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Archive for May, 2011

It was a little over a year ago that Newsweek redesigned itself to look like a cross between a paper version of Slate and those “Special Advertising Supplements” that interrupt huge chunks of a magazine with advertorial content that doesn’t fool a single human being on earth into thinking it’s part of the magazine.

*gasps for breath*

I noted back then that I thought the magazine had taken a step toward obsolescence with its redesign.  Here we are a year later and the magazine has a new editor and a new look.  Actually, Tina Brown took over a few months back.  I didn’t think the attempt to resurrect the once venerable newsweekly with a change of blood warranted another post, but I’ve seen a spike in visitors to my blog looking for discussions about the old design and I thought Might as well prod the jellyfish once again.

Tina Brown came to Newsweek by way of Talk, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and, most importantly, Tattler, the gossip magazine of the rich and famous. Along the way every thing Tina Brown touched turned to gold, or at least a shade of gold called Tina Brown because rather than updating the images of the magazines she converted them into another facet of Tina Brown. Newsweek doesn’t look new so much as it looks like a semi-hard news version of her previous magazines. Some of the spreads could be pulled and inserted into old issues of Vanity Fair and fit right in. The magazine – and every magazine she works for – should just insert her name above the title, as in Tina Brown’s Newsweek.

I get it, print media is suffering. People had dozens of places to gather the information they want in this digital age, and for a magazine to remain profitable it need to deliver eyeballs to advertisers. But for Newsweek to survive it’s going to need to deliver on the first part of its name in way it hasn’t done since a time before it saw itself in competition with People magazine: it needs to deliver the news of the week.  Real news, in-depth news summaries. Remove the page of quotes out of context and give us the context. Let’s read less about famous people and more about the people who are making the news but aren’t in front of cameras for a living. Sure, clean up and modernize the design, but there are ways to make a layout breathe without making white space take up 60% of the page.

In the end, a newsweekly should be the place to go for background and details. We spend our weeks catching a bit of story here, a tease of news there. Let the newsweekly return to its roots, to give us a place that pulls all those breaking news fragments into a cohesive narrative that helps us better understand what’s been coming at us in tags and tweets. Let the internet give us the bits and pieces, let Newsweek show us the whole picture down the road when we can take a moment to digest it.

Newsweek‘s problems aren’t in the design, they’re editorial, and it’s going to take someone with a solid view of the past to bring us the future.

If the magazine lasts that long.

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Lunacy this week. Off the edge of explanation and into the wild blue id. The subject was eggs and from there the sounds took over. Those familiar with A Clockwork Orange might recognize “eggy-wegs” but I’ve been saying that for as long as I can remember. The rest of it? Who knows. So without further ado…

hen house hop

eggs eggs
eggy-wegs

hatchlings thatchlings
scrawny-wans

scritchlers scratchlers
fluffy-wuffs

plumplings dumplings
thingy-wings

rufflers toughlers
pecky-wecks

combers crowers
cocky-wocks

cluckers ruckers
hutchy-wutch

nesters breasters
henny-wens

lay-waylaying
eggy-wegs

Poetry Friday, everyone! Heidi over at my juicy little universe is hosting the round-up along with a collection of poems from 2nd graders. Lots of good words out there, people, enough for everyone.

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In his old age Ferdham, faithful servant to King Gundrum of Franconia, liked to entertain people with the story of King Gundrum and the crawling mouse. In it he tells of the day when he was a young man he witnessed a mouse crawl out of King Gundrum mouth while he sleeping on his throne. Ferdham followed the mouse as it left the castle, scurried across a nearby field, then pause as it came to a stream it could not cross. Ferdham says he took out his sword and laid it across the stream for the mouse to use as a bridge, though most realize this is a fanciful exaggeration. As a servant Ferdham wouldn’t have been outfitted with a sword and so most assume he used a stick he found laying by to create a bridge for the little mouse.

No one questions the mouse coming out of Gundrum’s mouth however.

The little mouse scurried on until it came to the base of a mountain where it worked its way into a small opening at its base. Ferdham watched and waited for the mouse to return, and after a while it did, returning back to the castle with great haste. Ferdham could barely keep up with the small creature but arrived in time to see the mouse jump back into King Gundrum’s mouth. The King woke suddenly and sat up.

“I just had the strangest dream. I dreamed I crossed a great plane, traversed a mighty bridge over a raging river, climbed into a mountain cave and discovered the greatest pile of blazing gold ever amassed!”

Ferdham then told King Gundrum of all that had happened, the mouse and the stream and the mountain, and so they set out to find and claim the gold. As Ferdham was a trusted servant, and the King was slightly paranoid that someone else might claim the gold, the two ventured alone to the mountain. Using his dream as a guide, the King led the way and Ferdham was able to point out the stick across the stream and other markers as proof of his witnessing. When they arrived at the mountain and discovered the hole the mouse had used it was clear the King would not be able to enter the same way. After some careful consideration the King noted that there was a much larger cave up the side of the mountain, and so they climbed.

