From Sarah, With Joy

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

New post every Monday

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Fear of Silence

Lately I've started to think it's not just me.

Unscary things become scary when its quiet. When I'm alone I need music or TV or some kind of background noise or the silence becomes terrifyingly loud. Of course it's worst at night. Dark does kind of the same thing as silence, turning everything into something you haven't seen before, and putting them together can create one of the most frightening monsters in the world, all the more frightening because it is the most real.

All I can say is, thank God for Jim Dale and the Harry Potter audiobooks. I know my nighttime commute would be deadly without them.

I think silence (and darkness) is so terrifying because it is the outward symbol of the thing I think human beings try to avoid most of all: aloneness. When we are with someone it is not quiet or dark, and if it is, then it is calm and soothing.

I wish I knew how to make silence not so scary, but I have no clue. There is Jim Dale and Billy Joel and the Discovery channel, but still the silence is sometimes there. One of the most unavoidable phobias. There are monsters you can skirt and shirk forever and be fine, but not silence.

Maybe there is nothing to be done to make it less scary, but maybe there is a way to put that fear on our side. Maybe it can motivate us or inspire us. Maybe it just takes some living with, and then it's not so bad.

Of course, I couldn't write about silence without leaving you with the definitive words on the subject:

Sarah Allen

Monday, September 24, 2012

The National Book Festival and the Time I Saw John Green


You guys you guys you guys you guys omg omg omg holy crap AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I can't even...there are no words. But I will try.

Saturday was pretty much the greatest day of my life. I woke up early and even though John's presentation didn't start till ten I was on the metro before eight, and a good thing too, because when I got there the first three rows were already almost full. I joined the crowd up front, third row seat.

You know those times where you are with a group of people and even though you are all strangers you feel more yourself and more comfortable letting go than you do sometimes around your own family? *Nerdfighters are all that is awesome, I am telling you. When you easily chat for an hour and a half with the girls around you and the conversation naturally flows from John Green to Dr. Horrible to Firefly to Sherlock to Dr. Who to House to Castle to Sherlock to Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Game of Thrones to Sherlock you know you are with the right people. There were pizza John t-shirts and TARDIS phone covers everywhere. I even heard someone singing The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.

And the noise when he walked onto the stage. I mean, we had already been told to clear the isles and erupted into cheers when the Nerdfighters of the DC Area group walked in with their sign, and then to see John HIMSELF? My heart had already been racing for fifteen minutes and the vocabulary of the girls I was talking to had significantly and hilariously deteriorated and then THERE. HE. WAS.

He seemed totally unphased, too, totally chill. He smiled and said thank-you and remained his adorable, jittery, hilarious, genius, slightly hunched self. I was actually surprised, and pleasantly so, at how similar he was in real life to how he is in the videos. (All the sessions this year will be posted on YouTube, and I will link it when it comes, but for now there are videos up from several years past that are definitely worth checking out.)

I did not wait in the signing line. The choice was to either spend the rest of the day in that line or spend it going to the other sessions, and so I went to other sessions. I will meet John directly one day.

All this was just the blissful, explosive opening to a literary heaven of a day. I saw, with my natural eyes, Lois Lowry and Steven Millhauser and Jeffery Eugenides and Walter Dean Myers and Colson Whitehead and Sandra Cisneros and Michael Connelly. It would be hopeless of me to try and recount what they said, but it will all be up on YouTube soon. I enjoyed just breathing the same air as these people, praying that genius is contagious.

And things like this fuel my tank too, because guys? One day it will be us.

Sarah Allen

P.S. If you have not already, watch this channel and convert to the ways of Nerdfighteria. You will not regret it.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Back on the Editing Wagon

So a couple days ago I got the last of the feedback from my beta readers. (p.s. I have amazing beta readers. People are so awesome.) Anyway, I spent the day reading through the first few chapters, cutting certain scenes, rearranging everything in chapter 4, adding in a new scene, and it feels so great!

I love editing. It's the first draft that really kills me, but once I've got something there to work with it becomes much easier. And now that its been a while since I last looked at it, reading through it this time around I am spotting so many plot holes and pacing problems that I didn't pick up on before that I can fix and that will make things all better.

Outside eyes are so helpful. I've gotten all types of feedback, but even little general comments can shine light on a problem you totally didn't see before, and once you see it you can figure out how to fix it.

