Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Major Decisions

So, I have a confession to make. I tend to make decisions based on stupid things--a coin toss to decide what I'll have for lunch, assigning numbers to movies I want to watch and asking someone to pick a number, using the words of a fortune cookie to determine my major in college...

Yup, I'm serious. I picked my major based off the words from a cookie. And now I may change my major based on another fortune cookie.Well, I guess if I think like my psychology professor I would realize that the only reasons I saw these two majors in the fortunes was because I'd already been thinking about them. And I had been.

During my senior year in high school, I started getting that terrible question. You know, the "So, whats your plan after you graduate?" question. I hated it because I felt like everyone else had an answer down to the very last detail but I didn't have a clue. I knew where I'd like to go to school but beyond that, I didn't know. At first, I would just make some joke about how I would be recruited to the FBI and chase drug lords around South America for the rest of my life. But after I while I sort of got panicky. I knew I wasn't going to be recruited into the FBI, no matter how much I wished it could happen. I needed a plan, STAT. Or atleast, something to tell others when THE question arose.

So my story was, "I'm going to BYU-I to study social work".

Then the story changed because I got the awesome opportunity to go to Germany after graduation. And I couldn't have been more happy for another year to decide what I planned to do for the rest of my life. Plus, I got to freakin' live in Europe! It was fantastic!

But, I digress.

When I came home from Germany I had realized one thing--I didn't think BYU-I was right for me. So I applied to my dream school and was accepted. Then reality settled in and after a lot of research, I realized I would never be able to afford said dream school. So, with almost all the other schools passed their application deadlines, it was off to state school in my hometown... And I decided not to go with social work. My reasons were mostly because I knew my parents hated the idea of social work and, sadly, the lack of money made in that field. So, I went with something my parents would love, something that would secure me a job after a four year degree, and make better money then social work. Radiological Sciences.

And, I'm not going to lie--I loved telling people I was majoring in Radiological Sciences. People always found it fascinating and would say something about how hard it sounded.

So I went almost all the way through the semester, taking medical terminology and other classes toward my major. I just couldn't help but feel like I wasn't being true to myself. Like I was only doing this to feel intelligent. To make my parents happy. For the security of knowing I could get a well-paying job in four years. The only problem was, I didn't know what else I wanted to do.

I started to think about social work again. I loved the idea of it. Of devoting your life to helping others. Not that radiology technicians don't help others. But I couldn't help but feel like I'd picked radiology for all the wrong reasons.

Then, right before it was time to sign up for second semester classes, I went to Panda Express. At the close of my delicious lunch, I picked up my fortune cookie. And it spoke to me. It read, "Don't underestimate yourself. Your social skills are needed by others."

In that moment, I decided I was switching my major. Based on a cookie.

So I took Social Work 101. And I loved it. But at the same time, I hated it.  I loved my professor, just not some of his ideas. Honestly, there were days when I left the class fuming because I didn't agree with something he'd said. I love what social workers stand for--service, dignity and human worth, relationships, integrity, competence, and (my favorite) social justice. But I also have a hard time seeing eye to eye with some--okay, a lot--of social policies. You see, social work is a field mostly made up of people with more liberal ideology... I do not even lean a tiny bit toward the left side of the political spectrum. Then there's all those rules and regulations you have to follow as a social worker. And sometimes those rules make it hard for you to help someone. Plus... okay, I think you understand that I'm now having my misgivings about social work.

Once again, I'm doubting my choice in my major. It was back to square one. I flipped through my course catalog, tried to think of things I was interested and came up with a few other possibilities.

I made the mistake of going out for Chinese food again. This time, my fortune read "Be careful and systematic in your business arrangements." Can it be a total coincidence that a BA in business marketing was one of the other possibilities I have been considering? Or am I being sent a message via an oriental dessert?

Major decisions...


Sunday, June 24, 2012

My Pride and Prejudice

You may have noticed me mention Jane Austen quite frequently and, sometimes, in a somewhat mocking tone. Any of my close friends could probably tell you that I have said many things against Miss Austen's stories that would appall those of you who have realized my very romantic heart. How could someone who writes romance not admire the work of Jane Austen, you may be asking. To put it simply, my pride and prejudices stood in my way. I stubbornly crossed my arms and discarded her as an author to admire. But now, upon reading the very book that has captured the hearts of countless hopeless romantics, I have grown to understand and feel a need to explain myself for my blind-sightedness.