The cave had a narrow opening that sloped down and then opened to a wide cavern below. There was a flicker of light coming from below, a glimmering reddish glow. “Imagine the amount of gold it would take to shine like that in a mountain as big as this!” King Gundrum said, and while the logic of it fails out ears today in the moment Ferdham could do nothing but agree.  The King shimmied on his belly into the cave, closer and closer to where the floor dropped into the main chamber. “I’m almost there! I can practically feel the heat of all that gold!” Again, while this rings false, in the moment Ferdham was certain that the King knew what he was talking about. Finally, the King reached the edge of the precipice and leaned over shouting “It’s beautiful!  It is just as I dreamed it! So much–”

And then he was gone. The King had fallen over the edge without another word.

Cautiously, Ferdham crept to the edge where he’d last seen the king and looked down. His eyes watered from the heat, but as they adjusted he realized that King Gundrum had been misled by his dreams.  Just as the great plane had been a field, the mighty river a stream, the great bridge merely a stick, what the mouse had seen as a great cache of gold inside the mountain was nothing more than a bubbling mound of lava inside an old volcano. King Gundrum’s passion and blindness for gold had, quite literally, consumed him in the end.

Though no one believes Ferdham’s account and the mountain that bares Gundrum’s name is, indeed, a sleeping volcano, there has been no other explanation for the mysterious disappearance of King Gundrum.

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The New Grimmoire is my continuing series of Grimm fairy tales reworked and retold. From The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm translated and edited by Jack Zipes this is tale 259. Given that I’m working my way backward, at the rate of one story a week, I only have 4.96 years to go!

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How old do you have to be to get that title reference? When did local news coverage stop teasing the late news with the promise of “film at 11?” For those wondering, there will be no film in this post, at 11 or otherwise.

A few weeks back on the Tuesday night #kidlitchat on Twitter people were divvying themselves up into pantser and plotter camps. Plotters, as the name suggests, are those who plot before writing while pantsers (and I kept wanted to say pantsters for some reason) would write at least initial drafts by the seat of their pants. I quickly identified myself as a pantser all the way, without hesitation, and then proceeded to suggest writers attend conferences with pins or stickers attached to their name badges readily identifying which camp they were in.

Then I thought about.

Letting my current WIP rest a bit so I can come back to revisions with fresh eyes I began thinking about what I was going to write next. I’ve had this story in my head for years now that I felt was ripe for the writing. Instead of looking at earlier attempts and notes I had taken on this project I sat down and began sketching out what I knew about the story, just some general plot points. I had a number of elements that I was shuffling around in my head and decided instead to shuffle them around in real space. I found a sticky note pad and wrote down what I thought were the top ten important plot points, plus separate notes for the first and last chapters, and began sorting and shuffling them. I went with a basic three-act structure and divided the sticky notes into where I thought they fell, then arranged them in order for each act. And there it was, a story outline, all plotted pretty as a picture.

But it didn’t work.

While the events built on one another there was no emotional arc. There were no secondary character arcs. Conflicts were barely suggested. There was a lot more to the story than what I had semi-outlined but without working those elements into the plot twists the story felt flat. I took my sticky notes and transferred the information into a new Scrivener file, a folder for each, and put it aside.

The next day I woke up with the idea that I was over-thinking the story, over-plotting it really going against my seat-o-the-pants nature by mapping it out. At the same time one of my problems is that first drafts are often so overwritten, filled with extraneous detail and backstory, that I was looking for some way to get closer to the heart of the story from the start. Without being fixed to the idea of working on this project further I decided instead to look over some recent information gleaned at the New England SCBWI 2011 conference about picture books.

Specifically, this post from Harold Underdown’s site regarding Picture Book Secrets by Margot Finke. Go ahead and take a look at it.

There’s a section there called “A Good Way To Plot a Picture Book” that, while similar to things I had seen before, really stripped the conflict of a story down in a way that triggered something in my head. Even though I was planning a YA project and not a picture book I used that little story structure as a guide and rewrote it using my sticky notes from the day before. Some points gained emotional focus. Others picked up subplots that mirrored the main story. After thinking about this story for five years, ruminating and tumbling the basic plot in my head and in notes, I finally had something that felt substantial and satisfying. I went back to my computer file and rebuilt the outline using this new guide. I filled in new conflicts and character connections. There was tension and pacing throughout. The story flowed more naturally.

All because I reconceived my YA novel as a picture book.

And now that picture book outline is the perfect armature for a plot summary and query synopsis, once I finish the story and can work out the details. I now have a road map where before I wasn’t even driving on paved roads. There’s still a lot of work ahead, and much of the story that I haven’t really planned out, but I’m sure my pants will help be fly over those bumps. I’m not ready to admit to full conversion, but I am interested in seeing if all this structure converts me into a plotter.

