From Sarah, With Joy

Writer querying two novels and some other word babies. I tend to effervesce.

New post every Monday

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Fresh Voices interview is up!

Sorry to have another 'all about me' post, but just wanted to tell everyone that the Fresh Voices Interview on Sue London's blog is up! I'm pretty excited about it...new stuff like this is always fun. Check it out, see what you think. Thank you all so much for your wonderful support :-)

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Meryl Streep/Sandra Bullock Theory

In comparing these two phenomenal actresses, I have come across some interesting ideas, which, though inspired by actors, can apply to any kind of art, including creative writing.

These two actresses demonstrate two different approaches to art, or two different kinds of artists. See which category you mostly fall under, and see what you can learn from the other.

The Bullock Way: If you think about it, Sandra Bullock really only plays one type of character: herself. In most her movies she looks and acts basically the way she is in real life. And she does it brilliantly. She has made an art out of being herself. She takes her own personality and uses it to mold whatever character she's given, and it turns out hilarious, down-to-earth, and just very natural. You can apply this to any art form, but its harder to do then it seems, because if its going to work you have to be utterly honest with yourself and expose that inner part of you that relates to and is accessible to everyone. Maybe try sitting down and just write something and focus on being utterly you. See what you come up with.

The Streep Way: Ms. Meryl Streep, on the other hand, has never played the same character twice. She is one of the most diverse, prolific and stunningly genius actresses of our time, and the list of characters she's portrayed is huge. Witchy fashion boss to Julia Childs. Singing, flower power mamma to vindictive nun. And that's only her recent stuff. Don't get me wrong, obviously she puts part of herself in to every part she plays; the thing is, she is able to put herself into such a variety of characters. This is also hard to do. Its risky and potentially uncomfortable. But it can also turn out incredible stuff if you let it. Try genres, formats and mediums you haven't tried before. Create characters and stories that are way out there for you. For example, I've never tried YA or speculative fiction, so maybe my next short story will be a YA fantasy. I think lyrics would be really hard for me and doubt I'd be that good at it, so at some point I want to stretch myself and try it.

Both sides have benefits, and creating stuff in both veins is probably a good idea. What are your thoughts? Do you see the dichotomy or am I way off base?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Writing Updates

This may be a bit self-aggrandizing, but I thought I'd just post an update on what's going on for me and my writing.

The Tipton Poetry Journal emailed me today and said that the new issue has been sent out, so I should be getting my contributor copy in the mail any time now. I'm so excited to see my name in print! They also said that the online version should be up in the next couple of weeks.

A while ago I submitted a bunch of stuff to the National Undergraduate Literature Conference held this year at Weber State in Ogden, Utah. I got an acceptance email a couple days ago, which is awesome, but I'm still kind of confused because the online thing hasn't told me exactly what they've accepted, and online registration isn't up yet. So we'll see how this one turns out.

Last but certainly not least: A while ago Sue London, author of the blog Thoughts That Get Stuck in My Head messaged me on Twitter and invited me to be part of her Fresh Voices series on her blog. Of course I gave an ecstatic yes, and she sent me some interview questions which I filled out and sent back. I think my interview will be up this Friday, but I'm not sure. But its coming up sometime soon on her blog, and I'll keep you all updated, never fear.

So what can you take out of this? If I can do it, you can! And I'm not just saying that to be nice, I really mean it. It really is up to how much work you put into it. Just keep submitting and keep submitting until you finally get a yes. Think of your writing career as a business, and work on things like social networking and researching out competitions and conferences too. I will try and help as much as I can by posting opportunities that I come across, but I can't submit your work for you. Don't be scared. The worst thing that can happen is nothing, but as the cliche yet true saying goes, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

I would love to hear how your writing careers are going. Successes? Near-successes? Possible opportunities?

Keep writing, keep learning, keep submitting!
Sarah Allen

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Creative Writing and the Olympics

With the Olympics going on, I was thinking about the chasm between the world of athletics and the world of literature/art and how it maybe it doesn't need to be as big of a gap as it is right now. There are definitely things we writers can learn from the world of athletics, the Olympics in particular.

Inspiration. Sports can provide direct creative material, like if you wrote a story about an Olympian or a wannabe pro athlete. Maybe you know an athlete and their stories and characters can inspire your next piece.

Determination. Think of how much time and effort these Olympians have put into their sport. Basically their entire life. Thats the only way they have gotten where they are, and if we want to be the "olympians" of literature, we should expect to have to do the same thing. Of course they are different things, and I'm not saying we need to train for ten hours every day. But we need to be doing something every day, and thinking of new and creative ways to expand our career, and hone our craft, and everything else writers have to do.

