Script Frenzy: OWNED.

‘Nuff said. In fact, you could probably stop reading right now.

So a couple of days ago, I finished Script Frenzy. And by this, I mean that I reached 100 pages of script. And then I immediately took a two-day vacation (even though I still haven’t technically typed “THE END.” That’s hopefully going to happen this weekend).

So I’m pretty excited because this means that I’m still capable of writing something longer than a newspaper article. The twelve-year-old me would be so proud. Well, at least not as disappointed as she was previously. As a twelve-year-old I sort of figured I’d be Audrey Niffenegger by now, so really I’m way behind, but I’m trying not to dwell on that at this point. As I child, I was totally The Brain, and growing up, I’ve leaned more the way of Pinky. It’s a simpler life.

As to the story, if no one else ever reads it, that would be fine. Even though all the big-name directors are totally after me to read it. (Thanks for that, HG.) Mostly, I’m just glad that I’ve made something creative and fun, and even though there aren’t my Frenzy people in KC, it was fun to read people’s comments and feel this sense of collective pull to finish.

The other day, I realized something else as well: If I ever decide to move to LA, I won’t have to be the umpteenth person there who’s working on their screen play. I can be all, “I’m over that. I do it, like, all the time.” And there will be awe. I’m pretty sure.

Now, on to project number two of the year. At the beginning of April, I wanted to work on it even more than my script, but I decided to stay with Script Frenzy in the name of comraderie. Now, as April is over, I’m reluctant to let my script go and begin the next thing. Sure, I’ll probably edit it, but in the end, I know I don’t want to publish a script. I want to publish a novel. It doesn’t really matter, though, because at the moment I’m just sad to be losing my characters. Somewhere on the Script Frenzy site, they mention that you know you’re into your story when you put your protagonist as your emergency contact. They’re kind of right. Except that my protagonist doesn’t have a phone number, so I don’t see how I could really do that. Still, though.

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The final countdown

This title should really be sung if you want the full effect.

So Script Frenzy has pretty much eaten my life. And that’s OK because, really, I would have been doing far less productive stuff in its stead.

I am terribly proud to report that I am on schedule so far — and knocking on wood so this doesn’t jinx me. The power of wood-knocking is apparently great. No, not in that way. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Anyway, I’ve been plotting and writing pretty frantically to get to this point. My little Script Frenzy graph looks like a pretty steep staircase by now. And I definitely learned a few things:

1. Always have enough extra pages around and finished that you could theoretically skip two days and still not be freaked out. This isn’t in case you miss two days in a row. It’s in case you miss four days in a row. That way, when you realize on a Saturday afternoon that you haven’ written since Tuesday, you only have to crank out 10 pages in one day to make up the time you should have been sitting diligently at your desk. (This has happened to me like 3 times already. True story.)

2. Plotting is both undervalued and overrated.

I don’t know if you all remember, but I recently posted about how I really needed to plot more thoroughly this time around. And I was right. But the thing that kept bothering me was that I really couldn’t see a clear path to the ending. And, this time at least, I think that turned out to be a good thing. Because last weekend the ending came to me in a clear, caffeine-induced vision, and I realized that if I’d been carefully plotting my way through, such an elegant thing would never have come. It would have been painful and forced and probably boring.

3. Talk to people about the story … when you’re ready. And only to the people you’re dead sure would never tell you your story is stupid and then steal your awesome plot idea. This pretty much discounts everyone. Pretty much.

4. Don’t listen to weird blog posts with script-writing techniques. Most of those guys seem scarily over-confident and kind of like jerks.

There should be a number 5, but my lunch break is over, so you all will have to content yourselves with this.

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The Glass Castle, ***

By JEANNETTE WALLS

They don’t make parents like they used to.

Every spring for like two minutes, the tree outside my window does this, and it is gorgeous. Then these blooms rapidly fall away and suddenly it is 95 degrees outside. Then everybody goes back to remembering that Kansas weather is evil.

