Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Family Christmas Quotes

My family can be particularly funny, as I'm sure many families can. Here are some highlights from this weekend's family Christmas.

One of my uncles: "Without cats, there would be no Internet."

My cousin came through the rec room with a cookie, Elka hot on her trail. My grandfather asked "What is that, a cookie? You're not going to give that to her, are you?" My cousin said "No." He said "Good, you shouldn't. I'm an old man, though, and don't know what's going on."

A little later, my aunt came through the rec room with a piece of leftover ham. Elka's nose caught the ham currents on the air, and she zeroed in and sat down in front of said aunt, staring intently. When no ham seemed forthcoming, she showed off her begging trick, which is throwing her left paw into the air to "Testify". My aunt's eyes got big, and she said "What was that?"  I said "Oh, she just loves Jesus. Elka, are you full of the Holy Spirit?" and Elka threw her paw in the air again. Then each aunt and uncle got called in to see the testifying Doberman, so I threw in a "Pray with me" (I hold out both hands and she puts her paws in them) for good measure. My other aunt laughed and said "Oh, we're all going to hell."

One of my aunts: "well, as it turns out, breasts are meant to move, and you're supposed to touch them."

One of my uncles: "What, we're opening the box of Twinkies? Aren't they worth more intact? Can't we sell them on eBay? That might be the last box of Twinkies in the world. The other ones are in peoples' fallout shelters."
Me: "Yeah, with the Crystal Pepsi."
My uncle: "I think I'll pass on that."
My aunt: "Where did those Twinkies come from?"
My other aunt: "they were a gift for the whole family."

My aunt: "When we celebrate Christmas not on Christmas, I don't know what day it is."
My uncle: "It's Sunday. You know how I know? The church up the block from us had the street all parked up."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Brain tricks

Some things are so bad that they don't seem real. We don't want them to, right? I think it's a defense mechanism. Rather than thinking about the horrible, our brain kind of puts a blanket around our shoulders and guides use to the back of the ambulance for the hot chocolate and Valium.

Example: September 11, 2001. I can still picture clearly, viscerally, seeing the smoking towers through an open door on my next-door dorm neighbor's tiny television perched atop her also diminutive fridge. I've been to New York City a couple of times since that date; the first trip was when they were doing that twin beams of light thing.

I still default to thinking that the towers are there. Eleven years on, and it's still a surprise. It just seemed so impossible.

I also did not personally lose anybody on September 11. Nobody in New York City, nobody in Washington, DC, nobody on a plane. It was a shared national tragedy, but it was not personally mine.

Example: Loved ones that you know have passed away are alive in your dreams. I don't mean "oh, do you remember when...?" alive, I mean alive. Actually there, so that when you wake up you think "I need to call so and so and tell them about...." or "I should email those pictures to..." and then the crestfallen pause. Those would be calls and letters to nowhere.

Example: School shootings. No school I've ever attended has had such an instance occur. I remember when Columbine happened; I remember the "disaster drills" that my school did, the way some rules changed about people visiting the school. I remember watching the loop on television of that police officer waving that fire truck through (or was it an ambulance?) over and over. I remember people blaming the trenchcoats, blaming the video games, blaming guns.

There's always the finger pointing, isn't there? Another defense mechanism, I think. "That would never have happened if....", "Somebody really should have.....", "Why didn't they ever...."   Questions unanswered.

These things have been going on for a very long time. They are not an American problem, they are not a video game problem, they are not a Dungeons and Dragons problem. I don't know what kind of a problem they are, just what they are not.


I will not be "lighting" any candles on the Internet. I will not be sharing Facebook photographs of the deceased. I will not presume what it was like to have been there and survived. I will not presume to know what the families of those who were there and did not survive feel.

Every grief is different. Every grief is personal.

I hear rumblings that in the DSM-V that's eventually coming out, "normal" grieving will be given a timeline, and then after that it's a diagnosable disorder. As a writer, words fail me when I try to articulate just how horrible this is. On the one hand, if an individual's bereavement is destroying their life, then yes, they should be able to get quantifiable help, and everybody knows that insurance companies need hard facts (or that's what the Internet tells me). But that isn't something you can put a timeline on. Everybody's "normal" is different.

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Anybody who knows me knows that I'm not into "net speak". Even while texting (and tweeting!) I use full sentences, capitalizations, and the dictionary spellings of words. I also for some reason hate acronyms, and really don't ever type something so pedantic as "lol" unless I'm being ironic, in which case I'll have typed "lol wut?", just to get the point across.

But, a lot of the Internet is acronyms, and also humor fodder. The point of memes, that i can tell, is to be funny. Some of what's funny is the "It's so true" aspect of things. For instance, this "text cap" of somebody discussing The Walking Dead:

There's also Gangnam Style, which is certainly more than an Internet phenomenon (a kid I know at the library went to his first dance, and they did Gangnam Style there).There are a bajillion parodies of it on YouTube (like Gandalf Style, Klingon Style, and Mitt Romney Style [which would have been better had they even gotten the dance right])

There's also political commentary, which I otherwise don't care much about. I mean, I have my political issues that I have interest in, but for the most part....I'd rather not talk to people about it. The conversations get tiresome and frustrating.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

NaNoWriMo: In the Home Stretch

I broke 50k words on Sunday. At the time of this blog, I have 51, 374 words (soon to grow larger, hopefully). I haven't validated my novel yet, though. The story isn't over, and I want to know how much of it I can shovel out of my head by the end of November 30.

I did, however, already purchase my winner's t-shirt.

So, what hath November wrought?

Well,  first off, outlining is all well and good, but sometimes when you're writing, you have better ideas than what you originally outlined. And then you go from there. I've had three or more chapters that I didn't have outlined ahead of time, because the originally outlined chapters no longer made sense. I had a "So, what was the reason behind that?" breakthrough, learning the answer as my characters did. I also wondered why I didn't think of it sooner; they're still shocked.

So, after The Wolf You Feed is finished, I'll be going back to read/edit Learn to Howl. I've looked at it a couple of times, mostly to get details of certain things correct in the sequel, but I've done no editing just yet. Hopefully that will go smoothly; as it stands, I can't think of anything glaring that I need to add or subtract. And then I'll start the dubious process of forming the query letter, and formulate  a lists of agents to query.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

NaNoWriMo: 10 Days Left!

Well, friends, I'm at 42,000 words and feeling pretty good.

Of course, I could be writing now, instead of blogging or screwing around on the Internet. But we know how that goes.

My outline has truly contributed to my lovely word count, I feel. However, there are times I've....diverged from it. I refer back to said outline pretty frequently, but there are times I think of something better. Or that makes more sense. So at least two of my chapters weren't outlined because I'd veered in a slightly different direction from the initial plan. Is it a better one? Yeah, maybe. Nothing's set in stone when it's only a Word document on your computer.

There are times I feel like my "writing" folder is the Island of Misfit toys, where things once loved have gone, that nobody will recover. But, things don't need to stay that way, and once I've polished book 1 of this maybe trilogy (because duology is just so awkward to say), hopefully I'll be regaling you folks with the trials and tribulations of agent submissions.

Friday, November 2, 2012

NaNoWriMo, day 2

No, I'm probably not going to be industrious to keep a day by day NaNo report going on up in here.

But, I am writing. I was at 4551 words when I laid it to rest last night. I haven't gotten things moving yet today, but the files are open (the actual novel file, and the "notes" file).

