because they're a naturally captive audience. You can read your work-in-progress out loud and they will stare at you with little bugged-out eyes filled with awe and wonder (Or constipation. Can fish get constipated?). Sometimes, if they really like what they're hearing, they'll do this neat little trick that involves floating around on their backs looking bloated. Good boy, Flounder!

9. Snakes*: isn't this one obvious? When you own a snake--especially a venomous snake--your hardcore nature is hard to miss. Everyone will know you deserve to be a mystery writer because you associate with a potentially deadly animal. Plus, those extra trips to the ER double nicely as research for your upcoming novel: Death by Snakes.

8. Snails: who doesn't find snails at least slightly mysterious? A snail can pull its eyes into its own body, for heaven's sake! Also, when your snail gets hijacked by parasites and becomes a snail zombie, you may be inspired to branch out into paranormal mystery.

7. Rocks: I know, I know, pets are typically living. But hear me out on this one. Draw your little Mr. or Miss a face (cute, ugly, whatever floats your boat) and set him/her on your desk. You don't have to feed it, clean up after it, or take it for walks (although it does fit neatly into your pocket if you so desire). You can ignore it to your heart's content--especially on those rare days when Muse takes over and you actually write a page or two--and talk to it when you feel crazed and alone. It won't bat an eyelash at the crazy things you say.

6. Tarantulas Goats: I have nothing positive or worthwhile to say about spiders. If that makes me a derelict mystery writer, so be it. On the other hand, I could talk about goats for an hour. Maybe long as no consumption of their milk is required. Why do goats make good pets for mystery writers? Because they are goats. The end. If you need a better reason: you can eat them, sell them, breed them, and drink and make cheese from their milk (if you're into goat milk). These qualities are excellent in the event you quit your day job before you sell your book. You gotta eat somehow. Just don't name the goat Bambi and you'll be fine when it comes time to barbecue.

5. Parrots: because (1) you can teach them to pitch your book for you. "To Die For: the ultimate in South West Mystery!" "Buy To Die For, and gimme a cracker!" I can see it now! and, (2) you can teach them words like sesquipedilian, amalgamation, and gadzookery.

4. Guinea Pigs: two words--Ancient Andes. Guinea pigs were first domesticated in South America. They were food, then. But still, their history is an amalgamation (there's that word again) of pre-Columbus mystery, think Incas, Aztecs, Toltecs, and pit-barbecue. You just can't go wrong there.

3. Pygmy Elephants: do you tend to write exotic mysteries? Well then, this "little" guy is for you. After you get to know Dumbo, maybe you can email me an explanation of the whole pink-elephants thing? 'Cause I'm pretty sure alcohol doesn't cause those kind of hallucinations. Maybe there's a book in there somewhere.

2. Dogs: I'm talking specifically about Blood Hounds, Basset Hounds,German Shepherds, Doberman Pinchers, and Rotweilers, but any ol' hound will do. I'm pretty sure Droopy once did a stint as Sherlock Holmes (and I really want this t-shirt, which proves my point).'Nuff said.

1. Cats: cats are awesome and require very little attention. I've trained my cat** to keep me company while I am writing and reading--without being needy or ostentatious like a dog would. Although THIS (see image above) sometimes happens, my cat and I have a growing understanding of one another. This understanding has been further aided by the following two comics by The Oatmeal: 17 Things Worth Knowing About Your Cat and How to Pet a Kitty. More cat/author happiness can be found at the following blog: Writers and Kitties.

* Handling venomous snakes is ill-advised and potentially fatal. The author does not advise and cannot be held responsible for any ill-fated snake-handling subsequent to this post.

** Hah. Funny me. Cats cannot be trained. They have Selective Behavior Disorder. My cat sometimes indulges me. When I'm lucky.