Thursday, September 26, 2013

Old Habits

When I was a little girl, I always thought it was so funny that my father had a neat stack of reading material on the dresser just outside the master bath.  As a careless eight-year-old, I could curl up in a chair whenever I wanted and devour books at my leisure.  It seemed quite unnecessary to take something to read into the bathroom. 

Then I got into high school at the comparatively intense institution where I received my education.  Suddenly I had far less time to myself.  It was then that I first sympathized with my Dad.  Ever since those days, I’ve practiced his technique of taking a book with me when I’ll be in the bath for a while.  I read while brushing my teeth and cleaning my contacts; I shower; then I read again while applying lotion, while dressing and styling my hair.  Since I’m a fast reader, I get through a good 30-40 pages every shower.

I’ve even learned to spread this pleasant multi-tasking to other areas.

My current reading list!
My various occupations have always been very reading-centered.  The problem, though, is that when one is assigned reading for classes or work, time for pleasure reading is eaten up.  If you want to try a new novel or read some light non-fiction, you have to squeeze it in during odd moments of the day.  When I was in college, for example, I read the (600 page!) entirety of The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie while cooking all my meals for a week.  While things simmered on the stove, I’d lean against the refrigerator opposite and read. 

I will note here, though, that making gumbo and trying to read Heart of Darkness does not work.  Who knows why, but I only read about one page of the latter while making the former, even though it was a long slow process and should have given me plenty of time to forge through such a short book. 

Anyway, anecdotes aside, normally I don’t feel that multi-tasking is that effective, since the two undertakings can each distract from the other. When it comes to reading, however, I give everyone my blessing to multi-task.  (You were all waiting for it, I’m sure.)  Reading is one of those intensely enriching, relaxing, restorative things which nonetheless is almost always lowest on our priorities list.  We need any excuse to fit it into our days that we can find.

Unfortunately, while I was teaching, I read almost nothing new – maybe two books a year at most.

My habits of finding spare moments to read while completing some other low-intensity task had almost faded into nothing.  Even late in the evening when all my daily tasks were done, I’d just collapse into bed and watch a TV show rather than pull out a book.  I incurred everlasting shame by racking up library fees – I who had always returned books a few days after checking them out! 

Lately I mentioned in a blog post how pleasant it has been to discover that my new job offers the chance to do a little writing work at lunchtime – thus fulfilling a hope of mine from my pre-employment days.  In fact I’ve been returning to more than one of my old hopes and interests.  Reading is my first hobby (if reading can be a hobby!) and libraries have been my favorite haunts from the moment I learned to read, maybe before.  I’ve missed it.  It has been wonderful to return to it with my old enthusiasm.

So many books, waiting to be read...
What’s more enjoyable, after all, than plunging into a new story, a new style, and soaking it in? 

Life often twists and turns in surprising ways and takes us away from the things we loved when we were young.  In some ways, though, your childish self was your purest self – not the best you could be, of course, but the clearest picture of your natural tendencies and passions.  Growing up and then progressing through the various stages of adulthood can distract you from the things which you once loved easily and simply.  Exacerbating this situation, perhaps we tend to look back on our childhood and think, ‘Oh well, I couldn’t possibly be that interested in what I did then.  I’m so different now!’ 

My current experience, though, is that I’m not so different from my 12-year-old self, after all.  In fact, I feel enormously refreshed and rejuvenated to discover that I haven’t moved beyond a passion for reading.  It was just lying dormant while I dealt with a constantly busy schedule.  Now that I’ve awoken again, I feel more joyful, more like myself. 


Perhaps we can feel this way more often by recalling the things we loved as children and indulging in them upon occasion.  To recall our childhood loves surely will have the effect of keeping our minds young and open to inspiration, much as they were when we were small.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Cutting and Patching

A few months ago I read a book called Lessons from Madame Chic.  It made quite an impression and since then I’ve mentioned it several times on the blog.  One of the things it prompted me to do was to reconsider my wardrobe and work on editing it to be more reflective of my current style.  I’ve been slowly working on this project since then, with pretty satisfactory results. 

At the same time, though, I’ve also read books and blogs discussing the problem with wastefulness in modern, first-world countries – perhaps especially in America.  We amass possessions and gleefully throw away first the bags and wrappings which the possessions came in, then replacement parts, finally the possessions themselves.  The old skills of mending and fixing and patching are no longer really appreciated because we have such abundance.  Instead we have become good at digging more and more land-fills. 

So, instead of simply throwing away my old clothes, I’ve been analyzing them to see if I can salvage them in some way.  My first example is a green corduroy skirt from my ‘gypsy-chic’ days.  It is really quite lovely, with a big kick pleat in the front and patch pockets and gold buttons.  On the other hand, it’s quite a wide A-line, with a high, fitted waistline.  Currently, in my new ‘jazzy-smart’ phase, I’m favoring a more relaxed cut at the waist and a straighter line to the skirt. 

Gold and green are too good to waste!

 I decided it was time to call on my editing powers and use them not just for writing.

