Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Collecting collections

I have a thing for picking up rocks. It's something I've always done, perhaps fostered by growing up on the shore gathering shells and beach glass. I've never sought an explanation, really. It's a thing I do.

My fiancé, though, finds it a little odd. Perhaps a further example of my "touched" nature. He doesn't really discourage me from it, just teases me when he sees evidence of what I've gathered. like lately, when I emptied out my on-loan laptop bag for my swag new one: I had a number of plastic figures, some animal, some not. I had a couple of rocks. And I had a little "medicine bag", given to me by a coworker who's recently left. He looked at my gatherings, examined the medicine bag, and (quite diplomatically, I think) said that I should take up leatherworking, so I can make my own medicine bags to put these batches of things in. My own "big medicine."

(Disclaimer: I am not Native American in any way, and these comments are not made in a denigrating or derogatory manner. It's just that, if there is medicine, personal is better.)

I've got a couple of completely round rocks that I've found. Round and flat.

I've got a piece of beach glass that's almost the entire bottom of a light blue bottle. Finding beach glass nowadays is rare, what with things like recycling instead of ocean dumping. Finding blue glass (even though this was light blue) is even more of a rarity. Though according to the article I linked, orange is the most rare. And, thinking on it, I can say that I don't think I've ever seen a single piece of beach glass that was orange; of course, orange also one of my least favorite colors, so I didn't really miss it.

I had a dream the other night wherein I just had to go fishing. I'm not sure what I was after, but I was using one of my dad's saltwater poles (Rhino brand, I believe it was). I happened to idly look through the little canvas fishing backpack he sometimes used; in one of the inner pockets was a collection of several rocks he had to have found, of varying sizes and shapes, a piece of beach glass that was part of the vertical tube of a bottle neck (brown), and some beads that looked like the king faces from a suit of cards. Later in the dream, I was at my grandparents' house, and realized my grandfather had secreted the fortunes from every fortune cookie he'd ever eaten in a side compartment on the couch (this one was rather odd, as I don't think they have Chinese food very often, nor have they had the same couches for, y'know, 80 years).

I guess it's a point of interest to disclose that my "senior quote" in my high school yearbook (they let us pick a quote to put under our senior picture, which were all uniformly taken at the school in the summer, with black shoulder wrap things provided for the girls and suit things provided for the guys) was "It is perhaps a better destiny to have a taste for collecting shells than to be born a millionaire", attributed (that I know of) to Robert Louis Stevenson.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Something to relate to

I haven't yet read a book by Hilary Mantel, but after reading Hilary Mantel: By the Book on the New York Times website, I was amused and intrigued. I can definitely relate to having a somewhat strange vocabulary as compared to those around me. I also was largely surrounded by adults, which really inhibited any board game play, let me tell you. People would buy me board games, but then hardly anybody would ever actually play them with me. As an adult now, I can understand. Sometimes it's less than fun to play kid games, even with precocious kids.

Interestingly, also like Hilary Mantel, I received collections of Children's Illustrated Classics for things like Christmas or my birthday, and so was exposed to Great Expectations, Black Beauty (which I don't know how I didn't mention in this post), and others when I was very young. I remember the copy of Kidnapped was misprinted, and so restarted on page 71 or so, and then jumped to 221 in the middle of that, so I've still not read the whole story. I also never revisited Great Expectations, even during my Dickens reading period at 11 or 12.

Mantel recommended a book in her "By the book" article as well (as another author has shown up this week, I guess it's going to be a regular thing in the times. Which is pretty rad, really), entitled Religion and the Decline of Magic, by Keith Thomas, which I feel I must get my hands on. Of course my library system doesn't have it, but the paperback is reasonably priced on Amazon; it's not one of those mythic out of print books you hear about and only see surface every once in awhile for hundreds of dollars.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Top 5 Posts (in my opinion) from Before I was Cool

Of course, that's assuming I'm cool now. But, soldiering onward, here are five posts that I particularly like, for one reason or another, that are in the archives.

1. Where Am I to Go, Now That I've Gone too Far: written when there was a piece floating around on the Interweb about whether Young Adult writing had gotten "too dark" (plus, I like the song the title is pulled from. "Twilight Zone", by Golden Earring. You should listen to it.)

2.  Notes to Myself: Self explanatory. I still do this, as bad if not worse. I have a blog post in the making regarding the belongings I cleared out of the laptop bag prior to the one I own now (you know, the Thomas Dunne bag!)

