Posted on April 6th, 2010 by annakjarzab
I just read this post author Alex Flinn put up on her blog about choosing names for characters, which I thought was really interesting and got me thinking about why and how I name characters what I name them, so I thought I’d throw in my two cents.
I have owned the same baby name book for 10+ years (probably closer to twelve). It’s called The Last Word on First Names, which makes very little sense as the authors, Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosencrantz, went on to write several other books about baby names, so really it’s not the last word on first names. And it’s actually not the best baby name book in the world–I would really prefer if it told you what the meaning was behind all of the names, not just some of them. Mostly it’s just the authors’ commentary on the names, putting them in a contemporary context (although, you know, contemporary circa 1997, which is no longer contemporary), talking about popularity and literary/historical context, etc. It’s useful in many ways, and quite the crack up. The entry for Hortense just says “No,” which is still a big joke with my sister and I (who knows why).
One might ask why I purchased a baby names book (because I definitely purchased it with my own dollars) at age thirteen or fourteen–obviously, I was not considering having a child, and there were no siblings on the way. I bought it because I was a writer and needed a naming resource, considering the Internet, though it had been invented (thanks Al Gore!), wasn’t really the intense repository of information that it is today. I read that thing cover to cover like a novel, and it shows–its pages are ripped and creased and tea stained beyond what is normal. I used it for a really long time. Now I use the Internet, in the form of Behind the Name, which was actually a website my mother told me about (she’s very hip to the jive). It’s very useful, especially when I want to name peripheral characters–I usually go for names that were on the top 100 lists in the year that the characters were ostensibly born (usually about fourteen to eighteen years prior to the year in which I’m writing the book, which I guess now is about 1993/1994 or so), because they have them for every year post-1990 and for every decade before that until the late 1800s.
I tend to be attracted to classic names myself, especially for boys–saints names, basically. Your Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Michael (although even I have to admit that one’s pretty played out), James, Thomas, Christopher, Stephen, Joseph, Anthony, William, etc. With girls, I tend to be the same way. I like how old fashioned names are coming back into style–Ruby, Mary, Emma, etc.
But if you look at what I’ve written recently, you can tell that my personal preferences for actual human children living in the flesh and blood world (especially ones that might someday carry my genetic material) are a little different than the names I actually use in my books. The characters in All Unquiet Things have rather odd names, most of them. Neily’s name sort of comes from a teacher I had in high school, an English teacher that I really liked, and that was her last name, although spelled differently. If you look up the way she actually spells her name, Neely, it means “son of the poet” in Gaelic. I thought that was rather appropriate for Neily, actually. I don’t know why I changed the spelling, but I did decide that “Neily” was actually short for Neiland, which was his mother’s maiden name. I knew a girl in high school who shared her middle name with her brother, and it was their mother’s maiden name. I thought that was kind of interesting, but I took it one step further and Neily was born. I’ve thought about Neily’s name and what it means for him a lot. When my editor acquired my manuscript, she suggested changing his name, thinking it might be too effeminate, a criticism that I understood because I’d recently read The Valley of the Dolls and there was a main female character in that book named Neely. But in the end I was so attached I didn’t want to change it, and she was fine with that. The thing about Neily’s name being a little effeminate, and probably too young for him, is that that is a part of his story. When he was younger, he was sort of a shy, lonely kid that everyone treated like he was a baby. The diminutive form of his name shows just how small and besides the point he felt all the time growing up. He really should just go by Neil, and I think that if he thought he could get people to call him Neil he would, but he knows that would never happen. In the “sequel” I started writing post-AUT, just as a little diversion and a place to put my ideas for where the characters would be in six or seven years, Neily has changed his name to Neil–he’s gotten away from Empire Valley and everybody who knows him as “Neily” and he takes advantage of that to forge a new identity. Except then he goes back to Empire Valley and of course Neily resurrects, even though he tries to maintain his new Neil identity.
Audrey’s name is simple; it’s my grandmother’s (father’s mother’s) name. But it’s a little old fashioned, although I personally think it’s really beautiful. However, I was not as plugged in to the YA community as I am now, and if I’d known how big of a resurgence Audrey was going to have in mainstream fiction, I’d probably have thought about changing it (and then I probably would’ve decided not to change it, because I like things the way I like them and I’m stubborn like that). That’s really the most thought I ever gave to the name Audrey, but it means “noble strength”, which I like a lot and think describes my Audrey pretty well.
Carly…I don’t really remember how she got that name. She’s had it so long it’s all receded into the mists of antiquity. I do know that I went to school with a lot of Carlys/Karlys when I was a kid, mostly popular girls who didn’t like me. It’s not actually a name I particularly like all that much, it just seemed to fit her and I cannot imagine her being named anything else. It’s hard to pin down what Carly actually means; according to Behind the Name, it’s the feminine form of Carl, which is the Germanic form of Charles, which means either “man” or “army, warrior.” But according to BabyNames.com, it’s the diminutive form of Carlotta, which means “free.” I think both of those meanings are interesting when reflecting on the way Carly behaves in the novel and what her ultimate resting state is, emotionally speaking. It’s interesting to think about, but not my main intention when naming her that.
