Wednesday, April 27, 2005

It's like kissing your Grandpa

You love the man, and you love the time you spend with him, hours of playing chess while the rest of the family are playing poker or watching television. You think he’s the kindest, sweetest Grandpa anyone could ever have - and being around him feels like the best part of what family is.

But first you have to kiss him Hello. And he may or may not have his teeth in when you do it.

That’s what it feels like to have a new work of fiction completed and ready for public viewing. I love it, because I love the characters I’ve created and the universe I’ve built for them. Spending time with them is like spending those great summers at the lake as a kid.

Good times. Familiar times.

But here comes Grandpa - the sweet old guy - and you don’t know if he has his dentures in or not.

You gotta do it. You know you do. There’s no way to tell until you do. If his teeth are in, it’s a quick Howdy-do and on to the pleasantries. If not . . . well, ick.

I don’t have to put the story on the internet - I don’t have to share it with anyone. I’m not even completely sure why I do. But I do. I feel compelled to, since I don’t have a publishing contract that would put them on bookstore shelves. And those readers who do enjoy them, really Do enjoy them. And I’m both flattered and grateful, and willingly keep sharing.

You know what they say - You can’t explore the galaxy sitting on Uranus.

But it’s this very stage - the day or two before I bite the bullet and get it posted - that really dig in hard. Is it good enough? Could it be better? Did I make a complete blunder somewhere and haven’t seen it? Will this embarrass me right off the Internet? Am I completely deluding myself into believing these stories are any good whatsoever? Is everyone laughing at me behind my back? Am I a fool for doing this?

These questions will eat away at me for several days, and grow worse the day I post. That’s when Grandpa is reaching out, starting to smile - and you don’t know yet if those dentures are in place, firmly supporting the gums, or soaking in a glass somewhere down the hall.

For the first couple of weeks, I’ll live in fear of two things: Getting email about the story, and not getting email about the story. For a while, I’ll open my email with trepidation. And when a message is there, I’ll hesitate ever so briefly before opening it - and during those few seconds while it’s coming up on my screen, I’ll look away, fearful of what it’s going to say. Deep down inside I’m telling myself this isn’t why I write - validation is for parking, after all. That it doesn’t matter if anyone liked it, as long as I enjoyed doing it. My Reader loved it, and can’t wait for more, what else is important?

But when someone does come into your space - when someone does bother to say something - it’s like having a stranger walk by and hear them comment on your baby. We all know not all babies are cute.

You have to be humble, you put on a brave face and tell yourself you’re the greatest thing since tofu cream cheese, but you’re really just scared spitless. Your ego isn’t puffed up, it’s hiding under the bed with that sock you lost last month.

If Grandpa’s wearing his dentures, it’s gonna be a good day.
If not . . . Well it ain’t gonna be pretty.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Written into a corner

I’ve written myself into a dilemma.

With my latest novel done - do I put it up on my page now, after having been read by a second pair of eyes that found it to be fantastic and fun, and risk my former editor finding out - or do I send it to her and suffer through the backwash that’s going to come flooding down the pike like a broken damn, threatening to delay the story for months?

Do I chance my having caught any grammatical errors and sentence-structure faux pas, and risk being humiliated and embarrassed because I’ve let some of them slip ? Or do I send it to her and withstand the hurricane of put-downs, snide remarks and jealousy-laden comments just to have some grammar examined?

My gut is telling me to pass. To take the opinion of my reader, and my own satisfaction with the end product, and put it out there for others to read. It’s a matter of pride, of course, to have a product out there that’s as grammatically perfect as it can be.

My gut is telling me how I do this for fun and pure writing pleasure, nothing more. There’s no fame, and certainly no fortune in this. I do it because I love the characters I’ve created, and the worlds they live in, and I enjoy visiting them just as often as my readers do. I love being in the center of their universe, watching them interact and deal with issues.

I do this because I love it. I love them. And I do have readers. And they love these guys as much as I do. That counts for something.

That counts for everything.

I have always done this on my own - always ! Sure, somewhere along the way I enlisted someone to point my grammar in the right direction - never could bother with details like that when I have a tale to tell. But in the past, my grammar-checker did just that, and only that. This one . . . this one’s different. And I don’t like it anymore.