I’ll let you know when I get there. Film at 11.

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I missed a week.  I missed last week.  The first week this year I missed a Poetry Friday.  Granted, I was a little busy attending the NESCBWI conference (figuring out some problems with my writing, and getting a little social with some grad school chums) but I had fully intended to post something last week.  Even if it meant pillaging something from the past.  But I got home late Friday night (massive accident on the highway) and Saturday was long (rushing home for a fundraising event for a school) and Sunday…

Anyway, when Monday rolled around I had to admit that it happened, I missed it, and nothing I could do about it.

This week I once again found inspiration from Trica over at The Miss Rumphius Effect, something I’ve wanted to try but (oddly) felt a little intimidated by, the sijo form. Not to be too reductive, it’s like haiku but with more syllables, and haiku has never been a problem for me, so what was the deal?  I told myself I’d give it a try, and if I could manage two sijo I’d claim one as a make-up for last week.

I managed three, and they’re actually themed around a place, so maybe that’s an even better make-up assignment.

unamusement park

creeping, hanging over the edge of the first drop, closing his eyes
refusing to scream or allow those behind him laugh at his fear

he was designed for this, first car of the roller coaster

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double-wide trailer conjoined into a maze of mirrored madness
people stumble through, groping at her in darkness and confusion

fun house for some, but her insides echo with the screams of others

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long, ambling rivers of asphalt over gently rolling hillsides
open sky above, sunlight instead of harsh electrical grids

daydreams of the bumper car, slammed back to reality

Honestly, I never pondered the inner lives of amusement park attractions before, and I don’t quite know why I did here.  Who can explain such things?

Poetry Friday, and it’s good to be back!  The week the round-up is hosted ne… oh, holy carp!  It’s Julie Larios at The Drift Record!  She has some thoughts about poetry for YA and, as always, a great poem to share. Enough of this, go now!  Scat!

No, wait.  Leave a comment first.  If you want.

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A Carpenter found himself in Heaven and he enjoyed exploring the Grand Hall which was lined with row upon row of satin covered chairs, one for each of the Saints.  At the head of the Grand Hall stood a massive throne that was intricately carved and of the highest construction.  Wanting to get a closer look the Carpenter waited until the Grand Hall was empty to investigate.

From a distance what appeared to be ornately carved scroll work on the wooden parts of the throne were in fact detailed representations various creatures from the animal kingdom.  The arms of the throne were carved to look like intertwined snakes and lizards, the flat back like a manta ray, the legs of the chair were like totem poles of smaller animals, and so on.  But the most fascinating aspect of the throne was that the seat had been carved into an elaborate shuttered mechanism which would open like a camera iris and provided a clear view of the Earth below! The slightest shift of the Carpenter’s gaze through this viewing portal would allow him to view any one of the millions of people below.  Surely, thought the Carpenter, this is how One keeps track of Creation.

Then the Carpenter noticed something odd. In his gaze he caught sight of a man in a Great Hall on Earth that looked very similar to the one in Heaven.  The man on Earth looked almost identical to the Carpenter.  He watched in fascination as the man went up to the throne in the identical Great Hall and looked through a hole in the seat into what he imagined to be Hell.  It was as if watching a child mimic what an adult has done, thought the Carpenter. But on Earth the man made some kind of adjustment to the throne, removed a part of it, and threw it into the portal toward Hell.  This action so enraged the Carpenter for some reason that he immediately began searching for something to throw down to Earth to let the man there know he had been seen.  Finding nothing in the Great Hall to throw the Carpenter did as he’d seen and removed a foot from the throne – a detailed carving of a turtle – and hurled it through the portal where it struck the man on Earth on the head.  Confused, the man looked up toward the heavens and when he did the Carpenter had a clear view of the portal to Hell, which turned out not to look like Hell at all but another Great Hall.  Peering deeper he saw another Great Hall beyond that, and another beyond that.

Suddenly the Carpenter was struck upon the head by a heavy object that fell from the sky above. He picked up the object and was surprised to find it was an exact replica of the carved turtle he had thrown at the man on Earth.  Looking up the Carpenter saw a viewing portal in the sky with a man who looked very much like him peering down, and over his shoulder was another viewing portal, and beyond that another.

“What did you expect, Carpenter?” the One said, attaching the newly-arrived replacement foot to his throne . “It’s turtles all the way ’round.”

