Monthly Archives: November 2012

Getting There’s the Good Part


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Those of you who know me
and know how much I love to talk might be surprised to learn that I also love
to listen. Maybe it’s the writer in me, always looking for a good story to
‘appropriate,’ or maybe it’s that I’ve always considered myself an old soul (or
a nosy old biddy, whichever you please), but I’m fascinated by other people’s
lives, particularly older people. It’s not just that I enjoy hearing about what
life was like ‘back in the day’. If that were the case, I could pick up a
history text or Google a year and find more facts than my brain could
comprehend. What I love is hearing the teller slip back into that moment,
watching his face, an aged reflection of what it must have looked like that
day, listening not to the words, but to the echo of almost forgotten laughter.

I know I’m getting deep
for so early in the week, but I just had the pleasure of spending an hour
chatting with three octogenarians. It might not seem like a rousing way to wrap
up Cyber Monday, which, by the way, my three companions likely couldn’t fathom,
never mind explain, anymore than I could fathom the lives they lived at my age.
But I try, by asking them to tell me stories. 

Conversations can be
awkward when there’s a sixty-five year age gap. There are only so many topics
we can talk about where all parties are on equal footing. Some topics, though,
are timeless. I’m not talking about the weather or football. Too much time is
spent on the mundane. (Besides, the storms bother their arthritis, and they
prefer to talk baseball.) There are certain stories, important stories, that
people love to tell, but too often we never ask to hear them.

Veterans love to talk of
their time in the service. Not the unpleasant parts, perhaps, but the lighter
times. Times when they bonded with strangers who became brothers. Times when
they escaped tragedy. Times when they heard the words they most wanted to hear:
You’re going home.

Couples love to tell about
how they met. At a dance for the boys headed off to war. In a roller skating
rink, which both returned to the second night in hopes the other would come
back, too. On a double date, flirting with a sister’s partner, throwing popcorn
at a future husband of over sixty years. (Her sister forgave her…eventually.)

And nearly all love to speak of family. Always family.
Stories of sibling rivalries and raising Cain, to tales of raising children.

I’m not sure at what age
nostalgia sets in and we develop the urge to tell our life’s tales. Maybe it’s
when retirement loses its excitement. Maybe it’s when one comes to grip with
the fact that there’s more life behind, than ahead. Or maybe it’s just when
one’s grandchildren are finally old enough to sit still and listen for an hour
every now and then.

I’m lucky to have
grandparents and family friends who have lived long enough to reach that stage
in life. And I’m honored to sit with them an hour or two every now and again to
hear their tales, to relive with them those moments in their lives of which
time, and memory loss, and all the ailments of old age can’t rob them.

One of my students said to
me the other day, “Old people make me sad.” I didn’t have a good answer for her
then. I do now. ‘Old people’ make us sad, because most of the time all we see
is their present and their future. If we took the time to listen to their
pasts, we might realize what most of them already know: getting there’s the
good part, and it’s worth it. Or as Viv tells me nearly every Monday, “It’s
hell getting old, Lau, but it beats the alternative.”

Yes, Gram, it does, because there are more
tales to be told, and this chatty girl’s more than happy to shut up and hear
them.

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Carving Up a Comparison




As Thanksgiving looms over
us like the giant Snoopy in the Macy’s Day Parade, I thought some of us might
enjoy a little writing comparison. The irony, of course, is that those people
who actually cook Thanksgiving dinner are likely up to their elbows in brine
right now. For those, like me, designated to merely provide the wine
(coincidence, or sign of trouble?), reading this might just keep you out of the
kitchen and the way of the cook long enough to avoid being asked to do the
dishes.


How Writing is Like
Cooking Thanksgiving Dinner
 

1. It’s extremely time
consuming.
When it comes out just
right, you’ll smile and say to yourself, your family, your agent/publisher, and
any random person who’ll listen, “It was all worth it.” When, despite your very
best efforts, it flops, your family will want to hide the carving knife (and
all other sharp objects) and your neighbors will see (and hear) a whole new side of
you. My mom’s pie on the lamppost seems mild compared to the rejection letter
bonfire I contemplated setting in the middle of my living room last year. 

