From Sarah, With Joy

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

New post every Monday

Friday, June 29, 2012

Film Friday: Frasier

So it's kind of ridiculous how nervous I am at putting any type of schedule on my blogging self. I've been thinking about it for months, and there are a lot of things I like about the idea, but I still keep feeling like, what if I don't feel like doing the scheduled post for that day? But I've decided to do it, just one day a week, and on a subject I will never, ever, ever be tired of talking about.

Movies. TV. Amazing YouTube vlogs. Basically anything video recorded and awesome is up for grabs. I talk about movies and TV a lot here already, so we might as well make a theme day of it.

With that, welcome to the first Film Friday. I've nearly started this for a couple weeks. Part of it was my whole hesitance at having a blog schedule, but part of it was also that I just didn't know what to start with. I was worried about starting with something I've already talked about, or starting with something too obscure that no one but crazy cinephiles (love that word) have even heard of. We'll get to some pretty obscure stuff sometimes, believe me, but its all awesome and you'll see why. But anyway, there is really only way for me to start a film theme.

Ok, so I've talked about Frasier a lot before. It's even mentioned in my bio. My second semester as a freshman I'd gotten a scholarship and had extra money and wanted to reward myself so I bought the entire boxed DVD set of all eleven seasons of Frasier. I then proceeded to watch every single episode in a period of about a month and a half. The joke became that every other thing out of my mouth began with "There's this one episode of Frasier...".

Having several years space from what is now known as The 'Frasier' Period has given me a little bit of perspective. I've thought about it more analytically, see its flaws, even though I will remain fiercely loyal till the grave. I don't know if it would have the same impact on me as it did then, but I think I know why it became my first obssesive love affair with a TV show:

In a way, Frasier revealed and was the mirror to my own quirky, unique inner-writer. We all have certain themes, characters, stories, points that we just can't seem to get away from. Frasier showed me mine, showed me what was important to me as a writer. I don't mean in the sense that I got them from the show, but that as I watched the show, I thought to myself, yes, that it also what I like in stories, what matters to me, what things I want to say.

I like spunky women like Roz and Daphne, even if its a quieter spunk. I like Brits. I adore crotchety old men who unconsciously reveal their sweet side through their attachment to things like their old dog and even older ugly, dirty chair. I love intelligent characters, intelligent through their education or gritty life experience and what happens when those two different types are in the same family. I love the grip deceased family members can have on the rest of the family and how that influences their regular life. I love stories about middle-aged men. I love big cities and stories about relatively average, middle-class people. I love those moments, like Niles spending five minutes wiping down a chair, when they reveal how utterly abnormal they really are despite how hard they try. I love what happens when these intelligent, middle-class city-folk are dropped into very rural settings, as occasionally happened on Frasier.

Most of all, though, I love pining. I don't know if there is much in this world more glorious than the seven years Niles spent pining after Daphne. I know I've talked about this a lot before, but even after all these years I still get goosebumps just thinking about it. About how unwaveringly loyal Niles was, ironic given he was married to two other women during the seven years. But that was just evidence that he couldn't be disloyal even when he tried. The moment they finally get together is almost painful as you watch and imagine what he must be feeling, after all these years, to finally get her. How all those close-call, near-miss moments from before when he almost confessed his feelings are finally paying off.

I totally know that thinking about it this much, and this level of obsession, is absolutely inordinate. But sometimes I can't help myself. I'll leave you with my two favorite scenes from the show:
And this. (It wouldn't let me embed...dumbutt)


What shows have most informed your own personal writing?


Sarah Allen

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Barnes and Noble is my Prozac

Often for hours at a time, I sit against the wall by the magazine rack reading The New Yorker, Granta, and Alaska Quarterly Review. Sometimes I don't even like what I read, though I respect it, but it all reminds me that this is my goal, my work, and whatever else is going on in my life, that is enough.

I find gold and silver badges on the cover of books with the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Printz, Newberry Award, and a plethora of others. Whether I ever get to where these writers are, they have always felt like my people, and just reading and studying and learning what I can from them is enough to make me feel like I'm doing something worthwhile, to make me happy.

Then there are the successful, New York Times bestselling books that I pick up, flip through and think, I write better than this and this got published. Not only that, but it's hugely successful. I won't give any names (*cough* E.L. James *cough*), but you...inspire me.

Barnes and Nobles feels like an exclusive club, but rather than nobody wanting you there, every author-member is showing you how many different ways there are to get in. You can pick the writers you admire, follow them, don't follow the ones you don't want to, and blend it all in to your own unique way of getting into the club. It's like they're all saying "Look how amazing this is, and if you work hard enough you can get here too. You can."

We can.

That's a happy thought to live with.

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

When is repeating yourself a bad thing?

When I was brainstorming The Keeper, I started out with characters. I knew my MC, knew his situation, knew the third grade teacher in whom he was interested, and had an idea for a couple central scenes. But my outlining and story just seemed so sparse, definitely not something I thought could hold up an entire novel. Then I added a thread of magical realism and all the sudden the holes seemed filled, the story complete. Like magic.

