Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Wall, a Plea, and a Song

In college my nightmares kind of looked like this.

 One of my math professors-no, no, don't go. I promise this post isn't about math. This professor told the class that everyone hits a wall in mathematics at some point. Maybe math was easy all throughout high school and we thought that would always be the case-it's not. Eventually there will be a concept we struggle to comprehend. We may want to give up, change majors, or drop the class. So why the pep talk? He wanted his students prepared, so when we hit our wall we didn't give up.

Writers also have a wall we bang up against on occasion. Call it writer's block if you want, but to me writer's block is when you don't know what to write about. The wall of doom I speak of will project itself anywhere it can to disrupt your writing process. It only has one goal-to stop you. Beyond that its aims are not specific.

This is a test and the only way to pass it is to keep on writing or revising or plotting or whatever you were doing before the wall appeared.

When working on a novel you will reach a point where you think it's complete garbage, a useless waste of time, and an entirely unsalvageable mess.


 Don't freak out, it's just another part of the process. Walk away from your keyboard for a few days if you must. Read your favorite book. Talk to someone about your story or if, like me, you are overly secretive write a summary of the problems you are having. What needs to happen? Why isn't it happening? Solutions will come as long as you do whatever you need to do to keep going. The wall will disappear and you'll be much happier with your story. Too many people stop when the writing gets tough. This is me urging you to think twice before giving up.

The more I stumble along with my editing process, the better my story becomes. I have a long list of revisions set aside to apply to my almost complete draft number three which will (hopefully) turn it into a sparkling fourth draft.

The last few weeks I was hitting the wall and I didn't know what to do, but I didn't stop working and now the wall's gone. I feel good and I want you to feel good too.

And because it's Wednesday, here is a little music for you. I love this because it combines my left and right brainedness into one quirky song.

Friday, December 9, 2011

On Hibernation, Mostly

This week has seen some drastic changes in weather and mood, at least for me. It was warm, then full of so much fog I felt like Sherlock Holmes. Today things have settled on chilly and ecstatic, respectively.

Winter has finally shown itself. You know, winter never makes sense the way summer does. When it's insanely hot we New Jersey kids shuffle to the shore and plop onto the sand until work, school, or the cold arrival of September sends us back inside. Yet in the winter months, when the air is frigid and the roads treacherous, we are in a frantic scramble from store to store, party to party. I know it's the holidays, and I am not complaining. I truly love all the festivities. It just seems illogical. When it's freezing and grey outdoors, only hibernation seems truly logical.

Cody relaxing in the sun. Tough life.

Ideally hibernation would involve all my favorite books and revolving mugs of tea, cocoa, and hot cider. Curling up in my favorite chair with my to be read pile is so much more appealing than pulling on a puffy jacket, thick mittens, a hat and scarf just to take the trash out.

My favorite chair, as it turns out, is already occupied. And I have fabulous plans tonight, so any hibernating will need to be postponed.

I'm heading to see The Gaslight Anthem in Asbury Park, that's by the ocean in Jersey for those unfamiliar. Which kind of explains why I was thinking about the beach in the first place.

I love the beach in the winter. Uncluttered it's much more impressive. The ocean is still there. The waves never fail to beat against the sand. They don't stop just because we ignore them. Our participation is not required. Empty and cold the beach could be the end of the world rather than a recreational destination, because there's no way I can imagine going into the icy water.

Hmm... cold, desolate, impassable barrier at the end of the world? Where have I heard this before? Oh, Game of Thrones, right. I'm obsessed.

Clearly, I'm not the first person to be impressed by huge, icy obstacles.

Sorry for the tangent. I blame the weather and the weekend and George R. R. Martin.

Hope you all stay warm (if applicable) and have a great weekend!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On My Writing Playlist: Ray LaMontagne

My main character is kind of a jerk, we've established this. In fact, he is full of flaws. Such as not knowing or appreciating what he has until it's been lost. Left with only himself to blame, as the architect of his own misery, he sinks to his lowest point of hopelessness.