One of my problems in this novel has been pacing, especially in the earlier chapters. I think that might be a problem that comes with outlining, oddly enough, because at least for me I had things outlined and so knew what was going to happen and how long it needed to take but that can cause problems in terms of emotional realism and following an honest emotional arc. I think I learned a little more how to feel my way through in a more genuine way, and so its really the early chapters that need fixing. I see, I come, I (hopefully) conquer.

This means that in the next few weeks I'll be finishing up edits and ready to start sending out queries to agents. Meaning YES!!!!

How are your projects going?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Less Nerves, More Words

I've already noticed a trend in the short time I've been working at The Writer's Center. It is in the way people call and ask questions about which workshop to take, or the way their eyes look down and their voices stay barely above a whisper when they come in the door and ask which whey their classroom is.

People are nervous to show other people their writing. It's not like this is a new discovery, or that people aren't justified. It's just interesting to see it so prevalent and first hand. I am definitely included in the category of nervous writer. People ask me what my novel is about and I get embarrassed and tongue-tied. Not good for publicity, I am sure.

So what do you do? I really don't think there's anything we can do about getting nervous itself. Nerves are nerves, whether we like them or not. In fact, I think getting nervous about showing people are work is a sign that we really care, that we put our whole heart and soul into what we are about to reveal to them. That, if anything, definitely deserves the nerves.

The important thing, though, is to not let it stop us. Yes, we're nervous, but we sign up for the workshop anyway. Yes, we're nervous, but we practice our pitch twenty times in the mirror so it will come out nice and crisp when we meet agents at the conference. Good things will come of it, and who knows, it may get easier.

So less nerves. Just write.

Sarah Allen

Friday, September 14, 2012

The movie in your head

So I'm kind of cheating on the film Friday thing, but I was sitting around thinking about that sad bride picture from Wednesday and I wrote this and was thinking that I don't often post my work on the blog and remember this is just what I jotted down in my little notebook but anyway here goes:

*********
WE open on a girl, young, probably twenty-five, standing outside of a motel in a puffy sleeved wedding dress. Her eyes are closed against tears, and their is a cigarette expertly held in her right hand.

There is a loud bang from the building behind her, and she flinches, her eyes opening for only a second. Distant laughter. She drops her cigarette onto the pavement and stomps it out. She is not wearing shoes.

A bus stops a block away from her, and she leans almost imperceptibly towards it. Now her eyes are wide, and she swallows. The bus drives away.

The veil she wears is gaudy, tiered floral. It is already lopsided and she takes it off. She holds it with both hands, examines it like she's unsure what its for.

There is a noise again, but off to her left. She watches, and soon a boy appears. Nine or ten, dark haired and round faced. The t-shirt he is wearing is too small. He is carefully watching the ground and doesn't notice our woman until nearly bumping into her.

He looks up.

"What are you looking for?" says the woman.

"My lunch money."

"Your lunch money?"

"Yes."

"Did you drop it?"

The boy stops walking. "I buried it."

"You buried it?"

"Yes. Under a rock."

"Why?"

"So the guys wouldn't take it."

"What guys?"

"At school."

"Boys at school are taking your lunch money?"

"Not if I bury it first."

"And come back for it."

"Yes."

"You're pretty smart."

The boy shrugs.

"Do you want help looking for it?"

The boy opens his mouth to speak, but sees something first. The rock he is looking for. He pounces on it, and flips it over. Underneath is a ziploc bag full of coins, mostly pennies, and a few crumpled dollar bills.

The boy eyes his find, apparently satisfied that its all there.

"Glad your plan worked," says the woman.

He looks up at her and pauses. He is fully aware of her for the first time. "Why are you wearing a wedding dress?" he says.

The woman pulls a box of cigarettes from who knows where and sticks one in her mouth without lighting it.

"So nobody takes it," she says finally.
********

I don't know how it ends, but there you have it. Any ideas?

Sarah Allen


Monday, September 10, 2012

Utah Original Writing Competition Winners!!!!

AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

Ok, ok, so this is a bit of a self-congratulatory post but I can finally share the news and I'm so excited!

The Utah Division of Arts and Letters holds an original writing competition and there are a bunch of categories and GUESS WHO GOT SECOND IN SHORT STORY!!! Yep, that's my name right there :)

This is the biggest success for me in a long time, and I definitely needed the boost. The story, "Zuri," is one of the most personal stories I've ever written, and I am glad it did well. It's about a gorilla, I will say that much. I'm still sending it out on submissions so I'll say more once it gets accepted, but for now I can say that it placed in a state sponsored writing competition!!!

