Monday, June 28, 2010

Mini-Reviews for novel project

As I mentioned in yesterday's Sunday Salon post, I am ready to start writing my novel.  Well, I am not really mentally ready, but I will probably never "feel" emotionally ready to start.   But I have researched enough that at this point I know if I do anymore it is simply procrastination.  There will always be more research to do (especially factual data), but until I write the scenes, I won't know what facts I need to uncover.

Right now my plan is to start writing on July 1.  I technically have the entire month of July off:  no appointments for school, and if Mom stays well, no family obligations either.  I did learn that there is a NaNoWriMo for the month of July, and I gave serious thought to joining, but I am afraid that is one more pressure in life that I do NOT need to add to my plate.  So I will just have to rely on you, my dear blogging friends, to keep me accountable to this goal.  I hope to write every day and have the rough draft of this novel complete by the time I must report to school on August 16.  Truthfully, I would like to have it complete by July 31, as I will need to start lesson plans in August, but I am trying to give myself a doable schedule.

The working title for this book is First Impressions (yes, I realize that this is borrowed from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, but the fact that the main characters are Impressionists, and the initial reactions of Phoebe to them and they to Phoebe are not always reliable - and I think she will have a first love interest in the book - which will carry over to the 21st century --- I don't know, it just works for now).

In doing the "novel" research, I tried to focus on three distinct areas:  YA novels (since this is most likely my target market, I want to discover the right pace and voice for this audience), other historical fiction novels based on these Impressionist artists (I was surprised how many titles were available), and time travel.  So far I have managed to read three historical fiction (and this will probably be enough for now), and one YA time travel novel (I am hoping to listen to and/or read A Wrinkle in Time before I start writing in July), and one YA novel that focuses on art.  I also watched two DVDs that were very worthwhile and I will quickly review those as well.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg.  I am quite sure that the vast majority of you are familiar with this modern day YA classic, but it is certainly worthy of one more accolade. The story is probably geared toward the middle grade audience and centers on a sister and brother who decide to run away from home and share an adventure.  Their adventure is slightly unique in that they choose to run away to Metropolitan Museum of Art and camp out among the historical artifacts.  While many students may find a field trip to the museum boring, these two children show us how fascinating art can be.  The author even taught this adult to look at the world with a sense of awe and wonder, some skills that I think I lost long ago.  There is a portion of the book that involves a mystery that the children want to solve - and provides an added layer of interest for all readers.  I would rate the book a 5 out of 5 stars.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead is a debut YA novel by this talent author which centers on a series of cryptic messages sent to a sixth grader living in New York City in the late 1970s.  There were many aspects of the book that I enjoyed, not the least of which was the description of my favorite city at a time when I lived on the East coast.  I thought Ms. Stead captured the voice and mannerisms of this age group in a way that I could truly recall this particular time in my life.  The ability of these messages to predict future events added to the suspense of the story and held my interest - even though I was somewhat thrown by the time travel aspect of the ending (in fact, I had to re-read it twice before it made sense to me).  This is NOT a fault of the author - this is definitely the fault of the reader.  It was good for me to read this kind of time travel novel - although it is not similar to the style that I plan to write.

The Artist's Specials is a series of 6 DVDs that focus on the life of a particular artist.  I actually watched two of them for my research:  Degas and the Dancer and Marie Cassatt:  American Impressionist.  Both of them were delightful and I would highly recommend them to any child - or child at heart.  The Degas movie focuses on his paintings of ballerinas, in particular the young dancer who is scratching her back in the famous painting, The Dance Class.  He forms a relationship with this young girl:  she models for him, enabling him to perfect his artistic expression of movement, and he encourages her to dance until she is accepted as part of the National Ballet Corps.  The film of Marie Cassatt focuses on her relationship with her visiting nieces and nephew.  At first her the adolescent niece does not understand why her aunt would "waste her time" painting rather than following the more traditional route of marriage and privileged life, but in the end Marie has actually encouraged this young girl to follow her own dreams.  The movie also touches upon the friendship that Cassatt and Degas shared (something that I hope to perhaps embellish in my own book).

Dancing for Degas by Kathryn Wagner is a debut novel, again with Degas as a central character, but definitely focusing on the more adult themes of the Parisian ballet.  The protagonist in this story comes from a very poor family who has no hope of survival unless one of their children succeeds in life and can support the rest of the family.  When the eldest son impregnates a local girl, this responsibility falls on the shoulder of the young daughter, Alexandrie.  Even though she starts ballet lessons late in life (most star ballerinas have studied since the age of three or four), she does work hard and succeeds at earning the opportunity to study at the Parisian Ballet.  This does not mean she will actually become a member of the esteemed corps, but she will have the opportunity to audition in due time.  The book delves into the seedy green room antics of ballet patrons and the purchase of ballerinas for the night.  Many of the girls care more about becoming a rich man's mistress - guaranteeing a luxurious lifestyle for herself and some financial help for her family - than they care about actually becoming an "etoile"  (star ballerina)  Alexandrie becomes a model for Degas and becomes totally enamored by this artist, but he refuses to compromise art for love and marriage.  There were parts of the book that I truly enjoyed - particularly the ending (it was not what I expected), but I had hoped that there was going to be more story of art, and less story of unscrupulous French aristocracy.

