Mood Music

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Rainy morning

9:30 am. Dark as dusk
Surrounded by the music of rain
Pings in my gutters
A torrent-rush through the downspouts
Low thuds upon the pavement
The weight of so much water tilts the air
Drops assail my window
Taps clacks ticks
A cacophony
A symphony
That is how I will hear it today

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New Year, New Attitude

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1411963974-800pxNothing says “You stink at this!” like the year-end stats from WordPress. Yikes!

Now it’s true, the focus remained on my writing this year, finding outlets for shorter works, and querying my novel. I’ve enjoyed moderate success, though not the ultimate prize. Yet. Unfortunately, I’m not great at spreading myself around, writing wise. I have a terrier avatar for a reason. I gnaw on one thing until…well you get the picture. So expending energy on blogging has gone right to the bottom of my list.

Uncomfortably (for an introvert), it’s getting more obvious every year that taking an active role in one’s writing career via promotion and visibility might be a make or break proposition. Not news, I know, just an idea I never wanted to face. In fact, the thought makes me cringe. But the old publishing paradigms are vanishing. The path to having a novel “published” might be traditional (with paper books, ebooks, advances, promo), or ebook only (tiny, or no advances, limited promo), via self-publishing, or some hybrid plan. According to this somewhat depressing article by Publishing Trends, 5 Predictions For Trade Publishing in 2016, traditional publishing might be battening down the hatches even tighter, relying even more heavily on established authors, even bringing back old, popular characters for another go-round. Which means fewer slots for unproven authors.

I’m not ready to concede to going this alone, but there’s a limit to how reclusive I can be in this day and age. Those who can’t stomach the stage lights will linger in the dark, right? Yes, that’s right. Get over it, E.

But self-talk and stats are vastly different things. I can cheerlead myself into believing I need to get “out there,” but seeing a stat like, “The busiest day of your blogging year was 15 views”…UGH! How embarrassing is that?

So here’s hoping humiliation is enough to kick me into gear, especially because I’m going to have some fun news to report in the next few months. That’ll have to do it, because there’s no way I’m clicking that button to let WordPress make my miserable stats public. Hell no! I’m not that much of a masochist.

To you, my precious few—thus all the more prized—readers, I wish a Happy, Healthy, and Fulfilling 2016!

 

Connecting. Unequivocally

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Reading on steps

Photo by Garry Knight. Creative Commons license 2.0

I have a few happy memories of my childhood that involve my mom.

I never gave it much thought. I didn’t know I was supposed to have more. I knew only one way of how mothers and daughters worked. I didn’t know our way was not the norm.

Until one spring day a few years ago I had a meltdown.  Something pretty insignificant happened and I lost it. Started crying and couldn’t stop. I got in the car and I drove and drove through a heavy rain, sobbing loud and ugly, until I couldn’t breathe or see. I don’t cry, so this scared me, but it siphoned off…something. Temporarily.

Then it happened again a month later. I didn’t know I’d still been dragging my entrails through the dirt until my body said, “Enough!” I sought help…and got it.

So why am I scrawling this personal revelation on my blog? It’s because of a novel. By some accident (or not) of fate, I recently happened upon a 2007 book, Dirty by Megan Hart.** I recognized the main character Elle’s plight right away, and her mother, too. Reading Elle’s story made me tense with discomfort, made my own psychology bubble to the surface. Made me sick and worried. Not for me, but for Elle. I kept turning the pages to see if she’d be okay, and when Elle’s brother said she should see someone because “…Talking about it helps. Puts things in perspective. Proves I’m not crazy…” the truth of it stole my breath. I wanted to reach through the little electronic pad I read on and shake Elle, say “Listen to your brother! He knows!”

I was on edge about every decision Elle made, the sorts of so-called choices we daughters of difficult mothers make to establish a modicum of control over our own lives. I was completely, unequivocally engaged with her.

Some people say “write for yourself.” Not me. I  write in quest of a bond, a connection. Yes, for entertainment, too, but even then, the be-all, end-all is the emotional tie, creating deeper feelings, four dimensional reading experiences. Total immersion.

Books have so much power. As a reader, I want to be submerged. As a writer, I want to be your only source of oxygen.

I’ve read thousands of books, and still I’m surprised—and giddy—when it happens to me so thoroughly.

