Posted on August 30th, 2012 by annakjarzab
Pawel (pronounced PAH-vel–it’s Polish, as is Pawel*), one of the secondary characters in The Opposite of Hallelujah and the love interested/boyfriend (that is not a spoiler) of the protagonist, Caro, is really into Rube Goldberg machines. His bedroom–as Caro eventually discovers–is full of these odd devices, which he builds out of K’nex (“Just so we’re clear, they’re not toys,” he says before he allows Caro into his room. “WHAT aren’t toys?” she asks in trepidation. Well, it made me laugh.).
Rube Goldberg machines, for those who aren’t familiar, are complicated machines that do very simple things. The best example I can think of that anybody’s ever seen is the board game, Mousetrap. You know how you build this whole contraption and at the end all it does is land on the mouse? Another great example is the music video for OK Go’s song, “This Too Shall Pass”, which really should be on the Opposite of Hallelujah soundtrack but weirdly isn’t. Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist who did all these illustrations depicting complex devices that, like, wipe someone’s chin with a napkin or whatever (real example). Inventing these machines is something real nerds like to do; Purdue University and UC Berkeley have national competitions every year. I like to imagine that Pawel will someday enter and win one of these competitions, when he’s in college.
I first learned of Rube Goldberg machines (I tried to get away with calling them simply “Goldberg machines” in The Opposite of Hallelujah, but my copy editor insisted I use his full name every time; I don’t like it, but I DO like accuracy, so…) from, of all things, an episode of The X-Files. Who am I kidding, that’s where I’ve learned roughly 57% of the things I know. The episode in question (“The Goldberg Variation”**) is from the seventh season and guest stars both Shia LaBoeuf (one of my fake boyfriends, ye ken) and Willie Garson, who played the lovable Stanford Blatch on Sex and the City. In that episode, Willie Garson’s character is an amateur inventor of Goldberg machines (ain’t nobody copy editing me in this blog post!) who accidentally stumbles into a lucky streak. There are many scenes in which Willie’s character narrowly escapes certain death at the hands of people whom he owes money by a series of improbable events reminiscent of a real live Goldberg machine.
The idea of having one of the characters be obsessed with Goldberg machines was something that came up in the process of writing the book, one of those magical epiphanies you yearn for as a writer and don’t often get. It’s something that, as a mere character quirk, would have gotten smothered by the various other, heavier goings-on in the book, so I’m glad I didn’t think of it before I started writing, or else it probably would’ve come off as silly. And in the hands of another character instead of Pawel–like, if Caro had suddenly developed an interest in them–it would’ve been one detail too many, kind of besides the point.
Instead, the Goldberg machines did a couple of things for me. First, they gave me a metaphor that worked on a few different levels (the machines, as Hannah points out, are a great way to think about the intricate causality of the universe–you could basically think of your life, and the lives of everyone around you, as one huge Goldberg machine, events causing other events causing other events and so on; they’re also an external manifestation of the overwrought goings-on in Caro’s head and heart regarding her feelings for her sister, and the machinations Hannah has undertaking to hide her personal tragedy from those who love her most). Second, they gave me a really organic way to show Caro’s character development and capacity for empathy (I cannot explain this further without spoiling). Not to mention that it shows both Caro and the reader a different facet of Pawel, in a series of scenes that provide both insight into his character and a counterpoint to Caro’s own life. Caro, God love her, starts off the book as pretty self-involved, not in a malicious way, but in a myopic, childlike way. It takes a while–and a lot of different mistakes and emotional confrontations–for her to really see the people around her. And once she sees them, she has to earn them. To do right by them, in whatever way she can. The Goldberg machines help her do right by Pawel.
*It’s the Polish version of Paul, which I knew, of course, but until this moment I hadn’t realized that it’s my second book with a character named Paul (Carly’s father in All Unquiet Things is also named Paul). Not intentional!
**I guess this is sort of a pun? The Goldberg Variations is a musical work for the harpsichord written by Bach and, I guess, first played by some dude named Goldberg (not related to our buddy Rube).
Posted on April 12th, 2011 by annakjarzab
If you’re one of the handful of people who read my Make It or Break It recaps, you may notice I didn’t post one last night–but don’t despair! I was celebrating the twenty-eighth anniversary of the birth of my friend Cambria by consuming much wine and cheese, so I didn’t get a chance to watch, but I’m planning on spending some quality time with the Rock girls and boys tonight and will post a recap ASAP.
This is apropos of nothing, but I woke up this morning around 3:30 and couldn’t go back to sleep. I had this song playing over and over again in my head; it sounded very familiar, but for the life of me I couldn’t remember the words and/or title, and it was driving me INSANE. I kept trying to work it out until I realized that by doing so I was preventing myself from falling back asleep, if such a thing was even possible, and eventually I let it go and dozed off, only to wake up two hours later having finally worked out the title.
My friends, behold the wonder that is “Don’t Look Any Further” by Dennis Edwards. (Please, for your own viewing pleasure, watch the video. It’s cheesy and awesome.)
Why did I wake up with this strange, sort of creepy eighties song in my head at 3:30 AM on a Tuesday morning? Good question! I have no idea. I’m pretty sure I haven’t heard it playing anywhere recently. What makes it a little nightmarish is that I recognize the song from (NERD ALERT) a season 7 episode of The X-Files called “Orison,” in which the song serves as a “high school memory trigger/divine warning” (according to Wikipedia) for Scully. Considering that “Orison” is marks the return of fetishist/serial killer Donnie Pfaster, it’s no wonder I couldn’t fall back asleep after that.
