Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sword of Truth

I suppose it’s fitting that the first book review for a watery tart would be about a special sword. Fitting also that the sword’s special skill is to grant a truth-seeking ability to the Seeker-- the sword’s carrier... I’ll confess right now that I’m only ALMOST done with the series, but with 11 books, averaging 700 pages a piece, almost is close enough. I’ve been reading these books since February. Contrary to my husband’s misattributions, fantasy isn’t a genre I have read a lot of, particularly not adult fantasy. I think the reason is that I have a definite intolerance for things that are too far-fetched--magic, okay, space-time foibles, okay, alternative beings, okay. But so often the genre has some belief suspension required that ISN’T just --‘this is only a book, don’t worry about it‘--it is a logic issue or something. But I digress. I began this series because my husband (believing I read fantasy because of my Harry Potter obsession, and because somewhere he read a good review) bought me the book Confessor. A browse inside the cover told me enough to know HE hadn’t browsed inside the cover… it was the ‘conclusion of a series’… The LAST book. A poor start, in my opinion. I did what any other purist, book-loving, poverty stricken person would do. I looked up the series online, then got on the waiting list at the library for Wizard’s First Rule--the FIRST book in the series, and where I always recommend a person begin--the beginning. Oh, I know--where’s the adventure in that? But really, it is about my love of a surprise. If you read them out of order, it is too easy to figure out what is coming--you miss nuances and brilliant foreshadowing--it all becomes sledgehammer stuff… So one of the few orderly things I insist on, is reading series books in order… Back to the Review The Sword of Truth Series by Terry Goodkind Overall I have totally enjoyed the ride, but it is largely the ‘whole’ of it, instead of any given book. The world created was so complete and rich, and vividly described, and the action of the books was intense, keeping me turning page after thrilling page. There were enough drawbacks that any given book might not have passed off into “I recommend it” alone, but as a series, I actually do--I recommend the series. Story Summary Richard Cypher is a woods guide in Hartland and spots a woman in white being pursued by four men. He decides to help her, in spite of having been stung by an evil vine that is infecting his hand at great speed. He and the woman end up having to kill all four men, the woman using a bizarre trick that actually turns one man on the rest of his peers, and then the woman, to help him in return, takes him to Zedd, an odd hermit with healing abilities who likes to stand naked on his rock and read the clouds. (my kind of guy) It turns out Zedd is the reason Kahlen has come into Hartland (across a boundary thrown up decades earlier to protect Hartland from magic)--it begins a long journey to a world being taken over by an evil wizard who Richard is destined to face. It’s great stuff, but it is only the beginning. After Darken Rahl, the evil Wizard, there are Sisters of the Dark, there is Jagang, and there is prophecy about the end of life… it is a fabulous ride overall and I can’t summarize the later stuff at all, without giving away the end to earlier stuff--so there. There is a love story at the base, but it is understated because the two figures have multiple obstacles keeping them in other places, meeting other responsibilities. The battle scenes, are gruesome, vivid, and seem realistic… Kahlen ROCKS as a battle leader--probably the best written war scenes I’ve read. A group of women called Mord Sith are particularly intriguing--kidnapped in their early teens and trained to capture magic and use torture to enslave. They are an excellent way to delineate the different ways people can rule. I think though, my favorite feature, is an Ayn Rand-ish underlying story-- Jagang leads a group of people called the Order, who are using “Brothers” and preaching sacrifice for the greater good--a life after death that is more important in their thinking than this one--nobody is better than anybody else, people should be ashamed of accomplishments because they squash others down, and Richard and his allies are fighting for doing the best we can and being proud and sharing those achievements--for LIFE rather than death. The philosophy is entertaining, but serious, and I quite enjoyed watching a few characters undergo an awakening of sorts--in particularly a certain sister of the dark--but I don‘t want to give too much away. Faith of the Fallen though, was definitely my favorite of the series for this reason. (What? Compared to a book called Naked Empire? Well… yes… but only because naked means something different) Critique That said, I think it has failings related to its genre--VERY under-edited… there were typo-variety mistakes in every book that were noticeable. And it was under edited from the author too--there were times I felt pummeled over the head as he tried to get his point across. I don’t consider this a failing of WRITING nearly as much as I believe it is a failure of requiring REWRITING. In a three page span something could be rationalized and explained twice or thrice, when… if a person assumed the reader was reading the whole series, it didn’t need to be said AT ALL. It’s a little ironic that after all my grumbling about having to cut my own book, my primary complaint is that these books would be vastly improved by a 30% reduction--but that is a 30% reduction that doesn’t change the STORY at all--just a getting rid of repeated information and over-description. I think too that a couple times the characters were too slow to give up stubborn misconceptions, but that was actually a part of the page turning “come on already” that was going on. You KNEW they couldn’t remain that delusional. Recommendation I suppose what I end up with is a ‘definitely read if’… you need to be content with ‘long’--because the series is 7700 pages altogether, and you need to be willing to ignore the mistakes and repetition. If you are a fantasy reader, undoubtedly it is something you are already used to. I think if you normally stick to other genres and are persnickety that way, it might bug you more. But I believe all in all, the story is worth it. (there is a season of a TV show on Hulu called Legend of the Seeker that in my opinion totally fell short on the same topic, but if you DON’T read the books, they may entertain you and give you some of the flavor with less effort.)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Calling All Fairies!!!

The Tart has a wish list of thing I’d like to be able to do. You might be just the person who can grant it!!! Seriously! You’d be… like MAGIC! The Tart wants to know HOW TO… 1) Have my siggie in blog comments be a link to HERE. A few of you do this. I’ve seen it. Come on… grant my wish!!! 2) Figure out how to post links off to the side of my blog, preferably categorically--I’ve seen then with “writing blogs”, “animal blogs”--you know what I’m talking about… How do I DO that? I want to promote the blogs I love, but I don’t know how!!! 3) Design a website without learning a ton of code. Is there a downloadable software or something that can give me a tool kit to pick and choose? The Tart NEEDS… 4) A literary agent. So if you’re a literary agent, or know one, or have one… call me… strike that… email. 5) A publishing contract so I can quit my day job. So if you are a publisher… you know where I am. 6) Financial security so I can give up my day job and just WRITE! And while I’m at it (and because seven is the most magically powerful number, the Tart requests… 7) World Peace. Friday Hodge Podge Confident you’re going to heaven? Worried about your pets after the Rapture? (am I the only one who can’t think of that word without hearing Blondie sing it?) I’ve got a solution for you. eternal earthbound pets I’m not altogether confident I could enjoy a heaven that had a “No Dogs Allowed” sign, and I’m sure that perfection we attain would get rid of the cat allergies, so I’m not at all in favor of the no pets rule but I’m sure that’s just me. Kreativ Moi! And I am such a scatterbrained goofball sometimes, that I missed this from Tuesday, but I am HONORED, and would like to thank Patricia Patricia Stoltey. I am working on my awards! Speaking of awards… also working on the LAPDANCE Awards… Joris is the BEST -- they are HOT and everybody will want one! *dishes smooches to Joris before he reminds me I’m old enough to be his mother*

