From Sarah, With Joy

*Poet * Author * Wanderluster*

Monday, December 31, 2012

The Known and Unknown of 2013

As we get ready to go into the new year, I feel a bit like I'm standing in a forest with five or six gates surrounding me, waiting to see which one will open first. Like I've rolled the dice and am waiting to see where it lands.

I could, miraculously, get accepted into one of the 10 graduate schools I've applied to. That means that this year could take me to Texas or Louisiana or Florida or Michigan or Wyoming.

I am looking seriously into applying to Teach for America, as an alternative to graduate school at least for a year. That means I could end up in San Francisco or Las Vegas or New Orleans.

It is quite possible, in fact probable, that neither of those paths will pan out. I've done and will do my utmost to make them work, and I pray that they will. But its also wise to be prepared with alternatives, and who knows what will actually happen?

If neither grad school or Teach for America works out, then everything becomes an option. Do I stay in Virginia? Do I find friends to go with me on an adventure? Where? What do I do about job?

What if I get an agent and a book contract and a book tour in Europe and never have to work again? We can dream, right?

So, anyway. Lots of options. I'm learning to cope with the uncertainty, and trying to prepare for every scenario. There are some decisions that I will just have to make as they come, and that will be okay. It will work out.

It will work out, because there are a few things that are the priority, the dream, the goal, in any of these scenarios. There are a few things that I need to work on every day and if I do then good things will happen, even if its completely unexpected.

Write. Every day. I need to do better at that this coming year. I would love to have another novel and a screenplay at the end of it. Maybe a short story collection. I've been pretty okay about keeping up on submission rotations, but I could be even more aggressive. Another important thing is keeping up here in the cyberverse, learning from smart people, keeping up to date on the latest in the book industry, navigating, marketing, friending.

Whether you're path is pretty secure for the next year, or whether you have no idea what its going to bring, do the important things and I think we'll all be okay. I think this is gonna be a big year.

Here we go!


p.s. So what do y'all think of the new layout? I had fun :)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Why Les Miserables will win and why I won't be buying it.

Okay. Hmmm, ahh. Okay.

Do you ever come out of a movie with an analytical essay forming in your head?

First of all, I should say that it was absolutely incredible, stunning, and I loved it. There were moments that I can't even...Anne Hathaway who are you...?

But thoughts.

A few things bothered me. Why a new song? Cute, but unnecessary. I ADORE Helena Bonham Carter and Sascha Baron Cohen but I wanted the Thenardiers to be sillier. They were still hilarious though. And how can you NOT do the Castle on a Cloud reprise with Jean Valjean and little Cozette? Out of all the little musical tweaks (though there weren't many, bless them) that one bothered me most.

My mom had a really hard time with Russell Crow. In the moment he didn't actually bother me, but the more I think about it the more he does. (Though to be fair my opinions are very malleable to my mothers). I don't think he was terrible like my mom does, but looking back the character of Javert doesn't stand out at all and becomes sort of a non-entity, when that is the opposite of how it should be, and how it is in the book. In fact he and Jean Valjean are my two favorite characters in the book, so basically I think they missed out on a lot of potential from bad casting, at least as far as Javert is concerned.

Amanda Seyfried as Cozette was another non-entity for me, but that one doesn't bother me as much because Cozette is a non-entity in the book too. She's just not that interesting, so whatever. However, this is the first time I've liked Marius. In the book I very nearly hated him because he basically just ruins Jean Valjean's life and in the play he's just a weenie. But in this movie? Adorable.

I am not going to be buying the sound recording anytime soon, but that wasn't a big deal to me. I went in not expecting the singing to be Broadway quality but the acting to be tear-your-heart-out, and that was about accurate. Actually the best voice belonged to the Officer who warns the rebellion before they are obliterated. ("Give up! You have no chance.")

Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway. I...they just prove that divine (yes divine) talent and art is the most gloriously painful experience, painful precisely because it is so beyond normal human experience. Doing Fantine's entire song in one long shot, only one extremely close-up frame? Genius, and very nearly too much to take.

That is why Les Miserables will win, and why I won't probably won't be buying it, at least for a while. It is genius and beautifully directed and filmed and Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman will win ALL THE THINGS. But it's not one I could watch again soon, because it is that hard to take. I wouldn't pull it off the shelf for a fun movie night type movie. But every once in a while you want to be stabbed by something so glorious, so gut-wrenching. Maybe then I'll buy it.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Not With a Bang: Choose Your Own Apocalypse Blogfest

Chuck of Apocalypse Now has a question.

How do you think it will end?

I subscribe to the quiet end of the Apocalypse spectrum. Eerie in the vein of Twilight Zone or Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

It starts with a soft rumble, maybe a flash of light, though not a blinding one. You are in your basement when it happens. For a second you feel a bit dazed and lose track of yourself, but you shake it off and are fine.

Wondering what happened, you walk up the stairs. Your mother, who was in the kitchen, is not there. The oven is burning the lasagna she was making.

Then you walk outside. For as long as you can see there is nothing but flat, unbroken ground, white with what looks like salt. There is nothing, not a tree or hill or mountain, to break the horizon. Your neighbors houses, the playground across the street, the bell-tower of the church half a block away, even your mailbox, is gone.

You don't know how long you stand there. The urge to call out for someone comes in waves, and maybe you do it once, but half-heartedly, because you know there is no one there.

At the farthest edges of the horizon, towards the north, there may or may not be a spot of black shadow, a something, something different than the blank white. You stand there for another unknown length of time, watching, and the black something doesn't move but it doesn't go away.

Now you face a decision. Do you wait here to see if something happens, or move towards the black shadow?

It will make all the difference.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Then I know its Christmas

We may be in a new place this year, but there are still certain signs.

Increase in the number of quotes from The Grinch per day, although we do quote it year round. Of course when I say we I mean you.

Back ache, greasy table, dough under my fingernails from the Russian Teacake making assembly.

