Wednesday, February 22, 2012

On Writing: Jelly, Nail Clippings, and Sad Endings

Over the past few weeks, I've gotten some more questions from you all on Formspring. *Puts on hard hat* I think it's about time I answer them. 

How do you find your inspiration? And how do you come up with such creative plots?

Like a freak lightning strike, inspiration hits me at the most random moments. Perhaps too often – sometimes I have to check my head to make sure my hair hasn't burnt to a crisp! But when I go hunting for a story, as deadlines make you do, I become a scavenger.

I cast my net as wide as it can go.

Anything weird or quirky gets caught in my net; a broken music box, an abandoned baloney sandwich, the boy in the corner who wears too many keychains, the little bottle in the bathroom with beach sand and seashells inside. My taste in music is all over the place, I read tons of YA and children’s lit, and I still have a child’s heart. Which is why I still think that Mickey Mouse is still da bomb.

When I find these ideas, they are usually fragments. Strange thoughts. Adding up to nothing. I like to combine ideas in a way that makes sense – turning the mundane magical. Making impossible ideas believable is a fun challenge.

Also, how do you continue writing? How do you finish something and move on to the next?

I’m not perfect as far as this goes; there are a few projects I started that I’ve put on hold for one reason or another. Continuing, I think, is difficult for anyone. 

My advice for sticking with a story usually involves a few strategies:

1) Find a few readers you trust (Figment is great for that, haha). When you feel stuck or confused, it’s their cheerful, encouraging voices that will keep you going. Writing is, at its core, a solitary job. But it doesn’t have to be. A little support goes a long way. 

2) Take a breather. Kick your feet up and watch a favorite movie. Play golf. Order pizza. Clip your toenails. Do your laundry. Giving yourself a break will help you feel refreshed and ready to write another chapter.

3) Know your roots. Remember why you’re writing this story in the first place. Find its pulse. 

4) Do some research! If you’re writing about pirates, raid your library for books, documentaries, and movies – and go for the historic accounts (you’ll be more inspired by reality sometimes, than, for instance, Captain Jack Sparrow). If you have access to college-level databases and journals, read those too. It’s amazing what kind of interesting perspectives and ideas you can find buried within stuffy, academic articles. Immerse yourself in your idea. The more you know, the more tools you have to continue your story. 

In regards to finishing a story and moving on… 

Finishing a story is incredibly rewarding – and also gut-wrenching. When I finished Birdcage Girl, I literally had to cool off my brain. And I felt like crying a few days afterwards. It was an unexplainable sadness wrapped around the jolly pride of having finished. I think it has to do with finally reaching the goal. For most of the journey, you keep looking ahead and, chapter by chapter, the big finale keeps getting closer. But you always think, in the back of your head, that you’ll never get there.

Until you do. You’ve just written The End. 

That odd melancholy arises, I think, out of that finish line goal. When you finally reach it, it seems almost unreal. I’ve spoken with some of my writer-friends about the finishing blues and a lot of them had experienced it too. Glad I’m not the only one. I don’t cry much. Unless I’m watching an oddly touching commercial. Weird, right? 

Being able to move on to another project may be hard at first, especially if you feel like beginning revisions on your finished story (and you should, if you feel up to it). Concentrate on feeling refreshed and energized before jumping onto the front seat of another writing project. You will be able to write another – it’s just a matter of shucking off that sadness and beginning the journey again. 

What's your writing process like? (for B&B or any other novels)

Because each project has its own personality, my process tends to vary. However, every story usually starts for me with one particular image or idea. 

For Boys and Bees, I started out with the concept of love letters. Having written a love letter or two in my own time, I know how it feels when those carefully-crafted letters are ignored. But what excuse does the receiver of the letters have for not answering back? Those were the thoughts that started Boys and Bees; Hedda came first, the girl with the love letters, and Lorabeth quickly followed after with her bramble-like hair. 

The bees came about because, well, I’ve always been fascinated by them. A few years back, I saw a television special while at Disney (on the hotel’s Japanese channel) that featured beekeepers. I loved the cozy, delicate world I saw – quite unlike the scare-tactics that American shows use when featuring a beekeeper’s job. I wanted to create, alongside Lorabeth and Hedda, a bee world that wasn’t one to be feared. Love and bees seem to be going well together so far, I think, haha. 

Another question - how do you first develop and plan out your stories?

For me, developing and planning have a lot to do with tinkering. It’s about the only kind of tinkering I can do, especially since I lack the skills needed to put together IKEA furniture (despite the idiot-proof directions). 