Thursday, August 27, 2009

டிக்றேச்சிஒனரி Penance

My title just morphed to Arabic, but it seems appropriate, so I'm leaving it. Thursday is the day for my Digression penance… and it seems to me I need it about now. Favorite digressions? Cross dressing and nudity (obviously) This may not surprise anybody, but sometimes I have a hard time refraining from things that are a bad idea. I don’t like things being out of my control, so I am inclined to press matters, even if I KNOW pressing is only going to force the solution I don’t want. Sometimes pressing serves me well—I’m sure I’ve gotten jobs this way. Sometimes, not so much. So today I am digressing, in an attempt to keep from pestering people. Why? I am playing the waiting game on queries. Enough out that I don’t want to send more just yet, too soon to give up, ominous silence… My first round—pre-shortening, I sent out a total of six queries before receiving the excellent advice that CONFLUENCE was too long. I got back nice speedy form rejections in at least half the cases, and slower form rejections in the others. Only one didn’t respond. Then there was the hiatus on querying while I shortened. August 11, I began sending a new batch—13 in all. One responded quickly that the agent wasn’t taking any new clients (wasn’t on her website, but hey, I’m sure it isn’t the first time this has ever happened, and at least it wasn’t personal). Tuesday I got a rejection from a boutique agency that I’d figured was a long-shot, but she amuses me, so I’d tried. Eleven are still out there, and so I wait. It’s only just over two weeks on the first half, and only eight days on the final two, but still, I have ants in my pants. A very good reason not to wear pants, I’d say. So to distract myself, I am pondering this important question… To snail, or not to snail. In my first round, all were eQueries. It seemed so much more earth friendly, and I had a bunch of shopping to do before I could really think about the snail mail variety, so anyone who said snail mail only, I put on hold. This round, I did 6 eQueries and 7 snail mail, and you know what? Snail mail feels significantly more substantial. It feels official in some way pressing ‘send’ doesn’t. I know I read differently on screen than hard copy—I give a hard copy more attention. I think from here on out, anyone who gives me a choice will get the snail (I know that will please Mari, though because she likes snails almost as much as slugs and giraffes, not because she is enamored of the US Postal System).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Not Dead Yet

I’ve been thinking about characters lately. Mostly, I think, characters you can’t let go of, either as a writer or a reader. I think people differ on whether we get attached to characters and want to read book after book including the same ones, or whether we prefer to start fresh each time. I can definitely see the economy of it as a writer—you have flushed out a character who is vivid and reacts predictably and can be thrown into a new situation. It would be tempting to use them again and again. And then I think of Misery—the author so sick of his character that he kills her, only to have psycho fan go ballistic on him. I’m wondering if there are features that are different between people who prefer repeats, versus people who don’t really like them, both as readers and writers. I can get attached to characters, and love to read a series, though admittedly I lose my patience over the reintroduction of things I already know. I know it is so the book can stand alone, but it still annoys me. I’d like people to just read them in order so I wouldn’t be pestered with such things. In fact… maybe that is a future feature of electronic books—allowing the reader to select (read the prior, read but need reminders, and haven’t read) so that the book gives you the amount of history you need and not all that annoying repeat stuff. Enjoyment is limited though, to one long story that has been broken into books that fall in order. I’m Fresh I’m not a huge fan of reading a whole bunch of books about the same characters in different situations—my reason? I think it’s because I’m a character girl and want a character driven story, not a plot driven one. So either the first book is unsatisfying because I haven’t really gotten to know the character, or the second is repeat of stuff I know already—it is too plot oriented for my taste. I can tolerate two or three books, if the character has some life change (Maeve Binchy has an old woman she’s used a few times, but really shakes things up for her between—that works for me—probably because she successfully develops the brand new complimentary characters really well). Mysteries I can read a couple of, because the detailing is different enough, but I am still probably done after two. It’s funny, because I think publishers feel the opposite, so I don’t know if I am an anomaly as a reader, or if business decisions dictate that diminishing returns on something successful, is at least a surer bet than the unknown. I know it is less work (why else would we have endless movie sequels, typically of inferior quality—though not always). My writing approaches the same way. I’ve been asked if I will use my same characters again and my initial response was confusion. “What? Why would I use these characters? Their story is done.” (Though I do have a vague YA series in my head… a group of girls with a book a year, 8th grade through the end of high school. I think the ‘growing up’ part gives it that ‘life change, development’ piece I need for my character need.) Bring Out Your Dead! On the other hand… sometimes you have a really great character who wound up on the proverbial editing floor. CONFLUENCE has a rock band that once had 5 members. Now it has four. Is Josh, the hot red-headed bass player likely to turn up elsewhere? He might. I definitely can see an appeal to a hot red-headed bass player. He just didn’t have any substantive role in the book, so I eliminated him. So I am polling… what is your reading (and writing) preference? Repeats, or no (or qualified). And do you have ‘deal darlings’ that may just show up at some later date?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Unschooling

Learning to unlearn without losing the lessons. If you’d told Mrs. Whatshername (my only Junior year English teacher I don’t remember who taught the term I had to write the bloody Passenger Pigeon Essay) that I would one day be a writer, she would have stared at you in disbelief (granted, the reek of alcohol would have discredited her opinion somewhat). At 16, term papers were not my strong suit. By that time though, I journaled regularly, wrote reams of poetry (teen angsty stuff), and had probably a dozen regular pen pals who ALL considered me their most reliable pen friend. (for the record, Melinda was MY most reliable pen pal--I happen to know she ALSO had a dozen such friends--Cancer’s like to write when we are sorting our emotions). But the formal stuff? Not so much. The Journalism Degree I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Journalism teaches you to lead with a powerful hook and then put details in decreasing levels of importance as you go on. They are planning ahead to include or exclude based strictly on space available and that is the way that newspaper and magazine readers read because of it. It still largely uses the ‘main point, 3 supporting details, transition’ paragraph structure you are taught for high school essays, but the emphasis is on communicating the important points quickly, because the audience attention span is short (and admittedly, I read newspapers that way too, rarely finishing articles--but maybe it is because of how they are written). Business and Marketing Communication After my BA I worked in advertising for three years (only JUST squeaking back out with my soul in tact). I had to do two types of communicating there--most importantly, I had to communicate with our clients and their staff, and with the media--in most cases because we needed them to do something. The structure of such communications is 1) a gratuitous compliment, 2) what we need in clear words, 3) why cooperating benefits THEM, 4) How freaking easy it is to do (typically a step by step so they can’t POSSIBLY screw it up), and 5) a gratuitous ‘aren’t we having fun?’ summary. The point of this was usually to get them to do something some larger body or entity had already agreed on, so name dropping was helpful, but in reality it was just a lightly persuasive ‘how to’. Then there was the actual marketing writing… Rule #1: Seven words. The masses have the attention span of a toothpick, and you are NEVER to strain it or they won’t do what you want. You ever seen a bumper sticker or billboard with more words and you are looking at an AMATEUR. The MS and Scientific Writing FORGET communication… the new word of the day is convince EVERYBODY how important our work is! Phrase it so they don’t know we’re bragging. Compliment the scientists who might review us. This is all tongue in cheek, because I am still working in this field, and in reality, we wouldn’t be PUBLISHING if we didn’t feel our work was important (2 manuscripts accepted this week--another with a promising review provided we do some revisions--very good week on that front). But there is a formula: 1) lit review to show the hole in the literature your study will fill, 2) methods of study you did, 3) results in statistical terms 4) discussion in plain English (by plain I mean understandable to any old PhD) which includes conclusions, limitations and next steps. But there really IS a large portion of the scientific community hugely focused on impressing people, and one of the ways they try to do this is to do to scientific manuscripts what William Falkner does to literature--be so verbose nobody can possibly follow the main ideas. Keeping a hold of that slippery baby None of this is outwardly helpful for writing a novel. As I toss the bathwater of these writing schools out however, I keep having to remind myself of the useful nuggets each can bring. While I would never want to give away the good stuff up front as a newspaper journalist does, it is a nice guide for outlining what actually happened (back story) so that I can then write it as if it is happening. And the advertising, PR types make fun characters (CONFLUENCE has a couple, including Trish, one of the main characters). The business stuff though, is something I’ve only recently reminded myself to draw on for the querying, and will be crucial knowledge for promotion piece. I’m not really sure yet if there is anything useful about the scientific writing I do except that it is the demon I wrestle most because I still spend part of most days doing that kind of writing. But I do seem to always have an academic character in the center of things, and I know it has taught me some of the pitfalls—and that no matter how complicated something is, it can be put in plain English and communicated if somebody really has a goal of communicatin, instead of just posturing. I think though, all of the above are why I write my fiction long hand in the bathtub, instead of at my computer. The WRONG kinds of communicating are just too easy to tap at the keyboard.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Cat-erpoint