Wow, are those names so ingrained in my head. I’m moving on, though, to other books and other characters. My three main characters in Untitled Book 2 are Will, Jacie and Robbie. I really like the name William; apparently it means “strong willed warrior,” which Will is…not, really, although he is decidedly persistent, which you have to give him credit for. Jacie is a name I’m surprised I picked, honestly–it feels trendy and slightly made up to me, and I’m not into the trendiness. But her full name just sort of popped into my head all at once: Jacie Fisher. I didn’t even consider a different spelling (Jacey, which I guess is the accepted spelling, would be one option). Baby Names says it’s a shortened form of Jacinda, which means “hyacinth”, but I never for a moment considered that her name might be Jacinda. Her family is not the type to name a daughter Jacinda. Usually I’m very, very against naming children nicknames instead of full names, but it definitely would not have fit for Jacie to have any other given name than exactly that. Rob/Robbie is named after Robbie Turner from Atonement. They don’t have, like, a ton in common, but there are similarities. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time I’ve ever named a fictional character after another fictional character. And it’s not like Robbie’s mother named him after Robbie Turner from Atonement–I did. Because of my love for James McAvoy, OBVS.
And now that I have another WIP in the works (that’s kind of redundant, huh?), I have a slew of new names, especially since what I’m working on has a lot of characters. I have some old school names, some nickname-y names, some nice normal names, and a name I just pretty much made up. For this one, I just started pulling names I liked or from people I knew/had met. The fun thing about being a writer is that your characters tell you who they are. Would I ever have named my daughter Jacie? No. It’s a perfectly lovely name, but I would never pick it for a child of mine–it’s not my aesthetic. But Jacie is totally a Jacie, no two ways about it. Neily is most definitely a Neily. In a way they choose their own names.
Posted on September 18th, 2009 by annakjarzab
Oh boo. I’m afraid to look and see how long it’s been since I posted something, so let’s just go with IT’S BEEN A WHILE. Sigh. Oh well! As I told you before, I’ve been busy getting a life and working and stuff. And reading! Always reading.
I put aside CH for pretty much no reason except I got sick of working on it and missed GR, so I’m back on that train. I know I always said GR was going to be a big book, in terms of how much work it was going to take to accomplish what I want it to be, and probably in terms of pages as well, but I don’t think I ever realized HOW big and HOW much work it was going to take until pretty much the last week or so. Because I spent five days drawing the floorplans of a house. FIVE DAYS. Let me tell you, I did not miss my calling as an architect. If I didn’t know for a fact he’s busy with school and everything, I’d call my friend Scott, who goes to SIARC and just have him do it for me, but alas.
It was kind of cool to design a house though, especially a crazy house with lots of secret passages and hidden doorways and enormous ballrooms and stuff. I was ridiculously proud of it and actually showed it off to my friends at the bar yesterday, just because I really can’t put it up here for you guys to look at and I’ve got no one else to foist it upon. I also made a nice family tree, which was an unexpected detour on Tuesday night but fun all the same. This is the stuff I like best, you know. The prep work. The stuff nobody really sees unless you whip out your notebook and keep a vigilant watch on your friends as they handle it, lest they accidentally set it down in a puddle of Bud Lite (drink responsibly!).
So things are moving. I’m working on the GR synopsis, which, while far from completion, is significantly farther along than I ever hoped it could be (mostly because I never worked on it before now).
As for my other books, I’m still waiting on an editorial letter for MB, which is sort of a relief. I thought I’d have it this month, and I was dreading it, because I’m exhausted and I know it’s going to be a lot of work. I’m sure I’ll be happy to work on it when it comes, though. MB has a special place in my heart because I am, in my bones, a funny, light-hearted person and secret romantic–AUT is dark and sad and serious, and while I like writing all of that, MB is sort of like a vacation in a lot of ways. I’m back to dark in GR, so it should be a welcome project when it comes along. It can’t be sturm und drang all the time, you know?
AUT is, predictably, resting in a cocoon for the moment, although I did get an exciting piece of sales news today that I’m sure I can’t share on the blog (and, truthfully, don’t wholly understand so I wouldn’t even attempt to explain what it means, but my editor seems pumped!), and I found out who my publicist is, although I haven’t talked to her yet. So the whole being published in January thing isn’t a dream! I was worried. I’ve been having some pretty vivid dreams lately.
I know I’m behind on emails, and ARC requests, and I’m honestly sorry about that. The only thing I can say in my defense is that I’m busy? Which, we are all busy, I get that. I will get to them eventually, I promise. I actually have many things to get to that I haven’t been able to do in a while, so please bear with me, my life has been undergoing some rearranging and–fun times!–I’ll be moving soon. Just to a new apartment, probably in the same general region of Manhattan, if not the same neighborhood, but still. Moving in New York is a bitch, and I have yet to find a new place to live. So fall will be pretty stressful and busy, but it’s mostly exciting stuff, so I’m happy about it. Posts might be a bit thin on the ground, though (is that a thing people say?), I warn you.
- Filed under: writing
- Tagged: Anna's boring life, AUT, CH, GR, MB, New York City, writing
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Posted on September 8th, 2009 by annakjarzab
Ugh, sorry for being so MIA. Lately, there just seems like so many better things to do besides blog. And, I mean, go me for experiencing the outside world, stepping away from the computer and living life, but seriously, WHAT ABOUT MY LOYAL READERS?!
