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Winner!

The month of November was big for me.

As you can see from the widget over on the right-hand side of my blog, I successfully began and finished my very first novel during National Novel Writing Month. It is 20 chapters and 55,502 words. As with almost any novel that was written during only 30 days, the characters are inconsistent, the pacing is a little wacky, and there are a thousand other things wrong with it. But I wrote every word of it.

The really surprising thing about writing my novel was how easy it actually was. I was helped by the fact that I had two 12-hour days which I spent at the dermatologist’s office. I estimate I wrote close to 15,000 words during just those two long days. But so long as I forced myself not to worry about quality, writing the novel was easy and fun. I really did feel like the story was just sitting there, waiting for me to tell it. I’m proud to say I didn’t have writer’s block once, which I’m sure was just beginner’s luck.

I do think that there are some little nuggets of okay writing in there, too. When I got to the end of the novel, I realized that some of my characters had experienced growth without my really planning for it, and some consistent themes had developed without my trying too hard.

At the moment, I am still entertaining the idea that I will come back to the novel and try editing it, come January or so. Writing a novel was certainly a good and worthwhile exercise. I think editing a novel might be a similarly worthwhile experience. But we’ll see. I’m still experiencing the high of actually writing 50,000 words in a month, so things might be different once that dissipates. January is a very cold month.

The other major thing that happened in the month of November is that I accepted a job offer at a new organization. For a lot of reasons, this feels like the right move for me to make, and I’m very excited about my new job. I start at the end of December, so I will be kicking off 2011 with a bang.

A novel and a new job. It was a big month. I actually can’t remember the last time I had a month this big.

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Finally Young Adult

I was a voracious reader as a child. And I am a voracious reader now. But I wasn’t much of a reader during the years in between, my high school and college years. At the time, I felt like I got my fill doing my assigned school reading, and when I did read just for the fun of it, I was most likely to read something I had already read.

During my high school years in particular, I spent the vast majority of my free time online. I was reading, but I was mostly reading the X-Filesaholics message board and fanfiction and other similar fandom-related media. At one point, when the internet got taken away from me for a few months, I dissolved into a direction-less mess, with no outlet for my obsession, and with nothing to do. I remember my writer-aunt saying to me, “Melody, didn’t you used to read?”

In particular, even though I actually worked at a library, one thing I never read was young adult fiction. It never even occurred to me to read YA fiction. I would guess that the YA renaissance hadn’t quite blossomed like it now has, but to be honest, I think I probably thought the YA books were beneath me. I judged the books by their frilly pink covers and I scoffed, because I had much better things to do. In fact, as I recall at my library, hardly anyone read the YA books. I think I would have felt embarrassed to check one out.

Only now–now that I have a mortgage and a job and I have given up on foolish ideas of LOVE–have I finally given in and begun to enjoy the all-you-can-eat buffet that is young adult fiction. I feel like now I have the jaded maturity to truly enjoy the escapism that it offers. I’m not sure that it would have provided the same enjoyment had I read the books during high school. At that point, depending on the book, it would have been a bit more like reading about reality–both the painful realities I was experiencing (acne! heartbreak! social exclusion! awkwardness!) and the exciting realities that I was too boring to enjoy for myself (parties! alcohol! actual interaction with boys!).

I recently realized that I’ve been at my current job for four full years, which is longer than I was in high school. It was kind of scary to realize, because my memories of high school are so distinct and meaningful, while these past four years of my life have sort of run together into an indefinite blob. I think it’s exactly that which makes YA books so fun to read. Reading them allows me to remember the time in my life when life was so new and exciting, and when every day seemed consequential.

So far this year, of the 94 books I’ve read, 62 have been young adult novels. And last year, of the 39 books I read, 23 were young adult novels. Now I’m taking it to the next level. During National Novel Writing Month (starting tomorrow, November 1), I will attempt to write my own 50,000+ word young adult novel. I’m making it “easy” on myself, in that the central issue in the book is adoption, and adoption is something I’ve thought about basically every day anyway for the past two years.