I like to mash ideas and concepts together. Use glue to make them stick – or make sense. Say I start with a boy who has an obsession with grape jelly. So much so, that he’s sculpted a living dog out of jelly. Well, I’ll string another idea – fish don’t like cats – and another – Tuesdays are blue – and then fill in the gaps between them to make them work. And sometimes they don’t. But when they do, it makes for an exciting story to write. 

Each idea, in other words, is connected to another. Plots and subplots intertwine like threads. 

I try not to plan too much in advance because sometimes the planning itself gets overwhelming. You get bored when you have every scene, every piece of dialogue perfectly laid out. There’s no room for change or innovation. I use Microsoft OneNote for what planning I do; I have pages for each character where I put pictures and bits of information as it comes to be. And I do basic outlines, usually for the beginning of the stories – though I have a pretty concrete idea of how each story ends. 

Hi Kim! So, I am one of your ghost readers--I've only made one comment on your various brilliant stories. I'm considering coming to Figment to post my own fairy-tale-esque things. Anywho, the question: Where did you get the inspiration for writing your fa

Hello, ghost reader! I’m glad you decided to take off your bed sheet skin to send me such a nice comment. I always know a ghost reader is nearby when my laptop screen goes suddenly cold. Shhh, my new chapter is being read. 

Oh, you should! And please let me know what your username is so I can take a look at your stories. Gads, the question got cut off on Formspring. I wonder what you meant to ask. Well, since you were talking about fairy tales, did you mean to ask where I got my inspiration for my fairy tale stories? I’m going out on a limb here, haha. A phantom limb. 

Fairy tales are very much a part of me. Their stories race through my blood (or something equally poetic). Ever since I was a child, I soaked up any kind of fairy tale. Mythology too. With each retelling – whether picture book or film – the stories only got better. I felt like I was a part of one big secret: after all, fairy tales have a lot of human truth to them. I guess I sensed it. 

My mom says she used to play Disney’s The Little Mermaid for me every day – and as far as I’m concerned, I’ve suffered no delusions. It didn't take long to get my grubby little hands on the Anderson version, but it wasn't a smooth transition. My parents rented me an anime version and sat me down in the basement to watch it by myself. It was - and is - a beautiful adaptation. But I didn't see the tragic ending coming. When the little mermaid burst into sea foam (with, I might add, an eerie, warbling backtrack), I burst into violent tears. I cried so loud that my parents rushed downstairs. They couldn't quite comfort me. I had to get over the sad ending on my own. I had connected the mermaid's death with the passing of a dear family member... and I think, to this day, the whole event reflects how real these tales are. How there's always a way to relate. On a lighter note, it was probably at this point that I developed a taste for happy endings. Yeah. 

So I'm not sure how to answer how fairy tales influence and inspire what I write. They kind of go together. The enchanted bears, wise women, poison apples, mirrors, dresses of sun and moon, a tinderbox with saucer-eyed dogs. After reading so many fairy tales and myths, the oddness of life isn't so surprising. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Lorabeth and Hedda

Where did you get your inspiration for Lorabeth and Hedda and how did you choose their names?

Wow, my first Formspring question! Thank you for asking, dear anonymous reader! I'm excited to answer. For anyone who reads my blog, and not so much my Figment work, this question is in regards to my newest project on Figment, a serial novel called Boys and Bees.

Lorabeth Frisch 

When I'm writing about Lorabeth, I do imagine her looking something like actress Hailee Steinfeld. There's a wildness about her hair (looks like it could hold twigs) and an unconventional kind of beauty about her.

Even though the first chapter of my serial novel, Boys and Bees, starts off with the angle of examining Hedda, the story began when I created my true main character, Lorabeth. I've always had a love for mori girls, a kind of woodland-inspired fashion trend created in Japan. To me, my main character had to be a little wild, untamed, but still lovable. I looked at a lot of old vintage photos of little girls with snarled hair and rumbled dresses and was, in part, inspired by the description of the little girl in one of William Wordsworth's poems called "We Are Seven." He writes:

"She had a rustic, woodland air,
And she was wildly clad;
Her eyes were fair, and very fair,
Her beauty made me glad."

Usually my characters are pretty straight-laced, always doing their homework and making sure they're on time for appointments. So I wanted to do something different with Lorabeth by trying to make her a slacker, haha. Lorabeth is a very determined girl but has a one-track mind: training her bees is what matters to her the most and anything that gets in her way is nothing more than a useless distraction. In that way, she's a oddball for sure, but it makes writing about her a very fun and interesting experience. 

