Sunday, April 10, 2011

May the Beats Be Ever in Your Favor

Jennifer Lawrence will play Katniss Everdeen in the upcoming film

Okay.
A little embarrassed by my fangirl squeeing over Hunger Games last weekend.

But...

Yes...

I read the whole damn series again this week.

In my defense, this time I was reading it with a critical eye, looking for technical elements -- how she set up the plot, her sentence structure, et cetera. I'm still amazed at how well she does grabbing the reader and never letting go, not for an instant. There is always a sense of peril. Safe times are only found in retrospect, in that, "Okay, I guess it really was okay after all," kind of way. But you don't believe it at the time because everything and everyone is suspect. Blake Snyder talks about how a character's goals and stakes must be primal at their root -- love, survival, protection, sex... It doesn't get much more primal than this!

It took me until the second book to realize the story was written in present tense. Unbelievable. That's usually something I notice in the first paragraph and have to grit my teeth to get past.  She executed it perfectly, I think, and it could not have suited the anxious, fast-paced immediacy of the story better.

On second reading, I was equally engrossed. Only in the third book did I start skimming. Exposition galore. Necessary, though, I suppose. We're in a new place with new rules.

I do wish the last bits of the series were a little more fleshed out instead of summarized, but I guess it couldn't go on forever.

M. Howalt -- you asked in the comments last week what made the series compelling. My friend Samantha wrote an excellent post on the series here. Check it out. I agree with everything she says (and am clearly still fangirling because I got happy chills reading the title of her article, heh).

***

In my personal realm, I remain a foggy-headed, migraine-laden hermit. Gotta snap out of that somehow, someday.

But, hey, it hasn't been a total waste. Besides falling in love with a series (which is such a great feeling), I also managed this:



























My novel! All in one place! All the pieces! (Although some are vague [solves problem] or drawn in broad strokes.) Redoing  the major beats on red cards was a treat. I'm an office supply junkie and a visually-oriented person. The red cards make it feel concrete and prove to me that it's not all an amorphous smear of a cloud. It has the bones! Look! Right there! ;)

Look at Act One -- so many cards. Look at the second half of Act Two, so few cards. Not that big a deal, I think. The second half of Act Two is where I've drawn in broad strokes, labeling major elements. I think I pretty much  wrote the entire first act on the cards up there! Lots of details that don't need to be there. I'm still figuring all of this out, though.

The pirate ship was already there, an unintentional metaphor for how my sons like to shoot cannons of distraction at me at all hours of the day.

Monday, April 4, 2011

I. Am. Freaking. Out.

How twelve am I?

I began shaking and crying just a few pages into the third volume of The Hunger Games, and now I'm seventy pages from the end, still shaking and haunted, and I can't get back to reading for a few hours. I'm heartbroken. And if they don't fix what I want fixed very soon (and don't even hint, if you know), I am going to be a wreck.

For me? The hype? Merited!

What a  story.

ETA: Whew. All better now.  Started Saturday afternoon with book one; finished entire trilogy by Monday night. Shall I loop back and start again? ;)

Saturday, April 2, 2011

It Got Me

Dammit, Hunger Games.

I resented you, resisted you, got sick of the hype.

Then I opened you this afternoon and read  you in one sitting. Om-nom-nom-nom!

It's two a.m.

And I'm fighting the urge to download the next volume right now.

(Samantha, I partially blame you for weakening my nonsensical resistance! Heh.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Scream or Die!

In my blog skulking of late, I've found a lot of discussion regarding bizarre audience behavior on television. I don't know if I ever believed it was natural or spontaneous, but I can tell you now for sure that it is not. It may be based in sincerity -- I definitely spend a few hours in bliss, attending So You Think You Can Dance tapings -- but they take that sincerity and crank it up to eleven (it's one louder). Don't even think about not enthusing.

Anyhow, in support of my claims, I thought I'd repost a piece I wrote a few years back describing my adventures in Hollywood one bizarre day. Enjoy.

___________________________________________________________________________________________

“Look. The Hollywood sign.”

I tried to take a picture for my sister, who we’d roped into watching our boys all day, but my phone's camera sucks. The sign looked like a dark blur. Just as well. My sister lived in that area for years doing movie makeup. It was more about geographical tracking than bragging about being somewhere she wasn’t.

The day was gray. The bus was dim, cold, full of groggy people. Quiet but for the drone of the motor and the hiss of the air vents.

I was wondering when someone would finally stand and say something to our group – forty of my husband’s coworkers and/or guests. Something like hello. Or welcome. Or Drew Carey has the flu today, so everyone giggling over the t-shirts they made to wear later on The Price Is Right is going to be sorely disappointed. Or anything.

I thought maybe they’d do it when we made it through traffic and got to our first stop, The Dr. Phil Show at Paramount Studios.

Wrong.

We pulled up in front of the building covered by a Wyland whale mural, and before the bus’s brakes were set, a blue-blazered audience coordinator was leaping up the stairs.

“Okay!” He was jarringly chipper for the early hour, his loudness a harsh contrast to the muffled sound before. “The show is starting! We have to get you all out of here and into the studio ASAP! No cell phones or cameras! Leave them on the bus!" Waving his hands, "Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!”

Suddenly, we were all on our feet, flinging electronic devices onto the bus seats as though they were about to detonate and running like mad through a roped-off line area and through security.

“Go, go, go!” They kept rushing us. “Dr. Phil is about to go onstage!”

Thirty seconds before, we’d been half asleep. Now we were racing into a studio full of screaming, clapping people. Music blared, the bass line shaking the floor. Lights flashed.

A toweringly tall Blue Blazer urged us toward seats in the front row of the back section. Other audience coordinators were waving their arms around, demanding that we scream, clap, act like Elvis was re-entering the building. Cameras were everywhere. People were going nuts!

Then this big mafioso type came swaggering out on the stage, waving blue Dr. Phil mugs. With a meaningful leer, he pumped one mug-filled fist toward a section of the crowd, and they went nuts. [Enter Man with Mugs, said the screenplay in my head. "Clap or the mugs get it!"] He did this a few times, urging bigger applause with a tight smile that also promised broken knees to those who didn’t comply.

Then another Blue Blazer was directly in my face. As the announcer’s voice thundered that the moment we’d all been waiting for was here, the man himself, blah, blah, blah, the Blue Blazer furiously scanned the crowd and then locked eyes with me.

With an imperious finger, he said, “You! With me!”

I was on the run again, across the center aisle and down a perpendicular set of stairs straight toward the stage. A shorter Blue Blazer directed me like a taxiing airplane toward an empty seat in the center of the second row. I didn’t have time to remove the “Reserved - Guest” card from my seat. I flung my purse down and obeyed the fleeing Blazer’s final orders to throw my hands in the air and scream like I’d won the lottery (mimed, of course – couldn’t hear words at this point to save my life).

And then he was there. Not Elvis, alas (or perhaps fortunately at this late date), but Dr. Phil. Maybe three feet away from me on the stage. So strange!

I stood among a gaggle of what looked like teenage girls from the corner of my eyes and pretended that my life’s dream had just been fulfilled, wondering what on earth prompted the Blazer to choose me to come on down. I wished it was American Idol or something where it would be fun to be down front. I had an unusual moment of self-esteem where I wondered if I looked cute that day or something. (Ha!) I wondered if it was because my shirt was purple, like two of the ladies in my row. Then, more like my usual morbid brain, I suffered a moment of paranoia that this was some bizarre form of intervention set up by my friends and family. Any minute now, Dr. Phil would look down and tell me to come on up. Then I’d be picked apart on national television and never show my face again. Luckily, this was not the case.

At last, it was time to sit, hands stinging from forcible clapping, and I suffered the pangs of self-consciousness, wondering how to sit and resist the urge to rearrange myself. Remember, not five minutes before I’d been half asleep on a gray, drab, silent bus. There had been no time for primping. Imagine someone coming into your room at dawn, shouting you out of bed, racing you downstairs and telling you to jump, scream, clap, make it convincing, and then have cameras aimed in your general direction that the entire world could watch you on ad infinitum.

So what was our show? A follow-up with a family of fourteen children who’d been abused by their cult-leader father. I hadn’t seen the original show – sorry, I don’t watch it – but the giant video screens filled us in. Cheerful.

Things calmed for a minute or two after that. He decided to redo the intro with a warning for parents to make their children leave the room before the episode began. He made a few different versions. I started to relax, nothing being asked of me for a minute. The girls next to me jingled and rattled as they adjusted their clothes, their bracelets, figured out how to fold their hands in their laps. Some older women behind me murmured to each other about how sad this one was, remember when they saw that show, etc.