I'm writing a sequel, which I've never seriously done before (the fantasy novel I wrote in high school was mostly a sequel, but doesn't count. The initial novel was so short as to be a short story that the whole thing was just kind of a handwritten word glom with a glacially paced storyline that I'm still trying to condense in my head, that I might reuse it in a sleeker and more appreciable way). It's interesting to think about sometimes, sequels. How much do I recap? Do I not recap, on the assumption that any reader would have read Learn to Howl before they pick up The Wolf You Feed? I'm on that fine line of referencing the previous novel's goings-on in a coherent manner, but still only briefly.

Either way, I'm sure future revisions will straighten things out. Now isn't the time to worry about revising, and editing; now is the time to write!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How to make your readers care

I wish I had the answer for my title. It would be great if I had a magic solution for how to make readers care; I mean, they should care because somebody wrote it in the first place, right? Well. I don't always care when I pick up a book.

So, how do writers make me care? What engages me? What makes me wrinkle my nose and put a book down? Good questions to consider, when putting pen to paper. Or fingers to keyboard. When you put out a short story, or a novel, or a blog, it's your message in a bottle.

Imagine you're sending out your S.O.S. What makes people care? What makes them want to know what happens next? What makes them like your characters, or what makes the character interesting enough that people what to know what happens to them? I don't think characters should necessarily be "likeable". You might not want to be friends with certain people. They might not like the same things you like. Or people close to them might have a nasty habit of getting hurt. But damn, are they interesting, and you want to know what's going on in their lives.

For whatever reason, my writing classes in my various levels of schooling had some holes in them. Nobody talked about "filtering", nobody much mentioned "showing, not telling", nobody said anything about "negative negative form", or "passive voice".  Sometimes I fall into these things (As reflected by my very first post on the "Show Your Work" portion of the Absolute Write message board.

What I know about writing is mostly from reading. What I need to do, certainly, is practice my writing more, and that's been going pretty well this year, with a novel and two short stories completed, on the eve of yet another NaNoWriMo. I'm gearing up for a midnight start, as I've done in almost every year I've participated.

Are you ready?

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Train of Thought

Occasionally, people react to my thoughts and habits in a way that surprises me, but also really makes me laugh. Not too long ago, I already posted one conversation along those lines. I've had a few others since, with varying people.

One day at work:

I turned to a coworker and said "Did you know that if you Google Maps search the Nevada Test Site, you can look at the bomb craters?" I think this is very cool, by the way, in a chilling sort of way. A testament to an era of nuclear testing that was probably not the best of plans.

My coworker looked at me, glanced at the screen, and said "What is wrong with you?"

The other day when friends were over:

Friend: You know, most people have light bathroom reading. You have On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War. And oh yeah, the book that the movie Shooter was based on.

Me: There are some National Geographics in there as well.

Other friend: Bathroom reading is proportionate to IQ.

Upon receipt of an order of Chinese food:

Me: You know, take out bags don't seem nearly as happy anymore. I mean, look at that smiley face. It's really just kind of meh.

My fiancé : The shit you come up with. Takeout bags not happy anymore.

Me: *laughing*

Another day at work:

Coworker, scanning books to see what people they go to: Jen, you might be taking your character things too far.

The book? Never Suck a Dead Man's Hand.

Friday, September 28, 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012: choices

Every year, as it gets into October, I try to think about NaNoWriMo and what my goals will be. I mean, other than the 50k.

What novel do I want to write this year?

It's rare that I can spend an entire month planning a novel without writing it. I've discussed before that it's not my thing. Once I start planning, the words as I feel they should appear on the page start appearing in my mind, and if I don't write that down, well, I feel like I've lost it.

My friend Kelly thinks I should write a Jesus Detective Agency novel. Funny as that is to talk about on Facebook, in the way that Kelly and I do, I don't think that one will carry me through an entire novel.

I've got another Steampunk novel in mind, probably London based rather than my usual South Africa, with the bit of technology that I have in mind. Though last year when I wrote Zombie Safari for my NaNoWriMo, I felt really bogged down halfway through, and though I reached 50,000 words, the novel isn't finished. I haven't opened that file since, even, which is probably a shame. Or maybe not.

I'm probably about 2/3 of the way through the werewolf novel that I started writing in March. I haven't worked on it the whole way through; I've taken several breaks, read through a couple of times, edited, let it sit, etc. Not the most productive, certainly. But I like it. When I read through and come to where I left off, I go "Wait, what happens next?!" and then realize that I'm asking myself the question. It's my book, not one that I got off of a shelf. If I finish that first draft by November, maybe I'll write a sequel. I've got the title in mind, anyway. That kind of a thing is a rarity for me.  Werewolf 2, Electric Boogaloo (not the real title) is a distinct option.

So, three choices, though one is a non-choice (sorry Kelly). That is of course barring other inspirations in the night or what have you, a lightning bolt of a novel that cries out to be written, damn the costs.

Maybe this is too early? No idea. Are you thinking about NaNoWriMo  yet?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Conversation with my fiancé

Setting: I've just gone in the kitchen and picked up a Boston Creme doughnut. The chocolate on top was melty and my thumb sank in it. My fiancé came up and hugged me from behind. 

Me: I need to get a plate. My chocolate is melty.
Him: Look to your left. You can use the plate I just got done with.
Me: No, there's chocolate on that plate. I don't want chocolate on the bottom of my doughnut.

He lets me go, I get a plate and set my doughnut on it. When I turn around, he steps back from the doughnut box.

Him: Take your pick.
Me: I already have one.
He picks one and then looks at my plate. 
Him: You freak! God forbid you get chocolate on your chocolate covered donut!
Me: There's only chocolate on top. Not the bottom.
I show him.
Him: That's still weird! Does it matter where the peanut butter and jelly are on your sandwiches too? Does the peanut butter need to be on the bottom?
Me: No. That's just weird.

Friday, September 14, 2012

It's All In How You say It

Though I think that writing in dialect is typically something best left up to the likes of Mark Twain and Toni Morrison, I do occasionally think about the way people say things.

Accents fascinate me, though the range of ones that I can imitate is limited. Irish, sure, but not such that would fool anybody from Ireland. Same with Southern. Once upon a time, I had a CD given to me by a friend that was theatre material, coaching you how to appropriately do a British accent. I was all right with that for awhile, when I still knew where the CD was. I also managed a "pirate" accent for a little while, after watching the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie far too many times (if there is such a thing, though the first is the best of the series I feel.

But anyway. When I'm reading a novel or a short story, somebody has to really hit that voice right if they're going to try and write it in dialect. I'm not talking about the occasional "ain't". I mean full on shortening of words, anastrophe, whole nine. It can be garish and irritating, or it can be pitch perfect. I'm not sure where the balance is, really, and mostly avoid it. That isn't to say my characters are always grammatically correct; I do still try to phrase things the way people say them. I just don't do spelling gymnastics in an effort to make you understand how they're saying what they're saying.

The way people say different words definitely interests me. Sometimes I hear it in a different way and keep that with me in my mind, turning it over like a found coin. Sometimes I hear a way that's familiar, and I realize that's how I've heard it, or say it myself, but hadn't become aware until I heard if from a stranger's mouth.

Do you enunciate "twenty"? Or do you say "twenny"? Do you say "pocketbook" (if you even use the word "pocketbook") or do you say "pockabook"?