Anyway, what have I been up to? Writing, if you can believe it, although I’m in one of those writing valleys where I’m putting a lot of words on the page but none of it seems to be going anywhere. I talked about how I’ve gotten a lot of CH written, only to decide to rewrite it, only to decide to delete the last scene I wrote and just go on from there, which is going okay, although I haven’t touched it in a couple of days. I don’t know. I really should plot things out, I know this about myself, but plotting seems so hard to do when you just want to get into the thick of writing. I get really overwhelmed by all the possibilities offered without at least a rough outline, and then I get paralyzed, and then I don’t write. As my roommate would say, bad mojo.
This past weekend, I mostly worked on GR. I KNOW! I haven’t talked about that book in forevs. Because I haven’t really worked on it in forevs. But I started to write it again, albeit slowly and with trepidation, AND I decided to really go ahead and write myself a full outline for this one, even though I’m already about eighty pages into the actual manuscript. This book is going to be so rough to write. I haven’t got everything figured out yet, and I’m still puzzling out a lot of the most important details, which is stalling any real progress. But I feel oddly confident about it right now, like it might actually get written and not be terrible, which is odd for me right now but I’m going with it.
Other than that, I’ve just been hanging out with friends, working and reading. Lather, rinse, repeat. I feel so much better about living in New York than I have for the past almost two years now (which: hasn’t it only been two seconds? or two decades?). About a month and a half ago, New York suddenly clicked into place for me–I feel like I belong here, like I’ll be here long-term and rather than being sort of depressed about that, I’m happy about it. Which is cool, because this is a hard city to live in if you don’t really commit to it, and I was feeling the strain of trying.
Also: Matryoshka Monday! On Tuesday!
- Filed under: writing
- Tagged: Anna's boring life, CH, GR, matryoshka monday, New York City, writing
- 0 Comments »
Posted on August 26th, 2009 by annakjarzab
There is a moment, I think, in many a writer’s life when they look at a book they’re halfway (possibly more, in terms of pages anyway) done with and go, “I’ve lost it.” Not their “muse” (oh how I shudder to type those letters in that sequence with that meaning!) or their mojo or anything like that. They’ve lost the book. Somehow, in the grocery store of life, while they’re throwing things into a cart and checking nutritional facts and prices, their growing child hops out of the cart or lets go of their hand or whatever and wanders away.
Don’t panic! First of all, it’s a hypothetical child. Second of all, it’s not like the child is really lost. It’s somewhere in that store, and is this metaphor making any sense? Probably not, and it might be a little unnerving as well, at least to those among my tens of readers who have children.
Whatever, my point is, somewhere along the way of writing a book you realize that you’ve lost your focus, or maybe it was never there to begin with. You’re not sure what you’re trying to say, and even though you’re chugging along, adding pages and piling up plot points, you’re not really going anywhere.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been working on two projects this summer, GR and a second, family drama with no name because the name I gave it in my head would never, ever sell in real life and I can’t think up another one at the moment no matter how hard I try. We’re going to call that one CH, the initials of the two sisters in the story. It’s a story about sisters, have I mentioned that? It is. Two sisters, dramatically apart in age, divided for a long time by the older one’s choice and now reunited and trying to mature in their own separate ways while also dealing with the messiness the older sister’s defection years earlier caused in the family and in the younger sister’s life specifically.
It’s a story about secrets, as so many of my stories are (no idea why, I’m terrible at keeping secrets, I have this almost pathological need to be honest about everything to everyone). It’s about deciding not to know someone, or to “know” them as someone different than who they really are, which NEVER WORKS, do you hear me? Just a little tip from me to you, that never works. Spoiler, I guess. Not really.
It’s a story about anger, as so many of my stories are. It’s about the way in which growing up is the single most terrifying and exhilarating period of your life, where half of you wants to soldier on into the future while the other half is dying to crawl into your mother’s lap and be protected from the world. It’s about guilt, and how denying yourself the right to grieve is the most damaging thing you can do for yourself. And it’s about making choices based on fear, and about how that sometimes doesn’t work out so well probably.
And you know what? As the manuscript stands, none of that is even remotely clear. Except for the anger part, my main character is pretty obviously angry, bitter and resentful. But she’s fun at parties, so who cares?
When I think back on the process of writing AUT, it seems so easy to me. When anyone asks, “How did you do it?” (granted, this happens almost never) I go, “I dunno. I just did.” My memory is pretty awful in general, and also I tend to remember mostly good things, which is why I don’t really have any lingering resentment over being teased in grade/middle/high school, even though I know I probably was.
All that remains of writing AUT in my memory is the good stuff; it feels like I snapped my fingers and it happened. Logically, I know that’s totally untrue. It took me seven years to get to this place with AUT. That’s a long time when you’re only twenty-five. And I’ve lost count of how many drafts it’s been through. And let’s not even mention how seven years ago–four years ago!–it was an entirely different book with a different plot. So…yeah, it took me a while. And it was hard. And I suffered, and I agonized, and I beat myself up about it and doubted my ability to write it and despaired and floundered. I’m sure I did. Plus, for a long time it just wasn’t very good.
