Stick Figures

Shameless Deep Thoughts: Beneath the Words

imageWhen an achingly good song ends, there is the silence in which I consider why this sound had such a powerful effect on me.  Music can be deceptively simple.

I think about the bones of the song–the structure, the melody, and the instruments as well as the passion the musicians put into that music.  All the practice and change that went into it.

And then I imagine every other song that musician ever wrote–every scale and note she played in practice, the encouragement and criticism she’s received over the years, elation, doubt, and how she chose to keep going.

So here I am listening to “Only If For A Night” by Florence and the Machine, knowing every note that crashes into my chest has a thousand notes beneath it.  I’m writing in my notebook aware that what’s coming out needs a lot of work and will probably only be seen by a handful of people.  But I’m loving it because maybe, if I’m lucky, one day I’ll write a sentence like Florence wrote a song, and it will crash into you.

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

May the Muse Be With You: What I Do When She Is

imageYes I do imagine my muse to be a tiny Woodstock-sounding thing, buzzing about my shoulders, and she won’t shut up.  Just before NJRW’s February writing challenge, she ripped me away from a speculative WIP to write my first contemporary YA since high school.  I won’t give specifics now, but I’m feeling very good about this one and thus owe a lot to that buzz in my ear.

Usually, I will take months to plan a book, but with the writing challenge so close and the muse so insistent (swatting the air over my shoulder), I decided to take the plunge and just write.  With only two days of intense planning under my belt, I wrote, mapping out scenes as I came upon them and then drafting in earnest.  This was how this book wanted to be written and written fast.

My last WIP, in contrast, felt like a long push uphill.  For this paranormal romance, I spent a long time mapping out characters, plotting, re-plotting, creating scene cards, etc., so when it came to the actual writing I felt constrained by that structure.  I had to tear everything down more than once and even started the manuscript over, dumping 15,000 words in the process.  Currently, I feel very good about this quirky paranormal, but it was a long haul.

Lesson learned?  Some books will be a push no matter what, but it helps to leave more breathing room than I’ve been as of late.  My characters will always find a way to undermine my best-laid plans because they want to drive the plot, and more power to ’em.

How insistent is your muse?  Is she monotone or melodic–does she push you in the same manner through every book?

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Going Contest Crazy

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Alright, maybe not “crazy,” but I’m doing the Charleston because I’m really excited about entering these contests.  Until this point, I’ve been focused solely on craft and doing my best to stand out in the slush pile.  Recently, a writer friend of mine pointed out that another great way to set your writing apart is to participate in contests.  She even found her first agent that way.  So here we go. 🙂

This week, I entered three contests advertised in the RWA’s trade publication.  They are:

  • The Cleveland Rocks Romance Contest
  • The Fire & Ice Contest
  • The California Hooker Contest

There’s a contest through the RWA’s young adult chapter that I’ll submit to in March–very excited!

Now, I need your help!  I want to enter more contests, but I’m being picky because I know there are a lot out there–some more reputable than others.  I’m wary of reading the fine print when entering my work in anything like this (are you guys?).  I’d love to find a contest for unpublished writers–particularly those writing YA, romance, or paranormal.  If you know of any good ones, please post below!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

To Skim or Not To Skim?

imageBack in the days when I spent my hard-earned, part-time dollars on paperbacks at the old B&N, I read books cover to cover always.  Now that I have less time and virtually limitless access to books both inexpensive and free (oh yeah, the library–what was I thinking?!), I find myself growing impatient with some books.  So, I occasionally succumb to what I once considered a grave insult to the soul of a book.  I skim.

I usually hit the threshold of, “Yup…gonna skim this,” for one of two reasons.  I might find there are no layered plots, new interesting characters (that add to the existing story), or instances of rising tension to carry me along.  It just draaaaags.  Or maybe the book has the opposite problem–a bunch of new characters, settings, and problems drop in seemingly out of nowhere and proceed to bump around like plastic toys in a washing machine–ruining what was a delicately woven story.

When I skim, it’s no more than 10%–I swear!.  I skim for sanity because otherwise I’d take what seemed like a very promising book and hurl it at my backyard gnomes.  My gnomes deserve more respect than that.

I can’t really blame the writers on this–only my own lack of patience.  I’m struggling toward an ending right now that makes me want to chuck my laptop out, too so that it spins end over end before landing happily in a flooded ditch.  I know how hard it can be to first envision a fitting conclusion and then get your characters there without taking a major detour through the Oh-My-God-Where-The-Heck-Is-This-Going Forest.  Still.

Do you skim?  How do you feel about skimmers?  Would you like to throw us in a ditch?

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

Do We Really Need Happy Endings?

imageHave you ever read a book or watched a movie that was utterly destroyed by its ending?  You follow the characters passionately from beginning to end only to have the floor ripped out from under you in the last five minutes.  As avid consumers of media, we have been raised with an understanding of the tropes of specific genres.  Authors whisper promises to us between the lines, and we feel betrayed when those promises are broken.

We are well trained.

One of our common expectations, in Western literature at least, is to have a happy ending–or at the very least–and ending that is clear cut and lacks ambiguity.  That is not to say that there aren’t plenty of examples of pieces that rally against this and readers/viewers (myself included) that take great pleasure in endings that leave us in a grey zone–a questioning, confused, you’re-on-your-own-Jack zone.  It is up to the reader/viewer to try and answer those questions, and in doing so, ask even bigger ones.

