Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Que Sera, Sera

Okay, I don't know if I spelled that title correctly, but let's just go with it.

I'm not quite midway through the latest draft (they're overlapping now. Let's call it #47) of my coming-of-age romance -- yes, romance -- for young adults. And it has changed so much from my original version -- or should I say vision -- for this book that I almost don't recognize it sometimes. It used to be pretty dark, filled with angst and flashbacks and depression. Now it's moving forward, developing minor character arcs, finding a bit of humor, and allowing the romance to blossom at a more believable pace. Yet with all these improvements I'm wondering if I'm losing something. Or gaining something. Or selling out. Or buying in. Or getting better. Or making it worse. Or... losing some sort of grip on reality.

I have to keep in mind who my audience is. Young adults. Teens. And, since I live with one, this should be easy. And as I write this, I realize that, as a mom, sometimes I feel the same way about my daughter growing up before my eyes as I do about this novel. It's a painful growing process--sometimes for both of us (although I think more for me. But I'm biased.) I'm pretty sure the ABBA song, "Slipping Through My Fingers" (for a more recent version, pull out your Mamma Mia! soundtrack. Oh, admit it already. You own it!) is a daily refrain in my subconscious. Time is passing so quickly! Am I losing her? Or gaining new depth to our relationship? Am I selling out or buying in? Am I doing right by her? How often will the words "MY MOTHER" be spoken within the context of therapy when she's in her thirties???? Am I becoming a better mom, or just turning into a fuddy duddy who disses her music choices? (I'm sorry, but the Biebs sounds like a girl. He does.) Oh, dear. I am turning into one of those moms. I wanted to be the cool mom! Am I helping her establish a firm foothold for when she goes out into the world on her own, all too soon? Am I losing my grip on reality, or just my grip on my kid?

I've always said that fiction, well, good fiction, mirrors truth. But I'm learning that the process of creating -- or birthing, rather -- that product has much in common with child-rearing.

My daughter and I, and my manuscript and I, are both navigating the uncharted realms of adolescence. Their voices will change. Their form might too, and though I hate to admit it, I am sometimes little more than a spectator to this blossoming process.

But I was also the one who changed the diapers, walked around smelling like baby-urp, and cheered their first steps into the world. Even in this new phase of development, for my daughter and my book, there are still messes to clean up. Sometimes all it takes is a phrase, spoken at the right time. Sometimes more drastic measures are called for. And sometimes I'm the one who needs a time-out to get a grip on reality and to loosen my hold on my babies so they can earn their own wings.

It's a learning process. It's moving toward abundance for one, excellence for the other. It's gaining. Yes, it's gaining.

But it's a gain that rips out a mommy's heart sometimes.

"Schoolbag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning. Waving goodbye with an absent-minded smile..."

lyric quoted from "Slipping Through My Fingers" by Andersson/Ulvaeus

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Voyage to the Ugly Heart of Me -- and back.

I haven't seen the newly released film version of C.S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader yet.


I know, right?

The truth is, I'm scared of it. This is my favorite book in the series. What if they mess it up? What if they downplay the reality of THE LION's role in Eustace's transformation? What if they skip an island or two? What if I can't smell the lilies??????????

Oooh. I just had a random thought: I hope Disney does a Dawn Treader ride at DisneyWorld. That would be soooo awesome. Like the Pirates of the Carribbean ride except with dragons and a LION and children as heroes and the scent of lilies at the end and the mist in your face all along. Oooh. I really hope they do that.

Anyone who's been to Disney World will tell you how utterly transported you are to other worlds via the Imagineers. They use sight, scent, sound, mist, light, film, motion, and, I think, a few generous pinches of pixie dust to make multiple worlds come alive in one magical kingdom.

And to think: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is right down the road at Universal Studios Orlando. It would be a little like studying Shakespeare at Stratford-upon-Avon, except much less stuffy and with better weather. It would be so awesome: the mirror-world realization of two of the 20th Century's literary greats (Okay, Rowling crossed the millenium with her series) only a couple of miles from each other. Wouldn't that be the theme-park trip extravaganza of all time???? One day you're in Narnia via Disney, the next day you head over to Hogwarts via Universal.


So, Disney Imagineers, please, please, please get on this.