Yesterday I was featured on Coffee with a Canine with my dog Joel, http://coffeecanine.blogspot.com/2009/08/hart-johnson-joel.html and last night the cat nagged and pouted about it. You see… she’s jealous. So I agreed to allow her to be interviewed here today. Imaginary Interviewer: So yeah like… who are you? Hart: Well as this is my blog… II: *rolls eyes* Hart: This is our cat, Cali. Technically she belongs to my daughter, but she attacks all of us with equal enthusiasm. II: So what species are you, Cali? Cali: Mom says I’m a Calius Insanus. The vet said Calico… no tortoiseshell, no calico, no tortoiseshell… Um… Mom? Hart: She’s got a torty coat, but has too much white on her (her whole belly and all her paws) for her to technically be torty, so she is calico. We adopted her at the Humane Society, and her litter mates were either black and white or greyish tabbies. II: Cali, what are your favorite things? Cali: Hairbands! Definitely hair bands. I can throw them for myself and then chase them. They boing around in unpredictable ways. Hairbands are the best! And paper bags. Diving into them, laying in wait in them… paper bags are the best! And the bathtub. I like to get in and roll around and push off the sides while mom scratches my tummy. I can summersault and flip over again and again. I definitely like the bathtub the best! Hart: You forgot Joel. Cali: Oh yeah! I can stalk him and leap on him and catch his tail. And he cleans my ears. Joel is the best! II: Right then. And where do you like to sleep? Cali: Sleep sleep? Or lay around with an eye barely open? II: Erm… both? Cali: I like to sleep on the armoire in the basement because nobody bugs me up there. Or if people are gone then I sleep on mom and dad’s bed. I like to lay around spying in the bay window. It offers the best variety of indoor and outdoor activity. II: Spying? That’s intriguing. Cali: They recruited me to be a spy, but my people won’t let me outside without them, so I can‘t accomplish any more than just informing on what I see out the windows. Hart: *loco-motions by head* II: And do you have any dietary quirks? Cali: Well water tastes better if it runs off the top of my head first. Like that? Hart: *rolls eyes* That, and she’s the only cat I’ve ever met who doesn’t like milk, salmon, or chicken, though she’s been known to take a few licks of ice cream or cheese. Mostly though, she’s a cat-food cat. She will drink from her water dish, or the dogs, but several times a day harasses one of us into turning on the bathroom faucet at a trickle so she can drink the off-the-head variety. II: Anything else we should know about Cali? Hart: )Wasn’t she a cute kitten?) She’s very social--loves to have a conversation (lots of cooing), loves to be near people, but she doesn’t like to be held, and she regularly lurks in our living room and attacks the ankles of people walking through. Her favorite game with people is peek--if you peek out at her and hide again, she will stalk you and then jump up at tag the top of your head when she gets there. Sidenote: I am meeting a friend from High School at Niagara Falls tomorrow (we grew up across the country but she is visiting her grandma in Rochester, so this was sort of in between) so I will be gone Sunday and Monday. Have something handwritten for Tuesday though, so I’ll be back!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Naked Friday Hodge Podge

Did you hear the cork pop? Funk OVER. I’m so rarely down and morose, depressed, out of sorts, that it really puts me off. In fact I’m typically a glass ¾ full kind of gal (don’t ask me to explain how that sprung from my ‘what glass?’ parentage). I’m oblivious to obstacles, and ‘work, work, work’ is okay by me, because it always pays off (Dread Pirate Roberts just shuddered, did you see?) How did I get here? Who knows. My nature, probably. But maybe because the vacuum between my grandfather’s birthday (Wednesday) and my mother’s (today) gives too great an emphasis on things I can’t control… those damn Leos always need to be the center of everything. But by Sunday we have Virgo, and yours truly, whose emotions (moon) are controlled by control-freak central (again… Virgo) will be on solid ground again. And as a crab (Cancer) I’m pretty happy just to be swimming in that general direction—I don’t actually have to BE there yet. Disclaimer: I’m not bi-polar (Facebook quizzes notwithstanding), just an optimist with mother issues. Life is Good I have twelve queries out at the moment. The plan is to now wait four weeks—since they went out in two rounds, that means 2 and 3 weeks before I get to the next batch. My A-list is currently those who’ve been successful with long first novels (commercial fiction only—Sci-fi and fantasy seem to get exceptions on the long book front, but CONFLUENCE is not that) Brave Writer Update I have an acronym that I’ve fallen in love with that seems tartish, but wanted a little feedback as to whether I’m entirely delusional: LAPDANCE: Literary Agents & Publishers Dance, Acknowledging Notable Courage & Encouragement. I figure a PG hottie with the acronym and an explainer makes it fun, instead of offensive. What do you think? Too over the top? I’m inclined to go for it unless someone finds this offensive. The plan is to do an awards ceremony HERE (maybe monthly) and have a group on Facebook with a place to compile agents and publishers who are different KINDS of brave or encouraging, so that authors can look at it if they need a certain type of agent or publisher (a resource to us in addition to an acknowledgement to the agents). I will need to test the popularity a little to know whether every nominated agent gets an award, or whether there needs to be some standard… I’m shooting for maybe the last day in August or first in September to kick it off—if anyone else wants to be involved, give me a shout. Non-Fiction Among my manic meanderings… I was browsing an agent book my friend Stacy gave me last night and came across an article by a guy who was trying to get a novel published and got the recommendation “it’s easier to publish non-fiction” which I had heard before. Now this baffles me a little, because you can only see so many titles (Zen and the art of Bass Fishing) before you wonder just how delusional these non-fiction writers, publishers, and promoters are. But then I thought… Hey… I’m delusional. I could do that. And I actually HAVE a few areas of expertise (oddly enough). I know how to research the psych and medical literature (though I can never type just psych… I always type psycho and then have to remove the o)…I have a master’s degree in social psychology, so I know some things about human interaction and motivation… behaviors… I might or might not follow through… more likely I will try to develop a blog feature (separate from here?)… but Man can you see the ideas swirling? Mojo is back in full swing!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Life Lessons Suck