But I don’t remember any of that, really. I just know how that book makes me feel, and can appreciate how perfectly it expresses so many things I thought and felt and experienced during the time that I was writing it.
I feel similarly about MB, although I reserve the right to feel differently when I actually have to edit it this fall. That book captures in many ways how I felt while I was writing it, in an entirely different way than AUT does. I don’t feel that way anymore, but I can remember it and look back on it somewhat fondly, I guess.
But GR and CH…something is not cohering the way it should. Maybe I’m not opening myself up to these books enough. GR is my albatross–I want so badly to be writing it, I really love the premise and the characters and the research I did to prep for it, and it’s not happening for me right now. I came up with a possible solution to my problem, but part of me is afraid to try it because it might fail and then I am Out Of Ideas.
So I’ve been working on CH, and I thought it was going really well, until I realized yesterday that the Jell-O is not setting properly or something. (That’s right! I’m a writer! Dessert metaphors for everybody!) I think that’s because I just recently decided to take it in a darker direction, and I’m starting to get more insight into an important character who has remained something of a cipher so far (which is sort of part of the point I’m trying to make about deciding not to know somebody, but characters cannot remain ciphers to me, or the reader), and now what I’ve written, which is largely light teen romance, is clashing with the new tone.
I could finish the book and go back and change this in revisions. I might just have to do that, because I’m not yet comfortable with this new tone–I haven’t worked in it for long enough to feel confident enough to go back and weave it through the previous chapters, tint them with the darkness that I’ve added to the pallette. Not yet. Not now. But I’m having a hard time with the transition, fully accepting the new plan and committing to it.
I’m a bundle of writing neuroses, as you can probably tell. This might have something to do with the fact that I haven’t finished a book in a year. Which is, really, a stupid thing to fixate on, but I want to be a productive writer and I’m starting to doubt my ability to complete projects. My new mantra is, “You wrote two books, you can write a third,” no mention of the fourth, fifth, sixth, twenty-eighth, two hundred and seventh book I want to write in my long dream career (probably not going to finish two hundred and seven books, though). I can’t put too much pressure on myself, or I will crack under it. I’m already starting to see the fissures forming.
I cannot lose patience with myself. This is very important, I think. I can’t go to my computer every night and say, “Write ten pages, and write them well.” It’s my inclination, but it’s too unfair and it won’t make me produce any good work. I just can’t squeeze it out. It has to be a little more organic. I need to give myself the space and time and room to write another good book. Two of them. More eventually, but just these two for now.
At the risk of making this my official Longest Boringest Blog Post Ever, I’m going to close with a quotation from The Spiral Staircase by Karen Armstrong. It’s a quote about reading and listening, but I think it applies to writing as well:
You have to open yourself to a poem with a quiet, receptive mind, in the same way as you might listen to a late Beethoven quartet or read a sonnet by Rilke at a party. You have to give it your full attention, wait patiently upon it, and make an empty space for it in your mind. And finally the work declares itself to you, steals deeply into the interstices of your being, line by line, note by note, phrase by phrase, until it becomes part of you forever…If you seize upon a poem and try to extort its meaning before you are ready, it remains opaque. If you bring your own personal agenda to bear upon it, the poem will close upon itself like a clam, because you have denied its unique and separate identity, its own inviolable holiness.
Posted on August 22nd, 2009 by annakjarzab
Okay, first off, the lovely folks at Teens Writing for Teens saw fit to interview me, and so of course I took this opportunity to talk shit about creative writing classes. Go ahead and dissent if you must.
Second of all, I got to read Brightly Woven by my friend Alexandra Bracken. JEALOUS?! I know. Alex and I live in the same city, which is awesome and allows us to get to goss about publishing and writing and the whole nine, plus exchange ARCs because we are just that impatient!
Can I tell you how much I hearted Brightly Woven? I have to say, I’ve been raving about Tenner books, and yes, these people are my friends, but also I am critical so when I say I love something I mean it! Brightly Woven is wonderful. I’m not just saying that because Alex is wonderful, which she is. I’m saying it because I truly loved the book, loved every second of reading it, loved North and Syd and the world she created. I’m not a high fantasy person, not going to lie, but when I picked up BW I knew I was going to enjoy each line and I did.
Because you know what? Syd is no wallflower. I love a good, headstrong, stubborn main character who makes decision based on gut instinct. Sometimes they screw up. That’s the best part! Syd is amazing–she is never once unsure of who she is, even when she’s unsure of everything around her. She knows what she wants and has from the beginning. She also has a huge heart and great reserves of sympathy, which is really important, because being headstrong and stubborn is all well and good, but if you don’t use that for good you’re just kind of a jerk.
I know I’ve been kind of MIA recently, and I know I said I was going to try to update more, and I realize I’ve been largely absent from Twitter as well, but a new era is being ushered in–I’m getting an iPhone! Probably. So I can Twitter from ANYWHERE I WANT soon. The tweets won’t stop. I want to blog more, too, but there’s not a whole lot going on with me at the moment. I’m just working and writing. I really need to find a name (or at least an acroynym) for the family drama (which has taken on some mysterious elements, because I JUST CAN’T HELP MYSELF) so I can talk about it without writing a huge sentence like I just did, but basically that book is going well. Almost 150 pgs, and I can tell this book will be smaller than AUT and MB, so that’s probably 2/3 done. GR is stalled, but I figure I’ll go back to it once I’m done with…the family drama with mysterious elements. It’s more of a dramedy, really. Dramedy/romance/coming-of-age/mystery. Shoot me.