 

**Dirty is an erotic romance, not necessarily for every reader.

THOU SHALT NOT LET YOUR BLOG–OR YOUR WRITING–LANGUISH

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One of the Ten (or so) Commandments of blogging. I broke it. Sort of. I was still blogging on occasion, but over at Bad Menagerie, the awesome space I share with a few of my wildly talented and creative critique partners.

And then life happened. My father passed away, my father-in-law passed away and my eldest son graduated from college, all in a 6 month span. Those events are all on that “Life Stresses” list, and boy lemme tell you, they belong there. I kept writing, but not with the same vim.

The sad truth was I’d fallen out of love with Cate and Gabriel. There was something wrong with them. Or, it wasn’t them, it was me. Half way through major revisions, I threw up my hands. I was tired of using a crowbar on the plot, tired of Cate and Gabriel living in my head. It became pretty clear there was some super-sekrit sekrit about the revision process, and I didn’t know what it was. So I kicked it off a cliff set them aside.

But the longer it sat, the less interested in it I grew, which was a bit worrisome. I’ve invested years in that book. It had been betaed and worked, and betaed and worked again.

So I did something that would hold my feet to the fire, something I’d never done: I signed up for a local conference and prepared to pitch my novel to agents. Naturally, that meant I had to have my novel ready. So what did I do? I wrote a draft of a different (short) novel. I wrote flash stories and short stories and non-stories from prompts. And then I wrote a novelette. (What is a novelette anyway? We didn’t have novelettes when I was in school. There was novel, novella and short story. But I digress…) I wrote a 20K story. I called it my long-short, and it turned out not-bad. I even subbed it. I got my writing juices flowing freely again.

But still no desperate passion for the novel I was scheduled to pitch, and time was running out. I decided to hold my nose and peek at what happened while it sat stewing for those months. Not much, outwardly,  but it aged better than I’d anticipated. I laughed when I read parts of chapter 1, things looked better than I’d remembered. I kinda liked it again. So I got back to work, whipped things into shape, wrote a decent pitch and synopsis, and pitched the thing. And to my shock, other people seemed to like it, too.

The theme of this blog is kicking myself out of my lane. Take chances. Get uncomfortable. I did that by going to the conference, but also by stepping away from the book I’d been immersed in for so long. I found out something a lot of writers know, but until you’re faced with it, it’s hard to believe: sometimes things have to cook in their own juices for a long time. Which isn’t to say that “stewing” novels don’t turn rancid, or wind up big mold-covered lumps. That happens all too often. But sometimes things just need to be left alone to let the flavors blend. Sometimes all they need is a poke and a stir.

We’ll see if it’s tasty in the end or not, but either way, I’m back in my lane, a fine place to be for now.

Brow-raising, lip twitching and fingernail biting. Yeah.

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My characters’ eyebrows are very mobile. They raise, lower, arc, meet. One goes up, the other down. It’s an issue, one my CPs and beta readers take glee in excoriating me over.

I can’t help it! In real life I’m always paying attention to non-verbal communication, but there are only so many ways to describe non-verbal cues in a novel. I fully I admit it gets old, all the eyebrow raising, lip twitching and finger fiddling.

When it comes to “face-to-face” interaction, there is so much to be gained by paying close attention to non-verbal communication. I watched an episode of Vikings with my son not long ago, and there was a scene that was almost silent. There were a few words (none terribly memorable), but the non-verbal communication between the characters, and more importantly, toward the audience, was crystal clear. At least it was to me.

My son didn’t infer nearly as much as I did, which illustrates the dangers of depending on non-verbal cues. 1) Someone has to actually pay attention to non-verbal language, and then 2) they have to interpret it exactly how the writer/director/actor meant it. Which can be tricky.

Take, for example, a tense interview on a news magazine. The subject is sitting there unable to make solid eye contact with the interviewer. AHA! I say. Look at that liar! But what looks to me like nervous lying may be something else entirely. Maybe the subject’s eyes are darting about because the interviewer’s got something large and unsightly hanging around her nostril, and if the subject doesn’t look away, he knows he’ll only stare at that ONE spot. How would I, the viewer know? The answer, of course, is I can’t. I’m making assumptions, sometimes judgements.  The interpretation of non-verbal communication will always, always be subject to interpreter bias.

As a writer, this is important to keep in mind. Obviously, novel-writing (graphic novels excepted) is not a visual medium, but I, for one, do want readers to “see” my stories play out in their minds. With nothing for the eyes to interpret, though, non-verbal cues in writing have an added layer of obfuscation. Beyond interpreter bias, we are dependent on the reader to imagine what the writer describes.