3. Brain Tricks: Written soon after the Sandy Hook shootings took place, though not really about that specific incident.

4. Putting Yourself in Their Shoes (or Head) ~Schizophrenia: This one apparently gets Google searched a lot (the topic, anyway. Not my blog specifically).

5. City in Ruins: Wherein I talk about my "favorite" abandoned city. Because of course I have one of those. It would be rather odd not to.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Your tongue is your ambassador

Fiancé: Your head has too many angles, like a thirty sided die.
Me: So what, I can play that French racing game?
Fiancé:Wow, good on you for coming up for a place the d30 is actually used. I have a keeper.

Bryan: I assume it's so high fantasy that you can't breathe the air up there.

Coworker: We were watching the beginning of the walking dead, and [my Fiancé] felt bad about the horse.
Me: Well that was totally Rick's fault. He was too much of a pussy to go into that house with the dead people.
Coworker: After all he's seen.....
Me: No. It's the zombie apocalypse. You go big or go home.
Coworker: YOLO.

Me: Look, it's the Bremen Town Musicians!
Fiancé: Does anybody ever know what the fuck you're talking about?

Bryan: I loved the fuck out of Sailor Moon at the time. Look at their faces. And it's stupid. Tuxedo Mask. Dumb as shit.

Fiancé: It's a fourth wall breaking knife YOU'RE IN A VIDEO GAME.

Me laughing
Fiancé: What are you doing?
Housemate: I just told her that I didn't know where we should put curtains.
Fiancé: They go on windows.

My fortune cookie: Your tongue is your ambassador
(I laughed until I cried. For five to ten minutes. While the rest of the table kind of awkwardly finished their meal.)

Me: So the AKC is following me on Twitter now.
Fiancé: They should. You're a crime against dogmanity.
Me:  .....what?

Monday, May 20, 2013

Nature red in tooth

So, part of my job "requirement" is to be up on the news, in case patrons talk to us. They don't, much, other than to bitch. But, things happen. So, I saw this headline in The Atlantic: Walk for your lives! Deadly giant snails are invading Texas!  I was intrigued, of course.

Before I clicked on the article, I also (of course) immediately had expectations. Perhaps you've read the delightfully chilling short story by Patricia Highsmith (yes, of Strangers on a Train and The Talented Mr. Ripley fame)? "The Quest for Blank Claveringi"? I think I first read it in an Alfred Hitchcock short story collection in 6th or 7th grade. I honestly thought you could read it online, but am having a hard time locating it.

 (Giant African Snail, from Wikimedia Commons)

Friday, May 17, 2013

Six degrees

So, my trains of thought (perhaps crazy trains? Though Crazy Train is the best song ever.) are odd voyages. I don't normally think so, because they're in my head. Normally I just think they're interesting, but sometimes by the time I open my mouth to share with somebody, I just get a completely blank look. So then I have to explain how I got there.

Example: I was telling one of my coworkers that the fiancé  and I were watching Hemlock Grove on Netflix (which, by the by, is quite good so far if you haven't watched it. I'm only up to episode 6 or something. I don't know how many there are. No spoilers). Only I kept wanting to call it Cypress Grove, for no good reason. Which made me think of China Grove, the Doobie Brothers song. Which then made me think of this Juicy Fruit commercial:

Once I'd explained this train to my coworker, she said "Your six degrees are always....interesting." I kind of laughed, and then thought on that for awhile. Because most people play the Six Degrees From Kevin Bacon game, but I don't really care about Kevin Bacon (though he's been very good on The Following, which I'm also not up to date on. But, James Purefoy is a serial killer, and that's what got me watching it in the first place. No spoilers.) So I asked her (probably after far too long a pause): "Six degrees of what?"  She said "What?" I explained that most people do the Kevin Bacon thing. So what was I doing? She looked mystified. So then I figured it could be dogs. Because after Juicy Fruit, there's the Big Red commercial, also from the 80's, where at the end the kissing couple is pulled apart by an Olde English Sheepdog.

Then I told the story to my fiancé, who said he would have taken it in a different direction, Big Red to Clifford, the Big Red Dog. Which is all well and good, but "Big Red" can also go in two animal directions. It's the title of a book by Jim Kjelgaard about an Irish Setter, or it's the nickname people usually use for horses. If I remember right, both Man o'War and Secretariat were called "Big Red" by the people around them.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Black market rhino horns, Irish Gypsies, and bitcoins

So, I promised you in A Lesson in Reading Labels that I would tell you a tale of international rhino horn sales. These are not, of course, legal rhino horn sales, because it seems there isn't such a thing any longer. It also would seem that Vietnam's nouveau riche has taken it into their heads that rhino horns are hallucinogenic, and will drink them ground up in wine (which, strangely, is a lot like the "identify" spell in 3rd edition Dungeons and Dragons, only that required a pearl ground up in wine). Rhino horns are made of keratin; y'know, the stuff our hair and fingernails is made of? Somebody should be making a killing off of these people selling "already ground rhino horn" that is in fact something more like "sweepings off the barber shop floor". Recycling, and it would serve them right.


