Tuesday, April 30, 2013

I've never been to Detroit

Everybody says "write what you know." I've talked about it before. What you "know" is a subjective thing, though. I know a lot of stuff that I don't write about. A lot of places I haven't used as setting.  A lot of stuff, I research enough to fake it. Such games we play as writers.

For instance, I've never been to Detroit. It's apparently where The Last Song takes place. I didn't really commit until chapter 7 or so, and then retconned (So yeah, I've been using the term "retcon" for years, knowing what it meant [essentially] but not what it was a portmanteau of. Retroactive Continuity. You're welcome). But you know? I've recently developed a Google Maps addiction, specifically the street view. I'd used it a couple of times before when writing Learn to Howl, as there's so much road trip portion to it I needed (or felt I needed) to see intersections, highways, certain county roads. But then there was an article about how Google Street View had visited the exclusion zone cause by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant's having had a meltdown after the earthquake and tsunami (you remember that, right? It's been two years, if you can believe it. I thought it was more like one, when I tried to consider. I certainly knew it happened; I remember reading about the nuclear plant in the news specifically and thinking that it seemed like a slightly higher disclosure Chernobyl. It received a 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, and only Chernobyl had previously reached such a dubious height). The particular town linked is Namie.

But anyway, after spending an inordinate amount of time tooling around Japan in Street View, I realized that much of the known world was in Street View. Moscow! Paris! Key West! What a fabulous author tool! Now I could take road trips right from my couch! It can be like Wikipedia Freefall, only on a much larger scale. Thank God for tabbed browsing and ordering food online.

So, I've never been to Detroit, but I can somewhat accurately write there. But that isn't even what I mean by "write what you know". In The Last Song, I've been exploring grief, which I now know, and friendship, which I know. I've also detailed things like looking for stuff on a beach and the sorts of things one might find there. Opening a music playing jewelry box, and what you find in there. Opening mail. The amount of shoes people inexplicably amass. The private world that a relationship becomes. Academically, people don't really discuss these things (well, I guess "finding stuff on the beach" they might). But we all know these things. The way streetlights look through a rainy windshield. The way a recently vacated pillow might smell of that occupant's shampoo. Being distracted by eyebrows. Hearing a particular song on the radio. Does minutiae like this make a novel more real, even if it turns out to be urban fantasy? Maybe. I guess I'll find out once it's done, and other people read it.

Monday, April 29, 2013

A lesson in reading labels

So, I've given up soda, yet again. But I'd been reading some on artificial sweeteners, and was becoming increasingly alarmed. And drinking diet soda had clearly not been doing me any favors on the weight front. So. Cold turkey, no soda, diet or otherwise. I've done this a few times now (and even talked about it here at least once); maybe this time it'll stick. I've been drinking coffee (with milk and cocoa in it) and tea and lots and lots of water.

So. We have an iced tea maker I got at Wal-Mart for like ten bucks, which is a quick and fabulous way to have readily drinkable tea in the house. Typically we go for green tea, and then I'll use like, three bags of green tea and one of chai, or two green two Earl Grey, that kind of thing. We ran out of our regular green (though there is some in a multipack we have, now that I think about it) and so I got a new box (also at Wal-Mart, ugh) the other night. I guess I didn't really read the box (mostly because my misanthropy is such that by the time I make it to the tea in Wal-Mart, it is only through sheer strength of will that I don't lose my shit). I was doing some dishes, and making a cup of coffee, and I turned around when I heard the tea maker stop dripping because I was going to unplug it and was like "OH MY GOD, BLOOD TEA!"

Only the dog was awake to share my dismay. She was more concerned with her rhino. I would be too; I just spent some time down the rabbit hole of international rhino horn sales. But that is a post for another day.

As it turns out, the tea is strawberry orange green tea, not just green tea. Red antioxidant green tea, which is made with hibiscus and rooibos and stuff. So, all right. But that was kind of a bad surprise. Read the labels, kids, or else you too might end up with blood tea.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Word Association exercise

Word associations can almost make a poem in and of themselves, no matter where you start. Now, whether that poem makes sense to anybody but you is up in the air, but what's that Stephen King says? Write your first draft with the door closed, edit with the door open? That's a lot like "write for yourself", isn't it? That's what so many of us do, isn't it? I say that a lot, probably. Because really, who else am I writing for right now? A hypothetical future? Hypothetical children who will be embarrassed by my badness or boldness?