The same thing just happened again. For novel #2. I have my main character, a stubborn 18 year old girl this time instead of a 40 year old man. She's haunting me just as much as George did, not willing to let me go on without her. Even though I've been trying. I've had the same problems. I know her, I know her family, I know where she's going and who's going to be there. Still, though, there just doesn't seem to be enough for a whole novel, and not enough uniqueness or excitement. Then a magical realism thread dropped in, and it all seems to work. And it's not about my teenager falling in love with a fantastical creature, so that's good.

But for some reason part of my brain is fighting this new development. I specifically wanted to keep things in the realm of realism for this one, not do the same thing as last time. This one will be in first person instead of third, a teenage girl instead of a middle-aged man, and a totally different story, but still, I wanted to do realism. But this story isn't letting me, and despite my hesitations I'm excited about just jumping in and going with the flow. Ah you guys, being excited about a new idea is one of the best parts of writing.

I wonder if I'm having a hard time with straight-up realism because I'm young? Maybe I just need to experience more and then I'll feel like I can write a real-life story. I'll keep trying, but for now I'm okay mixing it up with a dash of magic.

Do you find yourself coming back to a set of basic story elements time and time again? How different do you try to be with each story, and is it okay to do some things the same?


Sarah Allen

Thursday, June 21, 2012

From my daddy's diary

There is almost nothing as intriguing as your parents diaries. Not that I've ever sat down and read them, but sometimes my dad will pull out his laptop and read us clips from when we were little. There is so much fodder there for character and story, not to mention understanding of yourself.

Here is an example from Dad (shared with permission):
I just went downstairs to stop Rachel and Sarah from fighting. Sarah only has two barbies and she only wants Rachel to have two. I said she should let people do what they want and not be so bossy. I said, "you can only really play with two barbies at once, cause you can only hold two barbies at a time." So she picked up four barbies and played with them. Then I said, "but only 1 barbie at a time can talk." She said, "not if they all say the same thing."
Um, yeah, so that's the kind of kid I was. The jury's still out on if I've improved. The point is, our parents remember things about us and all our siblings that we, obviously, don't, and there is not much I can think of that gives us more to work with then our own family and personal history.

If you're lucky enough to have parents that kept records, ask if they'd be willing to share some little bits with you.

What kind of a child were you? How has that informed your writing and authorial career?

Sarah Allen

P.S. I'm the one in the plaid jumper, Rachel's in the floral. We no longer fight over barbies. More than once a week.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What are you willing to sacrifice for writing?

This has been on my mind quite a bit lately. The past year or so, especially the last month, has been, shall we say, interesting. The goal of having a writing career, and the thought that everything is pointing towards that, for that cause, has kept me sane more than anything else. Well, that and some freakin awesome friends.

I'm old enough to have some regrets, now. I wish I had been smarter about doing a double-major or even a minor to help support my writing habits. I know a girl who's doing English with a deaf studies minor so she can work as a translator while she writes books. Why wasn't I smart enough to do something like that? Most of all I wish I had worked out graduate school immediately after graduating. This year of not being in school has been in and of itself a very educational experience in and of itself, but it's been difficult. I've learned a lot about life and myself and what I actually want.

Which is why I am registered to take the GRE on Saturday. I'm still probably looking at one more year of not school, and this is where the sacrifice for writing thing comes in. Another year trying to survive financially, trying to keep building a writing career on my own, is terrifying. I used to be such an adventurer, and so fearless. I don't know what changed, but I definitely don't feel fearless anymore. Even the thought of graduate school--moving away to a totally strange place and living with all brand new people--is also terrifying.

But there are certain things we just have to do, despite our terror. I'm finally getting at least a little used to that idea, which ironically makes the terror a little less acute. And the thought that makes it all worth it, is that I'm doing it to move towards a writing career. Neil Gaiman's mountain analogy has given me the mental metaphors and imagery to put things back into perspective.

It has definitely been a roller-coaster, and I definitely don't see smooth sailing for a while, but right now that's okay, and things feel good. Is it strange that having the GRE to study for has made me feel quite a bit better about things? I'm not so sure I'm good at real life just yet, but school I can manage. I know how to be a student. And I love it and miss it.

You guys have been supportive and encouraging through my unstable life for a long time now, and it makes all the difference. We still have a while to go, but not so long, I hope. I feel like I'm pushing at the gates of about twenty different roads, the publishing road, graduate school, all sorts of different jobs, and we'll see which ones let me through, which ones fuse shut, which ones I just have to keep pushing. Something will happen, and soon, and I will try to look at it as an adventure.

And I'll be writing every step.

Sarah Allen

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Once a Day Submission Rule

There are basically only two things a writer needs to do. Two parts to their career. The creative, writing part, and then the submission, selling, business part.

We hear about the writing schedule or word count daily goal thing all the time. I think that rule is wonderful, and one of the most important for writers. We need to always be writing.