For the next 30 days, I won’t update my blog much, if at all! But you can see how I’m doing using the word count widget over in the sidebar doobly-doo. I’m really not sure whether or not I can write a novel, even a really bad one. But… here goes nothing!

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I am particularly excited for my next two 12-hour sessions at the dermatologist’s office, because it will give me a pretty much perfect opportunity to work on my main project for November.

This year, I am participating in NaNoWriMo, and this year, for the first time, I am COMMITTED to finishing my novel. BY GOD, IT WILL HAPPEN.

I’ve made two attempts at novel-writing recently, and both times it didn’t work out. A few years ago, I attempted to do Nano and I didn’t get past a couple thousand words. My heart wasn’t really in it, and I became quickly overwhelmed by the story I was trying to tell.

This past winter and spring, I started working on another novel. The idea for that novel came from a dream I had, and the concept seemed just crazy enough to be entertaining and whimsical, without being totally stupid. I wrote around 14,000 words setting up the story, and then I realized that I was spending all my time setting it up because I had no idea where it was going to go. I gave up sometime in April.

I have a good feeling about this November, though. Third time’s a charm! This time, I have a fairly clear vision about where the story will go from beginning to end. For me, I think this may be key. Unlike my past attempts at novel-writing, several of the characters have come to me without much difficulty. More than the other two novels I have tried to write, I feel like this story already exists, it’s just my job to get it down on paper.

Admittedly, I have hopes that when I am finished with this novel (because I WILL finish it!) on November 30, it might wind up being something that’s worth editing quite a bit and trying to turn into something legitimate. The first thing, though, is to finish it. And then I can go from there.

Sometimes I feel like if I were to be successful as a writer, I might experience and find the fulfillment I’ve been looking for, but I really don’t know if I can do that. Never mind sprawling epics like a recent favorite of mine, The Historian. I can just consider the YA category, which my upcoming novel will be. I just finished reading Charmed Thirds by Megan McCafferty and I was blown away by how real her depiction was of the college experience and its constant transitions. It evoked so many of the feelings I had while I was in college. Reading it was intense. I couldn’t put it down. I don’t feel like I could ever create that myself.

I do know that when I was working on the previous novel in the spring, I felt more hopeful than I had in a long while. So I’m hopeful, again, that this November I can bring some of that optimism back.

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I have a lot of books that are favorites in different ways. Infinite Jest represents one of the most rewarding reading experiences I’ve had. The Diary of Anne Frank had an enormous affect on me during my middle school years, and remains an area of interest. Hamlet is my favorite work of Shakespeare. And then there’s Harry Potter and 1984, and so on, and so forth.

If I had to name just one book to be my favorite book of all time, though, that high, high honor would go to To Say Nothing of the Dog (Or, How We Found the Bishop’s Bird Stump At Last) by Connie Willis.

My mom picked it out for me and my sister. We were going to the beach, and my mom was buying us books for the trip. I was 14 or 15, and I was in an awkward reading age during which I couldn’t find books for myself, and I didn’t want to ask anyone for help. (Also, why read when I could devote my life to watching, reading about, and discussing The X-Files!) So, my mom saw it on a shelf and thought I might like it–which is impressive, considering the summary on the back of the book in no way does it justice.

I didn’t read TSNOTD during the beach trip. That summary on the back of the book just wasn’t drawing me in. I finally picked it up months later, and then read it during every available second of every day until it was finished. (X-Files be damned!)

Since the original reading approximately 11 years ago, I would estimate that I’ve read or listened to it 15 times.

It was an extraordinarily perfect blend of my all most favorite elements: science fiction, romance, comedy, history, mystery, and literary allusions.

I credit TSNOTD with instilling in me my great love for time travel. Whether it’s Harry Potter or my high school physics class or Lost or When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, if time travel is involved, you have my attention.

I own three and a half copies of it: one hardback first-edition, one paperback for regular re-reading, the audio cassette version, and the original paperback copy, which has been read so many times it is held together with tape and has been retired into a place of honor (shared with my sister). I believe my sister owns two and a half copies of the book–one hardback, one paperback for reading, and her shared half of the original copy.

