Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A Moving Day in the Life of an Editor

When does being a bookish person and having a kickass library have a drawback? When you’re moving to a fourth floor walk-up. Sigh. Luckily, I also have kickass friends.

My move in numbers:

1: splinter

2: times I bumped my head in the same place

3: pizzas eaten post-moving

10: friends helping move all those books

16: boxes of books

Countless: bruises

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Soundtrack of My Summer

Here are the songs that have been on repeat in my head this summer...

1. "Mamma Mia," ABBA
It's catchy, I can't help it!
2. "Inside Your Head," Eberg
3. "Ultimatum," The Long Winters
One of my absolute favorite songs. I love love love the refrain.
4. "I Hear the Bells," Mike Doughty
"winds in the night, commas & ampersands..."
5. "In the Night," Basia Bulat
6. "Click, Click, Click, Click," Bishop Allen
7. "9 Crimes," Damien Rice
8. "1 2 3 4," Feist
9. "Panic," Puppini Sisters
10. "Momentary Thing," Something Happens
11. "New Soul," Yael Naim
12. "The Crane Wife 3," The Decembrists
13. "L. E. S. Artistes," Santogold
14. "After Hours," We Are Scientists
New fave from the Scientists--and it's playing in the trailer for Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, which is a fantastic pairing, in my opinion.
15. "You Love Me," Devotchka
16. "Come Pick Me Up," Ryan Adams
17. "Sweet Darlin'," She & Him
18. "Love Song," Sara Bareilles

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Why all the Breaking Dawn hullabaloo?

I’m unashamed to admit that I loved Twilight. I stayed up till 4 a.m. finishing it the day I got it back in 2005. Sure, it’s verbose, and not the most elegantly written book, but Bella’s voice is compelling, and there’s something addictive about the love story. I liked that it stayed a very personal story, rather than being about Bella and Edward fighting some Great Evil. Because, let's face it, a vampire and human being in love is complicated enough without Great Evil looming.

I did have my concerns about Bella. She so readily gives up herself, her loves, her dreams for Edward. I wanted to reach into the story and shake her, tell her that she had to be her own person, too. But even as I wanted to do that, I also thought it was a very honest representation of first love for a teenager, so I could see girls finding themselves in Bella. And Twilight ends on the ambiguous note of her butting heads with Edward over whether or not he would change her into a vampire. Because of the ambiguity, you could imagine for yourself a future in which Bella would find herself again and not let Edward be so suffocating and bossy, in which they would be true partners.

But then, with New Moon and Eclipse, Bella was put in the middle of a choice between Edward and Jacob, her best friend who nurses a crush for her. I was a little irritated that Jacob and Bella had to cross that line into romantic because I thought it would be more interesting if a friendship was represented as just as powerful as a romantic relationship (because friendships are!). I thought that it might be what spurs Bella to stand up to Edward and come back into herself. She needed her friends and her life, and she wouldn't give them up for him, and they had to learn how to have both. But it became a choice between two romantic loves instead.

So readers went in to Breaking Dawn expecting Bella to have to make the choice--between Edward and Jacob, between mortal and immortal. They were waiting to see how she would do it, and what the consequences would be for everyone involved, and how she would deal with both the good and the bad fall-out of such a hard choice. Someone was bound to be hurt, and there were sacrifices to be made and dealt with. And then...Bella didn’t have to make the choice. Circumstance neatly made it for her. No one got hurt; everyone got what they wanted; happily ever after. I think that’s what has caused the fan backlash. Yes, we all wanted a happy ending, one with hope, but what does happily ever after mean if it hasn’t been fought for? Happily ever after is only satisfying when there’s been work and even pain involved, when the characters have been active in achieving it, when they’ve had to strive, not when it’s been handed to them. (Um, Bella had her backbone actually broken, and then healed by Edward. Metaphor, anyone?)

Another point to consider is whether Breaking Dawn is still a teen book. I think it may have crossed the line into adult. Sure, sure, Bella is still a teenager, but her concerns are no longer a teen's concerns. Teens are questing--they're trying to find their places in the world, and make choices, and are going. In Breaking Dawn, Bella's found her place, and is settled. So, unfortunately, I think that many teens just couldn't relate to her as strongly anymore.

In the end, this is Stephenie Meyer's story, though, and she had to write the one she wanted to write. And now that it's out in the world, readers can decide for themselves whether or not they want to accept it in the way they've accepted the previous three. That's one of the great things about art--we don't have to like everything, but there are readers (or listeners or viewers) for everything.

For more, here are some of the eloquent, sometimes snarky, and sometimes very funny articles and blog posts about Breaking Dawn that I've enjoyed:

Gail Gauthier's blog
Washington Post Article
Salon Article
An amazing (but quite long), snarky play-by-play of the BD reading experience

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Dark Knight & Tension

I saw The Dark Knight a couple of weeks ago, and have been a little haunted by it ever since. It’s disturbing and amazing and as interior as it is exterior, which I think is pretty incredible for a superhero/comic book/action movie.

One of the reviews--I think the NYTimes one, but I’m not sure--had a line that stuck with me as I watched. Superhero movies find both their key and their downfall in the ultimate conflict between the hero and the villain. We all know that’s where it’s going, in any movie of this sort. It’s barreling toward the final showdown. That’s what hooks us, and sometimes it’s what disappoints us. So I had that in mind while watching Dark Knight, and was fascinated by how tense I was through the whole thing, regardless. Even though I knew what the climax was going to be, and even though I knew that somehow Batman had to come out on top, I felt the suspense winding me tighter and tighter, and keeping me on the edge of my seat. (Or, maybe more like curled in a ball in my seat.)

This got me to thinking about building tension and keeping your reader in suspense as far as books go, too. As the old saying goes, there’s only a certain number of stories in the world, and we all know what those stories are. In children’s and YA, maybe even more so than adult, we can often make a good guess as to where any given story is going. Voice and playing within the story make each new one fresh and compelling to readers, but how do they maintain the tension?

I’m not sure I have an answer to that question yet, but my idea is that it has to do with that interior/exterior balance. If we can predict what the exterior climax is going to be, then we need to be surprised by the interior one. Maybe it works the other way around, too. It’s all about the layers, and how they work each on their own and together as a whole. There has to be both friction and connection to keep interest. If we have an idea of how one could go, we need to be surprised by the other. And perhaps this is something that can switch back and forth even within the same work. As the Joker and Batman raced toward their final conflict, the balance of power shifted between them constantly. As the Joker told Batman in their last scene, they need each other to survive; they’re the two sides of human nature, and each needs its foil. Because it goes so psychological, we never really know which one we can trust--extremes in either way can be harmful and wreak havoc. This aspect--the way two sides can push and pull at each other, and the way exterior and interior conflicts do the same--is certainly something to keep in mind for stories that need the suspense to work in the best possible way.

Hunger Games is one that I’ve read recently that does the same thing so well--the whole premise tells us where we’re going as far as final conflict, but Katniss is in such opposition to it, that we are wound tightly through the whole experience as her internal battle intersects with the outside plot events. And it doesn't turn out perfectly--just as Dark Knight didn't turn out entirely great for Batman. Hm...maybe this is one of the reasons Breaking Dawn didn’t so much succeed. But that is a whole different blog post.