She mocks my readers - she mocks my doing this for free on the internet - she even mocks my ability to write a novel in under 4 months. My gut tells me she mocks it because she can’t do it.

My gut tells me if I post this before she sees it, there’s gonna be hell to pay.

And my gut tells me if I feel this way - something needs to be done. Nothing should make me feel this way. Nothing should make anyone feel this way about a thing they do for pleasure.

No one can make you feel anything unless you give them that power, right?

So my gut is telling me to go ahead and send her a copy, but to also go ahead and post it on the web. Let my readers decide if it’s good or not. Let the public be my judge and jury. After all, she doesn’t get on the web, she doesn’t look at my page - she doesn’t even remember the address.

And it’s mine, after all.

All mine.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Got any aspirin?

I wonder what it means when the prospect of speaking with a friend fills you with - not happy anticipation or pleasant warm feelings - but a pain between your eyes. When the sound of a particular person’s voice on the other end of the phone gives you a sense of depression instead of enjoyment.

When you hear someone telling you about their week and it’s been the same thing day in and day out for the past ten years - always gloom and doom and “my life is terrible, nothing went right, why do I bother - how was your week?”

What does it mean when the drama queen on the other end of the phone line suddenly says “We need to talk.” Or “I have to ask you a difficult question.” And all you want to do is hang up the phone and go back to your pleasant evening? When you’re asked: “I thought we’d already discussed this, what made you change your mind?” And it’s easier to just walk away from the entire conversation than it is to even think about trying to explain - because you have explained, a hundred times, and they just never listen. They never hear you.

What is your mind trying to tell you when you review all the arguments you’ve ever had with someone, and see them as missed opportunities to break away ?

I suppose I feel a little guilty for letting it go on this long, and letting it get to the point where it’s grating on my every nerve. I’ve had a raging headache for the past two days just trying to figure out how to deal with a situation that’s going to come up in a few weeks - something that I’m in complete control of - but that I know will be blown up into a total and ridiculous Drama with a capital D.

Does anyone else ever face a constant: “I don’t understand” this or that from someone, and all you wanna do is scream “I know you don’t understand, and THAT is the issue in a nutshell!” But you don’t. Or you can’t. Because you’re too polite. Because you don’t really want to cause harm - you just can’t take it any longer. You’ve looked back over the years and realized so many things that you’ve seen and willingly ignored or denied . . . and now you’ve reach the point of exploding, but you can’t.

You can’t explode, you can’t scream and yell - because you’re too polite, it’s not the right way to handle things, and you realize deep down that it wouldn’t get your point across anyway. So you suck it up, you put on your game face and try to let it slide, deny what would make you happy and play along as if nothing’s wrong. Even knowing that doing THAT is wrong.

What do you do when you come to the conclusion that - during a friendship - you were the only one doing any work? That it was you who was always there, always reliable, always supportive, constantly looking for ways to help, to encourage, to lift-up. That it was you going out of your way to be there - sacrificing your time for their needs - doing things you’d rather not do because it was what they wanted? That it was you putting up with things, ignoring little insults, giving in to demands . . . What do you do when you realize you’re just not interested in being a doormat any longer - but the person wiping their feet hasn’t got a clue? They wouldn’t realize you were fed up, wouldn’t understand your wanting to move along - or at least get out from under - and wouldn’t even SEE their boot-marks all over your back from years of treading?

Do you cut and run - even when that just seems too rude? Do you try to wean them off, distance yourself slowly over time and hope it works?

I just keep thinking about the Drama that’s going to develop - the absurd phone conversations designed to put the blame and guilt on me - that no amount of explaining would conclude. I keep thinking about all the headaches it’s going to cause when I try to assert my control over what’s rightfully mine to control - and always has been. I keep thinking about the put-downs that are going to come when I try to pull my feet out of this boggy marsh.

My only saving grace is the fact that this friendship is a coast-to-coast one. I’m here, on the West, my “friend” is there, on the East. It’s not like I’d have to change markets I shop at or stop going to a favorite restaurant for fear of meeting.

