Saturday, January 19, 2013

Recent Reading - Review(ish) of Beth Revis' *Across the Universe* trilogy

I met Beth Revis when she came to the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival this fall and since I'm a closet sci-fi lover (always have been), I picked up the first of her books and got it signed. However, I loaned it to my father, the reason I'm a sci-fi reader in the first place, before I had a chance to read it myself. He especially likes sci-fi written by women with strong female characters. So, it wasn't until I went to visit my parents this Christmas that I got the book back and read it.

The absolute best way to read a trilogy? Start with book one (Across the Universe) less than a month before the third book's (Shades of Earth) release date! (I did this with the Hunger Games series too.) The book ends with a cliff-hanger? Fine. I'll pick up (or download onto my Nook) the next one.

Here's what I liked about the series...

As with any YA book or series, the main characters are teens (naturally) and, as protagonists, must act and drive the plot with their choices. They (and others) must suffer the consequences of these choices and learn from them. But the teens/children must be the actors. So many YA books take place in (boarding) schools, or in like-age grouped arenas, or authors choose orphaned/abandoned protagonists because there is this pesky problems in real life of adults being in charge, and that undermines the protagonist's ability to act independently. As a parent, I am not keen on the parents-being-killed-off method of solving this plot problem. I admire what Revis does in the first novel that keeps this same formula, yet keeps the parents alive: they're frozen. They're as good as dead, but they're not, freeing Amy to make decisions on her own. Elder, though, doesn't have parents. This many seem to follow the more traditional formula, but Amy and Elder are the youngest people on the ship. Here Revis puts them right back into the situation she just avoided by not having parents present. It's a nice twist.

Amy is clearly the main character despite chapters written from alternating points of view.  Even though Elder is the one who will eventually become the leader of this ship, it is interesting to note that she is not merely his "side-kick" nor is he hers.  For being the youngest ones on the ship, though, they are forced to make some heavy decisions for themselves and for everyone else.

There is a nice tension in book two between normal/abnormal, people's roles in life, where dreamers and artists belong in society, the importance of hiding and revealing information, leadership... Revis does not delve deeply into the many big issues her books touch upon (especially A Million Suns), but she does raise many good questions that are worth discussing.  I became particularly interested in the role that singular and collective dreams make in the direction a society takes.  Partially because so many of us right now are dreaming of a society free from gun violence, free from hunger and poverty... one where we trust that the government is being transparent and caring for all its people without lies, half and hidden truths.  So, in the three days I had to wait for book three to release, I read the play Comic Potential by Alan Ayckbourn. This quote (from a "robot" or actoid) jumped out at me, because it fit so nicely the choice Amy and Elder have to make at the end of the second book.  Further, because my mind works this way, I couldn't get the idea of the koi fish swimming through a field of stars.  That too seemed to visually sum up A Million Suns  for me.  Here's the result.

One of the true gifts of sci-fi is there are truths about our current existence that can only be highlighted by the audacity of circumstances presented in the fantastical.

But onto the recently released Shades of Earth and back to my original point.  Amy's parents wake up in book three.  (This is not a big spoiler, we all knew it was coming from the first chapter of book one.)  Once again, Revis turns the convention on its head.  She effectively removes the overarching parental influence from the first two books and we see Amy move abruptly into adulthood in many ways.. then, boom, her parents return.  The autonomy that scared her so much is now the rug jerked from under her feet.

What we see now is the difficult situation I believe many parents and teens feel.  Amy and her parents clearly love each other and are relieved/delighted to see each other again.  But there is the inevitable tension.  Who knows what is best for whom? Amy has had to make difficult and important decisions in their frozen absence, and they don't know about it or value it.  Teens today also have to make big decisions for themselves (especially when parental figures are absent) that their parents may also not know about -- or know to value.  In this way, Revis gets it right and real.  How much better would things have gone if Amy's father had trusted Amy and Elder as competent leaders?  How much better if he himself had been a trustworthy leader... As a mother staring down the barrel at soon-to-be-teenaged children, this is a "note-to-self."  Trust, honesty and transparency are vital in this relay-race where I will have to hand over the baton.