Warning to religiously rigid and happy people. This may not be for you. Strike that. Life Lessons suck the big wobbly sausage [/gratuitous Python reference] I remember in my religiously curious phase, before I decided that all of them that had stuck around for any length of time had some merit, and therefore, none of them took precedence, which again preceded figuring out what made sense to me personally… but I digress… in my religiously curious phase I read that Buddhists, because of the belief in reincarnation, believed before we were born we picked the life lessons we would learn. You know… until this point, I had thought that the Buddhists had it all going on. They were about compassion and tolerance--ideas that really still seem the height of spirituality to me. I was all over it. But you know what? I’ve learned some life lessons I’d just prefer not to know. I have some wisdom I would gladly trade over to ignorance on the matters… As much as I’d like Shiva to dance upon ignorance, I’d prefer to have some ignorance in certain domains. But if you gotta know, you gotta know… sort of. Except I didn’t have to know… until I knew… now I’m stuck knowing. I think what I want is for everybody else to behave rationally and be enlightened, and allow me to be ignorant. I don’t want to know that some people, no matter how well intentioned, are too dysfunctional to interact with (you knew we’d get to my mother, didn’t you?) I don’t want to know the lengths an addict will go to, even if they love you. I don’t want to know know the consequences of self-destructive behavior or the feeling that the only way to save a friend’s life is to have them arrested. I want it to go away. But I do know. Our pain is our strength. I’ve been writing a lot lately, but it is raw, painful, mother tension. Oddly, CONFLUENCE has some maternal tension, and things weren’t even that tense then… But they are now, and so I write. The current stuff will probably need years of cardboard box therapy before I am ready to revise it, but it is real. And what is wisdom worth, if we can’t share it. Maybe some of you can be wise without plotting straight jackets for your mothers. I can only hope. (The trolls were at St. Mungo’s Museum of Religion in Glasgow. It tickled me to see them in that setting, so I include them here…)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Nothin’ in M’ Noggin

Not a writing blog, exactly... unless you look at it as the things that stop writers up... Actually… at the mo’ it feels more like there are great thunderous misbehaving hoards in my noggin and they are NOT obeying my commands to organize into teams and play nicely. I had a couple ideas… a couple blogs handwritten… but I can’t summon discipline or attention at the moment, so I think I just need to call the bogeys out as I see them. Mixed Nuts Today would have been my grandpa’s 90th birthday, and until I was 24, I was the only granddaughter. He and I shared the illusion that I could do no wrong, and it was a pretty groovy thing. I remember walking on the beach with my grandpa and cousins, and grandpa reminded us, as we threw rocks in the lake, to be careful, but I hit my cousin Gerry in the head with one anyway. It was an accident—poor throwing skills, not malice. But I couldn’t fess up. You know what grandpa’s version was? The fish were throwing rocks back at Gerry. I went with it. I think I was 35 when I learned that Gerry KNEW it had been me. I adore my extended family—aunts, uncles, cousins, cousins’ spouses—the lot of them. Why then, can I not seem to get along with my mother? Just asking. School Approaches And then my whole family will be students shortly… My husband, at almost 47, is increasing his course load from one to two… he is taking prerequisites to go to nursing school and I am incredibly proud of him. You see… it’s taken a long time for that dream of being a punk rock star to die (23 years) and in all this time, nothing has sounded to him like it was worth working to become. He’s had JOBS, but no career ever seemed worthy. And then there was that whole math-phobia thing… but he got an A- in his first class and a B in his second… so he will do fine. It is just a shift in family role identity beginning, and it is a little strange. To top it off, my daughter started work outs with the high school swim team this week, so is officially in high school, even if her classes don’t start until after Labor Day, and my son starts middle school… transitions all round… Sure be nice to add “mom gets writing contract” to that, wouldn’t it? Just throwing that out there so the publishing gods can consider the beauty of stories that have all their loose ends tied… But whatever the case… not feeling so much like my themes I’d worked out WORKED today, so I was compelled to ramble… Forgive me…

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Flexibility and Forward Motion

First, I want to shout out a huge thanks. Yesterday this blog received a Creativity Award from Elizabeth Spann Craig http://mysterywritingismurder.blogspot.com/ . I dived into this blogger world after having heard that as a writer trying to get published, it was a good idea, and I was CLUELESS. Elizabeth has been like the north star--always showing the way, and offering light when I need it most, so a sincere thanks! I should also thank Galen Kindley http://www.galenkindley.com/blog/ , whose generosity and kindness have been truly appreciated. I’ve worked with graduate and medical students for the last nine years--not a ton of them, but a few each year. These are the best and the brightest, ardently pursuing careers they have long dreamed of. And you know what? When they finish, only about 30% are happy with where they ended up (the doctors more than the PhDs). Do you know why? They steadfastly followed the fastest route, and never paused to look at the path they were following. They were all about the endpoint, and forgot to pay attention to the lessons of the journey. People too stuck in their ways… get stuck… Digression: When my daughter was a baby, we were part of a playgroup, and in said playgroup was a little boy named Felix. At the time, I would sadly tell other friends, “yes, his name is Felix” and we’d all nod knowingly that the poor boy was destined to be beat up on the playground. In 2005, JK Rowling suddenly made ‘Felix’ cool again… Felix Felices, to be specific--liquid luck--right when this boy was 10 and could probably use it! My point? You never know what’s coming, and sometimes you can just grab on, but you don’t have that option if you are solidly glued to some rigid road. If we tie all our dreams to a single thing, the risk is too high. And frankly, we limit how high we might eventually soar. If we worry too much about what others think, and are set only on some final honor…. BEST SELLING AUTHOR... we might miss some of the gems that make us not just best selling, but thought provoking, or genre defining—the things that might make us the fodder for future literature classes. I’m suggesting we take a lesson from the old Felix Felices. When Harry takes it, he baffles his friends by deciding NOT to go to Slughorn, but down to help Hagrid bury Aragog. He is meandering flexibly, following what fate throws up for him, all the while keeping his goal in the back of his head. And he succeeds, but in a rich, rewarding way that forges a new friendship (Hagrid and Slughorn) and gives Harry some valuable memories about his mother. I suppose in a way, I am supporting the digressionary trails we take, because they can prove fruitful for the end goal, whether it is learning some new expertise, experiencing a fabulous ‘book situation’, meeting your next character, or meeting someone who might help you with the publishing process, but also because living our lives in all its aspects, and following whims, can only enrich us as writers and people.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Errors of Attribution

I’m a social psychologist by education and so one of my favorite things in literature is relationships that ring true. I happen to know, as the actor, much of what we do is situational, but as the perceiver, most of the attributions we make are personality. We see a person shoplift: they think they are doing it for whatever reason they feel they must, we think they are doing it because they lack morality or are delinquent. The juxtaposition makes for wonderful reading. Juxtaposed Reader and Hero
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov features the repulsive Humbert Humbert. He’s a pedophile who marries a woman for the sole purpose of molesting her daughter. He works himself into the position as her only parent and then repeatedly rapes her. But it is written from such a deluded first person perspective that the reader feels where he is coming from. He is the only main character I truly, deeply, loath, where I still LOVE the book, and it’s because Nabokov walked this line so brilliantly. Juxtaposed Pairs I think another case that makes for interesting reading is when the reader really understands where a character is coming from, but another character is badly misattributing. Case in point, Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy--I mean sure he’s rich, handsome, and takes some things for granted, but his self-awareness of his own hotness hardly merits Miss Bennett‘s wrath. Her jade colored glasses cast him in the worst possible light. I have a list of characters who deserve to be thunked in the head with a thimble, and Miss Bennett tops it, in my opinion. So I have a few questions for all of you: 1) Which authors do particularly well, in your opinion, at letting the reader see the juxtaposition of the heroes point of view and the objective truth? 2) Who are your favorite pairs--by favorite, I don’t mean who do you LOVE, so much as who do you love to READ (so dysfunctional pairs are definitely eligible)? 3) Do you use this in your writing at all? I’d love to hear from you!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Tricksey Tart

