Saturday, January 28, 2006

Cat Quirks

Most cats have quirks. Some are common quirks, like plant terrorizing and ankle batting. My cat's are a bit unique, I think.

The least unique is the dining-room-table-hockey. Whatever is up there, comes down and gets batted around until it's dead. Never mind that it was never alive. Pretend is part of the game. One morning I got up and found my daughter's chapstick on the floor. I picked it up and put it on the table, then walked toward the kitchen. The cat was nowhere in sight. I heard a click, turned around, and the chapstick was gone. Still no Maya in sight. Stealth Cat.

More unique is her ability to save us from Little Toy Army Guys. My husband used to play with those as a kid. You know the kind. Green plastic, had a supporting role in Toy Story? So I bought him a bag one year for Christmas. He had them set up in battle formation on the wide picture window windowsill in our basement. Every so often he and the kids will clean up and the army guys will get set up all nice and neat. The next day we come home, and the litter the ground around the pool table. Casualties of Stealth Cat.

Her funniest, though, is her water thing. She won't drink out of her own bowl, which is pinkish (but not in a bad way) plastic. She prefers to drink out of the dog's water bowl, which is metal. Or, her highest preference, my water glass. I tend to leave them around. She just came into my office, leapt onto the desk, sniffed the two glasses on it--one was empty, the other too tall for her to get into--and left. *I* am most definitely chopped liver.

Last night my husband pulled a funny on her. Whenever the dog doesn't finish her food, the cat helps her out. She'll help her out ANYtime, gladly. We always figured she was just a little piggy and didn't think we were feeding her enough. But last night the dog had to go out while the kids were getting the food ready. Cat started eating her food. Dog's food was in her dish, but dog was outside. Cat abandoned her half-full dish and started eating the dog food.

My husband chased her away, let the dog in, then dumped the cat's food in punishment. Maya returned to the kitchen a few minutes later and just sat there, starin at the dish.

Poor Stealth Cat.

So What, I Flinched?

For a long time, it was difficult for me to watch less-than-stellar TV or movies. Continuity and logic issues always drove me nuts. Most writers have a problem with entertainment, because they’ve trained themselves to pick apart the writing, find the flaws and think about how to fix them, or even analyze why something works.

Oddly, the longer my writing career has gone, the more tolerant I am. I only watch TV shows that really, really hook me. Like, two-episodes-of-Alias-on-DVD-every-night-until-all-four- seasons-are-done-unless-my-Netflix-timing-is-bad, hook me. If something hooks me that well, I don’t care if there are logic flaws or continuity issues or problems with characterization. I’m very tolerant of mediocre movies, too, because I use them to disengage my brain. Unless they’re Catwoman or War of the Worlds bad, I can enjoy the show.

So when I’m watching something fictional, especially something suspenseful, I allow myself to get fully drawn into it. When something sudden happens, I jump—even if I was expecting it. This always makes my husband laugh and point. “Ha ha, you jumped and I didn’t.” My question is, why is that bad?

We’re primitively conditioned to jump. If a sabretooth tiger is going to leap out of the bushes, jumping might get you out of the way. If a fist is coming toward your face, it might save you a black eye. It’s just good fortune that those of us who get picked on for flinching, or who pride themselves on not flinching, don’t have to worry about such things as a general rule.

Also, if a bit of entertainment makes me jump when the writer/director/editor wanted me to, that’s a GOOD thing. I feel sorry for anyone who holds himself so distant from what they’re watching that they aren’t surprised or affected by it. Entertainment is one of our few pure pleasures, and should be allowed to be such.

Unless not flinching is your entertainment. If so, well, go ahead and laugh at me.

*&^*((&%% Soccer Times

We had a 7:30 soccer game this morning.

On Saturday.

She had to be there at 7:10.

Yes, they are insane.

And I'm very, very tired.

On the other hand, we got a full day's worth of activity accomplished before noon.

We should get up before six every Saturday!


Why I Write

A friend posted on her blog yesterday an analysis of why she writes. It was very introspective and even philosophical, and of course made me imagine what I'd say if someone asked me why I write.

Well, since this blog's purpose is to give me a chance to ask questions no one asks me, here is my response:

*blank stare*

For me, asking why I write is like asking my dog why she marks every two feet when we go for a walk. It's what she does. It's what she's good at. And she simply has to.