After a minute, stage hands brought in a tan leather couch, an end table, and a matching chair for Dr. Phil, positioning them on tape markers. A glass of water was placed with touching reverence on a very specific spot upon the table. The audience, well dressed and hushed but for scattered rustling and coughs, made me think of being a little girl in church. All that was missing was soft organ music and beams of sunlight from the stained glass windows, sparkling with microscopic holy dust. But we had stage hands as altar boys, and the cameras substituted nicely for the eye of God. Or maybe Santa Claus. Catching your every naughty and nice moment. I tried to sit still. Wondered what they were piping in with the air in this place.

Show time again. Dr. Phil came back. More footage was shown of the struggles of the grown children of this family, and then three of the sisters came out. They were very near, since I was in the second row.

I listened and thought the craziest things. I obviously wasn’t genuinely in the moment. I was worried about how to hold my face. How to seem engaged enough to be worthy of my seat in the mosh pit without reacting to their story in an offensive way since they were looking right at me half of the time, it seemed.

I found out why it seemed like they were looking at me a minute or two into the show.

Someone on stage made a comment and the man directly in front of me said, “Amen."

Another comment onstage, and he said it louder, "Amen!"

A moment later, it happened again -- louder and more emphatically, "A-MEN!"

My jangly-rattly friends and I stared. Had he felt the church vibe, too? Decide to take a step further?

I had just enough time to wonder if maybe the audience got rowdy at this show, when Dr. Phil turned toward Mr. Amen and said something about how it seemed their brother had something to say.

Then I knew.

I was sitting with the family.

Lord. Hopefully not surrounded. I imagined trying to get a job someday and someone saying, “But aren’t you part of that cult? I saw you on television!” I hadn’t thought about the blue laminated “Reserved – Guest” card before that. I was so out of it. So not a morning person and so jarred out of reality.

Now I didn’t just worry about my face during the possible random audience shots. Now I had to watch my hands. Glancing at the monitor, I seemed to be in the shot when they would talk to those right in front of me – not only the brother but two sisters and their therapist. My hands were right at the level of the brother’s face, just to the side.

I am neurotically self-conscious in day-to-day life. Now I was inwardly freaking about what respectfully folded hands would look like versus the frightened clutching hands of someone under an interrogator’s lamp. I worried that they could see my stomach and strove to pull it in tighter. I could see from my peripheral vision that my hair was a mess and longed to push it behind my shoulder, but I didn’t dare move. I never saw my face on the monitor, just the zone between my neck and chest, but I’ll see when the show comes out just how terrible I looked. It’s all about me, right?

The show went on. The siblings bickered. He said, she said, you’re lying, no you are, etc. I could hardly concentrate. It was just that surreal to me. And I must be a closet narcissist because I kept having thoughts that any minute now, these people might stand up, explain they were all actors, and the show was really all about me after all. Man do I need coffee to be a person in the morning, and I had none yesterday.

Despite all my paranoia, I was having a good time. I swear. It was very interesting.

I thought the commercials were odd. In the mid-nineties, I went to a taping of Bob Barker's The Price Is Right. They did the show in real time, and Bob would talk to the audience during commercial breaks. On The Dr. Phil Show, he’d say they were going to take a break, a Blue Blazer would clap threateningly in the wings, and we’d all join in. There would be about ten to fifteen seconds of silence, and then we’d all be urged to clap again by the extra loud hands of that same Blazer. Just enough time to wiggle in your seat for a second and glance up at the infinite lights and cameras.

As we entered maybe the fifth or sixth commercial break, a Blazer was abruptly at the end of our aisle, glaring at us. The two girls to my right and I had just been adjusting our shirts, rearranging our hands, wiggling in our seats, and I thought maybe we were in trouble, were being switched for more obedient audience members. He did, in fact, bark, “You three! With me!” Out we went, and he took us back up to where I’d started – first row of the back section. I waved to my husband. They ran out with more chairs for us, and we sat, confused.

I think what happened is they needed our seats for the family members on stage. They came out into the audience for the last shot. Because that was pretty much it. I didn’t even hear what they said or did. It was too quick. And then Dr. Phil left the stage, we all went “nuts," and then the Blue Blazers were barking at us to leave in sections.

And now I remembered that no one had ever talked to our group that morning. We didn’t have badges, didn’t know each other, had no instructions, and we were being released into a very crowded alley of sorts with more Blue Blazers on patrol, peering at people, calling out things I couldn’t understand. All I knew was there was no Price Is Right on the itinerary anymore, as was the original plan, because I’d done my Googling the night before.

At long last, I thought that one of the guys in the crowd might be with us. I asked him, and, yes, he was. We were pushed aside by some speeding Blue Blazers. The crowd pressed in on us, deafening as they shouted over the din of the HVAC ducts overhead. He didn’t know what we were going to do, but he pointed out the woman who was supposedly our leader.

I worked my way over to her, and she didn’t know the plan. They were calling around to see what to do. She didn’t say anything about TPIR, and I didn’t ask. So more milling ensued, trying not to lose sight of her in the sea of humanity.

Remember: Our phones were on the bus. We were hours from home. If we got stranded, we would be in some trouble.

Coffee arrived, and we joined the throng. I took just one sip, however, before remembering the activities that follow coffee drinking. Mournfully, I watched as my warm, heavy cup fell with a thud into a nearby trash bin. Didn’t need to worry about bathrooms in that chaos.

More roar of the crowd. More roar of the HVAC and other assorted machinery.

And now the Blue Blazers were shouting at us again in the language of Peanuts adults. Out of the wah-wah-wah-wah, I gleaned that the second taping was seating. The anonymous crowd began flowing toward the studio door. My husband said he saw some people from our group in the line. We saw no signs of Fearless Leader. Should we go? We decided yes and allowed the tide to wash us back into the studio.

In we went, and this time a smiling Blue Blazer took us directly to the front row – but all the way to the far left, so not prominent.

This time, we got to hear more from Man with Mugs. This time he was Man with CD Collection -- bribes/rewards for a few extroverted audience members. He was the crowd warmer. He warned us of the things I’d figured out on my own before – don’t you dare fidget, pick, adjust, etc. ("Remember, you're not watching television. You're making television!")

After he gave away his prizes, doing the old, “Hi, how are ya, where ya from?” routine, the music and lights went up, and, for some reason, a video of Cher appeared on all the screens. Her music blared, and they set about riling us all up into a screaming mob again. The madness began anew.

This time, the show was about men who needed to re-examine their dreams of a career in music versus taking care of their families. A little more humorous than the last show but still sad at points. David Foster advised them on their prospects – but just from a taped video on the big screens. Actually in the studio was Kimberly Caldwell from American Idol. She was the final guest, advising these guys on how to balance their dreams with their responsibilities.

I was much more relaxed for this show, knowing what to expect, being in a really close but less prominent seat, being allowed to sit with my husband. It was fun.

At the end, Kimberly Caldwell came out and sat about eight seats away from me in our (curved) row. It was so strange. I remember watching season two of American Idol during Hollywood week and the whole "story" they created, vilifying her versus Julia DeMato. I grew to like her as the season progressed, and I’ve seen her host shows and do red carpet stuff, get asked out by David Cook on live TV. I was more excited to see her than Dr. Phil. Nothing against him. I just never watch his show, but I’m a fan of American Idol.

The second taping ended, and we were shooshed into a different chaotic, industrial alley/holding pen. After a long minute or two, we saw our fearless leader handing out phones from a box – I guess a few people didn’t want to leave theirs on the bus. But no one said anything to anyone else. What the heck came next? We didn’t know. It was hard to find a place to stand without getting knocked around or glared at by Blue Blazers.

At long last, a Blue Blazer shouted that our group’s bus was that-a-way, so, obediently, we boarded. Gratefully scooped up our phones. Other people followed. The woman in charge took a halfhearted head count, and then we droned off again into the brown scrub and smog where, within moments, everything we'd experienced turned into a hectic fever dream, impossible, leaving us with a two-hour ride back to a reality far less technicolor than that offered up on reality talk shows.

And, so ends our field trip. Now we have to tape Dr. Phil every day until our shows air. They “couldn’t” (or wouldn’t) tell us when they would air. I can’t wait to see what the shows look like finished. And I hope that if I made it into any of the final shots, I look less like an idiot than I felt.