I had a great idea for a blog in the wee waking hours this morning, but you know what? This isn’t it. I’m posting it next week. You see… I’m learning stuff. Timing That teleseminar I listened too reminded me that certain days of the week are better and worse for certain kinds of activities… I knew this already; in a former life I worked in advertising. What I didn’t know, but should have guessed if I thought about it, is Saturday is a bad day for anybody to do anything online. People are outside (unless in is 95 with 95% humidity as it is here), or they are with their families, or wrestling their laundry piles. So for the days blog, I might as well just post pictures of cows, for all the good it would do to be clever. Coffee with Canines I also have an interview scheduled (it’s done, but it will be POSTED) next week with my dog at a blog called Coffee with a Canine. http://coffeecanine.blogspot.com/ I have high hopes that at hundreds… er… dozens… at least a few… new people will come check me out, and so I have a vested interest in being really clever all week! (aren’t you excited?) Bonus But because I love all of you, and don’t want you to feel like you wasted your time reading today, I am going to give you the super secret special bonus content. My coworker, who has a variety of obsessive interests just like yours truly, only different… found a download this week. What it does, is any website you go to, if you hate the pictures, you can use this to turn all the pictures into kittens… (though I can’t quite figure out how to work it… I can be skill deficient) http://www.reload.me.uk/b3ta/kittens/ Aren’t you glad you stopped by?

Friday, August 14, 2009

Wizard of Oz

Dorothy follows the Yellow Brick Road on the rather unknown journey of trying to publish her book. On the way she meets three very supportive friends who give her the emotional grounding she needs to get where she’s going, but they all need something too… they are wandering lost, together, getting into all sorts of trouble. Dorothy… let’s call her Dorothy the Tart because it has a ring to it… awakens the Scarecrow and the Tin Man… gives them the boost they need to get going. And then gives the Cowardly Lion the spanking he so badly needed to set onto his path. Not bad for a day’s work. But she also gets her dog stolen by the Wicked Witch and falls asleep in the poppies, neither of which she could have resolved without the others… and still they wandered. Has the metaphor lost you? Finding the Wizard Those of us seeking publication are wandering a lost road, with no clue where to go and countless obstacles. We are all looking for the magic solution to our publishing problem. And last night I found the wizard. I ‘attended’ a telephone seminar on promoting your book. Now before anyone gets offended, just let me say… the Wizard may not have been magical, but he DID do a great service to Dorothy the Tart and all her friends. He showed them that within themselves they ALREADY had what they needed (except the Tin Man—he had to wear that dumb necklace). They had within themselves the resources to publish and promote their books—each and every one of them. DISCLAIMER: The seminar was focused largely on self-publication books, and self-help and non-fiction. I think anyone self-publishing self-help could probably benefit ENORMOUSLY from their plan (and the classes they were subtly trying to sell). But I am going to publish traditionally, and anyone who thinks self-help books are my thing, has not yet had an encounter with my healthy ego. The whole genre bugs me (mostly because it reminds me of my mother, but I digress). I have nothing at all against anyone who reads or writes them, but I am not likely to ever read or write one… so I was not the target market. First, the Necklace (aka: the useful thing I got that I didn’t have before) I learned a couple nuggets I HAD HAD NO CLUE about before. The whole focus of the seminar was on ‘holding an event for big one day sales’. Now I’m a marathoner, not a sprinter, so I didn’t really know why this was such a big deal, but HERE is what the big deal is. Best seller lists are generated every freaking day (the Amazon or Barnes & Noble lists) and if you are a best seller for any day, you get to CALL yourself a best seller FOREVER. So if you can do something to make yourself top those lists for just ONE day, you get that benefit, which has a whole bunch of trickle benefits, including generating the buzz to sell more books, and being an incentive to agents and publishers for future books. They recommended a massive promotional effort leading up to a one day event where people do ‘freebies’ with each purchased book only on that day—a good enough freebie to turn a fence-sitter into a buyer, and one that will cause ‘already planned on it’ purchasers to buy that day. They suggested ‘add-ons’ and approached it with ‘when people purchase through Amazon, then they can come back here and download this audio file, or that manual. While CONFLUENCE has no manual, I thought maybe I COULD create a set of maps or something. I know they won’t publish colored maps in the book, but it is something people might like to have, and I think there are three that would be appropriate—so something like that. (or an author-read first chapter?) Whatever the case, I thought it was a nice idea. They suggested directing it through the Amazon sales one day, and Barnes & Noble the next, so you can make TWO best seller lists… tricky, tricky… The Brain & Courage The things suggested to generate the buzz were things that I found myself alternately thinking “I’m doing that already” and “I don’t feel right about doing that.” Like the lion, some of it felt like insecure posturing, but more than that, it felt a little sleazy. I am thrilled with the idea of asking all my Facebook friends to share my promotional message with all THEIR friends—to email out the message to lists of appropriate people if they have them. What felt like it crossed the line for me was more a pyramid sales feeling of using each others lists more heavy handedly. I’m just not willing to give up my friends like that to merciless sales pitches, so I wouldn’t ask others to do it. If I can generate legitimate excitement and ask a favor, GREAT. If I am guaranteeing a return favor for a product I haven’t even seen yet… not so much. So… I suppose it was generally useful… definitely worth the price of free. But I am still looking for Glenda the Good Witch and those sparkly red shoes…

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bad Boys in Women’s Clothing

PG-13 content warning. One of my Facebook friends, Carola Dunn, shared a link yesterday that caused me to giggle. http://www.statesmanjournal.com/article/20090812/NEWS/908120415/1001 This man was caught sneaking into a woman’s garage and stealing her panties out of her dryer (which apparently is hooked up in said garage), but he didn’t stop there. He removed all his OTHER clothing and put the panties ON before leaving. There are so many fetishes involved here I can’t even begin to count. First, he HAD to know she was at home—she was doing LAUNDRY! So there is the cross dressing thing, the getting naked thing, the impulsiveness of not being able to wait, and the risk of getting caught. Surely there are more, but it is just a truly bizarre crime (that happened in Oregon, no less). Now I had a friend who had her studio broken into when we were in our early 20s, and that guy got in her underwear drawer too, so I understand how disturbing this is for the victim… but I still can’t help but chuckle at the confluence of the cross-dressing and the Darwinian Award nature of this crime (Darwin Awards being those awarded to people who remove themselves from the gene pool through sheer stupidity). But it reminds me… Cross-dressed Death Eaters Photobucket My infatuation of the idea of cross dressed Death Eaters was born when I first spotted the following song on a HPANA thread dedicated to Monty Python (my two favorite things in one place! *fangirlsqueal*): I'm a Death Eater, and I'm okay. I plot all night and I teach all day. He's a Death Eater, and he's okay. He plots all night and he teaches all day. I take house points. I yell at kids. I go to my dungeon. On Wednesdays I'm at Hogsmeade. Have butterbeer alone. For those of you not familiar with the original, here is Monty Python’s ‘I’m a Lumberjack” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zey8567bcg Now Dumbledore is obviously a guy who is naked under his robes… but Lucius Malfoy? No way! Corset, garter belt, fishnets… the man is all about the trimmings! (heck, he keeps albino peacocks in his garden!) I’m not sure why it makes me chuckle so much, but it does, and clearly I’m not alone, as my friend Stacy found the above avatar for me. Maybe it is just the juxtaposition of soft, pretty, sexy things with irredeemable villains that is so delicious. But what about Real Life? I confess that I lose some people here. I have friends who love the idea of cross-dressed death eaters who cannot abide by my insistence that men in touch with their feminine side are actually more appealing, so I should clarify. If anyone were allowed to wear pants at my house, it would probably be me—don’t get me wrong, I’m not masculine, and my husband isn’t feminine, but I’m the wage earner, and I drive our big decisions (buying a house, moving across the country). My husband has been largely an at home parent, and he is the only one competent to keep track of appointments, schedules, and where our children are. We have reversed roles. So maybe there is SOMETHING in me, a little more inclined to switch things up. But the reality of it is, I find men willing to gender bend a little, are generally more open minded and playful and THAT is the actual turn on of it—no rules, no hang ups. A performer like Steven Tyler is infinitely more sexy to me because he can put on a boa. That’s not to dis Chad Kroeger, because he is clearly the hottest person on the planet, but he balances his lack of feminine with an obviously dirty mind and that voice that sends shivers down my thighs.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

HING!

