Wednesday, December 19, 2007

If you don't feed your blogs wholly...

...then I can't read your blogs. It appears that while I can log in to blogger to post, I can't read any blogs. Seems as if China has blocked them. Sadness. Will catch up with you all when I get back.

Book number 32 I believe.

Woohoo. Another book finished. Forget about the fact that I still have a bunch of books at home, half-read. Here is a book I finished in a couple of days. Hooray.

I liked this book. The concept was fresh - think about it. Not just a story about a hermaphrodite, but a GREEK hermaphrodite! A whole family saga in fact. That alone made for an interesting premise that made you want to get through the whole thing, even if at times, I had to work through certain passages.

Things of note:

Eugenides writes like he's seeing a movie. His scenes pan, zoom in, pull out, create montage sequences, slow down, speed up. You get this feeling that he'd almost like to be a movie director instead of a writer, the way some of his scenes play out. The specific passages that especially drove this home are escaping me right now, but he's definitely a very visual writer, in pacing and in description.

It's interesting the POV choices he makes. He chooses a first person, but the first person narrator chooses to take a very omniscient POV when writing his memoirs of his family. I remember thinking at one point in the beginning, wow, this omniscient narrator is really well-done, and I haven't seen an omniscient employed in such a way in recent years. Only to remember that it wasn't true omniscience. Interesting. It's one of those things where I think part of me gets a little naggy about it, and the sensible side of me wants to be like, "Well, how could he KNOW those things, that doesn't make sense" but uh, he won the Pulitzer, so obviously I know very little. Goes to show you that there is such thing as creative liberty. So why in the hell not.

Sometimes I felt a disjointedness between the adult male narrator and the teenage girl that he was. I found myself disbelieving that someone who grew up all their life trying desperately to be a girl would so easily capitulate and become a boy. That was my one bone of contention. I didn't completely believe the outcome.

But it was well-written, entertaining, and really portrayed this family, from immigration to the whole American experience, very well. It never dragged for me, although there were a few moments where it was in trouble of possibly doing so, it sort of avoided it in the nick of time. I really enjoyed it, if I didn't necessarily love it. Worth the read. Clever title, too.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Hail from the east.

See? I proved my theory correct. I miss the game, and I wake up, check scores, and what? Cowboys got their asses served to them by the Eagles. F.

Anyway, I ended up not bringing any of the books that I was almost done with on my trip, because my baggage was oversize and I was thinking, if I finish these, I'll have to lug them around for the rest of the time. So I brought new books with me instead. I'm halfway through Middlesex right now, so I'll do a post when I'm done.

Moonie, I'm having trouble accessing your blog from here. Maybe it's blocked in China.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Off I go.

Cab to come pick me up in 2.5 hours. I'm not done packing. So much to bring back that I don't even know if I have room to pack the books I want to finish reading. As much as I want to finish Johnson on this trip, it might be a bit much to lug it around. I may have to settle for a few new skinny paperbacks instead... sigh.

Will blog from Asia. Ciao!

Friday, December 14, 2007

There's 51 on that list right now...

I just realized that my list of books I own but haven't read yet is unacceptably long. If I read a book a week, I might be able to finish that list in a year. And you know that I will continue to buy new books throughout the year...

I really have a problem. I bought four books last night, but I almost picked up an additional 6. I curbed myself, but it's just so difficult. I want everything. EVERYTHING! There's so much I want to read and so little time to do it! And also so little money with which to do it. I don't even want to know how much money I've spent on books this year...

So........ if you guys want to buy me a Christmas present, I'd buy me a Barnes and Noble gift card. Or a book. I really love books. I want more. I don't know what's wrong with me since I can't possibly get through any books right now, but I wantwantwant moremoremore.

Boy soldiers.

A friend of mine lent me A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier a long time ago. She lives in San Francisco, so she dropped it off last time she was here, and I just never got a chance to read it. Well, she wanted it back before I go of to Asia, and I'm to drop it off with one of our mutual friends before I leave (because she's coming to NY in a week). So I read the book in one sitting last night, in about 3 and a half hours (it's only about 220 pages).

Let's see, what to say?

This is a tough book to read. Very tough. Not because of the writing, which is very easy to read, but because the atrocities are simply terrible. The reality of it, knowing that this is a memoir and not fiction, that this happened, is awful. You cringe, you don't want to keep going, but you do. It's tough. And I can't believe this guy is basically my age. In 1994, when he's fleeing and/or shooting ppl down, I was still weaning myself off my Barbie dolls, going to Bar Mitzvahs, wondering if a boy will ever like me back. It puts it all in perspective.