Allow me to do the math for you: that’s 6 copies of 1 book for 2 people, and every single copy serves a purpose. Even if that purpose is to sit on a shelf and make me feel warm and fuzzy on the inside.

With my sister, I have made cupcakes devoted to TSNOTD. I have spent time casting and re-casting the movie version inside my head. (Right now, the front-runner to play Ned Henry is Lee Pace, but I can’t help and wonder if the power of suggestion is at play, considering my love for Ned the Piemaker.) My sister and I both have a serious affection for the name “Ned” for a potential son. I have given TSNOTD as a gift to more people than I can count.

In February, Connie Willis’s new book in this same universe came out. It’s called Blackout, and I don’t know much about it other than that it takes place during World War II. Though I’ve purchased it, I haven’t read it yet. I’m a little nervous to do so. I have certain… expectations I worry won’t be met, even though I know it can’t possibly be as epic is TSNOTD.

Sometimes I think that To Say Nothing of the Dog is what true love might feel like. (Setting aside the fact that promiscuity in reading material is pretty much never a bad thing.) As soon as I started reading the book, I knew I’d never loved a book in quite the same way before. Over the years, I’ve only come to love it more. And, sure, I suppose it’s possible that there might be some other book out there in the universe that I might love more. But I can’t imagine how.

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My sister and I went to see New Moon this afternoon.

It was not what we expected.

I have written before about my multi-layered ambivalence toward the entire Twilight franchise. When I read the books, I both hated them and loved them. I hated the misogyny. I hated the atrocious writing. I hated that there were people who dared to say that Twilight is better than Harry Potter. I hated the insane cult-like following that has sprung up around the books and movies. I loved how idiotically fun the books were to read.

I was pretty psyched last year for the movie adaptation of Twilight. And when I saw that movie, something magical happened. My feelings toward it were one part pure enjoyment, one part dismay, and two parts of delight at the unintentional hilarity in the movie. My sister and I both couldn’t get enough of it. We saw it an embarrassing number of times in theaters. And now, I can’t even read the book anymore, because it can’t compare to the barrel of fun and laughs that is the movie.

In going to see New Moon, we were both afraid that it was going to change the way we watched Twilight. How could we enjoy it when it might not have the same magical quality as Twilight? More importantly, maybe it would ruin the absurd magic of Twilight. Would we ever be able to recapture our delight at the way that Robert Pattinson says “halloh” when he introduces himself to Bella?

More likely, given that we both really didn’t enjoy New Moon-the-book very much, I doubted I would enjoy the movie all that much. I was pretty sure it would be painfully boring. I was never into the werewolves, and I don’t like seeing squicky Taylor Lautner without his shirt on AT ALL.

In fact, there was a trailer before New Moon “for a movie called “Remember Me” which stars Robert Pattinson and CLAIRE from LOST! We got so excited about that movie that we both said to each other that we really, really wished we were seeing that movie instead of stupid, boring New Moon.

But New Moon was not what we expected.

Oh god, shockingly, we both kind of liked it.

When the movie first started, I said to my sister, “This is so weird. It’s like we’re watching Twilight, but it’s not Twilight.”

It wasn’t Twilight at all. In fact, it’s strange how different New Moon was. The weird green filter was missing. New Moon was scored SO completely differently than Twilight. Kristen Stewart was MUCH better directed, and therefore her performance involved less frantic shaking and less lip-biting, and was far more watchable. And of course, there wasn’t nearly as much RPattz.

Most significantly, New Moon was not as full of the Twilight lulz. There were some good unintentional laughs, such as the smoky disembodied head of Robert Pattinson, but there were also actually really funny parts of New Moon, which were funny in an intentional way. New Moon did not have the wonderful hilarious magic of Twilight, but it was undoubtedly a better movie. (Although, the gross business with Jacob and the werewolves did get old.)

It was missing all the pieces that we so love about Twilight. And yet, we liked it anyway. After the movie, we kept saying to each other, “This is so confusing. I can’t believe how much I liked it.” And, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I kind of want to go see it again.”

I don’t understand what is going on. WHY DOES THIS FRANCHISE MAKE ME FEEL THIS WAY?