Of course, there are funny ones. "Fiddy" instead of "fifty". "Ermahgerd" instead of "Oh My God".

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

I Remember

I remember September 11. Of course I do.

Have I commemorated September 11? No, I don't think I have.

Or maybe I have. I didn't post, repost, or share any memes on Facebook. I'm not sure that's the way to go. I read articles about the Search and Rescue teams that were there. I looked at pictures of the dogs from those teams who are still alive. I read a book by one of the forensic anthropologists who worked there, for weeks, to identify the dead.

September 11 was not a personal tragedy for me. I was very lucky; I didn't know anybody who died. As an American, it unsettled me, it scared me, it made me wonder how the world would be. It's made air travel horrible. Through war, it's killed a lot more people than those who died on that date. It polarized a presidency, and it was such an affront, such an unspeakable thing, that even now people have a very visceral reaction to its mention. You can still buy the t-shirt, though.

September 11 (which I never call 9/11, by the by. I'm not morally against it; it's just the way my brain settled) is something like my generation's Pearl Harbor, JFK. I can still remember the surreal footage of my life, how I found out, when I first saw those smoking towers against a blue sky, on a small television atop somebody's dorm fridge. It's impossible to forget.

I'm not really sure what factors have to come together to instantly crystallize an imagine in your mind, full sensory, to be played and paused like a film of your life. Some memories are more vivid than others; frequently the bad ones, I think? Is it the adrenaline dump? Is it the certainty of inexorable change?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Curse of Imagination

I spend a lot of time dwelling in my imagination.

It's where I go when a certain thing (word, phrase, scent, scene) catches my fancy. It's where I go before I fall asleep. It's where I go when I write. It's where I go when I sit down of an evening to roll dice with friends.

As a writer, and a role player, one strives to render the tactile mental. How do you describe the feel of the rain? The smell of dinner cooking? The washer banging on the spin cycle? How do you describe the tightening of your belly when you hear somebody scream outside, only to realize it's just a drunk college student, but now your scalp is tingling and your eyes see too much and you have to wait for the adrenaline to wear off before you can go back to bed?

When you get it right, when you're so immersed in your head-words that the reality before you fades at the edges and gets hazy with your imagining, it's magical. This immersion leaves you feeling dazed when it's time to be done, wake up, turn the computer off, put the dice back in the bag. It leaves you with imaginary scents, and colors. It leaves you looking at things that you don't recognize, but feel as though you ought.

The problem, though. Sometimes there are situations you hear about, in the news mostly, and reactions are of shock, visceral and wordless. You think "oh no" you think "I'm sorry" and so many people say "I just can't imagine...."

When you are a dreamer, you can imagine. It doesn't render the unspeakable any more understandable, it doesn't make you better. It certainly helps lend to the truth of your dreams, dimension to your song. It is an empathy that can't be taught, and indeed you might not even know you have it until you get that twist in your stomach one day when you hear of a tragedy that isn't yours, not really. Until you imagine somebody's last moments as though a dream, or vision, or well rendered film.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Writing outside your box

We all have a type of story we like.

I tend to write male protagonists, or female ones that lack feminine personality qualities. Mostly because I lack many of those qualities; girly girls irritate me, frequently, I don't get them in any kind of nuanced or detailed way.

But, occasionally, it's good to write something that you don't know. To step outside of the box or the cave or the secret fairy forest that you go to when you're in your creative space, trying to work your magic. Just out of college, I wrote a few short stories that were deliberate "chick in chain mail with big sword" fantasy, with a slightly hapless male sidekick. No romance involved, just hero --> problem --> solution style. Those didn't get me published either, of course, but they got me the first (and only, if I remember aright) personalized rejection I've had to date.

Now, with everybody in a frenzy over Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels, I've wondered about why people latched onto it. In fact, my coworker and  I have a game we play. When one of the books comes across the desk (and no patrons are within earshot) we open it at random and read a couple of sentences aloud. Romance, you may have guessed, is not my genre. Erotica isn't either. However, I got the idea for a story that I could make fit into that genre.

The idea is kind of cheesy, has a mythology attachment, and will have a somewhat girly girl main character, her flamboyant gay friend, glitz and glamor and sex. I don't really write sex; we'll see how this goes. If it goes; it might still just be an amusing idea.

It's hard to think outside your box. Even when I wrote chick in chainmail fantasy, it was still writing that I tried to make as solid as possible. I tried to build something that I would want out of such a genre piece. Maybe that would be the key to breaking down this wall too, who knows?

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

Saturday, September 1, 2012


I was stung by a wasp while walking Elka today.

At least I think it was a wasp. I felt the sharp pain on the inside of my right bicep and of course slapped it, then stomped on whatever the crumply corpse was that fell to the sidewalk. I'm not allergic to anything that I've encountered yet (Thank God), so I wasn't overly concerned. Just irritated, and now slightly hurting.

It was on the return trip, so we had less than a mile to go. I tried not to think about my exercise heightened heartbeat pumping poison around. Not allergic, remember! I checked the swelling once in awhile. Yup, looks like a wasp sting. No stinger left in the skin, either, which seemed like a decent tipoff. I wonder where the little fuck came from; I heard no buzzing, saw no nest, and there was only the one. At least it was me and not the dog.

Once home, I did what any good citizen of the Internet would do and consulted WebMd (well, I consulted The Google, and felt WebMd was my best bet.) Remove the stinger; check. Wash the site with cold water; check. Make a paste with baking soda to draw out the poison.

"Draw out the poison?" Doesn't that seem a big like an old wives' tale? Or like what they say in Old wives' tales? Really, though, I'm of the firm belief that baking soda is magical fairy dust. It does amazing things when I use it to clean my stove, or the rare occasions I have a burned pan! Really, WebMD said "baking soda or meat tenderizer", but I know from jellyfish experience that whoever slipped the meat tenderizer in there is an advocate of Satan. It makes whatever pain you felt from the initial sting multiply, and also burn. But, which are you more likely to have on a beach vacation, baking soda or meat tenderizer? Yeah.

So after the baking soda paste, and putting some ice on it, it looks pretty much exactly the way it did in the first place. Maybe it hurts less? Maybe the swelling is lower? I probably could've just left it alone too and had similar outcomes.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Prey on their fear

Fear is an interesting thing.

Everybody has different fears. Not everybody is afraid of death (or not everybody admits it). Not everybody is afraid of sharks. Not everybody is afraid of getting struck by lightning.

Not everybody is afraid of getting cancer from smoking, despite what anti-tobacco wants to do. In Australia, they've passed a law that no brand names will be on cigarettes, only the horrible pictures of diseased organs. In the United States, the court said "yeah, no, you won't be doing that diseased organ thing." Really, we've known for many years what cigarettes can do. Do they do it to everybody? No. But there's always the chance.

Not everybody is afraid of The Bomb. Frankly, not everybody even knows to anymore. I was alive during the Cold War, sure, but not really aware of it. I was alive when the Berlin Wall came down (and recently bought a piece of it at Salvation Army for $5!) but didn't know. I know now what Duck and Cover is; I know now what happened at Chernobyl (well, as much as any non-Soviet civilian might). I've watched nuclear test footage, I waited at the edge of my couch when the Fukushima reactor was going up. I'm nervous about Iran and North Korea having The Bomb; I don't understand how people can think that The Bomb Isn't a Big Deal. Japan certainly hasn't forgotten it. I've watched enough anime to know that.

