Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Rattle and Hum

It pretty much sums this week up to say that I've been reading "Waiting for Godot" for fun. Not entirely true -- it hasn't been that bad a week. But I did read "Waiting for Godot," and it did make me want to shake each individual character in turn and scream "MOVE ALREADY!" Which completely misses the point, I know -- stark poetry and man's helplessness in the face of an uncaring universe and existential cruelty and blah blah blah. But if there was anything to reconfirm my love of narrative progress and character development, it was this, which deliberately has neither.

  • In other reading news, I just finished The Horse and His Boy and started Prince Caspian. I really enjoyed The Horse and His Boy, I'm sorry to say -- sorry because I could completely see all the criticisms that Philip Pullman and others have laid at its door: the residents of Calormene are bloodthirsty and ridiculous, and speak with traditionally Middle Eastern speech patterns and phrasing, while the residents of Narnia and Archenland are the repository of all that is right and good in the world, and speak in the highfalutin' medieval speech that is accorded admiration and respect. But I'm afraid I really didn't care: The story worked emotionally (Shasta has a talking horse! The fate of the nation of Archenland depends on him! He finds the family that's truly his!) and there was plenty of narrative progress, so I got swept up in the adventure along with Shasta and Aravis and hummed through* the stereotypes.
  • I'm also still reading The Iliad, which continues to be wonderful.
  • I started The Eyre Affair, which by all rights I should love, but telling telling telling . . .
  • And lots and lots and lots and lots of manuscripts, of course.
  • I have met this person. In fact, I think I have been this person: "It's Funny How What You're Saying Relates to My Novel."
  • J.K. Rowling wrote a wonderful essay on thinness and strong girls on her website.
  • As you might have seen on Publishers Lunch, we just bought a French time-travel fantasy trilogy called "The Book of Time," which is awesome and which I'll be working on.
  • I went to see "Dave Chappelle's Block Party" a few weeks ago -- the funniest and most enjoyable movie I've seen this year, I think, with blow-you-away performances from Jill Scott, the Fugees, and Kanye West. Now I'm curious about "Brick," "Inside Man," and "ATL."
  • Elizabeth Bunce praises chapter outlines. I second that. (I made her do it.)
  • Another excellent exercise for identifying problems with your manuscript: Write the flap copy. It should include the opening situation, the action that precipitates your main character into the novel, at least one action s/he takes in response, and two of the following elements: interesting secondary characters / further plot twists / the great mystery driving the narrative on / distinctive phrasing from the book / larger questions the book raises that might intrigue the reader, all in 250 words or less. If you can't supply any of these elements, think about why not.
  • Enough rattling. To bed with me. Good night to you.


* hum through the verb form of the noun hum-through moment, stolen from the fabulous movie reviewer Ms. Linda of Popcorn Lobby many years back, this basically describes any moment you wilfully ignore the lack of logic/rampant stereotyping/utter stupidity of the characters/other objectionable feature of the entertainment you're taking in in favor of closing your eyes, putting your fingers in your ears, and humming until it passes, thus allowing the entertainment to continue to function in defiance of your logical brain. Most commonly used in reference to the huge gimmicks and resulting totally illogical behavior of the characters in bad romantic comedies and action movies.


  1. We are reading "Dawn Treader" for a bedtime story right now and it is my favorite so far. I have to say that "A Horse and Boy” was my least favorite. (We are reading them in chronological order.) I had a hard time schlogging out loud through the “highfalutin' medieval speech” that madeth me wanteth to barfeth.

    It also irksome to me that Shasta talks occasionally in a “I say! Father is a brick!” schoolboy sort of way. Shouldn’t he sound like a Calormene? Aravis on the other hand is a pretty believable teenage girl with quirks and foibles. I can see how Lewis changes the way he writes children. Starting with “Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe” the children bicker incessantly, making me want to snap at them and say in a mom voice, “Do I have to pull this car over?” In “Dawn Treader” Lucy, Edmund and Caspian are for the most part little grownups, Hobbits almost, acting and behaving like adults, though without any whiff of sexuality, or more like Hardy Boys, responsible and resourceful. but not very realistic. Then again, they are Narnian Kings and Queens, so perhaps their previous experiences and something in the air makes them more mature.

    In “Prince Caspian” Lewis also has a habit of mapping out landscapes in terms of “And on the north was a row of trees, then to the south-east was a cliff.” I felt like I needed a compass. “Dawn Treader” has much better descriptions, lush and fragrant. (Note: The boy cracks up every time they go up on the poop.)

    When I was a kid “A Horse and His Boy” was the one I read first, chosen because it had the word “horse” in the title and I had exhausted the works of O’Henry. I remember liking it quite a bit. Those talking horses get you every time.

    Thanks for the Rowling essay. She’s my hero of the day. Gloria Steinem had something similar happen at her Smith college reunion. No one asked her anything about what she had written or done. Her fellow classmates only wanted to know how she stayed so thin. (sigh…)

    Read on!


  2. Was I that person you met or an I just paranoid.

    The scrabble dictionary girl.

  3. Sorry. Replace an with am. I guess I should preview first.

  4. Colleen -- yes, we met at the Poconos conference, didn't we? I was one of the speakers.

    Lizzy -- are you asking this of me?

  5. OOOhh but it's fun to go to J.K's site!! Did you take the W.O.M.B.A.T. test Cheryl? If so, what were your results?

  6. What I love about you (or should I say what ELSE I love about you), Ms. Cheryl Klein, is that you can articulate what makes good flap copy. I found myself reading your little exercise going, "Yes! Of course! I've never thought of it in those terms!" I've been writing flap copy for kids books since I was 19, but have never been able to communicate what it is that differentiates "good" flap copy from "flap copy that I must rewrite when it is left in my inbox." And you have done it. And I think you should publish that somewhere--if you haven't already--in a Guide to Interns, Editorial Assistants, Etc.