First, my prejudices. Once upon a time (meaning a mere week ago) I didn't understand why anyone would want to read a books older than there great-great grandparents. Okay, admittedly, I have read and enjoyed several classics but I still was more interested in reading books by authors who were still above ground. I judged Pride and Prejudice to be just another old, boring book with more description then dialogue. And I was quite surprised when I first began to read it that I was quite wrong. While the book does have many big, long paragraphs, a lot of them are, indeed, dialogue. And even the parts that weren't, it wasn't just big long descriptions of the tapestry hanging on the wall or the tock of a ticking clock. (You know what I'm talking about; we've all encountered books like that.) But in Pride and Prejudice, if it wasn't dialogue, it was mostly narration of the story. There was never something unnecessarily described in minute detail as I supposed.

I also must admit that I judged Jane Austen's books, until very recently, on the 1995 and 2005 Pride and Prejudice movies and an older version of Sense and Sensibility. I felt that the two stories were incredibly similar. There were two daughters (Jane/Elizabeth, Elinor/Marianne) whose families were not so well  off and they had crazy younger sisters (Though, I must say Margret Dashwood was a lot more tolerable then Kitty and Lydia). Both eldest daughters, who were the sweeter of the sisters, fell in love with the most kind-hearted men at the beginning of the story and then they were torn apart from them. And might I say Miss Bingley and Miss Steele used several of the same devices to separate the couples. Then there are Miss Elizabeth's and Marianne's similarities. They were both more active and fun-loving then their older sisters and they both fell for men who were nearly their opposites in personality--Mr. Darcy and Colonel Brandon being quite sober and sedate most of the time. Not to mention, both Elizabeth and Marianne at one time or another fancied men with most disagreeable pasts--Mr. Wickham and Willoughby.

Since then, however, I have watched a better version of Sense and Sensibility (1995) and enjoyed it more. I have also seen the 1996 version of Emma and found it so different from the other two stories that I couldn't help but pause it after a half an hour and exclaim to my mother that this, surely, could not have been written by the same Jane Austen as the other two. I mean, Emma didn't even have an older sister!--well, she did but the sister was married before the story started so that drama was not there. I was wrong when I said, many times, that Jane Austen only knew how to write one story and just replaced names and called it by a new title. And I feel bad for making such an unfounded accusation.

Now, to confess my pride.

A part of it goes with what I said before--I found myself above the need to read books so old when so many new books are published every day. But that is really only a part of it.

Those closest to me will know that, as a child, I struggled with reading. I even hated the hobby I now dearly love just because I was not good at it. I didn't want to read because I felt as if the words were mocking me as a stumbled over them. Even though I forced myself to learn and now love spending all my free time with a good book I still, to this day, am a much slower reader then I wish I was. Because of this, I have shrunk away from books I thought I still might make a fool of myself if I attempted to read them. I've steered clear of anything that may have words or phrases I don't understand for fear of reminding myself of a time when the simplest words tripped me up. And, as almost anyone knows, classics are full of odd words we no longer use.

But, because of my recent curiosity with the Regency time period, I became determined to stare Pride and Prejudice down and say "I know I have said cruel things about you, but I earnestly wish to read your story. Just, please, don't let me struggle on every other word."

And I didn't. Yes, there was the occasional word or phrase I was unfamiliar with but with the help of a dictionary I made it through without too many jabs at my prideful heart. And as Mr. Darcy learned to discard his pride and Elizabeth realized she's judged wrongly, I came to the same conclusions. Pride and Prejudice is a beautiful story and the book captured details and feelings that the movies never gave me. I laughed more then I ever thought I would whilst reading a classic. (Thank you, Mr. Bennett!) I even got teary eyed several times. An above all, it reminded my oddly cynical, yet romantic heart that one should never give up on love. I only hope one day that I will be able to repeat Elizabeth's sediments: "I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with  such justice. I am happier even than Jane; she only smiles, I laugh."

That being said--though, I have come to understand Mr. Darcy in a new light--I still think I would prefer a Mr. Bingley, myself.


Monday, June 18, 2012

Self-doubt and Hope

Don't you just hate that moment when you're watching the most beautiful movie ever and as the credits roll you sob, "I will never write a story as good as that!"

Currently, that is how I feel minutes after finishing BBC's miniseries North and South. Despite my anguish, I highly recommend it. It is by far the best period drama/romance I have ever beheld and I doubt I will ever find a better one. Even though I said nearly the exact same thing last week after watching the 1996 version of Emma, as my mother might point out. However, I have never felt such emotion through out a movie as this one and the ending turned my heart into a puddle of beautiful feelings I cannot quite describe.

