Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bookanistas: Sci-Fi/Dystopian Cover Love

Recently I found myself with the great fortune of being invited to participate in the Bookanistas, a group of YA authors who write about books on a weekly basis. And to this invitation I said YES PLEASE.

Recently I have also found myself paying attention to book covers more than usual. This happens often in life-- you're thinking about getting a haircut, so you pay attention to everyone's hair; you're looking at houses, so you start knocking on other people's floorboards to see if the wood floors are real or fake (that might just be me). Anyway, because I was getting so jittery about posting my cover, I started paying special attention to book covers, which is why I'm going to be gushing about some covers this week.

More specifically, I will be gushing about sci-fi/dystopian book covers, because A. I love this genre, B. I write this genre, and C. I am SO pleased that sci-fi/dystopian is really getting a foothold right now, because it's what I've always liked to read and I find it extremely interesting. So, some gorgeous sci-fi/dystopian covers of upcoming books, for your viewing pleasure.

1. ACROSS THE UNIVERSE by Beth Revis (January 11th, 2011)

Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and expects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship—tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

Now, Amy must race to unlock Godspeed’s hidden secrets. But out of her list of murder suspects, there’s only one who matters: Elder, the future leader of the ship and the love she could never have seen coming.

(Must. Read.)

When I first got a look at this cover, it looked like this:

And though there were many covers to look at, at the time, my eye sort of drifted toward it independently of my brain and then fixated on it, because not only is it very different from a lot of the YA covers you see out there, it is also beautiful. While I was perusing Beth Revis's blog the other day, though, I saw that she revealed an updated version that looks like this:

Now, if you had asked me if the first cover could be improved in any way, I probably wouldn't have come up with anything, but after seeing the new version, I keep having to wipe drool off my keyboard. I think replacing the white space with, uh, space space was a great call, because it looks richer now, and I like that the tagline is now in a more prominent place, because I don't think I really noticed it in the first version.

Also, now you get to see what Kiersten White says about the book, which is always a good thing, because Kiersten is awesome. So, in a few words, this cover: different, beautiful, eye-catching. I was initially attracted to the book by its cover (I read the summary a little later), which is the point, yes? SUCCESS.

2. POSSESSION by Elana Johnson (June 2011)

In a world where thinkers control the population and rules aren't meant to be broken, one fifteen-year-old girl is tired of belonging to someone else.

I generally gravitate toward simplicity, which is why I loved the cover of MATCHED so much, and the same is true of POSSESSION. That whole "butterfly fighting its way out" thing is just saturated with meaning, particularly given the concept of the book. It's such a surprising and intriguing image, so I'm glad the rest of the cover allows you to just stare at it and consider it, rather than getting distracted by anything else around it. This cover also has the desired effect of making me want to read the book even more than I did when I just knew the tagline. So: gorgeous and thought-provoking. So excited.

3. DELIRIUM by Lauren Oliver (February 1st, 2011)

Before scientists found the cure, people thought love was a good thing. They didn’t understand that once love -the deliria- blooms in your blood, there is no escaping its hold. Things are different now. Scientists are able to eradicate love, and the governments demands that all citizens receive the cure upon turning eighteen. Lena Holway has always looked forward to the day when she’ll be cured. A life without love is a life without pain: safe, measured, predictable, and happy.

But with ninety-five days left until her treatment, Lena does the unthinkable: She falls in love.

The ARC of this book had a different cover, which had a more melancholy feel to it, and I liked that one, but not as much as I like this. First of all, it's simpler, and I feel like I am staring into it to discover something about the girl's image. And once I've ogled at it for a few seconds, I can finally piece together her expression, which is interesting in and of itself-- she's got her eyes closed, but her mouth is slightly open, and not in that "I've fallen asleep and I may drool" way. To me that expression looks a little like she's steadying herself as she waits for impending doom, which is absolutely perfect for this book.

