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Archive for July, 2010

I read a blog post the other day about what it takes to get one’s blog “noticed” and bring in readers and so on.  One major part of this person’s advice was “Remember your audience,” which inevitably got me thinking.

Who is my audience?  Do I even have one?  And if I don’t, does that mean I have anyone to remember in the first place?

In fact, “remember your audience” is one of those pieces of creative advice I kind of wish would go die in a hole somewhere.  It’s annoyed me since third or fourth grade, when we had to write letters and (amateurish) feature articles and personal narratives and so on.  The prewriting worksheets for every one of these assignments would ask, in their no-nonsense, sans serif letters: “Who is your audience?

I was a strangely practical and perhaps over-studious child, even then, and this question would baffle  me.  Obviously, my audience was whoever would be reading my piece; how was I supposed to know how to write for them?  As I got older, I grew even more practical and a great deal more cynical: my audience was the teacher assigning the damn paper, and there wasn’t any point in pretending some mysterious other would be reading what I wrote.  (I hold to this opinion at university, but at least most of my professors agree with me now.)

“Remember your audience” is maybe helpful advice for people who have an audience to write for.  The people I’d usually stick in this category are writers of straight nonfiction, with a great deal of overlap from other categories.  I’m pretty sure the same advice doesn’t hold true for people who write creative nonfiction, such as, yes, bloggers.  Particularly those bloggers who haven’t got any particular focus, i.e., myself.  Writing creatively in any way for an anonymous somebody seems to me like a really easy way to never write anything for yourself.

So yes, I subscribe to the “write what you want to read” school of thought.  It may not be the best way to gain an “audience”, but there are usually people out there who are interested in reading the same things you are.  If you’re persistent and consistent in the quality and amount of your output, you’ll gain an audience.  (This itself  might be referred to as the Field of Dreams school of thought.)

Right now?  I’m pretty sure I don’t have much of an audience.  But I don’t mind.  (Too much.)  If I’m lucky and persistent and get the word out and so on, they’ll turn up sooner or later.

But hopefully sooner.

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I found out about Maggie Steifvater’s novel Shiver last September, when the the movie rights to the book and its two sequels were purchased.  Since supernatural romances are on the rise in Hollywood these days, thanks in no small part to Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, the news made it to the front page of a film blog I read.  I read the news, rolled my eyes at yet another teen romances with vampires/werewolves/whathaveyou, and left it at that.

A few weeks later, while at the bookstore in town with my brother, I saw Shiver sitting on one of those end-of-shelf displays.  Curious to see what exactly the fuss (however small) about this book was, I opened it up and read the first paragraph, which begins with the following sentence:

I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves.

I was instantly hooked.  I didn’t buy the book right then and there – I’m a college student and therefore constantly in need of money, or at least in a financial state where I can’t buy $20 books on a whim – but I did put it on my Christmas list, and I got it as a gift a few months later.  I proceeded to devour it in all its lyrical beauty, and I loved it primarily for not being like Twilight.

The books are certainly similar in concept: teenage girl falls in love with supernatural creature.  In Twilight, it’s a vampire; in Shiver, it’s a werewolf.  Like Meyer, Stiefvater makes some changes to the traditional werewolf mythology: rather than turning into wolves by the light of the moon, her werewolves become wolves as the world shifts into winter.  There, however, most of the similarities to Twilight end.  While I will own that Twilight is enjoyable in a candy-floss, not good for you kind of way (Cleolinda’s Twinkie metaphor is apt), I still find certain aspects of the book annoying, such as Bella and Edward’s constant melodrama (especially in the later books), and the way the pair don’t seem to act like normal teenagers in any way (Edward has an excuse, but Bella certainly doesn’t).

One of the things Stiefvater does masterfully in Shiver is make you believe in her characters.  Grace and Sam are very real people to me as a reader: I have no problem believing they are teenagers, because they actually act like teenagers.  I also find their relationship very believable and real: their moments together are sweet, smile-making things.  Stiefvater’s lyrical prose certainly helps in that regard, but in all honesty, it’s a very difficult thing to articulate.  It’s the alchemy of creation: even through all the strange things that happen to Grace and Sam, you (I) believe they are real.