My brothers complaining about listening to The Osmonds.

Albert Finney in Scrooge. He is kind of a genius. (The Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge would be my favorite Christmas characters. *facepalm*)

All of us trying to guess who each other has for 12 days of Christmas. Trying and usually failing to keep your person a secret.

Watching all the old 50's Christmas specials with Mickey Rooney and remembering how unintentionally creepy they are. When you sit on my lap today, a kiss a toy is the price you pay.

Still to come: chili bread bowls for Christmas Eve dinner, opening new Christmas pajamas, and my favorite part, all of us waking up ridiculously early and waiting in someones bedroom until we can go wake up my parents at 8:00. Maybe that all sounds like I'm 5, but I don't care.

It's Christmas.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Why do we even need other people?

I'm not very good at the socializing thing.

Surprise surprise, right? I know you guys understand. We writers generally aren't known for being the party scene type people. 

As I'm sure you know, it makes moving away from your home town...interesting. I haven't felt this type of self-consciousness about making friends since seventh grade. I mean, its different, obviously, but I guess its just that I haven't had to try at all for a long time. I graduated from high school in a class of 21 students. Everybody was friends with everybody, there wasn't really any other option. And in college the perfectness of perfect kinda fell into my lap slash my dorm roommates. I never had new roommates after that, really.

Until now. Now my close close friends and close-ish friends and even the random acquaintances I've had pretty much my whole life up till now are gone. I have my immediate family, which I think is why I'm not in a mental institution at this point, but its been different. Imagine me saying all this in an analytical voice, not a whiny emotional voice, because that's how I feel right now. So anyway. 

I definitely see how this has been...well, I hesitate to say "good for me" because I can't tell if I am a better person because of this move, but a learning experience, as any experience is really a "learning experience." And I have thought a lot while I've been here and I think have learned things about myself and my weaknesses and what I want and hopefully that will translate into me becoming a better person in the future. So maybe in that sense, yes, it has been good for me.

Obviously I believe we need other people. Desperately, in fact. Other people are The Point Of Life, in my mind. We need them to help us learn. I read/heard somewhere recently the expression that you will never meet someone who doesn't know something you don't know. I love that. We need people to take us out of ourselves and give us perspective. We need people to help us. And to give us a chance to help them. I think we should try to be the best part of other peoples day.

But like I said, I'm not good at this socializing thing. I don't think I'm being wussy on this, because even when I put forth a serious effort, its not like I'm terribly awkward or anything (I hope?) and I mostly enjoy chatting with people, but I really just don't have the making-friends-wherever-you-go skill like my mom and sisters and a lot of other people. I am becoming okay with this, but I have a question and a worry.

My question is this: what is the correct amount of pretending? I think at the superficial/beginning levels of socialization, 99% percent of the population is pretending to be comfortable and happy, and the remaining 1% have a capital G Gift. I definitely don't think avoiding something only because its uncomfortable is the right answer, but I also don't think that the close friendships and relationships that we look for necessarily come from forcing yourself at every situation, if that makes sense. Basically, how far does "trying" actually get those special friendships, or do they always just happen how they're going to happen, regardless of any planning or conscious effort on our part?

And my worry. I did kind of follow my family to the east coast. I'm living in my own apartment and like I said, there have been some great learning things for me personally. But now I'm applying to grad schools. I know most people have probably lived far far away from family by this point in their lives, and I'm trying not to feel ashamed. I love living near my family, and I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with that, but I'm also trying really hard to not let terror restrict me. Like I said, grad school. Its not like they're going to come to Texas or Nashville or Baton Rouge with me. (According to my grad school applications I really want to experience the South.) I wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't worth it, but the first bit is going to be the most miserable 2-4 weeks of my life and that is not an easy prospect. Worth it. I'm figuring out how I'm going to survive, that I will survive, and that I might even be okay. But still, terrifying.

Because really, there are people wherever you go. And that is a terrifying, wonderful, lonely, comforting thing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What Are You Reading?

To get recommendations for Christmas shopping, as well as just because and I love the library, I think its time to get some recommendations from you.

Here are some of the books I've read recently:

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

Quirky, well-written, disturbing, occasionally frustrating, and definitely sticks with you for a long time.

Where Things Come Back, Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Bigger than a Breadbox, The One and Only Ivan

Poignant, honest, delightful, sad, hilarious, wonderful

Ms. Hemple Chronicles

Weird, beautiful, funny, melancholy, and I will never EVER be a teacher

Right now I have checked out from the library The Night Circus and The Snow Child.

Your turn. What have you read lately, and what would you recommend?

Sarah Allen

Monday, November 26, 2012

I can't do this because...

It's scary.
I'm too tired. No, I'm REALLY too tired.
It's paralyzingly terrifying.
Someone else could do it better.
It makes me feel terrible about myself.
I feel ill.
It makes me want to curl up under my blanket in the fetal position and never stop.
The timing doesn't work.
My schedule is all complicated and wonky.
I don't want to. Really, really don't want to.
It's too stressful to be healthy.
Did I mention I'm terrified?

I get a lot of that going on in my brain. And I'm not the only one, I'm sure.

Excuses are easy. They are one thing I totally can do. I am brilliant at finding ways not to do things.

I've never thought of myself as a cowardly person. In fact I've normally been quite a brave person. Not for the past couple years.

I do not like being this way. In so many ways I want to go back to the naively ambitious and recklessly forward moving person I was in high school and most of college.

It's not like all the excuses are bad ones, either. I mean, terror is terror. Exhaustion is exhaustion. Time is time, health is health. Not in any way things to be taken lightly.

Here's the thing though. I've known for a while that the only way to get this seriously paralyzing terror out of my system is to force myself to just do the terrifying thing. In a lot of ways this move to DC has done that. New job, new place, new people, all of that comes with all the things I'm afraid of and starts the excuse train going through my head.

But it's been almost three months now, and I'm still alive. And not "in-a-mental-institution" alive either, but actually doing well and getting well-er. It's amazing to be on the other side of doing an impossible thing.