[caption id="attachment_1186" align="aligncenter" width="490" caption="That's me on the upper left in the gray/purple"][/caption]

Bogus

Spring pollen has entered my brain. It's swirling in there, leaving me blank, scattered, and sleeeeepy. Hypnotic, that stuff. All I've had energy for lately is slow-poke reading on my Nook (Kerouac's On the Road, at the moment) and hamster-like refreshing of American Idol blogs. More! More gossip and grousing, please! Why do I care? I shouldn't. I don't. But I do. When I'm this tired, it takes big manipulative shiny things to keep my attention. Plus, I just love that stupid show.


Last night, I dreamed about James Durbin. (No, not like that.) He was still in high school, and I was this Rufus-like character (Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure) who had to make sure he stayed on track to become an AI contestant in the future. Somehow, this involved helping him and his friends set off the school sprinkler system.

I'd say I need to turn off the television, but that's my one and only TV vice, so I don't want to. I'll just say it's because of my son's asperger's diagnosis and my hope to support him in his dreams. Okay? Okay. Good. 'Nuff said.

On the writing front, I realized that if I ended my early chapters on a cliffhanger note, it gave me more momentum in starting the next chapters and kept each from having a happy ending (which is kind of a no-no).

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Oh No U Don't



Confession:

Every time I call a business that uses voice recognition to navigate menus, I just know they're secretly listening, smothering laughter, and whispering, "She sounds so stupid!" Shouting and over-enunciating are not famous for making one feel dignified.

My desk is covered with rumpled bits of paper bearing what I hope to be genius, the missing Lego pieces in this hamfisted sculpture of a novel. It's been a good week for that -- little bits of inspiration hitting me from all sides, sending me scurrying for napkins, old receipts, crayons, what have you. It's lovely, and my desk is a satisfying mess.

So I'll be diving into that for a bit.

In the meanwhile, enjoy this random bit of 1980s Sesame Street fun (featuring Smokey Robinson) that I discovered today while reading reviews of last night's Motown-themed American Idol. (Go James Durbin!)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Eenie Meenie

It's battle of the blog (providers) over here.

I've been on wordpress.com, but I'm getting irritated that I can't use scripts, have followers/friends, et cetera.

I thought I'd try Blogger, since so many of you are "over there," but it took ages to get my wordpress export file to convert and import to Blogger. I wasn't even that interested anymore by the time it succeeded; it just became a grudge match. Now it works, though. I've got it looking a lot like this site. However...??? Is that what I really want?

Now I'm looking at a wordpress.org account (self-hosted).  Ah the confusion.

I'll be sure to post over here, should there be a definitive change.

Always remember the alternate URL http://www.untitlement.com -- that should take you to whichever option I choose. Ultimately. This is all going to take some time.

Let me know your recommendations. Are you pro/con Wordpress.com, Wordpress.org, or Blogger? Anything else I should consider?

I'd love input.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

On Suns & Moons

I woke this morning to the sound of dragon's fire. Darth Vader breathing slowly. After flailing weakly, trying to make it shut up, I realized. This is not normal. This sounds like that time...*

Up I stood. I peered through the blinds to the south. No.

Disappointed, I pried open a few blades of my eastern window blinds. YES! Hot air balloon.

A single spire of St. Basil's Cathedral floated just outside my bedroom -- well, just over the rear neighbors' roofs. It floated in yellow-red-blue glory no more than ten feet above the houses, occasionally pulled upward a few feet by a blast of flame. Howdy tourists! A new reason to keep the blinds drawn when sprawled out in bed. Who knew? Such is life on the outer periphery of semi-desert wine country. The same thing that makes life in these exurbs difficult without a car makes for the occasional picturesque awakening.

I watched bunnies frolic in the mown grass yards of the sole row of houses between us and rural scrub as the Russian spire became the world's largest bouncy house in the fields beyond. When it gave up with one last floppy swoon, I gave up going back to bed and got online.

Tonight, the moon will be closer to Earth than it's been since 1983. (Supermoon -- sounds like it's going to don a cape and save the world from evil.) This morning, a pseudo-sun came closer to my house than ever before. Let's hope these are good omens and will bring me some writing energy in addition to interesting views out my back windows.

Wishing you all a super Supermoon day!

*At some point in the 1990s, a hot air balloon skimmed close to the roof of my parents' house, and we all ran out onto their deck to watch its passage.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The 2nd Annual Drunk at First Sight Fest

I'm a little late on this (a lot late for my international friends), but, in the spirit of camraderie, I thought I'd put something up. It's a first draft of a deleted scene, and an old one, at that, but it's all I have in the way of a drunk scene at this point. It probably makes no sense.

Learn more about the fest on the Where Sky Meets Ground blog @ The 2nd Annual Drunk at First Sight Fest.

_____________________

Elizabeth: naive college freshman in Berkeley, 1969.

Marisa: Elizabeth's best friend and landlady, also known as The Red Queen, hostess of weekly anachronistic parties to promote her dance studio

David: Elizabeth's ex

Jim: Elizabeth's secret love and self-appointed protector

Paul: Marisa's henpecked, nerdy cousin



This is the confusion before the storm. Bad things are just around the bend...

_____________________

As David's façade of civility began its crumble, he'd developed a cute little trick. Creeping to the television, he'd press himself against it, one eye turned her way, growing happier and happier as Elizabeth went insane. To achieve this, he need do only one thing -- flip the dial back and forth, back and forth, back and forth until her brain was full and she was screaming. Fragments, flashes, from hiss to canned laughter, static to song. Always with the sound turned up full blast, of course.

When she thought back on Marisa's St. Patrick's Day party, it was a lot like that torture by television -- not so much for the maddening element but because of its fragmentation. She remembered it only in flashes.

Flash one: She's in the kitchen, her default party spot. Stephanie's threatening to kiss her if she doesn't join the mob in the basement.

Flash two: The basement. Marisa's sangria. Yum.

Flash three: Who drank all her stinking sangria? Dammit, Paul, get some more.

Flash four: The music isn't loud enough. Someone -- maybe Elizabeth -- has organized a guerilla trip through the tangle of crowd to the stereo to do something about it. A jumbled memory of walking bent forward, one arm out, ready to snowplow anyone who got in the way. A staggering mob hanging on behind like a zombie conga line.

Flash five: Laughing and laughing and laughing with Marisa until their stomachs hurt and -- whoa -- who turned down the lights?

Flash six: Marisa is scolding her, brushing her hair roughly and tying it back in a ponytail. This will come in handy later when...

Flash seven: Elizabeth wipes her mouth and rises from the strip of marigolds outside Marisa's back door, thanking the lecherous Steve for his rare act of chivalry -- holding her hair while she gets sick.

Flash eight: Another Dixie cup of happiness in hand, she's kicking said chivalrous friend to make him stop groping her.

Flash nine: A chorus line! The entire dance class is shrieking something approximating "Orpheus in the Underworld" and kicking their feet, arms around each other's waists like the Rockettes. Jim! Jim! You have to join us! Have to! The blurry recollection of Jim recoiling slowly and cautiously, as though from a band of wild dogs.

Flash ten: Arguing. Did Jim try to talk her into leaving? She had the vague memory of calling him a poop, of feeling her attraction to him like a literal magnet and tumbling into his gravitational pull. The compelling yet all too short flash of his bicep beneath her hand and Susan's giggle in her ear.

Flash eleven: Why is there no more Jim? Why? Why is Marisa's shoulder so stinking wet? Oh, a handkerchief. Oh no. Oh no. Where's that flowerbed again?

Flash twelve: Handkerchiefs are no match for sangria.

And now.

Not a flash. A flash would be merciful in its brevity.

No.

This? This was more of a swirl. An undulating, insinuating wave. A ride on the end of a cat's tail. A whirlpool, Elizabeth alone and still in its center.

She forced her mouth to move. "Make it stop."

"Huhhhhhhn?" A familiar girl's voice.

Elizabeth said, "You're moving my house. Stop."

The feet in front of her face jerked, bumping her nose and releasing an explosion of comic book sparks and exclamation points. From the opposite end of the bed came the voice again. "Merde! I'd give my left tit for a shot of whiskey."

"Steph?"

"Yeah, 'sme."

Elizabeth struggled onto her elbows. Her joints felt congested, whatever that meant. They were in Marisa's guest bed, heads at opposite ends.

"Why here?"

Steph flailed a hand and rolled to drop her torso off the bed, re-emerging with a cigarette and lighter.

