10 August 2013

Running Away From Home and Learning What College Didn't Teach Me

Earlier this week I ran away. With a full tank of gas, some coffee, books, a journal, and no commitments until Tuesday, I ran.

There has been a great deal of stress in my life over the past month, and not always the good kind. I've been coping fairly well, but I really needed some time off work and when it finally came I felt a desperate need to get out of town and the magnetic pull of one of my favorite places in the world was too much to resist.

I wasn't exactly planning on staying, despite the last minute thought to throw my pre-packed toiletry bag in with the rest of my stuff. If I had known I wasn't coming home right away, I definitely would have packed my laptop.

But instead of working with a computer, I worked with my hand, a fountain pen, and a blank page. I had a book on writing I wanted to dig into as well. I don't read very much non-fiction. I never have, outside of assigned classroom reading. They don't tend to whisper invitations to me the same way that novels do. I'm also not a big fan of reading books about writing, though lately I've found them to be extremely important to the work I'm attempting to create and improve.

When I was in college, I took every single writing class I could from Introductory to Creative Writing Classes, to Advanced Creative Non-Fiction, to independent studies on writing. I wrote A LOT and I got an "A" in every single class and nothing but positive feedback.

But the thing is? Other than just practicing writing? I didn't really learn that much about the craft. I was not prepared to write a novel. I didn't learn about Story with a capital "S."

So that's what I've been struggling with. That's what I've been focusing on before I begin the task of officially finishing my manuscript. There are two books that have been really helpful in this process.  Wired for Story by Lisa Cron and Story Engineering by Larry Brooks. Notice how they both have the word "story" in the title? It's no coincidence.

The time away has been good. I was able to breathe in deep, full breaths. I was able to walk with sand between my toes and listen to the ocean crest and crash. I thought about my characters, I thought about writing and most surprising to me, I mapped out the basics of a plot for my 2013 NaNoWriMo novel. (It's a very different take on the first novel I ever started, back in 2002, about a woman lighthouse keeper.)

I spent a great deal of time sitting and thinking and a few character truths were revealed to me in a way that helps me finish my story, that one I've been working on for nearly 3 years. I feel like the pieces are coming together in a way that is meaningful and a way that is true.

01 August 2013

Just One Book*

Every once in a while you stumble upon that book that changes everything.

Last fall Gayle Forman released Just One Day. I got an advance reading copy and began reading it immediately. I adored If I Stay and Where She Went and was very much looking forward to seeing what kind of book this new one would be. At first, I'll confess, I found myself increasingly frustrated with the main character, Allyson, but those feelings began to dissipate when I realized the very things I found aggravating were essential in showing Allyson's own expanding self-awareness and development as the story progressed.

Shortly after having finished the book, I helped with Libba Bray's Portland school visit and while we were standing outside the high school in the glorious October sunshine we started talking about books. I mentioned I had recently finished reading Just One Day and when she asked me what I thought about it I gave her the most honest answer I could. I told her what a genius the book was, how frustrated I was with Allyson, and how incredibly rewarding it was to see her character come into her own, and how important the book was. Libba asked me if she could tell Gayle what I said. I have no idea if she ever did.

The companion to that book, Just One Year, is set to come out in October and a few days ago I was given access to an advance copy. In all my 15 years of bookselling, I have honestly never been more excited to read a book early. Needless to say, I devoured the book in little more than a 24 hour period. (It probably would have been less if work hadn't gotten in the way.) This book tells the other half of the story, Willem's half.

Now I'm left with the best kind of book hangover. These characters have wormed their story into my heart. I cried with them, I laughed with them, I loved and I lost with them. And the writing? The story itself? Pure genius. These two novels are so dense I feel like I could spend years peeling back layer after layer after layer.

As a writer, I crave to know how Gayle Forman did it, how she constructed such a masterful plot with such honest and true characters. And the language? Lovely. The writing is so full of wonderful details and thoughtful, necessary insights.

As a reader, I just want to thank her again and again and again and again.

I have honestly never thought about writing fan fiction, it's never been something that's appealed to me, but I'm not sure I can let these characters go. I want (dare I say need?) more time with them.

I've also concluded I must read both novels simultaneously, watching the story unfold from both perspectives over the course of that one year.

It's just been some time since I read a book that really challenged me to think of writing in a different way, in a better way.  It's been some time since I've finished a book and wanted to work on my own with such feelings of desperation, as if it's something I absolutely must do.

Sometimes that book comes along in a way you never expected. It challenges. It expands you. It overwhelms. It satisfies.  And it really does change everything.

*I may be talking about two separately published books, but they are simply two halves of one whole.