Tuesday, March 31, 2009
First up... Script Frenzy 2009! I've been mentally preparing for about a month now, and I'm still nowhere near ready. Yet I'm still excited to take on the challenge. Chalk it up to overconfidence after successfully winning NaNoWriMo last year, I guess. But I digress.
It's the same concept as NaNoWriMo, except the object is 100 pages of any kind of script. Screenplay, radio drama, TV shows, stage plays... anything goes, and this time, you can grab a buddy and co-write! So in a stroke of geekiness, my sister and I are teaming up to write the first three issues of a comic series (or is it chapters of a graphic novel? Still figuring that out) that's been brewing in her head for years, and then when it's done she'll supply the art. Fun! I've always enjoyed comics, and it's been a while since I've felt free to write something that isn't trying so hard to be meaningful or literary. Updates are sure to follow, whether you want them or not. :)
If you've ever watched a movie and complained about the script, or maybe just wanted to give NaN, why not sign up and join the Frenzy with us? 100 pages of dialogue can go fast, and there's lovely free software to help with the formatting. It'll be fun and crazy, but so rewarding in the end.
The second cool thing that you don't really have to be a writer to appreciate: April is National Poetry Month. I've never felt like much of a poet myself (only really able to pull it off if there's a figurative gun to my head), but I've always loved the art of poetry and have so much respect for those that can say things in a few words that would take me a few pages. Sadly, I'm not so sure the writing or reading of poetry gets the acknowledgment it deserves today, but that's where NPM comes in.
So this month, in honor of NPM, I'll be sharing the love by posting about some of my favorite, most influential writers and sharing their poems. Hey, maybe I'll be feeling ambitious enough to come up with some of my own. (Maybe. If Screnzy doesn't eat my soul first.) If you have some favorite poems you think I should share (including stuff you wrote! :)), please send them my way!
So, comic scripting, poetry blogging, and editing my story manuscript for a second workshop in my creative writing class... yeah, I have a busy, wordy April ahead. Scary, but I wouldn't have it any other way.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
When I first heard the premise of Kevin Roose’s new memoir The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University, I was immediately intrigued: an Ivy League student from a secular, liberal background plunges himself into the conservative “Bible Boot Camp” world of Liberty University where Evangelism 101 is a core class and a forty-six page code of conduct called “The Liberty Way” governs students’ social lives. I wasn’t sure to expect, honestly, but I was curious and excited to read his take on the strange world of evangelical America… and very pleasantly surprised by what I found.
The story begins when Kevin Roose, a sophomore at Brown University, decides to take on a project that stuns his family and friends. Just “to see what Christian college is like” (and write a book about it), he decides to transfer to Liberty University, the school founded by the late Reverend Jerry Falwell, and immerse himself in the foreign world of evangelical Christian culture. He signs up for religion classes, sings in the choir at Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church, befriends rebels and pastor’s kids, and even secures a rare opportunity to interview Dr. Falwell himself (which, in a twist too bizarre for fiction, turns out the be the pastor’s final print interview).
The story is already compelling, and on top of that, Kevin is a very talented writer. One minute, he’s a perceptive journalist, recording observations with a critical eye and sharp wit. The next, he’s a storyteller, weaving the narrative with moments of insight and heartfelt reflections on his own spirituality. The writing is simply poetic sometimes, such as one of my favorite lines from early in the book, as he describes the extent of his spiritual life before Liberty: “Quakers talk about God as an ‘inner light’… my inner light flickered a lot, like the overhead fluorescent at a Motel 6, and sometimes, it burnt out altogether.”
The ability to strike this balance between intellect and heart is the beauty of The Unlikely Disciple and what makes it such an engaging read. Of course, there are criticisms levied at the atmosphere of Liberty; Kevin expresses discomfort proselytizing to strangers on a spring break trip to Daytona, politically charged classes, and paranoia toward homosexuality that pervades the campus, the sort of things most people would expect in a story about a religious school. But at the same time, he describes his hallmates in Dorm 22, the students and faculty, and even Dr. Falwell himself with warmth and humanity. There’s a reverent sense of love throughout the book that is refreshing to read, because, after all, it's easy to take the “Christians are weird” approach. Instead, he commits from the start "to learn with an open mind, not to mock Liberty students or the evangelical world in toto."
