Five days until Script Frenzy …

You know you want to.

Fair warning: You might see quite a bit fewer book reviews on this site in the next month or so and much more about writing process. The reason? I’ll be trying my pen at Script Frenzy (which I’ve talked about before here).

I found out about Script Frenzy through National Novel Writing Month, which I made a feeble attempt at last November. I did write through the month, but I only got about half the word-count you’re supposed to be shooting for if you participate (50,000).

I’m not ashamed of my measly 25,000 words. Here’s why:

1. I must be the last literary person I know to have found out about NaNoWriMo — not a day or two before it began. So when I started writing, I did so without any clear outline or plot in mind. Some people can write this way, but not me. I’m an obsessive planner who likes to have plenty of character sheets, notes and other random doodads to help me feel like I’m inside the story.

2. I had just begun a new job. It wasn’t a grand one or anything, but new jobs = less time and more stress.

3. This was my first attempt at writing long-form since I graduated. It was always going to be misguided and rough. So I’m just glad I got it out of the way.

So while I wish I could have gotten something a little longer and amazing out of myself, I’m really just glad that the whole experience is over.

Yes, you want to.

For this month of April, here’s why I hope things will go better:

1. I have had a little time to prepare.

2. I’m trying an exciting new writing form: script writing. New challenges always make things more interesting.

Here’s why things could go worse:

1. I’m trying a new writing form (remember?) — so it’s possible that there will be kinks and confusion and frustration.

2. There isn’t as much of a Script Frenzy community here in KCK area as there was for NaNoWriMo. Having fewer partners in crime means that it’s easier to push it back and lose enthusiasm.

To that end, if you’re interested, let me know! You still have 5 days to join and get ready!

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The Handmaid’s Tale, *****

by MARGARET ATWOOD

This book is spookily close to real life. And then also, not at all.

I finally read it. I’ve had Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale on my shelf for more than a year, and nothing but the best intentions as to reading it. If, between books, someone had pointed it out, slowly gathering dust on my shelves, I would have said, “My gosh, I’d forgotten that book! That’ll be my next one!”

This is the tragedy of my room. There are getting to be so many of these books that occasionally I forget about the really great ones sitting on my shelves waiting to be read.

This winter I remedied this (I hope) by creating a to-read shelf. Not just a computerized one on goodreads.com, but an actual physical to-read shelf. And that is how I rediscovered The Handmaid’s Tale.

Full disclosure: if you’ll remember, I am a loyal fan of Atwood’s and have already reviewed her more recent book, The Year of the Flood. So coming into this book, I have the highest expectations and a little bias, it’s true.

The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of a young woman who has lived through a coup of the US government. The newly formed country of Gilead has based much of its social customs from the Biblical story of Rachel and Jacob (referenced at the beginning of the book as Genesis 30:1-3). Only married relationships are sanctioned (and only first marriages). If a woman (and it is always the woman) is found to be barren, a Handmaid is called upon to bear children in the wife’s place.

Children seem to be the central goal of the society, apart from snuffing out any passionately sexual activity or intimacy. In her stifled society, the Handmaid, called Offred (though we don’t know her true name), struggles against Gilead’s doctrine and grasps at her fading memories of the time when women had rights, property, and control over their own bodies.

Women in The Handmaid’s Tale are, in fact, strikingly similar to those of fundamentalist Islamic religions. They wear clothes that cover nearly all parts of their bodies to the point that they cannot even see more than directly in front of them (much like the burqa). They are not allowed to own money or property, and only the testimony of two women can serve as evidence in a court of law. But this is what makes the story so compelling: there are so many real-world parallels to this book that, though it is obviously divorced from our own reality, it doesn’t seem impossible or even unreasonable to believe that this is the world we could be living in.

It becomes clear through reading the book Offred finds herself in this world after a disaster (the assassination of all members of Congress) leads for many of then-America’s freedoms to be revoked, supposedly as a means to supposedly find those responsible. Sounding a little like 9-11 and the Patriot Act? It did to me, too. Yet this book is copyrighted 1986, a decade and a half before 9-11. Uncanny.

Obviously, Atwood’s world is one wherein the danger of government control is driven to an extreme, and we’re not likely to find ourselves wearing winged caps and floor-length dresses anytime soon (unless that’s just how you roll). But it does make for a terribly interesting read.

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The Poet, ***

by MICHAEL CONNELLY

The verdict is in: The Poet is not poetry, but it is surprising.