Another thing I appreciate so much about the Across the Universe trilogy was the change of landscapes.  So often in sci-fi, I feel the author spends so much time creating her universe that she gets stuck there, even when the dynamic plot has run its course.  Book after book unfold in the same "universe" just because the author is compelled to let us in on the back story, history, continents she invented, but the plots of the previous books didn't land upon et cetera ad nauseam.  Not so in this case.  We start on the confines of the ship Godspeed, but the third book brings an entirely new landscape, an entirely new universe that isn't what we'd been led to believe it was.  Now, will I be upset if Revis returns to Centauri-Earth for another trilogy and the inevitable clash with Fed-Ex?  Not in the least. 

Stay tuned for my mash-up of thoughts on The Elegance of Hedgehogs by Muriel Barbery, Deathless by Catherynne Valente, and A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren.  Yes, all in one post.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Writing Resolutions - Part 3

    Here it is, the crux of it all. Writing goals. It has been important for me to (attempt to) distinguish between writing as a "hobby" and writing as a "job." It's easy for me to see it as a hobby, especially since it's an occupation that doesn't pay. Yet. Or ever. We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, because I'm not at all opposed to the idea... Regardless, I need to approach writing as a job. And I can start by reminding myself that writing can be a priority and other things can be put on the back burner. The deadlines imposed by writing for the theatre certainly helped, but I am now in the position where I need to discipline myself.
When blog-trolling for other writers' resolutions, one blogger said she didn't like Resolutions because it just led to inevitable failure and why highlight that? Another blogger countered she wanted to "fail more" because that meant she was trying more. I also happen to know there's a lit journal out there called Fail Better. My go-all-directions at once approach to 2013 definitely falls into the second line of reasoning (if there is reason involved in creating an insane agenda).

To those ends, here are my goals for 2013:
  • Pick up my many unfinished projects and work on all of them in fits and spurts. Instead of saying no to three projects to focus just on the one, I'm simply going to take turns and follow my whims. Diana Gabaldon writes this way, and while her work is not my favorite, she seems to have done pretty well. So, that means writing poems (+submitting monthly), picking up the chapter-book, flesh out and plot two play ideas, and blog.  
  • Also, while I've done Artist-Way-based morning pages for some time, I want to start using them to do more creative work instead of simply listing tasks to do, tasks accomplished, and whining.
  • In 2013, I want to become better connected in the writing/theatre world. To that end, I started a twitter account. (This was also prompted by good writing-friend Katey Shultz's post about publicity.  Oh, yes, and you're welcome to follow me. I have yet to master contributing pithy sayings though.) Because of my rural location, it is very difficult to make theatre connections--but that's what the internet is for, right? So I mean to use it. Social networks aren't just for pictures of baby animals and arguing. Although, this photo slays me. I want a pet owl so bad.  Like Pigwidgeon. 
  • I also want to start having some of my writing friends guest-blog here.  By doing that, I can help support and promote the writers I know and strengthen the writing connections I do have.  The more I can convince other people I'm a writer, the more they'll reflect it back to me and I'll believe it, become it. (I may be contacting you...)
  • Finally, as un-fun as it is, I will continue to promote my work, making contact with theatres near and far, submitting to contests, and asking artistic directors to read my scripts.  I will set aside time each week for this.
  • Read more.  Plays in particular.

So, there it is.  I'm putting it out there to be accountable.  Maybe I'll fail in front of everyone and that's OK, because what I can control is the trying and I mean to try more and accomplish more

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Parkway Playhouse Graphic Design

You get a little break from my Resolutions, though I still have to proclaim my writing goals.  Here's what I spent the day doing: finalizing some web-graphics for the Parkway Playhouse.  It's fun to try to capture in a singular image the essence of a play.  Clearly some are more successful than others, but I enjoy the mental challenge -- though trolling and morguefiles can be overwhelming.  Believe it or not, the one the artistic director and I struggled with the most was Peter Pan.