It's lovely, just like the writing inside. That Lauren Oliver has some serious talent-- as do her cover designers.

4. XVI by Julia Karr (January 6th, 2011)

In the year 2150, being a girl isn’t necessarily a good thing, especially when your sixteenth (read sex-teenth) birthday is fast approaching. That in itself would be enough to make anyone more than a little nuts, what with the tattoo and all – but Nina Oberon’s life has taken a definite turn for the worse. Her mother is brutally stabbed and left for dead. Before dying, she entrusts a secret book to Nina, telling her to deliver it to Nina's father. But, first Nina has to find him; since for fifteen years he's been officially dead. Complications arise when she rescues Sal, a mysterious, and ultra hot guy. He seems to like Nina, but also seems to know more about her father than he’s letting on. Then there’s that murderous ex-government agent who’s stalking her, and just happens to be her little sister’s dad.

This cover and the Delirium one have a similar vibe, but I put them next to each other on purpose-- because I love the idea that two covers could have a similar design concept but come across in completely different and equally amazing ways. First of all, while I was staring into the Delirium cover, the XVI cover is staring at me. I love that the girl holds your gaze-- and therefore, your attention-- and also that she's a little blurry, so the letters are more prominent. Actually, it seems like the letters are stamped across her like a giant label, which, if you read the first chapter on Julia Karr's website (and you SO SHOULD), seems accurate. The black, the size of the title, it's all working for me.

This is also an example of a seriously good tagline. Innocence expires at sixteen. It's just soaked with disturbing, intriguing dystopian goodness.

So, now that I have overwhelmed you with awesomeness (and with my intense cover analysis), this is what the other Bookanistas are up to this week...

Beth Revis and Jamie Harrington are spreading some cover love for POSSESSION.

Christine Fonseca is raving over THE REPLACEMENT.

Elana Johnson has a special Friday edition, where she helps launch the book, EMOTIONAL INTENSITY IN GIFTED STUDENTS.

Carolina Valdez Miller is crying over JOHN BELUSHI IS DEAD.

Lisa and Laura Roecker are crazy over MATCHED.

Shelli Johannes-Wells is tempting us with a DESIRES sneak peek!

Shannon Messenger
is showing some serious MG love with MG SPOTLIGHT.

Friday, September 24, 2010

What I Learned About Backstory, Thanks to James Dashner

One thing I've had drilled deep into my mind since beginning the whole agent search:

Avoid backstory. (At least, at the beginning.)

While searching for evidence that this is, in fact, a very common complaint about most people's first chapters, I discovered this quote by Mike Farris:

"Strong beginnings start in the middle of the story. You can fill in backstory later. I like to see the protagonist in action at the start so that I get a feel for who the character is right off the bat. We often get submissions with cover letters that begin: 'I know you asked for the first 50 pages, but the story really gets going on page 57, so I included more.' If the story really gets going at 57, you probably need to cut the first 56."

I think most writers have made this mistake before. You just pick a place for the story to start, and you think it's the right place, but as it turns out, you discover the real story about fifty pages later-- and yet, in revisions, it feels like too great a task to chop up those first fifty pages, so you don't. You may not even be consciously lazy about it. Sometimes the mere suggestion of removing that much content from your manuscript will just shut your brain down.

To me, too much backstory suggests a lack of confidence in the strength of the story. If the story is strong enough, it will carry the reader through the first pages even if they don't have a clear sense of the main character. Often we incorporate a lot of backstory because we think that if the reader connects with the character like we do, the strength of the story doesn't matter as much. That is, of course, not true. I know I've said this before, but it's still true: backstory is like water-soaked jeans. It sags from your story's butt, weighing it down.

(Here at my blog, I like to use classy, sophisticated similes.)

If you want to see a good example of backstory being completely unnecessary in the first few chapters, read THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner.