Not everybody is afraid of monsters, per se, but many people know and are fascinated by man become monster (serial killers, spree killers, kidnappers, terrorists). Not everybody is afraid of "nature" as such, but there are certainly enough Natural Disaster movies that made a bajillion dollars (The Day After Tomorrow, The Perfect Storm) that it still works.

A story that makes people afraid, either of the situation itself or for what happens to the characters, is a good one. If you can evoke that sympathy from your audience, you've succeeded either in some small way, or in a major one. Good writing is visceral, and makes  a certain mindset happen. It dazes the reader when they look away from the page, because they've been transported by your words.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Use of the word "That"

So, not only have I been remiss in blogging here, but I sort of dropped off the face of Absolute Write as well. That's all right, they probably don't miss me. Not because I've made myself a nuisance there; more because I haven't made a name for myself there yet either. No big.

But, one thing I keep in mind when I write, or think about writing or revising, is a thing that the Absolute Write-rs really try to hammer home when people are all "LOL, I have a first draft I just finished, will somebody read it for me?" is a very simple trick, really: look for instances in which you use the word "that". You can probably remove them safely, leaving the meanings of your sentences intact.

I'd never heard this before, and it boggled and intrigued me. I of course went to the anthology which I'm editing and hit "Find", and typed "that". Then I read every sentence which continued the word "that", and damn if they weren't right. Most of them, I could remove. Some I left intact, because really, that's how people talk. They say "that" all the time, sometimes twice in a row. I kind of like a colloquial voice, depending. It's once reason I enjoyed Stephen King for as long as I did, I think; the writing is very easy to read, which might draw you in.

I haven't tried counting the "that"s in published books I have laying around. I wonder if there will be fewer in fiction versus non fiction? Fewer in a classic versus a contemporary work? It's an interesting thing to have brought to your attention.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Things that happened since I posted here last

So, since I posted here last (July 11, if you're keeping track!)

I turned 30 (I'm rather ambivalent about this, and that topic will be a post in and of itself. I promise.)

There was a fight in the library gazebo (no, it didn't involve me really in any way. but it was certainly an event!)

I totally forgot about the August CampNaNoWriMo Until like, August 4. So, another fail. November will be better, right? Right.

I watched the movie Chronicle. Which was freaking awesome. I recommend it, definitely.

I rewatched original Fantasia. Elka watched it with me, at least the beginning part, which is mostly shapes and colors.

I've worked on editing a short story anthology that I intend to publish through Amazon.

I made pancakes on my own from scratch for the first time. I'm not typically a pancakes kind of gal. I'd made pancakes before in the past, but mostly as the flipper, without having a hand in the rest of the process.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Camp NaNoWriMo 2012: Maybe August Will be Better?

So, I failed June's Camp NaNo, as one might have guessed. I should've updated before now but, there it is.

The problem I had with NaNo this time around was that I already had a body of work I was writing on. So, to interrupt those projects, to do a NaNo, just wasn't happening. I tried, I did, but only got a little ways in and stopped. I didn't outline or really prepare in any way because 1. I'm typically a pantser and 2. I was writing a different novel, and short stories. So it got to a point where I was guilty if I worked on my original works in progress, and I was guilty if I got involved with the NaNo, so I said screw it and wrote part of my dog training book instead.

Will I try again in August? If the mood takes me, yeah. National Novel Writing Month, whatever the month, is a fun exercise and can really get things going. But, since things were already going, I just kind of messed with the mojo.

Hope everybody's having a happy summer! Keep writing, but it's okay to take breaks too!

Friday, June 22, 2012

No, your library isn't trying to screw you

I'm surprised sometimes at the level of suspicion that some people have.

At my library, the overdue fine for books is 25 cents a day. That is per item, per day. Maximum of $5 for a book. No limit on book checkouts, they go for 3 weeks with no renewals if nobody else is waiting for them. And oh yes, we, the library, did have to pay money in order to get those books from Magical Book Land and place them on our shelves for you, the public, to check out. We, the library, also have to Pay Money for electricity, light bulbs, Internet, computers, printers, paper, phone, and natural gas. We also have to Pay Money for gasoline to put in the tractor that mows the grass and plows the snow and performs other groundskeeping duties.

Sometimes, people take out a lot of books. And they...forget about them. Not for a long time, maybe a week. Not so bad, right? Sometimes fines total out at $3, sometimes $10, that kind of thing. I've seen far larger, and far smaller as well. It's funny, because sometimes somebody will ride me like a rented mule over a seventy five cent fine (that's 3 days, mind you. 3 days. Pocket change. You could find it in the parking lot), and another person will have a fine of $240 for a bajillion late books and just ask me serenely who they make the check out to.

And oh, the comments we get.

"Oh, I guess I'd better just start buying my books. It'll be cheaper." We hear this one a lot. Daily, in fact. That $25.00 hardcover latest James Patterson would have been cheaper to buy than your $1.25 fine? Really?

"I'm paying taxes for this place!" Yeah, so am I. About $120 a year. I own my house in town, you see. Do you know how many books I could buy, new, for $120 a year? Let's be generous and say twelve, at a mix of paperbacks and hardcovers. You know how many books I read a year? Around 100. Sometimes more. Oh yeah, we have DVDs too. One week, no renewal, $1 a day if they're late. You can take 5 at a time. 5 DVDs, depending, is $120. You got your money's worth, I assure you. I've sometimes considered offering people the cash in exchange for a notarized statement saying they won't come back.

"It must be nice to sit around and read all day!" Yeah, it must be nice. Because I don't. I check books out, check books in. I turn the computer monitor back on for people (is it really that hard, not to touch a computer monitor?) I answer the phone and then do Google searches for people for directions, or phone numbers, or to spell words. Or to tell them celebrity birthdates and parents' names. I clean your greasy fingerprints off of CDs and DVDs. I clean mystery crud off of CD and DVD cases. Yeah, we have books on CD as well. They're $120 each for a library copy. Limit of six. Like a book, though, it's three weeks, two renewals, 25 cents a day overdue fine.

"Don't you have a grace period?" Yeah. You checked out your book for a week and have a two week grace period. Seriously. If you can't finish five books in three weeks...don't take five books. If you can't finish one book in 9 weeks (that's what one checkout plus two renewals equals) then maybe you should, in fact, buy it.

"Why can't I take my laptop bag/giant purse/suitcase/duffel bag with me through the library?" Well, people are scumbags and steal our stuff. So, because books and things cost money and not candy, we lose a lot of money yearly from people stealing. So we need to politely treat people with large bags like scumbags who might steal from us. No, we don't want to check your stuff when you're done. Yes, I know your laptop bag contains your laptop and that's why you came here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Wait....it DOES look like candy

I confess, when I saw a whole bunch of articles about kids getting sick after eating laundry detergent, my first thoughts were not really kind. First and foremost, I wondered why these peoples' 2-year-olds had the time to get away, get into the detergent, and consume it. I also hadn't seen them yet, and wondered what had made them so mistakable for candy. In my day, detergent did not look like candy.