You can start with a simple thing. A state.

Bruce Springsteen
Asbury park
sun gold summer
dewy green grass
lightning bugs at dusk
stars in the gloaming
Cheshire smile moon
Andy did you hear about this one?

The words that come out of you can be a punch in the stomach, a slap in the face. Writing is so private and so raw, sometimes. We're naked, it the audience knows how to look. We're inscrutable if they don't. Friends, strangers. Sometimes it doesn't matter. The worlds in our heads are of our own creation, and the windows we create to them can be so small.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Quotes around the house (and work)

Housemate: I'm really hungry. But I ate all the cereal.
Me: I'm sorry. Wait, no you didn't, there's rice squares.
Housemate: I don't want rice squares.
Me: Why not? You  can put sprinkles on them!
Housemate: Where do you come from?! 

Coworker: Wait, what are you talking about?
Me: Forensics. Really, what do I ever talk about, other than that, nukes, and dogs. Well, and serial killers. Which is forensics again when you think about it.

While playing D&D (well, Pathfinder):
Me (to housemate): That's right, I hit your box!
Tim: You can't hit her box back.
Mahria: That's not a friendly square.

Me: You don't understand me!
Fiancé: Oh, I understand what you're saying. I just never know why, or what you're doing exactly. 

Me: Well, that's a nice little town. Apartments there might be cheaper, too.
Coworker: Yeah, but they had that murder suicide there recently.
Me: They did, but those things are usually pretty self contained.
Coworker: I guess they are, but there is definitely something wrong with you.

Me: According to this, apparently Funny Foam has/had butane in it.
Coworker: Maybe that explains the things you're interested in.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Writing Lessons from the Dog

I lay on the red leather couch, reading a book on writing, which always makes me feel Important and Inspired and a Good Writer (or at least a better one). The dog circled around the coffee table to me once, twice, and cycled away. She stood by me and gave me a wet nose poke, then went to stomp a toy.

I moved over a little on the couch and, seeing her chance, Elka came clacking back and jumped up, circled, and lay with her spine against my belly, left paw on my left wrist. I stroked her and turned pages, then reached for teh camera and took a few pictures.

Disturbed that our pact had been broken, she got off the couch and stretched, then grumbled at me to be taken out. Elka cannot read, or write, but can still communicate loud and clear. She talks, with her ears, her bright eyes, the tilt of her head, probing your face to meaning when you talk to her, tension wire of ready for action in her limbs. She tries to talk, but reallly only says the one word.

"Oh, you need to go out?"
A little later: "Out."
"Elka, are you hungry?" She confirms by bringing a Kong.
"Out? Awawawa?"
"Elka, are you thirsty?" She touches her nose to the cup we use to fill her water. She said Hello clearly once to a neighbor, but we haven't really been able to get her to repeat that trick.

She also has the delightful habit of drinking an entire bowl of water and licking our elbows. We call her our Dune dog, wanting to share her water. She breaches from blankets like Shai-Hulud.

Now, I like word. Some of the ones I use, casually, are vocabulary words for those less read. Castigate. Ostensibly. But writers I like are frequently spare with theirs. Hemingway. Steinbeck. Even their names transport me; their books are doors to another time, another world, the same as this one but sharper, dustier, in the palm of my hand. Evocative.

Is it silly to take writing lessons from the dog? I write about her frequently, a whole blog's worth, the topic persistently compelling. My fiction is strewn with dogs, a nascent trilogy full of human wolves and canine body language in jokes that maybe only I'll ever get. But, lick your lips, turn your head and yawn, and a nervous dog knows you get the picture. They speak, too, if you know how to listen.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

My Process

My process, such as it is, tends to be rather private.

Or, at any rate, I'm not really social while I'm writing. When I'm really into it, sleepwalking the dreamscape of my inner mullings, transposing them onto the page, I don't want to be bothered. I don't want to talk. I don't want to be interrupted.

Sometimes I listen to the same song, over and over. For the mood I'm in, or the emotions it evokes, or the memories it dredges up from that subconscious I try to mine while I'm awake. For The Last Song, there have been a few songs: "One", covered by Warren Haynes at Bonnaroo. "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?", covered by Nirvana. A lot of Nirvana in general. "Everlong", by the Foo Fighters, both the acoustic version and the regular album one.