Summary (from Goodreads): When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his first name. He has no recollection of his parents, his home, or how he got where he is. His memory is black. But he’s not alone. When the lift’s doors open, Thomas finds himself surrounded by kids who welcome him to the Glade, a large expanse enclosed by stone walls.

Just like Thomas, the Gladers don’t know why or how they got to the Glade. All they know is that every morning, for as long as they could remember, the stone doors to the maze that surrounds them have opened. Every night, they’ve closed tight. Every thirty days a new boy is delivered in the lift. And no one wants to be stuck in the maze after dark. The Gladers were expecting Thomas’s arrival. But the next day, a girl arrives in the lift—the first girl ever to arrive in the Glade. And more surprising yet is the message she delivers. The Gladers have always been convinced that if they can solve the maze that surrounds the Glade, they might be able to find their way home . . . wherever that may be. But it’s looking more and more as if the maze is unsolvable.

And something about the girl’s arrival is starting to make Thomas feel different. Something is telling him that he just might have some answers—if he can only find a way to retrieve the dark secrets locked within his own mind.

First of all, I am officially recommending this book. Giant rubber stamp of Veronica Roth approval (in case that means anything). It's suspenseful, intriguing, and well-constructed. I am a big fan of uncertainty in books, and The Maze Runner does uncertainty extremely well. I was constantly asking the obvious questions: Why are they contained in a giant maze? Why would someone do something that terrible to a bunch of kids? And then the less obvious question: IS it terrible? And then every other page I'm thinking: yes. No. Yes. No. YES. No? What the heck is going on?

And in case you were wondering if the payoff of this mystery is worth sticking around for: OH YES it is.

But back to backstory. As you can tell by the summary, the only thing we know about Thomas in the first chapter is that his name is Thomas and he just woke up in a place called the Glade. Actually, that's the only thing Thomas knows about Thomas. There is no backstory at all. We don't know where he came from, what he looks like, who his parents were, or anything that happened to him in the fifteen years prior to his arrival. And it doesn't matter. You devour the story anyway.

Throughout the book, as Thomas gradually discovers things about his past, we discover them, too, and rarely has the unraveling of a character's history felt so satisfying to me. But even if I had never learned anything about Thomas's history, I still would have finished the book, because the story itself was strong enough to carry me through it.

So. If you find yourself tempted to include a lot of backstory in the beginning of your story, you probably suffer from one of two problems:

1. Your story is not strong enough on its own. You require the backstory to make it more interesting. Maybe, if you find the backstory so interesting, that's where your story should be. Or maybe you just need to rip all the expectedness from your story and overhaul it. Either way, don't be discouraged. When I say "it happens", I mean it. It happened to me. And it wasn't easy, and I mourned over it for awhile, but it led me to break out of my box and write Divergent, which was the best thing that ever happened to my writing life.

2. You don't have enough confidence in your story. And I think this is equally as likely. The best way to figure it out is to remove all hints of backstory from your first 30 or so pages and see what you have. And maybe you'll find that it's still interesting. That the voice is distinct. That the character is engaging. And hopefully, your story will be a heck of a lot lighter and quicker than it was before.

It's not that backstory doesn't have its uses, because it does, particularly if the advancement of your plot depends on the unraveling of a past event (which, by the way, is a dangerous game to play). But you want that backstory to emerge in small pieces throughout the story, not to be frontloaded onto your manuscript, weighing it down. And if you want to figure out how to do that, read The Maze Runner, and take note of where and how Thomas's history surfaces.

Actually, even if you don't want to figure out how to do it anyway. Because THE SCORCH TRIALS comes out October 12th, and how can you resist a book with that title, really?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Divergent Quotation Collection

I have a thing for quotations. And I don't mean cheesy motivational ones, the kind you find when you look up "determination quotes" in Google. I mean weird segments of poems I had to read for my classes, or powerful lines in books. When I notice them, I write them down or save them to a document on my computer, and often, those quotes help me figure out stories or characters or concepts that I want to incorporate into whatever I'm writing at the time.