Not a day after I went outside to run in short sleeves, this happened. So apparently spring is having second thoughts, and we've been snowed in for the weekend. On the bright side, it left plenty of time to finish The Poet.

I took a much longer time than I usually do to finish The Poet, but I’m glad I did. It was reasonably well-written. The prose was pretty easy reading and didn’t strive for anything really beautiful or — shall I say it— poetic, but then that’s not the point of a thriller, is it? I ask this honestly because my experience with the genre (as I’ve said before) is fairly limited.

The story is told from the point of view of Jack McEvoy, a Denver reporter with a tinge of cynicism, as he tries to find the truth about his brother’s murder. With the help (and hindrance) of the FBI, and notably Rachel Walling, a young agent who’s unashamed of playing the gender card to get a cushy spot with the G. Walling and McEvoy develop a rocky relationship as they go after the Poet, the mysterious killer who has travelled the country killing homicide cops.

There were a few things that bothered me about the book:

1) Jack’s instincts seem to be uncannily on-target, and though he is rather modest about this, his pleas for the agents (and others) to listen to his brilliant ideas come off a tad cliché. However, Jack does have his embarrassing moments, and this saves him from feeling like a character I’ve read before, so kudos to Connelly for this.

2) Why does there always have to be some trusty female sidekick? Rachel Walling is, at least, confident and smart, but she is also stupid enough to fall into bed with McEvoy (and in doing so, risk her career). Connelly counterbalances this fairly well by allowing Walling to rescue McEvoy  more than once, but it would be nice to see her put sense before romantic (or really just sexual) attachment.

3) I still have my doubts about the ability to deliver an effective game-change moment in a book. Perhaps this is just me, but sometimes when I read moments that are clearly supposed to be tension-filled and action-packed, I find myself skimming through to figure out how the action falls out. This was the case at many moments during The Poet.

However, I did find that Connelly is good at building general suspense (as I admitted before) and intrigue. I had many guesses about the identity of the Poet, but the answer came as a surprise to me. Connelly also avoided the ever-disgusting Angels & Demons ending (“You’ve never been to bed with a yoga master, have you?”).

Connelly strikes me as a good choice for an airport read: it’s quick and headache-free, engaging, and long enough to last you an international flight. But it won’t be entering our high school English curriculum anytime soon.

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The Time Traveler’s Wife

By AUDREY NIFFENEGGER

Book: ****
Film: **

This film has fallen into the summary quagmire.

I have a great deal of respect for Audrey Niffenegger, the author of the book The Time Traveler’s Wife. She wrote a book about time travel with a fresh perspective and a real soul. I cried at the end of that book, and I wished it wasn’t over. It wasn’t noble of me, and maybe the writing doesn’t have the timeless quality of say, Jane Austen, but that book is nothing if not heart-wrenching.

So when I went into the movie, I tried not to have too high of expectations( because the book was too good to hope for a good movie to go with it).

I was right. If that’s all you wanted to know, feel free to stop reading.

This movie is not, amazingly, guilty of wandering to far off-script. It’s true, they’ve mixed up a few of the events and changed a few things for not apparent reason. But at least I can say that the plot is more or less intact.

But that turns out to be not so much a virtue as a coincidence. Yes, they managed to get the whole story into the movie, but they’ve done so at the expense of the actual story. Case in point: When The Time Traveler’s Wife opens, we see a young boy riding in the car with his mother as they sing — before the mother loses control of the car and the child (Henry) inexplicably disappears, then reappears outside the car naked.

The audience has barely had the time to be rightly puzzled before Eric Bana (and you can only think of him that way) comes up to the boy and explains that Henry is a time traveler. In fact, Bana is Henry at a much older age. That’s how he knows!

Mystery solved. Suspense and interest gone.

In fact, as the story continues, you almost get the feeling that the director is presenting Henry and his lifelong love Clare with problems only to quickly solve them so that they can move on to the next one. The sequences therefore lack continuity, and the emotions feel stilted and shallow. Eric Bana, I’m sorry to say, fails to even deliver anything except a monotone line for about the first half-hour of the film. You could call it subtle, but it’s more accurate to call it bad acting.

Rachel McAdams, meanwhile, doesn’t give Clare the depth of character that she deserves. She hits the audience over the head with her innocence, but her pain, the tension she suffers in waiting, is glossed over.