But yes, moments after it ended, I felt my tears of absolute joy at the character's "happily ever after" turn to tears of sadness and self-pity. How could I ever even begin to create a love story as tender, as wonderful, as Margret's and Mr. Thornton's? I want people to read my story and as they shut the book, feel the emotions of pure bliss and hope that North and South gave me. But, surely, I do not have the capacity for such beauty and love.

However, it does gives me something besides despair in my ability of story telling. It gives me something to work toward. A goal. It showed me the emotions I wish to instill upon my audience someday. It proved to a somewhat cynical heart like mine that, maybe, there is such thing as true and undying love. It handed me a large dose of  hope and whispered, "Someday, if its really what you want, you will write a story this beautiful."

And it also made me realize that watching amazing movies is probably a lot more enjoyable when you are not an aspiring author... sigh...


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Why Romance?

Despite the contents of the blog I wrote a while back on realizing I'm a romance writer, there have been days--many of them--where I've wondered, quite begrudgingly, why it is I write romance. I brought this up whilst talking to a close friend of mine and we came up with some interesting points.

Romances always end with the guy getting the girl and they, presumably, live happily ever after. And like I stated in my last post, I like happily ever after's. I do have to admit, however, that it has always slightly bothered me that these stories can give the false illusion that the hardest part of a relationship is the initial courtship--or dating process, if you prefer. That after that final scene, all is truly perfectt and blissful for the rest of their life's. There is this dark cynical side of me, though, that--at the end of every book or movie--whispers "who knows if they stay together? How do you know they don't fall out of love and lead an unhappy, stale marriage together?" And maybe I'm a little scared of leading young girls to believe that romance is as easy and everlasting as the books and movies tell us it is. However, I do not wish them all to be as bitter and suspicious as I can be toward romance, either.

Since I read mostly romance, I tried to figure out why I pick it over the latest dystopian or intrigue novel. I guess the biggest reason is because its mostly what my mom reads. And despite the fact that I love my mother, I hate the idea that I write romance just because I know she'll like it and want to read it. Where as, if I wrote a book on a zombie apocalypse, she probably would come up with any number of excuses not to read it. Luckily, though, I have no desire to write any such story.

Okay, I can just imagine my mom reading this and getting after me for acting like I don't really like romance novels. Because I absolutely do. Especially the more funny, light-hearted ones. But besides a good laugh--usually at the expense of the romantic heroine--and the cute stories, I don't know what draws me to them. But I cannot deny that I am.

So here it is, the reason I think I write romance--drum roll, please:

I just can't imagine me writing anything else.

As much as I'd like to write the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games I just can't see myself doing it. And not because I don't think I'm good enough--okay, maybe that is a teeny, tiny part of it. I don't see myself becoming the next Agatha Christy or Stephen King.  And while I'd probably be slightly offended if any one compared me to Nicholas Sparks or Nora Roberts, I can't deny that I definitely reside in the same boat--but its a massive cruise ship and we couldn't possibly have more space between us unless they jumped overboard.

No, my real goal is for no woman to ever remember the name "Mr. Darcy" because they will be completely starstruck by my romantic heroes for centuries to come! Muhahaha! Okay, I'm only teasing. I have no plans to usurp Miss Austen. But if it does happen, that'd be pretty cool.


Monday, May 28, 2012

Happily Ever After

Recently I came across this quote that I absolutely love. It exactly how I feel about what I write. It goes something like:

"Let other pens dwell on pain and misery." -Jane Austen

I don't know about you, but I don't like sad things. And I definitely don't like being sad. I know life is sometimes full of sad things, however. I mean, I'm a social work major and every day in class I listened to my professor list off depressing statistics about the word we live in. The number of children abused, the percentage of single mothers living below the poverty line, the amount of homelessness around us. Even though I sometimes thought my professor was much too pessimistic, I'm not going to pretend the world is just full of sunshine and daisies, laughter and smiles, unicorns and rainbows. I've seen burning hatred directed at others. I noticed the dirty, old man lugging his only possessions on his back. I cried for the children whose father shot himself.

What I don't understand is why people make/enjoy depressing movies and books. I get that we shouldn't ignore the problems around us. I understand that we can't just barricade ourselves in our rooms and forget whats out there. I know stories must reflect reality. But lately I've realized more and more books and movies that don't end up "happily ever after".