I have more quotes for Divergent than I've had for most other projects, and I thought it might be interesting to share them with you. They won't mean as much to you as they do to me, obviously, because you haven't read the book yet, but they are cool nonetheless, I think.

So, some of my Divergent quotes:

"Well, let her know the stubbornest of wills
Are soonest bended, as the hardest iron,
O'er-heated in the fire to brittleness,

Flies soonest into fragments, shivered through."
--Antigone, Sophocles

That quote is spoken by Creon, about Antigone. What I like about it is: he's wrong. Antigone doesn't bend. She holds to what she wants, which is to give her brother an honorable burial, even at the expense of her life. Antigone is really a great character, I think. She defies her father and then doesn't deny it; she accepts the inevitable consequences of her actions. She is an example of a strong female character who is not physically threatening in any way (as in, she doesn't have warrior skills, or anything), which we sometimes don't see these days.

"My will is mine. I will not make it soft for you."
Agamemnon, Aeschylus

I don't even remember what the context of that quote is, but I've always wanted to create the kind of character who could convincingly deliver that line.

(I read both of those plays for one class-- I'm not in the habit of studying this stuff on my own time, trust me.)

"But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another."

--Galatians 5:15

I've read that line many times in my life, but last year it hit me right between the eyes. Especially when you take it out of context, and I don't usually like to do that, with verses.

"Please, let me warn them--
Don't you come here.

Don't bring anyone here."
--Chasm by Flyleaf

I can't tell you how many times I listened to that song while I was writing. So many of the lyrics helped me figure things out, but that piece of them was particularly important. It's pretty simple, I know, but something about the desperation of that warning-- I wondered what could be happening to a person that they would need to speak those lines.

"I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

--Dune by Frank Herbert

That's what the Dauntless (you know, the brave faction) would recite daily, if they recited something.

(Oh, Dune.)

There you have it. Little pieces of my inspiration.

Does anyone else do this? Or have quotes they like? I'm a collector, you see, so I'd like to hear them. (And potentially add them to my giant list.)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

MONTH THREE: Fear of Taking Unnecessary Risks

THE TIME HAS COME. Well, actually, I'm late, because I had to skip a month due to unforeseen busy-ness, so the time passed, but now IT HAS COME AGAIN!

This month's random act of bravery involves pop rocks and soda. If you'd like to see past months, involving a slide down an 18-foot vert ramp, a dive into a public fountain, and of course, a jump into a bathtub full of mini marshmallows, those videos are on the right sidebar.

But without further delay...

I swear I'm not speaking in the royal "we" in the beginning, I just edited out the parts where my friend Alice participated.

By the way, this is my friend Alice:
Thanks for your help, AK!

A (Christian) Take On Banning SPEAK

Myra McEntire inspired me to write this. Her post about this topic is here.

Laurie Halse Anderson, author of SPEAK, describes the whole issue here. Also, check out that video of her reading the poem about SPEAK, because it's very powerful.

Also, C.J. Redwine amazes me, and this is why.

Those are the good posts. This is me hopping up on a giant soapbox that I really have no right to stand on. Just wanted to get that out in the open.

On at least a bi-weekly basis, I think this same thought: "I wish people like that didn't shout the loudest."

This time, it's that some guy wants to ban Speak for being "soft porn." You know, Speak? That book about a girl getting raped and choosing not to speak at all, rather than report it? Apparently that's porn. The Bible says so. Wait, what do you mean the Bible says nothing of the kind? Color me flummoxed.

Somewhat problematically, I can't get those people to shut up, even if I want them to. I believe in freedom of speech, so their opinion is here to stay, as it should be. But they don't have to shout louder than me.

So, let's do this.

The book-banner guy is a Christian. I'm also a Christian (as you have probably noticed). I'm against censorship. I'm really against the insinuation that rape victims are participants in "soft porn." And when I say "against," I mean "I've been angry all morning."