Lydia Cassatt  Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman.  This is a small collection of five fictional stories inspired by as many paintings that the artist rendered of her sister.  Lydia and Marie were close sisters, although they were as different as night and day.  Marie was the independent, strong-willed sister with great aspirations and Lydia was sick for most of her adult life with what was to eventually diagnosed as Bright's disease.  The stories are mostly character sketches of a particular moment in time.  I found them quite absorbing, although in a meditative sort of way.  I was truly taken back in time where a particular social class lived at a leisurely pace that allowed them to notice beauty in everyday life.  This would be the perfect book for a summer day - sipping a glass of iced tea in a shaded hammock.

Claude and Camille by Stephanie Cowell.  This novel follows the love story of Claude Monet and his muse/model/lover/wife  Camille.  I enjoyed this book the best of the three historical fiction novels I read.  I think I liked it because there was enough action/plot/conflict that I was always fully engaged (as opposed to Lydia Cassatt, where it was more a relaxed character study), and while the loose morals of this artistic society is presented here, it does not detract from the primary focus of the Impressionists artistic endeavors (whereas with Dancing for Degas, I felt that the focus on the book was more on the depravity of the young girls than the art of Degas).  Since this novel focuses on their life together, it essentially spans the years of 1857 - 1879, the year Camille died.  I enjoyed the pacing of this book, the attention to artistic detail, and the emotions portrayed of a starving artist who wants to provide for his family, but yearns to paint even more.  I was truly in awe of Monet's perseverance, despite popular opinion and financial distress.  He was truly called to be an artist, he was willing to do 'whatever it took" to heed that call - and the world is forever grateful to him (and his family) for making those sacrifices.

I have come away reading these novels learning that there is no one right way to tell a story.  No one has told "my" story yet - so I feel confident that I am not unintentionally plagiarizing any one's work.  I am also still excited about my story - which tells me that I am on the right track.  While I know that I must continue to overcome these senseless feelings of perfectionism (I want the rough draft to be perfect) because they are only setting me up for failure, I am still excited about the writing adventure that lies ahead.  Even if nothing comes of it (which I doubt that it will), I feel confident that my experiences this summer will help me be a more compassionate and empathetic teacher in the fall when these teenage writers will be experiencing their own skeletons in the closet.


  1. OK, we will hold you accountable. And hats off for turning down the other writing project. Just say no, and block out the noise.

  2. Best of luck! It can be a slow process, but if you can love the journey, you're set.

  3. I'm so excited for you and wish you loads of luck!

  4. I had no idea there was a NaNoWriMo for the month of July. Maybe I did at one time, but it slipped my mind. Anyway, I am not sure I have 50,000 more words on my current WIP, so I'll pass. Besides, I am in the groove and like you, don't need the extra pressure right now. I like where I'm at.

    As for you, you go! I think this is a fantastic place you are at. :)

  5. We will be there for you on your journey. I am attempted to join you through July in order to actually get my first draft finished. Good luck.

  6. We read The Mixed up Files for our mother/daughter book club a few months ago and the girls adored the book.
    I have When You reach Me sitting on my bedside table as we speak (or write as the case may be).
    Also want to read Claude and camille. It was written about in the NYTimes book review this weekend.

  7. Well you know I will be here rooting for you! I really think you can do this and can't wait until you feel brave enough to start posting some of your writings.

    I think I'll be re-reading A Wrinkle in Time around the first of July, too, so be sure to post something about the book. :)

  8. Write away, Molly! Lock the perfectionist in a box & just write. Your excitement for your story is infectious--go for it!

  9. This is exciting! I hope you blog about the writing process, because I can't wait to read about it.

    Good luck!

  10. I LOVE LOVE LOVE "From the Mixed-Up Files ..." and I'm really excited to read the Stead book soon.

    I'm so excited for you to start ... and I like the title.

  11. you go!! How exciting. And I love the books you've listed here: some I've read and some were already on my wish list. Woo hoo.

  12. I'll be rooting for you! I have played with the idea of writing a historical novel about the Impressionists for over 20 years, I even took a graduate course in art history of the subject for background information. Although I think that ship has sailed for me, I'll be eagerly watching you. Loved your list of books! I'm heading to the de Young Impressionism exhibit (the d'Orsay is being renovated so the collection is on tour) next week, I'm reading The Judgement of Paris and the catalogue Birth of Impressionism, before I go. Now I'm going to try to fit in one from your list.

  13. Good luck!! This will be amazing!! Can't wait to hear about your progress!

  14. This sounds wonderful and very inspiring, Molly - good luck! If I am more online this coming month than last month, I will definitely be here, cheering you on. I love the books and DVDs you reviewed - that Artists DVD series sounds like something my son might enjoy. And of course, The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. B. was a favorite of mine as a kid.

  15. It is very exciting for you to begin your novel. I hope you will feel all of our positive energy and support for you and your project.


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