Some cues lend themselves to visualizing better than others, which is why they tend to be the overused ones. Eyebrows go up, eyebrows go down. It’s relatively universal that when brows are lowered, it’s a negative. Scorn or anger, perhaps puzzlement. I’ve yet to see or read of lowered brows indicating joy or happiness. But let’s say I write, “His brows lowered, and the corner of his lip seemed to have developed a tic.” Is the character mad? Disgusted? About to start crying? It could be any of those things, and of course, context matters. But  sometimes the more you, the author, say, the less clear it gets.

The use of non-verbal communication in writing is very much tied to the “show, don’t tell” mantra. It’s also a word burner. A writer friend and I were conversing online and I sent an emoticon. This one: >;-| She called it “winky disdain,” which I thought was brilliant. Two words to describe it perfectly. But if I were to use this facial expression in my story, I’d probably blather on trying to be more specific: “…one eye squinted under lowered brows, her lips pressed flat…” TEN words. Here is the danger. I prefer the ten-word description, to maximize my chances that you, the reader, will see it the same way I do. In fact, if I use so many words, you damn well better see it the same way I do. Otherwise I’ve wasted 8 precious words. But I can’t guarantee it, can I? I could have used “winky disdain” and left it up to your interpretation, and many, many skillful writers do exactly this.

I’m a “visual” reader, so when I write, I do a lot of trying to manage what the reader “sees.” Thus my [over-]dependence on eyebrows. For now, my CPs and betas will have to keep admonishing me while I search for the happy medium, one that involves just the right balance of word-burning imagery and verbal efficiency.

“One of these days I hope I’ll figure it out,” she said, her lip wobbling.

Now Appearing on a 2nd Blog

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Things have been a little sparse around here lately. It’s because, in the spirit of knocking myself out of my lane, I’m participating in a group blog with some of my writer friends. I encourage you to pop over to BadMenagerie.com for a look-see. We’re a barnyard full of diverse opinions and perspectives, which makes for an interesting collection of posts to scroll through. (And we have a published author over there, so it’s for realz!)

I’m trying to get the hang of doing both, still figuring what should go where—I have a new post coming here tomorrow—but I hope you’ll stick with me while I work my way out of the slow lane. Look! I even have one hand off the wheel. 😀

 

 

Waiting For Stories

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bikeI have this stark visual image of a character.

I’ve been seeing her for 5 years now. She rides a bicycle, a blue one, with wide chrome fenders, rusty on the edges, and upright handlebars. There’s a wicker basket strapped to the front and it hangs kind of crooked. Her name is Claudia and she’s wearing a fluttery white skirt with orange poppies on it. I always wonder how it doesn’t get caught in the chain or spokes. Everyone waves at her as she glides into the market square, and she waves back and jokes with the vendors by name.

The problem is, I have no idea what to do with her. I’ve been waiting all this time for her to tell me her story. I do know some things about her. That she’s ill, that she’s going to heal someone. I know her teeth are a little crooked and that all the old men of the neighborhood cafe admire her vitality, wish they were young enough to ask her to the cinema.

I’ve tried to introduce some people more intimately into her existence, but nothing’s worked out. I can’t make her stop being a loner. So I sit here waiting for the right person to show up, the one who will get her talking.

Frustrating, because as often as I’ve tried to leave her behind, she won’t go away. Almost every day, she sails through my mind and into the market square, waving, calling “Ciao, Umberto!” to the baker.

If she didn’t want me to tell her story, why did she come along?

Pardon me, I seem to have a frog in my throat

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My blogging has ground to a halt, a dangerous thing to happen to a blog. The thing is, there have been a series of events that seem to have…stolen my voice.

(WRITER WHINING ALERT!)

First there was Camp NaNoWriMo. I was busy being a novella writer and, I know I’ve mentioned this before: I’m a horrible multi-tasker. So July, no blogging.

After the full month’s break from my romance novel, I decided to try a contest. One of those ones where you submit your query and first chapter and hope for…something. I had no illusions, no realistic thoughts that I would get picked. My bar was set low. Submit. Practice sending my work into the wider world.

But then, all around me, writers started hearing back. Acceptances, or reasons why their particular story wasn’t accepted. People who got accepted by one judge got feedback from others as to why that particular judge had declined the submission. People who didn’t get accepted received emails from their chosen judges anyway. Sentences, some even paragraphs, of feedback.