2. Practice makes
improvement.
Managing to time it
so that all the pieces come together at just the right moment, having the right
numbers of sides without overwhelming the guests with too many dishes, and
finding those special details that make it uniquely your own are all things
that come with practice. The first time is bound to be rough. You will burn
some parts, undercook others, and risk poisoning relatives, who will forever
after be leery of your offerings. Accept that, stock up on Pepto, and move on.
The next time will be smoother. 

3. You’ll want to follow a
recipe at first.
You’ll look to
other cooks who’ve gone before you. You’ll try to duplicate Mom’s stuffing or
J. K. Rowling’s success. You won’t, because you can’t. You’re not your mother
(some days this is comforting, but not when it comes to cooking). You’re
definitely not Jo Rowling. Stop trying to be. It’s good to read an abundance of recipes. At
first, following them might be comfortable and a great way to learn. Eventually,
though, you need to find your own perfect path to succulent stuffing and
writing success. Sadly for my waistline and pockets, I’m told one involves lots
of butter and the other rarely ends in lots of bread. 

4. All your guests will
approach the final product differently;
no one way will be satisfying. You’ll grind your teeth at the uncle
who devours the whole thing in under thirty seconds, giving no feedback
whatsoever except to belch and ask, “When’s dessert?” You’ll wish you were able
to zone out the friend who, prior to chewing, wants to comment on every
mouthful. (This would be in poor taste, when you were the one who invited her to
begin with.) And you’ll impatiently pound your fingers on the wine goblet that
you’ve refilled numerous times waiting for your nano-nibbling great aunt to
finally finish.
 

5. When it’s all said
and done, no matter how dry it was, most of your friends and family will tell
you they loved it.
They’ll rave
about how wonderful and talented you are, at least while you’re in earshot.
You’ll be well aware that it’s the love and booze-filled nog talking, but
you should bask in it anyways. There are agents, editors, reviewers, and just plain
haters aplenty to tell you the truth. Be thankful for the people in your life
who love you enough to lie and to return to the table year after year. 


Thanks to my ELA
department head for coming up with this prompt and for letting me steal it for
my long-overdue blog!

Happy cooking, writing,
and gorging this week! And remember: don’t dismiss grandma’s elastic waist pants until you’ve tried them, and always kiss the cook!

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Totally Stoked


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Image from:http://www.spookyisles.com/2012/04/on-bram-stokers-dracula/

Anyone who’s popped onto
Google today probably saw that it was Bram Stocker’s birthday. If the Irish
writer had lived as long as his vamps, he’d be 165 years old today. As a fellow writer
of vampire stories and a lover of all that is Irish, I couldn’t let the
opportunity pass to pay a little homage to the author of Dracula with a few
interesting facts about vampires, the novel, and the man himself.

The novelist:

  • Stoker hails from Dublin
    and attended Trinity College there. He was a believer in Home Rule, but wanted
    Ireland to remain part of Great Britain. (We can forgive him some of his
    philosophies on his birthday, right?)
     
  • He wrote a dozen novels
    and many more short stories, although he wasn’t terribly famous for his writing
    until Dracula started being made into movies after his death. Stoker instead
    worked for years in theater; too bad he never thought to put on a production of
    his own novel!

The novel:

  • The working title for the
    novel, Stoker’s fifth, was The Un-Dead
    . It was changed to Dracula just prior to publication. I guess he
    originally liked the whole ‘un’ thing, too.
  • One literary scholar,
    Talia Schaffer suggests Dracula was really an allegory about society’s
    disapproval of homosexuality in response to friend and fellow writer, Oscar
    Wilde’s jail sentence for sodomy. So, either Stoker was a pioneer in the GLBT
    literature field or Schaffer’s been hitting the Jameson’s a little too hard.
  • Perhaps, though, we can
    credit him with popularizing the urban fantasy genre, since Dracula was one of
    the first Gothic novels to be set in contemporary times.