"Damn amateurs." Steph spoke with a clenched jaw as she inhaled. Groaning and expelling a long plume of smoke, she rolled onto her back, eyes closed.

"Ama-whos?"

"Can't take the high octane. C'mon. Show you."

Elizabeth rose, feeling each step in her head instead of her feet. She was a ragdoll made of sandbags -- sandbags full of broken glass and rotten eggs. "Holy flippin' gravy."

Steph shook her head. "Closer, but no cigar. We'll get you cussing properly one of these days." She pulled Elizabeth from the room at a shuffle.

On Elizabeth's closed door, they found a makeshift sign. In thick, wobbly, red magic marker, but obviously Marisa's writing, they read, "BASTARDS -- don't let them out." Underneath this puzzling message were a tiny heart and a lopsided happy face.

Elizabeth swayed, narrowing her eyes to try to focus and read more sense into the thing. It hurt her brain. Steph smirked and inclined her head toward the knob with a raised brow. For some reason, this scared Elizabeth. Who were The Bastards? Why were they in her room? What if they got out?

Steph lowered her cigarette and wheezed with laughter at Elizabeth's expression. Smoke came out her nose. "Elle, you are my love. Look."

Cracking the door, she waved Elizabeth forward. All she saw was a foot clad in a white sweat sock ringed with blue stripes. It rested on her pillow, bedspread pulled primly to the calf as though it were some new form of sleeping giraffe. Steph opened the door wider, revealing half a dozen unconscious men.

Elizabeth gaped. "Why?"

"Drunk and disorderly." Steph shrugged, taking a deep drag and exhaling it with sharp contempt into the room. "Even when she's drunk, Marisa's still the sheriff." She pointed to two boys, leaning against each other, drooling and snoring. "Those two tried to feel you up."

"What? When?"

Steph just rolled her eyes. "And that one?" A chubby blond upperclassman with a crew cut. "He tried to fight Jim when he didn't like the way you were dancing."

"I danced with Jim?" Her head swam.

"No, with Colonel Lardass!"

"Oh." She looked around. "Are they all mine?"

"No. Only those three. The others just got on Marisa's nerves. There were more, but some must have escaped down the balcony the way Mare hoped. Even scrawny little Paul was here for a while, remember?" She smirked at Elizabeth. "No, you don't, do you?"

"Why Paul?"

"Don't know. Just because. He's fun that way." She closed the door. "I just know he was out in time to sweet talk the cops."

Elizabeth rubbed her eyes and groaned. "Cops? I don't remember any of it."

Steph squeezed Elizabeth. "Good for you, then. You've got the drinking part down. I'm proud."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Raptor

A notable dearth of pigeons in the neighborhood today. The hawks are eyeing the crows...

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Life in the Bermuda Triangle

What do you get when you combine the following?
  • strep throat
  • lingering influenza
  • migraines
  • an emergency root canal, extraction, crown, and fillings for one's kindergartner
  • a husband working long painful hours
  • a broken axle followed by a complete engine fail on one of your two (aging) cars (leaving you stranded since said husband has the other car with him at work day and night)
  • ongoing deposits of mutilated rabbit parts in your side yard from some unknown predator*
  • etc.

My month! Woohoo!

It's all made extra special by the fact that we owe $$$ in taxes this year, and that we have a bad, bad, bad case of The Economy, doing things previously unknown outside of games like Monopoly or Life. So, yeah, this one-car situation? It's gonna last.

Yummy.

Nevertheless, things go on. I haven't had a single speck of inspiration for blogging, and I've been kind of caving it from the outside world (working on a long hermit beard), but I've been reading like crazy, and, better, I'm writing. Nothing special. Nothing good. Nothing important. And that makes it all the better. I just sit down, dim-minded, and I go, just see what happens. I've written 22k words over the past two weeks. I'm grateful. It's made a big difference.

I also have the distraction of American Idol -- hours of frothy television I'm actually happy to watch this year. Let us never speak of last year again. (And, if anyone cares, I'm rooting for James Durbin and Casey Abrams.)

So, relevancy shall return, but, for now, I leave you with a few funnies. First, a short from Britanick Comedy. Second, an ad that makes me happy -- cats with thumbs!

*[ETA: The predator revealed itself today -- a redtail hawk who ate two pigeons in our yard to entertain my children.]



Friday, February 18, 2011

Breaking up Is Hard to Do / You Are What You Eat

What do novels do to you? I'd love to know how other people feel after turning that last page.

I've been trying to figure out why I am so wrecked after I finish reading a novel. It's worse than The Day after Christmas Blues -- far more distracting, disorienting.

One obvious answer is that a novel is a heck of a lotta information for your brain to process: tens of thousands of words, meanings layered on meanings, emotions, scenery, and a side of curly fries to boot.

It's more than that, though.

Books grab you, drag you into a new world.

Novels are convoluted high-speed rollercoasters that, instead of returning you to a sparkling popcorn-scented amusement park, deposit you directly into your drab office cubicle in the middle of a work day, leaving you as blinking, disoriented, and exhausted as a bodysnatcher or medium who just finished convening with the dead. And the phone is ringing, and your boss is coming down the corridor, and you still have cotton candy on your fingertips, and you have to pee. Or maybe not that last part. But sometimes you do feel a little sick.

The transition can be as happy and gentle as a mother lowering a baby to its crib.

It can be as dismaying as seeing your entire family and everything you own receding into the distance on a departing train as you chase it through an empty station.

Sometimes, it's just a rough kick on the seat of your pants and the sound of a slamming door.

For me, it's never a clean break.

Books possess me, weave barbed vines into my psyche, use my emotions as marionettes, and shape the way I view the world and express myself, sometimes indelibly.

Maybe that's why people don't just set aside books they hate. They hurl those suckers across the room. The wrath isn't about time forever wasted; it's about exorcism. That book was trying to slide its nasty, slimy vines into your brain, use you like a puppet. So invasive, so unwanted. You can't just turn your back. You have to smite! Destroy! (Lest it creep from beneath your bed at night to grab you by the ankles and mark you for life.)

When the cable channel Sprout premiered (2001-ish?), they played episodes of Sesame Street from the early 1970s that hadn't seen the light of day in decades. My friend was visiting that weekend, and we -- both children of the seventies -- sat transfixed for hours, looking at each other, first with discomfort, then fearful delight, then gleeful laughter, as our mouths moved on their own, reciting old rhymes, singing old songs -- things we didn't know we knew. We heard jokes and silly inflections that existed in those episodes and those episodes alone. They were elements so ingrained in our minds as Something Funny that we each thought we'd invented them or that they were a native part of our personas.

It was wonderfully disturbing fun, and when the marathon ended, I went about feeling haunted and melancholy. A small window had opened on my formative years and then closed again in a whoosh of dust. I was left not just missing the experience but wondering how much of me was me and how much came from snippets of Sesame Street with a sprinkle of Stephen King on top for added sparkle.

This is fiction for me. Each book leaves its own tattoo. Afterward, there's a healing process. I often skim the entire novel a second time, if I liked it, and sometimes a third. If it's going to be a part of me, I need to know what it all meant. You are what you eat, as they say.

So, how about you? Can you just close a book and move on without a second glance? Am I overly impressionable?

* The latest book to possess me is Donna Tartt's Secret History. More than 500 pages of lovely, if disturbing rollercoaster that's left an aftertaste of scotch and cigarettes and India ink, as well as a fascination with how she got me to love these often-horrible characters, seducing me along with the protagonist. I thank my husband for introducing it to me.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut

From my fortune cookie:
Today's oak tree is yesterday's nut that held its ground.

I knew it was good to be a stubborn eccentric.

Plugging away at my story today so I can be tomorrow's oak tree.

Or an author.

Or something.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

On Ravens & Writing Desks

How is a raven like a writing desk? Well, in my case, they're both glossy black and perch high, staring out at rooftops. Also? They both steal and hide all my shiny treasures.

It's a funny thing. I bought a writing desk two weeks ago, and now all my shiny muses have gone MIA. I sit at the pretty little thing in the corner of my bedroom, surrounded by glorious windows, snowcapped mountains, miles of blue sky, and sunshine, and my mind is blank.

Then I start eyeing my old desk.

My old desk was my bed, pillows piled high behind my back, every spring in my ancient mattress jabbing me in most painful fashion, and a rather inadequate plastic bedtray holding my wheezing overheated laptop above my trapped legs. In this exalted spot, I wrote hundreds of thousands of words -- many of them perfectly cromulent -- but it was ergonomically lacking, and it often led to mountains of papers and books stealing my husband's spot beside me. Furthermore, I couldn't rise without the back-straining fun of lowering laptop and tray to the ground, so I rarely did. I wrote late into the night, woke in the wee hours with thoughts of my stories, and the first thing I did in the morning was lift that burden back onto my legs.