There are some in-jokes that are too fabulous not to become OUT-jokes, and this is one of them. Ever feel truly and deeply compelled to swear, but you were someplace inappropriate for such behavior? Obviously you weren’t at the Taff River, as we Burrowers are here, because when the river is swearing so insistently, it would be hard to pin any bad words back on you… but there ARE places… But first… Hing—an Etiology in Drabble Once upon a bloody Wednesday, My Norse friend greeted friends. But then a cranky moderator Put that post to an end. “You see,” she said inanely, “You really cannot write, The ‘H’ word in this forum, ‘ing’ makes it not right.” We all then scratched our heads, Put our thoughts into a pot What horrible ‘ing’ word? See HING is what we got. Since that day we’ve taken, HING to represent, All words afoul of proper Forbidden to the gents. Be warned fine friends of people Overzealous in their way And never offer to them “Have a happy humping day.” Now for the Digressionary Version My glorious Digressionista, Mari is from Norway. Her English is excellent, but as with most school-learned foreign languages, she has picked up the slang as she goes along. Happy Hump day is well understood vernacular, but the mistake of adding an ‘ing’ to it when one is new to it, isn’t so bizarre. What WAS bizarre, was this site moderator going all cryptic in her explanation, so our little group had a BALL trying to sort out what ‘H’ ‘ing’ word could possibly have been so bad as to get the post entirely deleted. Since that time, we have substituted ‘Hing’ every time we’ve needed to swear, but been someplace it was forbidden. And if you’re REALLY mad… Hing, bloody hing is excellent. So next time you feel compelled to swear, but don’t want the smack-down that will follow… HING is your word!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Chronology Conundrum

“It's just a jump to the left And then a step to the right With your hands on your hips You bring your knees in tight But it's the pelvic thrust that really drives you insane, Let's do the Time Warp again!” So I’ve been thinking a lot about time and timing lately. It can be such a wonderful tool, or a curse, or a thousand pound gorilla you need to wrestle. In the hands of Tim Curry, or from a literary perspective, Tom Robbins, messing with time is the most fabulous possible mind bend. Even main-streamers are doing it, based on the popularity of The Time Traveler’s Wife. And while the uses of time aren’t all that common, the use of timing (typically the WRONG timing) is a favorite spoiler in many genres. So I will just come out and say, I LOVE it as a tool. As someone trying to publish though? Not so much. You see, while I look calm, cool, and… well, naked… I actually have a bit of control freak to my personality. I want things MY WAY. I am okay with having to do the work to get them my way. But I hate the idea that how interested people might be in my book has to do with current trends, long-term trends, the economy… It’s not even like my 401K where if I just put a little out there every month the ‘chance’ in there balances out. Nope. I spend three years writing a book and it is done NOW—all of it. How the heck was I supposed to factor in the mortgage bubble bursting? Heck, I didn’t even factor THAT in when I refinanced when the market was at its peak—because I didn’t KNOW. I suppose when I get to a dozen, or twenty, or thirty books, the challenge of timing messing with my ability to get out there would have balanced, but it seems to me, it is really only the first one that suffers so harshly under this beast. Assuming my book is GREAT (and it is), I shouldn’t have problems publishing after this no matter HOW BAD the timing gets. So it is this one bar I have to hit EXACTLY. And then there is the issue of timing for the editor… Most of you know CONFLUENCE was originally 200,000 words (759 pages for those of you who don’t speak word-count)—too long. One of the easier ways to shorten is to combine events—some action moved forward at this party, or that sleepover—and now I have the two collapsed into one event… but there was stuff that happened in the middle, so now I have to go in and edit and make sure nobody knows anything too soon, or acts too moronic by acting as if they DON’T know something that they really SHOULD. I ran into one of those in my second to last chapter of my polish—one of my characters ‘sending something’ that had not yet been requested of her. Grrrrrr! The fix was easy. FINDING the fix and verifying that was the ONLY problem, because I was by this point feeling vaguely paranoid for so obvious a mistake, was another matter. Hopefully though, that is the last thousand pound timing gorilla I’ll be wrestling for a while. I’d much prefer to return to wrestling more manageable partners.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Only a Flesh Wound!

I plan on starting to send out queries this week in earnest, so I’m feeling compelled to inoculate myself with a little excessive ego, resilience and perhaps, delusion. Normally the Black Knight is a figure to mock and quote as an example of the most comic caricatures.
Reality Check But let me give you some pseudo statistics… I say pseudo, because I couldn’t FIND an actual set of statistics giving average number of queries sent. I suppose part of the problem is the denominator. Do we want the number sent per successful novel? Per agented novel? Per total novel? The former is probably out there somewhere, but we don’t know if our book falls into that category or not. The last number includes probably a bizillion books that have no business ever being published. (Hopefully we aren’t one of those)
So how many letters DO need to be sent? Probably a novel or two a year is so stunning that nearly NOBODY would pass on it, and so only needs a couple (even one) sent. Some very readable novels don’t fit neatly in the market, so they will take a truly remarkable visionary agent to get it out there and that may require many many queries. What I’m going with is that agents receive thousands of queries a year, and represent tens of books. That gives a figure of about 1 in 100. Because it’s all about ME Now I don’t believe for a second that CONFLUENCE falls in the bottom quartile, or even half, quality-wise. I’ve seen many novels that are not as good, and that ISN’T to say those others didn’t merit publication, only saying CONFLUENCE DOES (did I evade that offending agents thing?). But it IS long, which makes it more challenging to market. So I am just steeling myself now for the rejections I am sure to get before finding that ‘right’ agent. I’m sure I will get arms, legs, even my head chopped off, so I am calling on my HYDRA superpower now--for every head chopped off, I will grow two new ones! (and aren’t I fierce Just look at me!) But I also want (because however fierce I look, I still believe it is about the karma) want to encourage all of you to believe in yourself. Whatever stage you're at, keep writing, and find a support system to nurture you, because there are many things to discourage us, and those really need to be balanced so we can regenerate, rather than calling threats out as King Arthur runs away. My writer’s group, my friends, my readers--they will be the balance that generates those heads when those fierce agents all begin sending rejections, and eventually, we will succeed!!! Special note: The motivation picture is from a blog called 101 Reasons to Quit Writing that is pretty funny and has a number of these little 'motivators'

Friday, August 7, 2009

Naked World Domination Tour
















I’ve been leading a movement for a couple years now to get everybody to just lighten up and take their clothes off. It is about silliness and fun, but there is an underlying theory that it is hard for people to be mean to each other when everybody is naked. That’s what I want… a world of NICE people! Doesn’t that sound appealing?

Oh, don’t worry. It doesn’t mean people can’t be a little naughty too... A pudding fight, making those men held in the dungeon dance like I like, lots of innuendo and fun. My kind of world.