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The New Grimmoire is my take on the stories found in The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm edited by Jack Zipes. This tale, number 260, originally published in 1818 and credited to Wilhelm, featured a tailor who witnesses another tailor throwing cloth into hell.  At the end God points out that he He’d punished the tailor in heaven for all his similar transgressions he’d no longer have any part of a chair to throw. Somewhere in my head I dredged up the oft-repeated paradox of the world resting on the back of a turtle, which itself is on the back of a turtle, and so on, turtles all the way down. I thought it might be fun to suggest in “all the way ’round” that instead of a straight line, time and space are curved into a circular infinity.

I’m not sure what die Brüder Grimm (or Professor Zipes for that matter) would make of this version.

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I expected that sooner or later I would come across a Grimm tale that might sump me or leave me feeling less than inspired.  What I hadn’t counted on with this one was how boring it was, how much a chore it felt to get through.

It’s a Norwegian Fairy Tale, and perhaps that is its problem, that it loses something in the translation or the cultural exchange.  Maybe the original has a poetic lilt to it, or perhaps Wilhelm added some Germanic embellishments to it that have made it leaden.  I was preparing to concede defeat this week when I started the story one more time and found the hitch.

The story begins, as many fairy tales do, in the house of a powerful man in a faraway man.  And by powerful we must assume he has money to weadle influence over others, for he is not called a king and yet he has a court full of servants.  This becomes the necessary fantasy element that the storybearer desires, a place that causes the mind to fill in the missing details with tapestries and banquets and a life of leisure where hands remain soft and pink and uncalloused.  Naturally this man has a daughter whose beauty is known throughout the land.  And why not?  Can not the most powerful man demand the attention of the finest beauties from which to select as a breeding mate?  Note that I did not say wife, for she is not mentioned in this story and chances are she has been disposed of out of convenience, to either the storybearer or the man himself, makes no difference.

This girl, this beauty, her name is Aslaug.  Daily only the wealthiest and most handsome men come courting, looking to do as her father has done in finding and joining with a young woman whose looks matter most of all.  Ah, now I begin to see an entry to the story’s deeper meaning, for she rejects one suitor after another which makes her father increasingly mad.  Finally, Aslaug’s father has had enough of this.

“I have given you freedom of choice,” her father bellows, “but you have rejected every single man as if they are not good enough for you. Now I must put down my foot and submit an artificial deadline for you to make a selection or I will force you to marry a man of my choosing!”

Now we’re getting somewhere.

At this perilous moment the listener shall want reassurance that Aslaug has been operating from a set of principles her father does not understand. Surely she has fallen in love with someone her father would not approve of, a young man of the court who while certainly handsome is without wealth, someone her father would suspect as being a parasite. With a deadline approaching the young lovers would have no other recourse but to run off to a faraway land until Aslaug’s father had cooled to the idea.  And along the way there would be a land of enchantment, a place of magic, with giants and mysterious old women who give vague warnings and extract promises and…

Bah.

Running away is no answer, nor is inventing a mystical island with mythical underground creatures to provide our young lovers with a background for learning lessons about sacrifice and obedience.  The real story here avoids the most basic question: what does Aslaug really want, what is she truly running away from?

Aslaug wants a girlfriend.

Nowhere in these tales do we see women or girls in each other’s company.  They have no friends, and often no mothers, and when they have sisters they tend to be in competition in the attentions of another.  If they have brothers they may be equals and may be clever  but it is assumed they will one day grow to be married off.  These young women are starved for conversation, for bonding, and perhaps even for a love that dare not speak its name in fairy tales.  Theirs is a zero-percent world of acceptance and understanding. A love for anything less than “pure” or accepted is simply not discussed.  It would be better that these children, these girls, yearning for something beyond the realm if their entrapments find themselves at the whims of crones and giants and other creatures beyond the safety of our imagining.

And so, to finish the story off right, once her father has issued his ultimatum Aslaug says her peace.

“Father, you have boon good and kind to me these many years, and I do not wish to enrage you or cause you grief, but I simply cannot accept your terms. You have often been too busy with your finances and your power to notice me and while I could fault you your blindness I instead assume you have meant well for us both.  It will most likely pain to provide details, though I do not wish you pain, but I have found a love and wish to be with them. It should not concern you who I love or why, only that they make me happy and that if there is anything of mine set aside in your fortunes I should like to use it to begin my own life with my love. If you insist I shall tell you in more detail as a condition of your blessing I will once again warn you that you will probably not approve, seeing as you do not know me well enough yet continue to offer one fresh-faced young man after another as a partner. Should my happiness mean anything to you, you will at least let me go without incident and we shall agree to reconcile our differences in the future. If, however, you truly love me and cannot imagine yourself in objection to anything I desire we may end this discussion amiably…

“And you will not be forced to make up some silly tale about my running off with a chamber boy and living on an island of underground creatures as a measure to save face among your people.”

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The New Grimmoire is my weekly exercise in examining and reinterpreting the tales of the Brothers Grimm as found in the complete collection translated and introduced by Jack Zipes.  For those keeping score at home, this is tale 261.

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