His writing -- though never fabulous, is honest and affecting. The biggest reason is the certain sense of detachment in which he describes everything. You get a clear sense from the book that he has learned to withhold his emotions - for fear of the tenaciousness of happiness -- and it comes through in his writing. His writing is never emotional, even when he describes emotions. And yet, there's a power in the almost journalistic way he describes certain events. The writing is nostalgic at times, but that's about as close to emotional that he gets. [Writing note to self: there's a certain power in understating horror. Must learn to use this technique.]

Another thing that struck me is the way he describes the Unicef workers who come to save them. I thought to myself about the tremendous point of view he has given us. Most stories feature some well-doer going in and observing the sad/confused state of the people they're trying to help, and we get that good samaritan viewpoint a lot. But the way Beah describes these people from abroad, so out of their element, with their happy, shiny faces, it really hit me how naive and idealistic these people are. Even though I know this is a memoir, so it is true to what he must have experienced and felt about these people, I thought it was pitch perfect, to expose us to his observation of these workers. [I confess, I'd be a silly happy shiny person too.] People who really just have no idea. [Writing note to self: pick the differing viewpoint. Take away your own preconcieved notions and judgments.]

It is really sad to me, the things that happen in the world. That little boys are being dragged into something they don't understand. That they're going through PTSD. That they're being given drugs. That they're learning to channel their fear, frustrations, hunger, into killing. I am so sad for these kids. There were just so many scenes here that just broke my heart, made me grit my death. How people can be so cruel to each other is beyond me. And why prey upon the young, impressionable minds of youth just seems so calculated and evil.

That's all I have to say for now.

Oh, also, I had a minor book buying accident.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

3 more to go...

I sent out 4 of my applications this morning! Three more, two of which are pretty much done, but due to the Feb 1 deadline, I'm sitting on a little longer, just in case... The last one is a Jan 15 deadline but has three essays, two of which still need to be completed. But I'm more than halfway there! Crossing fingers. Now I can focus on my novel again, as well as resuming sending out those stories to journals...

I leave for a three week hiatus to Asia in a couple of days. I can't wait. Will spend this time working on mapping out more of my novel, as well as catching up on some reading.

[The only downside to this whole deal is that I'm going to miss the last few games of Cowboys' regular season. And given the 13 hour time difference, getting up to listen to the games on internet radio isn't much of an option, except for the 8:00 evening games. Call me supersititious, but any time I haven't tuned into the game, they've done poorly. Both the Bills and Lions games, I tuned in to late, only to see them failing. Now, I'm not calling myself anyone's lucky charm or anything... but, you know, superstition. Hopefully the Cowboys do themselves well enough to get home field advantage, but... oh wait, this isn't the blog where I talk about football. I will shutup now.]

So things to do before the year is over:
Finish my outstanding books - Umberto Eco and Denis Johnson
Send out a bunch more submissions
Do a major plot outline for my flashback thread in my novel
Send thank-yous to my recommenders (any ideas on what to send?)
Get seriously going on that research for my friend

God, work is kicking my butt right now. I want to quit and become a famous novelist. And after that, an awesome book publicist/schmoozer.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Perfect gift for the word nerds in your life...

Moonie alerted me to this wonderful site that only word nerds like me would love. I sent it to my similarly grammar nazi-ed coworker, who then came back at me with the PERFECT gift idea:

Yes. I must have.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

At the end of the day...

When I read a really touching story written by a friend of mine and then I walk into Barnes right after and look at the hundreds of thousands of books lined up beautiful on the shelves, that something inside of me that tells me I want to be a writer swells so big it aches. It's a desire so big it threatens to eat me up whole, this thing that is larger than me, like true love but not. It's this moment that makes me want to drop everything -- everything -- just to start writing, about anything, anybody, anywhere, just write until that intense yearning stops. People sometimes ask me why I want to be a writer, and I just can't explain, but it all boils down to moments like these, this feeling that says I can't not, that says I will alwaysalwaysalways feel this way. that says that this kind of thing is like one-in-a-million, like love lost, like going out to sea. I can't explain it, I really can't, it's just that I read these things and then I see all the books, and I think, I want to do that too, but it's not just that I want to, I have to, like even if I die trying, I have to. I don't do it for the fame or even the name on the spine -- I do it because of that feeling. That feeling that I want to make someone feel what I'm feeling. That feeling that I can never possibly be a whole person if I don't keep trying, die trying, try to make it. I know perhaps it sounds foolish, given the odds of the industry, but it's shit like this, little moments like these, that push me to never forget. To push me to remember why I started this process anyway. I want to be a writer so badly, my heart aches. So badly I can taste it. So badly.

