Sunday, March 15, 2009

To Mention Pop Culture or Not in a Story

I've finished reading the revised edition of The President's Daughter, by Ellen Emerson White (and yes, I did read the two side by side the whole time - which is a bit awkward.) The experience left me wondering about mentioning any current popular things by name. Now we could all be so lucky to have our work still being read 25 years later - and find these kind of changes necessary - but is it worth it to mention hip and trendy things that a few years later might make your work seem out of date?

Some of the references that Ellen Emerson White had to change (that were all perfectly understandable in 1984)
Tab - changed to Coke
Talking Heads
Old Time Rock and Roll
Tom Cruise imitation (a la Risky Business)
Stray Cat Strut
Meet the Press with David Brinkley
"set the record to the right song"
TV references to Hill Street Blues and the Brady Bunch are changed to watching the shows on DVD
TV references to the Bionic Woman, Bewitched and Gilligan's Island and a reference to UHF are eliminated.
"soaking in Palmolive" - taken out, since the commercial reference is now obscure.

And the list goes on and on.

When I first read this one of the things I really enjoyed were all of the pop culture references that I did get. To me it just showed a book reality that existed in the same reality I lived in.

But clearly if this is to be presented as a book with a modern sixteen year old girl as the main character these things had to change. Ellen Emerson White was fortunate to have the chance to update the series and give it renewed life.

It still leaves me wondering - how much pop culture is too much to put into a story? Is it better to make up the names of TV shows and bands in order to not run the risk of the pop hero you put in the story ending up in jail before the story is published? Or is it better to be hip and mention things that your audience will recognize and enjoy getting the connection between the book world and the real world?

I once wrote a story that had my characters going to the Berlin Wall. At the time it seemed impossible that a time would come when it didn't exist. But a few years later it was torn down.

I suppose it's impossible to know all the things that will one day date your story.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Reading Revisions

I'm re-reading a book that is clearly one of my favorites (based on the fact that I re-read it and its sequels on average once a year and have since I bought it when it was first published in 1984). The book is The President's Daughter by Ellen Emerson White.

The book was recently re-released in a revised form after the fourth book in the series was published nearly 20 years after the first three. And since the fourth book takes places only a few months after the third book there were some continuity problems. Basically in the first books the internet didn't exist - but by book four it was all over the place - and lots of other technology besides - like cell phones and such.

So Ellen Emerson White had the opportunity to revise and republish the first three books. She updated them to take out archaic references and also had the chance to simply revise a bit.

I got the book from the library - because it felt funny to buy a book I already own - and I'm trying to read them simultaneously so I can see what the changes are.

And you know what? I can't read a book like that. It's getting annoying.

But I'm enjoying the new version (and starting to think I might have to own it - and the sequels). The changes she made all seem to work well. I haven't come across anything that I missed because she removed it. Okay - except the main character making her cat dance to "Stray Cat Strut" - but I'm guessing that's a song that most teens don't know these days.

What a great opportunity: to be able to revise twenty years later. I see where she added things that will come into play in later books - making it all work together in a much stronger way. I see where she made minor changes - simply because they worked better the new way (which I wouldn't have thought of without seeing the new and old together.)

And what lesson does this teach me (other than it's hard to read an old and new version at the same time)? It teaches me that revisions always work. Even twenty years later - on a book I absolutely love - she went in and made it even better. (I will admit I'm only up to chapter 3, so maybe I'll feel differently as I go further - but I doubt it)

Poetry Friday

My daughter was chosen to represent her school at "An Evening with Young Writers" at our town's art center.

The two poems that were selected are ones I've posted before on Poetry Friday, but they bear repeating. I'll put one here and the other over at The Simple and the Ordinary (spread the wealth.)

Home is...
by KRM (6th grade)

Home is guitar music
Set to blasting,
Echoing on the stairwell.
Home is the tapping of keys
As Mom's fingers dance
Over her laptop keyboard.

Home is Dad, sleeping
On the couch downstairs
Quiet, like a cat.
Home is our dying
Maple that isn't as young
As it used to be.
Home is books
Scattered around the
Living room haphazardly.

Home is red raspberry bushes
In the sweltering summer,
Prickly stems, bright berries, and all.
Home is rosebushes
In the springtime
Surrounding the backyard
With their sweet aroma

Home is love,
All year round.

The Poetry Friday Roundup is by Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

A Writing Tip From Pippi

"I know why most stories don't have a first person main character who is blind," my 12-year-old daughter said the other day, "If you are showing what a person sees and the person doesn't see anything..." She thought a second. "You know what would be a really good writing exercise? To write scenes as if the narrator were blind - you'd have to really focus on the other senses, it would make all of your writing stronger."

Smart girl that Pippi. I may have to try that exercise.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Light a Fire Under Him

There is a story in my family history about an uncle of mine. Actually he would have been an uncle of my grandmother's I believe. I don't vouch for the veracity of this story - only that this is how the story was told to me.

My great-great uncle was walking along the canal paths of the Erie canal. He came upon a mule that was refusing to pull it's load. No matter what the driver did to it that mule just stood there. The driver was fed up. My great-great uncle said he would buy the mule for a quarter (maybe the amount was even less, I'm not sure). The driver, facing a worthless animal agreed and turned the stubborn mule over to my uncle but wondered what my uncle would do with an animal that refused to move.

Simple. He lit a fire under him and the mule moved right quick. And my uncle got himself a mule right cheap.

Hopefully no one actually has to light a fire under me to get me writing and blogging again.