Since getting this desk, a strange transformation has occurred.

My bed is now...a bed.

I sit at my desk, and...oh, look at that cozy bed...  I lose the urge to write. I just want a nap. And, when I'm not napping, I find myself reading. I've read like a fiend from this intriguing new land of Bed. It's been glorious, but when I wake in the wee hours now, my thoughts are full of these other novels. It's kind of disconcerting. There's absolutely nothing I can do about those words or characters. Three a.m. is not the hour for literary analysis or technical comparisons.

Damn if my mind isn't trying, however.

(Especially since The Rejectionist inspired me to read Elizabeth Hand's novella Illyria this week. It's beautiful, haunting, and there's a note of magic/mystery that I can almost but not quite get a grasp on. My mind keeps going around and around on it, and I don't know if there's any final destination to be had, or if it's even important. But the wee hours are good for that circular sort of anxiety and confusion. Aunt Kate... Emerald rings... Sob-inducing voices... Theaters...)

And my own words. I have none. I've sat on the rug and made index cards for my storyboard. I've made one or two blog posts. I wrote a one-paragraph message to an old friend. But I'm just not feeling it.

I am a creature of habit. Change really throws me off-kilter these days. And apparently my muses are terrible at reading maps. Hopefully they'll pull over for directions soon, reach this new desk, and this old dog will learn the trick of a new workspace.

Do changes in your routine throw you off, too? Do you have some sort of constant that eases transition for you (music, lighting, a space, a picture, etc.)?  Do you prefer variety? Do you know of a good GPS system for slowpoke muses?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Phone Call to the Past, Present, and Future

Hey! Me two years ago! Read this!

No. Seriously. Read this!

Larry Brooks offers some vital advice to writers

I spent way too long writing vignettes and/or a chronological series of events. I'm just now trying to weave my story over a proper framework.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Beating the Cat (That You've Saved)

I have been absent.

I have been pondering a question.

If a picture paints a thousand words, then why can't I paint you?

No, not really. (And sorry to display my embarrassing familiarity with Bread lyrics.)

I want to know, if a picture's worth a thousand words, then how many words is a single page of screenplay worth? In a novel, that is.

My fascination of late is Blake Snyder's Save the Cat: The Last Book on Screenwriting That You'll Ever Need. Forget screenwriting -- it works for novels, too. The book is brilliant for distilling the myriad bits of storytelling wisdom I've heard over the years into a concise, easy to understand format. I hesitate to say formula because blah blah blah yeah we're all too artistic to cram our masterpieces into a formula, etc. But, really, this book is magic to me.

He lays out the basic elements of plot, talks about how they relate to one another (Act II is often an upside-down funhouse version of Act I, and Act III is a synthesis of the two), and tells you a precise order and proportion in which to use them. Again, I knew most of it, but it was loose, bouncing around in my head -- much like my plot. I really needed a graphic way to examine my novel and all its bits and pieces, and he offers one with his fifteen beats and The Board.

This is not a proper review. There's some horrific noise going on down the street right now. They seem to be using  bumblebees the size of 747s to do construction on the empty lot. Fills every gap in the air with sound. I may start screaming soon.

Anyway, I can't tell you how thrilling it is to be able to see my entire novel in one place, see where it goes off track, and see where it fits. I now know how to fix it!

The one thing I am not yet sure of is how to apply screenplay page numbers to a novel. He bases this on a 110-page screenplay. Can I turn the pages into percentages of total pages? Can I be lazy and turn each page into a thousand words (knowing a 110k-word novel is a wee bit too long)? Or does the catalyst HAVE to happen on page 25, even in a novel? Probably not. It finally occurred to me this morning (because, yes, I'm that scatterbrained sometimes) that I can Google "Save the Cat Novels" and see actual answers. Or opinions. Or articles on losing weight and how to buy prescriptions overseas.

I've only found one article so far (bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz says the neighborhood), but I'll keep looking and perhaps share my wisdom on the blog later.

Meanwhile, do give the book a glance or two. I really loved it. And, if you've read it and used it for your non-script writing, chime in here and let me know how you did it and how it turned out.

(bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz)
http://www.blakesnyder.com/2010/09/17/the-last-novel-writing-book-you%E2%80%99ll-ever-need/

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Back to the Drawing Board

Nathan Bransford announced the finalists in this year's Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge this morning, and there are some great entries there. A few of my favorites made it, but we're not supposed to mention names until the final vote is tallied -- no fair campaigning, not even unintentionally.

Head over there to read the finalists' paragraphs and cast your vote in the comments section.

I'm feeling a bit of the Day after Christmas Blues. I never expected to win or even place. I just enjoyed the wondering, the waiting, the having something out there where people could read it. Meanwhile, it marks a few firsts:
  • my first contest
  • my first exposure to an agent's discerning eyeballs
  • my first toss into the slush pile.

But, as far as landings in a slush pile go, it was very soft, and now I feel more like an official writer. A rite of passage. Woohoo!

I guess it's not an official rejection. The Great Hell-No Letter of Despair will come later, along with all its special feelings.

I linked to my first paragraph before, but now I'll post it here in all of its shame glory entirety.
Elizabeth fit her feet into the rut of a forgotten rainstorm, one sneaker before the other down the old dirt road. Just a needle in a record’s scratchy groove, she sang dirges to the dying summer sun and surrendered to the pull of her secret haven. From her perch atop Mars Hill, she’d gaze over town, imagine herself as one of the soaring ravens, and forget real life, find her breath again. She couldn’t remember ever needing it more.

The entire first chapter (brief) is here.

I need to add more pent-up urgency. She now has more of a reason to be in a hurry. And, yes, there are probaby more issues to fix.

Off to The Marvelous Land of Revisions!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Anna Karolina

Eighteen years ago today, I was just getting settled in here for my semester abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia.

We took our classes in the lower blue buildings surrounding the cathedral. Our housing was a block away.

I'm transferring old handwritten journal entries into a Word document, which is a cringeworthy experience.  Talk about an unreliable narrator!

Have you ever read old journals or letters from an experience you thought you remembered clearly, only to find that time has given you a clearer perspective, and you were no more than an [expletive]?

No?

Just me?

Because my semester in Russia plays out like a really pathetic version of Anna Karenina without the dramatic train incident.
I call this one Lady with a Swamp Rat on Her Head.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Dog Pile on the Slush Pile

I did it.

Earlier this week, I mentioned Nathan Bransford's 4th Sort-of-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge. I wasn't sure I should enter. But then Mr. Bransford posted something along the lines of Eh, Why not? Time's running out. So I said what the heck. There's safety in numbers. I joined the throngs in the soon-to-be slush pile. My entry is on this page, tenth from the bottom, I think (#1391). It starts, "Elizabeth fit her feet..."

My paragraph may never be read that deep in the pile, but the challenge is still proving useful. NB suggested his readers go through the entries to learn what works,what doesn't work, and how the good ones start to stand out after a while. [Article here] Mr. Untitlement and I did just that last night, and doggonnit if NB wasn't right. I printed the first 200 paragraphs (of more than 1500), and we went through, crossing out the ones that didn't grab us. In our first sweep, we wound up with only 45 survivors. It was disturbingly fun and educational. You really do start to see patterns after a while.  I'm going to go through those 45 today and see how many I still like.

Meanwhile, I'm sure others are wrinkling their noses at my first paragraph and making big red Xs across it. So be it.

Even if you didn't enter, I highly recommend taking Mr. Bransford's advice to read the entries. It's a true crash course on how to start a book.

Thanks a zillion to everyone who read and commented on my 99th page yesterday. It means a lot to me. If you haven't read it and commented, then I'm taking my toys and going home consider giving it a look. Thanks again!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Read My Page! (The 99th Page Blogfest)

Today's fun comes courtesy of Holly Dodson at Super Mom Writes. You can read more about it HERE. Basically, I'm posting the ninety-ninth page of my novel manuscript, as is. (So far. It will change with revisions.) The theory is that a reader can get a better idea of a book's quality by flipping to the middle instead of reading the heavily doctored first few pages. Scary, especially since this is not my final draft. The only "cheat" here is that I finished the last sentence, which otherwise wrapped to the next page.