Monday, May 13, 2013

A Dovetail of Interests

Last week on the Poodle (and Dog) blog, there was a post about an anthropologist and his dog. The kicker is that both have shuffled off this mortal coil. The anthropologist, Grover Krantz (evidently"the world's foremost Bigfoot expert") donated his remains to The Body Farm in Tennessee on the condition that his dogs must not be separated from him. Doug Owsley, a Smithsonian Institute forensic anthropologist (and one of the people who identified bodies at Waco, Texas, after the raid on the Branch Davidians), used Dr. Krantz's remains along with those of one of his beloved Irish Wolfhounds in an exhibit, which shares a title with Owsley's book, Written in Bone: Bone Biographer's Casebook. Doug Owsley is not to be confused with Owsley Stanley, the storied LSD provider (cooker, even?) for the Grateful Dead. Only so many degrees away, though, I guess.

Well. These two things are a match made in heaven for me. Dogs and forensics? Perfect!

The Body Farm (Colloquially named; its actually the University of Tennessee Forensic Anthropology Center), if you don't know (have I posted about it before? If not, I've been remiss), is where forensic students may study the decay of human bodies in various conditions. That's right; people who donated their bodies to science may then be out in the elements, in a garbage bag, in a car, etc. so that scientists may better learn about the stages of decomposition in those circumstances. Having hard observations of such things are extremely valuable when discerning cause and time of death in a death investigation. Bill Bass has written several fantastic books on the topic, and it's also mentioned in Mary Roach's book Stiff: the curious lives of human cadavers (a book I really just ought to own).

Anthropology is another one of those "missed majors" I had in college. I really enjoyed the anthropology classes I took, but it never occurred to me to switch to that from psychology. Might I have been happier? Might I have discovered my interest in forensics all those years ago instead of now, and have collegiate education in it instead of my frenetic layperson's research? It's funny; the job my grandmother had for years and years was as a secretary in the hospital where I was the pathology department. I spent a little bit of time there in her office, every once in awhile, if there was a gap in daycare, or secretary day, or really I don't know why I was there. But I remember spending some time on one of those visits drawing animal "skeletons" and telling people I was going to be a veterinarian. I may or may not have received a Barbie veterinarian just prior to that visit, complete with pink scrubs in dress form, a white coat, and a white dog. I'm sure her shoes were white pumps as well, for the total practicality. I certainly know I didn't really know what skeletons looked like at the time. But it's funny to think back on these little breadcrumbs through my life, and put together my interests now, and paths I could have taken.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Why Rummage Sales are Worth It

At times, I'm bad about impulse purchasing. I've really improved, and was never a shopaholic, but I do have a compulsion to go to rummage sales, rubberneck at garage sales, and periodically peruse Salvation Army (which really, you should, as you end up with pieces of the Berlin Wall, or a Sushi cookbook in Spanish that you can give a friend for Christmas). I'm not quite so bad as, say, Gallagher's wife, whose explanation (per his standup routine) was "But it's on sale! Somebody else might buy it! Then it's our stuff in somebody else's house!" But I've felt like that on occasion. I don't want to miss something that would change my life.

So. The church next to the library has a twice yearly (at least) rummage sale, in the Spring and at Christmas. I go to it regularly, even though 4 out of 5 times, I don't find anything I need. But, I've been looking for a laptop bag for some months now. I had a bag that was suede (or more like wash leather, I guess) from Wilson's Leather, but it was Jim's, on perpetual loan. Then the strap started fraying because for a little while I had a paracord bracelet on it, and though it was plastic, it started the woven strap unraveling. So. Rather than thoroughly ruin his bag, I sought a new one.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Horse Crazy

The horse I picked to win the Kentucky Derby did not. I'm disappointed, but not, because had he won, I would not have won any money. I don't bet on the Derby, nor do I have the opportunity to watch it in real time. Once a year, I just look at the horses, glance at their pedigrees, and make my choices. Really, I thought Revolutionary was going to win, because he had such a beautiful head. I almost put Orb (the actual winner) on my list because he was the only one with Nijinsky in his lines, and then I did not. I picked Java's War, and then Mylute because black horses are my favorite (and, had Mylute won, it would have been the first time a female jockey rode to victory in the Kentucky Derby). Interestingly, every horse in the derby seemed to have Native Dancer in his pedigree; I didn't realize we'd reached such a bottleneck with thoroughbreds. A couple had Secretariat and thus also Seattle Slew.