Still waiting on an editorial for MB so that I can start revisions on that, and that’s pretty much all the news there is to use on the publishing front. Oh, and I visited the Listening Library offices the other day to drop off my audio contracts, where I met the lovely Rebecca Waugh, who acquired the AUT audio rights. She took me to the audio closet, where they keep all of their extra copies of the audio books, and I got to wander through and pick out a couple. I got Feed by M.T. Anderson and Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, and Rebecca and I had a talk about how I really love YA novels that deal with the issue of spirituality in a smart but not evangelical way. This discussion was sparked by Madeleine L’Engle, whose audio they do.
- Filed under: Books, writing
- Tagged: Alexandra Bracken, audio, AUT, Blogs, Brightly Woven, Friends, GR, interviews, Tenners, unnamed book, writing
- 2 Comments »
Posted on August 8th, 2009 by annakjarzab
Hey guys! I’m sorry, it looks like I’ve abandoned this blog, but I think about it all the time, I swear! As some of you know, I started a new job on Monday, which, while TOTALLY AWESOME, is really overwhelming and time-consuming and all-encompasing at this point. There’s so much to learn and do, and right now I’m treading water in the hopes of learning to swim like an Olympic champion or some such badly constructed metaphor.
My writing life is pretty quiet right now. AUT is done done done, at least when it comes to me, and I should hear back from my editor about MB sometime at the end of August/beginning of September. AUT audio is still in the works, but unfortunately there were some contracts snafus, which were nobody’s fault but possibly UPS’s. And I’m writing. Er, sort of.
This summer has been something of a whirlwind, so I can’t wait for it to settle down so I can get some real work done on the books I’m writing. Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m a little stuck on GR, and I hope to be unstuck soon. My other project, the family drama, is going okay but I’m not sure I’m striking the exact tone that I want to be, and I know it’s time to get going with the hard work of the book, so, as with GR, I’ve reached that fork in the road where you pause and go, hm, what next? How do I do this right? To be at the same immobile place in both books is totally frustrating, but I think it’s just going to take some thinking and massaging and writing bad stuff until the good stuff starts coming. Isn’t that always the way?
I would like to say that I did have a Matryoshka Monday post scheduled to go up, buuuuut I don’t actually know how to use the WordPress post scheduling function, so it didn’t. Whoops! It’ll go up this coming Monday. And look forward to next Monday, when I show you the awesome matryoshka giftie that Tha Dubbs sent me via inter-office mail (sort of), a Happy First Day At Work present which was unfortunately way-laid by my lack of a mailbox and didn’t reach me until Wednesday, even though Dubbs actually works about fifteen feet away from me.
I know some people have emailed me about AUT review copies, and I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back to you yet–I will answer all those emails, I promise, please cut me some slack because of new job craziness. Rest assured that I will be passing those on to my publicist as soon as I know who that person is. If you want a review copy, please read this and then email me. So sorry in advance, but do know that not all review requests can be fulfilled because there are a limited number of copies. Thanks guys!
Posted on July 29th, 2009 by annakjarzab
I realize that it’s been a while since I talked about my current works in progress, and that’s probably because I’m a little bit stalled. I’m not panicking, because A.) it is fruitless and B.) I don’t expect to be stalled much longer. I think what’s been happening is that between all the traveling to California, weddings, graduations, friend and family visits, trivia, work and work-related shenanigans, and putting the finishing touches on AUT, plus life maintenance such as grocery shopping and laundry (el oh el as if I’ve done laundry) and assorted errands, I just haven’t had the time, and when I’ve had the time I haven’t had the energy, to write.
I also realize that I meant to put up a post about my trip to California in June, when I visited the semi-ghost towns up near Sacramento, and I never did that. Now would be a good time, I think, considering that it was all research for GR.
Here’s the thing about my writing this summer. I have about three projects that I’m actively thinking about/working on, albeit in the small spurts that I’ve been able to fit in to my schedule. One is “big”, in the sense that it’s probably going to be on the long-ish side (and considering that my YA debut is going to be 352 pages, you might want to adjust your definition of “long-ish” in this situation), and that it’s what I’m calling a quasi-post-apocalyptic pseudo-mystery. It’s sort of a thriller, too. It’s crazytown, basically, and I’ve been referring to it as GR.
Then there are two “smaller” books in that they are going to be shorter (probably shorter than AUT, although maybe not, who knows). One of them is a family-type drama, and one of them is a comedy (by my definition, at least–you should know that I consider MB a comedy, and it’s about a boy who goes missing and has the word “murder” in the title, so…). The family-type drama doesn’t have a name (well, I have one for it, but it’s ridiculous and I’m a little embarrassed of it, so here I will call it “Fluffy”), and the comedy has a tentative name that is pretty boring so here I will call it “Lancelot.” I probably won’t be talking about either of these much, to be honest, because they’re not that hard, they just require time at the computer and a steady hand.