Another thing I loved about Shiver (and its sequel, Linger) was the consequences Stiefvater rained down on her characters.  Being a werewolf is not a great marvelous thing in this world; the werewolves soon stop becoming human at all, and eventually die as wolves, never remembering their human selves.  In Linger, Grace must face the consequences of some of her actions with her parents (whose constant absenteeism in her life has its own consequences).  Bad things happen to the characters.  They hurt; they cry; they are human beings above all, and they each  must deal with the things that life throws at them.

I realize this isn’t so much a book review as it is a discussion of the book (especially as compared to Twilight, which has certainly held the corner on teen supernatural romance for the last few years) and an effusion of praise, but I suppose it will have to do.  The books certainly do have their faults – for instance, Stiefvater uses a rotating first-person narrator, and though the sections are labeled, it’s sometimes too easy to get character mixed up – but they are for the most part very enjoyable, and very beautifully written.  I am eagerly awaiting the third book of the trilogy, Forever, which is due out next July.

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Kindly ignore the fact that there have been no new posts in nearly two months.

At the end of last month, I went with my parents and younger sister on a mini-vacation to Gatlinburg, Tennessee.  The trip was mostly to make up for the fact that we weren’t going on an actual vacation (we’d originally planned to visit the Gulf, but that instantly became a bad idea on April 22), and I was kind of hoping on the drive down to eastern Tennessee that it would be worth my time, even in small ways.

Truth be told, it really wasn’t.

Gatlinburg, TN (and for that matter, Seiverville and Pigeon Forge, TN) can best be described as a kitschy tourist hell.  Or at least that’s what it was to me.

I realize that there are some people in this world who think that airbrushed t-shirts are the height of fashion.  (I imagine most of these people are in high school and probably went to Destin or Panama Beach during spring break.  At least the people in my high school did.)  I realize that there are some people who think getting an “old time” photo is a cute thing to do.  (Do you know who was wearing those clothes before you because I don’t. This is completely ignoring the fact that all of those “old time” photo shops had a distinctly Old West flavour to them, which would be more acceptable were we not in eastern Tennessee. Eastern Tennessee was the Old West in about 1781, when we got that land from Great Britain after the Revolutionary War. Nitpicking: just one of my many charming services.)

My point: I really, really, really don’t go in for that stupid tourist crap.  Gatlinburg, Seiverville, and Pigeon Forge was, from what I saw from driving on the main highways, nothing but that stupid tourist crap.  It’s basically a tiny industry that’s sprung up around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (more on that in a moment) and Dolly Parton’s theme park in Pigeon Forge.  Anything you might actually want to do will cost about a hand and a half for four people (see: the Ripley’s Believe-It-or-Not stuff, which might have been slightly interesting if they didn’t cost so damn much) and therefore isn’t really worth it when you’re on a budget.  The shirts on sale all look tacky (I think I saw four nearly-identical airbrush t-shirt shops on the main thoroughfare in Gatlinburg), and while the atmosphere of the place is somewhat appealing, the constant flow of people and cars is enough to make one (that is, me) feel claustrophobic.

So I didn’t enjoy Gatlinburg at all.  (This is very strange coming from someone who loves Disneyland with all her heart, but I guess I’m not nostalgic for Gatlinburg the same way I’m nostalgic for Disneyland.)

What I did enjoy – and in fact the only thing I was really looking forward to with this trip – was going to the National Park.  The scenery of the mountains was breathtakingly beautiful, and a huge and welcome contrast to the tourist bustle of the towns dotting the highway.  It was a green place, a nature place, only a little touched by people.  It was peace instead of chaos.  Though the mountains were of course not as impressive as the Rockies, which I saw last summer, the deep forests where daylight turned to twilight from the thickness of the foliage were truly enchanting.

Also, we saw a bear. : )

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