However. Exhibit A:

Remember the original Willy Wonka movie, with Gene Wilder? I'm using that one as the example, as i have not seen the Johnny Depp one. Remember the everlasting gobstoppers the kids were given? Remember what they looked like? Remember how fucking disappointed you were when you got a "real" box of gobstoppers and they were just marble sized balls? These detergent pods look like your magical movie candy dreams come true. Seriously, what the hell? Why is detergent more exciting looking than candy?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Book Review: Let's Pretend this Never Happened, by Jenny Larson

The Bloggess, if you haven't heard of her, is some kind of a mad genius.

Frankly, if you've heard of me and not her, I'm flattered, truly. Her blog is one of the funniest out there, and I love reading it and other things that she does on the web. When I heard that she had a book coming out? Yeah, I was there.

Friday, June 1, 2012

It's CampNaNoWriMo time!

It's June 1st, 2012, and that means it's time for Camp NaNoWriMo again!

Last year, I did the first session (July) and failed at the second session (August). This year, the powers that be, in their wisdom, have split up their camp sessions so that it's June and August. Much better, methinks.

I didn't outline (are you surprised?) and I only have a gentle idea at what the overall storyline is going to be in my far future science fiction novel, entitled Krypton Phone Sex.

"LOL wut?", you said?

Well, let me tell you the story of the title.

When I was trying to come up for the title of this blog, Authorized Musings, I was having a hard time. I can be very, very bad at titles sometimes. At one point, in a fit of desperation, I pulled out the dictionary. I announced that I was going to point at two entries, and that would be my title. My first entry? Krypton. All right. I can work with that. An element. Scifi/superhero reference. Not bad. Second entry? Phone Sex. Hmmm. Maybe this wasn't such a great plan....

But, I wrote it down, because once you find a phrase like Krypton Phone Sex, you want to use it All. The. Time. I've shown admirable restraint, really.

So, my far future Camp NaNoWriMo novel is going to in some way make that title make sense. Even if it doesn't, it sounds cool and edgy and stuff.

Happy writing!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

It's not you, it's me. Or is it you after all?

So, I was scrolling through Facebook, as one does, when I saw a "trending article". Now, despite my visceral dislike for the word "trending", I of course also looked at what the article as, because nobody wants to be left out either, and it was from the Huffington Post, and entitled "Naked Face Eater Identified".  I thought "oh, well that's good", and scrolled down to look at the Kickstarter video that TeeFury had uploaded.

Then I went back. And thought for a moment. I  mean, how was it that I was able to be completely casual about the naked face eater?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Someday never comes

Sometimes I read a lot. Sometimes it takes me a long time to get through a book.

Sometimes I don't write for months. Others, I have a project going that I really focus on and really make headway with. Sometimes it's multiple projects.

Right now in the rubrick, I'm in the "not really reading, writing a lot" portion. I started a werewolf novel in April that's coming to its climax. I started a new writing project involving horror short stories. With June coming up, I'm trying to get myself to actually outline my CampNaNoWriMo novel.

I know I'm doing a space scifi thing. I know that the main characters are two sisters, and that there's at least one dude (no, this is not going to be a love triangle). I know some aesthetics of the space world that I'm operating with, and even though it's in space, it'll be on a smaller, character driven scale. But story? Eh, I've got an idea of the conflict. I think.

So, I need an outline, or else I'll be dead in the water at 10k words.

In NaNo lingo, I'm typically what's known as a "pantser", i.e. I write by the seat of my pants. I also typically have a story arc in mind, though, a culminating event, how I want things to shake out, that kind of thing. I wish I knew that already, this time. I'd really like for this to work out, and I'm always up for a NaNo!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I hate pictures of myself

So.  You may have noticed that I make gestures at being a writer.

Obviously, I intend to have my writing published.

There's this crazy thing that happens when you publish a book, though. They want an author photo. I don't know why people want to know what authors look like, truly. Except those authors that go by initials; then you play the "is it a male or a female?" guessing game until you ferret out the answer on the Internet. E.L. James? Female. J.K. Rowling? Female. W.E.B Griffin? Male. You're welcome.

But anyway. I have this pernicious hatred of pictures of myself. I never look the way I think I do, which is a strange thing. Or maybe not. It's an interesting conundrum.

And then it occurred to me that really, I had a lot of latitude. If I decide to put a toe in, publish something through CreateSpace, then the book itself doesn't need a photo, though I should put one on the Amazon author page. Then I thought about it some more, and figured, well why not have some actual fun with an author photo? By "thought about it some more", I really mean that I was bitching about it to a coworker and then tossed off "I should get a gas mask and have it be a picture of me in my 'Keep Calm and Kill Zombies' tshirt, jeans, and with Elka on a leash!" This is one of those things I said to be funny, but then the two of us looked at each other, and I had the "well, maybe....." thought.

Then I thought about it a little more, idly, in the back of my mind. And I thought about the red bridesmaid dress that I had from a wedding last year. And I thought of The Bloggess, and the traveling red dress, and thought "red dress, gas mask, Doberman." Then I thought of the "postapocalypse area" at the park where we walk most often.

This is probably silly, and I'll probably end up with a stodgy author photo with a pile of books, the way everybody else does it. But it's fun to think about.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Goodbye, Maurice Sendak. We'll miss you.

Maurice Sendak died this morning. He was 83. On one hand, I think "Well, 83 is a good run." But, seeing as how I'm apprehensive about 30 and beyond, I could see how 83 would not be enough. He had complications from a stroke, according to the New York Times.

Without reserve, I can say that Sendak's books are splendid. His illustrations are amazing, and the stories more than just fluff to keep your five year old occupied. There's a depth to them that makes some adults uncomfortable, and that kids seem to love, because for once, somebody's taking them seriously.

Maurice Sendak apparently lived alone after his partner of fifty years died, but for a German Shepherd. His most recent one that I've seen mentioned is named Herman, after Herman Melville, and I'm pretty sure most, if not all, of his German Shepherds came from the Monks of New Skete.

I do hope that wherever is is Sendak has gone, he's still able to do the things he loves, with whoever he misses that has gone before. Because that's what Heaven ought to be, right?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Character Questionnaire

How well do you know your characters?

It's a simple question, and a complicated one.

When you're writing a story, it's sometimes the case that secondary and tertiary characters are really on there for the interactions that they have with your main character(s). Your main character is there for that particular arc of story that you're telling.

So, do you think about them otherwise?

Do you know what their comfort food is? Their fear when they woke up in the middle of the night at age 3? What's in their fridge? Do they have a fridge?

Most recently, while playing Mage this past winter, my fiance had each of the player's fill out a questionnaire as our characters. It was a stroke of brilliance, really. It was fun to do, and really put you in that person's head. The things that happen "off stage" are still important, be it in a book or in a game.

All these little things that we do, they make us who we are. Our characters would do them too. If we let them.

Friday, May 4, 2012

This Book Will Change Your Life

Occasionally, somebody will refer to a book and sigh, "that book changed my life." I nod, like I know what they're talking about, but I really tend to be thinking "...really?"

Frequently, I've read the book as well. Life of Pi? Didn't change my life. Neither did The Kite Runner, though it made me profoundly frustrated and angry. The Help? Nope.

Maybe The Fountainhead did, to a small degree, but maybe I don't want to make declarations like that here.

Maybe life-changing ability isn't what I read books for. Maybe, because I also write books, I don't look at them as mystical tomes that hold profound answers. I love to read, anybody who knows me will be able to attest to that (and if they aren't able, I guess they don't know me), but maybe what I want to get out of a book isn't what others seek.

