Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Girl with the Dragon-Sized Hype

Anyone who really knows me knows that I don't generally go for anything with a lot of hype. One of my best friends in college loved to call me Miss Anti-Mainstream, and I don't think he meant it as a compliment.  I've been known to despise things on principle alone, and to feel like snubbing an excellent work of art simply because the rest of the world discovered it (yes, I know, a despicable trait). Twilight, (which is pretty much YA required reading these days) sat front-and-center in every bookstore I passed for years before I ever picked it up--and I've been a fan of vamp fiction since Anne Rice. I was that predisposed against that bright red apple.

(Okay, so I saw Titanic in the theaters 7 times the first go-round, but I assure you, that was a one-off. And I was 16. Sue me.)

I felt the same way about the late Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy (see Larsson's website).  It, too, monopolized prominent bookstore displays for ages, and I would look at the covers with their screaming titles and bright colors, then turn up my snooty nose and think, That looks way too generic for me.

A few months ago I saw the trailer for David Fincher's film version of the first book, and being a David Fincher fan (see Welcome to Fictiffous), my interest was piqued.  I downloaded the audiobook, which is what I do when my interest is half-mast, and listened to it over a week or so on my 45-minute commute.

The book breaks a lot of fiction laws.  There are long, complicated passages of backstory, unbroken by anything actually happening in real time.  There are named characters who get five seconds of fame and then drop off the face of the planet.  There are long stretches of writing where almost nothing happens. And there's one particularly long section of who-begat-who's that would rival the Book of Genesis.

Despite all that, I was hooked from the first scene.  The opening is so strong that I didn't mind wading through the backstory, just to get an answer to the question raised in the first scene of the book.  These books are an example of the rare occasion in which you can roll so many supposedly crappy moves into a beautiful (in its dark and violent way) piece of art.

I'm about halfway through the last book now, and Larsson still has my rapt attention.

Yesterday, I took my husband to see the film.  We went to the matinee and there were about ten other people in the theater.  One man chomped popcorn throughout most of the film and laughed nervously at all the uncomfortable parts. A group of old ladies sitting two rows down alternated between bouts of silence and shocked fits of giggling. Before we even got to the first scene, when the opening credits were still rolling, I sat forward in my seat staring with wide eyes at the screen, and my husband leaned over and whispered, "This is creepy." (Don't worry--if you're familiar with the books you'll think the opening's amazing, not creepy.  My darling husband didn't know what he was in for.)

I think at this point it's needless to say that the film was great, but I'll say it anyway, just so we're clear. The film was great.  It stayed true to the essence of the book, but just cut out all the slow parts. And I'm not surprised at all that Rooney Mara got an Oscar nod for her performance.  She is so much the badass Lisbeth Salander that she ceases being herself, and fans will not even recognize her in the film. I barely did, and I already thought she was fantastic before the film. She made me believe she was Lisbeth. She made me wish I were Lisbeth's very best friend.

The film is not for the weak of heart.  It's a dark tale, and Fincher's a dark director, and the score's deliciously dark (created by the composers of the superb The Social Network score), so don't be fooled into thinking it's your typical mystery, because there's some disturbing stuff sprinkled all throughout. (Parents, don't take your kiddies to this one!)  And I might've been disturbed too, had I not known it was coming. But the characters are so real, so visceral--especially Lisbeth Salander--that in the near-empty theater, I could literally hear people rooting for them.  Even my creeped-out husband was eventually won over. Halfway through, he sat forward and said something like, "Way to go!"

Go see the film before it leaves theaters, if for no other reason than to experience the mind-boggling opening credits. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for Rooney Mara on Oscar night.

Check out more about the film and see the trailer at IMDb.


Monday, January 23, 2012

An Ode to the Used Book

This weekend I took my husband's little girl Gracie to my favorite local used bookstore.  It's a place we both love, so whenever she's in town we try to make the trip out.  Now that Borders is closed and the closest traditional brick-and-mortar is over a half hour away, this store has become the only place outside of my own house where I can surround myself with books.

So what if they're shabby with cracked spines and yellowed pages?  I'm much more likely to find an impressive array of Sweet Valley and BSC ('80s babies know what I mean!) books in the young adult section there than at a "real" bookstore.  (Not that I'll buy them anymore.  But still, what's the harm in feeling young again?)

This visit came on the heels of a hiatus several months long, so there were some new books to peruse.  Every once in a while I came upon a book that used to belong to Gracie, and before her had belonged to me, and I would have a sudden irrational urge to buy the book back (even though I'd given it up in the first place), just to rescue it from its used book wasteland.  

And then I'd remember that it's not a wasteland at all.  A used bookstore isn't just full of used books; it's full of books that were previously owned, previously loved even, and have now been carefully traded in for someone else to discover and love, to devour their crinkled pages with a voraciousness that might rival the original owner's.  Sure, maybe the first owner traded up to bigger--or even better--books, but that's okay, because the used bookstore will set them free and offer the chance to find a new owner.  Maybe a lifetime owner this time.

So dig out and dust off those old Nancy Drew hardbacks, dog-eared but long-forgotten, and give them a shot at finding love again.  You might just make some kid's--maybe Gracie's--day.


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Edit Me Out of Here

I'm starting to discover an awful truth about myself.

Exactly a month from today, I'm heading to Austin for my very first writer's conference.  An author of several books I've enjoyed will be there, not to mention some prominent literary agents, one (who shall remain nameless) who's on my Top 5 Dream Agents list.  I've been excited about this conference for months.