It’s actually killing me not to just lay out specifics, name names, explain in detail all the issues and all the crap I’ve put up with over the years - it’s almost worth it just to hear someone sympathize. To have one person tell me I’m justified for feeling this way, and have every right to want things to change. Or even tell me I’ve been an idiot for ignoring things all these years. That I’m the one being the drama queen.

But that would be petty. And mean.

So I’m just going to sit here - stewing - with this headache behind my eyes, and wonder what the naked campers would do in a situation like this.

Monday, April 18, 2005

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I can taste it - the new novel is nearly completed ! Well technically it is done, but my first revision is down to the final two chapters. Then it’s off to be read, checked by a pair of eyes other than mine, and hopefully ready for human consumption.

If I were ever in a position to offer up advice to other people creating their own fiction, and considering posting it on this world wide web of ours, it would be to wait until your work is complete. I used to post a chapter at a time, I had the misfortune of being talked into doing that and it started to get annoying.

I much prefer posting only once the story has been completed, and will be trying my hand at posting a completely downloadable version this next time. It’s probably the easiest thing in the world to do, put a file up and let people just download the whole shebang, instead of going through it on the web. It’s just one of those things I haven’t tried doing yet. I once thought I wanted to use the internet and all it’s wonderful potential to enhance the fiction, with images, sounds, even java (something I never got around to) But for all the potential the internet holds, it’s limited by the equipment your readers are using to access it. The images were too large, the files too big, etc etc. So I’ve since given up.

I’m a purest when it comes to music - never watch videos. Music is made for the ears and the imagination. So I’ve gone that way with my posting - fiction is best read in black on white, held in the hand instead of glowing at you from the screen.

Regardless of how you choose to post - the one thing you MUST avoid at all costs is posting part of a story, then quitting !! I had the misfortune of sharing web space with someone who started out writing a story, something that would take her a full month to crank out one simple 4-page chapter ! And then, against every promise she swore to uphold, she stopped.

Her excuses? Life too busy, home too much of a mess, stress at work, no time.

Reality? She’s disorganized, lacks discipline, complains about every aspect of her life, and she lacks the ability to write anything from start to finish. She has never, in her life, written a full and complete story.

And she was angry that she wasn’t getting the kind of feedback she felt she deserved (!!) She was getting letters and compliments, but it wasn’t even a completed story! She expected heaping mounds of praise for each word that sprang from her keyboard. And it had to be detailed, of all things. She wanted precise praise and congratulations that would point out each and every aspect of beauty (bla bla bla). When that didn’t prove true, she got upset and quit. Justifying it in her own mind as being a pearls-before-swine issue.

That, my friends, is truly sad.

To any of you soon-to-be authors out there - nothing’s more pathetic than someone who whines and complains about the quality and/or quantity of feedback.

Nothing.

I’ve seen writers who got fed up and quit because people weren’t praising their every chapter. I’ve seen people get jealous of others who DO get feedback. And I’ve seen people convince themselves that the reason they’re not getting feedback is because their readers are too foolish to recognize genius.

Pathetic, but true.

My advice - Don’t expect anything. Write what you love, write what makes you happy, write with the best ability you have - share it with the world once it’s done or just share it with friends if that’s all you intend. End of story. Take pride in the fact that what you wrote what was important to you. That it spoke to something deep inside you that had to come out. We write because we must - not just because we can. We can’t resist the urge to flesh out this daydream of ours, to see it come to life on paper, watch it grow into something amazing.

Don’t do it because you crave fame, or expect mounds of heaping praise from adoring fans! If that comes, good for you. But don’t expect it. Don’t hinge your future writing on it.

Validation is for parking garages!

Do expect criticism, complaints about the web page itself, requests, and judgment. Do expect - out of every 100 letters of praise and congratulations - at least 1 whacko who won’t have a single nice thing to say, but won’t have any problem at all saying everything else.

But whatever you do, wherever you do it, the ONE thing you must avoid at all costs is posting merrily along, then quitting halfway through ! You’ll lose all credibility, all respect, and any chance of being read again. You can’t expect anyone to hang around waiting for you to get your act together. No matter how good you may be !

If you can’t respect your audience, you don’t deserve them.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Future Shock

I’m beginning to enjoy this little steam vent, so I’m taking a break from reworking my latest novel to put keyboard to screen and air a few pet peeves !