The bloodsuckers:

  • Stoker did a lot of
    research on the geology and folklore of Eastern Europe, where most tales of
    vampires originate. I bet he didn’t own the Idiot’s Guide
    , though.
  • Although he used some of
    the Slavic superstitions to develop Dracula’s characteristics, he also created
    some mythology of his own. Some interesting details about Stokers’ Dracula are
    that he can go out in daylight, although his powers are somewhat diminished, he
    can influence the weather, and he can scale down the side of buildings like a
    lizard. I’m not exactly sure why he needs the last trait, since he was seen
    doing this at his own home. Too cool for stairs?
  • Dracula wasn’t a fan of
    crosses or garlic, however, he’s not killed by either, but by being stabbed and
    then decapitated–Game of Thrones style. (I’ll hear no complaints about my lack
    of spoiler alerts; if you haven’t read the Dracula or seen Game of Thrones yet, you probably won’t.)

Sources for these
interesting morsels:

Wikipedia – No, I don’t let
my students use it, but it’s a “do as I say, not as I do” world.

The Complete Idiot’s
Guide to Vampires
by Jay
Stevenson, Ph.D. – Yes, it exists. Yes, I own it and have read a majority of
it. In my defense, it was a gift from my mother who thought it’d be funny and
informative. It’s both.


My weekly NaNoWriMo (Nap No, Write Mo’) update:

Friday – I wrote a
glossary for the Alex Crocker Seer series books to go on my website (I’ll post
it this weekend.) 975 words

Saturday and Sunday – I
worked on my newest project for the series, working title Unbridled
. It’s a novella length compilation of connected
short stories about the various couples in the series. It’s mostly romance and
full of scenes bound to make certain family members squeamish and certain
friends very happy. In other words, it’s lots of fun to write! 27 hand written
pages, at a minimum of 300 words per page = 8,100 words

Monday and Tuesday –
Election flash fiction, It’s Not As Simple as
Red or Blue
1370 words

Wednesday – I failed and
fell asleep by 7pm after a late night Tuesday watching the election.

Thursday – This blog. 667
words

For a whopping one-week
total of *drum roll* 11,112 words this week. That’s about 500 words under what
a true NaNoWriMo authors sets out write each week, but I’m still feeling pretty
damn pleased with myself. I wanted to “show up” and I did, six out of seven
days. I hope others who pledged to take a little time for their passion had as
much success and as much fun as I did. On to week two!

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Pulling out the Purple: Election Day flash fiction


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(Image from: www.katiehatz.com)


Listen to
political ads long enough and you start to see politics in everything. As I was
working on putting together a glossary for the Alex Crocker Seer series to post
on my website, it occurred to me I had assigned blue to the Rectinatti and red
to the Vengatti. Although I know this wasn’t a conscious political statement (I
don’t think any of my Republican friends have considered sucking out my
conscience lately), it got me to thinking more about where my main character
Alex might stand. I have plenty in book two about her views on the two covens,
but little on her views of issues in the human world. So in keeping with my
NaNoWriMo (Nap No, Write Mo) pledge for November, I decided to have a little
fun last night and this morning before school. This scene is not from any longer piece.
It was just a fun writing exercise for me, and hopefully a fun way for you to
pass the time until the polls close. Besides, after a contentious election, we
can all use a little purple in our lives!

 

It’s
Not as Simple as Red or Blue

 

“They
still going on about that crap? It seems like one just ends and they start
talking about the next.” Darian had paused on his way to refill his coffee mug
for what had to be the third time this evening. He stared at the small screen
of the t.v. in the kitchen which Alex had been watching while picking at a bowl
of granola topped yogurt.

As
she watched his expression, she tried to determine if it were early evenings or
democracy that disagreed with the Rectinatti’s Regan most.

“That
crap, which we call an election, is going to determine the next leader of the
free world.”

The
Regan looked skeptically at the smiling headshots of the two candidates
flashing across the screen. “Is that what they tell themselves? Maybe I should
warn them it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

Alex
shook her head and pointed to the television with a yogurt-covered spoon. “That
guy’s been president––of the entire country––for four years. I’m pretty sure
he’s figured it out.”