There are three questions for the reader to answer.
  1. Would you turn to page 100?
  2. Why or why not?
  3. Based on what you read, would you consider buying the book?

I look forward to your comments. (Yes, you.) (Please and thank you)

____________________________________________

"All perches are my perch." He pulled himself to a higher branch, feet swinging loose for a moment, just like he'd taught her not to do. "This is my tree."

She said, "Then you are a Norse god. You admit it."

"Lost your fire so soon, Dragon? Is that why you cower below?" He pelted her with leaves, twigs. "Don't insult me. I only appear a god because you appear a sleepy baby."

"Pig!" She was on her feet, hurling leaves, bark, and debris up at him.

"Can't keep up? Ready to surrender the thimble?" He laughed, ducking behind a limb, although he was out of range.

Elizabeth took one last look at the rune-carved nest then studied the upper branches. She didn't need to remember Rob's path; the tree remembered for her -- more than a decade of passage polished darkly into its limbs.

The air was damp in the nest, but it lightened as she climbed, dappled sunshine adding a citrusy note, ribbons of warmth.

It was intoxicating, the success of scaling such a majestic tree, the secret world of Robin Oliver Bastle. She was just beginning to feel like an immortal, invincible, when her foot slipped, and her body clenched. An eternity of pounding hot-scented confusion, and she realized his training worked. Her hands were tight on their separate branches, and her other foot had slipped but not lost its hold. In her relief, she wanted to cry, go limp and unconscious right there, forget, but, clearly, that was impossible. What seemed liberating a moment earlier now felt like a trap.

She looked down -- a maze of branches funneling into darkness. She looked up and found Rob's face, astonishingly close, pale, his posture that of a jungle cat about to spring. Had he thought he could leap down and catch her?
______________________________________________

From Bête Noire / Unicorns & Other Exotic Goats
Chapter: "The Tree of Life"
Setting: Spring 1969, Catskills, NY

It’s the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, but not for seventeen-year-old outsider, Elizabeth Cory. Closing her eyes to the modern world, she buries herself in fantasy novels and the music of another era to escape her pain. When she’s taken in by an eccentric family whose turreted home sits on the edge of an ancient forest, she thinks she’s finally found refuge. But in her search for love and a doorway to a peaceful, magical world, she’ll find that not every Prince Charming leads to happily ever after, not every wolf is big or bad, and when you try to live in a fairy tale, the only magical doorways lead to real life.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Life Is Good (My 1st Blog Award)

I received my first blog award this week. Thank you to Tony Benson, luthier, musician, and writer. (Check out his blog at Fireside Park.)

The requirements of this award are:
  1. First, thank and link back to the person that gave the award.
  2. Answer the 10 survey questions.
  3. Pass the award along to other bloggers whom you think are fantastic.
  4. Contact the bloggers you have chosen to let them know about the award.

The ten questions are:

1. If you blog anonymously, are you happy doing this? If you are not anonymous, do you wish that you had started out anonymously, so that you could be anonymous now?

I've gone back and forth. I have a family blog that detailed my son's pediatric melanoma and its treatment. That was public and under my real name.

When I started writing fiction, however, I was shy and wanted to stay anonymous. Plus, how cool is a pseudonym? Made me feel like a real writer. I chose Bridget Carle because it's like my real name turned upside down and backward. After a while, though, I relaxed. Why not use my real name? I can still use Bridget Carle on a novel, should I ever get published. (Especially if my antagonists turn out too much like my ex. Heh!) Right now, I'm happy being me. Guess it's time to update the About section...

2. Describe an incident that shows your inner stubborn side.

Right now, the attempt to answer this question. My mind is stubbornly refusing to come up with an example although I know my stubbornness to be inner, outer, and all over the place.

3. What do you see when you really look at yourself in the mirror?

Someone who's really grumpy about having to be up so early, getting dressed, and taking the kids to school. Not a morning person. No sir-ee.

4. What is your favorite summer cold drink?

Diet cola. Any season. Love the stuff. I can't drink it anymore, though. The sweeteners give me headaches. Also, once I start drinking it, I drink tons. Gets expensive.

5. When you take time for yourself, what do you do?

I nap, I write, I stare into space -- anything quiet and private. I'm a hardcore introvert and need that time alone to recharge. I also like to take long baths and sing along with my iPod. LOUDLY.

6. Is there something that you still want to accomplish in your life? What is it?

I want to be a happy, satisfied (and hopefully good) writer, whatever that might mean. Maybe it will mean getting published. Maybe it will mean never publishing but always having the words and ideas pour forth so I can maintain that writer's high. I'd like it to include eager readers. It will have to mean a good family life.

7. When you attended school, were you the class clown, the class overachiever, the shy person, or always ditching?

I was SHY. I tried my best to be invisible so other kids wouldn't crush me. But I had a close-knit group of friends that stuck together from fourth grade through the end of high school. Among ourselves, we were loud, giggly, and boy/girl crazy.

8. If you close your eyes and want to visualize a very poignant moment in your life, what would you see?

Being told that my father didn't survive a  heart attack, having to say goodbye to his body when I'd just waved a cheerful goodbye to him a few hours earlier when he left my house for home. I couldn't wrap my mind around what it meant that he was gone. I still don’t think I get it.

9. Is it easy for you to share your true self in your blog or are you more comfortable writing posts about other people or events?

It's easy for me to share myself in a blog -- so easy that I have to edit myself. It's much more difficult to talk about others or try to teach a concept. I see too many shades of gray, know there's so much more to another person's story that what I see. I don't say that to sound wise or virtuous. I'm just afraid of being wrong or getting beat up. ;) I'm working on blogging about writing methods and/or tips, but I need to find the confidence. I don't feel I have the least bit of authority to be telling others what to do when I'm just flailing in the muck, learning on the fly.

10. If you had the choice to sit down and read a book or talk on the phone, which would you do and why?

Read. I have a severe phone phobia. Really bad. It's all on my end, though. I love to get calls, just can't make them.

I'd like to pass the award on to writer/blogger M. Howalt, who has been a frequent commenter on my blog. It makes my day every time someone steps forth from the fog of anonymous statistics to wave or say hi or talk about my entries. More importantly, the mysterious M has a great blog full of thoughtful, useful posts. Do check it out.

(The questions were surprisingly tough to answer. Sorry to take so long, Tony.)

Friday, January 21, 2011

I Require an Aslan Doorknocker

Dear Certain Moms at My Sons' School,

I look like Attila the Hun in sweats or basic crewneck t-shirts and jeans. That's why I don't wear them like everyone else. You're younger, thinner, and richer. I'm older. I get to dress weird. So don't give me those looks.

Also, the reason you have to honk at me to move forward in line while dropping off my son is not because I'm stupid and using the phone or texting. It's because I've been idling for twenty minutes and started reading my Nook and got pulled in by the pretty writing and forgot where I was. So I'm stupid and using a device -- but literarily. You see the difference now. And don't give me that look.

Thank you for your time

***


narnia.web
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My first grader is reading The Chronicles of Narnia right now, and I'm just giddy. Mr. Untitlement read the first few books to them at bedtime, and my son read Prince Caspian on his own. Now he's on to one of my favorites: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I took him to see the movie the other day.

Which leads me to wonder...

Why is there no Voyage of the Dawn Treader play set? Where is the toy ship with the plastic people and talking mouse? Where is the plastic Eustace As Dragon figurine?

Thimbles and thunderstorms!

All the toys are from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Prince Caspian. They have a plastic version of every critter in the battle from PC, but no Dawn Treader? Come on!

I fell in love with a set of Aslan/White Witch bookends during my shopping quest, however. Must save up. Gollum and the Watchers of Rauros are getting lonely. (I'm entering my forties. It's mandated by law that I collect figurines as I age. I'm going to make mine as strange as possible, though, and imagine them lurking in dark corners of an imagined future home library where all the books have gilded spines. If The Stand had figurines, I'd... Well, I'd probably avoid those. M-O-O-N -- that spells nevermind.)

Weeklong migraines are not good for me.

Shorter, more useful posts soon.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Bridget Carle & the Mystery of the 99th Page

Some more blogfest fun coming up next week...

The 99th Page Blogfest is hosted by writer Holly Dodson and four of her fellow bloggers. Writers are invited to submit page ninety-nine of their novels, and then participants (and kindly blog readers) will comment, stating if they'd read further, based on that page.