 (public domain image of Churchill Downs May 14 2008 from Wikimedia Commons)

I first read The Black Stallion by Walter Farley when I was six or seven. I fell in love with every aspect of it; the survival story near the beginning, the friendship between the boy and the horse, the pounding crucial heartbeat of the track. I of course thought my adult life would be devoted to horses and horse racing, nevermind that I had, to date, only been on a couple of pony rides at fairs. In fifth grade, my class went to some thing that they had at Brookdale Community College for elementary school writers. One of the classes was with Walter Farley's brother, whose name escapes me, and he had a little "contest" for the essays we wrote for him. I won, and got a copy of The Black Stallion's Filly, in which he wrote his brother would have wanted me to continue writing. That thrilled my ten year old soul.

My family did not run out and rent or buy me a horse (probably wise of them). I got many of the Walter Farley books, and books on horses. I got  a few lessons a summer, probably about 6 Thursdays a year, given to me on my birthday in July, starting when I was 8 or 9, finishign the year I turned 15 (16 was the year I took a 10 day trip to Ireland with one of the local schools, and then I had a job after that. It never occurred to me, I guess, that I could get my own lessons.) When we went to Cape Hatteras, one of my aunts or the other would take me for the hour long horse ride you could "rent" there, walking on trails on the widest portion of land that the sandy spit in the ocean has. Pure heaven, all of it.

It's a particular smell, horse. The sweat of the horse, and your sweat. The saddle leather, the horse's mane, the hooves when you pick out the packed dirt and hay. The dust from a horse ring is so very fine as it hangs in the air and settles in the lines of your knuckles, the seams of your jeans.  The carrots in your pocket for the end of it, when you've walked the horse and rubbed him down. You become aware of balance as a Thing, a cantilever of toes, knees, hips, shoulders. You hold the reins in your hands gently, as though they're raw eggs that you might crack. You pay attention to the breathing animal beneath you, ears flicking just ahead of your gaze, head bobbing with the steps. The horse, those lesson horses, they know what you should be doing. You learn from them, and from the teacher, standing down there in the dirt watching you and calling out directions.

My fiancé even went to far as to tell me, in college, that he would buy me a horse if I never got a motorcycle. He's never bought me a horse, per se, but Elka is pretty close. I've heard that a lot of Doberman people are horse people, in fact. She's big, she possesses that sort of equine grace and gallop, and sure stomps on us pretty frequently (more than horses ever did, in fact). I know so much better, now, how to listen. How to read shifts of muscle, stiffness of lines. If I ever make it back to horses, I can only hope that even as an adult novice, I'm more perceptive than I was as a teenager, easier on mouths, less stiff of back.

The memories are so very vivid for me even now. Certain smells bring me back to a riding ring, or the summer sky a certain particular shade. We've all got memories like this, locked away in the recesses, to be brought back by a smell, or taste, or texture. These are the goldmines that we writers loot when we have the chance, because to make things that much more real is to make your story that much more alive.

Zenyatta is the horse to listen about here: Watch how she comes from dead last to second. Her jockey erred gravely at the beginning and she still almost won.

Friday, May 3, 2013

When Seahorses Attack

Me: Why would you cry at your wedding? Maybe I am a sociopath.

Me: Nobody puts Debra in the corner. Okay, now we have to sing Time of Your Life. From Dirty Dancing, not Green Day. What a different movie that would have been! Where would you even do the lift in that?
Coworker: Nope, I'm done.

Patron: I used to drive for two people, but they've since died.
Me: Yes, that happens. *After she's gone, I turn from the desk to see both my coworkers, red-faced to keep from cracking up.* What?
Coworker: She's all "Those people died" and you're like "Yeah, they do that."

Fiancé *making a character on Dragon's Dogma*: Can I get bushier eyebrows on this? I want like, caterpillars having sex.
Housemate: They don't put that in games anymore.

Overheard from the porch party across the street: "I'm a PUREBRED, man, I can't break the bloodline!"

Again from the party across the street: "Steve, put the Goddamn cigarette away! Put the cigarette away, we're dancing!"