And it’s a shame, because Niffenegger does such a brilliant job of making the whole thing both poignant and emotional. To be fair, it’s very difficult to transfer the sort of human emotion that can be explored in books onto film, but this feels like more of an effort to quickly summarize the book for lazy readers than an attempt to truly capture the story. I’d gladly have opted out of a few plot details to let a scene linger on an emotion or watch a teardrop fall (corny though it might be). This movie is supposed to be unapologetically romantic and dramatic, so it would be nice if it were either of those things. But if you’re looking for either, better to stick with the printed version.

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Check out the new banner

A friend of mine, the photographer of byHGphoto, has designed a new banner for Petite Chenille.

In the meantime, I’m continuing my trek with Jack McEvoy. I’ll have an update for you all soon. In the meantime, it’s Earth Day, and where I am it’s lovely as can be. So bring your paperbacks outside and find a good place in the sun to read!

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All roads lead to written

Just fourteen days until Script Frenzy, and in preparation I’ve begun laying the groundwork for my little play. As I’ve done so, I’ve discovered that my medium for writing has changed considerably. Writing is a highly personal process, so the way it is done should be highly personal. Here are a few options I’ve tried out:

Microsoft Word

This one is obvious. And it’s fairly useful. I’m thinking most of you know about Word, so I’m going to skip it in favor of other things.

Google Docs

My generation uses this fairly often, but beyond that, I don’t think many people do. And it’s a shame because it can offer a lot of things that Word cannot.

Google Docs is a sort of free online word. This has many advantages: Because it’s stored on the internet, you can access it from any computer, and you can allow other users to have access to your documents, so if, say, you were co-writing a script, both of you could easily access the document.

The downside? If you don’t have internet, it is impossible to access your documents, so writing on a plane is out. The other, more subtle downside is that if you must be on the internet, it is inevitably easier to get distracted. If you’re less than a one-track mind. This could prove fatal.

Storyist

This one is a little lesser-known, and I’ve just begun using it. A program built specifically for large writing projects, it is an anal-retentive writer’s dream. Storyist is set up to allow a writer to create plotlines and detailed character sheets, then view as many of these elements as you like while you write.

The downside? It’s not likely to be a program you’ll have, and it costs $59 for the download version (though if you’re doing Script Frenzy you can get it for a discount right now).

Blogged

This is a medium I’ve found almost impossible for long-form writing. You can write in chapter-like installments, but this runs the risk of being ineditable and easily stolen if the material is any good.

The upside? You can get instant feedback from friends (and the occasional stranger), which can be a good tool for improving work and finding out what works well.

(Gasp!) Handwritten

I think this should be everybody’s first medium, though it seems like it’s disappearing more and more. And there’s good reason for that, but we’ll get to it in a minute. On the upside: Handwriting is personal. It attaches you to your story in a way typing things out simply doesn’t. Think: if you make a typo on your computer, you might be only remotely conscious of it, but if you’ve written and “e” in place of an “a” in your handwriting, you will be acutely aware (at that moment, I mean. The next day, all bets are off). Handwriting also goes slower, so it allows you to think about what you’re putting down.

The downside? It goes slower, so it is slower. Also, handwritten manuscripts must inevitably translated into type if you’re going to get them published ever. But if you’re just writing for yourself, then this is no issue.

Anybody have an unconventional way to write their story? Feel free to add one.

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And the suspense builds on …

I’m nearing the halfway point of The Poet (and this I am terribly ashamed to admit, seeing as I should have finished it this weekend). So here’s a little update:

I still get a little annoyed occasionally with how the main character’s hunches are inevitably right, and the bad guy (whom Connelly introduces after a couple chapters) inevitably thinks he’s smarter than he actually is.There’s also beginning to be a hint of the go get’em, scrappy reporter attitude creeping in (again, still punctuated by moments of cynicism). Fair enough, I suppose.

And a curious thing is happening: the book is starting to get to me. I’m not really one of those people who can watch scary movies and walk out making jokes about it, but then again, I always had trouble getting into the idea of horror in a novel. With nothing to jar you out of your seat, how can you really get so scared?

And as I was reading, I didn’t feel myself getting scared. Nor did I really notice any big change in my pulse.  … But then, when I was ready to go upstairs to brush my teeth for bed, I suddenly realized that I was scared to. It was dark … and kind of intimidating … and I was nervous.

So yeah, the book got to me. Michael Connelly 1, Kate 0.

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