Worldbuilding or playing god?

I just returned from my monthly California Writers Club meeting where Tanya Egan Gibson was our featured speaker. Her topic was worldbuilding—creating all the layers of setting for a work of fiction.

She had many good suggestions:

1) Construct an interesting world with which characters can interact.

 2) Create that world right from the start. Don’t try to impose a setting after the fact merely to provide some color.

3) Weigh the pros and cons of using a real setting versus a fictional one.

That’s when it hit me—every author of fiction plays the role of god.

Okay, I know I’m not the first person ever to think of this, but this was the moment it really struck me as a writer. In my fictional kingdom I can create characters that do what I want them to do, be what I want them to be, think what I want them to think.

I decide if they live in a castle or a cardboard box, and whether it’s in Paris, France or Paris, Texas. I choose for them to fight bravely, overcome obstacles, and have dazzling epiphanies, or I cause them to act with malice, withdraw from society, and waste their quiet lives of desperation.

It’s power that doesn’t exist in any other field. Corporate executives may wield a great deal of power, but they can’t make their employees think a certain way. Monarchs may have absolute rule, but they can’t make someone fall in love with them. Teachers can assign students work, but they can’t make them do it. Your mother may withhold dessert if you don’t eat those brussel sprouts, but she can’t actually make you like vegetables.

But authors can. Authors can do anything they can imagine. Inside the world of the book, that is.

And then it dawns on me—in a fictional world that I create, I could even get my books published!

90 Newberys times 90 seconds=film festival

My last post was about video book reviews. I continue the video theme today. In this age of limited time and short attention spans, it is fitting that today’s readers will soon be able to watch 90-second video representations of Newbery Award–winning books. Check out  to see A Wrinkle in Time boiled down to a minute and a half.

Although it may sound like heresy to some, it’s James Kennedy’s way of promoting the 90 books that have been given children’s literature’s greatest honor so far. Kennedy and the New York Public Library are sponsoring this film festival together. Submit your video by  September 15 and maybe it will be screened at the 90 Second Newbery Film Festival this fall. Good luck!

Maybe we should all run around with bacon on our heads

Quote of the Week:

 “I toiled away every week for 13 years and no one seemed to notice. Then one day I run around my house with bacon on my head and [New York Times Book Review editor] Sam Tanenhaus is sending me notes.”

Bravo for Washington Post book reviewer Ron Charles who found a new way to promote books. He makes humorous videos, often featuring members of his own family, of his book picks. Very entertaining and worthwhile. I especially like the clip of him wearing black lipstick reviewing Jennifer Egan’s book, A Visit From the Goon Squad.

We all do what we can to keep publishing alive.

Is blogging really on its way out?

According to the New York Times, the popularity of Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook has lured our youth away from blogs,  apparently portending their imminent doom. (“Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter.”) The word that was Merriam Webster’s word of the year in 2004 has fallen from such heights so quickly.

Much later in the article, however, is this:

Among 34-to-45-year-olds who use the Internet, the percentage who blog increased six points, to 16 percent, in 2010 from two years earlier, the Pew survey found. Blogging by 46-to-55-year-olds increased five percentage points, to 11 percent, while blogging among 65-to-73-year-olds rose two percentage points, to 8 percent.

So it turns out that blogging isn’t so much on the wane as it is growing older. Teenagers who formerly posted videos of themselves and friends via a weblog are choosing to upload to YouTube or post it on Facebook. Gen Yers have speedy texting thumbs and prefer to tweet via their iPhones in order to engage in social networking.

But Gen Xers are blogging more than ever before, as are Baby Boomers. Even Grandpa is blogging, possibly because he prefers communicating in old-fashioned paragraphs to tweeting in chunks of 140 characters or less.

So I’m thinking that reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated along the same lines as Mark Twain’s premature obituary.* While the experts figure out whether or not blogging is dead, I guess I’ll just keep blogging along.

*For those who are sticklers for facts, Twain never said this exactly. He wrote “the report of my death is an exaggeration” in response to a rumor that had circulated when a cousin of his fell ill. Later when he was briefly thought to be lost at sea and his death was reported in the paper, he didn’t publicly comment on this premature obituary. However, the public memory has combined the two incidents and changed the wording. But never ruin a good story with the truth, I always say.

Random act of road rage

 There was very little traffic Sunday morning as I drove to pick up my daughter, so it was odd when the car in front of me slowed to a snail’s pace. I thought maybe the driver was looking for an address or something until he came to a complete stop in the middle of the road. Not at an intersection, just in the middle of Solano Avenue, a main thoroughfare in north Berkeley with lots of nail salons, eateries, a post office,  and several Tibetan gift shops.

I tapped my horn and gave a little hey-I’m-right-behind-you-whatcha-doin’ kind of honk.

The car remained motionless.

So I went around him and went merrily on my way.

He caught up with me a few minutes later at the stoplight at the bottom of the hill, rolled down his window, and stopped a few car lengths short of the next car in his lane, presumably to sidle right up next to me. I rolled down my passenger side window and asked in what I thought was a pretty neutral tone how come he’d stopped in the middle of the road.

The rage spewed across the few feet between our vehicles: “YOU F***ING BITCH, SHUT UP, YOU F***ING BITCH!”

Needless to say, I rolled my passenger window back up and forced myself to look forward until the light turned green, which was thankfully only seconds later.

I know it wasn’t personal. I had done nothing to encourage his rage. Really. I hadn’t given him a dirty look or anything.

But I felt all that hatred flung in my direction, and I was still a bit shaky when I picked up my daughter a few minutes later. She sympathized and gave me a hug, and we lamented the state of the world that could produce this angry, possibly crazy man.

And I returned to my happy life.

But I still wonder about that guy. Had he just lost his job? Is he still driving around yelling at unsuspecting people? Or is he at home screaming at his wife and children? Had he been on his way to a funeral? Did he cuss out the wrong person and now he’s hospitalized for massive injuries? Is he back on his meds and fine now?

I don’t know, and it’s unlikely that I ever will know his story. So I write about the one moment our lives intersected and imagine the rest. What else can I do?

R.I.P. Lupe Jones

Okay, I have to disclose  up front that Lupe Jones is not an actual living, breathing person, but she has meant a lot to me over the last two years, and it’s hard to let her go.

Lupe Jones is the protagonist of my upper-middle-grade novel, My Name Is Lupe Jones, and I know that in the right hands she would delight and amaze, endear herself, and find a permanent place in many hearts. But, alas, her story will stay with only a few readers: my husband, my agent, my friend John, and the wonderful women in my critique groups.

We tried to get her story out there. She even went through a painful rewrite, but it is time to let her go. I think of it as a quality-of-life question. Would I really want her to survive the barest of existence—on the life support of my computer?

Maybe she will be resurrected in another novel as a secondary character. Or maybe I will attempt to go back in time and portray her earlier years in a brave attempt to capture the middle-middle grade demographic.

But for now, Lupe will be silent.