Don't get me wrong; I don't mind crying whilst reading or watching a movie. One of my favorite movies is "The Titanic". But despite the fact that over a thousand people died, including the wonderful Jack Dawson, in the movie it doesn't leave you with the image of Jack's body slowly sinking to the bottom of the ocean. Instead, it ends with Rose dying an old woman and reuniting with Jack once more on the glorious Grand Staircase of the beautiful ship, surrounded by all its passengers--radiantly happy. What I don't like is getting up when its over and feeling sick to my stomach. Feeling like the world around me is a dark and sinister place. And too often lately, I've had that unpleasant feeling.

That's why, like Jane Austen said, I don't write those depressing stories. Yes, I'll admit that my characters' hardest challenge isn't eating their weight in cotton candy while prancing around a meadow filled with fluffy bunnies. They have many real life challenges.  But in the end everything always works out for them. I know life doesn't always end with a disembodied voice, deeply proclaiming "and they all lived happily ever after" but we can hope it will.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Characters: The Feng Shui of Novel Writing

I don't know about you but if I read a book and I don't connect with the main characters, I'll stop reading it. Bad writing? Maybe I'll learn something from reading it. Predictable plot? Its hard to avoid these days. Whiny heroine with no spine? No, thank you. Next, please!

Naturally, when I go to start a new story I spend--literally--weeks getting to know my characters before I jump into the story. They need to be so real to me that if I'm walking through a department store, I can stop and say "Oooooh! Nicole would look beautiful in this dress!" (Yes, it has happened to me before. Luckily, my family has grown accustom to such statements.)

Sometimes I feel like my characters are a little too much like me but other times they couldn't be more different. Like yesterday when I realized my newest romantic hero is a cat person. Seriously, I don't possibly know how a cat person could reside in my head when I'm very much a dog person.

But anyway, to the point of this blog: Naming Characters.

I think it is honestly more painful then editing.  It can take me days to come up with the perfect name. And I cannot start a story until I have it right. On the one occasion I just stuck a name in there at random for my main character, deciding I would go back and change it when I found the right one. But when I found it, the other name was stuck and I couldn't change it! I couldn't put my character through that sort of identity crisis. So I left it as it was and by some miracle, I actually finished that story. But now I can't stand it. I hear the name, and cringe.Which really sucks because its a fairly common name...

If the character's name isn't just right, the whole story feels off. For me, its what sets the tone of the whole book. It disturbs the whole feng shui of the story if it doesn't fit. Honestly, I have stopped reading books because I couldn't stand the main character's name. I'm sorry, but I just can't read a book where the romantic hero's name is Stu. I just can't.

When I'm writing, I always have the hardest time with girl names. They all just sound too... girly. Seriously, I hope I don't have any daughters later in life because I'll probably give them boy names like Owynn or Kodie, or something terrible. There just isn't very many girl names I absolutely love.

My friend gave me a helpful tip recently for  naming my heroine. I thought it was funny that it came from her since she does not write romance like I, apparently, do. She told me to imagine the hero saying her name. If If it sounds right coming from him, its perfect. And it totally worked! Thanks, Mindy! You've solved my heroine naming problem.

And don't even get me started on last names!


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A Scary Realization

Today, I finally realized I have to stop denying the truth. So, to help me come to terms with it, I've decided to write my woes here. Today I realized that I'm a romance writer. Through and through. And I can't continue to lie to myself.

Its been something I've fought for a little over two years now, when I really got serious about my first *cough* romance. Then, last year, I got second place in a contest in the romance genre for the first chapter of said novel. The funny thing was, I had been at a writer's conference where I had told everyone who asked that I wrote suspense. Then my name was called for the romance category--I don't know who was more surprised, me or my new writing buddies. But even after winning, I was embarrassed to admit I was a "Romance Writer".

Part of its the stigma. A lot of people, when they hear "romance" they think about the books with the scantily clad woman and the unrealistically muscular men on the covers. Ya know what I'm talking about. Then I try to explain that its Christian romance and they think something like: "Brad flipped through the pages of his well worn Bible. Should I marry Meghan, he wondered."

And that's not exactly right either.

Another part of it is the whole "write what you know" thing. Can I just say I don't know, personally, anything about romance? Which just makes it a little more awkward telling people I write it.

I really just wish I could say that I write science fiction, or police thrillers, or dystopian--even if it will be out of fashion before I can ever manage to get one written and published. Something--yes, that is a little nerdy--but at the same time awesome! And, if you know anything about me, its very me. In fact, unless you know me really well, you'd probably never guess this Trekkie/wanna-be FBI agent had even an ounce of romantic blood in my body.

