Of mice and sleep

winterberries2This hasn’t been an easy week at my house. Sickness and sleepless kids. Not fun at all. But it is Friday and we do seem to see the light at the end of it all.

I often feel like I shouldn’t be whining so much about my lack of sleep. I mean, everybody is sleep deprived to some extent. I’m nothing special. I can’t help it though. I don’t know how others deal with it, but I can barely make it through the day. It feels like torture. Understandably, since it is torture. Although, apparently, the American public believes that it is the most acceptable form of torture.

Now, forgive me a short digression, but don’t you hate the euphemisms used nowadays to make the atrocity that is war seem less of an outrage? Calling soldiers “troops” so they sound less human and we are less shocked when we hear about these young people’s violent deaths? Calling torture practices “enhanced interrogation techniques” so that we feel that they are justified instead of inhuman acts that are abhorrent by any standard of morality? On the other hand, it just shows how much language matters and how it can shape what we feel about events. Language is such a powerful tool of manipulation, and it has been used so masterfully throughout time by politicians, religious leaders and marketers, with the help of the media, to shape us into the confused, scared and angry little mice that we seem to be today.

Right. Well, things are happening in the world this scared mouse is too tired most of the time to even become aware of anything, even what’s right under her nose. But soon things will be better. Soon.

It doesn’t help this week that I am about to finish a technical communication class I am taking, and I need to submit the final project on Saturday. My project was to create an informative website on author platforms. It has been fun. I might actually make the website public soon, because it could be useful for people, who knows. I am also trying to learn a new website building software, which is a lot of fun. Any day now I’ll probably make some changes over here, because this website right now looks so bad on tablets and phones! Not acceptable these days, right? Now when you have hoards of people waiting to read your every word the instant you publish it on your mega-successful blog, like not me. But still, I’m practicing my web design skills over here, so this website is, ultimately, good for something. Hurray! Now back to her wheel this mouse swiftly goes.

What is and what is not elitism in literature

eleanor-catton-elitism6Is all literature for everybody? That is the question. Unlike Eleanor Catton, I believe that elitism of some sort cannot be avoided. What we call “literary fiction,” does not try to appeal to a certain type of reader, but still, nothing is for everyone, is it? I doubt that many authors will intentionally try to alienate any readers. It doesn’t make commercial sense. But, you will say, artists are not notorious for their commercial savviness. And you will be right. Some of them are, but many aren’t. What they may be known for is making art for art’s sake, which again is all about ignoring the reaction of the public. So if that author fancies herself or himself above everyone else in the room and wants everyone to see it, they will create elitist work. I don’t think elitism is beneath literature at all.

My thoughts about this have been prompted by a recent discussion (here and here) about elitism in the literary world, which was fueled by the a Twitter comment that the use of the word “crepuscular” in a piece published by “The Paris Review” was proof of elitism.

We often have this debate at my house: is a book better for using unusual words, or should writers strive to communicate their message in the simplest and most accessible way possible? Clearly, only fancy words do not make a book. But a simplistic vocabulary doesn’t either. A book is much more than the sum of its words, isn’t it? Word choice is not as simple as a choice between common and sophisticated words. Of course, the debate is wide ranging, but it all comes down to the intention of the writer, in my opinion. If “big” words are used just for the sake of their grandness, the text is elitist, but if they are used because no other word would do in that place at that time, then it’s just a good piece of literary work.

William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway had a famous vitriolic exchange regarding exactly this debate.

       He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary,

said William Faulkner about Hemingway

       Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don’t know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler and better words, and those are the ones I use,

Ernest Hemingway retorted.

To me Faulkner does sound elitist here and Hemingway sounds right. Writing should not be about sending the reader to the dictionary but about finding the best words. That being said, let’s not forget that words are immensely fascinating to people who write and you can’t blame us if sometimes we fall prey to the charms of one word or another and use it more liberally. There is not much fun we have in our lives.

PS. In researching this post I found an article in the Examiner.com titled “The 50 best author vs. author put-downs of all time,” about writers being mean to each other. It’s a fun read. They could be as elegant as Henry James disparaging Edgar Allan Poe,

       An enthusiasm for Poe is the mark of a decidedly primitive stage of reflection.

As childish as Nathanier Hawthorne belittling Edward Bulwer-Lytton,

       Bulwer nauseates me; he is the very pimple of the age’s humbug.

Or rather morbid and scary, though very creative, like Mark Twain’s dismissing Jane Austen’s work:

       Every time I read “Pride and Prejudice,” I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.

I know! Writers can be such meanies. I’ll avoid them on the playground from now on.

My latest title (developments)

Screen-Shot-2014-02-04-at-9.28.27-AM1I’ve changed it! The title, I mean. I am sure nobody actually needs to know how many times an author changes her mind about the titles of the books she’s writing, but I can’t help myself: I get excited and I think my titles are just brilliant. One after another. Every single title (that I end up changing three, four, five times while working on a manuscript) is brilliant at first and gets old very quickly. But this one is really special and I can’t foresee another change.

The new title for my work in progress is now Eye of Water, Eye of Fire. It references a spell that I have learned from my mother and that represents the duality you can find in the book’s main characters. I think it is a fitting title for many reasons, and now I am working on a cover that matches it. I hope to be done with some form of that soon. As soon as I teach myself about typography with the help of the public library from my town.

The amazing (and crazy-making) thing about self-publishing is the immense control one has over the finished product. I get to choose my own title and my own cover! Do I have all the expertise needed to make such decisions? Probably not. It probably won’t help the book sell better, but it will help make it a rounded, more cohesive product. I think.

Oh, before I forget, I also updated my Pinterest boards with images that inspire the atmosphere of this second novel. As I looked through the pictures I realized how similar this is to the world of Ana, the protagonist of Spell of Blindness. The two worlds do intersect even in my head, although they are not the same. There is however another village and another city in this new book. This oscillation between these two very different spaces is still present. Anyway, check out Pinterest if you’d like to see what I’m talking about. You probably don’t have time for that, though. Pinterest is a heartless time-sucking vampire. It’s probably wiser that you don’t let it catch a taste of your few, hard-earned free moments.

The small pleasures of office supplies: notebook edition

1I have to confess, it is hard to return to blogging after a long absence. It was not easy before either, but this time I feel so out of touch with my own … blogging voice, let’s call it (what I mean is that I don’t know what to write about). So when I come up with one idea, I milk it to death. Serializing is the best way of getting as much as possible from one small, lonely thought, isn’t it? Sorry.

So, notebooks. Right. A few weeks ago I went to a craft supplies store to buy something that I don’t remember right now and I noticed these small notebooks in the art section (the thin purple one in the picture). I decided on the spot that they would be excellent for jotting down the basics of the book I am writing now, like the evolution of characters, and title ideas, and inspiring stories or facts. Because I get to throw myself into working on the book for ten minutes at a time only, with vast empty spaces in between, and I forget. Ideas come and go and the book remains largely untouched. Here it to hoping that I can stay more focused now, and I can actually finish this thing. Dream big, they say.

I don’t know if I can recommend the technique. It does feel like just another way to avoid actually opening the Word document and working on the actual text. It does seem like a good idea though, so I’m keeping at it for now.

And because I feel generous today, although completely uninspired to write anything good myself, I am offering you a link to the post about Moleskine notebooks on the Stuff White People Like website.