GR, however, is the bane of my existence. There are these moments in writing where you know what you want the end product to look like, and you know what you have so far, and there is such a huge gulf between those two things that you think you’ll never get across it. It’s so discouraging. Right now, I’m 80 pages into GR and just verging on the start of the action, which is a PROBLEM, and also the story itself is losing steam. I had a hard time building an outline for GR, so I decided to write up to the point where my outline stopped and then try again, because I have beats I want to hit, ideas for scenes, the end, and a good grasp of the character arcs, but I don’t have a sure-fire plan as such. This morning I think I might have thought of a way to accelerate the action, and some pieces seem to have fallen into place because of that, so that’s good progress. I have a long weekend starting tomorrow, so I should be able to get at least some serious thinking done, if not any actual work.
But whatever! Vacation pictures. For whatever reason I’m pretty protective of GR, so while these pictures and explanations might give you an idea of what I’m doing with it, I’m not going to be explicit about how the places and things I show fit into the story–you’ll just have to guess. And wait.
Okay, so first of all, this is apropos of nothing, but my sister graduated from high school:
Fun facts: the last time I was sitting in that pavilion (at the Alameda County Fairgrounds) I was there to see a Björn Again concert. True story! Also, that blue dress I’m wearing, I wore that to every single event this summer: two weddings, two graduations, plus a bonus BEA! It’s getting a workout, but it’s cute so that’s okay.
Earlier that day, my mom and I had gone to the Winchester Mystery House, for my research purposes. I took so many pictures and videos that I can’t possibly post them all here, but trust me, this place is awesome. This was my third time going, and I had just as much fun as I did the first time. We took the big tour, which is the Mansion Tour plus the Behind the Scenes tour, plus the Garden Tour, although that’s free and self-guided. The only thing we didn’t do was the Winchester Firearms Museum, which I plan to go back and do over Christmas. If you’re ever in the Bay Area, believe me, the Winchester Mystery House is totally worth it and fun for the whole family.
BUT: It is not scary. You should see the billboards that are up on all the freeways in Northern California, they’ve got, like, skulls and crossbones on them and give you the impression that the WMH is a haunted house, but it’s not. They’ve got their ghost stories, of course, all old houses have them, but for the most part it’s just a really weird place. Sarah Winchester moved west from Connecticut in 1884, after the death of her only child, Annie, in infancy and her husband from tuberculosis. Back then, San Jose was a total farming community, so she purchased 162 acres of land, most of which was orchards, and an eight-room farmhouse, which she built upon for the next 38 years–twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, to the tune of $5.5 million, which in today’s money would be about $70 million. ON A HOUSE. A house that was worthless after she died, because the eccentricity and, in some ways, impracticality of its design, its size, and the massive amounts of money it cost to keep it up made it unlivable for anyone who wasn’t Sarah Winchester. And even SHE had other homes.
The house from the front, facing Winchester Blvd.
Now, there are all sorts of stories about what Sarah Winchester did or didn’t believe, why she built the house the way she did, who she was, etc., but the truth was that she was very private and left behind no written account of her intentions with regards to the house–no letters, no journals, not even blueprints. They say she moved to San Jose because a medium in Boston told her to. Supposedly she believed herself to be haunted by the ghosts of those killed by the Winchester rifle, and the Boston medium told her that if she were to go west and build a house without ceasing, she would never die. Sarah could afford to do this because she was, like, a gazillionaire. Truly. She inherited $20 million after the death of her husband–and this was before there was income tax, so she got to keep it all–and 50% ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms company, which provided a $1,000 a day allowance. That’s still a lot of money! Back then it was a huge fortune.
Stairs to the ceiling
Anyway, so she built this house, all day, every day, for almost forty years. She did eventually die, though, because obviously eternal life is bullshit. The house is crazytown because there are no blueprints and never were–she used to sketch out plans for rooms on napkins and scraps of paper and just hand them to her foreman. That’s why the place is a virtual maze, with stairways that lead to ceilings, cabinets that are one inch deep, chimneys that stop a foot before the roof, winding corridors, six kitchens, thirteen bathrooms, two basements, forty-seven fireplaces, and much more.
The Room Where Mrs. Winchester Died, or the Deadroom
A door leading out from the seance room–into the kitchen sink, a flight below.
Okay, like all good rich Victorian ladies, Sarah Winchester was something of a spiritualist, purportedly anyway. She had an interest in contacting the dead, which is understandable given the losses she suffered, and had a seance room built in her house for expressly that purpose, but there’s really no proof that she ever actually had seances in there. It’s kind of small. It does, however, have that weird door that leads to nothing but a short drop and a sudden stop, if you will. There’s a lot of things like that in the house. I don’t know what happened to the photos I took of the seance room, that one seems to be the only one I have at the moment. Hm.
The north conservatory
The thing about Mrs. Winchester was that she was also something of a tech buff. I mean, she didn’t have an iPod or anything (although Apple’s headquarters aren’t very far away from the Mystery House–COINCIDENCE?! Definitely), but she liked cutting edge stuff. The conservatory pictured above has a slanted floor made of removable wood panels; when the wood is taken off, there is a second floor made of some kind of metal (tin?). This allows the plants to be watered and the unused water to fall to the floor, where it flows down the slant and into a container to be used again, in the conservatory or elsewhere. Go green! The conservatory also has an elevator, one of three on the property, which, as you might imagine, is a bit unusual for the Victorian age.