One of the components though, of this naked haven, is an unspoken anti-material vent. You see disrobing is symbolic of letting go of the stuff for the sake of stuff. Why worry about who has more toys (we should all be SHARING the toys, ne?)

Ironically though, in all my super-silliness with the somewhat serious underpinning, I’ve made a friend via Facebook, with another writer doing the social networking thing. She is part of a more serious movement with some of these same underlying goals… a world where people treat each other with respect and kindness… a world that puts humanity, spirituality, experiences, and relationships before STUFF.

She is older than me… an authentic hippy, rather than the variety that stems from going to college in Eugene, Oregon. And the ideas she presents will probably be completely foreign to the subset of you based in the Midwest (the hippies in Ann Arbor drive SUVs). But in summary, there is a movement to make the world better through our combined energies.

It is not inconsistent with ANY religion—can be thought of as prayer, or not, depending on your vent. In the sixties they called it the age of Aquarius, because planetarily, that is what is happening, but what it MEANS is ‘think good things’. Spend some time envisioning the world as it OUGHT to be. Meditate, pray, commune with nature… however it is you touch your spirituality. Think of a world of reduced greed, an earth recovering from how hard we’ve been on it, societies that put people first, especially the future people, for whom we are only the earth’s stewards.

I want to share Marian’s blogs with you, in case you want to read in far more detail than I could accurately give:

http://siderealview.wordpress.com/2009/07/28/the-spiritual-route-ey-used-to-call-it-the-road-less-travelled/
http://youngbloodblog.wordpress.com/2009/08/06/entering-the-infinity-gate/

So everybody… think happy things! That, and some naked happy dancing, and all will be okay!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Process Blog

This might be a little unorthodox, but I’ve seen (and written) some stuff on goals this week, and so I decided to set myself one, and thought maybe my thought process was just a little interesting… (okay, maybe I am just doing stream-of-thought organizing). I am almost done polishing the 7th version of my novel—oh it’s not the 7th full out major revision—there’ve really only been 2 of those (making this the 5th… no… 3rd), but the first was followed with a clean up and a polish, and both of the next two were followed with a polish… That makes seven. Thus far I’ve sent six query letters—all pushing the 200,000 word (750 page) version, and from that I’ve received five form rejections and one total silence. So this next one will be my seventh. So if I’ve got two sevens going here, I thought maybe it would be a little lucky to throw a third seven in the equation. Do you see where I’m going? Do you? Do you? Only the geekiest among you will. I’m going to mail this seventh query on the 11th. I see you all scratching your heads as if this makes no sense UNLESS you are an uber-Potter nut. Yes, August 11 is the birthday of the seventh Weasley child (she’s turning 28—also a multiple of 7)… Do I really think this matters? Not at all. Well… maybe just a little… but MOSTLY this is because it gave me a deadline that required I push myself, while at the same time being possible. I have ten chapters left to polish—two a day is definitely a push, especially on weekdays. I can be a procrastinator, especially when I have nobody to answer to but myself, and this forces me past that. I’ve adopted my little superstition as a practical matter… (and hopefully made a wiser choice in who to query in the meantime—it IS the first agent I really have a reason besides “oh, she looks nice!” to query…)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pandora’s Box

Warning: Not a writing blog today… more a parenting, political parade. My daughter asked me my opinion on marijuana this weekend. She is 14 and I’m extremely glad she cares what I think, but MAN, what a quagmire. Anyone who knows anything about me knows I’m not a ‘forbid it, act righteous, site the law’ kind of gal. What you may NOT know, is there are reasons. UNDERLYING BELIEFS Unconditional prohibition: LEADS TO MAFIA. I kid you not. Alcohol during prohibition led to murders, violence, and an underground unprotected from criminal danger. Let me reiterate. IT DOESN’T WORK. I feel the same way about drugs. I am okay with regulation, tracking… heck, I think we ought to be taxing it. But societally, I don’t believe marijuana is any worse than alcohol. It just doesn’t have big corporations with eyes on some way to get rich off of it because it is too easy for people to grow it themselves, so the marijuana lobby is a bit of a joke. Preaching abstinence: Leads to Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter marrying some boy and thereby probably ruining her life forever because she got herself knocked up. IT DOESN’T WORK. I think trying to make an argument to kids about ‘never’ with scare tactics backfires, because then if they try it once (or their friends try it) and Armageddon doesn’t descend upon them, they no longer believe you have a valid point. And how many college freshmen die each year of alcohol poisoning, overdose, or doing something really stupid because they go NUTS away from home for the first time? Playing righteous: Sits wrong with me on so many levels. Not only have I not been a prissy, proper person, I’ve never even WANTED to be a good girl. Layer this with a belief that hypocrisy is the highest possible sin (and a belief that hypocrites typically get caught), and I just can’t pretend I’ve always been an innocent to my children. TOOL BOX I have worked in public health for over a decade, originally in tobacco prevention, but in an office that was also trying to reduce the spread of HIV. I am a researcher by training, and a believer in statistics. The most effective approach to both substances and sex is risk reduction. ACCEPT as a parent (or educator) that the vast majority of kids are going to try a variety of dangerous things, and arm them with the tools to not be stupid about it. HOW IT PLAYED OUT I said that honestly, marijuana combined the dangers of alcohol (or rather, intoxication) with those of smoking (lung damage/cancer risk) but that I didn’t believe it was much worse than alcohol use. That said, with BOTH marijuana and alcohol, people who used them could make really bad decisions, and were more likely to get in dangerous situations. So if she ever decided to do either of those things, she wanted to be only with people she really trusted, be in a place they weren’t going to be tempted to leave (especially in a car), and that she and her friends needed to have a pact not to abandon each other, because drunk or high girls could be very easily taken advantage of. I warned her getting caught doing it, whether by the law or via phone cam, like Michael Phelps, could lead to ineligibility for teams, scholarships, and possibly other experiences. It helped that we’d recently talked about what her college options might be, and I had made it clear that she’d have a lot more options in the presence of a scholarship. I told her I’d known some people who were daily marijuana users, and though they generally functioned (had jobs, friends) they had no motivation at all and their lives seemed to have sort of petered out. I confessed that I had used marijuana (probably most recently circa 1993) and it was never my drug of choice—it was fun a couple times, but usually, it was either nothing, or too much. For my physiology, it is a very thin line where it was an enjoyable experience. Clearly that isn’t true for everybody, or nobody would use it, but that was my experience. She admitted that she’d been offered marijuana, had friends who had tried it, and that the high school she begins in September had a bit of a reputation for it (the first two I had suspected and the last I knew). She asked what would happen to her if she used it, and I said most likely she would not be allowed to hang out with the friends she’d been with, but that any additional punishment would need to be negotiated with her dad involved, and that he was likely to be far more of a hardass, because he had pretty much voided his entire twenties getting caught up in a bunch of bad choices, and he wouldn’t want her to follow him on that path. She said she would talk to me, that it wasn’t currently appealing, but she would continue to tell me how things went, and I reiterated that the VERY most important thing was for her to be safe, and to help her friends be safe. I don’t think it went too badly, but I’d love to hear how others have addressed these hard issues with their teens.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Walk this Way: Temptation