My mind tends to wander, especially the more I try to concentrate on a specific thing. Sometimes I think I’m hyperactive, only my body and brain are in disagreement. I have a million thoughts running through my head at any given moment - not in an ADD way, they’re all cohesive and controllable - but my body prefers just sitting down watching all the action !

If only I were as physically energetic as I am mentally - I’d be rail-thin.

Anyway, back to the peeve - it has to do with “fan mail”. I’ll ignore the ones who can’t understand the fundamental difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy. What I write (and read often) is Science Fiction. Along with the frustration of dealing with movies and television shows set in space and written by individuals clearly devoid of any understanding of the rules and laws of physics - I find myself occasionally hearing from someone who suffers what I call “Star Trek Syndrome.”

(in a quick aside: All hail Joss Whedon when he made the short-lived Firefly series, for his knowledge, understanding, and fearless display of proper physics - most of the time, anyway. A thing of beauty, that was.)

Star Trek Syndrome is the belief that any novel or story set in a future time should depict perfection. No cancers, no hunger, no poverty - - easy-to-use machines that instantly tell you what’s wrong with your body and how to fix it. No one’s ever overweight, or unattractive. You press a button and food appears, cooked and ready. Weapons that never run out of ammo. Computers that never fail. The list goes on !

That’s not reality, that’s Star Trek Syndrome.

Reality is more interesting. Imagine having to Control-Alt-Delete the Enterprise! Didn’t you just ONCE want to see the elevator stick? Or someone rushing down the hallway who trips? Or have that huge view screen on the bridge show the Microsoft Blue Screen of Death? Just once??

It’s one thing to write your futuristic science fiction novel and show perfection. It’s another matter entirely to EXPECT perfection just because a story is set in the future. We haven’t cured cancer yet, what makes anyone think we will in 100 years? Or 200?

Another mistake - Light speed. Here’s a hint: If an object is 500 light years away, and your ship only has “light speed”, it’s gonna take that ship 500 years to reach it.

Stay current, people ! Stephen Hawking recanted his theory last year and admits black holes probably do not exist.

One of my favorite movie booboos is the guy-exposed-to-vacuum scene, where some hapless dude has a tear in his suit or gets ejected through a hatch. Love the debates directors and script writers undergo trying to decide if that guy’s gonna explode or implode!

Fact is, he’s just gonna suffocate and die. All the air would be sucked from his lungs as soon as he opened his mouth to gasp (assuming he would), there’s no more air to suck IN, so he dies. It’s debatable whether or not he’d freeze solid first - depends on the proximity of a heat source. Freezer burn IS inevitable, though.

I won’t even mention ship engine sounds in space ! Puleeze!! I’m just not sure if they do it because they’re ignorant, or because it makes for a more exciting “car chase” in space.

Star Trek Syndrome also includes techno-babble. Dazzle them with bullshit ONLY when you don’t have a clue yourself and you know it. Script writers use that technique to fill gaps - like writers who inject the F word in dialog every third or fourth word . . . it’s not a sign of modern, hip writing, but a stamp of stupidity. They’re ignorant of dialog!

Dialog is easy, people. Ever have a conversation? Put quotes in there, interject a few adverbs, adjectives, etc and you have dialog!

If you’re gonna get detailed about your ship and its engine - do a modicum of research. Use a technique that’s at least BASED on a current theory, feel free to add several generations of research to it that hasn’t taken place yet, but don’t pile it on too thick. If you don’t read current physics theories and don’t plan to take the time - then avoid specifics! Generalize - tell us your ship can get there from here in ten days. We don’t really care how, we just wanna know what everyone will do after they arrive.

And if you want the future to be pristine and Trek-Like, fine. But never, under any circumstances, assume all futuristic stories should!

So - to that one twit out there in cyber life who keeps emailing me and calling me a fool for not simply putting “transporters” on all my ships - put down the Pop Tart, power down that PC, change your t-shirt and GO OUTSIDE ! Or read a book. Or something.

Just get a clue. There IS life outside Star Trek !

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

On the brighter side

At least editing a new story slowly and meticulously with pencil and paper takes a long story and turns it into an even longer story ! Only halfway through chapter 2, and my changes have already added 9 pages.

