Thursday, April 28, 2011

From pages to screen

Before my extended trip to Hong Kong, I decided that I should get an e-reader. When I have time I read a lot. As much as 1 – 2 novels a week. There was no way I would (even if I could) carry that many hard copy books with me going or coming.

In 1998 when I had an extended stay in France I did take quite a few books. I had received a book allowance for graduate school and was able to use that to buy titles for the trip. I donated several of the books to the English library at a French university. The staff of the library had let me read books there – at first, because I had no status there (not student, not faculty) they would only let me read in the library. Eventually I was able to take books overnight. I so appreciated that – and it helped me study for my exam in graduate school the following semester.

Anyway, I’m just saying that I’ve carted books overseas before and they’re heavy. It’s not practical.

This time, I started looking at e-readers. But my practical side kicked in. I really didn’t want to quickly decide on an e-reader without more time to research and well, delay the decision. I also started to understand that while I love web-based tech-related things like new social sites and multimedia tools, I am not really an early device adopter. I have an older laptop, an old iPhone and whenever a new thing comes out, I’d rather wait. I love playing on new devices and getting to know why they’re cool, but I don’t necessarily want to take them home right away.

I like to wait until the next generation comes out and I can get a deal on the first one.

So I didn’t buy an e-reader.

One of the other factors in my decision was that I just do not want one more device to carry around. I usually have an iPhone, a BlackBerry and a laptop. The electronics can weigh me down.

Just before I left I downloaded the Kindle app for iPhone. I bought one book – Victor LaValle’s Big Machine, and crossed my fingers that I would enjoy or tolerate reading on the phone screen.

I wasn’t able to try it out until a couple of weeks into my trip. But when I did, I really liked it. I’m sure reading on a bigger screen is better in some ways. I know that carrying one less thing is better for me right now.

And I can use what I would have paid for a Kindle to buy lots of e-books. That I love.

Monday, April 18, 2011

You must read Victor LaValle

Victor LaValle was our author guest for #blacklitchat last night on Twitter.

If you haven't read his work, you really must. Smart, funny, surprising, challenging. We focused on his novel Big Machine which has been described as horror, satire, fantasy and includes heroes, religion, and evil beings.

I had not read any of his work before. And I am going back to get both The Ecstatic, his previous novel, and Slapboxing for Jesus, a collection of short stories.

We were very lucky to have Victor join us. He has a Twitter account, but isn't active on Twitter and made an exception to join our chat. Which is very interesting as well because he is so good and, judging by the novel, would have us cracking up (and thinking) with tweets.

But if he is going to put all his typing energy into writing more stories and novels - it's all good.

So, usually I post a link to a transcript. But the site I've been using can no longer provide a transcript - some TOS thing with Twitter. I'm sure there's another way to provide a transcript that shows everyone's comments (lots of folks joined us - yay!) - but I don't have it today. [Edited 4/18 - What did I tell you about Dee Stewart? Of course she has a transcript link!]

Instead I grabbed the questions to Victor and his answers. Here's the Q&A (led by Dee Stewart - who shouldered the work for this one and did so with very little notice. Appreciate my co-host always.)

Oh! And Carleen Brice, author of Children of the Waters and Orange Mint and Honey, hosted a giveaway on her blog to help promote the chat. That was a surprise from her (though it's no surprise that she supports the chat - she was one of the first people to do so!). Thanks, Carleen.

Q1 - In your words, in less than 150 char, what is Big Machine?
A1:Big Machine is the whole United States today shrunk down to one easy to swallow capsule. Easy-ish.

Q2: Scary description. I know you intended to write a horror novel, why should we be frightened with Big Machine?
A2: Evocative sewer landscapes, homeless terrorists with bombs on their chests, monsters, and, of course, the specter of love.

Q3: There are so many nuggets to get. I've (@deegospel) reread chapter 55 too many times. What's your process?
A3: I'm pulling the book down now. Let me see what chapter 55 says!
A3: Chapter 55 - the wasp larva and the needle. Good times.