But back to my original thought -- I haven't seen the movie yet. I only hope that next weekend (when the wind chill factor is in a more human-friendly zone and my emotions are stabilized enough to handle the fear of epic disappointment) that I am awed by the cinematic interpretation of one of my favorite books of all time -- my favorite of all The Chronicles of Narnia. When I read/see Eustace Clarence Scrubb in the ways C.S. Lewis created him, I see myself, my own dragon scales getting ripped off by the claws of the LION who loves me enough to bathe me with his rough pink tongue and make me clean.

Some of you may know that I have dabbled in the world of songwriting. In fact the music business was my chosen career path when I moved to Nashville and entered Belmont University's Music Business program in 1991. Moving to Iowa put a bit of a kabosh on my career plans, but I couldn't stop writing lyrics. This musical penchant has helped me as a writer, to feel the rhythm of prose, the musicality of story, as I try to create that which moves the emotion of a reader.

Some of you also know (because I have blogged about it before) that for most of my reading life I have tried to read through the complete Chronicles of Narnia every 2 years or so, to see how much bigger the Lion seems based on my own growth (see my old post Countdown to Prince Caspian, or another one: Lions & Chiggers & Dragons, oh my!) After one such re-entry into Narnia (in 2006) I penned the following lyric, entitled "Eustace's Daughter", based loosely on another lyric I had created in college many years before, again, after reading The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I still hope to someday put it to music -- but the right melody hasn't revealed itself yet; the lyric itself needs revision. But due to the release of the film it seemed appropriate to share the lyric here, even in its imperfect state. And, who knows, maybe some other music-writing Narnia-lover will be interested in contacting me (leave a comment in the comments form) about the possibility of co-writing a melody for this song someday. In any case, here it is, unedited & unrefined, like me. Because, unfortunately, I still must seek the rough pink tongue of a LION regularly.
--my apologies for the weird formatting -- I've been fighting with it to make it more uniform, but it isn't translating from the "new post" page to this page accurately. Go with it. ----

Eustace’s Daughter

words by Shawna R. Van Ness

Thick scales

a dragon’s tail

the heaviness in my soul

is like a man drowning in gold

Scalding tears

breathing fear

Your presence shocks the fire from my eyes

I know just who You are to my surprise

Layer by layer by layer you bid me

My own strength is spent but yet you still bid me

Sir, your vicious mercy scores my skin

Dig deep enough to gut the soul within

Wound to heal me with that golden claw

Wash me with the tender sting of love

Treasure cave, a dooming grave

the shame caused by my greed

hangs like mist below the trees

My golden lair, His burning stare

Your beauty puts the brightest gem to shame

You see me as I am and douse my flame

Layer by layer by layer you bid me

My own strength is spent but yet you still bid me

Sir, your vicious mercy scores my skin

Dig deep enough to gut the soul within

Wound to heal me with that golden claw

Wash me with the tender sting of love

Naked and raw in the water

I step in like Eustace’s daughter

and I scream -- oh, the sting....

Layer by layer by layer you bid me

My own strength is spent but yet you still bid me

Sir, your vicious mercy scores my skin

Dig deep enough to gut the soul within

Wound to heal me with that golden claw

Wash me with the tender sting of love

The water turns sweet on my skin

You've washed away all of my sin

In your view

I am new….

copyright 2006 Shawna R. Van Ness

fiction mirrors truth.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Book review: ROOMS by James L. Rubart

I just finished reading through someone's soul.

Rooms, a novel by James L. Rubart, begins with protagonist Micah Taylor inheriting a 9000 square foot home in Cannon Beach, Oregon from a mysterious (and unknown) great-uncle. This teaser alone was enough for me to want to read the book. The Oregon Coast is on my short list of hopeful vacation destinations and, honestly who hasn't fantasized about living in house on the beach -- or receiving a rockin' inheritance from some old dude you never met but had the good fortune of being the depository of his wealth?

Premise interesting --sold!-- and the hook-you quote on the cover promises some Lewis-like God-stuff? Cool.

So I dove in.

A software mogul in Seattle, Micah Taylor is happy with his surface relationships, bulging bank accounts, and the savvy girlfriend he's not-quite-ready to commit to. He has achieved fame, fortune, and, he thinks, purpose. Micah's journey to (and through) his newly inherited mansion on the beach, however, forces his perspective to shift.