Other conveniences include steam and forced-air heating, indoor toilets and plumbing (including a hot shower), push-button gas lights, and a call system that allowed Mrs. Winchester to summon her servants to any part of the mansion from any part of the mansion. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself.
So you know how before I was mentioning that Mrs. Winchester would just build a room on to the existing exterior wall? Well, here’s proof. This is the unfinished second ballroom (Second! Ballroom! Because she needed two! To entertain the guests she didn’t even have!)–the walls hadn’t gone up at the time of her death–and you can see how the walls of the ballroom were being built right smack up against the outside, covering up a window and the old paint job and everything. This is one of the reasons why the house is so freakin’ weird. It’s also one of the reasons it survived (for the most part) two extreme earthquakes, because half of it is built on a de facto floating foundation, because all the rooms were built separately. That provided enough sway for the house to stay upright. Science!
Speaking of ballrooms, here’s the finished one:
Okay, this room is the best. First of all, it was built almost completely without nails. Second of all, it has a vault in it, hidden behind a wooden door, so heavy that it required its own foundation–and when it was opened upon Mrs. Winchester’s death, it was found to contain locks of hair from her daughter and husband, and their obituaries. That’s it. The silver chandelier came from Germany, with twelve candle holders. Mrs. Winchester, who was rumored to have a superstition about the number thirteen and scattered the number around the house (the thirteenth bathroom has thirteen windows in it, for example), had a thirteenth candle holder added. It looks terrible; as you can see in this larger picture, it’s lopsided. WHOOPS!
The stained glass windows each have a quote from a Shakespeare play on them. “Wide unclasp the the tables of their thoughts,” says the left-hand window (Troilus and Cressida, IV:5:60); “These same thoughts people this little world,” says the right-hand window (Richard III, V:5:9). What did they mean to Mrs. Winchester? Hell if I know. But they must have meant something to her. This guy has a theory, though, and it makes sense to me.
The grand ballroom cost $9,000 at a time when a whole house could be built for >$1,000. This was the point when my mom shook her head and said, “If she had to spend all of that money, why didn’t she just give it to charity?” The answer, of course, is that she did–she gave lots of her money away. But my mom has a point. What a colossal waste, and furthermore, if she really did believe building forever would make her live forever, what complete selfishness. HOWEVER. Now the house belongs to posterity, and we can walk through it and marvel at it and deconstruct it as a physical expression of one person’s psychology, and that is amazing.
Okay, I could show you a million more pictures and talk forever about this house, because it’s the coolest, but I won’t. As it is this post is super long; I’ll do another installment to talk about the semi-ghost towns we visited.
- Filed under: Friends, television, writing
- Tagged: Anna's boring life, California, GR, research
- 3 Comments »
Posted on June 29th, 2009 by annakjarzab
First things first: Cynthea Liu, 2009 Debutante and author of The Great Call of China and Paris Pan Takes the Dare, is raising money for Tulakes Elementary School in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. There are many ways to help out: you can spread the word, buy Paris Pan and have Cynthea donate the royalties to charity, donate through DonorsChoose.org, or bid on auction items such as manuscript critiques from some of the best YA writers out there, as well as editors and agents. You can also bid on a full manuscript critique from me! So please check out what Cynthea’s doing over there.
Second things second: The All Unquiet Things ARC giveaway is still going strong! I’ve gotten so many great questions, you guys, I think I might have to randomly choose a winner because I can’t! pick! my! favorite! NOT ONLY THAT (so many good things), but now when you comment you have a chance to win ONE of TWO AUT ARCs! That is right. Joanna is donating her second ARC (she only got two, so you know she loves you) to the giveaway. So go ask some Qs!
Okay, also, you have to know, I’ve been keeping an Excel document of all the questions, because I’m ridiculously organized like that, and there are 90. 90! You guys rock. Let’s get it to 100, shall we?
Third things third: I’ll admit it, I was avoiding my pass pages. I was afraid that I would read them and cringe at my own writing. But last night I finally buckled down and worked on them (I’m about 1/3 of the way through at this point) and you know what? I’m totally enjoying it! I’m trying to take Dia‘s suggestion and read it as though someone else wrote it, and at first I thought that would be impossible, and in some ways it is (like, for instance, I will never be able to imagine what it’s like to read about Carly for the first time and form an impression about her based only on what I’ve written; once people have read the book, I would love some feedback on that, if only for curiosity’s sake), but as I get farther and farther into it I start to forget that it’s something I wrote and just enjoy it for what it is. Which is such a relief for me, I can’t even tell you. And I’m glad I’m getting this one last moment to read the book cover to cover, because after these pages are done, I probably will never read it again.
Fourth things fourth: Want to see where the magic happens?
That’s my desk. I just cleaned it up yesterday, so I felt like I could show it to you without embarrassment. That desk is where I write everything, from emails to novels. I don’t ever go to coffee shops or the library to work. Sometimes I write on my bed, which is to the left, but mostly I just sit at that desk, day in and day out for hours at a time, writing. I need a bigger bedroom.
