Thursday, August 25, 2011

Materials to set the proper mood...

One of my writing projects is a novel about life and hockey in greater Boston that takes place in 1970. Now, I know a great deal about hockey. It's not that difficult to write convincing action scenes on the ice. I also know about greater Boston -- probably more than most outsiders due to the fact that I grew up playing hockey there and went to high school there. But, it is a completely different thing to write about these topics in a different time period. I've had to find sources, materials.

A great source has been my dad. He was living and playing hockey in that time, and he was only about an hour outside of Boston. He knows what it feels like to watch Bobby Orr play. He remembers what it was like to run around a neighborhood. He knows which things boys cared about and which they didn't. He was a high school student during the Vietnam War and then he enlisted in the Army, so he has been on both sides of that equation. His stories throughout my life have been a huge help.

To get me in the mood for writing, I've been trying to immerse myself in materials that my main character would have been reading. I've been exploring newspapers from the era, copies of The Hockey News and Sports Illustrated, novels, and instructional books; anything that has to do with hockey. I found a great book in the library I just started working at called Power Hockey by former NHLers Don Awrey and Ken Hodge. It wasn't published until 1975, but it is eactly the type of book that my main character would read through every night before bed. Awrey and Hodge also played together on the Bruins that my character watched, so that's a bonus.

Time to write...

Just finished: Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
Currently reading: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Up next: The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

Friday, August 19, 2011


I just started a new job. I'm working as a librarian at a high school. So far, these are my two favorite parts of the job:

1) I get to create displays where I am able to showcase VCFA faculty/alums/students over other authors. Gotta keep it in the family.

2) I get to use ink stamps. Today, I was impersonating the guy from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Backstory or not to Backstory?

It's a hard task for a writer to maintain the forward motion of a novel. We want to keep the reader in suspense with our lightning-fast plotting and scene structures, but we also want the reader to have all of the information necessary to fully grasp the story. When information is given in a way that slows the plot and takes the reader out of the action, a “pause button violation” has occurred (PBV taken from Tim Wynne-Jones' website). He says, “Think of watching an episode of a TV series for the first time with an ardent fan who has control of the zapper and every time a character appears on the screen, your friend pushes the pause button and explains to you who this guy is.”

There are a lot of ways in which an author can commit a “pause button violation.” Many pause the action to inform the reader about a particular setting, an overly intricate and distracting description of a room or a landscape. Some writers pause to describe the way a character looks, pointing out each and every ultra-specific detail about their features or clothing. However, the largest “pause button violations” are committed through long passages of backstory. Lengthy backstory slows the plot, distracts the reader, and makes the viewpoint characters seem less authentic than they would be otherwise. Less backstory means a more believable narrative.

I'm currently trying to include large amounts of backstory in my own work without slowing the pace. As I said, it's a difficult task.

Just finished: Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Currently reading: Sapphique by Catherine Fisher
Up next: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

VCFA Blog Initiative Still Moving Along...

My classmate Tim Martin is featured at On beyond Words and Pictures here.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Expectations and Comfort Zones

I'm currently finalizing my first packet of work for my second VCFA semester. It's the first time my new advisor will see my work. Obviously, I have no idea exactly what she will be thinking as she receives the work. We talked at the residency, and I understand her expectations, but they are still different expectations than my last advisor. Those expectations are intimidating. Not a ton, but still, it's always hard to leave an area of comfort (an entire first semester with an advisor I worked well with) and move to something new.

During the residency, many people talked about our own individual writing voices. It seems to be a fairly universal view in both the VCFA and greater writing communities that staying true to our own voice is paramount. So, new expectations or not, I guess all I can do is write to the best of my ability and that has to be good enough.

Friday, August 5, 2011


There's revision and then there's REVISION.

revision is going over your writing and making it better. You correct all the grammar mistakes and awkward sentences. You try to fill up glaring plot holes. You change a few things that just don't work.

revision is good. But that's the problem. You writing will only be that - good - if you simply revise.

REVISION is a completely different process all together. REVISION takes you to a place that I don't think most people are ready to go with there writing. I know that I would never have been able to go there if I hadn't enrolled at VCFA. While REVISING, you question everything. Every scene. Every page. Every word. Every word needs to be right. Every scene needs to matter. I'd heard things like that before, but I never believed it. Now I do.

I spent the last two days REVISING. I just crossed a huge ridge-line, and the view looks amazing.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

VCFA Blog Initiative Pt. 3

Vermont College of Fine Arts' Blog Initiative is still rolling. My post about writer's block is featured this week On Beyond Words and Pictures, the blog of journalist/writer/artist Megan Frances.

Back from Vacation

Back from vacation in Maine. We ended up seeing three (actually more like THREE!!!!) bald eagles. Amazing.

I did a lot of reading. Author Walter Dean Myers (who spoke at the last VCFA residency) said that by reading, we are "doing mental push-ups." My brain must be getting fairly jacked. However, it's a challenge to "read like a writer" while on vacation. By that I mean that it's hard to read a book for more than just the pure joy. As a writing student, I have to use the books I read to inform my own writing. A technique that a given writer uses may help me figure out an aspect of my own piece, or, more frequently, I will see something that either intrigues or confuses me, and I will write an essay for school on that topic.

For example, I'm currently thinking about books that feature an unlikable main character. How does an author keep the reader's interest when the main character seems to have no redeemable qualities? I'm not sure, that's why I'm planning to write an essay about it. Immersing myself in a topic for an assignment helps me to form an opinion and reach a better understanding.

Reading List:
Just finished: The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Currently reading: Gold Rush by Chris Lynch
Up next: Athletic Shorts by Chris Crutcher