Q3b: I don't want to share any spoiler, but did you know before you wrote the story Ricky [would] be in that situation?
A3: Funny, but that's one thing that was there from the start. I couldn't get rid of it! I wrote the rest to find out why.

Q4: Did you build Big Machine differently than the Ecstatic? If so, what was different, if not how do you do it?
A4: The ecstatic was built on voice and personal history. Big Machine was built on old school narrative. That's the difference.
A4b: When I wrote Ecstatic I didn't understand what a plot was. Not really. With Big Machine I learned.
A4c: The big thing: the first third of book is only about posing questions. Different from stories!

Q5: When you decided to write Big Machine, you used narrative voice to write Ricky's story or you wanted to tackle nv?
A5: I felt sure about voice so it was about plot, pacing. I went back to classics to keep readers turning pages.

Q6 via @sweat_btwn: What is your inspiration to write? What’s in your room? Any ritual or routine?
A6: Right now I'm still inspired by Thom Yorke's dancing in lotus flower video!
A6b: By which I mean pure abandon.

Q7: via @carleenbrice There has been word that you're writing a screenplay for Big Machine. What is that process like?
A7: I'm writing it for sure. It's been an education. Learning to switch from written language to visual language. Tough as sh*t.

Q7b: How much of a challenge was it switching from short story to novel?
A7b: Very tough. Story is abt. problem on p1, solution on p.25. Novel is problem on p1, solution on p400!
A7c: So in novel you have to come up with many other questions/answers so you can put off the big answer til the end.

Q8: via @EvelynNAlfred Which classics did you read to help you with plotting Big Machine?
A8: Moby Dick. Narr. of Olaudah Equiano. Various Jane Austen. Bible. For reals!
a8b: Jane Austen was an atom smasher!

Q9 Big Machine has been described as horror, fantasy, satire. How (if u do) wld u categorize? Is it limiting to do so?
A9: I really think the best books are the hardest to categorize. What's Gayl Jones? Literary? Horror? Feminist? Poetry? Yes!
A9b: not really the humblest answer, was that? Oh well.

Q10 via @conniebriscoe Are you teaching yourself to write the screenplay? Or working with someone?"
A10: tried to teach myself years back and FAILED! Took a great course at a program: @BingerFilmlab. Amazing.

Victor (at the end): Thanks again for having me. Hope you had as much fun as I did.

We certainly did!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Blacklitchat with Victor LaValle - April 17

We're reading Big Machine, by Victor LaValle for #blacklitchat on Twitter this month.

This is the first book by LaValle that I'm reading - he has two others: Slapboxing for Jesus (a story collection) and The Ecstatic.

Here are a few reasons we chose Big Machine for this month's book - and reasons you should start reading it so you can join us.

-- LaValle is a funny and sharp writer - I am already laughing out loud with this book.
-- The images in the book go beyond the obvious. There's an "easy way out" way to describe something and then there are writers who find just the right and surprising way to show you what characters see. LaValle doesn't take the easy way out.
-- Big Machine is a big award winner. Among other accolades, Publishers Weekly named it one of the 10 best books of 2009 and it was seleced for the 2010 Ernest J. Gaines award for literary excellence.
-- It's our first science fiction book for #blacklitchat.

And if you're just finding out that Big Machine is our book for April - you can still join us. Come listen or ask a question about writing. We have people who join because they're interested in a book, even if they haven't read it yet. And you can start reading it now with this excerpt.

We've moved the chat to 7 p.m. on Sunday, April 17 so that I can still participate (it will be 7 a.m. Monday in Hong Kong where I am). You can join the chat here by logging in with your Twitter account.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Chopsticks: Or not using the fork option

At home when we eat at a restaurant that has chopsticks, I use a fork and knife most of the time. Chopsticks

(Photo by sparktography via Flickr)

I had sushi for the first time on a date with my husband (in the last 2 - 3 years, definitely tardy to the party) and I didn't know what to order or expect and certainly didn't think I could handle chopsticks and sushi. I ate it with a knife and fork.