There are still some big, terrifying things coming up in my life. That's how life goes. But I'm thinking/hoping that I've jumped the first and worst hurdle, and that the future hurdles won't kill me either. I know that they're hurdles worth jumping, and in many ways that's enough to get you over.

Sometimes the things are small, like not wanting to cook dinner or go to a staff meeting or call that person you've been meaning to call. Sometimes its big--switching jobs, going to graduate school, moving across the country. Either way, the excuses are always valid and solid as cement shoes.

And I'm done with them.

I'm not saying this will change overnight. And I'm not saying the excuses can all just be ignored, either. Some, maybe, but many need to be addressed. So I'll address it and move on. Excuses are real, but its the people who move past them that accomplish great things.

I'm terrified.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

10 Books I am Thankful For

I hope you all are enjoying the start of the holidays! I'm missing out on my Utah snow, but the trees here in DC are absolutely gorgeous.

Simple post today. We all love books, right? But every once in a while there comes a book that is just so you, so exactly what you needed to read and in that way it really is life-changing. Here, in no particular order, ten of those books for me:

  1. Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte
  2. Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
  3. All the Little Live Things, by Wallace Stegner
  4. Bellwether, by Connie Willis
  5. A River Runs Through It, by Norman Mclean
  6. Persuasion, by Jane Austen
  7. Middlemarch, by George Elliot
  8. Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens
  9. Anything by C. S. Lewis
  10. Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo
Gah, okay, that was surprisngly difficult, because I have like twenty more I want to put on the list. But this will do.

What books are YOU grateful for?

Sarah Allen

Monday, November 19, 2012

Describing Voices and Facial Expressions

Its really hard.

This is the part of writing that makes me jealous of actors. They say so much with just a flicker of the eyebrow, the teensiest change in inflection. When I try to do this in writing it comes across so much more clunky.

This particular aspect of description has been important to me lately, and here's why: I would so much rather show the emotion on someone's face and let that speak for itself than describe the emotion. It is so easy to dip into cliche when describing emotion. Emotion, particularly intense emotion, is one of those things that goes beyond words, and I'd rather just watch the scene and let the reader go on their own emotional journey. I loved Hemingway because that's what he did. Its also the reason half the class despised him.

So I've been trying to figure this out. Because describing voices and facial expressions can also get extremely cliche. And as I've been trying to pay attention to this in my reading, I've noticed that my facial expression approach is not a common one. Most writers do describe the emotion itself, and when its done well it is beautiful, poetic, and speaks to some universal human Truths. (Thank you F. Scott Fitzgerald)

But I like my faces. This is why I love good acting. The look on Niles' face when he tells Daphne he loves her. Meryl Streep's Julia Child blush or soft "That's all." Forrest Gumps broken face when he sees his son for the first time. Colin Firth King's Speech all the things.

How do you write that?

So I want to try an experiment. I'm going to give you a photo and a video clip. Distinctive ones, at least to me. How would you describe this face and this voice? What are your tactics?

And Go!

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Utmost a Writer Can Do

Patience is not my strong suit.

This is not new news. But it does mean that periodically I have weeks where I am anxious about everything, frustrated by slower-than-I'd-like progress and just everything. 

I have this image in my head of my ideal future. It involves things like a cute little house with a balcony and a large library, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, a man with hair like Josh Groban, trips to London and a livable salary from my books. Every cell in my body is ready for this to happen. The livable salary part has to come before a lot of the other things, obviously, and I want to make sure I'm doing everything I can possibly do to make that happen, so I can get me one of these: 
Here is what I think a writer can do on a day-to-day basis, and I what I try to do:
  • Write. Obviously. 
  • Read. Fill your creative tanks in other ways too, i.e. art, film, gardening, other projects, etc.
  • Network. I try to keep up on my social media profiles for at least a couple minutes every day.
  • Submit. To everything. Contests, literary magazines, agents. I like having each of my stories out to at least two magazines, and now with my novel I am trying to have it out to somewhere around 5-7 agents at a time.
Those are the things I have come up with. Sometimes life gets in the way of these things, sometimes in an okay way (Disneyland), sometimes in a frustrating way (double shifts), but I try to keep these as a rule of thumb. I believe I can always get better at these things, qualitatively and quantitatively. 

But what else? I am trying to get a good schedule going with writing this novel. I'm loving my new friend library. I'm trying to keep up with the online stuff and now have my query with a handful of agents. What else would you suggest? Is there anything more I can be doing? Because if there is, I'm ready to do it.

Sarah Allen

p.s. Check out the latest on the vlog :)

Monday, November 5, 2012

3 Things That Would Make Me Buy Your Book

The interwebz is kind of a crazy place. It is an absolute zoo, and you have to have skill, honesty, and strategy to get your voice simply heard, let alone listened to.

Twitter and Facebook and every other social media platform is full of people shouting LOOK AT ME LOOK AT ME BUY MY BOOK HERE! I definitely understand the sentiment--we all have this dream and we are all doing everything we possibly know to do in order to achieve it. But has that arm waving look over here strategy ever worked?

So I tried to think about this: what would actually make me seriously consider spending my hard-earned money on the book of one of my Twitter/Facebook/Goodreads friends? What strategies would actually work on me as a buyer? I came up with three.

1. Proof of Goodness: If I already know you are a good, entertaining and interesting writer because I read your blog and your tweets, I am more likely to consider buying your book. This has definitely happened several times, where I buy a book purely based on a writers blog. So what does this mean for us on the writers side? It means pay attention to your social media accounts, if you have them. Be yourself, your best self, on Twitter and Facebook and your blog. Provide content as informative and entertaining as you can.

Another way proof of goodness might work is if you prove to me I would like the actual book. For example, if you post a quote from it that totally grabs my attention, or if I come across your summary and can't stop thinking about it. On the other hand, if you bombard me with quotes and summaries I'm probably not even going to read them. So put it out there where people can see it, but then act genuinely and naturally with the virtual community and they will find it themselves. That's much more satisfying for a reader.