Now this is not “part” of the contest and I had no reason whatsoever to expect anything. Feedback is something extra the judges may or may not choose to do. But I let hope take over and my goal shift. I wanted feedback. Was it the query? The premise? The writing that didn’t click? I heard from one of four of the judges I submitted to, a one-sentence reply I clung to like a rescued baby mermaid, and I hoped I’d get a little something more from the others. Something. Anything.

But no. Crickets.

Hope turned to brussels sprouts in my mouth. I reminded myself I had expected nothing. Told myself I was being unreasonable, unprofessional. Admonitions morphed into the conviction that I couldn’t handle the rigors of the publishing game, where success equals an even lower batting average than in baseball. I wasn’t cut out for this, and obviously, my story was dog poo because no one could find the wherewithal to even send me a little note.

(I gather this bleak state is one writers sink into quite readily.)

I convinced myself nothing would come of my book, and stopped writing altogether. No novel, no novella, no blog. Intellectually I knew nothing could come of a book one didn’t SUBMIT. But like Ramona the Pest, I crossed my arms and stomped my foot. Figuratively, but still…Yes, I am childish.

And then, In the midst of this self-immersed, apocalyptic doomscape, I received a horrible text message. One of my sorority sisters, Maria, who had been battling a rare—and incurable—form of cancer, was in the hospital, her family by her side. My world stopped. Everything went into suspension.

I saw her in January, lively, vibrant, laughing, drinking wine with her sorority sisters and sharing a wonderful, loud, chatter-filled meal. It was as if we were back in the big dining room at the ADPi House eating, talking, laughing. That wonderful night I forgot Maria had cancer, that her prognosis was dire. There was no way the woman I saw was going anywhere but back home to raise her boys to adulthood. She’d outlived her diagnosis by more than a year, after all.

A day after the text message, confirmation came. Maria had taken her eternal flight.

What were my petty complaints compared to the death of my friend, for God’s sake? What of Maria’s sons being left without their mother, her husband left without his wife, her family left without their daughter, their sister. Grief grabbed hold of me and squeezed. Maria had bugged me and bugged me about reading my book; I’d wanted to have her read it before cancer took her away. Chalk up another unmet goal.

Where before I was childish, now I was breathlessly mute.

I’ve lived a pretty charmed life, haven’t often been touched closely by death or grief. I didn’t know how to handle it. I felt like the pebble that starts the snow ball that becomes the body of the Guiness Book of World Records-sized snowman. One thing after another just seemed to layer onto my woes. My words felt small and stupid and unimportant. I lost a dear friend. And my will to say anything.

It’s been a rough month and a half, but slowly the metaphorical sun has started to shine and I’ve started to poke my finger through the slush that was the snowball. The words are building up inside me again. I still have a frog in my throat, but I have a lozenge on my tongue.

I think the sunshine is Maria. Maybe she got in my subconscious ear to remind me of something important: I have to keep going. I can still hit a goal, albeit a revised one. She may not hold my book in her hands, but if I send it out into the world again, somewhere in the great universal ether, Maria will know she helped bring it to fruition. I’m holding on to that.

May the universe embrace you and wrap you in the joy you gave to everyone you touched on this earth, Maria.

Maria Sofia Rimkus 1964-2014.

Maria

An NFL Mea Culpa—NOT

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Well, well, well…It took too long, but I’ll give the NFL, and Commissioner Roger Goodell credit for coming around. Maybe the number of female fans of the NFL was close to accurate after all, although, I saw plenty of evidence that the outrage against Ray Rice’s paltry penalty spread across genders.

Unfortunately, those voices saying things like “Women need to watch how they behave so they don’t incite a man to hit them.” and “We don’t know who started the fight. Maybe it was her fault.” and even “Two games is a huge penalty. He has to stand and watch his teammates play without him!” were overwhelmingly male voices, some of them with humongous public platforms, others who cried out from behind computers and phones anonymously, all of whose mothers, sisters, aunts and grandmothers would be appalled. Shame on you.

I’ll give the NFL credit, and count it as a blow against barbarity in whatever form.

Fuck that. I’ll save further comment for another day when my brain isn’t so crowded with unsavory thoughts.

You Blew It, Roger Goodell

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Apologies right off the bat to readers of my blog who 1) aren’t sports fans, and/or 2) don’t like reading rants. This post has both so feel free to click the X and tune me out, but I have to get this off my chest.