I’ve had a hard time jumping on the memoir bandwagon. I tried to do so with A Million Little Pieces, and then about 20 pages in it came out that James Frey had practically made the whole thing up. I felt so betrayed, I refused to finish the book. I’ve read other types of nonfiction, but somehow memoirs always seemed a little fake.

When I finished The Glass Castle at 3 a.m. this morning, I made a not to myself that if nothing else, people who write memoirs should be like Jeannette Walls: they should actually have an interesting life to write about. I’m looking at you, James Frey.

The trouble I had with Jeanette’s life is that it sounds almost too heroic. From a young age she seems self-sufficient, overly courageous and kind. These things are lovely, and I like seeing them in a character, but where is the moment that she does something human? When does she make a mistake or wonder about what could have been?

The Glass Castle follows Jeanette and her brothers and sisters through their childhood with two unconventional and fairly neglectful parents. OK, they’re horribly neglectful. Their father, Rex Walls, seems always to be chasing a dream, such as finding gold, and dragging his wife and children around the country in his foolhardy search (then coming home drunk every so often and smashing something). Jeanette’s mother, meanwhile, retreats into her paintings, valuing a job and feeding her children less than easing her self-pity and indulging in herself (SPOILER: At one point in the novel, she foregoes selling a diamond ring that would have bought food for a month and insists that the ring will do more good improving her self-esteem than feeding them). Neither one of the parents seems all that interested in feeding their children or even providing a non-leaking roof over their head.

The Walls children are scrappy, and as they grow to lose faith in their father and mother, they create their own solutions to life’s problems. Jeannette begins cooking food for herself over a fire while she’s still a toddler, and the children are able to manage family financial matters better than their parents by the time Jeanette is twelve.

Despite all this, in writing her story, Jeannette is able to make Rex Walls and even her mother, Rose Mary, likable. They supply their children with a constant stream of books and encourage an instinct for self-sufficiency that the children are all able to use as a life-raft while their parents create the perfect storm around them. It makes for fast, interesting reading and a realism that is rarely found in the best of nonfiction books.

Jeanette relates plenty of moments wherein she is abused, neglected, pushed to the side, and it’s clear that she’s endured more than her fair share. But her constant can-do scrappiness almost begins to seem incredible by the end of th

e book. I’m not saying that I disbelieve any moment in the book. Rather I think she might be omitting moments of which she, herself, might be ashamed. She seems forever to be standing innocently by while someone else imposes misery on her, yet everything she tries seems to turn out improbably well (except the cooking with a fire as a toddler, but then you’d probably guessed that).

The thing that makes a memoir a memoir is that you see every side of a person. You don’t only see their incredible struggle for success; you also see their flaws. Although Jeanette shows the flaws of most of the rest of her family (and still convinces the reader to root in their corner), she seems blissfully free of flaws. This might be her book, and the focus is certainly on her parents’ shortcomings rather than her own (as it should be), but can she seriously be without any real shortcomings? The novel briefly mentions her divorce to her first husband, but it fails to show the strife, the decisions, the heartbreak, possibly the disillusionment that went along with this. In fact, in matters that concern Jeannette herself alone, we know very little. She mentions having landed jobs in New York, but we never see that tension or even how she was clever enough to land these jobs. In short, The Glass Castle seems to lack the self-exploration I expect in a memoir.

Apart from this, Jeannette Walls’s story is fascinating. It’s a true testament to scraping by on ingenuity and hard work. I just wish she’d worked a little harder to reveal herself.

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So apparently this one space/two space debate has been going on for a while.

Today at work, I was fairly shocked to discover that nearly everyone there over the age of 25 believes that it is technically correct to put two spaces after the end of a sentence. Although we were allowed this in elementary school, the teachers of my high school classes made it clear to us that two spaces was a strategy to artificially lengthen your paper. The ultimate cop-out (almost as bad as CliffsNotes).