I look for entertainment in books. When I open a book, I certainly do want it to take me away for a little while. Books are education, books are thought exercises, books are fantasy, books are time travel. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, contained things I'd never thought of before. I'm looking forward to reading the anniversary edition, which I've brought home from the library yet again. Did American Gods change my life? Not more than The Fountainhead, anyway.

So really, I do feel that a book's job is to create an immersive world that I go and visit for a little while. No more, no less, though really, that's a pretty tall order. A book that I continue to think about after I've closed it, that's a good book. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings both take place in a complete world of Tolkein's creation. They have been, and will continue to be, popular for just that reason. The movies have only added to that, and with The Hobbit releasing trailers, will continue to.

Tabletop fantasy role playing games indeed owe a profound debt to Tolkein (well, and war gamers), because the world he created still has such a profound effect on the fantasy worlds that are created today. Indeed, "traditional fantasy" makes one think of elves, and orcs, and goblins, swords and sorcery. Urban fantasy frequently has these elements as well.

So yeah. The book that changed my life? Well, it's a few I guess, but one of them was referred to as The Player's Handbook, and was 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons, published by Wizards of the Coast. Before I had friends who had that book, and others, I didn't know. I didn't know that, other than in theatre, people came together to tell a story together, acting out characters who have no scripts but very certainly have specific roles. I didn't know about White Wolf either, publishers of The World of Darkness, old and new.

Gaming can be better than workshopping. Gaming can fuel the fire to write, within those consensual worlds, and in others of your creation. It can make you push your boundaries and test the edges of trust, and make you think hard about the decisions that you're willing to make.  As a writer, it's been a blessing to me, and a good game is equivalent to a good book.

D&D, unfortunately, moved to other editions, and 4th edition is where Wizards of the Coast and my gaming group parted ways. We're partial to Pathfinder, now, by Paizo publishing. It maintains that spirit of the game, the traditions of orcs and elves and goblins, and wizards with staves casting spells.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

It's the time of the season

In God gives you one face but you paint another on top of it (clever, I thought, Hamlet quote), I talked about the different people that I am.

For a few days this week, I've been reading my old entries on LiveJournal. I started that thing back in 2002, and even make gestures at updating it to this day, mostly to crosspost things from The Elka Almanac (which I tweaked the look of, by the by), when there are fundraisers or calls to action or whatnot. In recent years, I used it to list the books that I'd read, with reviews. Mostly. Sometimes it was just a list. Sometimes it was a paragraph long rant about the frustrations of the book I'd just read. Which were pretty funny, if I do say so myself, but I don't want to be calling people out on my author blog; that's just gauche, so I won't really be doing that here.

My LiveJournal also cataloged my college years from Sophomore year on. I revisited the anger and frustration and mania of doing my senior thesis (The Use and Misuse of Antidepressants; riveting, I know), hilarious quotes from brilliant and somewhat wacky professors, hijinks that friends and I had. Links, now defunct, of things that I thought were freaky, or funny, or just interesting. It's an Internet time capsule of another person I was; funnier, younger, a little more fearless, I think. Or perhaps a different kind of fearless, the kind that you can be when you know you have a net.

Not that I'm without a net. It's just different when you're not in college anymore.

One thing I did say in that very first entry, almost ten years ago (Current music: Godsmack "Awake" in my head, Mood: Lazy):

You know, this Internet is a crazy thing. It's going to run our lives one day. And by "run our lives" I mean gain its own sentience, build a robot army to strafe the globe, and then become our evil overlord. Or it would be evil if machines could be evil. I think in the D&D scope of things they're true neutral. I could be wrong, though.

Ten years. I might cry.

But, hello College Jen. We might be able to learn from one another.

Monday, April 30, 2012

I was stealth evangelized by a twelve year old

So, at the library the other day, I helped a younger patron, a boy I'd say was twelve or so. He finished his transaction, efficiently and politely (which is more than I can say for some adults I deal with, certainly), adjusted his HUGE backpack, and rested his hand on the counter briefly. Then he looked at me and said "That's for you" and left.

I looked at the counter, and thought "did that kid just give me ten dollars?", a "lol wut?" moment if ever there was one. Then I picked it up. It was a Billion Dollar Bill.

I was amused, and then confused, as I examined the item further. One of the little seals on the front says "Thou shalt not covet". Ooh, he got me. I wanted money. Then I turned it over. Apparently, I'm going to hell.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

So Much Depends on the Weather

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

"It was raining iced pitchforks."

"To the Red county and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth."

"It was a dark and stormy night" is an oft-quoted trope; Snoopy uses it when he fancies being an author. I used it when I wrote my very first novel in fifth grade, The Chent Mansion Murders ( it was only four chapters long), and I'm not sure where I'd heard of it to begin with. From Snoopy, I guess. I'd never seen the rest of that sentence until I'd used The Google to see what it was actually from, which is a novel called Paul Clifford, published in 1830 by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, neither of which I'd heard of, other than in the context of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which is an annual contest in which people are invited to write "the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels." I'm sorry to say that we missed this year's deadline; it was April 15. I also don't know what it says about me that I just spent ten or so minutes reading last year's winners. If one can properly be said to "win" such a thing.

The second sentence is in the video game Max Payne, delivered in the noir toned, gravel bottomed voice of our narrator.

The third is the opening sentence to The Grapes of Wrath.

 I've heard it said that when writing fiction, one should avoid writing about the weather. I'm sure this is one of those rules that one might break; after all, characters in a story are not operating in a formless void, typically. Weather, if you aren't being too heavy handed or purple about it, can be a deft way of setting a tone and transporting the reader into the headspace you require them in order to receive the story you're dishing out.

Kind of funny that all three quotes I picked involved rain, but pretty much everybody knows how they feel when it rains. If it's windy and rainy, you have a way of feeling. If it's sleeting, that's a whole 'nother misery. If it's a gentle rain, well that's something too. It smells different outside, when it's raining. It taps at your windows, when it's raining. You might get a headache, when it's raining.

Now look at the first line from George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four: "It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." We've all lived through days like that in April; the clocks striking thirteen, though? That pulls you in. Does it mean that something is off in the order of things? Well, if you've read Nineteen Eighty-Four, it's pretty off. If you haven't read Nineteen Eighty-Four, why are you even on the Internet, unless you're going to go get a copy of it right now. Seriously. Get it and read it. You can't talk about dystopia without it (is it ironic that Google's spell check doesn't recognize "dystopia"? Maybe.)

In The Stranger by Albert Camus, our narrator ultimately shot a man because of the sun. That's simplifying things, but also not. You should probably read that book, too. Its first line doesn't have to do with the weather: "Maman died today."
Purple prose, though, that can a bad scene. You know what I mean; it's really unavoidable, if you're in the habit of reading. You've read it in this entry already, in fact: that opening line of Paul Clifford might be considered purple prose. It's overdone, and unnaturally flowery, and has made "it was a dark and stormy night" the very definition of a cliché. 

Ultimately, blue skies or not, blighted lands or fertile, setting matters, and so does the weather in it. The weather needn't be a character unto itself, and probably ought not be, but I don't think it's instantly bad writing in order to include it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Singular Sensation

Sometimes, when writing, you want to shed normal descriptions. You want to describe something as it's never been described before, while leaving no doubt whatsoever as to what that something is.

In your day to day life, you catalog senses, feelings, experiences, trying to shelve them like rare antiquities, squirreled away to relate later, in different lights.