It is the nerdiest and best kind of fun to get inside a piece of art(books/movies) and see how it ticks.  I love finding art that comments on art itself as well as the process of creating it, and best of all, I love finding art that comments on the viewer–that finds a way to take that viewer’s thinking apart as the viewer is taking the art apart.

This is exactly what I found in The Bag Man.  This movie got bad reviews, but I watched it anyway because–hey–I’m obsessed with John Cusak.  As I watched it, I thought I understood why it failed.  The movie was written to comment on scripts–on plot conventions and tropes of the fiction crystallized beautifully in De Niro’s monologue in Room 14 toward the end of the film (which I won’t ruin–just watch it!).  There was also a nifty supernatural layer that made the viewer question whether they were dealing with angels and devils–if only for a brief time.  I surmised the reason most viewers couldn’t connect with this movie was because they couldn’t grasp those layers–that it was a movie more for critics and weirdos like me than for general audiences.

But then I reached the true horror of this film–its ending.

The last five minutes seemed rushed and out of place.  This “happy” ending gave undue closure to what was otherwise a grotesque/beautiful pool of ambiguity that led the viewer to ask questions about our dark hero and how “good” he really is.  THEY SHOULD HAVE LEFT IT!!

I am neither for nor against happy endings.  I love all kinds of endings as long as they fit.  When something is forced in because it is expected…it’s pretty sad.  We remember endings and beginnings best (brain science, baby), so make them count!

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

NJRW’s Put Your Heart in a Book Conference ROCKED!

imageSomewhere between grading, lesson plans, curriculum, and the general pull-my-hair-out stress that comes with the beginning of the school year, I lost myself.

All that was left of me dissolved into my job.  Still–and I hold true to this–never a day without a word!  I crawl into bed exhausted, cuddle up with a notebook, and write, write, write because there is no therapy like word therapy.  I have literally been sleeping with notebooks.

But today…I got to wear my writer’s hat in the daylight.

The expertise and enthusiasm of the presenters at our workshops gave me the little kick I needed to get back on the book train. There are too many “best parts” to count, but Roxanne St. Claire’s workshop on scene revision definitely resonated with me.  We share a similar revision process which I won’t go into detail about, but it was good to hear that I’m not the only one who stops in the middle of her first draft and goes back to rewrite it from the top.

On that note, I’m returning to my latest WIP, mid-draft revising it for the second time and writing (finally!) to the end. So here’s to finding myself again, buried deep in the words.

Have you ever been to a writing conference?  If so, what’s the best piece of advice you learned there?

Michelle Joyce Bond

Stick Figures

What Makes a Book “Good”: Complete Opinion from an Omnivorous Reader

imageThere is a lot of wiggle room when it comes to saying what makes a book “good.”  For me, it’s not just what the story is about but how it’s told.  I’ll do my best to explain that by unraveling two very different though equally incredible books I’m reading right now.

READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline is a masterpiece of 80s and video game geek nostalgia that takes place in a dystopian future where the only escape from reality can be found via the OASIS–a massive online video game that constantly references popular video games, movies, TV shows, and bands that were important to the game’s designer–a child of the 1980s.  This world-building makes the book really fun to read, but that is not the story.

The heart of the tale is the development of our ultra-introverted main character Wade, a boy from a futuristic trailer park who’s absorbed as much 80s culture as possible in order to win a contest created by the OASIS’s designer.  Wade, unlike the evil cooperation racing against him, loves everything about the 80s and will use both his brain and his heart to win the contest.  He is the underdog, smart, and openly flawed–it’s hard not to like him.

The writing itself including tone, voice, structure, ect. hold together well, and the book has its moments of “deep-reaching” with enough existential reflections about playing a game within a game to keep me satisfied.  It’s important for all this to come together in order for me to classify the book as “good.”  Otherwise, it would just be an excuse for a string of random pop-culture references a la Family Guy.

That said…the best parts of the story in my opinion are Cline’s clever combinations of 80s culture and science fiction.  I had typed some examples here then erased them for fear of ruining the book.  Read it.

Another excellent book I’m currently reading is LANDLINE by Rainbow Rowell.  It’s my third Rowell book in a row, and it makes me feel like I could read anything she’s written and love it.  I tried explaining the plot to one of my coworkers but gave up because this book is less concept and more character–the kind of character that must be experienced.  Georgie’s marriage is thrown against the rocks right around Christmas time, but when she plugs in an old landline phone in her bedroom, she’s “magically” able to communicate with her husband before he was her husband–her Neil from the past.  Through their conversations and Georgie’s surfacing memories, we learn more and more about these characters, growing closer to them as we read.

Rowell’s power in writing is in her ability to create intimacy.  Her dialogue is so on–her descriptions of the body so perfectly imperfect–I’m at a loss for words.  I don’t want to use the cliché “She brings the characters to life” because I think that descriptor is overused.  Until you read a book like this–that is as grounding as its title–you might not know what it means for characters to be real.  And if you haven’t read a book like this in a while–if you’re only choosing books based on their concepts–you may have forgotten.

So, I am happy right now to flip back and forth between Cline, a master of concept, and Rowell, a master of character.  Both of their books are “good,” well-written and whole, but what makes me ultimately say they’re good is completely different.  That’s based on the book itself…kind of like falling in love.  It’s sort of fitting how READY PLAYER ONE is the book I’m listening to at high speeds–rushing through the world, and LANDLINE is the book waiting for me when I come home.

What makes a book “good” in your opinion?  Shout out below!

Michelle Joyce Bond