Explanation of the blogfest's origins can be found in this article from Guardian.co.uk:
Ford Madox Ford recommended instead that readers "open the book to page ninety-nine and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you". A new website, page99test.com, launches next month to test that premise. It will offer (courageous) authors and aspiring authors the chance to upload the 99th pages of their works and invite readers to comment on whether they would buy, or like to read, the rest.

Should be fun! You will find my entry here on January 28th (next Friday). [Edit: Here's the link to my 99th page]

Ears Spiting Faces All over the Place!

Imitrex is a cruel mistress. Perhaps that's why it shares so many letters with dominatrix. (Oh boy, the hits I'll be getting now.)

It's a gamble. It's a deal with the devil. (Again. Devil. Dominatrix. If I get a zillion hits a day for Tigger when I've never even typed that word until just now, merely posted Eeyore's picture... Hello, future misled search engine victims!)

ANYway.

Here's the thing with Imitrex. It takes your migraine and sucks it right out of your head. No more migraine. Yay! Miracle!

HOWEVER, the makers of the drug are clearly fans of stories like "The Monkey's Paw". Its help comes at a cost.

Imitrex takes your migraine from your head -- miracle -- and crams it into every other cell of your body -- the horror! At least, that's what it does to me. No headache, but my skin hurts, my muscles hurt, I get puffy, my throat aches, I can't eat or drink, my jaw feels tense and achy, my heart beats strangely, I feel heavy as granite. Oh, the fun we have! It's still better than a migraine, but it's crushingly awful for the first hour or two.

Oh, and tee hee hee -- you must, simply must, take it at the very first sign of a migraine. Since I don't get auras or any of those signs, it means I have to take it at the first sign of a headache. But what if it's a normal headache and will go away with Tylenol? Then I won't have to suffer psychedelic assault and battery for no good reason. But if I take Tylenol and it doesn't help, by the time I know that, it will be too late, and I'll have my brain replaced by a black vortex of howling pain.

In short, it's a gamble, and one I've had to make for the past four days. I'm resisting a fourth Iminatrix right now, and my brain is messing with me. Here's a trammeling of pressure and pain and -- whoops -- it's gone. It will be back as soon as I start to relax. Snarl.

In other gambles this week, I ordered a pair of  shoes that were on clearance but still cost just enough that I got mad when they felt like walking on rocks. People swear they feel like heaven once they mold to your foot and get broken in...most of the time. If not, you're still out the price of the shoes since they've been worn and are no longer returnable. I got lucky. One or two wearings (yeah, I took the chance), and they do feel nice.

Writing? Not sure. I was draping myself morosely across the furniture last weekend, bemoaning my lack of productivity, and then I remembered I'd just scrawled out 2500 words. It felt like nothing. Not effortless, just insubstantial. I'd already forgotten it. Two nights ago, I wrote 1500 words that I thought were quite useful, but when my husband read them to me aloud, I realized the scope of just how vastly wrong they were.  So am I writing? Yes. Am I happy about it? Hmm.

The good news is that my revised sections are great! The bad news is number four on this list over at the Office of Letters & Light.

Wishing you all a great week.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Anniversary of DOOM

I've noticed something recently.

Nearly every blog I read is roughly one year old.

Now, why is that?

Is it near the one year mark that one hits one's stride and gains a widespread following?

Or...should I be...afraid?

What precisely happens to a blog that's, say, one and a HALF?

[Insert Twilight Zone theme]

(Don't give me that "because they all started as a New Year's resolution" song and dance. I detect something more sinister. Because it's more entertaining that way.)

P.S. -- Hi, entire writing blogosphere! I'm reading Save the Cat, too! Great book. And I love how he saves the cat on page xv of the Introduction. A perfect, engaging example to prove he knows what he's talking about.

Monday, January 10, 2011

What Were They Reading When You Were Born?

A fun dealie-bobber, courtesy of the fine folks at the Office of Letters and Light today. We've all seen the site where you can find out what the number one song was on the day you were born. Now there's a literary version!***

If you go to Biblioz and enter the pertinent data, you'll find out the fiction and non-fiction bestsellers from the week you were born. (Be sure to use the correct date format of DATE-MONTH-YEAR, not MONTH-DATE-YEAR.) Then your job is to come back here and report your findings in the comment section below.

I did it. I was imagining happy little families out in the happy little maternity ward waiting room, reading happy little stories, awaiting my birth.

Which books were they, I wondered.

Well. Lemme tell ya.

THIS:

AND THIS:

Is it any wonder I turned out the way I did?

What were your books? I look forward to the answers.

*** Brilliant reader M. Howalt pointed out that BibliOZ can be used as a tool for writers who are researching a particular time period for their stories!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Treasure

Vivian Maier self portrait
See the video below...

A late nanny's possessions reveal hundreds of thousands of negatives, tremendous unknown talent, and a vivid portrait of mid-century Chicago.

I want to go to Chicago. I want to help scan the photos. I want to see them all.

This is the kind of story that makes me greedy -- unearthing history, art, and the mind of the mysterious photographer. One hundred thousand moments of Ms. Maier's life & Chicago history, many never before  seen.

And that's what makes it most exciting of all -- that there is still uncharted territory, new treasure to be found.

Naturally, I've been waxing philosophical about the story. I won't bore you with the details, but, basically, I'm thinking about how we can see exactly what the photographer saw and get a feel for her opinion on each subject, but we will never know the exact story or what she was thinking. And maybe it doesn't matter. Maybe the raw image and the viewer's reaction is the story.

With a writer, you can read the story and what the author was thinking, but you can only catch a glimpse of the actual images in the author's mind. Unless the author is a talented artist, no one will ever see what they see, no matter how evocative their descriptions. And maybe that doesn't matter. Maybe the images created in the readers' minds are more important.

But back to Vivian Maier...



I have a box of glass stereoscopic slides from the 1920s-30s, showing random scenes of Chicago. One thing I love about them is they're not professional -- just amateur photos from a family who lived in the Beverly Woods neighborhood. They aren't as clear or artistic as these, but they're pretty nice, and they are in 3D, which adds an element of magic to unguarded moments of the past:  horse-drawn buggies mingling with automobiles downtown, landmark buildings surrounded by others which have since been torn down, old cemeteries, an airship over skyscrapers, their rather Edwardian living room, etc. And you feel like you can reach right through the age spots, peeling corners, and scratches into that black and white world. Grab it. I hope that someday I can scan them before they decay too far.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Gloomy Place

Feeling rather b(l)oggy and sad.

Just one of those days. The I'm Nothing but a Delusional Sham Who's Run out of Ideas and Any Pretense of Talent kind of days. We've all been there. Nuff said.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

"Show Me Yours" Blogfest

Today, I'm celebrating the Show MeYours blogfest by posting an excerpt from the novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2010.

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Novel Title: The View from Upper High Hog
Summary: An outrageous former Vaudevillian finds herself strong-armed into raising a Russian orphan in Cold War Era Arizona.
Scene: Set in 1962, this is the novel's opening, narrated by Elizabeth, the now-thirteen-year-old orphan raised by Bebe Rosenthal (a.k.a. The Fabulous Bette Noire). After this scene, we go back in time to hear the real story of how Bebe wound up with Elizabeth.

_________________________________________________________________

Bebe was gone. Bette Noire was in her eyes.

And Bette Noire wanted me to shut up.

It was party time, so I grew dim in the part of the living room I called Downstage. Bebe called it my box seat — a small bay window where I hid with books and dreams of Prince Charming, curtains drawn. But not right then. Right then I was a prop in Bebe– Bette’s routine.

“C’maaaan! Who’s the brat? You ain’t no mama. Ain’t never been!” Bebe’s friend kicked his feet onto our chipped coffee table, popping a cigar back in his mouth like a pacifier. She favored him with a smile, but I didn’t like his winks — not at me, not at Bebe, not even at her fearless stage persona, The Fabulous Bette Noire. He looked like a cartoon on a cocktail napkin. He smelled like wood polish and poison. I hoped he’d choke on a pistachio so he’d shut up.

But he didn’t, and others ogled my thirteen-year-old gawkiness until I itched like I was covered with flies. I hated when downstage became upstage. At least I could always count on rescue, whether smiling and merciful from Bebe or otherwise from Bette.

No smile that time. Just Bette’s narrowing eye. Here it came.

With a flourish, the Fabulous Bette Noire put her fingers in her mouth and whistled until she shattered every eardrum from here to Kingman, grinning at her guests’ shock.

Spotlight regained.