My major objections to this fellow are religious, so that's what I'm going to talk about. There are plenty of wonderful, secular arguments against censorship, and I agree with many of them. So, if you don't want to read about my religious beliefs, that's okay, I don't mind, but I wanted to warn you.

You can summarize Christian teachings in two parts: crucifixion and resurrection. Brokenness and mending. My concern with many Christians is their refusal to acknowledge brokenness. It's all fine and good to walk around thinking "I've been saved! Woohoo!", but seriously: saved from what? Sometimes I wonder if they even know, or if it's too uncomfortable to think about.

I believe the resurrection has little significance unless you understand the crucifixion-- and vice versa. We Christians need to understand both to the best of our abilities. And our belief is that the crucifixion happened because of sin-- everyone's. I try to think primarily of my own sin, because it reminds me not to get self-righteous. My sin. Mine. Just as much as anyone else's. Remember.

The world is broken. No matter how much time you spend covering your eyes, and covering your children's eyes, the world will still be broken when you uncover them. And when I say the world is broken, I mean that bad crap is happening to people everywhere and people are doing terrible things everywhere. Do you want your kids to understand just how beautiful the grace of God is? Then they have to understand how crappy the world is. It's not just "a good idea." It's necessary.

People can make their own decisions about what their kids read. But as a Christian, I urge fellow Christians in particular to think hard about those decisions, not just to jump to the simplest conclusion. Remember that you cannot, and you should not, shield your children from the truth. Now, I'm not saying we should expose our young children to disturbing material before they're ready. I am definitely not saying that. But there's a difference between "you're too young for this" and "I don't want you to witness this 'immorality'. Ever."

Jesus' greatest commandment was for us to love one another, and he didn't mean love in that gooey Hallmark way. He meant a love that was often deeply uncomfortable. That makes you want to scream because you don't want to forgive that person for what they did to you, not ever. That makes you want to scream because you don't want to hang out with that loser, not ever. I think books like Speak help us understand people. If we don't even try to understand rape victims, we will treat them like they have some kind of sickness and we've got to stay away. But love isn't running away from something that makes you uncomfortable, it's forcing yourself to run toward it.

The world is broken, and we need to know that. We need to understand how damaging sin is or we'll never understand why we need to turn away from it, and fight against it with everything we have. So, will I let my future children read books like Speak when they're ready? Absolutely. Then we can all talk about it. We can talk about how sometimes the world sucks but we believe in a God who wants to mend it, and we are His hands and feet; we get to help.

So, think about it. And read.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Preparing for Things You Shouldn't Have to Prepare For

I've had something weighing on my mind recently. Some residual anger, I think, from things I told myself I would let go of.

The community of young adult writers, readers, and bloggers in which I currently find myself is extraordinary. The kindness and support that surrounds me is so constant that I sometimes forget about it, or take it for granted. But I am grateful for it, always.

There is a problem inherent in belonging to such a community, though, and it is this: it makes you forget that not everyone is that nice.

And believe me when I say: not everyone is that nice. And it's important to talk about this, because you have to prepare yourself. Even if you're just at the beginning of that querying journey and you don't think you will ever make it to publication-- prepare yourself. (Also, don't be so hard on yourself!) Even if you aren't a writer at all, this really has nothing to do with writing. It has everything to do with success and how the world works.


People might say unkind things on blogs or Twitter when they don't think you're watching.
They might attribute whatever success you've had to something other than the combination of talent, hard work, and good timing that it probably resulted from.
They might release information even when you told them not to, for their own gain.
They might use your name to their advantage without your permission.
And if you give them room to criticize, some of them will use that room to tear into you.

Not all of those things have happened to me. But I keep my eyes and ears open, and I know they've happened to other people. And also, some of them have happened to me. And it's at that point that my editor and my agent and my friends and my family begin to feel like bodyguards, protecting me from people who don't have my best interests in mind.