Coworker: Aren't pandas the gentlest of bears?
Me: Maybe the laziest. They don't even have sex right.
Coworker: What?
Me: Pandas in captivity. They don't reproduce right for some reason, so they show the panda porn.
Coworker: Why do you know this? Does Jim know you know this?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Categorizing Categoricals (themes, genres, age groups....)

I've realized (or perhaps known for a long time) that many of my novels (not necessarily the stories) are hung on a framework of restaurants and road trips. My recent delight in Google Street View has fostered this, as one must imagine, but even before Street View, I did this. I think part of it has to do with the impression that characters undergoing physical motion are getting somewhere. No pun intended. The characters drive somewhere, the plot moves. Certain things happen at certain landmarks. Read American Gods; Neil Gaiman does it. Read Neverwhere; he does it again. Read The Sun Also Rises, and Hemingway does it too. Characters in motion are learning and growing and speaking in motion, and so the plot carries itself along. Most books don't take place in one room. Even As I Lay Dying involved travel, motion, momentum. The Grapes of Wrath.

I say "my novels" in as grand a way as possible, of course. They live on my hard drive. Not a single other living soul has read them. I'm working to change that, obviously (it's always after something, though. After I finish this next draft. After I finish the query), but that's how it currently stands. I've even been researching agents who seem to be looking for what I offer! Genre wise, I mean. Not riveting descriptions of snarky conversation over coffee in a Southern roadside diner.

My short stories are less restaurant and road trip themed; I'm not sure I could attribute any one label to them. They aren't "literary" either, though that term for me has become so elastic I'm not sure it would hold my pants up. What is literary? What is genre? What the fuck does it matter? I mean, some things are so genre it hurts, and they've become a parody of themselves. You can look at a cover image and know how things are going to go, whether virtue is going to be chastely lost on page 120 after the gloves are taken off, or whether the main female character will be a badass, or whether the main male character will be somewhat bumbling but good-hearted. My short stories are not really O. Henry Award or Pushcart Prize contenders; it would be cool if maybe one of them made it into something like The Best American Nonrequired reading (Which tend to be awesome and interesting yearly collections; I especially like the year that had "The Death of Mustango Salvaje", which was about a female bullfighter. 2005? David Eggers may have been the editor). I like trying to think of story as character driven; perhaps my time as a tabletop role playing gamer has fostered this. Perhaps not. I once won second place in the Dungeons and Dragons "competition" at a gaming convention. I got a Hellboy t-shirt (it's when the first movie came out).

Which then brings me to the age categories for the novels. Children's (nope), MG (middle grade; nope), YA (Young Adult, which I guess my Steampunk offerings would probably fall under. They're full of plucky heroines, friendship, and fairly clean), the Learn to Howl Books (this is a toughie. I think they're Adult, though the narrator, Allie, is young. Like 17 young. But, the narrator in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is very young, and so was Scout Finch, and so is Huckleberry Finn, and Alan Bradley's main character, and those are "adult" books. But I keep hearing this term "New Adult" bandied about. Do we need that? What makes one thing one way and another not?").

Does genre affect classification? The Alan Bradley books (the first is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie) are Mysteries. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is typically shelved in the Adult Fiction section (that I know of), and is certainly viewed as literary. The Chronicles of Narnia typically involve children, and my library has them in the Juvenile section (MG, I'd guess, in publisher speak). I'm trying to think of science fiction novels with younger characters. Orphans of Chaos by John C. Wright starts out at a boarding school, and revolves around known world mythologies; shelved in the adult section (in my library system). Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children; mostly adult, though some libraries in the system have it in YA.

Is it something worth fighting over? Is there any kind of "stigma" attached to being a "Young Adult Author" who then writes grown up books? An adult author who switches to YA? In the eyes of a lot of the reading public I interact with, there seems to be. There are people who were excited for a new John Grisham......until they realized it was YA. People who didn't read Harry Potter for its age designation (and, presumably, the fact that it was about magic) are clamoring for The Casual Vacancy. 

Frankly, I feel that "real" readers read across the genres, the ages, ignore the foiled covers, sink their teeth into the wordy worlds nestled in the pages. But sometimes I'm put off by a cover, or a blurb. I don't really read mysteries (though I will read thrillers, and there's some overlap there). I'll still read picture books (This is Not My Hat is one of the best that's come out recently, as its Caldecott win attests), Jay Asher's YA Thirteen Reasons Why, The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron (Juvenile), etc. etc. Good books are good books, across age and across genre.