When I have used chopsticks I've felt very self conscious and clumsy. Actually I was actually clumsy, not just a feeling - it was my reality.

And I was sure that I was doing it wrong and would make a fool of myself.

So I avoided them as much as possible to keep from being foolish/looking foolish.

In the weeks I spent getting ready to come to Hong Kong I never once thought about chopsticks or the fact that I might need to develop the skill to use them.

When I sat down to my first dim sum I was told that there would be some places where a fork would not be available. So even though I probably could have requested a fork in that restaurant, I didn't. I knew I'd have to get used to using chopsticks.

I also was very hungry when we sat down, so I was going to eat whether I looked like a clumsy American tourist or not.

I'm not particularly good at using chopsticks yet (I've been here less than a week). And I may always look like a tourist - even after weeks here. But not giving myself the option to ask for a fork was a little mind trick that made me adapt, try harder and focus enough to have a wonderful meal with chopsticks.

Were there faux pas? Probably. I survived, though.

It's a small internal triumph for me. One of the ways that I know I'm up for this cross cultural adventure - I'm willing to try most things and working on not being so self-conscious that I limit my experience.

A taste of Hong Kong

I'm in Hong Kong for the next three months and in the first 48 hours I've learned that the food is amazing. (I've learned a lot of other things as well, but I can't share everything all at once).

Though I've had only a little time to explore (and am glad to have people guiding me through my first few days), I can already see that the dining choices are almost too plentiful.

Naturally there are Hong Kong and Chinese cuisine options and Japanese and Indian and  tonight we had pizza and pasta. The world's food cultures are represented so well here. I will have to be very careful not to go too far overboard!

In addition to the dinner tonight, I was able to go into the city this afternoon and  walk around the area of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. It was busy of course - we even saw a bride and groom taking pictures as well as plenty of local people and tourists with cameras.

One of the amazing things about Hong Kong is the number of malls in the city/region - this afternoon I browsed a bookstore, Page One, at Festival Walk. It was a little overwhelming, but wonderful as always to see books. Many of the books are shrinkwrapped, though there are copies that are open for browsers to flip through. Very interesting to see the shrinkwrapping.

I saw lots of familiar authors and titles in the English section. I didn't even make it to the magazines, but I'm sure I'll go back and spend an entire afternoon there.

I will post some of my photos and what I've been able to see and experience in Hong Kong here. I'm not sure yet whether I'll pick a standard format or, like tonight, just string together a few thoughts.

But I do know that my excitement about Hong Kong is absolutely growing each day as I see more things to do here.

Friday, April 01, 2011

A place for rough drafts

This post is just a draft. The kind of post draft that I compose almost daily in my head and (as you can see) rarely post.

I have an idea, an experience to share or just a question. But it comes while I'm driving to work or running an errand or any of the "supposed tos" in life.

And when I am online, mostly at night or very early in the morning, I can't remember it. Or I remember it, but think it's not worthwhile or no one is reading this blog anyway, so what's the point?

If I make it past those minor hurdles I wonder if I can write it in a way that is useful, meaningful or even interesting.

I decide that I can't. Maybe if I had more time or focus or [fill-in-the-blank quality].

And I post nothing.

I'm too tied to not putting my rough drafts out in the world. Sometimes that means I never float a draft -story, blog post, business idea. Later I try to remember what it was that seemed like such a decent idea when I was thinking about it. But there's not even a rough draft to go back to.

And I'm stuck with nothing.

There's always something missing - something that isn't quite ready in my life. So that's one of my excuses for not doing. A lame excuse.

This post is rough and I don't think I can even close the circle of the idea. It's a rough draft. But I wanted to do something other than nothing tonight.

Walking away from even casual writing and opportunities in general because things aren't perfectly in place is one of my weaknesses [edit: opportunities for growth :)]. Everybody needs  rough drafts. Nothing is finished without a draft, a first attempt.

[Of course Anne Lamott writes about this so well. I need to re-read Bird by Bird.]