I’m going to take the waistband off the skirt, detach the side seams and then alter it to fit my new look.  I’ll have what amounts to a brand new skirt for free, and I’ll also not waste anything in the process.  It makes for a gratifying result. 

Thinking about this plan of mine, though, I realized that editing this skirt isn’t too far from the editing I’m doing currently on House of Mirrors, and even closer to what I did with The Art of Dying.  Since I was happy with the basic materials, I just had to cut new lines and enhance different elements in order to convey my vision better.  The operation requires its own sort of imagination, quite different from straight up creation, but it leads to more perfect results in the end. 

What author or artist or creator isn’t looking for more perfect results, after all?

Sometimes, though, no matter how thrifty you want to be, or how much work you put into the original piece, you have to start over from scratch.  I have another skirt, in fact.  It’s a long white linen skirt which I bought for a special occasion in college.  It has been a favorite article in my closet since then, but there is a lot of dirt out there waiting to sabotage white linen.  After  several years, the skirt is faintly yellowed, and then, to top it off, I just discovered a rip at the bottom of the zipper and also another along another seam, where I must have caught it on something. 

The skirt has a perfect cut for my figure, though.  In the interest of salvaging as much as I can, I’m going to take the entire garment apart this winter and use it as a pattern for a copy.  No sense wasting something I may never be able to find again, after all.  I feel the same about another story of mine, Fridays Child.  The novel is a mess, but I can’t just throw it out of the window.  At the same time, it can’t be fixed by cutting and patching and tweaking. 

An essential flaw necessitates a new approach.
There are some artistic endeavors which require a complete overhaul before they’ll be worthwhile. 

Much as I’m going to use the substance of my present skirt to create a new one, I’m going to take the pattern of Fridays Child and reconstruct the novel from scratch inside that pattern.  I never thought I’d be one of those authors who rewrites stories completely from top to bottom – but it appears that I’m gearing up to be just that!  Funny how one changes to fit the needs of one’s interests. 

I had been dreading the prospect, actually (just because I decide something must be done doesn’t always mean I want to do it!), but lately I’ve had a change of heart.  See, Fridays Child features one of my favorite characters: a half-Asian rock-musician named Lisa.  Her dual heritage gives her an almost insatiable appetite for all music.  I think one of the reasons my novel is a mess is because I didn’t bring that element in her enough to the front to provide me a unifying theme and image. 


Lately, though, I’ve been listening to a wider variety of musicians myself, plus I rediscovered the band Nightwish which features a female lead singer, just as Lisa is a female lead-singer for her band.  Listening to the beautiful woman’s voice while writing and reading in the evenings, I’ve been slowly learning again who Lisa is.  I’m not sure exactly when I’ll be able to attack the rewriting process, but I think I’m now ready for it when it comes.  

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Agent Query

Greetings!  I'm approaching my blog post a little differently this time.  I took two weeks off so that I could deal with rush season at work, as well as think about querying agents.  I've been procrastinating on that task, so I needed to cut out the excuses that were keeping me from overhauling my letter.

The result is that I now have something I'm pretty happy with.  However, as with all things that one writes, it's hard to be unbiased.  I thought I could submit the letter to my blog post and see what any readers think.  Feel free to be as critical as you like.  I want it to be a very good letter.

If anyone does feel like giving critique, I'd be delighted if you'd look at style and structure.  I want the story summary to be quite gripping.  The content of it can't be changed, though (the story is what it is, after all!), so I'd love for you to look not at what it says, but how it's said.

Thank you in advance for any feedback which kind internet visitors may wish to give!

***

Dear Agent Name,

On a 1996 April evening in Fort Worth, Texas, young sculptor Charles Eliot was blindsided by a drunk driver.  He awoke from his injuries into darkness: he had lost his eyes.  The crippling loss recalled the many catastrophes endured by his family during the twentieth century, awakening a perfect despair over his fate.  His life seemed finished; his only option was death.

Challenged by those closest to him, however, he was driven toward a new mastery of sculpture and of himself.  Tragedy, vulnerability, suffering – these elements became the basis of a rich artistry.  The loss which first crushed him led to a life he never imagined.  Every interaction with his subjects contributed to a vision of the world which needed no eyes. 

In 143,000 words, The Art of Dying tells a story of humanity, mortality, and their painful but definitive coexistence.  Since [your website] mentioned literary fiction as an interest of yours, I hope you will find my novel intriguing.

Under my pen name, Chiara Solari, I post poetry and prose at solaric.deviantART.com.  I blog at chiarasbalancingact.blogspot.com with weekly posts, and have gained 4,500 views in a year.  I have also submitted short fiction and poems to several competitions and journals. I won first place in the 2007 Writers Competition at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library; as of March 2013, five of my poems have been published in The Lost Country: a Literary Journal of the Exiles.  Besides The Art of Dying, I have completed another novel which I am currently editing.

As stated in your guidelines, I am including [insert guideline here], along with an SASE for your convenience.  [The complete manuscript is available upon request.] Thank you for your time in considering The Art of Dying.


Cordially, etc.