Sunday, April 29, 2012

All the Ugly Bits

Photo Courtesy of Dawn Meehan

I'm guilty of it -- bending into the magnified vanity mirror to squeeze out infinitesimal blackheads, swabbing over blotches with layers of foundation, powdering away blemishes blown into relief by such microscopic scrutiny.

Just in case someone sees me.

Just in case someone out there is walking around with magnified mirrors for eyes.

Like poor Mr. H.M. Wogglebug, T.E. (Highly Magnified and Thoroughly Educated professor of L. Frank Baum's creation in The Marvelous Land of Oz). The poor tiny wogglebug got stuck like that. Magnified a hundred times his original size, all his jaunty arrogance forever on display.


A friend asked me today what I've been reading lately. "Literary fiction," I told her.

Her face scrunched up. "Still the one with the pee baby?" I'd read a passage to her during last week's coffee date -- a most stunning description of a baby covered in her own urine: "a little white sardine still fragrant with briny pee."

I shook my head. "I finished that one. This one's not so magnificently wordified." She gave me a look and I smirked, then grew serious again. "I'm not sure about it yet. Very clever, very smart."

"The style? Like John Green?"

"No, not like him. It's like ... " I pulled the book out and had her read an excerpt. "Do you see? I'm not sure I can like it. It's almost too real."

She handed the book back, nose wrinkled. "It's good but it's sort of mean," she suggested.

"Right? I mean, parts of it are really funny. That bit about tapping out the cigarette ash into her food--"

"Into the rice pilaf."

"Yes, exactly. Not just rice, either, or vegetables. Rice pilaf."

We took simultaneous coffee sips.

"All the specifics," I added. "I think that's what makes it like you said, mean. Maybe even cruel. Fiction looks closely at the world and reflects it back ..."

She was on the same page as me now, nodding. "But this is like putting everything on display. Shining a light on all the ugly bits. It's shocking and so we read on -- and it is real. But too real, and so maybe not really real after all."

"It's a balance, like everything in writing of course," I mused.

We fell into a contemplative silence, and after a minute I started searching on Google Images for a woman's face -- not the glamorized magazine type, but the real self-taken kind -- reflected back too closely in a vanity mirror.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Diagramming Fiction

Ever wondered the difference
 between genre and literary fiction?

Here's a helpful tool I stole from grad school. It's a bit simplistic, but I find it useful as a starting point.

In these diagrams, more weight is given to those elements located at the top of the triangle.

So, in genre fiction, the Plot element seems to be all-important, with Language and Character in hierarchically supporting roles.

In literary fiction, however, Character and Language map the bulk of the story's landscape, with Plot (or more often Conflict) rippling beneath the surface to produce a subtle momentum.

Commercial fiction, or "upmarket fiction," might look like the literary fiction triangle, but with Plot and Character taking the important top-most corners and Language taking back seat.

It's sometimes fun, when entering a new novel or short, to overlay it with the diagrams above, as with an old-school transparency sheet. You'll probably find your triangle needs turning or tilting, squashing, reforming, and/or re-labeling. But once the basic shape of the story comes into focus, it's easier to conceptualize how and to what degree the various elements of fiction fit into, on the one hand, the story itself, and on the other, the larger body of literature.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

The 7-7-7 Challenge

The other day I went hiking deep into the flowering Tucson desert with a stranger.

Met @lroseriver in 3D yesterday for 1st time. Hike in Sabino ... on Twitpic
By @CrytzerFry in Tucson 
Although, I'm not sure stranger is the right word. Just because I'd never met the person ... in person ... never seen her face ... doesn't make her a stranger. In today's increasingly unbound culture of connecting virtually with other human beings on this increasingly shrinking planet, I wonder how important "face-time" really is.

I hiked into Seven Falls with Melissa Crytzer Fry, a fabulously creative writer of literary fiction, and a fun hiking companion. She tweets here.

This morning she tagged me.

The 7-7-7- Challenge:
Flip to page 77 of your current WIP.
Find line 7.
Post the 7 sentences that follow.
Tag 7 more writers.

Alas, I'm on page 68 of my novel-length WIP. Thus I'm going to bend the rules a little.

Page 7, line 7, and the 7 sentences that follow:
My WIP is gothic literary YA with a touch of urban fantasy.

Woman Diving into Water, 1867-1870 by Paul Cézanne
Woman Diving into Water, 1867-1870 by Paul Cézanne - Artilim

I touch the spider-cracked glass. You tried to get out.
There’s a knife embedded, hilt-deep in the seat, speared between two bony fingers. Oh, Aaron . . . They say, when you’re possessed, that you know what you’re doing, all of it, and that you remember.
I can’t mourn for him. I did my job. He’s been stranded in the Limen, trapped by his hunger for the life taken from him. Now, he’s free.
The skin-crawl of knowing touches the place between my shoulder blades.

And you're next! My 7-7-7 authors are:
1. Krista Van Dolzer
2. LisaAnn Chickos
3. Kara Lucas
4. Amber Plante
5. Jaye Robin Brown
6. Pat Esden
7. Juliana Brandt

I'd love to read what you're working on! But if you don't feel like participating, please don't fee like you have to. No worries at all, okay? Regardless, sending great writing vibes your way!

And as Melissa's tagger said: "Let me know when your lines are up because I WANT TO READ YOUR POSTS!"