Sunday, February 17, 2008

Books and More Books

The last week has been total, full-on, brain-burning teaching stuff. Of all sorts. I'm teaching two online classes this semester, and although I've done it before, the five wonderful students who climbed on board with me for Poetry 2 a couple of years ago knew they were guinea pigs and we worked through a lot of material. This time, the students are expecting a top-notch learning experience, and I've been working hard to get everything ready. Of course, as with any institution, the problems that arise tend to be bureaucratic, and it can be stressful to work your way through each length of red tape without losing your temper. I hope our students beginning their classes tomorrow, via the internet, will view me as a calm, serene duck, and not see the madly paddling feet underneath!

On-campus classes also start tomorrow, and I have mostly dispelled my panic through careful planning and thinking through everything that needs to be ready, and using lots of lists. Once classes begin, everything gradually moves into a routine and settles down. It's the "beforehand" stuff that drives us to the brink. However, I'm looking forward to all of my classes, which is a good sign.

Since the brain has been sending out smoke signals (saying, "Give me a break, will ya?"), I've done little writing this week. There are some times when enough is too much, and although I wanted to write, I needed to sleep more. That hasn't stopped me thinking about the novel I'm working on. And deciding that the slippery feeling I'd been getting while rewriting the last 4000 words or so was a sign that I need to print out everything so far and have a critical read-through. When you're writing a scene and you can't work out what's supposed to happen next or why (and the original version is right next to you and it doesn't make sense anymore), that's the time to spend more brain power on that scene, and what comes before it, and less finger power on the keyboard. For me, anyway.

In a quick reading roundup, it has occurred to me that I've been reading quite a few middle grade and YA novels recently with a lot of violence in them. I had to read Tunnels by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, if only to make sure my novel wasn't in any way similar. It wasn't (a relief, especially after an agent expressed concern about this despite not having read Tunnels). There was a huge amount of action and violence in the second half of this book, much of which kept up the tension and excitement level quite well. But there were also huge amounts of description, too much, so that I had trouble visualising what was going on, and where. I do think some of this could've been trimmed for a better story.

I also read The Road of the Dead by Kevin Brooks. Brooks never holds back in his novels (I still remember one that starts with the father dead in the lounge room) but this one is very scary. He does a great job of description, and the setting is the dark and lonely moors in England. Tiny village with horrible characters, and two brothers who want to find out who murdered their sister. Then, for a complete change of pace, I read The Arizona Kid by Ron Koertge. I loved this, not just because it's set in Tucson (and I love Tucson) but because of the voice and the characters. Each character has their own story, each character evolves and changes, not just the main character. The dialogue is snappy and moves the story along, with added touches of humour. Two very different books, but I recommend both.


Kristi Holl said...

For different reasons, I need to stop tomorrow and re-read what's done on a novel that feels (as you put it) "slippery." Hitting the keyboard but not really moving ahead... slippery is a great word for it! You've had a few weeks that would make anyone brain dead, so hopefully you can begin to catch up on your sleep. As always lately, you keep me in awe at your output and work load!!

Sherryl said...

This is the thing, isn't it? We work hard, the words flow, and then something doesn't quite gel, and the more you push it forward, the more it slides away from you.
There are lots of reasons for it - for me, I think it's because it's a quieter point in the story, and I'm not entirely sure what this scene is about, where it's going, what I need it to do.
Ah, for some thinking time and workable brain power!