I remember the first time I heard the acoustic version of Everlong. It was on the radio, probably Rat Rock, and I was driving home uncommonly late one night. Had I gone to see a movie? That seems likely. I was in my Honda, a 1992 five speed hand me down from my dad, with its Grateful Dead Space your Face sticker in the rear passenger window, and the Shrinky Dink fish, fishing lined to the rearview mirror. It was summer, so all of my windows were down (I eschew air conditioning, for one, and it had also broken in said Honda a year or two previous on the return drive from Cape Hatteras, NC), and it was the dewy, overcast pink skied Jersey Shore summer that happens sometimes, where it isn't raining and probably won't, and the next day will be a completely clear, perfect, humidity free beach day where the edges of everything seem just a little bit sharper, and you probably forget to apply, or reapply, your sunscreen. There was nobody else on the road, and I slowed down. The limit on the back road I drove was thirty, but I didn't want to get home before the song was over, and I dipped to twenty five, twenty, dropped it to second gear. I'd kicked off my flip flops and drove barefoot, toes curled over the top of the gas pedal, right hand on the gearshift. When the song was over, I turned the radio off. I didn't want to hear any other songs, any commercials, any other voices. I didn't want the spell to be broken.

So, when I listen to songs on repeat, or listen to a certain sequence of songs on repeat, I don't want the spell to be broken. I want to sustain it for as long as possible, make it as complete as possible. I don't want anybody in the room to remark upon my musical choices. I don't want anybody to ask me what I'm doing. I don't want a phone, or social media. I'd prefer Elka not have to go out. I don't want neighbors. Just the words on the page (text on the screen). Just the characters of my making, living their lives, thinking their thoughts, feeling their feels.

Friday, April 19, 2013

People keep saying to me: I want to WATCH a movie, not READ one.

At the library, we have DVDs that may be checked out. A percentage of these DVDs are foreign films.

Just about daily, there are patrons who will watch literally anything that comes down the pike, but if it's foreign, they put it back with looks of disgust.

These are people of varying education levels; some, I'm not sure they can read or read very well, so that's fine. I'm not judging them. I'm judging the other ones. They know who they are.

Now, I'm not one of those people who feels a moral obligation to watch a certain sort of movie. You know the movies. The white guilt movies, the "Triumphs over X" movies, the social responsibility movies. Movies are entertainment, that's a fact. I do like movies where things blow up, where there is action. I also like musicals. I like plain ol' dramas. I'm a sucker for all those football movies they made, where the team pulls together and does whatever at the end.

So, even acknowledging that movies can basely be entertainment, what's my problem?

Well. I don't think that reading and watching are mutually exclusive, clearly. I read many many books a year, for entertainment purposes. So when a movie is subtitled, it isn't a personal insult, or a challenge to my psyche, or any of those things. It's just...a subtitled movie.

Now here is where anime is a great example to use. There are many people who will debate vigorously on the merits of subbed versus dubbed, and never waver on that fact. There are some anime I've only ever watched dubbed, and now just can't stand the subtitled voices (Cowboy Bebop especially). There are some I've never watched dubbed, and don't know how I'd feel about it (Naruto, though I haven't watched all of Naruto). There are some I just don't know. I've never watched subtitled Princess Mononoke. Thoughts?

There are non-animated foreign films that I've watched and loved as well. I don't think watching it in English was an option; I'm not sure I even looked. Intacto is one. The Lives of Others is another. If you haven't seen either of those, you should. Intacto is about a game in which luck can be given, taken, and gambled. The Lives of Others is a movie about artist types (writers, if memory serves) in East Berlin, and a KGB (or was it FSB?) agent who's assigned to listen in on them. Oh yeah, and Pan's Labyrinth, which is probably a little less obscure, considering Guillermo del Toro's popularity.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

April NaNoWriMo: 14 days left!

Well, April has been an interesting time for me, WriMo speaking. I've had days where I wrote a whole lot. I've had days (nay, a week!) where I didn't write at all. Such is my cycle.

I haven't kept up on editing Learn to Howl, so that freed up some RAM for the tentatively named The Last Song (my Camp novel, natch), which has gone swimmingly. The outline proved to be very useful this time, a veritable miracle. The Internet, particularly YouTube and Pandora, has been very useful. My main character is a grunge-rocker type who I've modeled slightly after Kurt Cobain, and I have a "Nirvana" channel on Pandora.com that I've liked and not liked songs on for....five years now? Is that possible?