I loved the stories of the incredibly diverse students, from the rebellious Jersey Joey and Kevin’s “Christian crush” Anna, to “ultra-happy” neighbor Zipper and even Henry, the only one that unfortunately fits the gay-bashing, hard right image. Possibly my favorite story from the book has to be the interview with Dr. Falwell. I never was a Jerry Falwell fan myself, but to read this other side of him – a friendly “religious Willy Wonka” that owned 40 red ties and chugged a Diet Snapple Peach Tea every afternoon – I couldn’t help but, well, almost like the guy. This different perspective added to the sadness of the final chapter about the week after Dr. Falwell’s death (and incidentally, Kevin’s final week at Liberty).
I can’t recommend this book enough, no matter which side of the “God Divide” you find yourself on. From my Christian side, it was thought-provoking and challenging to my ideas and faith, and, oddly enough, melted a bit of the cynicism I catch myself falling into when I think of all we can get wrong. In the closing words of the acknowledgements, he writes to the students, faculty, and administrators of Liberty, “experiencing your warmth, your vigorous generosity of spirit, and your deep complexity, I was ultimately convinced – not that you were right, necessarily, but that I had been wrong.” Nice to know that maybe we do get something right.
For more info about The Unlikely Disciple visit kevinroose.com
Sunday, March 22, 2009
The Unlikely Disciple is in stores March 26th, but can be ordered online now. For an excerpt and more info, check out KevinRoose.com and if you do the Twitter thing go follow him while you're at it.
*For the record, I've never seen a book trailer before this. Awesomeness. Someday when I grow up and write a real book, I want a trailer. With a dramatic voiceover. Oh yeah.
Sunday, March 8, 2009
Thursday morning was not the best of mornings. Wednesday was long and tiring, writing and reading and editing stuff for class into the morning hours, and passing out on the bed, determined I would not write a darn thing for the rest of the week.
The next morning, I woke up to my sister saying "Are you gonna get up and go to work?" approximately at the time I needed to be leaving. Quick hair wash in the sink and a mug of cereal and I'm off.
Somewhere on 441, between Zellwood and Apopka, a sheriff pulled onto the road behind me. Okay, cool. I'm not speeding. I kept my speed and minded my own business.
Red and blue lights filled the rear-view mirror. Hmm, okay. Guess he's going to whip around me and speed off to an accident or something. But no, he's riding kind of close... and hey, is that backup that just magically appeared behind him? Oh snap. I think I'm being pulled over. I eased off the road, wondering why I didn't just stay home in bed. He approached my car, and I strained to remember every pull-over story I'd heard, praying I could strike that balance between fear, respect, sweetness, and confusion. I rolled down my window.
"May I see your license, ma'am?"
"Um, sure!" I handed him my license, genuinely confused.
He looked it over. I hoped I could find my registration and insurance card in my messy glove compartment. Isn't that what you're supposed to hand over next?
"Your license is expired."
"What?!" Now I was really baffled. "I thought I renewed it!"
"You've been driving on an expired license since July. It's going on a year now. I have to issue you a citation." And with that, he walked off.
If there's anything worse than the red and blue lights in the rear-view mirror, it has to be the sitting and the thinking and the oh-my-gosh waiting while a police officer is at his car, checking out your life story and deciding your fate. I peeked in my mirror and saw him talking with his backup, a blonde woman in uniform. A part of me secretly hoped that I did indeed renew it, but simply and honestly forgot to put the sticker on the back, and maybe, just maybe, I'd get a little bit of grace for forgetfulness.