Darian
scowled at the insinuation that running a country of humans was somehow harder
than ruling a coven of vampires. Alex didn’t apologize, but she didn’t argue
either. She was glad to leave both jobs to others older, if not wiser, than
her.

“And
the other one? Is he optimistic, naïve, or just plain stupid?”

Sliding
the now clean spoon from her mouth, Alex grinned. “Are you implying anyone who
chooses to lead is one of the three? Which are you, Regan?”

The
coffee mug being slammed on the counter rendered his answer redundant, but it
didn’t stop him from giving it to her.

“Annoyed.
And considering this is not
a
democracy and you do not
have
freedom to speak to me that way, you ought to zip it.”

She
shrugged. “You were the one asking questions.” She pretended to ignore his
glare as she turned back to the evening news. His mood was more related to the
time of day than her teasing.

Rather
than return to his office, Darian was once again sucked in by the commentators.
As a Seer, Alex could sense he had another question, but was too proud to ask
it after telling her to shut up just seconds earlier.

“The
red states are those projected to win the Republican vote. Blue usually go
Democratic. And the white are contested,” she explained, since it was the
appearance of the electoral map that had spurned the curiosity she sensed.

He
mumbled something she couldn’t quite hear with her measly human hearing.
Catching her name and Sage, the Knower’s, she could guess the gist. It annoyed
the Regan to no end to be living with a mind reader and emotion detector. She
didn’t bother to tell him it was no picnic for them, either. Stick your fingers
in the cage too many times and you’re bound to get bit, so she bit her tongue
instead.

“Massachusetts
is blue, huh? Too bad nobody told the Vengatti.” Darian’s expression was as acidic
as the strong black coffee he drank.

The
Rectinatti used sapphire and silver to symbolize their pure heritage, while the
Vengatti chose blood red ruby to signify their willingness to drink from
humans. Darian was equating an all blue state on the map to a Vengatti-free
Bristol.

“I
don’t think our politics are as simple as yours.”

Darian
refilled his mug from the carafe and leaned against the heavy butcher-block
table. He eyes strayed from the screen to linger on her engagement ring with
the two sapphires on either side of her diamond. Sapphires which represented
her new place in their coven.

“And
whose blue is that?”

Alex
nudged his pant leg with her bare foot. “You know what I mean.”

“No.”
Darian shook his head. “I don’t think I do. To me, someone’s wrong and
someone’s right. Black and white, or red and blue in this case. You’re
the one who keeps telling me otherwise.”

“Covens
are different. You’re born into them. You don’t get to choose whose ideology
you think is ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ Assuming every Vengatti is evil would be as
foolish as assuming everyone in a red state is a Republican, or every
Republican believes the same thing.” Alex paused. Darian wasn’t comprehending
the references to human politics. Perhaps tax codes and foreign policy didn’t
compare well to the issue of whether or not to slaughter innocents or drain
someone of their very soul. She was pushing her luck to spell it out for him,
but she was in a mood to be pushy with him lately. “It’d be as naïve as
believing every Rectinatti’s goal was to serve the greater good of the coven
and to protect the humans.”

Darian
ran his hands though his hair, a habit he had when he was angry. Alex’s sense
confirmed, however, that his anger wasn’t with her, but rather with the truth of her
statement. He was well aware that there were as many self-serving families in
the coven as selflessly serving warriors. She wanted to think that maybe he
was also starting to believe the Vengatti members had as many shades of gray. But perhaps she was the one being 
naïve now.

“So
what would you have me do, Miss Independent, emulate your
fine leaders’ acts of bipartisanship?”

Alex
startled at his smirk and his correct use of human political terminology.

“I
watch the news, too, and have been reading about this country’s government
since it was formed, remember?”

She didn’t miss a beat. “Sorry, you’re just so hip that it’s hard to remember
sometimes that you’re older than dirt.”

“Would
it be easier to remember from the cell in basement?”