No matter how many great people you have looking out for you (and I have so many great people looking out for me), though, for some reason, it still hurts when you discover that some people have bad intentions. Most of us are at least trying to be kind, and generous, and authentic. And we persuade ourselves that if we're trying to be good people, no one will want to do bad things to us, but that isn't true. In fact, it kind of makes people more likely to do bad things to you. And that makes me angry.

I tried to figure out what to do with that anger, knowing that it isn't the last time I'll feel it, not by a long shot. And I think I have a system.

First I get pissed. No, seriously. When bad things happen, it doesn't do me any good to pretend they aren't bad, or not that bad. I try to call things like I see them. I don't think we get angry enough at the right things anymore.

And then I try really hard to forgive-- for many reasons, but also for the sake of my own heart. Sometimes people talk about forgiveness like it's this effortless process. "Just let it go." Like anger is something I'm holding in my fists and if I just stop clenching and chill out, everything will be peachy. And I think that's absolutely false. If you're doing it right, forgiving people feels terrible. Because really, what you're doing is taking in all the crappiness and refusing to retaliate, even when that's pretty much all you want to do.

It helps to remember that no matter what people do to you, they can't diminish you unless you let them. I hope that the next time something icky happens to me, I can resist the temptation to retaliate and instead, be as good as I can be. People say things like "take the high road" and "don't let them bring you down to their level" and we stop hearing them after awhile, because those phrases lose their meaning. But you probably have an idea of who you want to be. Don't let anyone derail you.

We should try to be wise. But, you'll misplace your trust, we all do. And when that happens? Bodyguards. I'm telling you. I've got them, and so do you. If you and I are friends, you have one in me.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Little Breaksipoo

I'm taking a little blog break today after I spent all day giddily reading your comments, but I wanted to stop by and say THANK YOU for all your support! You guys are awesome.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

DIVERGENT Cover and Summary

So. About this surprise.

I've talked a lot about writing DIVERGENT, and about writing generally, but I haven't discussed the book itself much. So the surprise is: that ends here. Now.

With the cover and the summary.

Ready? (Because I am!)

Here we go!

(Well hello there, gorgeous. Want to go out sometime? Like, say, May 2011?)

In Beatrice Prior’s dystopian Chicago world, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can’t have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.

During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris, and struggles alongside her fellow initiates to live out the choice they have made. Together, they must undergo extreme physical tests of endurance and intense psychological simulations, some with devastating consequences. As initiation transforms them all, Tris must determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes-fascinating, sometimes-exasperating boy fits into the life she’s chosen. But Tris also has a secret: one she’s kept hidden from everyone, because she’s been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers unrest and growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly-perfect society, she also learns that her secret might be what helps her save those she loves . . . or it might be what destroys her.

So, there you have it: DIVERGENT. In stores May 2011.

And when I saw the cover for the first time, I made this face:


And then I did this little chair dance:

(Yes, that's mid-fist-pump.)

And then I couldn't stop smiling:

I think every author is a little afraid of seeing his/her cover for the first time, because there's always the possibility that it doesn't meet their expectations, whatever those expectations are. What I wanted was for the cover to represent the book, not just technically, but in tone.

And I have to say: Barb, Amy, and Joel (the team responsible for that stunning design)-- you got it. You got it just right. I can't imagine anything better. So, if you're reading: thank you!

Life, my friends, is good.

(Can you guys believe my name is on a book cover right now? Because I certainly can't!)

(Why yes, that IS the Chicago skyline...with a marsh in front of it instead of a lake. Intriiiigued?)

Side Note: just so you know, that summary isn't the jacket copy (the text that will be on the actual book jacket). The jacket copy is really awesome but I can't very well post all the goodies at once, can I? Anyway: I will share that at a later date!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Rereading Mission, Round 2: A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle

(First of all: have you heard about that Divergent-related surprise that I'm posting about tomorrow? Well now you have! It's gonna be good, I promise.)