He explained to me that I had a court date, that I needed to take care of it ASAP... and oh yeah, I could go to jail for this, but he wasn't going to take me, and I needed to park it and have someone come get me because if I get caught again they could issue a warrant for my arrest.
My new friends drove away, and I sat there on the side of the road, awestruck at how close I had come to my very own mugshot.
I called the office, probably making no sense as I tried to hold composure and ask for someone to come pick me up at a gas station in Apopka. Office Manager Judy was delighted, I think. She picked up the phone, laughing, and said, "Wow, Jen, I'm impressed!" She assured me that she and Cathy would come pick me and my car up. I called my mom and cried until they came for me, and we all went on a field trip to the tag office/DMV together.
Apopka has the coolest tag office I've ever seen. (And I've only seen two, so I'm something of an expert.) I walked in, got my number from a man at a little desk ("Expired license," he said, looking up over my glasses and smiling. "Happens all the time. Have a seat."), and in no time, a sweet lady named Linda was checking my information, taking my picture, and getting me legal again.
"Under penalty of perjury, do you swear all this information is correct?"
"Yes. I don't want to add perjury to my list of criminal offenses today."
So, that's my story. I wish I had a quarter for every time I had to tell it the past couple days. Apparently, I was just caught in a random tag check, and my sin of illegal driving finally found me out. Crime doesn't pay, people.
When I finally made it to work, I was greeted with this. By the time this video was shot, the whole debacle had moved from terrifying to hilarious. I have the best (weirdest? :)) co-worker friends ever.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
In December, I randomly decided to go back to school. I signed up for Creative Writing I at Seminole Community College, a class that I always wanted to take, but never had the guts to sign up for. (I like to say that I didn't have time, but fear played a pretty big part of that. I feel so much better now that the truth is out.) And for the past two months, it has been a wonderful experience. One night a week, I get to hang out for 3 hours with a bunch of wonderful writerly people and, well... write stuff. I've learned a lot, and it has definitely motivated to create more and reminded me of my first dream, much like NaNoWriMo did last year.
And then... we get down to the business of writing.
We've started workshops, something that has beyond intimidated me, but seems a lot less scary after seeing a few of my fellow writers go through it last week. It's fun to sit in a circle and help other people make their manuscripts better... fun and rewarding. I'm just not so sure I'm ready to watch my own words get analyzed and picked apart.
Regardless, my story is due in two days. Next week: to the lions! (Not really. They're nice, helpful people.)
Tonight, I finished writing the first quick and dirty draft of my story. I decided to revisit one of my favorite NaNo characters when he was a teenager and write a little story about his family and a defining moment of his life. I set out to craft a tender coming-of-age story, in which a functional yet offbeat family comes together in the face of tragedy, and a young man finds his true calling in life. Something sweet and heartwrenching and profound like that.
And you know what? Hemingway was right. "The first draft of everything is sh*t." (Pardon the language, but you know it's true. He said it, not me. And he's the master.)
There's an odd dynamic about writing a draft knowing other people will read it. I forgot how cantankerous that Cranky Inner Perfectionist Editor can be. Somehow, writing a 20 page story should be a piece of cake after cranking out a 150+ page novel in a month, but it's actually way tougher. I miss that reckless rush of dashing off words and images at a frantic pace, knowing that even the silliest ideas can have glowing potential and nobody has to see the mess but me.
So I told CIPE to take a hike. Sort of. And she did, and my story is a mess. But there's something redeeming about picking through one of those drafts, looking for usable gems, and maybe it should be a little dirty so my writer friends can help me with the polishing next week. At this point, pride is the only problem.
The draft is way over the limit with 6 pages to cut, so tomorrow the Editor and I have a lunch date. We're going to take a red pen and hack away at the rambling, glorious chaos. It's going to be great and scary and a little bit painful.
But that's what creating is all about, right? Of course. I just hope I can edit the story better than I did this blog post. :)
By the way, I think I've discovered why people write fiction, or at least why I do. All the fun of imaginary friends, without people questioning my sanity. It's awesome.