My soap, bought on vacation and jealously guarded, used slice by slice from the main bar, had sharp edges this morning. The patchouli scent of it dulled the sharpness and made me want more.

I got a new kind of gum, hard white pillows in a plastic tray, foil backed like pills. When I bit them, the shells cracked and there was a tiny drop of liquid inside. It was how I imagined biting an insect to be; crack the carapace, liquid hitting the tongue.

Black ink on my fingers, fading purple with repeated scrubbings, nails dirty, then grey, then pale.

A papercut, too shallow to bleed my dry skin, edges of the loose skin white like a flower petal.

Purple prose is to be avoided, but sometimes, you just need to skate that line. You need to think of your words and roll them on your tongue, like somebody sampling a wine. Too much and it's too dense, too sweet. Too little, and everything is bones.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Library insanity 3

A patron walked into the library around 6 or 7 in the evening. She came to the desk, looking a little nervous. This nervousness is a normal state for some of our more....interesting...patrons, but this one is normally friendly and confident.

"There's a timer outside", she said. "In the gazebo."
"Time like...on a bomb?" I asked suavely.
"Yeah, you can hear it ticking." She walked over and opened the door. Indeed, you can hear it ticking.
"Modern bombs don't tick," I said (so rarely can I apply this quote in everyday conversation. Most times, nobody even gets it. But that's all right. I know.)
"Should I touch it?" She asked. I weighed the options, quickly. My coworker was out of the room. We aren't allowed to leave the desk unattended. Did I really want to go closer to a potential bomb. Would it really be a bomb? That seemed kind of ridiculous. Luckily, the male patron by the DVDs had started paying attention.
"Oh, that's mine," he said, a little defensively. We both looked at him. "It's for my pot roast."

Oh. Of course.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Why I Don't Write Poetry

I mentioned in The Order of Things that I don't much like poetry.

Since that day, just last month, Adrienne Rich passed away. I was sorry to hear that she had passed; she's a poet whose work I really like. She had a lot of impact on a lot of lives, and was willing to be a strong women when others would not or could not. I don't know anything about her politics; I only know some of her poems. And they are very good.

But, poetry. I don't much write poetry either. I wrote a couple of poems in college,  and they are very much college poems. Not because they're about drinking or frats or what have you, but because of the quality of writing. Little that I wrote in college may see the light of day in its college form; I'm not sure if any of it hasn't been re-edited at this point, if not entirely rewritten.

I can be casual with my words. I can be braggy in conversation, using words I know that perhaps others won't. I like feeling smart. Sorry.

With poetry, though, every word matters. Syllables and sentences run into each other and away with each other, and with good poetry, poetry that I like that that others have published, and that I'm happy has seen the light of day, that poetry has layers of meaning. There are the words. Then there are the references they're making. Then there is the new thing that they all make together. Then there is the place you take those things, and make it something new for you.

I don't write poems like that. Can I? Maybe. It would be very hard, and undoubtedly worth it, but words of such weight aren't how my stories tend to speak to me. Not that fiction is "easy" either, but it's not as hard. Easy and hard aren't even the words I mean, they're layman's translations for gut feelings and visceral reactions. Poetry is evocative of different things for me than fiction, a different place in my brain where Ginsberg smokes (did Ginsberg smoke?) and Eliot prays (preys?) and Anne Sexton is more than a little mad (crazy, that is, not angry).

The starting line of a poem is like a reverse fishing lure: it bobs on the surface, waiting for you to strike and catch yourself, and then it pulls you down with it.

"Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The Muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedius argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question....
Oh, do not ask "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit."

~The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, by T. S. Eliot

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Book Review: Up, by Patricia Ellis Herr

Up: a Mother and Daughter's Peakbagging Adventure might seem like an odd book for me to have chosen. Really, it kind of is. I don't have little kids. There aren't dogs in it. I'm not from New Hampshire. I'm not into hiking up mountains. I mean, I'm not against hiking up mountains, it just isn't a burning passion for me.

The book happened into my hands at the library, as books so frequently will. You see, when we get new books, they come to use from what is essentially our book warehouse, and then they go upstairs to the offices to be processed and barcoded. Then they come down on a delightful little cart and a piece of paper gets slapped on there that says "new books!" and the staff get to look at them before sending them to their waiting patrons, or putting them on the shelf. Up did not have any waiting patrons, and it had a compelling, easy to read style, and a good hook at the beginning. I took it home and devoured it.

Up is about Herr and her daughter, Alex, and their hiking. Or "peakbagging", as they apparently call taking a trail to the peak of a mountain. The general plan was doing "four thousand footers", which is apparently doable, round trip, in a day. Even with a five year old. Yup, that's right. Herr's daughter, Alex, was five and a half when they started their peakbagging shenanigans.

Alex is a smart and dynamic little girl. She and her little sister, Sage, are home schooled by Herr (she doesn't go into the reasoning, but before having children, she was  PhD candidate, and apparently her husband works at MIT, so it's not like they don't have the chops), and encouraged to be inquisitive and active and make their own decisions. Which extended to this level of hiking.

The book was a brief and digestible pleasure to read. The environments they spend their time in are beautiful and sometimes less than forgiving, but no real tragedies befall them. Herr is in fact a smart woman, and a smart mom, and there are no times at which I was smacking my forehead and yelling "Don't go in there!" at the book. Her husband sort of takes a backseat in the book, but he's obviously a good man, and has significant influence on their daughters. The girls are...well...little kids. But also smart and lovely. I'm sure they're going to grow into fantastic adults.

Friday, April 6, 2012

It's Hard to Write For Writers

This blog serves several purposes. Or is meant to.

I'd love to build a community, here online, with other writers. People I can talk with and call my Internet friends. People who have goals of publication (or are already published) and things like that. I'd love to be entertaining. I'd love to have visitors. Blogging is a means of getting attention, and that is a fact. Unless you're a nihilist blogger, Lebowski, and then you care about nothing.

That isn't so hard, right?


Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Devil's in the Details

Remember in school, when they taught you to write a first draft, and then a second one, and so on? Maybe they had you do an outline first?

Yeah, I hated that.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Credit Where Credit is Due

The Internet is great.

You can meet up with people you never would have heard of. You can look up anything you can think of. You can read books and stories and articles that would  not come to your hometown on their own.

The Internet is kind of like the Wild West, though. There are laws, sure, and there are things like the FBI cybercrimes unit that tries to protect people from scamming, and phishing, and other frauds. There are vigilantes who use the Internet as their playground, and sometimes do what could be considered good, and other times do what could be considered illegal and bad.

On the Internet, you can be whoever you want. You can say whatever you want. Some people use that to bully, or to be one of the above mentioned fraudsters. Some people use it to plagiarize and pirate. Because of this, it can be hard to find out where something came from.

Years ago, I found a picture I liked, loved really. I have no idea who the artist is, when it was created, the origin, the medium, nothing. It's on wallpaper web sites, and people use it for avatars on message boards (guilty of that in at least one location, sorry). Today, I found out about TinEye, which is an image search site that allows one to find instances of an image across the Internet.

I'll put it here now. If you know who the artist is, or where it came from, I'd appreciate you sharing that with me!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Do you have a community?

So, I finally joined an online writing forum, at Absolute Write.  There are a lot of people on there!

Some have been writing for a very long time. Some have been writing for a few weeks. Everybody has an opinion, but isn't that the way that goes?