I also get a bit of a money prize too, and its always nice to be able to tell people that you've made money with your writing. The other awesome thing is that Stephen Tuttle, the first place winner in the novel category, was my creative writing professor at BYU, and I actually wrote "Zuri" for his class. He is completely amazing, (he belongs with Kafka and Vonnegut and Millhauser) and I totally want to read his novel, and I'm just excited to be on a list with him.

Probably the coolest thing, though, was that first and second place winners get comments from the judge. The judge for the short story category was Darrell Spencer, which in and of itself is freaking amazing.

Here are my favorite things that he said:
“Zuri” is almost as short as one of those remarkable short-short fictions that wheedle their way into your consciousness like a noise outside by the back fence at 3 a.m.—vexing and perplexing and nerve racking and more than worth the effort to engage it.
And
The beauty of “Zuri” is that its form fails; that is, it draws a reader into the comfortable act of linking (metaphor) only to undermine that act.
It's so cool to have my little story talked about so intelligently. Darrell is way, way smarter than I am, I'm just glad he thought there was enough in it to think about and engage him.

Yay for the wins! Because, yes, they do come!

Sarah Allen

Friday, September 7, 2012

Film Friday: Friend Request Pending (i.e. Judi Dench does YouTube)

So, every once in a while you come across a video that is so genius, so delightful, so absolutely perfect, that your heart skips and the level of awesome in the world jumps to like a bajillion at least for that moment.

Today, I would like to share with you just such a video.

It involves Judi Dench. And Brittish accents and giddy old ladies. And Judi Dench.


Have a good weekend :)

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Some Dedication Required


There are always things that come up in regular life that will call in to question our dedication to writing.

Jobs. How do you balance a good day job with writing? How do you make decisions about that job or about your writing schedule that satisfy both the writing dream and the need to like, eat food? It really would be easier to just forget about writing novels all together and get a "real job."

A social life. Does any writer really have one? Thank God for understanding and equally quirky friends, both online and IRL.

Then there's those potentially discouraging moments within the writing life itself. Negative reviews, rejections, finally finishing a project only to come back to exactly where you were at the beginning...a blank page.

I feel like I've gone through a minefield of these types of situations lately. Now that the end of the crazy is in sight, I'm starting to feel like it was a good thing. Yes it would have been much easier to pick a different route and forget about my writerly dreams entirely. Much easier. But at no point in the minefield have I ever even considered it. I have never questioned if writing and my goals with that are actually worth it. To me that says that I am in the right field, even if it is spattered with mines. I've been tested, I've been shown the easier path, and I really don't want it. In a way I feel reinvigorated, like this summer was here to tell me "Ok, if you're stupid enough to keep going and keep wanting to keep going with all this stuff blowing up in your face than you might as well...keep going."

Even if the path was nice and soft and trimmed, it is still a chugging long path. No writer starts off a genius. I truly believe that. Sure some may have more natural talent but we all still have a long road of practice and failing and editing and practice and failing and more editing ahead of us until we even reach the level of Good. That in and of itself is enough to deter a lot of people.

So yeah, maybe to stick this whole writing thing out--not just stick it out but drink it in, dream it, need it--does take an element of insanity.

Sarah Allen

Monday, September 3, 2012

Ode on a Gallon of Milk

At peak consumption, my family can go through 12-14 gallons of milk a week. I'm not joking. If it happens to be chocolate milk, it's lucky to last an hour.

It's like therapy for my family. Or a ritual. It was part of growing up that every night before we went to bed we would all sit around and have a bowl of cereal. (Incidentally we can go through a box of Cocoa Pebbles in about a meal.) When we get home after a long trip, no matter how late, the first thing we all want to do is have a bowl of cereal. It's cool, it's comforting, it's probably been programmed into our genetic code.

True connoisseurs of the cold cereal bowl know that the cereal must be rotated and eaten quickly to avoid becoming soggy, usually necessitating a second bowl. They know that the best part of a bowl of cereal is the milk at the end. They know the art of choosing a cereal; whole and hardy for breakfast, Life or Rice Chex, savory for dinner, Cheerios or Apple Jacks, sweet and sugary for midnight snack, Cocoa Pebbles, Trix, Fruit Loops.

Guess what we live on when Mom's out of town?

I think everyone has something like this in their life, and it doesn't necessarily have to be food. A quilt or a chair or a song or a recipe that is to them, in a word, home. Maybe milk and cereal isn't the most glamorous of childhood symbols, but it does the job for me. When I need to feel the familiar, when I need to tell my body and mind that the world is still spinning like normal, I know where to go, and it even comes in skim.

What makes you feel home and normal again?

Sarah Allen
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