I also really enjoy searching for the right font.  So, if you're curious, here are the names of the ones I used (I believe they can all be found at

  • Peter Pan -- Loki Cola
  • Sherlock Holmes Returns -- Sea Dreams
  • A Few Good Men -- Wartorn
  • Dancing at Lughnasa -- Celtic MD (for caps) and Ramsey SD (for lowercase)
  • The Mystery of Edwin Drood -- Euphorigenic
  • A Personal History of Burnsville -- Clive Barker

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

NY Resolves: Health -- Part 2

One area of my life in which I'm going create some new patterns is in my physical health.

Exercise:  I often approach exercise in fits and spurts, but this year I would like to be better about maintaining a level of fitness. Frequently I'll be in shape during volleyball season, or in preparation for a 5k, but then slack afterwards.  So, I'd like it to become a part of my on-going weekly commitments.

Food:  It's been coming at me from all sides (from Brian McLaren's challenge in A New Kind of Christianity to facebook shares from friends):  I need to examine the amount of meat I eat.  For those of you who know my husband (his best hobby is preparing meat) I'm not sure we could ever completely commit to vegetarianism.  But we are making a start with Meatless Mondays at our house.  Already we make a concerted effort to buy locally-raised meat, but it seems like I should go further.  This little clip that made its rounds on facebook points out that the amount of energy expended to produce meat is irresponsible in regards to the needs of the people on this planet -- and McLaren postulates that it might even be un-Christian to continue consuming meat in light of that.   Fascinating to think about.  So, watch this little video.  You can totally stand to do it because of the narrator's awesome accent.
More on Meatless Mondays Here:

Water:  I need to stay better hydrated (my almost 39-year-old skin is showing me so, sigh).  So, more water from the tap.  Less coffee.  More green tea.  (Less coffee tomorrow.  Last night was brutal.)

None of these are particularly difficult changes, but I think one of the values of New Year's Resolutions is taking stock of where each of us are and reflect on the prospect of where our life choices are taking us -- and if that's where we want to go.  Any time is a good time to reflect on our choices and prompt ourselves to make better ones...  Even a week into the new year.

Monday, January 7, 2013

New Year's Resolves - Part 1

Stated simply, for 2013, I've decided to go all directions at once.  However, this doesn't make for concise and streamlined blog posts.  Believe me, I've been reading all sorts of writer/blogger/parenting advice about the idiocy of resolutions, how to make them, of what kinds to make and on and on... (And several blog posts about how to write better blogs.) There's a good chance I spent more time reading about resolutions than I did making my own.  Wasting time reading other writers' opinions was also advised against in a blog I read.
I will begin, though, with the overarching theme:  Go All Directions At Once.  It flies in the face of everything I've read.  The Artist's Way says Baby Steps.  Blog gurus say stick to your area of expertise, market your brand, and hone it down to six things you want to be known for. Publishers say pick a genre.  My kids say, Come see my house on Minecraft.  I reply Very cool! without looking at the screen.  (But that opiate-of-the-small-masses is a blogpost of its own.)  There's even the old Keep It Simple rule.  Here's the thing:  I'm always going to make myself crazy regardless, so why not be wildly productive too?  I want to be good at everything, so that just means I have to practice doing everything.

One blogger advised to think of New Year's Resolutions not as "taking on something new" but as giving something up.  So here's what I'm giving up:

  • I'm giving up being unproductive after the kids go to bed.  The people I admire most work self-imposed long hours.
  • I'm giving up limiting creative possibilities.
  • And I'm going to try very hard to give up sleeping in until the absolute last minute before taking the kids in to school.  I intend to keep a work-world type day.
Today, I did get up at a respectable 6:30 am, submit scripts to three theatres, query one more, and write a blog post.  Now, for the next items on my to-do list:  get out of my pajamas and write morning pages.