Lorabeth's relations with her parents - the lion-tamer father and gardener mother - will come about later in the story and will hopefully shed some light on where she picked up on some of those traits, haha. 

Finding a name for Lorabeth was tough. I didn't want to give her name that sounded too dreamy or feminine. I usually search through popular names starting from the Victorian Era and on - rarely do I pick names that are popular now - unless they happened to show up in other lists, as most names do. I happened upon a website that listed popular nicknames for boys and girls, and that's how I found, buried in the L's, the name Lorabeth. 

There is no actually name meaning for Lorabeth, but it is a combination of two existing ones: Lora means "laurel" and Beth means "house." It will be interesting to see how these two meanings will collide or if, perhaps, she develops a preference for one of them. 

Hedda Sparling

Dakota Fanning is, in a way, how I imagine Hedda to look. Hedda is a pale beauty with a round face and luminous eyes. I think Dakota, especially in this photo, embodies that kind of energy :)

The story of Boys and Bees begins with love letters - and someone had to read them. Hedda was born from this need. However, she quickly stood on her own as a mysterious and alluring girl... with something to hide. Well, it took me a while to find out what that secret was. I couldn't pry it from her. "Okay," I had thought. "This girl has a secret. Fine. I'll let her have it."

 Hedda's secret, within a chapter or two of writing, finally became clear; I can't wait to fill you in on it when the time comes in the story.

Again, like with Lorabeth, I hadn't yet written about a popular girl. I like teen school movies as much as the next person (Mean Girls being my favorite), but I never created my own set of Plastics before. Nor did I do it here. I fleshed Hedda's character out and realized that she'd never be flat like that - her father's influence, along with her secret, plus those constant love letters from boys, created a potent character that has a lot more layers than I first expected. Hedda Sparling may be the popular girl, but she's not happy with what that actually means. 

She teams up with Lorabeth because she shares a deep love for the school - and I'm sure, along the way, she'll reveal more of herself to the readers. 

When it came to her name, I didn't think about meaning. I came across "Hedda" and it stuck. Simple as that. For the purpose of answering the question fully, I looked up the meaning: "contention" or "strife." Wow. How perfect, haha. 

Questions For You...

How do you imagine Lorabeth and Hedda when you read Boys and Bees? When it comes to naming characters, what is your process?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Tidbits: February Edition

Picture / Photo Find

A Writer Thing

I wish this month was as sugary pink as advertised on television. For the first time, I'm ridiculously busy early in the semester. That means that when I make it past this month, March should be, in theory, a little enjoyable. 

This Thursday, I'll be participating in my university's first creative writing conference; it's nice to be at home for one of these giant celebrations. The conference is called Blank Pages, a two-day marathon full of panels and readings from all genres. The panel I'm directing, and presenting on, is called "Young Adult Literature Not Just For Young Adults" and that'll be happening early on the first day. I'm excited to be speaking about YA literature, though it's easy to feel butterflies during preparation, you know? My part of the panel will focus fairy tale retellings in particular - why are they so popular, from a reader and writer's perspective. 

There's a grad and undergrad reading happening that night called 6x6; I'll be on my tip-toes in front of the mic, reading a story about a girl who's in a long distance relationship with an alien. 

Well, it is the month of love, isn't it?

Also, I've gotten some great questions on Formspring regarding my writing on Figment, and I'm looking forward to answering them. Some of my blog posts will be answers to those questions, a nice change and, perhaps, a good way to stay on track with my blogging. So much writing! 

Song I Can't Stop Repeating

"Like a Song" - Lenka

For a more melancholy, haunted love song, I turn to Lenka. She's one of my favorite musicians ever, and I can never get enough of her music. This song in particular is so soft and sad with a music box melody:

I can't forget you when you're gone 
Your like a song 
That goes around in my head 
And how I regret 
It's been so long 
Oh what went wrong 
Could it be something I said 

Make it go faster 
Or just decide 
To come back to my happy heart. 

Video I Watched Too Many Times

Oh yeah, Buster Keaton. This clip is from one of his lesser known talkies called Parlour, Bedroom, and Bath. While most of the movie is pretty slow, the interacts that Buster has with the various women (most of them fairly mean) are hilarious. In this montage, he takes the advice the first woman gave him with the lines he yells and the body movements. 

Not gonna lie - I'd love to hear 'em, no matter how corny. My darling, I love you madly! You must leave leave! I cannot live without you! 

Yay, Valentine's Day.