But today, like I stated above, I realized I'm a romance writer and there is no getting around it. How did this happen? Well, it happened when I was walking on campus, in the warm spring rain, under blossoming trees. This adorable kissing scene popped into my mind-- seriously, this idea was better then the "leaning" moment in While you were Sleeping. Better then Wesley's declaration that "death cannot stop love. Only delay it for a while." in Princess Bride. (Heck, I'd say it was even better then the moment when Elizabeth realized she loved Mr. Darcy. But I know a lot of people may hunt me down if I said such a thing.)

So, there I was with this amazing kissing scene in my head, giddy to write it down, when I realized I didn't have a story I could put it in. I was seriously put out by the thought. But I'm a writer, I could come up with something. Of course, right there as I walked to my communications 101 class, I started to create a whole plot line centered around this little two minute scene I had in my head. Just because I was desperate to use it.

And that was when I realized what I had previously tried to ignore. I am definitely a romance writer.


Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Mediocre Book Review of an Excellent Book

Ever since I decided I wanted to be an author, I've been stalking--I mean, communicating--with some of my favorite authors. One of my favorites and probably the first one I e-mailed when I was fourteen years old was Robison Wells. I was thrilled when he responded only a few days later. Not too long after that, I convinced my family to take a weekend trip to Utah so I could meet him and several other authors in person. Since then, I've followed him around cyberspace and have seen him several more times in person. He's even helped me with a school project. So, in response to his coolness I decided to write a review for him. (Also,  I'm trying to win an ARC of his new book!)

Robison Wells is the author of four great books, his newest one, a YA dystopian titled Variant. Variant is about an orphan boy named Benson who has just transferred to a very interesting new school. Maxfield Academy is out in the middle of Nowhere, New Mexico, surrounded by a fence, a large forest, and an imposing stone wall. Benson learns on arrival that there are no adults at the school and that there is absolutely no leaving--unless you break a rule and end up in eternal detention. The students are divided into three gangs: The society who blindly follow the rules of the school and are in charge of administration and security; Havoc who like the school for its lack of leader and cause problems for The Society; and The Variants who are trying to find a way out.

This book has everything you could ever want-- exciting games of paintball, romance, rebellion and twists and turns that will keep you saying "Just one more chapter, then I'll (insert activity you're avoiding here)". Don't tell my professor, but I may have been to involved in the story to even stop reading to listen to lectures. But it was only poli sci 101. Who needs that stuff anyway?

A little bit of a warning, however. This book ends with a crazy "What the heck?! I'm going to kill you, Rob!" sort of cliffhanger. But you don't have to wait too long for the sequel, Feedback, which will be hitting a bookstore near you soon.  In fact,  you can even enter a contest to win an Advanced Reader's Copy on Rob's website. If you win it, though, you should give it to me since I've been dangling over the side of a cliff for a  lot longer--assuming you haven't read it yet.

Anyway, read the book, enter the contest, and tweet Rob (@robisonwells) and tell him how much I deserve an ARC.

Thanks for dropping in!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Chapter One

You may have noticed, if you were one of the five or six people I've actually shown my blog to, I changed my German title "Die Erzählerin" to something I can actually pronounce. See, at first I thought I might go for a German theme, writing all my post titles in German, or whatever. The first problem with that is, I don't speak the language. The second is, while Germany has played a huge role in my life and I will most likely talk about it a lot, its not going to be the main focus of my blog. That focus, instead, will be my life and my writing. So, I changed my blog title to simply "Chapter One".

Why, "Chapter One" you might ask? Well, because books start at the first chapter. To me, those first few pages are the most important and the most exciting. I love it when I come up with a new story idea and I run over to my computer, pull open a new Word document and type the two little words that'll start my next journey: Chapter One. A little thrill runs through me every time and I pause to smile before launch into the story, meeting my new characters and exploring their world. Seriously, I love those two words so much, I've started over forty stories but have only finished two (almost three!) novels. (Okay, I may have started but not finished all those stories because I have an overactive imagination and the attention span of a chipmunk whose just chugged a Red Bull.)

I also liked the title "Chapter One" for this here blog because, well, life has so many first chapters. I'm at a big one right now having just started my first year of college back in September. And since I'll probably be complain--I mean, talking--about my experiences in school, I guess its applicable.

Hopefully now that I've got a theme going I'll actually get on here and post something every now and then. So join me next time when we discuss the ways I make decisions! Should be interesting. Until then, Tchüss!