I want to extend that to the other part of a writers career though, and say we always need to be submitting.

So, along with the 1000 words per day or whatever your writing goal may be, I have one more to add to it: submit at least once per day. This seems difficult or extreme until you really look at it. It can seriously be anything. A short story or poem to a magazine, a writing competition, a freelance article query, an agent query, a writing project bid on Elance, anything. You only have to do a small amount of research to see how many options there are out there.

For example, today I submitted a short picture book manuscript I've been working on for a while, and yesterday I submitted entries to the Utah Arts Council's Original Writing contest. Tomorrow I might query Dog Fancy, a magazine I've always been fond of, or finish writing and submit my entry to this pretty cool fantasy fiction competition. There are so many options. And if once a day is too much, then do once a week. Just have a specific goal, like with the actual writing. The point is, if you keep submitting, something good will eventually come.

Check out the contest section of Poets and Writers or FreelanceWriting.com. See if your state's arts department has anything upcoming or find the submission guidelines for your favorite magazines. It's actually been really fun.

What other places can you think to submit writing?

Now I just need a way to support this rather expensive habit...

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

It is three o'clock in the morning. I just turned the last pages of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Maybe its too late to try to do a coherent review, but here are some initial thoughts.

Michael Chabon is a very, very trained and talented writer, who obviously did a butt-load of research and knows a hecka lot more than I do. The Pulitzer Prize badge on the cover of the book is not surprising. The sentences are beautifully precise, and the detail and description is absolutely stunning. In other words, the prose is a pleasure to read.

The story is like-wise very interesting. Very intricate and complicated plot, with intricate and complicated characters. The book is divided into sections and spans at least a twelve year period and even spends a good chunk of time in Antarctica. I didn't even know Antarctica was in any way involved in World War II, but apparently it was. Told you Chabon is one smart dude.

It leaves me wondering, though, whether all critically acclaimed/Pulitzer Prize winning books always have to deal with World War II, family secrets and homosexuality. Is it just me or does it seem like most of them do? I'm not saying those are bad things. Actually they're quite intriguing, interesting things to write about. And I'm not saying that the book is formulaic. It does seem a bit like it was perfectly made from some Pulitzer Prize recipe, but not because Chabon was trying to follow certain steps, you can tell that it's just the story he wanted to tell, and he did it brilliantly. Still, though, while I appreciated the epicness of its scope and grandness of its themes and beautiful prose, I did sort of miss my Austenian drawing room.

So yes. I absolutely enjoyed reading it, and thought the story and characters were totally engaging. It made me want to simultaneously know as much as Michael Chabon does while intentionally wanting to go in a simpler direction. A beautiful, epic book, highly recommended.

Anyone else read this or anything else by Michael Chabon?

Sarah Allen

Monday, June 11, 2012

The Genre I Could Never Write

I couldn't say for certain that there is one genre I would never write. Contemporary is my main focus, but there are things about every genre that interest me. And there are things about each of them that I really don't like.

The fear of inaccuracy would be hard for me in terms of historical fiction. Same with sci-fi, actually. I don't like the reused plots and stock characters that often come with modern thrillers, or the cliche sentimentality that is so easy to fall into in fantasy. I like contemporary/mainstream because I like natural and real-life, but that also means coming up with an interesting plot can be quite difficult.

Right now I am in the outlining/brainstorming stages of a young adult novel. My last MC was a forty-year old man and I intentionally want to go the other end of the spectrum. George had a story and something to say that wouldn't leave me alone, and my new MC is the same way. She must have it out.

The issue I'm having is this: even though I want there to be other major plot points besides a romance story, romance is still basically the main thread in most YA. I, for the life of me, cannot make myself care about a teenage love story. Maybe that's cruel, but I can't. Mostly I just can't make myself interested in the typical good-looking, jock, slightly cocky love interest typical in most YA novels. 

My point in all this, though, is that if there are characters and stories we want to tell, we can make it work. The typical teenage boy love interest doesn't work for me. But if I give him 7 or 8 extra years, black skin and a limp, then it works. Is that weird? I don't know, but its how it is. There is always a way to tell the story we want to tell.

Have any of you encountered something like this before, trying to work around genre tropes? Why are you drawn to your particular genre? Is there one genre you would never, never write?

Sarah Allen

Monday, June 4, 2012

Neil Gaiman's incredible commencement speech for artists

This has been making the rounds the past little while, and maybe you've seen it. I didn't want to take the chance, though, that one person who stopped by today had missed it.

Don't miss this.



Anyone. ANYONE trying to make a living and a career in any kind of creative, artistic field should consider this speech a necessity. It put things so wonderfully into perspective for me.

I think probably my favorite part is Gaiman's analogy of his goal of being a successful author, all the things he had in his mind that he wanted to do, as a mountain. Any opportunity he came across, any decision he made, was made based on whether it would take him closer to that mountain or not. I absolutely love that analogy and way of thinking about things. It's going to be my decision making motto from now on.

So now that you've watched his speech, what are your thoughts?

Sarah Allen

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