Saturday, July 30, 2011

How Old Are You?

I finished reading Rules of the Road by Joan Bauer today. It's about a Chicago teen, Jenna Boller, who gets offered a job as a driver for the elderly president of the company Jenna works for. Jenna's family situation is less than ideal, so she decides to do it. Jenna convinces her mom to let her accept the job and takes off cross-country with Mrs. Gladstone.

It was a nice summer read - easily finished in a day. Some of Jenna's observations along the way made me laugh out loud. Jenna's a city girl, and her reactions to (and bafflement by) an old Texan's figures of speech were perfect. Overall, I thought the book was entertaining, and I liked seeing Jenna come into her own.

I had trouble with Jenna's voice, though. She just didn't feel like a teenager to me. If we were told she was in her late thirties, I'd have an easier time believing it. I know there are responsible teenagers, teenagers with a good work ethic, teenagers who really care about doing the right thing - I see a lot of them every day at school - but I have a hard time imagining a teenager who would take six weeks of her summer vacation and spend it with old people and inspecting shoe stores. I really can't understand a teenager who would take six weeks away from friends and not call them even once (or really even give them much thought). I liked the rest of the book enough, though, that I could mentally adjust her age and keep reading.

As a reader, can you adjust the age of the character in your head and keep going? Or do you just put the book down and walk away if something's not believable? I like to finish the story if I can, and this one was enjoyable enough (and the problem small enough) that I could make a mental adjustment and move on. I'll definitely pick up the sequel, Best Foot Forward, and see what Jenna does next.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

I want to be Neil Gaiman

Okay, maybe I don't really want to be him, but maybe I can be like him. I seriously think I might be his biggest fan. If he wrote directions on a cocktail napkin, I'm sure they would be just as dark and lovely and riveting as any other story he's written.

Which is why I was surprised when I read his blog yesterday. Mr. Gaiman (mostly) spoke about going to the Shirley Jackson Awards and had this to say about his chances of winning:

"I looked at the list of nominees, did some mental handicapping, sat back comfortable in the knowledge that I wouldn't win and definitely didn't have to worry about making speeches..."

Really? My first thought was, "The judges must be morons." (They aren't.) It made me wonder. When do we, as writers, ever get over that "I wish I'd revised that one more time" or "I wish I'd written that story instead" feeling? Do we always have that case of little nervous jitters even when we're famous and write award winners and bestsellers every time we sit down to write?*

Maybe we do.

Granted, I have no idea what Mr. Gaiman was really feeling. It sounded like nerves, though, and it was endearing. I want to be (okay, be like) him even more now. To write stories like that and still be nervous about their reception? Genius plus humility. Amazing.

What about you? Do you have an idol? What is it you like best about him or her? Do you think we ever get over those nerves or stop thinking we could have done better? I think we stagnate if we stop striving to do better. Agree or no?

He won two awards, by the way.

*Yes, it's hyperbole. (No, not hyperbola.) I told you I was his biggest fan!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Inspired by What?

People say the most amazing things on the internet. Today I saw the most creative, most vulgar way of expressing disregard for someone’s opinion. When I got over the shock of seeing those words in that order (on what amounts to the front page of the newspaper), I immediately started trying to turn it into a line of dialogue.

It was everything a metaphor should be. It was descriptive – it immediately painted a vivid picture in my mind. (Oh, how I wish it hadn’t.) It was economical – in a mere five words (four if you leave out the f-bomb) it expressed a depth of loathing and contempt that is rarely seen in essay-length work. I was almost jealous of the mind that came up with it.

Except I can’t imagine ever being comfortable having those words associated with my name. Do I really want to be known for saying that? Granted, it was creative – a perfectly crafted metaphor, but I don’t want my characters to say it. Even without the f-bomb.

So I filed it away. Someday I’ll have a character who needs to express that level of disgust with someone. I’ll pull out that metaphor, dust it off, and rewrite it to be something I wouldn’t be ashamed to have people read. That one bit of vulgarity inspired me to create something that expresses the same depth of feeling, but wouldn’t make a sailor blush.

For me, inspiration can come from anything, anywhere. What about you? Have you ever been shocked by what inspires you?