2. Reciprocation: This may sound a bit scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours, and maybe it is. But what I mean is that if someone leaves a nice comment on my blog or video, mentions me in a post or writes a nice review, I will basically always try to reciprocate. At the very least I smile while I check out their blog and twitter feed, which probably has the eye-catching book summary I was talking about. I've been turned into a life-long fan of certain writers because they were incredible enough to offer to read my work. That's kind of  a major deal, and I'm not saying you should offer chocolate and critiques to every blogger you find (I prefer white chocolate, btw). What I am saying is that kind words--a blog comment, a personal and sincere twitter mention, a review, a YouTube conversation--can go a long, long way.

3. Continued Correspondence: I guess this one boils down to determination and staying power. What I mean is this: I've found many, many good writer/bloggers out there that just don't seem to fit my taste on first impression. I enjoy their blog, their book blurb looks good, they occasionally tweet me or comment on the blog, but they are enough outside my genre or my first taste that it just doesn't translate into me really thinking about buying their book. But then a few weeks or months go buy of me continually enjoying their blog or videos, a few more tweets, something like that, and their name starts to stick in my head. Then the next time I'm at the book store I think of it and actually hold their book in my hands. And having their name in your head and holding their book can be a powerful incentive. So don't drop any bridges. Keep talking, keep corresponding, you never know when it will translate into a new fan.

I hope this helped. These are just the things that have brought me from a casual social media observer to an actual book buyer. What about you? Have you ever bought a blogger/twitter friends book, and if so, what made you shell the dough?

Sarah Allen

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Trial of Living in Time

Mortality is an interesting thing.

When I am having a hard time, going through something difficult, the thing itself usually isn't so bad. Work is tedious, agents reject me, rent is due, but I think in general we have it pretty good. The hardest part for me is the thought that my time is being used up on something so annoying or frustrating or difficult when I know what I would rather spend my time doing, and it is not that. On bad days (nights) the thought can almost make me panic, like I only have so many days and I'm feeling them being used up doing something I don't want to do. Like days are a stack of cards and seeing any of them stacked in the Bad Day pile seems like a drain and a waste.

Except I think that thinking is flawed. It is my gut reaction, and that's not going to go away soon, but I can at least try and change the thinking process in my head.

Days are not cards. Life is not an hourglass or a drip of water into a bucket. Existence is eternal, and I believe that. I don't need to panic that I am using up days away from my best friends (which I often do) because in a sense I will ALWAYS be with them. In fact, understanding for a tiny glimpse of time what it feels like to not have them presents the contrast to more fully appreciate it when I do, although to be honest the thought isn't terribly comforting on the bad days. But it will be, in the future.

While I think it is definitely possible to waste time, and that we should be doing our best with the time we have, getting into a panic about it is definitely one of the pointless/wasteful things to do. I think many times it comes down to attitude, and one thing we have to do with our time can be paralyzingly awful or manageably annoying or even surprisingly pleasant depending on how we approach it.

Time is hard. One of the hardest things in this life, I think. But its up to us to do something with it.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Bringing Your Frankenstory to Life

Sometimes I feel like I have the parts of a story, the head, the feet, the arms, but I don't feel like I have the pulse, the electric current that binds it all together.

That's how its going with novel number two. I pretty much have my main character, a thirteen year old girl who has been in my head a long time. That's how it typically starts for me, a person who won't leave me alone with a life and a situation that they want my help to understand. I know her situation, her family, where she's living. But I still haven't figured out the plot points and heart beat that moves the story forward.

Does this happen for anyone else? What do you do to solve the problem?

I have been watching a bit of Twilight Zone (great hurricane entertainment, let me tell you.) Like I said, it is the most incredibly conceptual show ever, and I am hoping some of that genius rubs off on me.

So yeah. How do you go about bringing your monster to life?

Sarah Allen

Thursday, October 25, 2012

This Story Is For You

It happened again, you guys, and it hasn't happened in a while.

The word click seems so inadequate. It is more like when you haven't had bread pudding in maybe months, and you know it is your favorite thing in the world, the warm bread and sweet and condensed milk and caramel exactly what your taste buds were made for. Sometimes you think about it, sometimes you crave it enough to try and look for it, even though often you can't find it, have to settle for toast instead. Then after a day when you've gotten three rejections from an agent and come home late from the night shift, you finally settle in, get comfy for the night, and lo and behold, the universe hands you a big, perfect, warm bowl of bread pudding, made exactly how you like it.

I love stories about old people. I love old people romance. I adore the English. I love stories about marriage, its many intricacies and complications. I love the puppy-dog loyalty and sweetness in Bill Nighy's face and the humaneness and pain when he finally stands up for himself. I love the wit and really-a-softy-crustiness of Maggie Smith. I love Judi Dench all the things.

Maybe this bread pudding is to my taste specifically, and if it is, that's okay. But watch The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. See.

Do you know what I'm talking about? What books or movies or stories or shows have done this for you?

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Things Going On...In the Twilight Zone

Life is interesting, isn't it? I can't focus, or rather I am trying to think about too many things. And I'm going to allow that for now.

I am very sick of the election. I'm sorry, but I am. It will be nice when Facebook doesn't totally drive me nuts anymore. Wait...

Also, freaking Rod Serling. Given the ride I should have known the show would be freaking amazing, but guys, its so cool. I love how literary it is, and how well written, and I think it definitely qualifies as the most conceptual show ever. What I wouldn't give to be as conceptual as Rod Serling.

I could use that right now. I always have such angst in coming up with my novel ideas, and this time is no exception. Maybe number two is even harder? Its not so much a shortage of ideas as plethora of sort of half ideas that I can't seem to hold on to long enough to really work with. Its like I have thousands of puzzle pieces that I'm shuffling around randomly and I hope soon they will start forming some kind of picture.