And if one writer's words can do this to me... well, why in the fuck can't I do it to somebody else?

Will books eventually be completely digital too?

A debate that is going on in an email chain with my friends today: will electronic books (via Amazon Kindle/Sony Ereader, etc) replace printed books in 15-20 years?

My friend thinks that yes, it will. I am, as a book lover, highly against this. I think part of the joy people derive from books is the tactile experience, of opening up a new books, a grainy/glossy cover, creamy paper stock, new binding. Etc etc. There's nothing better to me than to open a new book. Which is why I buy all my books and have them on shelves. You lose something when it's electronic. I would never buy an ereader. But then again, I also once said I would never buy a digital camera...

My own opinion aside though, I do concede that for the general public, they might not care about this kinda stuff. They might just want that next John Grisham thriller in their hands for their commute, however it goes. So maybe they make up the vast majority, and they'd buy it.

I still am not convinced though. I think booksellers might lose something - people like to go into bookstores and browse, and that informs their decision on whether or not they buy something. I also think for children, this is especially the case. You'll never get rid of print picture books. Kids aren't going to buy into electronic versions of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. Not the way they sit with the book spread open in front of them on the floor. I also think there are actually enough people in this world who want a collection of books on a shelf that print will never be obsolete.

I don't know. I want to hear some opinions.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Why writing sometimes sucks.

Pretty much done with my Irvine application (and all the others except Sarah Lawrence) if I would stop second-guessing my bad essays.

The thing that caught me off guard is this:

So I have these two short stories that I am using in my portfolio, pieces I've been working on since forever. They've gone through many many many drafts, seen many many many eyes.

One of my writing teachers, who I trust greatly and credit for becoming a much better writer than I was a year ago, he made general and specific criticisms of my writing style in that I tend to be overly verbose. I like to explain outcomes and throw on internals like there's no tomorrow. After carefully listening to him, I started to edit out two lines out of every three or four that I wrote. Having done that enough times, it's starting to feel natural for me to know where to just let dialogue or action do the heavylifting and not rely on expository internal as much.

So when I went back to these two stories for a re-edit, I did just that. I cut back every thing, pared it down so things were tight, clean, instead of diving deep into their minds like I have the tendency to do. I felt good about the outcome. I lost some of the backstory that I know is in my mind, and I'm uncertain about how a new reader reads the pieces, but I thought/hoped it was tight.

I recently sent these two pieces to another writer, someone who has enjoyed a pretty reasonable amount of success and acclaim. He read the two pieces and told me the stories felt "underdone" and "too pared back". Which gives me pause. Because if anything, they were so full before, they were both once over 20 pages long, and I had to work very very hard to cut each back to less than 15 (now 13 and 14 respectively). So I wonder if maybe I've overdone it.

Well, I'm not going to revise these again for now. Moonie has read and edited both, and she says she likes them how it is. So I'll trust her and keep it as is. But of course, there's that kernel of doubt in my mind that says, will new readers of the pieces think it falls flat? Am I being subtle and using the "less is more" thing skillfully, or do they really feel underdone? Most importantly, when admissions people read this portfolio, are they going to feel like my writing teacher? Or are they going to feel like this writer? I am worried and second-guessing a little bit. But I do think I'm at the point where I am abandoning these pieces. I've worked on them for so long, and the way they are now, is final.

All I'm saying is, that's the one thing that sucks about this whole creative writing business. Everyone has an opinion. And you can respect two people an equal amount, and they can have two completely different opinions on how to make your work stronger. I just don't know, at this point, who I agree with more, moving forward.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Bookworming pays off!

So, a few weeks ago, my little sister made her school's lit team. It's basically this group of a couple of kids and they have to answer questions on books. Obscure trivia on books, actually. And they have categories like "Newberry Winners" and "Harry Potter" and "Fairytales" -- stuff like that. Anyway, this weekend my sister went to Shanghai for the nationals... and her school came in in first place! What does that mean? Her team gets to represent China for the world competition -- which is taking place in either New Zealand or Oxford. Uh, CRAZY! My question is - WHY DIDN'T THEY HAVE THESE WHEN I WAS GROWING UP? And who even knew there were NATIONAL lit competitions for middle schoolers?

I'm sort of jealous. I would have done awesome, and then I could get a trip to New Zealand too.