I am a huge sports fan, and one of my favorite spectator sports is NFL football. We are diehard Seattle Seahawks fans in my house, but we watch football all day Sunday, and on Monday and Thursday nights, too, Seahawks or no. We are not unusual, nor is the fact that I am a female football fan. The NFL attracts millions of female fans.

The NFL is a behemoth organization, a group of super-rich sports team owners who willingly give a CEO overarching responsibility for the organization. They call him The Commissioner. The NFL commissioner has an unbelievable amount of both power and responsibility. There is one particular aspect of the commissioner’s job that is unique in the world of business: he is employed by the team owners, but he has the ability to punish them, either by punishing their players (thus harming the team’s ability to win) or by directly punishing an owner himself.

Why would the commissioner do so? Well, because there are behavioral “standards” and “rules” when you’re in one of the most prestigious clubs in the world. The NFL is a club. You have to earn entry. And once in, you are expected to adhere to its rules or face consequences. It all sounds reasonable on its face.

But today, the NFL failed miserably. Whether the failure is the commissioner’s, the owners’, the player’s union, I can’t say, so I’m going to lump them all together for my heaping of scorn. You see, today, NFL football player Ray Rice received a two game suspension for allegedly* knocking his girlfriend unconscious and dragging her by the arms out of an elevator in an Atlantic City hotel.

TWO GAMES.

Last year, a Seahawk player received a lifetime ban from the NFL because he failed to show up for drug tests after failing at test for Marijuana use. But he failed to show up because he was busy playing football in CANADA. He wasn’t part of the NFL. He claimed not to know he still needed to take the tests, and why should he? He’s not in the CLUB. Well, rules are rules.

For getting caught smoking marijuana, a player gets “in the program.” The first offense is a warning, the second is a 4 game suspension. The fourth offense is a one year ban. This week Justin Blackmon, a talented receiver who apparently values marijuana over his NFL career, got strike 4. He’s out. Out of the league, out of his $2 million-plus dollar salary. Kicked to the curb. 

The NFL also once suspended a player for the first 5 games of his career for trading jerseys and gear for tattoos WHILE IN COLLEGE.

But Ray Rice, who punched a woman and dragged her out of an elevator (not to sound repetitive, but it bears repeating), gets a 2 week suspension.

TWO WEEKS.

Second weed offense = 4 weeks, but physical assault leading to unconsciousness = 2 weeks?

I admit it. When I saw the news this morning, I rubbed my eyes with both fists, shook my head, blinked, and blinked again. I had to look like a flummoxed cartoon character. I couldn’t believe what I was reading was true.

Here’s all I can say…

Roger Goodell, as commissioner of the NFL you had an opportunity here and YOU SQUANDERED IT. No less than Justin Blackmon squandered a year of his career. Only in one case, it was a player foolishly gambling with his own livelihood. In your case, it was a calculated, thought-out decision. You DECIDED that a player in the National Football League can punch a woman, drag her out of an elevator and risk only a mild penalty. You DECIDED NOT to punish Ray Rice at least to the equivalent of a marijuana violation. You DECIDED NOT to draw a line in the sand, to make UNEQUIVOCALLY CLEAR that physical assault of ANYONE, but especially a woman, by an NFL player is at least as detrimental to the reputation of the league** as smoking weed. You, Roger Goodell, blew it.

I am a fan of the Seattle Seahawks. I am not a fan of any player who assaults anyone. NFL players are big and strong and fast, and unless it’s two NFL players fighting each other, it’s almost never a fair fight.

I saw a good tweet today: If Goodell’s failure bothered you, please donate to a woman’s shelter. I will. Willingly. But why should the fans of the game have to make up for Goodell’s callous disregard for the safety of women in the company of the men employed by his organization? Where is the NFL’s donation?

Answer me that Roger Goodell.

 

*Allegedly, because he wasn’t tried in a court. He admitted there was an incident and apologized. He was captured on security video dragging his unconscious girlfriend out of the elevator, but the punch was not witnessed.

**From Goodell’s letter to Rice: “The league is an entity that depends on integrity and in the confidence of the public and we simply cannot tolerate conduct that endangers others or reflects negatively on our game.” Please tell me I am not the only one stunned by the irony of that statement. If Goodell’s actions don’t reflect negatively on the NFL, I don’t know what does.