Steven King, you guys. Some new leaf for me or something lately, but Twilight Zone and The Green Mile audiobook in the car are totally jiving with me lately. I don't know if I would do so well with Kings more straight up horror stuff like It or Cujo, but Green Mile is awesome. I've read it before, and listening to it is so awesome. Literary plus high concept equals awesomeness. And yes, I consider Steven King literary.

Agents! Gah! This submission process is so much more nerve-wracking than submitting to literary magazines. It feels lots more personal. Part of me wants to tell everyone about every step of this process, but I also think that's probably not a great idea. How long do I have to wait after submitting to an agent before I can freak out? Because right now its when I press send and then I'm all Y THEY NO WRITE ME BACK NOW.

Libraries. I don't know why I haven't discovered them until recently, I mean, you'd think...being a writer, and going to school with one the largest university libraries in the country...I think it took all my books being in boxes. But checking out an audio book for my commute is glorious, and being able to read books as more of an experiment without the same kind of obligation. Its awesome!

Imma go watch Twilight Zone now :)

Sarah Allen

Friday, October 19, 2012

How These Shows Would Have Ended If I'd Written Them (And its probably good I didn't)

We all do this. We watch a show, we are engaged, and then an episode comes along that makes us go, "Oh, come on guys, that's not what was supposed to happen." So lets indulge that impulse for a moment. Here are some shows I would have done differently.

Once Upon a Time: I'll admit, it is this show that has gotten me thinking about this. I have had twinges about the frankly awful dialog since the beginning. I like the characters and love the premise, and they do even throw bits of clever dialog in there occasionally. But since the season 1 finale it has been driving me crazy. I could get past the dialog if they HADN'T RUINED RUMBELLE. Ok. Sorry, calm. Except Robert Carlyle is THE REASON I watch this show and his face was so beautiful when Belle all the sudden walks back into his shop but then after that they totally ruined it. They needed a moment, and not just a cheesy, "I love you you monster" moment. Jeez, they didn't even kiss. Except apparently there's going to be this majorly smexy Captain Hook coming along soon so I can't stop watching now.

Lost: This is probably one that its good I didn't write, because if I had, it would for sure have just turned in to the Benjamin Linus Show. I always wanted EVERY episode to be a Ben-centric one. Honestly I didn't care about Jack or Kait. Hurley was awesome, Sawyer was hot, but really it was all about Ben. It just was. What they did give him I thought was brilliant. His Dr. Linus redemption episode in the last season is...perfection. His creepy "Got any milk?" and "Because you're MINE" were freaking incredible and I still can't even talk about his "I want to explain that I know what you're feeling" speech...gahh!!! I loved it all, I just wanted a lot, lot more.

Firefly: Fox...*facepalm*

Frasier: Niles and Daphne ALL THE THINGS.

House: This ones harder, because I actually LOVED the way they ended it. I thought it was perfect. Perfect for the characters themselves and perfect for the original Doyle source material. Its just there's this part of me that still really wants House and Cuddy to be together.

That was kinda fun :) Maybe I want all my TV to be about pining middle aged men but so what. :) What about you guys? What shows would you have changed and how?

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Landscapes, Child Molesters, and Other Elements of Literary Fiction

Strange or not, I am, at the moment, feeling frustrated with my genre.

I should say, first off, that literary fiction is what I love. There is a reason mainstream is what I write. Austen, Dickens, George Elliot, Charlotte Bronte, Wallace Stegner, these are the stars by which I hope to guide my own literary efforts.

However. The waters of the modern literary novel are not feeling very welcoming at the moment.

Firstly, I get the whole lyrical prose thing. I really do. So much so that when I write I have to be careful it doesn't become detrimental to my plot. Characters are the most important, yes, the words on the page should sing. But does every literary novel or short story have to start with a five paragraph description of setting? Setting has its place. Again, I get the character and beautiful prose thing, and my betas can tell you that my pacing is actually quite slow, but still, lets start in the middle of the action, with a person, giving us a way to get to know them.

Also, and mostly. Gah. So, I check out a Pulitzer from the library. I've been excited to read it. I sit down and open it and am stunned. The first paragraph introduces me to an interesting character. The writing is gorgeous. The story is funny and interesting and progressing and it gets darker, but in a good way, and then, all of the sudden, the thirteen year old girl is getting raped.

*Sigh*. Look. I still love these books, in a difficult way. I love the beautiful writing. I even understand that we're getting at some important and incredibly tough issues here, and that's a good thing. I know bad, awful things happen, and its the artists job to make sense of the world. I accept that, I do not begrudge it.

But, is there any chance, any possibility, of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel being happy?

Ok, I'm being facetious, because I've actually read some happy Pulitzers. Well, "happy" is definitely the wrong word. They are hopeful, but in a way they are even more intense than the quirky, creepy, child molestation ones because they are just gloriously, beautiful, richly dense and heavy just by virtue of what they are. They deal with hard things too, death, loss, love, all of it, but with this kind of sense of morality and hope. And I don't feel like they're relying on any one scenario for intensity or shock value. The best Pulitzers feel as heavy and beautiful and real as life, and I mean that. I'm talking about Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner. Two of the greatest books written in the last century.

I guess I feel frustrated because, and I say this with full recognition of its presumption and pomposity, this is the crowd I want to run with and in my head it has become divided into two camps: one camp too divine for someone like me, and the other, while ardently admired, not quite what I'm looking for and I don't think I'm what they want either.

My absolute core is inescapably optimistic, even joyful, and if that means that I will never win the Pulitzer Prize then okay. Its even worse that, it seems to me, optimistic and happy people are taken less seriously, approached like they don't understand or have never experienced true sorrow, unmitigated despair or depression. Happiness is an outlook on experience, not an indicator of it, and is not easily achieved. Any optimist can tell you that.