Edited to add: Cambria shed some light on why I had “Don’t Look Any Further” in my head! Apparently, they were playing it at a bar we went to on Saturday night, but I guess I was too busy hating that bar and wanting to get the heck out of there to notice. Mystery solved!
Posted on December 8th, 2008 by Anna Jarzab
Good news. I am done with my first pass at the AUT manuscript. I have made all the small changes my editor marked, as well as reorganized Part Four (I think it works really well). While I was going through the MS, I flagged any notes that I needed to come back to, because they necessitated bigger changes or explaining to my editor why there didn’t need to be a change. There are a lot of flags in this manuscript right now, you guys. So close, yet so far away, in the immortal words of Hall and Oates.
A little story to prove to you that New York is, indeed, the biggest small town in America: Last night at Mary’s fondue party, which I am still recovering from by the way, I met a lovely girl who works in the Random House Children’s PR department. We got to chatting and it turns out that she really admires my editor. She said they sometimes get to request to work on certain books, and that they’re going to be presented the Spring 2010 lists pretty soon, so she’s going to ask to work on mine. Kind of fun, huh?
Okay, now I’m going to take advantage of the still-early hour and reward myself for all my hard work this weekend by watching Wanted and possibly The X-Files: I Want To Believe, which I bought today at Virgin. Extended cut, you guys! I wonder if the movie will make sense with more scenes in it, or if it’s just a lot of extra blood and gore. I’ll let you know!
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Posted on March 21st, 2008 by Anna Jarzab
I worked more on the plot board yesterday night and it made its debut of sorts in my living room/kitchen/dining room when I showed it to my roommate, who was suitably impressed. I was (and remain) hypnotized by the bright colors. One thing I’ve noticed is how the process of assembling the board gets slower and slower as I come in from the edges of the narrative and start getting deep into the meat of it all. Characters start getting bombarded by multiple events and experience several emotions at a time, complicating the story greatly. Also, Part One of the novel is told alternately in the present and a past which also progresses along its own time line; there, it’s the structure that is complicated, which allows the narrative, in contrast, to be a little more straightforward, and it has to be, since there is so much information to impart without completely overwhelming the reader. I’ve just finished adding cues (subtitles labeling the time a scene is occurring and asterisks to separate scenes that take place during the same time period but in a different location or circumstance) to Part One in order to make the flow a lot better and, wouldn’t you know it, in the process I noticed that my time line was off. How embarrassing; I felt like I was caught by a stranger in my underwear. A little piece of advice from the trenches for flashbacks: KNOW YOUR TIME LINE. Especially if you’re easily confused, like me.
Um, so I started this post to talk about trimming the fat–or, as some people call it, killing your darlings (which was, apparently, the title of a film…the things you learn while Googling). This morning, sort of inexplicably, I started worrying about word count, possibly because now that I’m examining the MS with what are apparently new eyes I can see all the characterization I seem to have left out–and it takes a lot for me to admit this, because I feel like characterization is actually the strongest part of the novel. And I was like, “What do I think I can cut?” And then, sadly, I realized that there was a scene that I was attached to, not for its content necessarily, but because it contains the only alternative title this project has ever had, “The Atomic Weight of Iridium,” which I think has a sort of poetic ring to it. You know how the new untitled X-Files movie has a production name of “Done One”, that obviously won’t be the title when it’s released? That’s kind of what “Iridium” was to this project. Anyway, the whole scene can go. It just doesn’t go anywhere–it explores a relationship that the reader is aware of by now, and I don’t think it necessarily deepens it. I think I kept it for so long because it’s a happy scene, and so many of the scenes in the book are unhappy. So I’m going to cut it. It’s nice, but it contributes nothing. Wah.
I have to say, though, if I wasn’t worried about word count at this juncture I’d probably leave it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with leaving in a scene you love that doesn’t technically contribute anything to the final product; I mean, there is a reason you wrote it, so it must have some value, but you have to exercise discretion. I was just watching My Big Fat Greek Wedding on Wednesday while waiting for America’s Next Top Model to come on and we were at the part where Toula and Ian start dating and they show you one date with dialogue and flirtiness and what have you and then they show you a couple of very short scenes set to music that imply that they’ve been on many dates by the time the next longer scene happens, so you get a sense that they’re seeing each other regularly but they don’t have to show you every. single. date. to set up for the next scene. We don’t really have an equivalent in novels. I mean, we can say that time has passed, but that’s telling, not showing. And I’m not the fiercest adherent to the “show, don’t tell” policy–there’s a time and place for each, of course–but I do know that saying, “And then it was three weeks later. We’d been on a couple of dates and we really liked each other” is not the same as showing that to people. So scenes like the one I’m cutting kind of do that in a way for us; they repeat an already established characterization or theme but don’t really add much.
On the other hand, when I have scenes that do deepen characterization (such as character introspection on their background, which I want to add) or advance theme to add, I shouldn’t keep a scene I know isn’t doing much for the narrative but that I secretly have an attachment to. It’s just not practical. But I’ll stick it in my Scraps folder and maybe one day use it as website content or something. Get excited.