In fact, the whole question is kind of dumb. No one asks all those people auditioning for American Idol why they sing. Or an artist why she paints. Okay, they probably do, but the questioning isn't saying "why sing instead of collecting garbage," they're asking "why choose to sing here, for this reason."

Which means the question really is, why write for publication?

That one's a little harder to answer. Wry Write? is just verifying the person's talent. Why write for publication is really, why struggle to do something so hard when the chance of success is so small? People do ask that question, every day, of those striving to succeed in any demanding, competitive profession, like acting or CEOing or panhandling in Grand Central.

The answer, however, is also a blank stare.

It's embedded in all those little bits that make up who I am--a compulsive reader who loveslovesloves popular fiction; a Capricorn, the birth sign of competitive, ambitious people; an oldest child of a single mother who was a staunch feminist and a very strong proponent of the Idea that I could be president of the US if I damn well wanted to; a control freak who likes the idea of a profession where I can call most of the shots; a believer in having something that's totally your own, in a way that motherhood and wifedom and Working For Someone Else are not.

Really, the more appropriate question is, Why Not?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Why Frey’s Alleged Lies Aren’t No Big Deal

A lot of people are shrugging off the allegations that James Frey embellished and/or lied in his best-selling memoir, A Million Little Pieces. “It’s just a book,” they say. “The underlying theme of redemption still resonates.” While those are both true, I say they are unimportant.

When a person reads a fictional account of a person overcoming a hardship, there is a buffer in the impact such a thing can have. The theme can resonate, can move the reader, can even inspire. But while it is possible for it to make someone change his or her life, it is unlikely. There’s always the knowledge that it’s made up, no different than their own wishes that they could do the same.

When a person reads a memoir, however, that proves something can be overcome, it can provide the “click” the reader needs to take the steps to do the same. Belief is the difference—if the writer can do it, so can the reader. It did happen, so it can happen.

Oprah can imply it’s no big deal because she didn’t have those obstacles to overcome. Yes, the writing was good, and yes, she was moved. But would things have been different if she’d been a cocaine addict and responsible for someone’s death? If someone read A Million Little Pieces and it inspired them to overcome their own addictions and problems, and they’re already past it, that’s great. But what about those who are still struggling? What about someone who is working hard to overcome, and believes so strongly that they can do it because James Frey did, then finds out they were lied to? It’s permission to give up. There’s no point. It can’t happen, because it didn’t happen.

Some might call me melodramatic. They might accuse me of bitterness because of the rumors that he wrote it as fiction and it didn’t sell, so he pitched it as a memoir and it did. I will admit to a little annoyance. I’m a goody-two-shoes and it always bothers me when people get rewarded for doing the things I would never do to get ahead. But his alleged lies don’t affect me at all. They didn’t keep me off the bestseller list and I’m not one of those who would be inspired by his story. I didn’t read it, so there’s not even any personal betrayal.

But this is not a little white lie like telling your girlfriend her dress doesn’t make her look fat. This is bigger and more important than that, and shouldn’t be brushed aside with a “no big deal.”

Friday, January 20, 2006

Inciting Incident

Writing advice goes in waves. For a while, it will seem like everyone is talking about a particular aspect of the craft. Then focus shifts to something else, and eventually comes back to that original topic when everyone misunderstands what was meant by it.

One such aspect is the inciting incident, or "start at the right place." Last year it seemed there was a lot of discussion (in articles and workshops and online) about stories that start too early and are loaded with what should be backstory, sometimes pages, sometimes whole chapters, that bog down the beginning of the story. With excitement, authors talked about cutting the first two chapters and sprinkling in those details instead, and how much better the book is. And that's a good thing.

The problem is, now many authors are starting too late.

I have been reading a lot of unpublished work lately, for large and small contests and to help out some friends. Some of these have been novels, but most have been short stories or novellas. I've actually seen it in some published books, too. "It" being a starting point in sequel rather than scene.

Don't show me a character walking into her house, despondent or freaked or angry or even happy, then have her sit in a chair thinking about--or worse, telling her cat about--all the exciting stuff that just happened to her, and all the events that led up to that exciting stuff. The "inciting incident" that launches the story is not the main character's REACTION. It's the ACTUAL INCIDENT. If someone gets fired, open the book with "you're fired." If their house burns down, show me the character fighting the flames, or struggling to get out, or even what they were doing when the Molotov cocktail came through the front window. I don't want to be standing out on the street, tapping my foot as they stare at the smoking ruin and REMEMBER all that. I want to be in it with them.