It doesn't really matter, because I, and all of us, will keep writing what we write, and we do our utmost with it. There is no changing that. I guess I just don't want to be told that life is poignant because it is dark and sinister and shocking. Life is not poignant because anything; it is poignant because it is life.

And life is capital H Happy.

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Happy People Make Better Writers

I have a specific reason for saying this.

Writers need to be present. They need to notice things and take note of them. They need to be aware not only of their own feelings but the feelings of others, and the various ways of expressing those feelings.

I find it nigh impossible to do this when I'm depressed.

Depression and sadness pull you inside yourself. You're focusing on your own stress, your own problems. You don't as much notice the sadness in the voice of the boy at the register or the sun breaking through the clouds because you are worried about how much longer your grandmother has to live, or how you're going to pay rent next month or a wide variety of other things. Sometimes we have big things we're dealing with, or just really hard things, and we can't help but be internal and sad for a while. That is fine.

However. It does not a growing writer make. When we are not stuck inside ourselves we notice things about the world. When we pay attention to how other people are feeling it gives us a fresh set of eyes. And I really, really need to do better at it.

The cool thing about this is that it works the other way around too. When you're down and low, make a conscious decision to notice something around you that you haven't noticed before. Take a closer look at a tree, at someones face. Pay attention to another persons emotional cues. Before you know it, hope and even a little happiness have come back.

Happy and in a good emotional place for writing. I think we all want that.

Sarah Allen

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Danger of an Outline

I should start off by saying that I am a huge outliner. My outlines are basically just a list of bullet points, but I have it organized chapter by chapter, scene by scene, so I know which part goes where and roughly how many words each scene and each chapter needs to be to add up to the desired whole. If I don't know by my outline that I have enough material to fill a whole novel, I get anxious.

But as I've edited the novel I've noticed that a lot of the problems and flaws that I need to fix come from using an outline in the first place. The flaws are much easier to see after having given it some time as well as seeing the novel through the fresh eyes of my beta readers.

There are definite pacing problems, and spots where the emotional arc just does not flow. These things can be fixed, but I think these problems originate from sticking too closely to a laid out list of plot points. When you use an outline it is easy to follow it and ignore the subtle emotional reactions and changes in your characters that might actually influence or even totally change what happens next in the story. This makes the pacing feel off, the emotional reactions forced or unrealistic.

Outlines still definitely have their good points. Many, in fact, or I would not have used one. They keep you moving forward in a deliberate direction, giving your story necessary focus. They help you know where you are going. But I'm learning that even if you know where you are going, which is good, you still need to let your characters move slowly or stumble or run or skip or move forward in the way most natural to them, let them stop at the interesting cabin, look at the clouds, smell the roses. Let what happens happen. If it doesn't work you can always nix it later.

This is what I hope to be able to do next time.

So how many of you are outliners? How do you avoid this problem? If you're a pantser, how do you find the confidence that your idea is large enough for an entire novel?

Sarah Allen

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?"


"Did you drop it?"

The boy stops walking. "I buried it."

"You buried it?"

"Yes. Under a rock."


"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."


"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!!!!


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.
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

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

3 Writing Lessons from Dr. House

Today I am over at the blog of the wonderful Jeff Harget with his August is Awesome blog series. Check it out to see what writing lessons we can learn from the eminent, embittered Dr. Gregory House.

Sarah Allen

Monday, August 27, 2012

Why Writing for Teens and Adults is the Same

This is a re-blog of a post I did a couple years ago. 

One piece of writing advice I hear quite often is to keep ones readers or target audience in mind. It makes sense, right? I mean, Judy Blume, Steven King and Fyodr Dostoevsky probably all have very different readerships.

Lies. At least partly. I've read and loved all three of those authors, and know lots of other people who have too. I mean, you can make generalities, but since when have generalities been good for writing?

My point is this. The only real audience you can write "to" is you. And by you I mean everybody. Let me explain. (No, there is too much. Let me sum up.) When you are honest and very specific, and write things that you enjoy and that mean something important to you, then your readers are able to grasp that important meaning through those specific details. By being specific you become universal. People can relate to grass stains and cigarette smoke and the first day of school. Those things may mean something different to different people, but they have much more meaning than if you just said happy or anxious or sad.

That is why writing for adults and teenagers is the same. The point isn't to pander or adjust to any preconceived "level." The point is to tell the most interesting story you know in the most meaningful way you know how, whether the main character is 7, 17, or 70. You can't control what any given reader is going to take away from your work, because they will all take away something different anyway. Our job is to do our best to make sure they can take away something. No matter what age they are.

When you really get down to it, we're all just human.

Sarah Allen

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sidekicks do it better

I typically find that side characters are more interesting to me than the main heroes. I'm just intrigued by their motivation, and if I try to dig into it they become more and more admirable. I mean, really, what do sidekicks get out of the gig? Not the glory, that's for certain. Maybe Batman protects Robin in some ways, but Robin would probably be much safer just not hanging around Batman in the first place. 

So that leaves basically noble motivation. They want to do what good they can. They are loyal to their hero. Loyal enough with a strong enough friendship to be content with second tier and to be honest, that seems like the harder job.

One of my favorite examples of this is Samwise Gamgee. Totally the best character in LOTR. I took a class on Tolkien, and he thought so too. Sam doesn't get the glory, the hero status, he doesn't even have to go in the first place. He goes because of his friendship with Frodo and his love of the Shire. Simple, honest, true. And really, Ron and Hermione are just so much more engaging and less annoying than Harry.

I love imaging the back story of these side characters, and this is sort of my creative writing challenge for you all today. They don't have to be "side-kicks" in the comic book sense by any means, but just a side character from a story that you think might be interesting to look into. Here are some of my favorites:

Captain Hook. 
Fairy Godmother.
Woodcutter in Red Riding Hood
Hunter in Snow White
Gepetto ( I love what Once Upon a Time has been doing with this character)

Anyway, what side character do you find interesting? If you were to write a story with that character as the protagonist, how would it go?