But kinda cool, eh? Especially when I think about the teeth I had to pull to get my sister to even LOOK at a book when she was a kid. Yay for sis!

Thursday, December 6, 2007

A good article.

Fresh off of writing a personal statement --

I was a psych major in college. Why? Because English was the obvious choice. But when it comes down to it, I am incredibly intrigued by people. Humanity. This is the kind of shit I like to read about it.

So this particular article, though completely not book or even writing related, made me think of the kind of things I write about. Empathy. Humanity. Morality. What it means to be us, and why we choose to do the things we do.,28804,1685055_1685076_1686619-1,00.html

I'm a nerd. But I really really like these kind of articles about psych and people and stuff like that. Phineas Gage. I know. Nerdy. But I'd love to write a novel about someone who is just a tiny teeny bit off. Struggling with morality and humanity. What it means to be human.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Application hell.

I'm in online application hell right now. I mean, SFSU and SDSU both use the CSU online applications, but according to SDSU, I need a personal statement of 750-1000 words... but then the electronic app also has a statement of purpose that is 500 words... so uh, am I supposed to write another one for that school then?

Anyway, what I found hilarious on the CSU application was, when you go to write your first name? There's a little field to type it in right? Well, underneath, there's a checkbox that says "Check here if you do not have a first name."


My brain hurts.


Only because I think this is an AWESOME AWESOME gift. I got it for my bro two years ago for it's original price. But if you have a Calvin & Hobbes lover --

14 can still be cute.

Entirely not book related, but this was so cute I had to post.

I have a little sister who is about to turn 14. [She's a big reader too, and is currently into the Stephenie Meyer vampire series. I'm trying to convince her to write reviews of it so I can post it on my site. You know. Youth journalist or whatever.]

Anyway, she wrote me asking me to buy her a bathing suit. I asked her what size she was. She told me to buy it according to her height and weight. She was like, "I'm five foot four and a half" and that happens to be EXACTLY how tall I am.

Just some background. My sister lives in a different country than me with my parents. I see her maybe twice a year, once at Xmas time and once during the summer when she comes to the States. So every time I see her, she's grown some.

Anyway, the following email exchange ensued:

YOU ARE 5 FOOT 4 AND A HALF?? u are as tall as me! that means by next xmas you will be much much taller! :)

haha yeah... im 5 foot 4 and a half....sorrry :(
love you

haha no thats good. im glad you're going to be taller than me. i always wanted to be 5'6" . but maybe after that you should stop growing. too tall isnt good for girls either.

But you're not short! It's not necessarily bad to be 5 ft 4 and a half.

I don't know why I find that adorable, but I do. It's like she thinks I need a self-esteem boost. How cute is she?

Monday, December 3, 2007

I HATE pretentious writers.

There are two kinds of writers in this world that I absolutely cannot stand.

Psuedo-intellectual/High-brow: You know these types. They are the ones who agree with Harold Bloom that Harry Potter is a piece of shit, they only talk about "classics" or "acclaimed novels" (ie: Pulitzer or Nobel winning) and think they're smarter than everyone else because they also happen to only read the New York Times book reviews and have vocabs that come straight from GRE exercises. They believe all genre fiction is bad fiction, and live in some weird alternate reality where really "being a writer" also means fancy exclusive library readings followed by whiskey in cigar rooms and then jetting off to the Sorbonne. They talk about intellectual things ("in theory") all the time. Also, they believe the only real writers that have made it, have made writing into a white collar job. Everyone else is a poser.

Indie/Tortured Artist: These are the stereotypical "artists". You know, bohemia a la Rent. They're starving and poor and hopped up on drugs and resent the idea that you can be a true writer if you aren't any and all of those. So how do you fit in? Hate the establishment. Be angry at everyone else doing somewhat better economically (socially, physically, hygenically) and scoff at the idea that you'd ever want their lives. Throw in a couple of tie-dye shirts, and you're golden. Also, don't forget that when you read (in some adequately smokey, run-down dive bar filled with people with nappy hair), you have to wave your arms around a lot and punctuate your sentences with your fingers pursed and use some weird monotonous sing-song-ish rhythm that doesn't really enhance the poem/excerpt in any way, but makes it sound really cool and, well, tortured.

I HATE these kind of writers. Why? Because they're both extremes of pretention. Why can't these people just admit that they are NORMAL people who HAPPEN TO LIKE TO WRITE? Just be yourself for goodness sake, no one is going to think you're "not a real writer" if you happen to, you know, have a mortgage, a couple of kids, maybe a dog, a lawn, a minivan, and flowers on Valentine's Day. Or, if you so choose, a messy apartment, a couple of loose mice, a weakness for sushi and tacos, a warddrobe from the Gap, a fondness for bad pop music and an unlimited MetroCard.