One published book I read--it was a good book, too, and I was glad I kept going with it--started with the heroine trying to get up the nerve to go into the police station with an incredible story. She stood next to her car recalling the events of that incredible story, then started up the steps. Scene break. Next scene is the heroine arriving home, proceeding to think about what had just happened in the police station. I wanted to BE there with her during the incredible events as they happened, and I wanted to BE there when she had her horrible debriefing with the police.

What happens is that misunderstanding "don't start the story too soon" ends up violating "show, don't tell" in the most basic of ways, and that's even more detrimental to the story than infodumping backstory.

Luckily, it's not that hard to fix. The events are there, becuase you're describing them. Just back up, and describe them in active voice, unfolding them as they happen, without "had"ing the story to death.

I guarantee you'll have a better book.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

BIG new project

New projects are always exciting. I love meeting my characters, learning their stories, plotting them into and out of messes and despair (the pit of despair is one of my favorite places to start them off). I REALLY love discovering who the bad guy is (when there is a bad guy) and tying bits together from early in the book to later in the book.

The thing is, I love doing all this on my own. So Blue Silver is quite a challenge for me.

My publisher, Amber Quill Press, puts out collections called AmberPaxes. These are sets of five stories that are generally unconnected, but fit a theme. My story Elemental Passion in Bewitched, Bothered, and Beguiled was one of five different takes on magic. My upcoming story A Matter of Choice is in the Prying Eyes AmberPax, which is all about spies. I've done several of these now, and it's a lot of fun making my story fit the theme. But except for that one element, the story is all mine.

Now I'm part of something much more ambitious. Megan Hart, Jacki King, Penny Dawn, Ellie Marvel, and I are writing a collection that all centers around one band and two nights--the one in the past when our character's dreams were yanked out of their reach, and the one now where they get a second chance at capturing it. The stories all intertwine, with multiple characters participating in all the stories.

We've just gotten started (the collection and individual stories will be available in July 2006) and I'm having so much FUN. The brainstorming has been excellent, the worldbuilding falling nicely into place, and my fellow writers are all so good, it's a pleasure to read their character sketches, never mind their drafts.

I know collaborations don't always go smoothly, and I'm a huge control freak, so I'm really pleased with our progress and excited about the end results.

Stay tuned!

Monday, January 09, 2006

I Can't Help Myself

I try to refrain from making any political statements on here, but my husband forwarded this to me today, and I LOVE IT. If anyone knows where it originated, please let me know so I can give proper credit.

10 Reasons Gay Marriage is Wrong:

1. Being gay is not natural. And as you know Americans have always rejected unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.

2. Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.

3. Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because, as you know, a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.

4. Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.

5. Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed. The sanctity of Britney Spears' 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.

6. Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.

7. Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.

8. Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That's why we have only one religion in America.

9. Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.

10. Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


A lot of my fellow bloggers are looking back at 2005, but I'm not feeling very inclined to do that. I'm too excited about moving forward.

I have three short stories and a book coming out this year. In theory. First short story is done, accepted, and nearing release. Second short story is nearly written, but not quite there yet. I'm a bit behind. Third short story is a major collaboration, very much fun but very difficult--and we haven't even really gotten to the hard work yet. The book is also way behind, but I'll get there.

I also have a major revision to do for a manuscript. It's challenging me. I think I can do it, and if I can do it right, it will bring all manner of good things. But fear that I can't do it right is hanging out there next to my muse.

I have high hopes that come June, I'll be a full-time writer/mother, which has been my dream for 10 years. It would be great if I could do it sooner, so I had more time to concentrate on the projects I listed above. But it's finally within reach, and I'm so excited I can't stand it.

I turned 35 a week ago. It feels stranger than any other number change has felt, and not in a "ohmygodI'msoold" kind of way. I have a huge sense of contentment and anticipation associated with that age. No idea why. We'll see if it comes to anything.

I'm not really setting resolutions this year. I was going to set goals (which, for some reason, aren't hypocritical and setups for failure the way resolutions are). But I don't feel inclined to do that, either. I have a daily spreadsheet already for my writing plan, and everything else has been ongoing forever, so setting something formal isn't going to affect it. I think I'm just going to take life as it comes, one day at a time, one step to the next, and see what happens.

Happy New Year to you all. May you be blessed with a 2006 filled with joy and accomplishment, devoid of pain and sorrow.

Everyone deserves at least one year like that.