So I’m taking a little time out to figure out who exactly is right.

According to my MLA Handbook (copyrighted in 2003, but I’m not buying another one just for this ridiculous fight):

“Publications in the United States today usually have the same spacing after a period, a question mark, or an exclamation point as between words on the same line. Since word processors make available the same fonts used by typesetters for printed works, many writers, influenced by the look of typeset publications, now leave only one space after a concluding punctuation mark. In addition, most publishers’ guidelines for preparing a manuscript on disk ask professional authors to type only the spaces that are to appear in print.

“Because it is increasingly common for papers and manuscripts to be prepared with a single space after all concluding punctuation marks, this spacing is shown in the examples in this handbook. As a practical matter, however, there is nothing wrong with using two spaces after concluding punctuation marks unless an instructor requests you to do otherwise. Whichever spacing you choose, be sure to use it consistently in all parts of your paper — the works-cited list as well as the main text. By contrast, internal punctuation marks such as a colon, comma, and a semicolon, should always be followed by one space.”

MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Sixth Edition, 3.2.12

OK, so it doesn’t really come to a conclusive “yes” or “no.” But considering that the book itself uses the one-space rule, I think I’m going to call this for the one-space camp.

But this also says something about the rules of writing: they are changeable, and this is much more true than we realize. In my lifetime, the semicolon could very well fall out of use (especially as some of my journalism professors more or less told us to stay away from it). Scarier still, texting jargon could find its way into actual serious writing. Let’s not kid ourselves — it’s already infiltrated middle school English papers all over the country.

Vanity Fair‘s May 2010 issue talks about how the makers of Time magazine brought several words into common use (including kudos!). So what words will my generation contribute? Will it be things like “Brangelina” and “lolz?” Or am I looking at history too close? Maybe it will be words like “Obamacare” or Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness.”

Frankly, I just hope that we can escape from “whateva” pretty soon.

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It’s plotting against me.

“It” being the writer’s block monster in my head.

Driving through Iowa last weekend we saw lots of wind farms. They were so graceful it was almost difficult to keep my eyes on the road.

I’ve begun Script Frenzy and so far,  things have been going along fairly well. Except that I’ve already seemed to rearrange my plot a lot, and now I’m basically writing up until the moment when there will be no more planned plot. And it’s coming fast.

This is bad news because I do not improvise well. When I improvise, stupid things pop out of my mouth and then they just hang there. That’s why I like writing and not public speaking. And probably also why a lot of public speakers like those glass teleprompters. I know I would be sleeping with a teleprompter if I were a politician. But not in that way.

So lesson number one of script writing is that I really need to find a clear ending point to everything that’s going on in my story. It might sound obvious, but I’ve gotten away with starting vague for years. All the way through college it more or less worked, so it is actually surprising that now, with no critics around but me, I’m having to raise my standards (not that they are that high to begin with. “Finish” seems like a dismally low bar).

So tonight and tomorrow, I will be plotting in that writerly, notecards-all-over-the-desk way. And I’m actually really excited about it. Because though I have a basic goal and I know what I want to say, it’s really the journey that makes the book worth reading, or in this case, the play worth watching.

There were lots of clouds that day. The one on the left looks to me like a dog head, and the one on the right is his sheep buddy. But I'm totally open to other interpretations.

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The Kite Runner, ****

By KHALED HOSSEINI

A non-Nicholas Sparks bestseller. So it was pretty good.

The thing about The Kite Runner is that Hosseini manages to make his protagonist Amir both adorable and absolutely spineless. There are moments you want to shout at him, scream at him to grow some balls, but at the same time you feel sorry for him. He’s a fairly quiet guy, and the fact that he’s an avid reader doesn’t hurt either. And he truly seems to love Hassan, the son of a servant in the house.

Amir a privileged child living in a large home in Kabul, Afghanistan, spends most of his childhood struggling for his father’s affection. His  father, however, seems perpetually preoccupied and only doles out his love in fleeting, unexpected moments. He sees his son’s meekness as cowardice (and he isn’t entirely wrong).