Sarah Allen

Friday, August 17, 2012

Movie Review: Hawking, 2004

I just have to say one thing, first off.


I mean, really:

The man could play a dead fish and I would want it as my laptop background. (Why yes, BC as Sherlock is in fact my current background, thanks for asking.)

So, what do I like about Hawking besides Benedict, who, incidentally, plays Steven Hawking to absolutely indescribable perfection? I really enjoyed getting more back story on Steven Hawking himself. Its hard to say what Hawking actually is, sort of biography/documentary but also just a short film. But it was cool to know more about Hawking's earlier years, when he got his disease, what the disease actually is, who was with him, what his science was, how miraculous his life has been given the disease. Lots of cool stuff like that.

The script was very well written. I sometimes feel like it's hard to take a historical event and portray it in film without making it feel forced or just very boring, and this one toed that line extremely well. They got a good combination of the actual story going on with the disease and scientific discovery, along with Hawking's inner emotional life, which of course Benedict pulls off in a way that makes me think we need stronger, more appropriate and descriptive adjectives in the English language. Godlike, maybe? Okay, okay, so I'm a fan girl.

Anyway, another great thing is that its all on YouTube, so you don't even have to change out of your pajamas.

Wait till the sidewalk chalk scene. How do you not fall in love with that smile?

Sarah Allen

Friday, August 10, 2012

Movie Review: Peter Pan, 1953

This week I watched Peter Pan, for the first time in a long time, and I made a discovery:

I really, really do not like Peter.

Frankly, he is obnoxious. He is everything I dislike in the stereotypical teenage boy. Cocky, self-serving, thinks everyone is made for him to boss around, and completely ignores Wendy and treats her like an object, to the point of nearly coming across as sexist, although that may just be the fifties. He treats everyone else as naive and stupid because they haven't had the same experiences and don't have the same skill set (slash flying) that he does. I really have no idea what Wendy sees in him, or why Tinkerbell even sticks around, let alone get's jealous. Also, does anyone find his joy in tormenting Captain Hook out of all proportion at the end the slightest bit sadistic?

Ok, so there's my rant against Peter. Given all that I am clearly on the side of Captain Hook. And Mr. Darling, too, actually, and I'm not sure I appreciate how condescending and "perfect" the rest of the family comes across, when he's trying the best he can and just has a little temper problem. That's normal, isn't it?

But back to Captain Hook. Seriously, he makes up for Peter. One of the greatest comedic antagonists ever. The stuff with him and Smee and the boat and running away from the crocodile made me laugh out loud. Hans Conried did a fabulous job on the voice acting. The animation was great too; Hook is like a head taller than everyone else, including the other pirates, and he walks like it, sort of sweeping and hunch-shouldered.

Also, the choir and orchestration in Peter Pan is so beautiful and so fabulously fifties it totally has this nostalgic feel to it. When I hear other music from the fifties I often think, "Hey, that sounds like Peter Pan."

Anyway, Peter Pan is a classic and deserves it, but more for the villain and side characters than for Peter himself. I'm not surprised so many Peter Pan spin-off works have Hook as more of the good guy.

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I shouldn't have, but I did.

I took my little sister to the mall the other day to get a Build-a-Bear and then she asked to go into the Disney store. I already had Pooh Bear and Mickey, but I saw Kermit and Sully and I just couldn't help myself. I'm in the middle of job hunting and really shouldn't be making frivolous purchases, but sometimes a girl needs friends. Especially in the middle of job hunting.

So yeah, that is one thing I do when I'm in minimal-writing-limbo period.

The other thing I do is watch a lot of TED and VSauce.

Did you know that in a perfect world, mirrors reflect every color, but in our less-than-perfect world, they are the slightest bit green?

Did you know that one year after either winning the lottery or losing function of their legs, the lottery winners and paraplegics reported equal levels of happiness with their lives?

Did you know that yawning is contagious because of emotional empathy, as well as a herd instinct from our earlier years, and that autistic kids and other socioemotional handicapped people exhibit much less contagious yawning?

Did you know that when Toy Story was first pitched to Tom Hanks, he said "You don't want me to sing, do you?" Not surprising, given that the successful children's films of the time were Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast.

Basically I've been spending a lot of time having my mind blown. And applying for jobs. But also having my mind blown.

What blows your mind?

Sarah Allen

Monday, August 6, 2012

Moving on to the Next Project is...Hard.

Being done with a major project is a new thing for me. I've written lots of short stories, started more novels than I care to count, but actually finishing one that I want to put out into the world isn't something I have experienced until now. 

I've basically done what I can do on The Keeper. I've edited, given it to readers, edited again, more readers, edited some more. It's ready for the submission stage now, and I've even sent off a couple query letters. Now that I'm starting down the submission path for this novel, the next step is to start the next big project. I understand that, the point is to keep creating. Can't put all my eggs in one basket; who knows what's going to happen with The Keeper, right? I know all this, but I'm having a much more difficult time moving on than I expected.

There are three reasons I think I'm having trouble:

First, I still don't feel complete with The Keeper. It's not published yet, not a Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times bestseller yet, so I can't help the feeling that I still have more to do. But really all I can do is query, and sitting around refreshing my email isn't helping me make progress or making things go any faster.

Second, life has just been crazy. Family changes, work and money stress, friends moving, just lots of things making life very unstable. You know all this, I've talked about it plenty. There are some big things coming up that I'm not going to talk about yet that hopefully mean I'm going to feel much more stable, so that's good, but I'm also not big on excuses, and feel upset at myself for not making good writing progress no matter the work/family/friend/money/life situation.

Third and lastly, and this one I find interesting, I just can't seem to decide where to commit myself next. I've got several ideas floating around. I've got the first chapter of a YA novel, some stories I'd love to build up into a collection, a screenplay idea. All the projects interest me, and I want to do them all eventually, but I can't decide what to do first. Also, this indecision combined with the feeling of instability is totally making me feel like I'm not in a position to commit to anything yet anyway. Again the frustration with myself: in about a month or two I will feel more stable, but I shouldn't be waiting for that or using anything as an excuse either.