That doesn't make it good, of course, just longer !

I find myself slightly preoccupied with various thoughts. Do I post this story the same way I always have, or just put it up for complete download? I know I sure as h*@& wouldn't sit at a computer and read an entire story, I'd print it out. But these people . . . these readers . . . sometimes they take and take and take and just demand more!

Sometimes.

Granted, most of them are incredibly polite, and extremely sweet.

Truly the vast majority of feed back I get is nothing short of perfect courtesy. And for them, I want to bend over a bit further. I want to figure out the best and easiest way for them to just click a link and download the whole thing in one big swallow, so they can print it out, or carry it around on their pda.

But there's always the one. That one out of fifty who comes along, says something REALLY stupid, then makes the demands. Instead of asking nicely if I could provide easy downloads, they threaten never to read another story until I do.

My typical reply?

Blogger has rules against profanity, so I'll leave it up to the imagination!

It's stupid - I know - but even though I can get 100+ fantastic comments and great letters and really sweet, polite fans - - there's always one in the bunch who thought the stories were ridiculous, made no sense whatsoever, had far-fetched plots, poorly constructed characters and confusing dialog !

And I'm thinking - So, you read them ALL ?? Why? I mean come on, these things are LONG! I'm not writing little short stories here, people.

Why, in the name of all that's holy, would someone READ - what is it now, 5 or 6 stories - and only THEN write to the author and tell them how badly they sucked? I'm thinking if you didn't like them, don't read them! I could not personally care one little tiny bit if YOU read them or not! And while I can (and should) take the bad with the good - I do require the bad to show at least a modicum of intelligence !

After all - if 200 people tell you a plot was great, and ONE person comes along and says they didn't understand any of it - who's really the idiot here?

Phew. That felt good. I'd worry that I'm pissing people off with this blog, but I know there's no one here - a great feeling, really, to know you can vent this way, like screaming from the top of the mountain. Maybe some naked camper is hearing the echo.

Then again, maybe not !

Monday, April 11, 2005

What I Want

Like minded people. In person, I have no problem finding like minded people. Except I haven’t yet found one who can discuss writing -- especially the unique and sometimes bizarre world of writing fiction that is posted on the internet for the free enjoyment of others. That just isn't something you bring up with regular real-world friends.

First of all, we writers are a solitary, slightly volatile and always a little paranoid group of individuals.

Second of all, doing it for free on the internet leaves us dangling out there in the potentially ridiculed, you-must-have-no-talent zone.

Maybe I don’t. Maybe I’m a complete hack, with no talent whatsoever, just typing to hear myself think. That just may be the case, actually. Don't imagine my ego keeps me from believing this could very well be true.

What I want - what I’ve always wanted - is to find a group of people doing exactly what I’m doing, who’d like to occasionally chat about it. About the pitfalls, the frustrations, the excitement, the fun, and the wonder that is writing. What I hate is people who just want to sit around and talk about their story. Get feedback, praise, that pat-on-the-back they feel they so richly deserve.

I just want to talk about WRITING. About the direction it’s taking, the influence and effect (or lack thereof) of the internet. About what does and doesn’t seem to sell. About how characters take shape, how descriptions are rendered, what goes through your mind when you’re working up a plot. I’d love to talk about what feedback does to a writer, about how it makes you feel, how much authority you give it. How you feel about your own work, how you deal with writing fiction that may or may not ever be read by anyone at all.

That’s what I want. Just a handful of like minded people. People who understand that one minute you want to sit around and discuss things, but the next minute you don’t ! People who understand the writer’s mind and how on and off it can be.

What I want is to find out I’m not the only one on this planet doing this.

I rarely get what I want.

Friday, April 08, 2005

On Writing

Week God-knows-what . . . somewhere around nine -- I’d guess -- into the writing of the newest story.

I’ve entered the gravy stretch, as I call it. Having just completed my newest piece of fiction, I now face the job of “buffing” it up, adding filler and natural preservatives.