But anyway. I got the idea for The Last Song when I was kind of idly thinking of mythology, as one does (you do, right?). See, I know it's a Nicholas Sparks title, but since A Walk to Remember is the only and last Nicholas Sparks book I'll read, I don't know what any of those books are about. So I tend to think the titles sound like they would be fantastic as horror titles. You tell me Nights in Rodanthe doesn't sound like it should be a vampires at the Outer Banks story. Go on. Or that Safe Haven isn't a zombie story or apocalypse story. A fun game, yes?

So by now, you're totally slavering to know what The Last Song is about, I know you are. It's a rewrite of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, wherein Orpheus goes to Hades in order to recover his shuffled off this mortal coil bride. I wrote it as a short story, but felt it could use a longer treatment, and I've been having fun with it; it's the story I was coyly discussing in my Size Matters post back in March. I don't know if anybody else has rewritten the myth lately, or how it turned out when they did. I wrote it/am writing it because it came into my head, not because I research the market. I really should start paying attention to things like that; it might save me heartache later. Maybe not, who knows?

Currently at: 13891 words.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Music Bag Mystery

So, a regular patron was in the library with a very neat canvas tote bag. It has sheet music printed on it! No title, of course. I know it isn't the prelude to Bach's first Cello Suite, but really, that's all I've got. I cannot read music; with Google and a piano, I'd be able to puzzle it out in a painfully slow manner (I know where middle C is, have an ear for melodies), but even that wouldn't tell me what the piece is.

I asked her, even, and she didn't know. The next time I saw her with the bag, she was perplexed that I was so fascinated by it. "I don't know what it is," she said.

A friend of hers was nearby, and got in on the conversation. She looked at the bag for awhile, fingers kind of poised, and then shook her head. "I don't know. If I had a piano, I could do it."

A solution! "Why don't you go to the church next door?" I asked, as though I wasn't the one who'd brought up this quandary to begin with. "They have pianos."

The friend looked at me askance. "I'm not going to walk in a church and see if they'll let me play my bag!"

So, I turn to you, Internet (and Mahria, who I probably should have just asked in the first place). This is a picture of the bag. Do you know what piece of music this is?

(apologies for the quality of my cell phone picture. It's what I had at work.)

Friday, April 12, 2013

Look at me!

Social media is a big "PAY ATTENTION TO MEEEE" game, which we were so good at as children. Then society, or embarrassed family members, slowly let the air out of that impulse. Or took scissors and popped a hole in it. Whichever.

The point is, as adults, we're trying to take it back. Some people don't really seem (to me) to have an overarching goal, other than attention. Others are trying to champion causes, get books published, make money. It's hard, though. We want pats on the head from famous people we think/hope/imagine must be cool. We want the nameless masses to fawn. We want them to say SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY. We want to be discovered, a la the Golden Age of Hollywood. The Golden Age of anything. Are those done? Will we have a new one? Will we know at the time, or only after?

I used to be very good at the "Pay attention to me" game, perhaps without even realizing attention is what I wanted. As a child, I was out to lunch someplace with my maternal grandfather and my dad. The restaurant was coincidentally having some kind of fashion show something; when they took a break, apparently they left the mic on. I know this why? Well, apparently I climbed up on stage and had a turn vamping with it, imitating the announcer.

Children learn to be ashamed, they don't come with it. Remember that.

Even if you don't hold with the Bible, you probably remember Adam and Eve hiding from God because they were naked, way back in Genesis. God had never remarked upon their nakedness, since He'd made them that way. Instead, he said "Who told you?"

Even if you aren't religious, shame as indication of transgression is probably not new to you.

Recently, I discussed whether it was all right to be proud of yourself, be it intelligence or achievements. You get told not to toot your own horn. People make t-shirts and bumper stickers that say "Well behaved women rarely make history." But you should go with the flow, right? When you're writing a query letter, you need it to shout READ MY BOOK. Our world is one of contradictions, and you need to carve out your niche. The best of luck to you! I'm still working on it myself.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Nolstagia, profundity, cartoons, storytelling

I guess it was only a matter of time, but somebody made an "animated" Calvin and Hobbes short. Actually, when you searach for "Calvin and Hobbes animation" on YouTube, there are several. The one I'm linking below doesn't add voices (some sound effects(, and I believe uses the original Sunday strip.

