When I was very young, my mother had a little tan Chihuahua named Peaches. Everybody loved the little dog (my first word was “Peaches”), except for my paternal grandmother. She couldn’t stand Peaches and the feeling was mutual. Once when she and my grandfather were visiting, Peaches got sick in the middle of the night, and even though the vet was good enough to get out of bed and meet my mother at the clinic, the dog still died. I think I was about three, and I have disjointed, pastel memories of my mother coming home very early in the morning, crying, and a backyard funeral with a shady grave.
Fast-forward twenty years. My mother had been battling breast cancer for a couple of years, and Alzheimer’s was just settling in on my grandmother. She couldn’t remember what she had just eaten for lunch, but she could remember her stories from way back when. One of her favorites, that she told over and over, was about the time that my grandfather had taken to feeding a stray dog. She thought it was a waste of resources to feed a mongrel that nobody wanted, so one day, when my grandfather was out in the cotton field, she shot the dog.
The proverbial chill went down my spine. From the first time I ever heard the story, I wondered if she had done something to Peaches. I never asked her directly, because sometimes, it’s better to wonder than to know. But I think this is one of the roots of my fascination with sociopaths.
I had a dream night before last that I was on a werewolf prevention committee for a school. We would run a blood test and something like an MRI on prospective students. Our classes were “Guaranteed 100% Werewolf Free!” A girl applied to our school (she was 10ish) and right away we knew she was a werewolf. There was a big meeting about why she had applied and who put her up to it. And now that we knew she was a werewolf, what were we going to do with her?
So, all day, I’ve been thinking about the nature of discrimination. Sure, there’s the good kind of discrimination where you’re able to tell whether that designer handbag on Craig’s List is the real deal or a cheap knock-off. But what about the kind where a group of people are excluded because of some trait or characteristic they have no control over (like skin color, left or right handedness, ethnicity)? Can that ever be good? If so, where does the line fall, and how blurry is it? While I don’t have any actual polling data to back up this claim, I would submit that that parents who are NOT opposed to their children being devoured by werewolves are the miniscule minority. But if werewolves only change during nights of the full moon, is this really an issue during school hours? Does that make it okay for boarding schools to discriminate against werewolves, but not day schools? Do all werewolves even want to devour children, or do our preconceptions and prejudices bestow truthiness on this idea? It makes me wonder how much threat is over-perceived from Others – those not “like” us. It’s certainly smart to be aware of “stranger danger.” But the truth is (at least statistically) that we are much more likely to be killed by someone we know.
P.T. Barnum didn’t invent freak shows, but he elevated them to the next level. He was the ultimate promoter and he knew what people liked. Freak show detractors said, “What about human rights? What about the dignity of the performers?” The freaks tended to respond, “Dignity, schmignity. Have you seen our paychecks?” But circuses themselves have fallen on hard times and sideshows with them.
But the freak show never really lost its appeal. It just goes by a different name: Reality TV. Clearly, there wouldn’t be much drama if sensible people were stuck in an unrealistic situation in front of TV cameras. I don’t know what the personality disorder criteria are for participant selection, but they have to put the “fun” in dysfunctional somehow. And so we have Snooki’s booki. I would like to think that Snooki is a persona that Nicole Polizzi puts on for the benefit of the Jersey Shore audience, and that while everyone is laughing at Snooki’s book, Nicole is laughing all the way to the bank. I choose to believe that, because otherwise it would make me sad to think that Snooki really believed that her book was good literature that people would choose to read, right after they finished that Janet Evanovich or Sue Grafton book. And for that to happen, more than one person would have had to have been in on taking advantage of an intellectually challenged person. And that’s just mean. But as David Hannum (not P.T. Barnum) once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
Few things smell as good to me as freshly made cold process soap. Something about soapmaking appeals to the mad scientist in me. I offered to donate a basket of handmade soaps to the silent auction at the Cheval Bayard release party. It was a little more adventure than I bargained for today, though. When I climbed up on a chair to reach the lye in the cupboard above the refrigerator, I almost dropped a box of jelly jars. After I added my lye water to my oils (olive, coconut and soybean), the soap wouldn’t trace. That’s never happened to me. But then I discovered a big lump of lye in the bottom of the jar. I briefly thought about dumping in the chunk and breaking it up with the stick blender. I could have labeled it “Mini-Peel in a Bar!” But I dumped that batch and made another, which nearly set up in the pot when I added the lavender oil. I got a little pre-soap spatter on my cheek (yes, I always wear safety glasses!) and had to put some vinegar on it. But I could only find mirin (seasoned rice vinegar). And I knocked over the jar of lavender EO. I ended up smelling kind of like lavender sushi. But that batch of lavender soap used up the last of my olive oil and I had to take the kids to Phoenicia on the way home from school to get some more. I love that market. Made another batch of unscented soap when we got home. I may throw in some bath fizzies and MP glycerin soaps, if I have enough time.
