juliawang on June 4th, 2014

I’m going to England this summer for a friend’s wedding, and afterward, my friend, S, and I will hop around Europe for two weeks, so I have been thinking a lot about travel writing, trying to wrap my mind around it, and trying to fit it into my writing life.

David Miller from Matador Network wrote a piece called “Travel Writing at Ground Level,” in which he explains the idea of Ground Level writing as putting god in the details. This is also true for fiction writing. But then the article highlights the value of reporting and warns against the haziness of attaching POV to travel pieces. So, travel writing is to be stripped of POV?

photo by mikebaird on Flickr

This concept is a complete 180 from how the synapses fire for fiction or creative non-fiction. When studying creative narrative in my MFA program, I have lived through years of reaffirmation of the idea of writing from a POV. Story characters have filters, just like real people have filters. One character looking at a deserted ghost town would notice different things than another character. Memories are called up. Fears are tugged. The idea of telling stories through POV filters is so ingrained in me that I need to be super aware of writing with another goal in mind. Travel writing, being a form of journalism, draws strength from objectivity. Thinking about writing from this perspective might befuddle fiction-biased minds. It’s like that ballerina that spins one way for some people and a different way for others. For me, the ballerina naturally spins to the right, but if I concentrate hard enough, she turns the other way, just like that.

Now, my question is, is there a type of writing out there that is in between? Is there a type of filtered travel writing? A creative non-fiction travel writing? Or does it simply become creative non-fiction? I generally don’t like thinking about writing in categories, but I’m trying to capture a vague thought here.

Does anybody know of a travel journal that focuses not on the places themselves but on the traveler’s experience of them? Bill Bryson’s books, maybe? Anybody?

juliawang on June 21st, 2013

And the quote of the day goes to . . .

James Marsters, for:

Chekov, man, it’s all the same thing. Chekov and Buffy the Vampire Slayer–it’s all about beautiful losers.




juliawang on June 26th, 2011

In addition to hearing wonderful panels throughout the day, I got a chance to look at original paintings for a few much celebrated picture books, including:

And look at these paintings by Hollins professors, Ruth Sanderson and Ashley Wolff.  Aren’t they wonderful?










Tomorrow is the start of Hollins Study Abroad in the UK, which is the start of my experiment to write a novel on my iPad.

Crazy?  Not if it works!

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juliawang on May 28th, 2011

Okay, so it’s not that drastic. Not all children are illogical (in the adult sense of the word). And not all adults write bores (in the children’s sense of the word). Reminds me of what C.S. Lewis wrote in The Magician’s Nephew: the children are musing about what could possibly in an empty house, and then Polly says, “Daddy thought it must be the drains.” To which Digory responds, “Pooh! Grown-ups are always thinking of uninteresting explanations.”

I was looking over some of my eight-year-old students’ fiction, and it struck me how carefree and without logic most of the plot lines are. I find it hilarious that we, as adult instructors, go in and try to mold the story arc to follow cause-and-effect, emotional logic, and all that good stuff that we learned in our MFA program.

So what about adults who write children’s literature? I’m mainly thinking of Norton Juster (Phantom Tollbooth) and Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland). Even Dr. Seuss, to some extent, is nonsensical, though when he makes up words, we sort of get what he means. Sometimes.

What about “nonsense” that is so appealing to children? If we say that great writers are able to see humanity from a birds-eye view, then beginning writers…cannot, and therefore falls back on writing about personal experiences without knowing how to universi-fy them. Eight-year-old writers do not care so much for cause-and-effect, even in their own lives, much less in fiction. Spontaneity feels like a virtue, like “being the fun one,” and not so much “irresponsibility,” which we adults come to accept, in life and in fiction.

What is foreshadow? What is transition? What is verisimilitude?

However, as a recent MFA graduate, I simply will not admit that everything I have learned is laid to waste. Story structure, story continuity, plot-sense, are, to me, the unifying hand that holds up the spontaneous story, so that the reader feels like he/she is being held by the hand, feels safe, within the dangers of all the twists and turns.