In a way, the forum itself is a bit like Doberman Talk, but for writing. There are questions and criteria that the seasoned members have for whether an agent or publisher is legitimate, and the kinds of things we as writers should be looking at in contracts. There are discussions about grammar, and plot, and a suggestion to post your work or your queries for critiques. There are writing prompts and "off topic" forums (though is anything off topic, when you're a writer?)

Other than a few college classes, and two workshops since, I've never really been a part of a writer's community. I don't have people that I regularly share and swap work with. I have friends that will happily read my stories, but nobody that I get down to brass tacks with in quite the same way. I can get pretty thorny over critiques, but if you knew the critiques I had to deal with in college, I think you would have felt the same way. Nobody wants to read their story and have one of the only comments be "What does this word mean?" Everybody has a different vocabulary, I get that, but writers? I hold them to a higher standard. Especially if you're supposed to be offering criticism. I have a story somewhere (begging for rewrite) involving a mermaid and a fisherman's son, and the deals made. The comment I got? "This made me think of The Little Mermaid." Meaning, the Disney film. I could have cheerfully killed that peer reviewer with bare hands, especially because her story was about her first car, which was not bad idea in and of itself. But it was bad.

So, I've got hopes for this. They have a minimum post limit before you can share your work, which I agree with. They foster community, give and take. We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Think You're a Judge of Character?

People make assumptions.

Whether we want to or not, when we see a person, we make decisions about them immediately. These are based on our own experiences, and things that we hear and read. A complete stranger might remind us of somebody who plagued us in high school, and we react with visceral dislike. A different stranger might remind us of a beloved grandparent, and we receive them warmly.

Sometimes, our suspicions might protect us from harm. Sometimes our sympathies are what harm us. I found this quiz online, which I think is both funny, to a degree, and pertinent. It shows how much, or how little, we can tell by just looking at a person: Programming Language Inventor or Serial Killer?

We can play on these assumptions while writing. When we establish a character, there are things that writers might do in order to sway the reader one way or another when thinking about them. If Mrs. Danvers was plump and had red hair (as opposed to skeletal and yellowing), would we have regarded her with as much dread?  If Atticus Finch was a foul mouthed drinker, would we have trusted and respected him? Every author, when writing, has a way he or she feels a character should be read.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Make a Wish

Superstitions are an interesting thing to me.

Perhaps because I'm American, most of them no longer seem to have ties to their original culture. The number thirteen, black cats, green cars, ringing ears...where did all of it come from?  A lot of it is luck based: picking up a coin that's heads up, rabbits feet, four leaf clovers. Luck itself is an interesting concept, especially in that both good luck and bad luck are a consideration. And the notion that things come in threes. Unlucky things: stepping on a crack, seeing a bride on her wedding day, breaking a mirror.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Weird Things

Sometimes I see weird things that I don't take pictures of. I still think about them, though.

Like that stray scrap of rope on the asphalt in the Wal Mart parking lot. I know it was probably for the cinderblock that held down the cart corral. But was it?

Like the park bench that somebody wrote "Bleeding Sassafras" on in Sharpie. Did they bemoan the fact that a tree was cut down to build the bench, and thus bled? Band name? Sexual position (oh God I hope not)?

I won't even detail the things that we sometimes find in library books, and left on the shelves. Some things are best unsaid (and unseen).

I was once driving down the highway and saw a minivan pulled up just after an exit. Two Hasidim were standing there, seemingly a father and son, side curls blowing in the highway breeze, white shirts bright. The son had a suitcase at his feet. His father was talking to him seriously.

Another highway one: a metal chair between two bushes on a slight hill, overlooking the Eastbound lanes.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

More Library Insanity

Another snapshot of my day at the library:

Soon after opening on Saturday morning, the phone rang. When we answer the phone, we say the name of the library. The patron on the other end launched into her story without preamble: "I have a wooden end table that we keep a humidifier on and after awhile we moved the humidifier and I guess it leaked at some point because now there are white rings on the table that are the size of the humidifier. What do I do about that?"

I took a moment. "You do know you called the library, right?"

"Yes. I called the bus station first and he gave me the number."

Right. Of course. So I put the patron on hold and consulted the Google, because really, what else was I going to do? I mean, I'm sure there's a Reader's Digest "How to clean anything" style of volume that we have, but sometimes, you look for the fast answer, which will theoretically the most up to date.

Apparently, you can take a hot iron, and a clean t-shirt, and iron for a few seconds at a time to get rid of the white rings. See. You learned something. I did too. The bus station doesn't know how to fix your end table; the library does.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dad. I miss you.

Sailing to Byzantium
William Butler Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
-Those dying generations-at their gong,
The salmon-falls, the mackeral-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For ever tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificense;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing on God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Friday, March 2, 2012

In the News, March 2 2012

Silence Gun:  http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/technology-blog/weird-gun-future-attacks-words-not-people-193050045.html

Debris from the Japanese tsunami to join Great Pacific Garbage Patch:  http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Latest-News-Wires/2012/0229/Debris-from-tsunami-to-reach-West-Coast-join-Great-Pacific-Garbage-Patch

Radical Camera Lets You Pick What's Blurry and What's Not:  http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203753704577253382656074346.html   (kind of wouldn't mind one of these, I think, after a version or two)

Animals Being Dicks:  http://animalsbeingdicks.com/  (not news, I now, but funny.)

The One You Feed

An old Cherokee told his grandson, "My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies, and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth."

The boy thought about it, and asked, "Grandfather, which wolf wins?"

The old man quietly replied, "The one you feed."

(saw this on a forum and saw it related various places online, as a "Native American Proverb". I know nothing else of the source. It just kind of appealed).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Doberman Assistance Network Flower Power Fundraiser 2012

It's March, and that means spring is around the corner, right? 

(Though you wouldn't know it from the snow we've gotten in the past two days!)

Springtime means flowers, and if you plant flowers, you can help Dobermans!

(not my picture. From DAN web site)

The Doberman Assistance Network is again having a Flower Power Fundraiser. Fully half the cost of each purchase goes to helping Dobermans in need, across the country. This fundraiser is until April 27, with a goal amount of $1000. A small price to pay, for all the Dobermans this organization helps!

So, why help DAN instead of a local shelter, or a specific rescue? Well, by all means, donate to your local shelters and rescues. But, from their site, this is how DAN works:

"When we find a Doberman in need, we assign a "caseworker" to gather all the information about the Doberman(s) and make arrangements to mave the dog to safety as soon as possible. Then a trusted rescue or foster for the dog is located and transportation is arranged if necessary. A team 'of "transporters" is sometimes assembled for long moves.

We work with rescues in several states to include: FL, GA, SC, NC, PA, OH, IL, MI, MO, TX, LA, CO, and CA. We are constantly in awe of the amazing work the rescues do and work closely with them to ensure that the previous Dobermans who come to our attention get the help they need."

Looking at the Doberman Assistance Network Flower Power Fundraising catalog, I also notice that you can get strawberries! Even if you don't plant flowers (I don't), you can get strawberries and even start them in the house, to be heralds of spring for you (and have tast berries. And maybe make freezer jam. Or baked goods. I know a lot of you bake!)

So, check it out. Tell your friends. Crosspost and retweet and corner your coworkers. The Dobermans thank you!

originally posted at TheElkaAlmanac.blogspot.com