rarely go inside the bank. But I was there today, opening a new account. It was kind of like stepping into a Scott Westerfield novel. All of the gentlemen that worked there looked like they could be underwear models. It was almost creepy. The cynical side of me wondered if the bank has a hiring bias towards very attractive young men. Perhaps to entice elderly widows into making larger deposits or using more bank services. I don’t mean to sound disparaging – I’m sure they are all well-qualified. And exercise and personal hygiene are good things. It just seemed unnatural to me that there was not a single average-looking employee in the bank lobby. It made me think of Stepford Wives (bankers?) or Eloi. If so, where are the Morlocks hiding? What might be lurking in the bank vault? If they offered gym membership coupons, should I run?
Someone, somewhere came up with the idea of writing things on balloons and letting them go. Might be wishes or messages for the dead, or anything else somebody wants help with. I suppose that is a more modern take on incense. The ancients believed that as it wafted into the air, it carried their prayers up to the Gods. Balloons might seem like a more fun update to this ritual. Except for that pesky gravity thing. What floats up and away from you, floats down somewhere else. Perhaps in a lake or ocean where it can injure or kill wildlife. Maybe in someone else’s yard, where they have to pick up your trash and dispose of it. Just such a balloon turned up in my yard last week.
On one side of the balloon, written in Sharpie marker: “My Dreams
- I dream to fly
- Be a pharmacist
- Open up a pharmacy
- Support my family
- Not to be rich, but to get money I need
- To get two twin girls.”
On the other side was: “Please take these things away from me!
- Unusual sleep!
- Bad words!
- Not letting people learn
- Hurting others
- Hide stuff from people
- Not kind!
Now, how about that for a character-creating workshop? Here are the hopes, dreams, and bad habits of an actual person, as they perceive them. Although, I would suggest that if you have honesty issues, a pharmacy is probably a dangerous choice for you. Especially if you have problems with unusual sleep.
Now, I am all for self-improvement. None of us is so perfect that we can’t make ourselves better in some way or another. But I have a suggestion. Instead of degrading the environment to upgrade yourself, try writing the things you want to have/want to banish on a piece of paper. Either burn the paper and bury the ashes or just bury the paper and let it compost in the soil. That’s a much more environmentally friendly alternative to the balloon ritual. That and your innermost wishes don’t end up on somebody’s blog.
During my K-12 years at school, I had a few awful teachers and a few excellent teachers. Most were somewhere in between. One of the excellent ones, Mrs. Williford, died last Wednesday. I had Mrs. Williford for Texas History in 7th Grade and American History in 8th grade. She had a little black dog named Miss Foo, who was always up to something. Mrs. Williford was funny and dramatic and had a way of making history come alive – some great adventure that actually happened, instead of it being a desiccated list of the names of long-dead people that had to be memorized for a test. In 8th grade, we held a debate. We did some research and chose whether we were Torries or Whigs. Then we had to defend our position. There were three of us Torries (looking back, I suspect one guy just did for the sake of being contrarian). It was an exercise in critical thinking. Most people didn’t get it. They chose Whigs. Why? “Uh…I’m American?” But I appreciated it. I thought it was exciting and I probably learned more about American history than at any time before or since.
We expect junkies and alcoholics to die young and probably miserably. We aren’t surprised when violent criminals end up face down in a pool of their own blood. So why is it that someone who is smart, kind, talented and a just all-around great person gets cancer and has to live the last few months of her life constantly having to adjust her pain meds just to get through each day? There are lots of schools of thought on this. I think it is because everyone on this world is here for a purpose. A mission. The wisest and strongest souls are the ones to take on the hardest assignments. Maybe they need that final bit of tempering to move up to the next level. Perhaps they need to gain a certain perspective. Personalities fade. Bodies fail. But that eternal spark of the Divine that is in each of us always loves, always knows, always remembers.
So rest in peace, Mrs. Williford. I’m sure you got an A+ on your end of life review. You & Miss Foo have that cosmic teacher’s textbook now.
“I’m sure this is marketable, but it isn’t right for our list.”
“You have a compelling character and an interesting premise, but we don’t think this book fits with others on our list.”
I had lots of requests for partials and some requests for completes. I even did extensive re-writes for an agent (not complaining – it made the book better). I sent the first 10 pages for critique at SCBWI conferences and got encouraging feedback from both Libba Bray and Cynthia Leitich Smith. They had some wonderful insights that I think improved the story arc. I took it to critique groups until they were probably sick to death of reading it. But their questions and suggestions made the story better. I had beta readers review and comment. Still, I continued to get “good” rejections.
