Learning from First Impressions

I’ve been reading tons lately and writing very little. There are ten chapters written on the sequel to Dragonfly Prince. I don’t want to call it writer’s block. You see, I’ve had trouble with sequels before, and that’s why this is making me nervous. When I completed my first novel-sized story (a modern crossover fanfic drawing from Austen’s Persuasion/Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera) – I had this exciting idea about merging Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice with Orczy’s The Scarlet Pimpernel for the sequel. I named it Florid Impressions. (Austen’s P&P was originally entitled, “First Impressions.”) It would follow talented ballet dancer, Marguerite (or ‘Meg’), as she joined a newly formed troupe begun by a young, accomplished choreographer, P. Darcy-Blakeney. He would be like Orczy’s Blakeney in style and attitude and Austen’s Darcy in true personality and noblesse oblige. He and Meg would not see eye-to-eye; but she would learn to respect his impeccable taste for interpretation, and he would find himself taken with her vivacity, wit and, ultimately, her determination and loyalty. I had these great ideas for following international conflict and constructed two daring rescues and a wonderful escape finale. I totally fell in love with it, eavesdropping in on my characters’ conversations in my head.

To prepare I immersed myself in researching the art of ballet. I hunted for advisers and sought their advice. I read and watched all the documentaries I could study. I have notebooks stashed away scribbled back to pulp with terms and practices and personal reflections of dancers. Through my research I came to the conclusion that my first impression of a ballerina was completely wrong. It is truly an art of illusion. Its disciples are always in pain, always pushing their physical limits.

While gathering the information, it struck me as strange that I didn’t know the names of any current danseurs or ballerinas. The programs do not garner the same breathless anticipation of the Super Bowl, or even Wimbledon. Yes, I’m comparing ballet to a sport. It requires intense athleticism, but that is coupled with emotional expression. It’s quite an incredible craft.

Where once it had claimed a regal, astral sort of beauty for me, the earthy reality ruined it. I became disillusioned by the line of work I’d chosen for my main character. I’m rather sad for her. Still, it taught me to stick with what I know (and to give my characters jobs where they had more to wear than a kerchief and tights). And that’s where this sequel scares me the most. It’s all about what I know, and I’m intimidated. I’m more conscious of its flaws and less attuned to how it communicates its meaning to someone who hasn’t been in my shoes. Can I let my guard down and *gulp* give it the vulnerability it needs? Ten chapters are just a knock at the door.

Which Way Is Ever After?

by A. Ashkanani, flickr.com

It’s the mushy month. Love and all that… And I was thinking, ‘I should find a good love story to celebrate Valentine’s Day properly.’ Nyah, nothing with a sappy name this time. They bother me. I know there’s something wrong with a Gaskell’s North and South/Austen’s Pride and Prejudice fanatic who doesn’t devour those confectionary titles like a big goblet of dark chocolate mousse, but I have difficulty reading a book that’s embarrassing to name aloud. (“Oh, I’m reading, ‘Love’s Endless Flowing Tragic Quest of Angst,’ you?”) It reminds me of Gilbert’s down-to-earth remark to Anne Shirley about her flowery romances. He tells her, “Nobody talks like that in real life.”*

Still, I believe there’s nothing like a good love story, and romances aren’t necessarily good love stories. Take Tolkien’s Return of the King as an example. It wasn’t a romance, but the love stories are mint. The relationship dynamics are what intrigue me most, I guess. Whatever my current writing obsession, I find myself watching my protagonist develop, placing certain situations before him or her to see what the reaction will be. As a reader, I like book characters that give me the impression I’ve met them before. I’m the Bildungsroman sci-fantasy sort, add a side of love story.

Because of this, a tale about a woman who is thawed into falling in love with some non-confrontational, gorgeously handsome man, who waits all through the book for her to notice him, has no appeal. I think I prefer reading about a confrontational, ugly guy who goes through his own metamorphosis. (Have I been conditioned to correlate male attractiveness with spineless drooling? Hm…)

How about the male love interest who makes the heroine eat her words? Well, he ought to be gentlemanly about it when she does, of course. But I’m not completely a Taming of the Shrew fan because it lends itself to the opposite extreme, toward berating or abusing womankind.