Summary (from goodreads): Meg's father mysteriously disappears after experimenting with the fifth dimension of time travel. Determined to rescue him, Meg and her friends must outwit the forces of evil on a heart-stopping journey through space and time.

The first time I read this book, I wasn't even the one reading the words. My mother was. My mother used to give me and my two siblings a half-hour to an hour each of "me + mom" time when I was younger, and most of that time, for me, was taken up by reading aloud. (This time was, by the way, one of the many things my mother did that resulted in me being a well-adjusted human being.)

One of my most vivid memories about this book is that it completely rattled me. We had to stop in the middle, and I had trouble sleeping that night. So one of my questions as I was rereading was: why?

One word: CAMAZOTZ.

Camazotz is where Meg (the MC), Charles Wallace (her genius little brother), and Calvin (friend) go to look for Meg and Charles Wallace's father, who has been missing for some time when the novel opens. Camazotz is also deeply frightening. Not in an obvious way, but as you read, the descriptions start to creep into your mind more and more, until you just want OUT, OUT of that terrible place as quickly as humanly possible.

Remember that post I did on evil a few weeks ago? In which I discussed how evil can be chaotic or orderly? Well, this is orderly evil. Observe:

"Below them the town was laid out in harsh angular patterns.... In front of all the houses children were playing. Some were skipping rope, some were bouncing balls. Meg felt vaguely that something was wrong with their play. It seemed exactly like children playing around any housing development at home, and yet there was something different about it. She looked at Calvin, and saw that he, too, was puzzled.

"Look!" Charles Wallace said suddenly. "They're skipping and bouncing in rhythm! Everyone's doing it at exactly the same moment!"

This was so. As the skipping rope hit the pavement, so did the ball. As the rope curved over the head of the jumping child, the child with the ball caught the ball. Down came the ropes. Down came the balls. Over and over again. Up. Down. All in rhythm. All identical. Like the houses. Like the paths. Like the flowers."

--Page 117

I've spent a lot of time thinking about why I find this so creepy. There are several reasons, I think, but first and foremost, it relates to what it says here: "Meg felt vaguely that something was wrong with their play. It seemed exactly like children playing around any housing development at home, and yet there was something different about it."

Sometimes I have dreams that seem exactly like real life, except they are different in one crucial way-- something is wrong with them. Once I dreamt that I was walking down a hallway with the FH, like I sometimes did at the time, and he just wouldn't look at me. I kept staring at the back of his head, but he refused to turn around. There was something scary about that.

I keep thinking about this quote by W.H. Auden: "Evil is unspectacular and always human, and shares our bed and eats at our own table." Sometimes people go too far with their evil in books (and pre-edits, I was one of them. Cackling Disney Villain Syndrome, I call it.) And sometimes there is a place for dramatic evil, but there is something to be said for the evil that persuades the reader to be complicit in its crimes. That kind of evil exists all around us, all the time-- it makes people fail to do the right thing, fail to struggle against the wrong things.

And that's something Madeleine L'Engle illustrates with the journey to Camazotz. Things just keep getting wronger and wronger, until Charles Wallace begins to believe that he can let evil into his mind just for a second and come out unscathed-- and instead, he's completely enveloped in it, and worse than that, doesn't even see the need to fight against it anymore. I'm convinced that L'Engle understands the nature of evil, and also, what is necessary to defeat it.

Ultimately, Meg saves her brother by loving him. No special powers. No unique gifts. Just ordinary Meg and her extraordinary love. I feel like that sounds cheesy, and maybe that's because we sometimes cheapen love by assigning the word to everything, including infatuation and lust and obsession.