You see, last fall I wrote another novel.  I spit out the first draft in about 8 weeks, squeezing in late-night sessions nearly every night with my slow-as-mold netbook.  When I found out about the conference, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to finally put one of my novels out there.

So I started studying, because of course I can never tackle any project without reading every book ever written on the subject.  I read books on plotting, characterization, structure, revision, finding an agent, writing a query, and on and on and on...  I read seemingly endless books on self-editing, even read one entire tome on crafting the first few pages of a novel.

Eventually I ran out of books to read.  So I read blogs, agency websites, Twitter feeds, and anything else I could get my hands on.  I joined organizations and critique groups. I basically immersed myself in anything that could remotely relate to young adult fiction.  I even replaced my netbook with a shiny new MacBook, a computer I've dreamed about since college (it's an investment in my future, right?).

Now, sitting here staring at the bright, unblemished screen, with no book left unturned and no Tweet left unchecked, there's nothing else for me to do but edit.

The awful truth is that I can't.  I can write the most complicated soliloquy about someone else's work, digging out the minutest meanings in the most minor of details, but when it comes to my own work, I might as well be illiterate.  All of my careful research may've gone to naught, and I'm looking at 82,000 words that might be total crap.

Or they might be a goldmine just waiting to be discovered.  I really have no idea.

Good thing I invested time collecting so many critique partners.  They keep me grounded, and make sure I don't spend all my time blogging or watching TV or just plain sleeping, instead of revising.

Think I can edit a whole novel in a month?  Self-edit, no less?

Stay tuned!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Nothing! Nothing tra la la!

Did you get that?  If not, you're not of the same cult classic mindset that I am.

When I was a little girl, I used to watch the Jim Henson film Labyrinth over and over, until I had nearly all the tunes and dialogue, complete with vocal inflection, entirely committed to memory. And then I grew up a little, moved on, and forgot all about the Goblin King. 

Until I was 12, that is, and decided to write part of a novel set in the labyrinth of the Goblin City (real original, I know). Watching it with slightly more mature eyes, the songs suddenly seemed silly, the puppety dancing laughable.  Still, there was something magical about it, something that I loved so deeply that now, decades later, it still holds one of the highest film ranks in my heart.

As a kid, I took the movie at face value.  Now, after vehemently studying editing and story structure and plotting and characterization and on and on...I wonder about the backstory of such an original film. Why was Jareth, the Goblin King (played by the delightful David Bowie and his infamous tights) in love with a girl less than half his age (played by the adorable Jennifer Connelly)?  Where is the Goblin City, and why is Jareth the only human there? And why are those pink bird things so absurdly creepy?

It seems that, after 25 years, my questions are about to get an answer.  Well, hopefully.  Rumors are spreading that a prequel is in the works and set for release late this year.  It won't be a film--which might be better, I mean who could ever play the child version of David Bowie?--but will instead be a graphic novel, aka a glorified comic book. Personally I like graphic novels, so the format's fine with me, and besides, getting the opportunity to step back into a world that I treasured as a child sounds like a good deal to me.

Despite its seeming silliness, Labyrinth taught me a lot of things about life (and fiction). That fairies can be mean. That impossible paintings can come to life. That goblins shouldn't dance, and men shouldn't wear tights.

And most importantly, that I should never take anything for granted.


See more details at TG Daily.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

To Resolve, or Not To Resolve? That is the Question

In early January every year, most of us ask ourselves the same question: To resolve, or not to resolve? But what's the point of making New Year's resolutions when most of us fail to keep them?  In fact, there may be more truth in fiction than there is in New Year's resolutions.

According to, the most popular New Year's resolutions are unsurprisingly generic.  Lose weight.  Eat healthy.  Lay off the booze.  Work out.  Recycle.  Stop smoking.  Save money.

You get the picture.

I'm not immune to this particular sort of fiction-writing.  Every year I, too, sit down on or around January the 1st and think about what I should do differently in the coming year.  Last year, it was to lose the baby weight and be a more patient mother.  Yet here I am, another year later, still carrying a bit of the baby blubber and probably less patient than I've ever been. 

Resolutions just never seem to work.  Should I just resolve not to resolve this year?  Something just feels...wrong...about that.  What's a New Year's without resolutions?  Even if we don't make them happen, it's important to start the year off hopeful, right?  Wouldn't it be worse if we started each year more downtrodden than the last?

Of course it would.  So then, maybe New Year's resolutions, fictitious or not, have their place in our society after all.  They certainly have their place in me.  This year, I will again resolve to finally lose that baby weight, to finally become a more patient mother, and maybe even to be nicer to the loving man I call my husband. And this year, I'll even throw in something easier to achieve.

This year, I'm looking for an agent.  Notice I used the word looking, not finding--I'm sure it'd be vastly easier to be nicer to my husband, and even to lose the last 5 pounds, than it would to actually get an agent to represent me.  But I can look.  And I can try.  And maybe I'll get rejected a lot this year.  No, I'll definitely get rejected a lot this year.  But I'll also learn a lot, that's for sure.  And isn't that really the point?  I'm in a place of hope, and I have a long journey ahead of me to a destination I may never reach, but if I can gain something just in the journey, then maybe I've already succeeded.

Who knows?  Maybe this year I'll actually keep a New Year's resolution, and use it to build an even better one next year.

What will you resolve to do this year?

Happy 2012, from Fictiffous!