Now that the grunt work is over, the hard part begins. Actually the hard part can be a blast - once a story is completed, from start - through middle - on to end, the bones are laid out. Then the task of fleshing out can begin. Bringing life to the beast. It’s a great pleasure to sit there, holding these pieces of paper, all neatly punched and bound together for convenience. While I write in front of a computer screen, I edit on paper with a pencil, scribbling notes and changed lines in the margins (singled spaced because double just looks too funky, even if it would make my life a whole lot easier).

I read an article one time, years ago, about how all these famous authors worked. What techniques they used, what habits they fell into when penning a new piece of fiction. One would use an old manual typewriter and bang out words onto paper, never even considering reworking a single line. One wrote in pencil, on neatly lined paper, for an hour every day regardless of inspiration or ideas. Another got up every morning, would march straight down stairs and stand at a typewriter until exactly ten pages were laid out, then quit for the day.

I used to think these methods might have merit, and perhaps if I could develop a routine or discipline like these great authors, I’d be two steps ahead of the game. I think it took me, maybe five minutes after reading that article, to realize how stupid that was. It wasn’t the method that made the writer, but the writer who made the method.

Me - I work while at work, sneaking in a paragraph here, a sentence or three there, in between daily work, during breaks and lunch. There was a time I would write at home, late at night, in my room at the computer. And that worked great, till I got tired of it. Now I almost never write at home, unless I have printed pages that I’m buffing and adding gravy to. Then it’s on the couch, with a pencil, in the single spaced margins.

Having been taught early in writing classes that only a weak thinker uses ‘He said’, ‘She replied’, ‘He suggested’. A truly creative person finds other ways to finish a sentence, indicate who said what and how it was stated. Recently I’ve changed my thinking, and now force myself - against what had become instinct - to put at least some of them in. But honestly - how often can you say ‘He replied’ ??

Ya gotta get creative, see. This is where the sweat starts. It’s filler, that’s all. The potatoes you’re having along with the meat. But it’s necessary, like the veggies. And it’s hard. It’s the hardest part, the most fun part, sometimes more of an aggravation than anything - but it’s what makes the story. A good writer can fill the pages between dialog and action with filler that entertains. A great writer fills you up without you even realizing you’ve just eaten.

And still, I’m left struggling to find new and creative ways to indicate speech, always mindful of the late great master Douglas Adams who wrote: “His statement hung in the air much the same way a brick doesn’t.”

Now that’s deep, man!

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Pet Peeve #1

Humans are just about the strangest animals I know. I can say that, being one and all.

And I know I’m not the only one who enjoys spending a day sitting somewhere, coffee in hand, just watching people. It’s a popular hobby.

But let me tell you - if you REALLY want to experience people-watching, and can take large doses of strange behavior in a semi-interactive, personally intrusive way - you should put up a booth at your nearest Farmers Market or art show, and try selling something. It’s a huge eye-opener, lemme tell ya!

My sister and I have been doing this for 5 years now - we’ve found ourselves a part of this community of artists who do shows in our area and beyond. It’s a very interesting, and rewarding hobby whose side-effect is sitting in a booth for ten hours, watching people go by and ranking them into specific categories.

And Lord is it interesting!

For instance: Women come along, children in tow, and we hear one of two things: “Touch with your eyes, only.” Or “Don’t touch anything. I said don’t touch. Stop touching. Do I have to tell you again? Put that down. Stop touching! Don’t touch. Keep your hands down! I told you stop touching. Don’t touch anything.” The latter is almost always proceeded by the parent looking at something he or she can focus deeply on while pretending to ignore the child who still keeps touching.

Neither method works, by the way. Children see things, they want to touch them. Children who have been raised with no manners, will touch them! Occasionally we’ll witness the “Touch with your eyes, only” method having some effect - but then you see a “Don’t touch anything” parent try that on their own child, to no avail.

Personally, I don’t see the logic in “touch with your eyes” because kids are picking up on the action word “touch” and not comprehending the part where they’re not actually supposed to reach out and touch something. But there are exceptions.

I can say, though, that I prefer a child who doesn’t quite “get” that concept, over the one who has to be told over and over and over again and still won’t obey. Blame the kids? Of course not - any parent who has to repeat an order more than twice is doing it wrong.