When I pulled my hands from my ears — I knew the danger signals — she was laughing into the imaginary heights of our low-ceilinged bungalow and positioning herself between olive velveteen curtains. Our front window was her favorite stage, our floorlamp her spotlight. That night, she was accompanied by reflected stardust glitter from our aluminum Christmas tree.

When all eyes returned to her, Bette launched into a well-worn monologue: the story of our origins. She had this whole routine she performed at parties.

A wave of her cigarette, the rasp of her voice, and she reached my favorite part. “So they lead me in. They sit me down. They ask if I wanted a drink. Well…” A knowing look, and the room laughed on cue. She held out her hands, a string of smoke curling upward from the cigarette between her fingers. “But then, instead of a drink or some happy hour grub, there she was! Wrapped in a blanket like a little shnookum sausage in a casing, all pink and round-cheeked. I looked that Miz Scott right in the eye and told her flat out, 'No thank you, ma’am. I always keep kosher!'"

She always paused here for laughter. The woman knew her timing.

“But apparently they knew I was bluffing because, next thing I knew, I was sitting in a train, watching the prairie go by, holding that little sausage, and wondering what to do next. A sausage! I figured I’d donate her to the diner car. Then she opened her eyes for the first time, stee-retched out that neck… And I realized. She wasn’t a sausage at all. By those giant pea-green eyes, I knew I had myself a turtle. I said hi how are ya, and the turtle belched — the raunchiest noise I’d ever heard.” A shrug. “What are you gonna do? I fell in love. We’ve been together ever since.”

Love. She said loved me. Made all the staring men worthwhile.

Problem was, I knew the story was total baloney.

Bebe didn’t meet me until I was four, more beanpole than sausage, eyes wide open all the time. Maybe I burped, but more likely I just wore her ears out, babbling in Russian until she could teach me enough English to understand I needed to shut up.

[Click for next chapter]

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Brilliant Writing Advice

Possibly the best list of writing advice I've found in my quest for writing excellence. I'd like to turn it into a poster and hang it on my office wall. It was only after studying these rules that I was able to read my own writing without grimacing (or sighing and smiling sadly).

Written by Allan Guthrie.

Hunting Down the Pleonasms


I can’t stress strongly enough that writing is subjective. We all strive for different goals. Consequently, we all need our own set of rules—and some of us don’t need rules at all! Personally, I like rules. If nothing else, it’s fun breaking them.

  1. Avoid pleonasms. A pleonasm is a word or phrase which can be removed from a sentence without changing its meaning. For example, in “Hunting Down The Pleonasm”, ‘down’ is pleonastic. Cut it and the meaning of the sentence does not alter. Many words are used pleonastically: ‘just’, ‘that’ and ‘actually’ are three frequently-seen culprits (I actually just know that he’s the killer can be trimmed to I know he’s the killer), and phrases like ‘more or less’ and ‘in any shape or form’ are redundant.

  2. Use oblique dialogue. Try to generate conflict at all times in your writing. Attempt the following experiment at home or work: spend the day refusing to answer your family and colleagues’ questions directly. Did you generate conflict? I bet you did. Apply that principle to your writing and your characters will respond likewise.

  3. Use strong verbs in preference to adverbs. I won’t say avoid adverbs, period, because about once every fifty pages they’re okay! What’s not okay is to use an adverb as an excuse for failing to find the correct verb. To ‘walk slowly’ is much less effective than to ‘plod’ or ‘trudge’. To ‘connect strongly’ is much less effective than to ‘forge a connection’.

  4. Cut adjectives where possible. See rule 3 (for ‘verb’ read ‘noun’).

  5. Pairs of adjectives are exponentially worse than single adjectives. The ‘big, old’ man walked slowly towards the ‘tall, beautiful’ girl. When I read a sentence like that, I’m hoping he dies before he arrives at his destination. Mind you, that’s probably a cue for a ‘noisy, white’ ambulance to arrive. Wailingly, perhaps!

  6. Keep speeches short. Any speech of more than three sentences should be broken up. Force your character to do something. Make him take note of his surroundings. Ground the reader. Create a sense of place.

  7. If you find you’ve said the same thing more than once, choose the best and cut the rest. Frequently, I see the same idea presented several ways. It’s as if the writer is saying, “The first couple of images might not work, but the third one should do it. If not, maybe all three together will swing it.” The writer is repeating himself. Like this. This is a subtle form of pleonasm.

  8. Show, don’t tell. Much vaunted advice, yet rarely heeded. An example: expressing emotion indirectly. Is your preferred reader intelligent? Yes? Then treat them accordingly. Tears were streaming down Lila’s face. She was very sad. Can the second sentence be inferred from the first? In context, let’s hope so. So cut it. If you want to engage your readers, don’t explain everything to them. Show them what’s happening and allow their intelligence to do the rest. And there’s a bonus to this approach. Because movies, of necessity, show rather than tell, this approach to your writing will help when it’s time to begin work on the screenplay adaptation of your novel!

  9. Describe the environment in ways that are pertinent to the story. And try to make such descriptions active. Instead of describing a book lying on a table, have your psycho-killer protagonist pick it up, glance at it and move it to the arm of the sofa. He needs something to do to break up those long speeches, right?

  10. Don’t be cute. In the above example, your protagonist should not be named Si Coe.

  11. Avoid sounding ‘writerly’. Better to dirty up your prose. When you sound like a writer, your voice has crept in and authorial intrusion is always unwelcome. In the best writing, the author is invisible.

  12. Fix your Point Of View (POV). Make it clear whose head you’re in as early as possible. And stay there for the duration of the scene. Unless you’re already a highly successful published novelist, in which case you can do what you like. The reality is that although most readers aren’t necessarily clued up on the finer points of POV, they know what’s confusing and what isn’t.

  13. Don’t confuse the reader. If you write something you think might be unclear, it is. Big time. Change it or cut it.

  14. Use ‘said’ to carry dialogue. Sid Fleischman calls ‘said’, “the invisible word.”

  15. Whilst it’s good to assume your reader is intelligent, never assume they’re psychic.

  16. Start scenes late and leave them early.

  17. When writing a novel, start with your characters in action. Fill in any necessary backstory as you go along.

  18. Give your characters clear goals. Always. Every scene. And provide obstacles to those goals. Always. Every scene. If the POV character in a scene does not have a goal, provide one or cut the scene. If there is no obstacle, add one or cut the scene.

  19. Don’t allow characters who are sexually attracted to one another the opportunity to get into bed unless at least one of them has a jealous partner.

  20. Torture your protagonist. It’s not enough for him to be stuck up a tree. You must throw rocks at him while he figures out how to get down.

  21. Use all five senses in your descriptions. Smell and touch are too often neglected.

  22. Vary your sentence lengths. I tend to write short, and it’s amazing what a difference combing a couple of sentences can make.

  23. Don’t allow your fictional characters to speak in sentences. Unless you want them to sound fictional.

  24. Cut out filtering devices, wherever possible. ‘He felt’, ‘he thought’, ‘he observed’ are all filters. They distance the reader from the character.

  25. Avoid unnecessary repetition of tense. For example: I’d gone to the hospital. They’d kept me waiting for hours. Eventually, I’d seen a doctor. Usually, the first sentence is sufficient to establish tense. I’d gone to the hospital. They kept me waiting for hours. Eventually, I saw a doctor.

  26. When you finish your book, pinpoint the weakest scene and cut it. If necessary, replace it with a sentence or paragraph.

  27. Don’t plant information. How is Donald, your son? I’m quite sure Donald’s father doesn’t need reminding who Donald is. Their relationship is mentioned purely to provide the reader with information.

  28. If an opinion expressed through dialogue makes your POV character look like a jerk, allow him to think it rather than say it. He’ll express the same opinion, but seem like a lot less of a jerk.

  29. Characters who smile and grin a lot come across as deranged fools. Sighing and shrugging are also actions to avoid. Eliminating smiles, sighs and shrugs is almost always an improvement. Smiling sadly is a capital offence.

  30. Pronouns are big trouble for such little words. The most useful piece of information I ever encountered on the little blighters was this: pronouns refer to the nearest matching noun backwards. For example: John took the knife out of its sheath and stabbed Paul with it. Well, that’s good news for Paul. If you travel backwards from ‘it’, you’ll see that John has stabbed Paul with the sheath! Observing this rule leads to much clearer writing.

  31. Spot the moment of maximum tension and hold it for as long as possible. Or as John D. MacDonald put it: “Freeze the action and shoot him later.”

  32. If something works, forget about the rule that says it shouldn’t.


Found at Absolute Write Water Cooler.