Monthly Archives: January 2012

The Power of Music, and Sleater-Kinney

Sleater-Kinney

So, one of the key aspects of this protagonist Thorn that I’m writing about is that she has a powerful voice. Powerful in a dual way – both amazingly moving and seductive, and also physically powerful, meaning she can burn things right up. When I first started on my epic journey of working on my book, conveying the importance of music to this girl seemed crucial. Now that I’m working within a concept of different universes, I’ve traveled away from the idea of Thorn decorating her closet room with pictures of Neko Case and Beth Gibbons. But, the raw vitality of a strong voice singing lyrics that matter remains at the heart of Thorn’s story.

I was reminded of this when I listened to Wild Flag’s new album – Wild Flag being a super group of sorts, composed of women from previous bands, most notably Sleater-Kinney. The first song, “Romance,” sums up almost perfectly how I envision Thorn’s voice and the importance sound and song will play for her: “Hey, can you feel it? The way it sways you,/The hum in your chest?/” And then a darker turn: “Can’t stop the bleeding or this leaving/Though I’ve tried/And when I return, with those fresh burns/You’re waiting inside.”

So after listening to the Wild Flag album for a while I naturally revisited Sleater-Kinney. This band represented grrl-power to me for a very long time, but I hadn’t listened to them in forever. I turned to their 1997 album first. Those strains of “Dig Me Out” took me right back to a time when I shook my head unabashedly to the beat: “dig me out/dig me in/outta this mess baby outta my head.” Oh, Sleater-Kinney – a lethal combination of astute lyrics, powerful guitar, and the surging voice of Corin Tucker.

My favorite Sleater-Kinney album for many years has been One Beat. All the songs are familiar, like a worn-out sweater I’ve turned to again and again. What draws me in is not only how Corin Tucker sings, but what she’s singing – the lyrics bore right in, driven home by Tucker’s voice. And again and again, there’s the underlined importance of music, moving to the force of the thrum. From the song “One Beat” – “I’m a bubble in a sound wave/A sonic push for energy/Exploding like the sun….Could you invent a world for me/I need to hear a symphony Oh oh.” From “Step Aside” – “When I feel worn out when I feel beaten/Like a used up shoe or a cake half-eaten/There’s only one way to keep on feeling/Move it up one time.”

If Thorn has only a small portion of the power of these ladies, she’s going to be quite a force of nature.

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Lisbeth in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

 The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is not one of my favorite books. The exposition is laborious and the language is less lyrical than, for example, John Ajvide Lindqvist’s Let the Right One In. However, this book did introduce a compelling figure into my imagination – the character of Lisbeth Salander. This petite young woman, replete with piercings and tattoos, possessed of a photographic memory and searing intelligence, dominated the narrative for me. Beyond the failings of the novel around her, Lisbeth shines out loud and clear.

What do I find so fascinating about Lisbeth? She’s so very, very angry. That anger jumps out of Lisbeth at different times throughout the book, whether she’s tussling with a group of hoodlums in a train station or tattooing a hapless man’s chest. We as readers discover that this rage is more than justified – Lisbeth has witnessed her mother being abused, she was wrongly committed to an asylum and abused by her doctor – and that’s just the stuff that happened to her before the events in Stieg Larsson’s first book. But Lisbeth isn’t just angry – she’s incredibly strong. With her piercing intelligence and determination, she teams up with Mikael Blomkvist to ensure that the bad guys get punished.

The narrator of my own book is an angry young girl, struggling to control her emotions so that they do not control her and turn her into a monster. And yet this girl, Thorn, cannot excise her emotions – without them, she wouldn’t be a human being. The familiar figures of horror movies illustrate this dichotomy: the howling werewolf who has symbolically let his strong emotions take over; and the mad scientist, practicing his unethical experiments in the name of reason and science. The key to being a balanced human being, of course, is to balance the two, reason and emotion, logic and feeling, into an integrated whole.