 I really miss Calvin and Hobbes. I have a couple of the books, and so does the library system, so I flip through them fairly often. It isn't the same as reading the daily offerings in the newspaper, reading the new strips and savoring them like found treasure. There was something profound about Calvin and Hobbes, the insanity and chaos of childhood, the inscrutable nature of adults, the wonder of the world. I can respect Bill Watterson for knowing when to stop, and sticking with it...but geeze. I wanted more!

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Okay, I'll ask....What is Tumblr for?

I try to be "with it", really I do. I have a smart phone, I know the slang (well, some of it. I strongly resist acronyms), I love in jokes. But there are some things that baffle me.

Like Tumblr. Is it a blog? Is it like Flikr? It it meant to defy classification? You can tag things like a blog. Sometimes there are different pages to click on (rather than scrolling down through somebody's Tumblr ad infinitum). There are a lot of people quite professional and serious about it, attributing photos that they've posted and giving as much history as possible (well. On the history one I was looking at).

I'm also astounded at the amount of people suffering from depression and feelings/actions of self harm on Tumblr. I'm happy, actually, that these people feel they have an outlet in Tumblr, and the amount of support I see them receiving from others in similar positions (or who understand the position) is immense. Which is kind of heartening, really.

But Tumblr has been a great inspirational resource. If you can think of how to properly search it, you can find a picture. And if you're like me, and can't create your own pictures but sometimes have ideas based on visual input? It's awesome. I've been able to look up cello stuff, and dogs (of course) and skaters and Old West stuff (though not Asians in the old west, yet. And be warned, "Asian Cowgirl" is evidently a sexual position. You will not find sepia toned daguerreotypes of Asian women in fantastic hats with sixguns riding horses. Nope.) (I also almost know how to spell "daguerreotype" without searching for it now. But not quite.) It's actually kind of frustrating, my complete lack of ability to Create Art. I can have a very clear picture of something in my mind, but the brain to fingers to page does not work for drawing, with me, only writing.

(let's not talk about handwriting).

I see some people who have both a blog and a Tumblr, and I wonder about that. Is it that beneficial as a plank in one's platform? Is it a potentially dangerous split to your attention, spreading yourself too thin across too many mediums? Where is the time to write, if you're blogging and tweeting and tumbling, and perhaps also participating in message boards? Plus, Heaven forfend you have other interests (like dogs.)  Or you want to spend some free time reading books.

I get that part of "building a platform" is having reach. You want to get peoples' eyes and attention as much as possible. But there's also a point at which you have to decide what you have the time and wherewithal to stick to, and stick to it. I wasn't so great at blogging here consistently. I'm not sure that I'm even interested in Tumblr, other than as a medium to occasionally look at neat things. I don't know what I would do with one. I hear tell it's great for getting your artistic media out there (Bryan, I'm looking at you!), and some people who Tumblr (Tumble?) don't have other blogs.

So, do you use Tumblr? Do you feel it helps you, hurts you? Is it separate from your "professional" writing/blogging?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Jokes Are For Other People

Fiancé: What the hell are you talking about?
Me: Candu! There was Shamu and Candu! The killer whales at Sea World!
Fiancé: NOBODY KNOWS THAT. You can't call that a joke because nobody knows that and will think it's funny. Jokes are for other people! Join the rest of humanity, you existential fucking whore!

 (Elka picture. No, not for any real reason. I just like having pictures in posts.)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Monday, April 1, 2013

The Lumper

I read recently that somebody in Ireland had brought back the Lumper potato, which is one of the strains that was so damaged by the potato famine (There are lots of pictures of them available on The Daily Spud, which I did not know existed until I tried to find my original source of Lumper knowledge. The Nat Geo article was it). I mentioned this to my fiancé, because of course I have to share my esoteric minutiae with him whether he likes it or not.

Fiancé: Lumper? What a pathetic 1800's name for a vegetable. It's positively Dickensian.
Me: Evidently they're 'waxy'.
Fiancé: Oh, because that sounds great. But really, who looks at that and goes "I'm going to bring back the Lumper?"
Me: Please sir, may I have some more Lumpers?
Fiancé: All I've got left is a half smoked fag and a Lumper...
Me: A dog-end and a Lumper!

(because once one knows what a dog-end is, after Googling the lyrics to Aqualung, it's frustrating to realize how infrequently it comes up in conversation. It's just one of those idioms)