Then my husband heard about Podiobooks from a work colleague. He urged me to let him make podcasts of the book. It took me a while to warm up to the idea, I admit. After the last rejection I received (with the agent saying it was a marketable project, but…), I decided to let him do it. Why not? Nothing I was doing seemed to be making any headway. He started recording – reading, adding text and sound effects. We loaded the first episode on March 31 and got 444 downloads that day. There is only one review so far, but the book has gotten 5 stars in all four categories. One of the most exciting things for me is looking at my stats and seeing where my listeners are. The vast majority are in the US. But there have been downloads in 38 countries. I check every day to see if we’ve picked up a new country.
Another reason I decided to try the “New Media” route is that the publishing industry is going through some major evolutionary changes. I have never gone to a conference and met an editor or agent that I thought Wow! How does this person dress themselves and find their way to work in the morning? These are not stupid people. The industry does, however, have huge capital investments in the current business model. It doesn’t make good business sense to chuck it all out the window to do something completely different, especially when that something is still in the formative stages. They are all scrambling to figure out how to keep producing a quality product at a profit in a quickly changing technological landscape.
As an individual, it is easy for me to try different approaches and see what does (or doesn’t) work. There are a lot of New Media trailblazers: Seth Harwood, Scott Sigler, J.A. Konrath, Karen McQuestion and “Kindle-rella” author Gayle Trent, among others. I’m watching and learning.
No one ever says, “Man, I wish something really awful would happen to me today.” Most of us say we want to go on a vacation, win the lotto, find that certain special someone. Good things. Nice things. And yet we humans appear to be hardwired for adversity. That’s why the fairy tales all stop at “…and they lived happily ever after.” Most of us would like to do it, but we don’t care to read about it. That’s boring. Maybe it is because hearing about someone else’s perfect life makes ours seem shabbier by comparison, or maybe it is because we need someone to cheer for. We want to see Cinderella’s wicked stepmother and the ugly stepsisters get their comeuppance. We want Cindy to get the handsome prince. But after she wins, we lose interest. It could also be that we like maps. If a character in a story is going through some of the same trauma and troubles that we are, there is a camaraderie, a bond. We might even get some ideas or inspiration to handle our own situation. If nothing else, we know that there is at least one other person in the world who understands. We are not alone.
That, and we’re a shameless bunch of rubberneckers.
1. The first verse of the Major General song from Pirates of Penzance.
2. There is a point of exhaustion which even three consecutive cups of coffee cannot overcome.
3. People who do not use contractions when they speak sound really, really weird.
4. Outlines aren’t everything.
5. I can write 50,000 words in less than 30 days.
I finished my NaNoWriMo project yesterday afternoon. Hooray! It was very cool to get my winner badge. It was even cooler that the whole thing is finished (okay, except for major editing and revisions on the rough draft).
At the very beginning, NaNoWriMo was easy. I had a very basic outline (about 1 sentence/chapter). The second week was harder. Then, due to the rules of the world created in the earlier chapters, the characters could not actually do what I had wanted them to do in the outline. So I took a detour. I never made it back to the main highway. That part (3rd week) was hard because I had no idea what the characters were going to do or why. Then I got to the end of the story. At 42,008 words. I went back and added some scenes, but was still about 5,000 words short. So I added an epilogue. I think the epilogue is really the first three chapters of the next book. Two of my strategies to pump up word count were to not use contractions and to tag every single line of dialogue. Those are two things you should not do unless you have a really, really good reason, because you will just have to go back and undo them later.
The BRIGHT side of NaNoWriMo: It forces you to gag your inner editor and lock him/her in a closet and just “let the wild man run free.” It is kind of like brainstorming – maybe some of the ideas are unusable at the end, but you do come up with some interesting things, things you might not have thought of if you were leisurely typing away, carefully crafting your sentences and sticking to your detailed outline. That is very liberating. You end up with at least part of a first draft for a novel.
The DARK side of NaNoWriMo: It forces you to go for word count, so instead of trying to say the most with the least number of words, you tend to say the least with the most number of words. It is hard. There is about the same amount of sleep deprivation as there is having a brand new baby. It is hard.
You sometimes have to pass on fun things. You tend to let things slide more than usual. Did I mention that it is hard?
I think that all aspiring novelists should do NaNoWriMo at least once. I am pretty sure I will not do it every year from now on, but I might do it again sometime. Now I have to try to go and catch up on all the things I neglected while I was NaNoWriMo-ing.