The other interesting thing about rereading this? When I was ten: had no idea how "religious" this book was. I mean, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which and Mrs. Whatsit, quoting scripture? Did not pick up on that the first time, probably because I was not raised a Christian. And frankly, as someone who is currently a Christian, many books that are labeled "Christian books" make me want to punch myself in the head, because they moralize, and they shy away from examining evil-- they oversimplify it, dumb it down, limit it to just the "villains" and refuse to infuse it into the "heroes". You have to understand how evil works if you want to understand why goodness is so important, and writing about evil things does not mean that you condone evil-- far from it. And also, representing the whole truth is something I believe God is pretty fond of. Just my opinion.

Anyway. What I'm trying to say is that L'Engle doesn't run away from the bad. Not that A Wrinkle In Time is edgy, by our current definition-- it's not, and it's not supposed to be. But she creates genuine peril that makes you thirst for resolution, and that's not something that all books accomplish.

One other thing I love about this book is: none of the characters are hot. Seriously. Meg's kinda weird looking with glasses, Calvin's too tall for his clothes, Meg's dad is all scraggly. It's like in Harry Potter-- very few megahot characters in that book, either. I want this to happen more often. I'm going to add it to my writing goals.

So: Madeleine L'Engle, thank you for scaring the crap out of me at night, and for showing me that I need to delve into how evil really works, and for making me cry every time Meg figures out that love is all she needs to rescue her brother.

Yeah, I'm a total marshmallow. Secret's out.

Want more? Check out Sarah Enni's post on THE WITCHES by Roald Dahl.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Balance Issues

Before I get into it, I have to warn you of a very important event. It may shock you. It may thrill you. It may even make you go "ooooh."

But I'm not going to tell you what that event is. I will tell you that it's going down on Tuesday on the blog.
And that it has to do with DIVERGENT. (I bet you could have guessed that.)

Enough of that insufferable teasyness. This week's revelation: I have no sense of balance.

Okay: not literally. I can actually stand upright, I promise. Sometimes I even walk in a straight line without falling over.

Pause. Have we ever talked about my gripping problem? My right hand grips things just fine, but my left hand can only grip something for about sixty seconds before it starts to loosen. I have dropped bottles of iced tea, keys, cell phones, plates, all kinds of things because of this problem. I don't know why it happens, but I can only hope it has nothing to do with a tiny grip-hating alien crawling around in my brain.

Where was I? Oh yes. Balance.

Two weeks ago all my Veronica time was spent on the Internet. I wrote a few thousand words over the span of a few days, which, when you don't have a job and you don't have children and you basically spend all day in your pajamas, is not such a great achievement, trust me. My great triumph, however, was that I managed to tweet and blog and do all those wonderful things regularly. I also managed to answer my phone, call people back, make lively conversation with my mother, and so on.

This week, though: Not So Much.

This week I just stare at a word document. I forget to eat lunch. I stare off into space when people try to talk to me. I get all Gollum With the Precious when people interrupt me (read: slightly hostile and a little crazy). I don't respond to e-mails much, and when I do, I have trouble churning out more than one sentence. I don't answer my phone. I don't listen to my voice mails. I don't even go on the Internet, unless it's to research how many floors the Merchandise Mart building in Chicago has (eighteen) or how far it is from Millennium Park (1.2 miles).

So, balance? Not my strong suit. I'm either Writing or I'm Not. On or off. In or out.

There was a time in my life when I was okay with that, but that time is passed, because I have better priorities now. I know that my mom doesn't deserve to get the crazy eyes thrown at her every time she knocks on my (perpetually closed) bedroom door. I know that if I don't spend time with people, I will turn into a hermit. And I know that if I don't get this mortgage stuff figured out, I'll never move out of The Cavern (which is what we call my room in my parents' house.) So, I'm trying to find balance.

Other people are much better at this than I am. I know who you are-- I see you out there, taking care of your families and working day jobs and writing in the few free moments you can find in your otherwise action-packed days. My problem isn't making time, it's getting in the mindset. So, busy writer friends, tell me: how do you get yourself into the writing mindset in a short period of time?

Seriously. I need to know.


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