Why do so many love stories belittle the intelligence of either gender to make the relationship work? I think the romance genre often finds its writers in difficulty over how to keep that balance. And what about original endings? Wedding bells ring, a thrilling account of what happened on the honeymoon, or hints of a baby’s arrival often conclude the tale. Jane Austen fared just fine leaving her characters to pledge their troth and… Here’s an epilogue. Cue the orchestra, roll the credits. What are some other ways to end a love story without being cliché? The only other endings I can think of are the ones where one, or both of them, dies. The Hunger Games (Spoiler! Spoiler!) used a tactic which I found both realistic and depressing. Kat just deals. She ends up with the one she loves best, but they are too scarred to really be happy. Call me an idealist, but I don’t find death and despondency very inspiring in a society where love comes and goes like a hobby and no one seems to know which direction to ride off and find ‘ever after,’ much less ‘happily.’

So, any book suggestions, or have I thrown out the lot?

*from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series

Oh, That’s How You Spell ‘Kreativ’!

I’ve been nominated for the Kreativ Blogger award from Limebird Writers. Thank you to Beth and her fine feathered friends.

The rules:
1. Share 10 things about yourself that readers might find interesting.
2. Pass the award onto 6 other bloggers (be sure to leave a comment on each of the blogs to let them know).

Because I’m so ‘kreativ,’ I’m starting with rule 2.

6 Picks – And Why I Chose Them

1. twistingthreads – For me, this blog exemplifies the candid, analytical writer. I like tracing the path of her thoughts in her journal posts. It may seem random, but the ‘thread’ is always there.

2. booktopiareviews – This blogger researches awards given to books, what those awards entail, and, often, who backs them. She’s a teacher and an obvious bibliophile. Can’t beat that.

3. Discovering Ireland – I have no idea how I found this little treasure. It’s a school project that relates simple questions and answers about Ireland. Being a Gaelic folklore and fairy tales enthusiast, I find this blog entertaining and easy to peruse.

4. Ayesha Schroeder – In her own words, what makes this writer unique? “Her experience growing up in a mixed family gives her the unique viewpoint of both the Pakistani immigrant and the American struggling to find and define their culture.” From my perspective, she has a knack of sharing her views instead of expressing them, making her thoughts relatable to any reader. I’m not from Pakistan, nor do I pick up works purely for their cultural aspects. I’m going with my intuition about this author’s potential to win hearts from all walks of life.

5. Novel Girl – It’s a blog, but it’s more like a condensed writing class. Rebecca takes the writer’s craft seriously and packs her posts full of helpful advice, tips galore, and lovely analogies. I feel like every entry is a personalized gift because she seems to put so much into it.

6. Kristin McFarland – Aspiring fantasy writer with lots of passion and determination. Need I say more?

 10 Things You Were Just Dying to Know About Me

1. I’m left-handed. Inigo would have so pwned me.

2. Okay, I don’t even know how to handle a sword; Inigo would have pwned me anyway. But… “If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient.” – Lady Catherine de Bourgh

3. Don’t give me knives or scissors, either. One time I cut myself, instead of an orange, while babysitting. I decided to make it a learning moment to remind the kids of the importance of using a cutting board. This lesson occurred while a copious amount of blood was being dealt with. The children were enthralled, but for some reason I was never invited to baby-sit those kids again.

4. I’m a chain tea-drinker and partial to tea-drinking writers I meet online.

5. I have a tendency to cross the bridge, plan for ulterior ways to get around the bridge, and prepare to scale the bridge, if necessary, before I get to it.

6. Pet peeve: I despise when the bookstore locks all the doors fifteen minutes before closing. Yeah, I’d do the same thing if I were working there, but still. My first instinct is to bang on the door, scream, “Help me! I’m trapped!” and drool like a maniac on the glass. Haven’t done that yet.

7. I lost part of my right earlobe to frostbite when I was 9. It grew back in the shape of a three-leaf clover.

8. My favorite colors are lime, kelly, and sage green. I’m now the proud owner of a kelly green velour blazer. My wardrobe is complete.

9. Number seven is purely fiction. You knew that, didn’t you? See, I’m honest.

10. I don’t normally do chain letters, chain emails, chain fb statuses, etc. This feels somewhat like that. At least it doesn’t come with a guilt trip if you don’t do it.