Just wanted to post this line.

A friend of mine just read Kite Runner. He's not a big reader, but he was pointing out lines he liked. This reminded me of my favorite:

Closing Sohrab's door, I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded, not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.
--[pg. 359, The Kite Runner]

Good night.

Productive weekend, even if it doesn't look it.

I had a productive weekend. This is what happens when you put fire under my ass, ie: I am leaving this country for break on the 15th and that just happens to be when my first application is due.

So this weekend, I had a list of things to do. This is what it looks like:

1) Write statement of purpose for UC Irvine
2) Write autobiographical sketch for UC Irvine
3) Tweak #2 to use as general personal statement for all other schools
4) Do a final edit of portfolio piece #1
5) Do a final edit of portfolio piece #2
6) Update resume
7) Write next 10 pages of novel for class
8) Read/critique 4 excerpts for class
9) Do a substantial amt of research work for writer friend
10) Start paper application forms to go with each app

So I went to the library with Moonrat on Saturday and spent about 10 hours there. I returned the next day and worked for collectively, probably another 6 hours. In that time, I managed to accomplish the following:

2) Autobiographical sketch (which means #3 should hopefully go fast)
4) Edit of portfolio piece #1
7) 10 pages of novel
8) 4 excerpts for class

I know. Only 4 knocked off my list. It's insanity. I know. But it took me THAT long!!!

Will chug through it this week, and coming up is a good long weekend to do more. Honestly, I haven't gone xmas shopping at all. I don't know if I will have time before getting on a plane in two weeks' time.

By the way. A big hug and kiss to my favorite editor, Moonrat, for all her help this weekend. And also for lending me her bed and making me delicious eggs this morning. Sammy is a wonderful poet too.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A movie to complement the book.

I just saw No Country for Old Men. It was really fantastic. [I hope I don't have to warn you guys, but there's def spoilers if you haven't seen it/read the book.]

I have to admit, while it was going on, I was like, okay, this is pretty good, but I wasn't completely sold. But the more time elapses, the more I think about it and let it settle in, the more I liked it.

The things it did well: It was subtle, understated. No music, nothing. Captured the violence without taking away from the gore, but nothing overblown. Quiet. I guess that's the big thing. There was a lot of quiet, which I really enjoyed. Coen brothers did a good job of taking the quietness of McCarthy's book and transposing it onto film.

Another thing it did for me was really bring into clarity the theme of lawlessness. These shots of violence juxtaposed with law enforcement forever arriving on the scene too late, or just plain having coffee somewhere in a diner. Always a step behind.

The thing I missed was at the very end - when Moss's wife is talking to Chigurh. I missed the dialogue there. I mean, okay, they couldn't have put out the whole dialogue because it's so long and philosophical and belongs better in literature, but I do feel it gives clarity to the whole thing. Because when I read that passage, that's when I was like, "Ohhhhhhhh... this is who he is."

I went to see the movie with a film school friend of mine, who has never read the book, or any McCarthy. We were discussing the film afterwards, and he was saying how he liked how we were never shown if she called it or not. So then I came home and called him and read him the full passage, and we spent all this time discussing that section and Chigurh's philosophy. After I read him a few passages, he ended up liking the movie better.

The other thing he said was that for the first 2/3 of the movie, he thought it was an action flick. Then Moss died, and he was like WTF? So now what? Then he started catching on that it was sort of philosophical, and it was only then that he started paying attention to the clues on theme. He said he wanted to watch it again so he could pay closer attention this time. I have to say, I felt the same when I was reading the book, in the sense that in the beginning, I was just focused on the plot, but then Moss gets killed off and there's still so much book left, and I was like, hmm, now what. It was only then that I started to look into what he was saying, but I think by then, I might have missed out on the clues in the beginning so I didn't appreciate it as much. Watching the movie makes me want to re-read the book again, to pick up on this stuff this time around and figure out what McCarthy's trying to say.

I really think that this movie complements the book really well. I think you lose some understanding of all the themes without reading McCarthy's kickass words, but in someways, the portrayal by the Coen brothers enhances McCarthy's prose.

This was VERY well done. The more I think about it, the more impressed I am, only because I think it's a very good example of taking McCarthy's original content and using the medium of film to enhance it and zero in on the same things that made the book great, in a different way. Keeping the heart of the story, I suppose.

And well casted too.