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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Bearing It

I have a confession to make. It is February 6th and my Christmas tree is still up. I have no real excuse for this except for the fact that there are still gifts under it. These gifts will not reach their recipients until I see them the weekend of Valentine's Day. The question now becomes: do I leave the tree up until after V-day or do I just take the thing down now? My work-ethic-inclined self tells me that I should just get it done, but that persistent lazy side says: why not leave it up? I mean, it would be festive to open these last few gifts before a twinkling tree, right? Right?

(Took long enough to get the picture to load on here too)

Of course, I am dealing with a side-effect to the tree-still-being-up thing: the cat has decided that the ornaments on the lower branches are toys, since they've been around so long. I keep finding them scattered about the tree. I can't decide if I think it's cute or annoying.

In the meantime, novel revision is in full swing again. I'm focusing mainly on getting the last chapter polished to a shine, but after, there are going to be some tough decisions. I have to figure out how to reconcile what the agent wants my book to be with what my book actually is without losing something essential in the process. I think for beginning writers especially, this is a real concern and I'm not quite sure I know the answer. When does an edit become so all-encompassing that it destroys the book? I know what is sale-able isn't always good (*cough* Twilight *cough*), so I really want to make sure my book becomes sale-able while also retaining what I think makes it worthwhile.

The next meeting of my writers group, which should have happened yesterday but was postponed due to a minor snowpocalypse, will be comprised partly of going through my last chapter revisions and getting me back on track. Partly, it will be talking about the other writer's work, and partly, it will be a book discussion of Claire Cameron's The Bear, which we got advanced copies of through its publisher. At a time when I could use some fictional motivation but am somehow reading two nonficiton books (one about introverts and one about physics and how the universe is actually a mathematical structure), the Bear felt like a needed change. The novel is about a five-year-old girl and her toddler brother, who are lost in the wilderness after her family is attacked by a bear while on a camping trip. The story itself was rather engaging and I got a special kick out of it after remembering a story workshop I experienced during my MFA. Some guy suggested that the main character of my story--now a section of my novel--should be attacked by a bear. The story had nothing to do with bears and the comment was so out of left field that my husband and I laughed about it for weeks. So here it was, the story I never wrote about a bear attack.

What really made it stand out, though, was the narrative POV, which was a first person through the eyes of the 5-year-old girl, Anna. Because Anna is so young, there are things the narrative inherently can't do, like use proper grammar or sentence structure or have a basic intellectual concept of the world. She's a kid and, as such, she has a hard time distinguishing present from past. She doesn't necessarily understand what is going on around her. It's just beyond her comprehension, and of course, like all young children, she is very self-centered.

I have seen reviews from other advanced readers who didn't appreciate Anna's perspective because they felt  like her voice was younger than her age or that they didn't buy her responses because they aren't what that reader's own five-year-old would do (because I'm sure your little darling is the epitome of what it means to be 5...). I think those readers started off this book not trusting the writer enough. Anna might have been a little immature for her age (I know plenty of other 5-year-olds less mature than her), but her POV was very consistent. Once you get in Anna's head, you don't get out again. Sometimes, the strangeness of the language got to me because it was so not grammatical, so caught between present and past that I didn't know where I was, but you know what? That's how Anna felt in that moment and that's what she thought. It was simple and honest, and as a writer, I thought the choice to stick with that narrative voice was quite brave.

As a whole, I quite enjoyed The Bear, especially the last sentence of the epilogue, which just about killed me because I didn't see it coming. It is a story about survival and family, the love between siblings and the sacrifice that parents make for their children. It's not a story I'll soon forget. I hope I can remain as true to my novel as Cameron was to hers.

Oh, and on a side note, if you are curious and have yet to read it, my first interview as a writer is up at Midwestern Gothic. Now excuse me while I chase the cat away from my Christmas tree.

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