Marketing. This one is a little more complex, and I would love to hear your ideas on it. But what I mean is that maybe we can take marketing and promotion lessons from the NFL, NBA, etc. Commercials, target audience, stuff like that. Look at what they do and see how you could creatively apply it to marketing your work. I mean, Golf has a huge, almost cult following. Why? How? Is it because its a game that tons of people play, so tons of people can relate? If so, find a way to apply this to your writing career: create something everyone can feel a part of. Remember baseball cards? Yeah, something like that. I can't get very specific here, because this is very dependent on your individual work and personality. Be creative and find what works for you. And think about this: Does Tiger Woods have a cult following because he's a golfing heavyweight, or is he a golf heavyweight because he has a cult following? The answer is probably yes...but learn from it.

What are your thoughts? Do you think writers have anything to learn from athletes? Hope this helps, and enjoy the Olympics!

Sarah Allen

Friday, February 19, 2010

Creative Writing: Improv to Improve

I'm sitting on the couch watching 'Whose Line is it Anyway' laughing my head off. My high school English teacher, a large part of why I write, also taught an improv class that I took for a few semesters, and we spent a lot of time talking about the way improv can help and inspire artists and writers of all kinds, and I think its something useful and way fun to discuss.

Improv can generate ideas. When your story is stuck; when your characters need filling out; when dialogue isn't working right--improv can help. Improv can open you up to creative inspiration and calm down your internal editor. Improv can take your story in completely unexpected places or can fill out the spots that feel empty.

Take specific characters, lines, and plots that come out of an improv session and use them to generate or enhance your own work. Let yourself make crazy decisions in improv so you can see first-hand how creative risks can pay off big-time. Participating in improv can help you make connections and see things in completely new ways.

There are some ways to do solo-improv. Fill a jar with quotes and pull one out when you need inspiration. Listen to wordless music and make up your own words. Games like MadLibs may work.

That having been said, improv works best as a social activity. Have an improv party with some fun friends. Look up Whose Line episodes on YouTube (that can not only teach and inspire you, but its friggin hilarious). You may even want to go all out and research some improv groups in your area. Take an improv/acting class.

Most of all, have fun! Free your creativity and you will always surprise yourself.

Have any of you had experience with improv? What are your thoughts about how it can help inspire creative writing?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ridiculosity: Sydney White vs Mamma Mia

Lately I've realized something about being ridiculous; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. I'm not exactly sure what makes the difference between the two, but there is something. The easiest way to demonstrate my point is with film, though my point can apply to writing and any other art form as well.

The two movies I would like to use as an example are 'Sydney White' and 'Mamma Mia.' These are interesting cases for me, because while I am not a young person movie, high-school drama-ish kind of person, I really enjoyed Sydney White. And while every move Meryl Streep makes is stunningly, breathtakingly brilliant, as a whole I really did not like Mamma Mia. (Don't get me wrong, she was still amazing in Mamma Mia. The only amazing thing about it.) Both of these movies are plain-old, good times ridiculous, but one worked for me and the other didn't. I'm not quite sure what made the difference, but I do have a few thoughts.

Maybe its self-consciousness. I feel like Sydney White was very consciously ridiculous. Lines like, "Things are looking grim, brothers," shows just how much fun the writers were having. I think there was lots of just being ridiculousness in Mamma Mia, but there were also moments when it was really trying to be serious, and they just didn't work, especially if Meryl Streep wasn't involved. Not only didn't they work, but they took some of the fun and umph away from the light-hearted ridiculousness too.

Maybe its the culturally embedded story. The plot of Mamma Mia is just a way the writers found to string Abba songs together, so its not a story we watch or hear as children. Ridiculousness can work with these kind of new, hodge-podge stories, but its not as easy. With Sydney White, the story was an adaptation of the Snow White fairy tale, so its a story we are all familiar with. This allows the story to go all out making fun of itself, and gives us lines like the one above. Renditions of fairy-tales are usually a safe bet in regards to ridiculosity.

What do you think? Obviously I'm still trying to figure this out, so any thoughts from you would be great. Because who doesn't want to try being ridiculous every once in a while, right?

Sarah Allen

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentines Day for Creative Writers

Whether Valentine's day is a happy occasion for you, or whether it is, as it is for me, simply Single's Awareness day, holidays are a great time to collect stories and build up your creative stockpile. Here are ways creative writers can use February 14th to their advantage.

Use it directly. Write a story about cupid or a misplaced valentine's card. This last is what 'The Office' writers used. Think of the movie that came out two days ago. You may find a way to use this holiday as direct creative material.