The more time he spends in this mysteriously changing house, the more swiftly he morphs between ever-shifting alternate realities. The house itself changes almost daily. The better Micah comes to understand his house, the less he understands the domino-effect-like happenings within his software company and life in Seattle. He begins to question his sanity.

A wise new friend and a Godly new love inject truth and hope into Micah's coming-of-age-at-thirty-ish tale. An enemy of new acquaintance also informs his new life. Each choice Micah makes sends ripples of change through the universe, some good, some bad, and each often masquerading as the other. His perspective on these changes is poisoned and/or refreshed by other characters' input into his life. That is what makes this story believable -- because we've all been in Micah's shoes: getting advice that seems good and true, only to realize later that the action taken was the exact opposite of what we should have done. This universal experience, albeit shown in a supernaturally-charged setting, allows the reader to suspend her disbelief and enjoy the show.

What was missing for me? Not a lot, although I felt there were a couple of loose ends. One relational forgiveness issue (remember, I try very hard not to put spoilers in my reviews!) seemed to right itself a little too neatly -- it upset the tempo of the story a bit for me -- and a great loss in a younger Micah's life was not dealt with as well as I thought it could have (there seemed a lack of closure there for me, though Micah seemed okay with it.) There were a couple of head-hopping chapters centered on other character's points of view that I felt were not consistent enough throughout the work to really add to the overall flow of the book. The book was a little heavy on the exposition, a little light on the snappy conversation. But a tisket, a taskit, even though Micah thinks he should weave a basket. (that's a lame joke about Micah's propensity to wonder about his sanity throughout the book. Go with me. Laugh. Go ahead. It's okay to laugh at lame jokes to make someone feel better.)

Rooms is a good read. I would give it nearly 4 stars (out of 5). I didn't laugh much (at all? --but it's not really that kind of book.), but I did cry a couple of times due to touching, heart-rending scenes, or a line or two of explosive Truth that really captured my heart.

The cover of this novel features Robert Liparulo's recommendation of this "extraordinary read", calling Rubart's Rooms "part The Screwtape Letters and part The Shack." I can see touches of both works in it-- Liparulo's is a valid observation. The publisher's choice of putting that quote on the cover, however, was, for me at least, a bit of a "spoiler." DRAT THOSE MARKETING PEOPLE!!! The quote and its comparison to Lewis & Young's supernatural tales made it too easy for the reader (me) to correctly identify the inhabitant of one particular "room" of Micah's beach house (aka: Micah's soul) and, because of that (I think) it seemed like it took an extraordinarily long time for Micah to pull his head out of his bahoinky and figure it out for himself.

Without a doubt, James L. Rubart's Rooms is a mind-bending, imagination inflaming, and soul-searing read; a worthy novel which will challenge you to examine your own heart, your own choices, and your own reality. So follow Micah Taylor to Cannon Beach and maybe, in one of the tide pools near Haystack Rock, you could see your own reflection in his tale.

Because Fiction Mirrors Truth.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Brevity is the soul of... excruciating amputation and necessary lipo

I've read that "brevity is the soul of wit" (William Shakespeare, Hamlet, spoken by Polonius -- read it.) and, apparently it is also the core of good writing. Jane Friedman over at Writer Unboxed has a great post up on the subject.

This is another bloody lesson I am learning through the painfully slow processing of writing the third draft (or second-and three quarters?) of my first coming-of-age novel for Young Adults.

I have a tendency to get caught up in a beautiful turn of phrase and then... bludgeon it to death by going overboard on the inclusion of sensory information. Sigh. So this is why God made editors. (a heartfelt thank you to mine, who is making me better!)

When I get these edits back, with entire paragraphs suffering from the editor's RED LINES OF DOOM, it feels like my precious pages have been sprayed by an arterial bleed because, after all, a leg or arm has just been severed. But although amputation can be both tragic and life-altering, it can also be life-saving. But still. It feel harsh at the time. So, choosing to think of this surgery as a positive action, I am choosing to call it something prettier. I'm calling it liposuction. Cuz it's cutting the fat.

Now if only I could apply those same principles to my waistline....