Those three piles of paper are my pass pages; the pile to the left is larger now that I’ve done more work. You know what is crazy making? The fact that it’s summer and I don’t have AC (welcome to New York City), so I have to use the fan that’s sitting to the right of my desk to cool off while I’m working, but also I’m editing a huge stack of papers so I have to use various items to weigh them down so they don’t blow away and get mixed up. That’s what the purple starfish is for; I have no idea where I got that thing, or if it even belongs to me (might be my sister’s), but it’s incredibly useful for making sure my pages don’t all blow away.
Oh, and on that computer screen? That’s Book 3, a.k.a. GR. I’ve got about 80 pages written right now, and though I seem to have hit a wall at the moment, I’m confident I’ll push through soon. Productivity!
As you can probably see there’s a lot going on. This is going to be a big week for me, as I have to finish these pages, get them to my editor, wrap up the AUT ARC giveaway and announce winners, plus my BFF Kim is coming to town on Wednesday (poor darling, taking a red eye and arriving at the crack of dawn) and it’s the Fourth of July! So as you can probably tell, it’s Crazytown, Population: Me right now, but all of it’s exciting. And I’m happiest when I’m busy, anyway.
- Filed under: random, writing
- Tagged: 2009 Debutantes, AUT, Authors, causes, giveaways, GR, New York City, other books, The A Team, writing
- 3 Comments »
Posted on June 17th, 2009 by annakjarzab
Hey guys. Sorry I fell off the face of the planet for a hot second there. I was in California, as you probably gleaned. I’m working up to a post about all the things I did there (hint: it was a lot, mostly for GR research which went SPLENDIDLY; I find myself approaching the manuscript with a lot more love and vigor, if caution), but for right now I need to catch up on some much needed sleep, visit my friend Jenny, who has been pretty seriously sick (she’s getting better, though, and finally coming home from the hospital!), unpack my suitcase and put it back under the bed so it isn’t taking up literally half the floorspace in my teeny, tiny bedroom, and attend to some other things that, um, need attending to.
Meanwhile, no news about ARCs or first pass pages or blurbs or…anything, really. I will keep you updated, though. And hopefully this week you’ll get a huge post (probably a two-parter, with the second part to go up on The A Team blog, because I’m sneaky like that) on all the GR research I did last week. If I can drag myself out of bed and away from How I Met Your Mother Season 1 long enough to write it.
Posted on May 21st, 2009 by annakjarzab
As I’ve mentioned here before, and in several rambling mind-spill emails to Joanna, I’m at a bit of a crossroads with GR. I’ve hit a bit of a wall, which is not a huge concern to me at the moment. It’s become clear to me that I can’t progress with that book until late June, after I do my research, which is probably why I’m having a hard time. I “finished” my SM synopsis, but I’m not feeling very engaged with it right now, so I’m putting it aside for a while until I decide what I want to do with it (options: write it now while I research GR, or push forward with GR and write SM fourth per the original plan, or write them simultaneously (far from ideal because of how it will make me crazytown this summer)).
Naturally, not only am I bouncing around between GR and SM and working piecemeal on both, but I have several projects in the pipeline that are in the let there be light phase–I have the idea and that’s it. Ain’t no earth or heaven or water or land or creatures great and small–just a little speck of dust like the one the Childlike Empress shows Bastian at the end of The NeverEnding Story* (the movie, obvs; I read the book many, many years ago and was sort of shocked at how much comes after the Nothing devastates Fantasia). (Sidebar: DORK!)
Some of these ideas–one in particular–require a little bit of research. A few weeks ago, my good friend MD (a Marquette University alum) mentioned that there was an article in her alumni magazine about a student who graduated the same year I graduated from Santa Clara (’05) who is becoming a contemplative nun of the Poor Clares order. This rustled up a long-dormant novel that I’d shelved to finish All Unquiet Things back in college and has been bumped back further and further over the years by other books.
I asked MD to bring me the magazine, which she thoughtfully did, and I also ordered Karen Armstrong’s Through the Narrow Gate, which came yesterday. I’d read The Spiral Staircase, back when I considered becoming a nun for like a nanosecond, but could never find a copy of Through the Narrow Gate, which is the “prequel,” if memoirs can be said to have prequels or sequels. I also did some Wikipedia-ing, my favorite research method, and found out something I never knew in my 25+ years as a Catholic:
Although the English word “nun” is often used to describe Christian women who have joined religious orders, strictly speaking, female church members are referred to as nuns only when they live in enclosure, otherwise they are “sisters” or “female clergy.” The distinctions between the Christian terms monk, nun, friar, brother, and sister are sometimes easily blurred because some orders (such as the Dominicans or Augustinians) include nuns (who are enclosed) and sisters (who work in the broader world), as well as friars (who are not enclosed).
The more you know.
So anyway. Something to distract myself with, at least, until I get back from California in late June with armfuls (figurative) of research for GR and actually have to make a decision about how I’m going to proceed with that book.
*Why is The NeverEnding Story‘s title in German on the IMDb page? I get that it’s based on a German book, but the movie is in English.