However, Safety is not Bore. Goodness. Safety is trust in the author. So once an author learns the basics of the story, he/she best make it exciting so as to deserve the reader’s trust.


juliawang on April 20th, 2011

Rather than wrapping up my thesis, today I snuggled into the loveseat and read a mystery cozy.  I devoured it; that is to say, I read it very fast.  And you know what, it made me feel productive and rather relaxed.  So, to that nagging voice that wails, “Bad writing!  Not literary!”  I say, “Actually, it’s not bad writing, according to any number of grammar books.  And as for it not being literary, I don’t think anyone picks up a cozy thinking, Boy, am I in for a deep dive into the human condition!”  Nay, today I picked up a cozy to feel warm and secure, to follow the slightly emotionally-challenged detective in solving a murder (not gory, rather more like a complicated algebra equation).  I picked up a cozy for its world.

This got me thinking, cozies are supposedly “realistic,” but only in so much as they are set in a world in which the laws of physics are similar to our own.  That is, no “magic.”  No “aliens.”  No “loose threads” (generally speaking).  All right, I could accept these rules.  Because I had agreed to in picking up the book.  But what really gets me is that this “cozy world” is really no different than Hogwarts, or Narnia, or Middle Earth, or the Related Worlds.  Fascinating!  Cozies are fantasies–cause I wish you luck in arguing that any of those charming events could come to pass without added meaning in our reality.

So what makes cozies so addictive?

Okay, as I’ve said, 1) a fantasy world into which we could escape with no worry of danger (none of our favorite characters would die)

2) a series?  Or, a fantasy world (and so on) into which we can return time and time again.  Remember, I’m just talking about mystery cozies here, a rather specific type of mysteries.

3) a likable, unchanging protagonist so that the he/she becomes familiar.  It’s like re-encountering an old buddy.

All this talk about worlds reminds me of something Orson Scott Card wrote about in his craft book, Characters and Point of Views.  He says that there are different types of stories, the MICE quotient:

  • Milieu
  • Idea
  • Character
  • Event

Stories that get a kick off of the world is a milieu story.  Card gives Lord of the Rings as an example.  He writes, “Most characters need only be stereotypes within the culture of the milieu, acting out exactly the role their society expects of them, with perhaps a few eccentricities that help move the story along.  It is no accident that when Tolkien assembled the Fellowship of the Ring in his The Lord of the Rings trilogy, there was only one dwarf and one elf–had there been more, it would have been nearly impossible to tel them apart, just as few readers can remember the difference between the two generic hobbits Merry and Pippin” (65).  Card goes on to write that “besides science fiction and fantasy, milieu stories often crop up in academic/literary fiction…” (65).  He’s talking about literary fiction in which the setting is a character.  Winesburg, Ohio comes to mind.

Of course, Card’s MICE quotient is not mutually exclusive within itself.  Still, cozies are interesting because they are supposedly event stories.

Maybe that’s why the world of a cozy, although expectantly familiar, is not as extravagantly attention-grabbing as Mordor.  Or is it just that I haven’t yet encountered any?

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juliawang on April 4th, 2011

I’ve always been a terribly fond fan of Kurt Vonnegut.  I read him as a tween, and now as an adult (who sometimes feels like a teen) I still find the same pleasures in entering his worlds.  Today I found the following video of him talking about story shape.  It’s the first time I’ve seen him speak (not counting a video of him in Second Life) and he makes me happy all over again.

Here’s a complimenting link about the same concepts, published in Lapham’s Quarterly in 2005. The print version of the talk, in a way.

And since I’m on a roll and slightly obsessed, here is a video of some Vonnegut guidelines for writing. My favorite has always been: “Write to please just one person. If you open the window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” Oh, the Vonnegut Spice.


juliawang on March 31st, 2011

“…people only engage in struggle in order to attain harmony… Struggle is stirring because it is powerful and garden and yet at the same time bitterly distressing. Those who struggle have lost their harmony and are in search of a new harmony. Struggle for the sake of struggle lacks resonance and, when transformed intro writing, will never produce great literary works.”

~~”Writing of One’s Own,” Eileen Chang
from Chinese Writers on Writing, ed. Arthur Sze