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Today, I finished The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. My mom gave me the book with her recommendation, and I was skeptical of it at first. It is narrated from the perspective of a dog, as he goes through life with his family. The concept seemed a little too cutesy for me, and I get annoyed with cutesy very quickly.

Surprisingly, the use of the dog’s perspective turned out to be both effective and refreshing. While I know dogs don’t have the inner life that this dog has (who wishes he had a Stephen Hawking-like device that would allow him to communicate with the world), this dog’s voice worked. It was somehow both dog-like and observantly introspective, which makes for a good storyteller.

It couldn’t help but make me imagine a monologue for my own dog, which is bittersweet–it makes me feel my flaws as a dog-owner all the more. I can just imagine Felix cursing me for denying him treats and becoming angry, because I get to have treats whenever I want.

There are also some themes in the book that hit home with me. Part of the book’s action involves hurtful and damaging lies that are told for another person’s gain–a storyline that held some particular significance for me.

And, I don’t think it’s spoiling anyone who hasn’t read the book to acknowledge that this one concludes the way pretty much every book about a dog ends. So, I finished the book during my lunch hour at work, and I then had a difficult time not bursting into tears while sitting at my desk.

My own dog is 16 years old, and though he is in good health, I am going to lose him soon. Maybe I will be lucky enough that he has two more happy years, but that would be extraordinary luck. I think about this fact every day, and this book brought it home for me all the more. Felix is the only real pet I have ever had, and consequently will be the first real pet that I lose.

It’s as if I have already started grieving, as a way to get myself used to the idea that this is going to happen. This book reminded me of that inevitability, which was sad. It did it, though, in a comforting way.

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Keep Coming Back

So! Moving on from talking about one form of highbrow entertainment to another, we go from celebrating iCarly to Infinite Jest.

I set a goal for myself at the beginning of 2009 to finally read and finish reading Infinite Jest. I had no idea that Infinite Jest would become the target of a mass online book club. I just knew that I couldn’t call David Foster Wallace my favorite writer with any air of legitimacy until I had finished the Big Book.

But oh, I got so lucky to have Infinite Summer was there for me.

I am certain I would have had a much more difficult time with Infinite Jest had it not been for Infinite Summer. Infinite Summer made the entire experience a thousand times more fulfilling, and it made me so much more motivated to Keep Coming Back than I would have been if I were reading it on my own. The book is so much to digest. Digesting it with a community of other readers–even if I never was an active participant on the forums–was invaluable.

When I got to the end of the book, it was midnight, and while midnight = bedtime, the only thing I felt like doing was running around in circles and tearing my hair out. I’m not trying to spoil any potential readers, but the ending of the book is exactly what you would expect it to be, which means it is an almost impossible, yet completely perfect, ending. The book does have the word “infinite” right there in the title, so it’s not like I was expecting Hal Incandenza and Don Gately to happily ride off into the Great Concavity’s sunset, but I was not fully prepared for how it ended.

So, I rushed to my computer to read the thoughts of other people who had finished the book. I was able to find a blog post that came up with a theory for the ending, and while reading that felt a little like cheating, it also gave me the peace of mind I needed to find closure.

Reading this book, of all books, with a community of readers made it a much more satisfying and meaningful reading experience than any I have had in a long time. I am so happy the universe gave me the help I needed to finish this goal.

Now that I have read all the 1,079 puzzle pieces of pages, I can see why people say it is their favorite book. I can see why people say it changes their life. Most of all, I can see why everyone said they felt like they needed to immediately start reading again from the very beginning. The end is the beginning; the beginning is the end. One might say it’s like a circle. A circle in which one travels INFINITIVELY. (Har har!)

The book has been lodged in my mind ever since I finished it, and my brain keeps piecing together bits of information in new ways. Even though I finished the book, I have this feeling I am going to keep coming back to it, until I pick it up again.

Next up, I am totally going to reward myself with an Enfield Tennis Academy t-shirt. I can’t figure out which name to put on the back. Gately? Because Don Gately is my favorite character? (Seriously, the scene in which the utter sincerity of his cooking is described made me cry.) Even though he (obviously) didn’t attend ETA? I am open to suggestions, here.

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