We’ve considered putting our jewelry behind glass cases, but women are tactile shoppers, and jewelry begs to be fondled. So we sit, and we watch, and when children come into the booth and their eyes light up with brat-filled mischief, we go on full alert !

Another favorite annoyance of mine is the “Oh, I could make that myself.” Especially when they come in a flock. Several ladies, all coming in the booth together, chatting and nattering about something. One of them will always pick up a necklace and announce loudly to her friends “Oh Betty, you make beads, don’t you?” whereupon Betty will turn and reply with a smile “Sure, Mary-Ann, I could make that. You can get that stuff just about anywhere.” Then Mary-Ann will inevitably turn to myself or my sister, smile widely, lay the necklace down and say “Beads sure are popular, aren’t they? Seems to me everyone is doing this now.” Then they all wander off into the next booth, blithely ignorant to their own rude behavior, where we hear Betty inform the Raku pottery vendor that she took a clay class in college once, made things just like these.

Is jewelry popular? Sure. Can just about anyone with the right tools and supplies and a smidgen of talent make their own? Of course.

Anyone with a kitchen can bake a cake, too. Does this mean you walk into a bakery, glance at their offerings, then tell them that YOU can do a much better job? You have friends who have ovens, how hard could this be?

My pet peeve isn’t so much WHAT people say, as much as the fact that they’ll say it. Out loud, to your face, without even imagining it might or could be rude !

Coming up, Pet Peeve #2 . . . Put it back where you found it !

Monday, April 04, 2005

On writing

A very schizophrenic hobby if ever there was one.

Writing is a solitary pursuit. An extremely personal one. You create characters and situations, give them life and make them do your bidding - all by yourself. And yet the goal is - having completed a tale in solitude - to share it with the world. If it weren’t for sharing, you wouldn’t have need to write it down. It would exist as nothing more than a thought, or daydream, of exquisite detail and enjoyment. And yet, sharing your writing is like allowing strangers to watch your daydreams.

A writer is someone who can daydream in minute detail, and MUST write it down. One who can create characters and situations that never existed before, but cannot resist the urge to see that daydream become reality in the written (or nowadays keyed) word.

If you’re published, you have credibility. If your work can be found on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, or ordered from Amazon, you’re a “real” writer. Anyone else is simply a “wannabe”, someone who couldn’t cut it in the published world, or doesn’t have the talent required to make it past a rejection letter.

True?

I’m still undecided.

On the one hand, I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was a child. I’ve dreamed of seeing MY name on one of those paperbacks on the shelves, of being one of a group I considered elite and wise.

On the other hand - I’ve learned a lot about those people over the years. They’re elite to the point of snobbery, and uphold the belief that those who are not published are not writers, not talented. I’ve learned that the very group my pride wanted me to be a part of, isn’t something I would be proud to join. I have a natural aversion to "celebrity".

But then that little voice creeps in - the one that says if you WERE a part of that crowd, you wouldn’t care if they were snobs because you’d be a snob, too.

Funny thing happened one day, several years ago - I’m at the bookstore, looking for something to read, and I can’t find a thing. I’m standing there, looking at all these published novels, paperbacks, anthologies - and they’re all crap. Simplistic characters, cookie-cutter situations, clichéd endings - even a writer I considered a favorite, Anne McCafferey, I realized she’s not good, she’s just published.

Don’t get me wrong, she was good. In fact once upon a time, she was great. Then all her characters started looking similar. All her situations resolved themselves in exactly the same manner. The only thing that changed from novel to novel were the names. Then I began to realize just how much drivel is out there, sandwiched between glossy covers. Boring, unimaginative crap published by such big names as Del Rey, Bantam, Columbia - from Science Fiction, to General Fiction, and right on through Mystery.

I found myself time after time reading a book only to stop a quarter of the way through in frustration, knowing I could do better. Nothing was giving me the thing I craved. Nothing had the same satisfaction of books I’d loved in the past. Even Tom Clancy novels were now just so many pages upon pages upon pages of descriptive detail that I didn’t give one hoot about - with real character interaction spaced so far distant as to make it useless.