Meanwhile, Amir spends his spare time playing with Hassan, and the two especially enjoy kite fighting. On the day of the kite-flying tournament (SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t read it, skip down two paragraphs), Amir is the last of hundred of kites, and in winning he seems finally to have earned his father’s notice. Hassan goes in search of the last kite Amir has defeated, but he doesn’t return. Amir comes looking for him, only to discover that the town bully, Assef, has cornered Hassan. With the help of his stooges, Assef rapes Hassan, and Amir hides, too afraid to stand up for his friend.

Amir, ashamed of his cowardice, accuses Hassan of stealing in order to make him leave. Hassan does so as a kind of last act of obedience. Years later, Amir has become a successful novelist in America, but he is called back to his home of Afghanistan in search of Hassan’s legacy and his own redemption.

It’s a heartbreaking story, and one that draws on the pervasive themes of love, family, revenge, honor, regret, but then this is fairly obvious as most bestsellers deal with themes that can speak to anyone. It’s why reading a bestsellers makes for a relatively safe read. (Most of the time. I have an issue with some of the manufactured bestsellers, such as Nicholas Sparks love stories and Janet Evanovich.)

I haven’t yet seen the movie, which I remember as having passed through theaters without too much of a splash. I can see the story being difficult to make into a film, though, especially as it deals with such heavy internal issues.

In other news: Script Frenzy has begun, and what with Easter weekend things have been a little hectic lately. Don’t worry: I’m still on track (though just barely. Writing from a hotel room has the advantage of quiet, but being in such a foreign place to do something as personal as writing has its setbacks. More on Script Frenzy later this week.

Happy Easter, everyone!

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Enemies of the People, ****

A glimpse behind the Iron Curtain.

By KATI MARTON

I have to thank Stephen Colbert of the The Colbert Report for this book. Colbert occasionally has authors or members of the film industry as guests on his show, and I might be the only person I know who loves the part when he brings on guests. Especially authors.

Reading by candlelight feels so romantic and also old-school at the same time.

When Kati Marton came on the The Colbert Report, she talked about her parents Endre and Ilona Marton, Hungarian journalists for the Associated Press who were under constant surveillance from the Hungarian AVO (a sort of Communist secret police). She learned most of the information about her parents’ life in Hungary not from her own experiences but from the meticulous AVO file that was kept about them.

Kati Marton’s book is obviously well-researched. Apart from the files, she has visited numerous sources and relevant sites in Hungary as well as consulting her father’s published prison memoir and her mother’s journal. She also obtained a classified FBI file regarding her parents through the Freedom of Information Act. Not only is this research present in nearly every detail of her writing, but she manages to take what must have been a mountain of data and make it into something personal.

Kati Marton does this in large part by adding her own naive childhood memories of the time. Most of this is useful in helping the reader distinguish the mood of the period and the great care her parents took in shielding their children from pain.

Rather than remain the absent observer, which would have seemed absurdly unrealistic in this case, Kati Marton confesses her fears of uncovering horrors in her past. She also constantly asks herself if she would have stood up to the regime was well as her parents, whether she would have made the same choices had she been born a few decades earlier. Still, she is careful to preserve the fact that this story is about her parents, and she walks the fine line between reporter and loving daughter with grace.

Apart from the already-engaging personal feel of this chronicle, Kati Marton’s book is beyond valuable from a historian’s standpoint as well. It’s an indispensable window into that world as told by someone who was actually there and who saw first-hand the results of provoking (however innocently) the wrath of Communist officials. Marton has the detailed nature of these files to thank for this (for they include everything from details about Endre and Ilona’s marital problems to their mundane daily errands).

Enemies of the People is a fascinating read, both honest and nearly unbelievable. It’s a fresh “coming to America” story that deals directly with the problems of the Cold War while treating all involved with the degree of respect merited.

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