So basically I'm in this position of wanting to move on and not quite knowing how to do it. Do I just wait it out, give myself a break, or try and force it through? If a break, what do I do in the meantime?

Sarah Allen

Friday, July 27, 2012

Film Friday: Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog

It's a little bit hard to talk about Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog, mostly because there is nothing else even remotely like it. I don't know how familiar y'all are with this, but it's basically a short little 45 minute movie-lette that Joss Whedon put together on basically no budget during the Hollywood writers strike, which is basically already enough for it and Joss Whedon to be considered Totally Awesome in my book. But that's not even taking into account the fact that what they put together is unique, intelligent, and insanely amazing.

There is basically one thing I want to say about Dr. Horrible's Sing-a-long Blog. Yes its a bit of a musical. Yes it's ridiculous, yes its hilarious. Yes Nathan Fillion and Neil Patrick Harris are two of the awesomest people ever. What this mini-movie does so well, though, is use the music, the comedy, the ridiculousness, to get at something much, much deeper.

My creative writing teacher in high-school once said that when you really want to get at the core of something, really describe it, it's kind of like looking at a star. If you try and look at it directly, it gets kind of fuzzy and unfocused. It becomes much more focused and clear if you look slightly off to one side and look at it in your peripheral vision. This is what Dr. Horrible does so brilliantly. The ridiculous humor pulls our vision slightly to one side, and what we really see underneath is one of the best portrayals of the quirky desperately lonely underdog I have ever seen. Thanks to both the writing and to the general awesomeness of Neil Patrick Harris. All the proof you need is in the very last frame.

And lucky for us, it's all on YouTube! Take a moment this weekend and bless your life, if you haven't already. You won't regret it.

Sarah Allen

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Pantsing and Word Count

So I'm trying something new with my current novel. For Keeper, I had a basic outline for each chapter and I knew about how many words needed to be in each chapter to add up to the 70,000-120,000 word count range that is generally considered best for the average novel. Basically, I had the word count thing outlined so I knew it would work out.

With New Novel, I'm taking more of a pantser approach. I have the basic storyline, but I'm having a really good time just kind of letting the story take its own course. Like I've said, I've got the basic storyline and a time-frame within the story so hopefully it will still end up with fairly sound structure. And of course, any plot holes can be fixed in the editing phase.

My main worry is that I'm going to end up below or above the market word-count range. This one is YA, so it would be more like 50,000-70,000, but since I'm doing it more organically and just writing my way forward, I don't want to end up with 30,000 or 150,000 words. I definitely err on the short side, and I suppose with edits you can add scenes and fill in things to build up word count if you need it, but I don't want to have to add things just for the sake of word-count.

So here's my question: those of you who typically pants your way through novels, how do you work out the whole word-count thing? How do you make sure you're going to have enough for a whole novel, and hit within the target range?

I know that the important thing is to just write the stories you want to write and worry about this stuff when you need to. But still, I stress about things like this, and any advice or tips would be helpful.

Bequeath your wisdom, oh wise readers :)

Sarah Allen

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Lessons Disneyland Taught Me

So I'm finally back. It has been a crazy, fun, busy month. We had relatives over for the 4th and it has been madness ever since. Going to Disneyland with the fam was a very needed break. Here is what I learned:

Nostalgia is very powerful. Much of the joy my family and I experience at Disneyland has to do with nostalgia. Mickey Mouse shooting off and directing fireworks at the end of Fantasmic means so much to us because it has meant so much to us for years and its something that has been a form of bonding for us many, many times. My favorite rides are the simple ones, Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, rather than the more thrilling Screamin or the flashy new Radiator Springs because the classic rides and stories have been with me since I can remember. What I think this means is that people may be entertained by flash and thrill, but what they will care about and what will stay with them are stories and characters that mean something to them. And what means something to people often has to do with their experiences growing up.

Go with the flow. Because there are ten of us, if you are super stubborn, whiny, or opinionated, you are going to be miserable, because you're not always going to get what you want. We do our best to hit on the things everyone cares about, like Tower of Terror and Fantasmic, but moment to moment, its best to just go with the flow. I was reading Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut while waiting in lines (nerd moment) and one of my favorite quotes says, "Peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God." I would amend that to say, "Peculiar travel suggestions are story ideas from God." Or the universe, or both. I don't know. But its worth it to say yes, be happy, and see what happens.

This includes the 3 times the car engine overheats while driving through Nevada desert, the car rental that wouldn't rent to us because my dads license had a misprint saying that it expired three months after it was issued, the 3 or 4 times Dad has to call the bank because they've somehow messed up something on the credit card, accidentally leaving the debit card at The Bear Paw restaurant, the flash flood that reached above our car tires in St. George, and the stomach cramps that may or may not have come from the shrimp gumbo I ate at Farmers Market in LA. Life is a wonderful, happy, fun adventure, and I'm learning that looking at it that way and just going with the flow is so much less stressful than any alternative. Write what you want to write, use the popular marketing tools, follow the stories and trends that interest you. Because other than overheating cars and lost debit cards, it might also mean eating ice-cream next to Alan Tudyk outside Ghiradeli Square in California Adventure. It happened, I promise.

Detail, detail, detail. If real estate is location, location, location, writing is detail, detail, detail. They don't miss one thing at Disneyland. There is never any trash, the ginormous crowds are well directed, and even the garbage cans match their respective areas. Its a hard standard to live up to, and I'm not trying to say that every other paragraph in our novel needs to be a setting description paragraph. But what I am saying is that if we take as much care and precision in our words as Disney does in their parks, it can make the difference between being a professional and an amateur.

I could say more, but I've gone too long already. I know not everybody has the same experience and love for Disneyland that I do, but no one can deny that they're successful. Might be smart to take a few leaves from their very large book.

Sarah Allen
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