Get stories. What better day to collect stories from friends and family, whether happy or bitter. The couple who gets engaged on Valentine's. The couple who get divorced on Valentine's. The husband who plans a huge day with his wife only to be blocked at every turn. These stories can be a story of their own, a small part of a larger story, or adapted to fit other characters and other times.

Get characters. Maybe you have a sister who refuses to wear anything but black on valentines day. Perhaps your great aunt decorates her house for valentines day even more then she does for Christmas. What if your characters birthday was on February 14th, and he hated it because all he ever got were those disgusting chalk hearts. You could even mix holidays and write about how Blitzen and the tooth-fairy celebrate valentine's day. Even if you're currently working on a project, it's a good idea to know how your characters would feel about Valentine's day.

Get in touch with life. In order to write real, compelling characters, you have to make them have real experiences and feelings, and holidays are a good time to sit back and think about life and the things people go through. Valentine's day means so many different things to different people. It can be a day of bliss, loneliness, contentment, desperation, enchantment, disgust, ennui, stress, excitement, busy plans, reflection, or a combination of all of them.

Anyway, hope these ideas help. What are your thoughts about Valentine's day and art?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Will Sing for Plot

If you're like me, coming up with a good plot is one of the hardest parts about writing. I appreciate anything that can help inspire me, and here is an idea I thought of about using the music in your iTunes to get a plot.

It's a simple idea, really. Just put your iTunes on shuffle and click play. Every song has its own characters and situation, right? So the first song you here is the way things stand at the beginning of your story or novel. Listen to the song, get a feel for how the characters are feeling and why. After you've gotten a feel for it, go to the next song; that song is your novel's end. The way your characters and story ends up. Again, listen to the song and get a feel for the how and why.

Here's an example, from my own playlist:

First song: 'Thank You for the Music' by Abba
Second song: 'You Can't Always Get what you Wan't' Glee Cast

So you could make a story from those like this: Maybe there's a shy, very unconfident girl who doesn't feel like she can really do much, except she's brilliant at the piano and she actually has small, but piercingly good voice. Maybe she was even abused by one of her mom's many boyfriends or something, and she's kind of given up on ever finding love in her life, and basically devotes her existence to music. She even gets in to Julliard. Then maybe she gets hit by a car or something and gets damage to her brain such that she loses feeling her left hand. Obviously this means she can't play music anymore, and this devastates her. So then what happens is she decides to teach music at a local private school, and becomes close with the widowed father of one of her students. At first she obviously has trust issues with any guy, but eventually they realize that they can heal each other by loving each other.

Anyway, you may not have gotten that story from those songs, but work it out however it works best for you. I'd love to know what you come up with!

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Genre Exploration: Cowboy Poetry

Yesterday in my American Folklore class we talked about cowboy poetry. My professor showed us some clips from the cowboy poetry gathering in Elko, Nevada. It was actually some great stuff, and definitely worth looking into.

As a beginning, general thing, here is a great cowboy poetry site with a big collection of poems.

I wanted to highlight a couple of my favorite poems, and put them here for easy access, but to keep safe from any copyright issues, I'll just have to link to them. Here are my two favorite:

The Pearl of Them All by Will Ogilvie

Anthem by Buck Ramsey

(On each of those pages there are several poems, so you may have to search for those specific ones).

Much of their poetry is put to music, so here is a link to The Riders in the Sky website, a very fun band who I think sang Woody's Roundup in the second Toy Story movie.

Other poet recommendations are Badger Clark, Baxter Black, Joel Nelson and Gwen Peterson. See if you can find something you like.

So why cowboy poetry? Well, its rhyming and often sentimental, which usually aren't good things in my opinion, but much of this poetry shows how sentimentality can be done well, and that is a good thing. I believe its good to read in tons of genres to round out your own writing. Plus cowboy poetry is just fun. I really enjoyed, and was moved by it, and that's the point of art, right?

Anyway, let me know what you think of this. I hope it will brighten your day as much as it did mine.

Sarah Allen

Monday, February 8, 2010

My poem is being published in the Tipton Poetry Journal!!!

I just received the awesome news! I came home from classes to a rejection from Versal magazine, which is the norm, but I just barely got an email from Barry Harris of The Tipton Poetry Journal accepting one of my poems called "Night Terrors"! I've been published in BYU's literary magazine Inscape, but this is the first time regular, old-fashioned researching and submitting has gotten me accepted, and it is definitely my first success outside of Utah. I am ecstatic! My work has never really been published in print magazine format, so I am so excited to get the contributor copy in the mail. The magazine is also posted online, so I will, rest assured, announce when that is up. I will forever remember and bless Indiana for being the first to let me in.

