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So, I've finally gotten around to finishing A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. I've had this book on my shelves for YEARS and I've started it at least three times, but I couldn't take the relentless intensity and ran away every time. Martin doesn't pull any punches ~ his world is full of danger, intrigue, and violence and he never flinches. His characters face the full brunt of risk, and there's no security. Safety is only an illusion. As a reader, I like knowing that even if bad things *appear* to happen, things will always turn out right in the end. (Yes, I am devoted to HEA.) As a reader, I take comfort in the fact that most authors only flirt with tragedy ~ bad things might happen, but there is almost always redemption and reward to follow. Martin offers no such promise. This series is brutal, grim, and uncertain.

But it's also beautiful. Incredibly beautiful.

As a writer, I can read with a certain level of distance. It used to frustrate me, this recognition that I can't sink into a story effortlessly anymore. I question everything ~ craft, motive, structure, theme ~ but in many ways I have a far greater appreciation for story, too.

In this case, that distance has made all the difference and has given me the... fortitude?... to read and fully enjoy Martin's series.

A Game of Thrones
is brilliant. Martin uses multiple PoV, with each chapter told from a different character's perspective, and yet instead of fracturing the narrative he manages to weave each thread smoothly into the fabric of the story as a whole. Every character has a distinctive voice, so there is no sense of echo or redundancy. And his timing is flawless ~ Martin doesn't have to explain or describe everything. He leaves some things off the page, and yet we're given just enough to fill in the gaps so the story flows perfectly and the sense of tension, suspense, and drama is maintained.

This world is complex without feeling contrived. The characters feel authentic and dimensional. Moral ambiguity adds a layer of credibility and interest as we watch the characters wrangle with their consciences (if they have them) and the consequences of their choices (even if they don't.)

I've just started A Clash of Kings. I find myself marvelling at Martin's craftsmanship while wondering what will happen next. I dread the next page, and yet I can't wait to turn it.

jenschmitadam: (Default)
When I first started writing, beginnings were easy for me. It was the middle that tripped me up. And then I learned how to slog through the middle, only to run out of steam by the end.

Now I can write endings. Not necessarily good ones, mind you, but endings nonetheless.

But somehow along the way I've forgotten how it feels to sit down and dive in to the start of a story. There's just so much riding on the beginning, now. I know that if I want to reach the end I have to have a strong start, a solid foundation and enough momentum to carry the story all the way through.

Suddenly beginnings have become hard.

This ballet story has given me fits. I've written a short story version. I've written a synopsis. I've written an outline. I've written pages of notes. I've written dialogue, description, scenes...

And I've written the beginning at least... oh, at least a dozen times. At first I wasn't sure how to tell the story - first or close third? Before or after [this certain scene]? And then, even after I'd identified the first moment of change, I couldn't decide where or how to describe that change.

But I think - I hope - I've finally figured it out. I went back and rewrote the beginning AGAIN, and so far everything else is much stronger for it. I'm not done tweaking yet, but at least I'm comfortable enough with it that I can plow forward again without worrying that the whole darn thing is going to collapse in a useless heap of rubble words.

Pages done tonight: three*

__________
*I'm not using a word count because I'm writing by hand.

jenschmitadam: (Default)
WHITE SWAN, BLACK SWAN by Adrienne Sharp

This is a loosely connected series of short stories revolving around professional ballet. While each story is self-contained, some characters make encore appearances and over the course of the book a chaotic meta-narrative emerges.

These are stories of broken romances, broken dancers, broken hearts, broken dreams. And yet each story captures and reflects the beauty, elegance and sheer passion of ballet.

While the stories themselves are fictional (though famous dancers like Balanchine, Nureyev, Fonteyn, Farrell, Godunov and Baryshnikov appear as characters), they glitter with an intimate authenticity that renders them deeply compelling and unforgettable. Although they reveal the tarnished edges of the gilded ballet ideal and crumble the illusions of perfection, what remains at the end is the pure heart of the dance. Despite the bleak tone, the bitterness and regret and despair that plagues some of the characters throughout the stories, their dedication to dance fills the pages with a core of beauty and hope.

Sharp's writing is beautiful and her sense of timing is quite clever ~ she lends an appropriate rhythm to every story; whether it's the speed and staccato of a grand allegro or the lilting grace of an adagio, every story feels like a dance.


jenschmitadam: (Default)
Several years ago I wrote a short story about a ballerina driven to make a deal with a demon in order to dance a coveted role. When she breaks the bargain, he pursues her to a small town and she's forced into a confrontation. The story won honorable mention in an international contest, but all the editorial comments mentioned the scope of the story and said, "There's too much here for a short story."

So I set it aside, thinking I might explore it as a novel at some point.

I've worked on other projects in the meantime, but this story remains close to my heart. A few months ago I wrote an outline and began doing research.

When I saw previews for The Black Swan, I knew I had to see it. It touches on all the themes central to my own story: ageism within professional companies, competition, perfection and obsession... and how far a dancer will go for her chance to shine.

I finally had the chance to watch the DVD last night. First of all, the relationship between Nina (Natalie Portman) and her mother is creepy on its own. Her mother, a former corps de ballet member, clearly has issues of her own and has pushed Nina to a point of obsession. Her control leaves Nina unbalanced and ill-equipped to deal with the pressures of the spotlight. Nina's psychological collapse occurs when the artistic director (Vincent Cassel) urges her to find her passion in order to dance the role of the wickedly seductive Black Swan. Shadowed by the easy sensuality of rival Lily (Mila Kunis), Nina's grip on reality begins to fracture.

The visual imagery of this movie is incredibly beautiful and I loved the smooth incorporation of thematic elements. When the director tells the dancers his version of Swan Lake will require one dancer to perform both the part of the White Swan and the Black Swan, he is standing before the seam of a mirror and his reflection is split in two, a clever foreshadowing. The use of light and dark, timing, and score evokes tension and suspense. And I loved the way the core story of Swan Lake is threaded through Nina's experiences.

This movie highlights the duality inherent in the world of ballet by contrasting the ethereal perfection of performance with the brutal reality backstage, the virgin purity of a young girl with the sensual passion of dance, the line between dedication and obsession.

It is disturbing, provocative, and visually stunning. I loved it, even as I cringed in discomfort.

Incredible movie.
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I've had this account for... oh, quite a while now, but I was already comfortable using a different site and couldn't bring myself to leave. Keeping multiple blogs felt unnecessarily redundant, but I liked the option of carving out a new space. So... here we are. I've finally found a purpose ~ this will be my public blog and will mostly involve books, ballet research, dogs and horses. ;)

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jenschmitadam

May 2011

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