“Probably
not, but way to embrace the democratic attitude of Election Day. Answering your
question about what I’d have you do, though, is easy.” Alex stood so he could
see she was no longer joking. “Offer them a choice, Darian, and not between the lesser of
two evils, which is all we are if we continue to kill them without providing
them another way out. You told me when I was first taken in that the name
Rectinatti came from rectitude or righteousness. Being righteous isn’t
necessarily the same as being ‘right.’”

Alex
dropped her bowl in the sink and headed out of the kitchen.

“Did
you vote yet?”

At
the bottom of the stairs, she turned back to him. “Yes. Rocky took me earlier.”

“When
it came down to it, how’d you vote?”

He
motioned back towards the television, but Alex sensed he was asking her more
than the names of the candidates whose circle she colored in. She smiled.

“Well,
shockingly your name was left off the ballot, so I went with the other ‘blue’
guy––for president, anyway.”

“Meaning?”
Darian was too accustomed to this type of response from her not to recognize
there was more to it.

“I
look good in purple. You should try it some time; it’s very regal.”

With
that she padded up the stairs, so that she hardly heard the Regan’s snort, or. . .chuckle?

*

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Dismissing NaNoWriMo No Mo’


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For many
new or aspiring writers, November is more than just a gloomy grey month which
we try to make better with copious amounts of pie and ice cream. November is
NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. I must admit when I first heard
about this, I thought it was nuts. The idea of pounding out a novel in one
month seemed ridiculous. Like many of NaNoWriMo’s critics, I thought it sounded
a great way to produce fifty thousand words of which forty thousand would later
need to be trashed.

Maybe I
was just jealous of the people who had an entire month to spend on their
writing. Maybe at the time I was jealous of anyone who could complete a novel
in any amount of time. At any rate, where I stand now, I think NaNoWriMo is a
little less crazy than I originally believed. After all, my own rough draft of
my first book took only a little more than a summer. The project I’m working on
now I started in mid-September and have written over a hundred pages of
already. And if James Patterson writes even half the books his name gets put on
in a year, he’s churning out a book every other week. Is it really that insane
to think that a dedicated writer could complete a novel in a month? Not really. More importantly, that’s not the point.

What I’ve
come to realize about NaNoWriMo, as I’ve read online and spoke with authors who
have participated, is that it isn’t about producing the world’s greatest book
in a month, although I’m sure many hope that happens, if not in November, than
in the months of editing and revision following. It’s more about making a
pledge to pursue a passion. It’s making a promise to yourself that you won’t
push aside your dream every time you come home tired or smell the dirty laundry
piling up. (That’s what power naps and Fabreeze are for.)

A friend
sent me a link to an article not long ago that basically espoused doing what
NaNoWriMo writers vow to do: show up. Every day for a month, they find the time
to write. They show up, whether they have their A-game or not. Sure, what
they’ve produced at the end of the month may need additional months of editing
and revision, but a draft, even a crappy draft, is one step further than they’d
be if they didn’t pound out the pages. And the act of writing a novel certainly
helps improve writing skills. I tell my students all the time that if they want
to be better writers or readers, then they need to read and write more. If you
want to write a book, you have to write––frequently and abundantly.

I’m not
sure setting the goal of completing a novel in a month is the type of thing
that would work for me. It sounds a bit too much like, “I want to lose twenty
pounds before Christmas,” in other words, an unrealistic fantasy that would
leave me frustrated with my failure and still unable to wear skinny jeans. A
pledge to come to the keyboard, or in my case notebook, everyday, however,
sounds doable. Not a day goes by when some story, blog idea, or pithy little
commentary doesn’t cross my mind. But far too many go by when I never take the
ten minutes I’d need to write them down.

This
November I’m creating my own NaNoWriMo: Nap No, Write Mo’. Be it blogging, book
reviewing, drafting, or revising, I’m pledging to show up, at least ten minutes
each day, to do what I love. Not promoting, tweeting, or status updating, but
actually writing. I’ll keep myself honest with a weekly check-in; you can keep
me honest by making sure I actually post it! And you can keep yourselves honest
by picking your own poison, I mean, passion, and making your own pledge not to
push it aside.

Come
December first I hope we all have more to report than just how many slices of
pie we ate!

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