The opening of the American version of the movie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo got me thinking about Lisbeth again, and I found myself comparing and contrasting the portrayal of this character by the Swedish actress, Noomi Rapace, and the American, Rooney Mara. Which one, to me, was better?

Watching Fincher’s version, I found the overall movie more effective, more clean, more clear. But Rooney Mara, to me, did not completely nail the portrayal. She employed mannerisms like wiping her nose with her hand and smoking to get into the character, and she was good. But I found myself remembering Noomi Rapace as the better Lisbeth. So I decided to watch the Swedish version again.

And there it was – the reason I thought that Rapace is better – it’s all there in her eyes. Pain, rage, sorrow – it’s all there, simmering away. Exactly the kind of intensity I need for my own protagonist – rage and pain and sorrow, all tamped down but ready to explode at any moment. Rapace is strong, she’s tough, but that pain is right there, underneath the surface of those roiling tattoos.

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Feeding the Fire Within – Creative Inspiration

 

I’ve been working on a writing project for a while now, a book. This book idea has taken a very long journey – it started when I (finally!) finished my thesis for my Master’s in English and got my degree. Now, I figured, at long last I had the time to write short stories, work on getting them published, and eventually work up to writing books.

Well, it didn’t work out that way. Instead, I got an idea about a girl with what I term wacky powers, and a family to which she’s suddenly introduced when she’s sixteen. This idea, about this girl and these family members, who are all lost or twisted in some way, kept growing, and growing, and growing. It clearly wasn’t a short story idea, but a book. I was overwhelmed by my own idea back then and couldn’t nurture it, so I put it aside.

Then I moved across the country to San Francisco, took writing classes, and found an incredibly supportive writing group (I’m talking about you, Madeline, Daisy, and Rebecca). I excavated my book idea, worked hard on it, and it grew and flourished.

And then I went through some major life changes, and I had to put the book aside for another interlude.

Oh, how many permutations this idea has gone through. But – I am working on it once again. And part of my motivation process to finish it and polish it, I’ve decided, will be this blog. Why? Well –

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron

In the process of motivating myself to write on a regular basis and stare down the blank page, I’ve read a few books on writing and the creative process. The most useful to me so far has been Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Guide to Higher Creativity. I stayed away from this book for a while because it seemed suspiciously cheesy, vaguely reeking of yoga (which until recently I spurned) and pseudo-spirituality. Still, the interactivity model that I glimpsed as I flipped through the pages was somewhat enticing, and eventually I decided to read the book and attempt the exercises.

Here’s one of the things that struck me the most about this truly useful book. Cameron talks about how the artist needs to fill the well – “…think magic. Think delight. Think fun. Do not think duty. Do not do what you should do….Do what intrigues you, explore what interests you; think mystery, not mastery.” Cameron is speaking here about artistic inspiration – the fuel that feeds the fire of determination to be true to your creative self and get out what is inside you, whether it’s playing the cello or painting a portrait or writing a book.

Since I’ve read Cameron’s book, I’ve noticed that seeking out interesting and intriguing experiences, whether it’s going to an art museum or the park or even a movie, often resonates for me into creative ideas. It’s a constant process, seeking out inspiration, or at least remembering to be open to it. The inspiration in turn motivates me to turn a blank page into a page of almost indecipherable scribbling. And as I write, I discover more about what I’m creating.

So I thought, why not chronicle on a (somewhat) weekly basis both what inspires me, and what thoughts result? A truly meandering chronicle, mind you, leaping from a song one week, to a book I can’t put down the next, to a movie with striking imagery, to the wonder of a leaf I saw lying on the ground. Perhaps this chronicle will be of some use or interest to others – and it will another motivational tool for me, to stay on the creative path.

There’s a phrase in Cameron’s book: “As I create and listen, I will be led.” As I carefully create and listen, I’ll do my best to share my process – and perhaps I’ll learn from you in this process as well.

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