Do I consider myself on a par with Tom Clancy? Lord no! Do I consider myself good enough to be published? Knowing what publishers are looking for, I’d have to say No. They want that drivel you see on bookstore shelves. They want dime novels that kids will buy in droves, or mysteries that will sell hundreds of copies to book club members. They want deep emotional sagas that Oprah will talk about, where women live battered lives until they finally break free and run off with some handsome savior. Or the military detail of a spy thriller that makes sense only to retired officers with time on their hands who want to relive the glory days.

They want marketable work. And an interesting note - published authors don’t make their living writing. Only the Tom Clancy’s and Michael Chriton’s make a living doing it, and that’s mostly because they’ve already made a living doing other things. Nine out of ten published authors have day jobs.

So why do it? Am I just spouting sour grapes because I’m NOT published? Point of fact - I’ve never sent any of my work in. I haven’t even attempted. Publishers have slush piles larger than my bedroom - stories they haven’t read, novels they’ve accepted but have no need to print yet. When you send something in, you don’t get read, your cover letter gets a glance - if it doesn’t WOW them, that’s it. If it WOWs them, you’re tossed on the slush-pile floor (at the bottom). If and when they need to put something new out, you’re in a long line. Want a real ego-buster? Try reading the established guidelines for any publishing house, then imagine yourself meeting those guidelines. You won’t even get passed the line that starts: We are not accepting any fiction from unpublished authors at this time.

Who needs that? Do you NEED to be published for validation? Do I need to be published in order to be a writer? Does posting my fiction on the internet, free of charge, make me a member of the future of what fiction writing is and could be, or just someone who can’t “cut it” in the real world?

Honestly? I don’t know.

That’s what makes writing a very schizophrenic hobby if ever there was one.

Revelations

Funny thing about life-changing events. They tend to change one’s life, and one’s attitude.

In October of 2004, my sister - with whom I also live and share a house - experienced a life-threatening condition that required immediate emergency surgery. For a good 24 hour period I sat alone in a waiting room not knowing what was going to happen, then for a good three months after that, I worried about the financial backwash. I’m happy to report all ended well, with my sister’s health being restored and our finances surviving just fine (but only after involving a lawyer and petitioning the Insurance Commissioner of Washington State which took up several months of my time). Thanks to that experience, not only have my letter writing skills gained me prestige and publishing with a lobby group, but I’ve also reached a very important conclusion in life: It’s MINE.

I’m tired of putting up with things I don’t have to, and people who annoy me. I’m tired of wasting time in situations I could just as easily avoid. And I’m sick and tired of politely agreeing to things, ignoring things, and going along with things that I don’t want anything to do with, just because someone ELSE thinks I should!

Ever have a friend who decided to just glom on to you, like you needed a mother or something - someone who gets it in their head you’re helpless and therefore need to be taken care of? Or a friend who asks you constant questions, needing to know every little detail of your life, what you’re doing, where you’re going, who you’re doing it with, why you’re doing it - day after day after day ?

Or worse yet - a friend you’ve had for years and years, who constantly took advantage of you, expected everything FROM you, and never reciprocated? Someone who expected you to constantly “entertain” her, who would only email you to complain that you hadn’t been keeping up a constant stream of “entertainment” to make her day a happier one? Someone who could tell you how great you are in one breath, then berate you for some imagined offense or stupidity at the drop of a hat?

Sounds odd, I know. And the worse part is - I put up with that for many, many years. I made adjustments to MY life to accommodate hers. I’d constantly change my opinion to avoid an argument, not because she was right - but because trying to explain to her MY point of view would become an exhausting exercise in futility ! I let her opinion shape things I did, things I said - I let her views confuse my own convictions.

I think a lot of us do. And I think it’s time to stop. We only get one life, one go ‘round. There’s plenty of crap in this world we can’t avoid, so why do we put up with the other stuff?

I say it’s time to break free. For myself, and my sister, we’re just not going to take it any more. I now understand why my grandmother always spoke her mind, and never took any guff from anyone - she’d reached this point. She’d achieved this realization in her life that in fact her life was HERS and hers alone. True friends understand that, and have no problems with it. Anyone else simply doesn’t matter.

I’ve been a fool for allowing someone else’s views and thoughts and opinions cloud my own just because she spoke them louder, insisted they were the one and right way, and would berate me for thinking otherwise.

I will be a fool no longer.