Someday I plan to stop plotting and start writing in earnest. When that happens I may post a (very short) scene from this project on the blog. So I can stop being so vague and so my followers can get a taste for my writing.

Until then, enjoy Ray LaMontagne's live version of "Gone Away From Me"

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Book Report Tuesday: Marcus of Umbria

Title: Marcus of Umbria: What an Italian Dog Taught and American Girl About Love

Author: Justine van der Leun

Genre: Travel Memoir

Synopsis: Tired of laboring in city cubicles, Justine van der Leun sublets her studio apartment, leaves her magazine job, and moves to Collelungo, Italy, population: 200. There, in the ancient city center of a historic Umbrian village, she sets up house with the handsome local gardener she met on vacation only weeks earlier. This impulsive decision launches an eye-opening series of misadventures when village life and romance turn out to be radically different from what she had imagined. Love lost with the gardener is found instead with Marcus, an abandoned English pointer that she rescues.

With Marcus by her side, Justine discovers the bliss and hardship of living in the countryside: herding sheep, tending to wild horses, picking olives with her adopted Italian family, and trying her best to learn the regional dialect. Not quite up to wild boar hunting, no good at gathering mushrooms, and no mamma when it comes to making pasta, she never quite fits in with the locals who, despite their differences, take her in as one of their own. The result is a rich, comic, and unconventional portrait about learning to live and love in the most unexpected ways. (from Goodreads)

Why did I pick it up?: I studied abroad in Umbria and I am obsessed with my dog. It was like this book was marketed specifically for me.

My Review:  Perhaps I am too familar with the topic, and that is why I was let down by this book. I expected more information about Italy and more about Justine's relationship with Marcus. Still the book is an entertaining, light read. I probably would have loved it, had I read it before I spent four months in Italy. Justine's stories about the tiny town of Collelungo and its inhabitants succeed in capturing the image of rural Italy.

Food plays a big role and she comes to appreciate the completeness and simplicity of Italian cooking, as well as a love for eating local. Italians are all about eating the best and freshest foods. They are also very proud of not only their country but of their region, town, and family. So, of course, the best tomatoes come from their own garden and the best wine from their neighbor's grapes.

The book begins with Justine searching for her dog, Marcus, who she finds in a neighbor's yard. A neighbor's chicken clamped firmly in her mouth. I had to laugh at that.

The town I studied in, Perugia, is about 40 minutes from Collelungo. Though the center of Perugia is vastly more populated than Collelungo, the surrounding countryside is not.

My friend Laura divides her time between Pennsylvania and Perugia where, with her boyfriend, she runs a farmhouse hostel for traveling students and visiting friends, like me. During my last visit in April 2010 we took a long walk through the countryside complete with plastic cups of white wine and a cute Italian dog named Diana. Yes, Diana, as in the Roman Goddess of the Hunt, more widely known by her Greek name, Artemis. 

Like Marcus, Diana had previously been caught slaughtering the neighbor's chickens. So when we lost sight of Diana on our walk, Laura feared she was on such a mission. We shouted for her and whistled to no avail. Finally we heard barking.

Diana had found her way into the neighbor's yard. A fenced yard. Naturally the fence was locked. She must have snuck in behind an entering car, but we were too late and the gate had closed automatically. So we were reduced to shouting loudly in Italian for the owner to come out.
Meanwhile, the owner of the house had a small terrier which was barking like mad to alert everyone in a five mile radius of the intruder. Diana paid this dog no mind whatsoever. Though she drank its water and stole a sizable dog treat directly from its bowl.

We weren't too mad. Probably because of the aforementioned plastic cups of wine. Then again, it could just have been her adorable face. Look how happy she is after her adventure. Even Laura who carried her 25 pound dog back through the picturesque countryside isn't annoyed. Rather she was glad Diana didn't kill any chickens.

Recommendation: Anyone with an interest in Italy and dogs would find this an entertaining read.

Next Week: Back to fiction, beyond that I have no idea.