This is my last (at least last planned) blog along this theme, but it seems pertinent as I try to go about the things I am supposed to be doing today (mostly to this point, my day job). In addition though, I saw a list of EXCELLENT points about succeeding as a new writer this morning: http://cjredwine.blogspot.com/2009/07/10-things-new-writers-need-to-know.html and several of them touched on my problem with temptation. Specifically, less talk and more typing—it is SO HARD to close out my online windows when somebody might say something clever or funny to me! Heck, some of them LIKE ME and want to visit! They’re my FRIENDS! How ON EARTH do I let go of the lifeline my chat groups, social groups, and even *gasp* my WRITER’S GROUP provide. The temptation overwhelms me regularly, but you know what… I get nothing done! And you know what else? If I close out and get back to it, and then come back in a couple hours… the conversation will still be there. Maybe I could even make dates so I could visit in real time LATER, after I accomplish what I need to, whether it is the days word or page count, or my job’s to-do list. The temptation to start every new project is also huge—inspiration is such a fickle bedfellow, and he is so attractive, why on EARTH would I kick him out when he is panting in my ear? But the fact of the matter is he rarely calls me in the morning. He comes and goes unpredictably, but NOT ONCE has he taken out the garbage, or even taken his dishes to the sink. It is the tried and true perseverance that does right by me. Every day, same time… just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming. And you know what? He doesn’t even MIND if I invite inspiration in to join us?! He just wants me to keep plugging away on the project I’ve committed to. If only inspiration wouldn’t walk that way… it’s so HARD not to follow him off in some other direction (especially when Digressionism demands that I go). Want to know the real irony? The anti-rules gal is suggesting a couple rules. I’ve decided (though not tested) that word goals and designated times (whether limits or commitments) are the way around this. If I have a rule of so many words per day, if I limit myself to digressing for only a certain portion of my designated writing time, then I think I can make my steady progress. How’s that for contradicting myself?

Monday, August 3, 2009

High Brau BS

I’m generally impressed with myself when I can get through a difficult book. War and Peace or Don Quixote. I can even up the ante from there and profess that I not only finished, but enjoyed, The Brothers Karamazov… Excellent reads that took most of my brain cells to follow. Strike that… ALL my brain cells. It may be why I love them so much; I had to work REALLY HARD to read them. I’m not sure if that makes me a lightweight literarily (or cognitively) speaking, but I do appreciate a book that takes some effort. I am more engaged, and therefore committed. What I DON’T get, or appreciate, is an assumption that a book HAS to be difficult to have merit. I publish scientifically in my day job. And I’ve learned unequivocally, that it is HARDER to put things in plain English--to make them accessible to people who do NOT specialize in your specialty, than it is to use big words and run on sentences. In fact I believe that people often try to HIDE lack of communication skills in exactly those features (even try to hide a lack of having something to say). I have a former boss who actually prided herself on getting new words into vernacular by getting them in print (do it twice--fool the publisher into printing it, I mean, and it‘s a word--I kid you not), but if a REAL word already exists, then that’s just a venture in silliness. Not that I have anything against silliness, but it seems silliness in the pursuit of prestige should not be the fastest route, unless you are David Sedaris--THEN, silly on! But the two most brilliant women I’ve known personally are statisticians who could make ANYBODY understand a difficult point. PLAIN ENGLISH. (Nancy Perrin and Deb Bybee--should you ever stumble across--that’s for you--THE two most brilliant women I know) What I’m really grumbling about is the English teachers disrespecting J.K. Rowling because Harry Potter isn’t ‘literary’. Well if they mean not a single sentence takes three pages, I suppose that’s true. But (and I mean no disrespect to Falkner lovers *cough*freaks*cough*) a three page sentence that is grammatically correct is not story telling, it is showing off that one has an ability that puts him above the rest of us and therefore fails to communicate. I don’t even like three page PARAGRAPHS. I have to steal my reading time and need at least three stops a page to ensure I don’t have to go back to where I just started because I’ve been interrupted. I think though, what some literary types fail to understand is the goal of writing is communication. It is not one-upsmanship. It is not a wrestling match with the reader to see who wins. It is the sharing of a fabulous-needs-to-be told story. And while difficult CONCEPTS advance thinking, and so in my opinion deserve an audience, difficult LANGUAGE is begging for alone-time in an ivory tower. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Naked Inspiration

While some people would dress men in women’s clothing for inspiration… *whistles innocently* (the Dutch believed it was improper for women to pose so they put men in dresses--silly Dutchies *winks at Dutch friends*)--this painting is at Kelvington Art Gallery in Glasgow--don't remember the artist, only the adam's apple.
I suppose I occasionally get ideas when I’m not naked, but not very often. At least 70% of my really great fresh ideas happen when I am in the bath or shower. Granted, I do most of my writing in the bath, so that OUGHT to be when the ideas come, but the fresh ones aren’t typically while I am writing. The writing of them is a transference process. The latest one came while I was READING. I am reading Keith Donohue’s book ‘The Stolen Child’ and Aniday received ‘for Christmas’ four letters (stolen from mailboxes and not addressed to him at all). The idea touched me--the reading of someone else’s letters, and the fantasy that can be created around something so simple.
It took me to a new character--a runaway, who was struggling, but surviving, but really craving a deep connection, who begins stealing letters, identifying a forbidden love that she ends up deeply involved with on an emotional level… I've been writing this girl’s back story and running away experience.
That is the naked inspiration of the experience.
But there is another side of this--the integration experience. And it only just occurred to me last night (while I was naked) that the fresh ideas come while naked, but the integration of those ideas into other projects I am working on, happens while my body is active and my mind is free--exercising. On a power walk yesterday morning, Athena (so named by her addict mom who was trying to be clever), finally slid into one of my other WiPs.
I have long known that I got my ideas either while naked, or while exercising, but it hadn’t occurred to me until now that the kinds of inspiration were very different. The relaxation of the bath (or dreams, actually--also naked) are fresh new ideas, and the free association that happens when my heart is pumping, I am sweating, and my muscles are moving, is more a matter of weaving together of things that were already there.
CONFLUENCE was originally conceived as a nameless book about a five-year-old little girl whose family moved into a house by an urban woods. Hannah (she was always Hannah) makes friends with a homeless man who lives in the woods behind their house. Homeless man proceeds to get blamed for some things because he’s an easy target. THAT was the idea I sat with for literally YEARS until she-who-shall-remain-nameless *cough*Natasha*cough* suggested I really should writing something completely original.
The seeds were born slowly for the split community--scientific versus religious--probably all the stem-cell political stuff about 5 years ago wrestled in (read: annoyed) my brain, but it seemed very distant because Ann Arbor is NOT split. We are a solidly liberal and scientific town where it’s easy to forget the whole world doesn’t think the same way. But on one of these power walks it occurred to me just how well a split community, a college town with some academic and a lot of religious (not perhaps unlike Moscow, Idaho, where I grew up) would make an extremely interesting backdrop for this story.
So I suppose if you’re feeling your mojo needs a jump start, what I am recommending, is get naked and get some exercise!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Misattributing in drabble

Misattributing is such a beautiful thing. It is my very favorite word--the way it rolls off the tongue, it’s my favorite way to exercise my humor (dragging all my friends into the gutter with me), and it’s the only word I can think of that DOES what it says. Can anybody read misattribute without misattributing what they read? And isn’t it a FABULOUS misattribution, all full of innuendo. A while back I set up some extra things on Google so I could follow blogs, and it asked me the question, ‘what is you superpower?’ I responded “Misattribution”, of course. If you'd like to drabble too, here is a handy diagnostic tool for word count that gives you the option to count hyphenated words as one or two, and loses some of the quirks of many word programs (created by Jason Drake, the Burrow's own programming guru) http://www.the-burrow.org/wordcount_diagnostic.html And if you want to READ some drabbles to images, the Burrow (my writing group, an international group of miscreants intent on writing and supporting each other) does this with some regularity. http://www.the-burrow.org/