So let this be a lesson to all: if I can do it, you can! I sent them a batch of poems, and the one they chose isn't the one I would have picked, so you never know what will work for certain people. Don't let that stop you, let it encourage you! Have confidence in yourself and just get your stuff out there. Just keep submitting.

Thanks anyone who reads this for reading it. Even just knowing that my blog is read is encouraging. So thank you.

And keep writing!

Sarah Allen

Friday, February 5, 2010

Lost Premiere Part II: Ben Linus/Michael Emerson is still genius

Ok, sorry for the delay, but I am here now to emote with all you Losties about the season 6 premiere. Which was, may I say, FREAKING AMAZING!!!

First of all, the alternate reality thing is genius. It took me a while to get everything straight, and I probably annoyed my friend who I was watching it with half to death, but I think I get it, and its brilliant and fascinating! Its one of those moments of creative genius that make other creative's want to do something similar. Didn't it make you want to write an alternate reality book or something?

What I'm realizing with Lost is this: everyone has their own quirk/reason for participating in something like being a Lost fan. When you read or watch something like this, you become a part of it for a very specific reason, almost waiting for something very specific to happen. For example, I watched Frasier waiting for Niles and Daphne to get together. I'm watching the Office waiting for Holly to come back to Michaels life. And with Lost, I am waiting for Ben to have something good happen in his life.

That's what I think is brilliant about his character. He may be manipulative, dishonest, and a murderer, but its more complex then that. Remember when Sayid shot young Ben and the boy was taken to "the others" who said they could save him, but he would never be the same? And thats only the beginning of the crap that has been thrown at Benjamin Linus. Think of it: his father was a jerk, every girl he has feelings for disappears or outright rejects him, he got cancer when it shouldn't have been possible, his daughter was gunned down in front of him, and he has spent his whole life working loyally as almost a pawn for a man/spirit/thing that has just sort of ignored him. Look at his situation as it stands right now: he has absolutely nothing. Everything has been taken away from him. So what I'm waiting for is for something good to happen to him.

And Michael Emerson portrays this brilliantly. This episode we really saw the confused, desperate, and lonely side of Ben, and those are my favorite moments. It makes you feel like, even though he has done some crappy things in his life, its more situational then anything else, that he really has a good and passionate heart, and that despite the crap he deserves something good to happen to him. I think this is a combination of a brilliantly written complex character, and its genius, stunning portrayal.

Here's my big Lost question right now, and it has to do with the alternate reality thing. We know that in the crash version, Ben is on the island with Sun and a being who looks like John Locke. But where does Ben come in if the plane doesn't crash?

I'll leave you with that. Again, more rambling then clear analysis, but thats kind of all you can do with a show that is basically complexity and excitement. What are your thoughts on this?

Sarah Allen

Monday, February 1, 2010

LOST Premiere Part I: No Ben=No Lost, or the genius of Michael Emerson

Less then 24 hours until the premier of the final season of one of the best dramas on television. I think the premise, writing, and directing are particularly brilliant on Lost. I will admit, I think season 3 was kind of a let down, but things have picked up, and this final season promises to be stunningly brilliant.

Ok, so here's the real reason I am a lostie: Michael Emerson, aka, Benjamin Linus. Something about him just draws you in. The crooked smile, the blue eyes...and the stunningly brilliant incredible acting. What I think it is about him, is that he is utterly and completely vulnerable. That seems weird to say about one of the most successfully manipulative characters on television, but its true. Especially recently, when his character has been losing his power. Moments like when he sees his daughter killed, when he confronts the smoke monster, when he confesses his feelings for Juliette, and when he confronts Jacob all reveal how truly vulnerable and lonely is Benjamin Linus. And it wouldn't work nearly as well as it does if it weren't Michael Emerson playing it brilliantly. His character is much more complex then any of the others, at least in my opinion, making him more interesting.

So what are the lessons to take from Michael Emerson as Benjamin Linus? Complex, imperfect, vulnerable, desperate and lonely characters stick with you. They make for exciting and intriguing stories. But another awesome trick is to have sort of "foil" characters, like Hurley. Ben and Hurley are the best characters on the show, and completely different. They are both very vulnerable; in fact we've seen both of them romantically vulnerable, which, for me, is the best. This is why we love characters like Snape and Linus Larraby. Because under their exterior, they are utterly alone and vulnerable. That makes us feel for and hope for them.

I hope this rambling makes sense. What do you think? What about Lost do you like the most?

And tune in tomorrow for LOST Premier Part II, a review of tomorrows show. I'm expecting a lot!

Sarah Allen
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